Throughout the centuries man has explored the outer and inner nature of all living things. One of the cultures with the most in-depth exploration and understanding is the Chinese culture. Covering approximately 9.6 million square kilometers, China is the world's second largest country by land area and the third largest by total area. China is one of the words earliest civilization and goes back to the ancient times.

Wing Tsun Kung Fu originated in Southern China during the Qing dynasty (1444-1912). It is generally translated as meaning Eternal Springtime, or Forever Springtime. Among other things, wing tsun teaches relaxation through stress and tension reduction which draws from consistent teachings and followings of various Chinese philosophies.

The common legend as told by Yip Man involves the young woman Yim Wing-Tsun during the period after the destruction by the Qing government. Having rebuffed the local warlord's marriage offer, Yim Wing-Tsun said she'd reconsider the proposal if he could beat her in a fight. She soon crossed paths with a Buddhist nun named Ng Mui, who was one of the Shaolin Sect survivors, and asked the nun to teach her to fight. According to legend Ng Mui taught Yim Wing-Tsun a new system of martial art that had been inspired by the nun's observations of a confrontation between a snake and a crane. This nameless style enabled Yim Wing-Tsun to beat the warlord in a one-on-one fight. The style was soon named after her and later adapted simply as wing Tsun.

While the above story is held as the general believe of the system creation, it is also believed by some others that because the system was developed during the Shaolin

and Ming resistance to the Qing Dynasty, many legends, including the story of Yim wing-tsun, were spread regarding the creation of wing tsun in order to confuse enemies. It’s possible that the above story was created to protect the system's origin and identities, thus ng mui and yim wing tsun were created. Many versions of the story exist as changed over time from person to person through the natural process of evolution. Yim can be translated to mean protect, prohibit or secret. The term wing tsun referred to the Siu Lam Wing Tsun Tong (always spring hall) which was located in the temple and where it's believed that this art’s origins come from. Thus, Yim Wing Tsun was a code meaning the secret art of the Siu Lam Wing Tsun Hall.

It's probably best to say wing tsun (Chun, etc.) descended from the Shaolin temple and was improved over the years by some very intelligent and highly skilled practitioners. Dr. Jan and Yip Man to name two of the more recent ones. In the beginning there were probably a smaller number of hand and foot movements including some techniques on the wooden dummy and butterfly blades and overtime more were created.

The philosophy of Wing Tsun Kung Fu, like many martial arts, relates to a way of life that goes much deeper than just fighting. Indeed the traditional philosophy of kung fu relates to how to live one's life, rather than discovering truth in reality. Wing Tsun Kung Fu reflects this path in five levels of wisdom stretching from the basic understanding of physical moves such as how to throw a punch all the way to complete mastery of the body and mind, where the philosophy of kung fu extends to all aspects of the practitioner's life. The basic level is known as Ying, which teaches basic forms and shapes. Ying can be considered the study of "what" techniques there are in combat, such as how to punch, or kick. The student achieves a deeper understanding of how to make these moves at the next level.

The second level is known as Yi. This is where the principles used in wing tsun are learned. Yi teaches the bridges and techniques as employed in combat. This is usually taught through chi-sau and drills while holding to and learning the fighting and strength concepts and principles.

The third level is referred to as Lei. This level considers the shapes and forms employed in Ying and Yi and internalizes these into an instinctive system, helped by mastering the forms through repetition. The student's skills developed in fighting can then be extended into other aspects of their lives, where discipline, self-control and other qualities can be employed into a philosophy of “living the kung fu life”.

The fourth level is known as Faat (in Buddhism this is referred to as Dharma) which explores the methods, or ways of understanding reality. In wing tsun, reality is expressed in space/time (heaven), energy (human) and gravity/identity (earth).

The fifth and final level is known as Seut, meaning skill and showmanship relates to the expression of wing tsun in our everyday lives where discipline, respect and the correct interaction with others is realized. The practitioner has at this point achieved mastery and all their actions are reflected in the kung fu life.

The philosophies and topics discussed in this paper include the following. I have consolidated my research in order to keep this paper from extending into a book, however, there is much more than what I've written here. This is, after all, a lifetime journey.





