We began this book with stories of some of the great Wing Chun masters of the past. Just as they were instrumental in the development and transmission of Wing Chun into modern times, there is no doubt that Wing Chun itself was an important factor in how they dealt with the very real challenges of their own lives in their own times. From opposing foreign occupation, surviving against the backdrop of the Second World War and the communist revolution, to rising above gang-culture, tackling racist stereotypes and introducing a new cinematic art form to the world, each of them seems to have applied the principles and strategies of Wing Chun to achieve success outside of the training hall and the battlefield. 

For some, like Bruce Lee, the achievements have been dramatic, impacting in some way the entire world. For others the success has, perhaps, been more personal. What is clear however is that Wing Chun, when understood deeply, has the potential to not only train us in how to deal with the realities of physical combat but also to teach us how to deal with the complexities of our everyday lives.

As we have seen, the effectiveness of Wing Chun rests on the fact that it is driven by principles rather than being a selection of choreographed techniques. As a practitioner develops in his ability to instinctively move according to these principles in a combat situation, he experiences the truth of those principles. If, as you practice Wing Chun, you can take the feeling of that experience and translate it to other aspects of your life, you will come to realize the deeper aspects of an art that enhances the quality of everything you choose to do.

World Patterns

Each of our lives is unique and the myriad ways of the world are vast and complicated. And yet there are also patterns in the world that we are able to discern and understand. By exploring and reflecting on these patterns we can manipulate the world around us through technology, through scientific discoveries, through labeling and categorizing things, in order to fulfill our needs. When we do this in a positive way, we can produce a great deal of good in the world—for example, advances in medicine. When we fall into negativity, we end up producing a great deal of destruction in the world and even to wipe out the entire human race through nuclear weapons. Or think of the unrestrained exploitation of the earth’s resources that threatens to destroy the delicate balance of the eco-system and lead us to extinction. It would be impossible in a single chapter, or even in a single book, to explore in minute detail all these complexities of human existence on a personal and global level with regards to the physical, intellectual, and spiritual aspects of a human being.

What is possible however is to draw out universal principles. Those principles are there to be discovered in Wing Chun as they are in other arts—in painting, music, geometry, and calligraphy. In some arts they are easier to discern than in others. And in some contexts, they will certainly lead you towards destruction.

We are not saying that Wing Chun is the solution to life’s problems. It is not a religion or an ideology, neither is it revelation. What we are saying is that Wing Chun practice can teach you how to successfully negotiate life’s challenges because as you practizzce it you can begin to see—if you look out for it—rules of engagement that work in a fight as they do in other aspects of life. I hope that the reader will reflect on the context of the lives of the Wing Chun masters of the past and through the practice of Wing Chun discover what works to improve all aspects of their life and the lives of others.

The First Principle: STRUCTURE

To be successful in your objective you must first build and then maintain a structure that enables you to achieve it.

The Basic Idea:

1. The entire structure should be optimized to achieve the purpose or “end in mind.”

2. First you must be absolutely clear on your purpose.

3. Second you must set up a structure that is completely invested in achieving this purpose with maximum efficiency.

Up Close:

A Wing Chun practitioner has one goal in mind when he or she is engaged in a physical conflict: to end the fight by disabling the opponent’s ability to pose a threat. Wing Chun approaches this by directing its entire system to overcome the opponent’s centerline. In a sense, controlling, capturing, or subduing the opponent’s centerline is what the entire system is focused on. For Wing Chun the path to victory is clear—it lies at the end of (or through) the centerline. Capture that and you have won because your opponent will no longer be able to offer you any threat.

Wing Chun achieves this objective by emphasizing “structure”—everything from the way the Wing Chun practitioner places his or her feet, to how he aligns his body in terms of the relationship between his hands, elbows, shoulders, hips, knees, ankles, and his own center- line are a part of this structure. This means a Wing Chun practitioner, when he is doing Wing Chun in a fight, has set up his entire body with one single-minded objective that is designed to achieve the ultimate strategic victory as understood by Wing Chun. If he is spectacularly successful in achieving this objective the fight should be over within one or two moves. This is because the structure enables the strategic objective to be obtained with maximum efficiency.

Every part of the Wing Chun practitioner’s body and mind has been recruited to work toward this ultimate goal—nothing has been wasted. No part of his body has been left without purpose— for example, both hands are active when punching. And both hands are working toward the same purpose. Usually, the opponent is not thinking like this. Typically, the threat—the attacker or aggressor—is directing his force to hit you or hurt you as much as possible with little structural alignment toward the end goal. Partly this is because they have not even clarified the end goal. That is to say, they have not defined what “victory” means. In previous parts of this book, we have described this as a scenario where two opponents are exchanging blows—like in a boxing match. This is brutal, ugly, and terribly destructive. It is not Wing Chun.

“Two Heavens, One Way”

The greatest and most effective masters of their disciplines intuitively understand and practice this principle. Musashi Miyamoto, the great Japanese samurai “sword-saint” and strategist, described his way of swordsmanship unequivocally with the following words: “In short, the way of the Ichi school is the spirit of winning, whatever the weapon and whatever its size.”1 And he then goes on to explain how other sword schools have lost sight of this important objective and gone astray: “As if with the nut and the flower, the nut has become less than the flower.”2 Whereas other schools taught swordsmanship with the use of the sword in one hand, Musashi Miyamoto, describing his path as the path of “Two Heavens, One Way,” uniquely emphasizes the use of two swords—one in each hand. His “one way” is the way of cutting—killing the opponent in mortal combat. When the stakes are so high, why would you neglect to make use of both your hands? In this example, we can see that Musashi clearly understood his purpose: to cut down the opponent. And he then recruits all of his tools to achieve that purpose.

When a Wing Chun practitioner successfully maintains his structure in chi-sau practice, he finds he is more easily able to engage his limbs correctly in response to his partner’s actions, and his body respond as if completely without effort to attack and destabilize his opponent’s centerline. If his opponent is not as competent as him, the opponent cannot respond—the flow of the practice is often disrupted. The game is effectively over because the more competent practitioner has achieved his objective and won as a result of superior adherence to the structure and body mechanics of Wing Chun. And so repeated exposure to this practice drives home the reality that maintaining one’s Wing Chun structure—the principles of which are taught and refined in the forms, and in chi-sauis the quickest, and most painless path to victory.

And so it is in life. First clarify the end in mind. And then invest the time, energy, and practice in building a structure that will allow you to achieve this objective with as much efficiency and grace as possible.

1. Viktor Harris tr., A Book of Five Rings (Woodstock, NY: Flamingo, 1984), 35.

2. A Book of Five Rings, 28.

The above is an excerpt from Wing Chun In-Depth: Skills for Combat, Strategies for Life by Munawar Ali Karim and Loukas Kastrounis, Publication Date May 2023, YMAA Publication Center, ISBN 9781594399275