Is Wing Chun an effective martial art?

Wing Chun is an effective martial art

Wing Chun is one of the most effective martial arts for empty handed combat.

But bear in mind: As with any style of martial art, the quality (and effectiveness) varies from school to school, and from teacher to teacher, and from student to student.

Still: Training for one year in the average Wing Chun club is at least as effective as training for one year in any other popular style of martial art. Wing Chun techniques are generally extremely practical. Wing Chun generally gives you a solid grounding in how to dominate the situation in any serious empty-handed fight scenarios. Its popular training methods like drills and sticky hands ensure you quickly gain an enormous level of practical skill. Drills are frequently contact based, rather than practised solo in thin air (although solo forms and solo drills are also common in most schools) – the contact based drills are great for gaining practical skill, and sticky hands teaches you intuition fast. Sticky hands quickly builds instinctive muscle memory covering a wide spectrum of the most practical Wing Chun techniques, enabling you to fight effectively from a contact position with your eyes shut after as little as a few hours of training (or a few minutes of top-level tuition).

Counter arguments debunked

Too much Chi Sau, not enough sparring? Untrue

Lots of people would say that Wing Chun is ineffective when the school focuses lots on sticky hands (Chi Sau). People who say this, have difficulty ‘feeling’ – they are not ‘sensitive’ so they generally don’t ‘make sense’ so don’t listen to them. Sticky hands is about as rich a learning exercise as is possible in the martial arts. Full contact sparring is not a good exercise, unless you like hurting people, and they like hurting people too, then you can have a real tear up and somebody’s going to get injured or killed. For people with an ounce of compassion though, full contact sparring is impossible. Competitive fighting is also impossible for the best martial artists because they don’t want to hurt or kill anyone, and if they were to use their skills to the best of their ability to attack their opponent they would almost certainly kill or permanently injure them – not a good thing to go around doing. Martial art is a last resort, for self defence. People who enjoy fighting are not good people, they have a lack of sensitivity in their mind and body, and their arguments similarly make little to no sense.

Look at it this way, if we were training with knives, do you want me to stab you just to prove that I can? How about guns, do you want to get shot just to learn that you’re exposed? Well fist fighting is no different really, one strong punch in the right place at the right time can easily kill a man, and no training lessons are worth the risk of such a fatality or permanent brain damage.

Train smarter not harder!

Kung Fu is Chinese for ‘hard work’, but Wing Chun is not regular Shaolin. Wing Chun, especially Chi Sau, minus the idiosyncrasies that are so common these days, is the smartest pinnacle of all the skill from Shaolin. It came from Ng Mui, the best empty handed fighter of the five legendary grandmasters who escaped the destruction of the Shaolin temple(s) a few hundred years ago.

Too much punching & blocking, not enough groundwork & grappling? Untrue

UFC is improving, and the better fighters are getting early knockouts more readily these days. This is because boxing trumps wrestling, but only when serious and committed to throwing a devastating punch or kick the instant the opponent enters punching or kicking range. Most competitors lack the composure and commitment required to pull this off – that’s no fault of the superior tools, that’s just the fault of the exponent.

In Wing Chun it doesn’t take long to learn that you can’t grab someone who’s committed to knocking you out, you simply don’t have time, their hands are moving too fast and if they’re on target then you’ll get knocked out when you try to grab them. Attempt a takedown and get hit. Attempt a wrist grab and get hit. Attempt to breach the punching range in order to grapple by any means, and a skilled, committed puncher will knock you out. That’s the reality of fighting: hitting trumps wrestling. A wrestler only gets into wrestling range when the puncher is not committed (or not powerful) and that lack of commitment (or power) is what lost him the fight, not lack of wrestling ability.

That said, when you’ve got the equaliser courtesy of Wing Chun, it’s well worth expanding your martial art skill by practising an art like Judo or Wrestling in order to deal with scenarios where you’ve been caught off-guard and still have a chance to defend yourself by grappling, or scenarios where the opponent is not serious enough to try to kill you fast but is still annoying enough to be grabbing you. In the case of being caught offguard and getting grabbed, you may have missed your window to use Wing Chun so you may benefit from additional grappling skills; and in the case of the opponent not being serious enough to warrant getting punched, grappling (or anti-grappling, as in Aikido) may be the most appropriate way to subdue them without escalating the situation unnecessarily by throwing the first punch.

Tip Tips

  • Do less forms, more sticky hands. Less solo drills, more pairwork drills.
  • Also look out for off-balance moves – you might not be able to ‘feel’ what’s balanced and what’s not when first starting out, but most Wing Chun schools are ridden with off-balance and over-committed techniques – beware!
  • Still, don’t let the downsides put you off too much if you’re a beginner, because you’ve got to start somewhere, and for a beginner in the martial arts, the average Wing Chun club is at least as good as the average club in any other popular style of martial art.
  • When you reach a certain level of expertise, supplement your Wing Chun with more fluid, less rigid striking arts like Tai Chi, Jeet Kune Do, Muay Thai, Boxing and Kickboxing, as well as grappling oriented arts like Judo, Jiu Jitsu, Aikido and Wrestling. Not because Wing Chun is bad, but because Wing Chun focuses on the main things so it has gaps and once you’re comfortable with the basic system it’s time to broaden your skillset to be an even better, more dynamic yet efficient, more spontaneous yet forgiving, more balanced and confident, peaceful martial artist.

First published: March 2018

Last edited: February 2024