Yin and Yang




Buddhism is a religion based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, who lived about 25 centuries ago in what is now Nepal and northeastern India. He came to be called "the Buddha", which means "awakened one", after he experienced a profound realization of the nature of life, death and existence.

Buddhism was developed as a means to reach enlightenment or awakening. Buddhism promotes the middle way rather than extremes as a path to enlightenment. Success is based on balance. This implies that if one is in the middle road you can see both left and right paths. If you go too far to the left or right you lose sight of the other side. This can be seen in the fact that wing tsun is a hard and soft style.

Buddhism believes that each person is capable of achieving enlightenment, which is done by reducing the suffering caused by craving or want. We want to succeed, to obtain possessions, to reduce change and to satisfy the ego. Through the reduction of these desires we reduce our sufferings, but since these desires are created in our minds, they must be fought in our minds. The internal battle will result in self-cultivation.

The foundation of Buddhist thought are found in four noble truths:

1. Dukkha - Life contains suffering
2. Samudaya - Attachment, desire and aversion are roots of suffering
3. Nirhodha - There is a way to end suffering
4. Magga - The path from suffering is known as the noble eightfold path.

By themselves, the truths don't seem like much. But beneath the truths are countless layers of teachings on the nature of existence, the self, life, and death, not to mention suffering. The point is not to just "believe in" the teachings, but to explore them, understand them, and test them against one's own experience. It is the process of exploring, understanding, testing and realizing that is Buddhism. One can easily see similarities of this within wing tsun.

The Buddhism way of compassion means not returning harm if you have been harmed; to refrain from anger and revenge. The Buddhist will feel compassion for other people and have the understanding that this person is acting in this way only because of his own feelings of suffering. Compassion is seen as the higher way of responding. This can be mapped to wing tsun’s principle which teaches to not meet force with force, but rather to yield and go around. As an example, when met with someone who seems to have no patience and is easily agitated in a particular subject of discussion, one should meet this with a communicated understanding and not a retaliated response which would simply result in a back-in-forth argumentative state of communication.

Most Buddhist believe in a moral law known as karma, the law of cause and effect. Often karma is thought of as a cosmic balance of right and wrong. Many believe that if you do something bad, something bad will happen to you in return. Think of karma simply as the effects upon yourself of the chain of events set in motion by your everyday actions or lack of actions. If I lie, it may cause a string of events that will eventually cause me to experience some other negative event. The more morally questionable actions I take, the more likely I will experience some undesired state. The word karma does not necessarily mean cosmic justice. The intent with which you train your wing tsun will cause either good or bad results for your skill development. This reminds me of a proverb “What we think we become”. But in addition to thinking there is doing.

Zen and its relevance to Wing Tsun

Zen is the name given to a widely followed specific branch of Buddhism with principles heavily influenced by Taoism and Confucianism. Zen emphasizes insight into Buddha’s nature and the personal expression of this insight in daily life. The purpose of Zen is to experience enlightenment and Zen practitioners believe that enlightenment is found in one's own mind. In order to become enlightened, you must realize that there is a natural way to everything and everyone. You will see how you are and how you fit. You will be enlightened when you can become one with the natural way without forcing it. In the beginning a punch is a punch. In the middle, a punch is more than a punch, in the end, a punch is only a punch.

Some philosophies under Zen include:

- Seek fellowship and demonstrate basic goodness- Work is the key - Activity is the path
- Don't make excuses

- Focus on the center - When moving, just move
- Don't worry about success or failure.- Don't be anxious - Accept your limits
- Be calm minded
- Pursue one objective

In wing tsun we understand the importance of training, repetition, working together, being focused, being calm minded and relaxed, not being anxious. All these are key philosophy topics/goals under Zen mastery. Again, Zen principles are heavily influenced by Taoism and Confucianism which will be discussed.

There are two things most people think they know about Buddhism. 1) that Buddhists believe in reincarnation and 2) that all Buddhists are vegetarian. These two statements are not entirely true, however. Buddhist teachings on rebirth are considerably different from what most people call "reincarnation." And although vegetarianism is encouraged, in many sects it is considered a personal choice, not a requirement.

When Buddhism came to China from India, it was initially adapted into the Chinese culture and understanding. Buddhism was exposed to Confucians and Taoist influences.


"Confucius," is the common name of Confucianism's founder. It is a Latin form of the Chinese K'ung-fu-tzu, "Master K'ung." The terms "Confucianism" and "Confucian" are not meaningful terms in Chinese. They are Western terms, coined in Europe.

Confucius (Kung-fu-tzu) was born in 551 BC in the small feudal state of Lu in what is now Shantung Province. Confucius was a Chinese thinker and philosopher. His thoughts which were focused on social relationships, justice and sincerity were developed into a philosophy known as Confucianism. His teachings in all three aspects focused on practicing the middle/natural way.

Confucianism is considered to be one of the "Three Ways" which together with Taoism and Buddhism, grew into a traditional Chinese way of living. Confucianism is essentially an ethical system that seeks balance between harmony in what's around us and individuality. It stresses regular performance and acceptance of duties along with living an active and virtuous life. The Confucianism idea is to be a person who lives according to the highest ethical standards. Such a person typically displays four virtues: Self-respect, generosity, persistence and sincerity.

How does Confucianism relate to wing tsun. For one, it’s essential because it provides the ethical framework that wing tsun practitioners should develop as they learn deadly skills. As an instructor in wing tsun, Confucianism ideas are used to regulate the exercise of the deadly skills that are passed on. In addition, an instructor should not just teach these potentially deadly skills, but should also provide some regular spiritual edification. This does not need to be in the form of some divine moment, but rather through regular discussions during the teaching time period.

Confucianism also teaches a hierarchic society framework and we use this in wing tsun today by respecting and looking up to those of higher rank. For example, a male who has been studying wing tsun longer is called Sihing (meaning older brother) and the person who provides the teaching and direction is called Sifu (Father/Teacher) as it is ethical to respect your parents, so is it in Wwing tsun to respect your Father/Teacher. While subservient behavior may have its roots in Confucianism, it’s not taken to this extreme in wing tsun. In wing tsun it’s more about acknowledgement, respect and trust. Trust from the student that his teacher will guide him and pass down to him the wing tsun skill.

The general rule of conduct taught by Confucius states, "Do not unto others what you would not have others do unto you." Following are a few other writings coming from Confucianism and one can easily see how and why these fit into ones wing tsun learning and training. I’ve also include some that directly relate to the martial artist.

“Consideration for others is the basic of a good life, a good society.” “Remain disciplined-Uphold yourself ethically as a martial artist.” “Practice courtesy and righteousness and honor your family.” “Love your fellow students - Be united and avoid conflicts.”

“Train diligently and make it a habit-Maintain your skills.”
“Learn to develop spiritual tranquility - Abstain from arguments and fights.”
“Help the weak and the very young - Use your martial skill for the good of humanity.” “Pass on the tradition - Preserve this Chinese art and its rules of conduct.”
“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.”

“The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential... these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.”

“When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don't adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.”


Wing Tsun was created based on principles from Taoism. Taoism (pronounced Daoism) is a Chinese philosophy spanning over two thousand years. Tao means "path" or "way". Taoist ethics emphasize compassion, simplicity, and humility. Taoist philosophy focuses on Wu Wei ("non-action"), spontaneity and emptiness. An emphasis is placed on the link between people and nature. Taoism teaches that this link lessens the need for rules and order, and leads people to a better understanding of the world and why things happen.

Taoism is largely based on the writings of Lau Tzu. Lau Tsu is the author of the book Tao Te Ching. Taoism is the principles of letting things follow the flow of their natural path and to go along with that the natural path instead of fighting against it. If pushed go with it, If pulled follow it. A tree branch will return to its position, but will let you move it by either pushing or pulling it. The goal is to learn the way so you can go with it. Flow in the natural process. This will be very familiar to a wing tsun practitioner.

Tao Te Ching ("Book of the Way") was written around 600 B.C. by Lao Tsu. This book is composed of 81 short chapters. The book describes the want to peace and enlightenment and the nature of life. The book is often thought of as a basis for Taoism and describes the universal truths that are the root of all things.

Finding the Tao will improve your wing tsun as you'll learn not to try too hard or oppose force with force. Your techniques won't look choppy and forced. To find the Tao requires you to have an enter emptiness, a release of ego and desire. Many martial arts believe in having Taoism as part of their training and living philosophy. They even name their art after "The Way" (Tao, Dao, Do). Examples include, Aikido, Judo, Kendo, Tai Kwon Do and Jeet Kune Do.

Tao can be roughly stated to be the flow of the universe, or the force behind the natural order of things. Tao is believed to be the influence that keeps the universe balanced and ordered. The flow of Chi (Qi) is the essential energy of action and existence and is considered the universal order of the Tao.

This philosophical aspect of Taoism emphasizes various themes found in the Tao Te Ching such as naturalness, vitality, peace, "non-action" (Wu Wei), emptiness (refinement), detachment, the strength of softness.

Wu Wei is a central concept in Taoism. The literal meaning of Wu Wei is "without action". It’s often expressed by the paradox Wei Wu Wei, meaning "action without action" or "effortless doing". The practice and efficacy of Wu Wei are fundamental in Chinese thought, most prominently emphasized in Taoism. The goal of Wu Wei is alignment with Tao, revealing the soft and unseen power within all things.

In ancient Taoist texts, Wu Wei is associated with water through its yielding nature. Water is soft and weak, it is noted, but it can move earth and carve stone. Taoist philosophy proposes that the universe works harmoniously according to its own ways. When someone exerts his will against the world, he disrupts that harmony. Taoism does not identify man's will as the root problem. Rather, it asserts that man must place his will in harmony with the natural universe.

You may have heard of a wing tsun's most famous practitioners, Bruce Lee, say, "Be Like Water". This idea is directly from Taoist thought. Wing Tsun flows around overwhelming force and finds openings with its constant flow of forward energy.

P'u is seen as keeping oneself in the primordial state of tao. It is believed to be the true nature of the mind, unburdened by thoughts, knowledge or past experiences. In the state of P'u, there is no right or wrong, beautiful or ugly. There is only pure experience, or awareness, free from learned labels and definitions. It is this state of being that is the goal of following Wu Wei. In wing tsun, practitioners empty their minds in order to become as receptive and aware of potential threats. There should be no preconceived notions of what kind of attack could be coming your way. You could say that this is keeping yourself in the primordial state of the Tao... P'u.

P'u is translated as an "uncarved block" or "simplicity". It represents a passive state of receptiveness. P'u is a symbol for a state of pure potential and perception without prejudice. In this state, everything is seen as it is, without preconceptions or illusion.

As mentioned earlier, wing tsun means forever/eternal spring. This could be meant as returning to the source. Training in wing tsun aims at making fighting effortless. This is the state of the previously mentioned Wu Wei. Although the first form of wing tsun, Siu Nim Tao, is thought to be the most basic, it is actually the most advanced. As you progress through your development in wing tsun, you learn to simplify your movements more and more. Ideally, you're returning to the state of Wu Wei.

Wing Tsun is a martial art based on simplicity, relaxed power through softness, yin and yang, yielding and controlling, chi flow and natural responses. Wing Tsun's principles go with the flow of energy rather than forcing against it. Wing Tsun uses the power of relaxed softness to overcome an opponent's force. There is always emptiness and fullness within wing tsun applications (a Ying and Yang concept that will be discussed later). For instance, as one arm may be yielding the other arm may be attacking. As one leg is weighted, the other leg becomes empty or non-weighted. In Taoism the basis of order is duality... the changing (Yang) and the unchanging (Yin). Each can't exist without the other.

There are many more aspects of wing tsun that are in line with Taoism. Wing Tsun follows the Tao. It isn't rigid. It allows itself to be flexible. The principles that lead to higher levels of awareness. Wing Tsun practitioners learn when to become empty and when to become full. In reality, there isn't one without the other. There is no right or wrong. There is no definition. There is only universal balance.

Other Relevances

Chi Power & the importance of forms training

Chi power can be achieved by spending some time a couple times a day breathing with your diaphragm to increase oxygen flow, better blood flow is good for sending 'food' to the muscles. Breathing through the nose helps warm the air as it passes over the epithelium and also traps some of the dust and pollutants.

Years of poor posture, anxious thinking, tension and pressure keep us from breathing through our diaphragm. Diaphragmatic breathing helps regulate the oxygen and carbon dioxide in the system. Structural chi energy involves having correct posture and correct posture is also important to good wing tsun. Correct posture allows us to be relaxed and centered and it facilitates smooth chi flow. This type of energy is focused on during Siu Nim Tao practice. Energy flows better when the alignment of the body is as natural as intended. To improve chi, remember the following guidelines during practice. Release tension (contracted muscles that restrict speed and range of motion). Tension impedes the free flow of energy to the muscles. Relax the joints to allow less friction to occur during movement. Proper body alignment involves keeping the spine straight and the head back and center over the body. Release tension in the shoulders. Tension here prevents the chest from expanding while breathing and stops the shoulder blades from moving freely. Relaxed hips helps maintain correct spinal structures and also allows chi to flow better around the center of the body to help promote more chi flow throughout the body. Regular forms training that focusses on these specifics will greatly improve chi energy. Wing Tsun forms involves so much more than simply memorizing and repeating techniques in a predefined specific order.

Yin & Yang

In Chinese philosophy Yin & Yang are two complementary yet opposite forces which are manifest in all things. Yin may be understood as anything negative, passive, feminine, soft etc. and Yang may be understood as anything positive, active, masculine, hard etc. The symbol for Yin & Yang is known as T'ai Chi (supreme ultimate) and represents the constant flow from one to the other.

Yin and yang is something to help us understand the world around us. In wing tsun, yin and yang are used to describe the nature of chi energy at a given moment. Yin/Yang is an expression of the dynamic interplay between opposites to achieve a unified whole. In wing tsun we need to be soft and yielding (yin). It might allow us to reposition or feel an attacker's intention. However, we must also use explosive power (yang) when the time is right to counter-attack. Hard and soft must work together, too much of either will result in an unwanted outcome. Example, using power all the time will deplete us and lead to over-committal of attacks. In wing tsun, yin and yang are often used simultaneously. An example would be a yielding turn while attacking.

The main difference between Western and Eastern philosophy is that in the West people view things as separate and opposite. For instance light and dark are opposite. However, in the East things are viewed differently. Everything is ultimately viewed as being a part of one whole which is referred to as Tao (as previously mentioned, this can be translated roughly as meaning Way, Essence, Path, Force etc.). So the Chinese

understand Yin and Yang being two complementary aspects of one whole. You can’t have one without the other. For instance now it may be dark, but to understand darkness I must know what light is.

So basically something cannot be pure Yin or Yang, it always contains elements of both. Also it must be understood that Yin & Yang are not static, like everything in existence they are impermanent and cannot be understood intellectually, only felt. For instance if I ride my bike I cannot pedal on both pedals at once, I must push one and release one, so I am using both Yin & Yang together to move. In wing tsun, we use Yin and Yang constantly through yielding and thrusting forward. A tan-sau can be considered Yin when it is yielding, while a fook-sau can be considered yang when it is driving forward. It is also not incorrect to state that a tan-sau is both yin and yang because it continues to maintain forward pressure while at the same time yielding.

Yin and Yang is an important symbol in the Chinese culture and philosophies. The white is known as Yang and the black is known as Yin. White and Black represent Hot and Cold, Winter and Summer. They represent opposites with the dots inside of each of these areas representing the equalization between the two and how each cannot live without the other. When the opponent is too soft, balance with hard. When the opponent is too hard, balance with soft. As opposites move from imbalance to balance, there is change. The symbol represents this change by showing one color growing as the other shrinks. When things change, you should change too or risk being out of sync.

So, how is this relevant to wing tsun. Well, we all know that you cannot overcome strength with strength. So in wing tsun we must be soft and compliment the opponent’s movement, so he leads to his own destruction. A perfect example of this would be a lap sau & punch. As the opponent punches towards me I also thrust my arm towards him. When our arms meet, I give way with a tan-sau. As my opponent’s pressure continues to come towards me, I shift and turn my tan into a lap-sau while at the same time I continue my shifting and turning while also punching, so I am not opposing his force, only gently guiding it past me, then returning it to him with my fist. This way I am using his own force against him. There are multiple types of energy in wing tsun, Gung Lik (hard, forward energy) & Sun Lik (soft, withdrawing energy). These are opposites, but complementary. There are times when these are not purely used by themselves (i.e., without the other). For instance, Bong-sau is a soft technique for the most part, but it moves forward first as an attack before deforming from the greater pressure of the opponent, so it contains elements of both. As you progress through your training you will discover how Yin & Yang interplay in every movement made, at first through the forms, then through chi-sau.


I-Ching is the "Book of Changes". It's one of the oldest Chinese texts and describes a philosophy based on the dynamic balance of opposites and the system of Yin and Yang. According to the book of changes, there are eight elements which are found in the universe. Heaven, Marsh/Lake, Fire, Thunder, Wind, Water, Mountain and Earth. Each of these elements has a number of properties that can be applied to a situation based on their natures. Broken and solid lines are used to stack on top of each other in a six line pattern which results in 64 possible patterns with each making up various lessons and advice. A chart was created to provide a general guidance. I-Ching has similarities with the other Chinese philosophies and with the wing tsun concepts and principles.


The six harmonies is a concept throughout Chinese Kung Fu.
These harmonies are very important to one’s ability in mastering wing tsun. Without it, it will be difficult to generate full body power without using muscle tension and to be able to successfully throw your energy into the opponent. It is said that without these six harmonies, a person's energy will stick to himself and will not be released. You may have good technique and be able to apply it proficiently, but without these "harmonies, your power is limited. To have harmony means that the whole mind and body move together. When one part of the body moves, the entire body moves. All pieces are moving in harmony. Without harmony, the movements are incomplete and weaker. External harmonies define correct structure of body and stepping to generate minimum power.

External Harmonies:

- Shoulders harmonize with hips - Elbows harmonize with knees - Hands harmonize with feet

Internal Harmonies:

- The heart (spirit) harmonizes with intent - The intent harmonizes with Chi
- The Chi harmonizes with the body

Having harmonies working together is important to improving power and mastering the art. In order to optimize striking power, the body should be relaxed and be able to work as a single, cohesive unit. Relaxation comes from having a relaxed and peaceful mind. This only occurs by working hard on the skill for an extended period of time.

How Chi-Sau Relates To Philosophy

Chi Sao is a tool sharpening exercise of wing tsun. It is an uninterrupted exchange of energy flow between two people. Chi Sao goes with the flow of energy yielding and controlling. You could say that chi-sao is the act of developing the essential energy of wing tsun. Through its practice, chi-sao brings order to the chaos of fighting.

While ch-sau is one of the most important training tools, there needs to be balance in wing tsun training. This corresponds with the yin and yang philosophy. Too much of one thing is not necessarily a good thing.

Like the already mentioned Chinese philosophies, concepts and principles, chi-sau is large and deep like the sea. Not only does it supply important knowledge needed for

fighting, it also teaches and contains health benefits too. This is also true to wing tsun in general.

If one looks deeply, they will see many of the previously mentioned philosophy principles embedded into this training. Since wing tsun is a unique Chinese system designed around the Chinese philosophies, it stands to reason that the chi-sau training is no different.


Wing Tsun contains various Chinese cultural, religious and naturally embedded physical practice. Some may not realize this, but anyone involved in this art will find some kind of personal philosophy through it. This is true for martial arts just as it is for music, painting or dancing. Some people have found that the principles and ideas of wing tsun can help them interpret their environment, or the world around them. So, a benefit of learning wing tsun is more than gaining self-defense or fighting skills. The practitioner will gain life related skills and wisdom. This is not gained through teaching alone, but rather through the experiences obtained through focused observation during years of training.

Anyone should be able to find a degree of deep personal satisfaction in an art like wing tsun and that is a good thing. If you personally feel called to be a Buddhist, then by all means go and do it. That is also a good thing. However, it is not the case that one needs to be a Buddhist or a Taoist to understand Wing Tsun.

Sihing Dobie Howard

Living The Kung Fu Life