Wing chun is often described as a style that adheres to scientific principles rather than tradition. It is a relatively modern style, invented about 300 years ago, and generally, practitioners pride themselves in taking a modern, theoretically coherent approach to martial arts. Personally, I feel that this view makes an unfair assessment of older ‘traditional’ styles. To begin with, when done properly, older styles do work. The problem is usually with the depth of understanding, and whether the student has taken the time to master the required skills. Of course, the same can be said about wing chun.

There is some variation between wing chun schools regarding the principles, but I will put forward 5 qualities that are commonly thought of as intrinsic to and representative of wing chun. Bear in mind that to each of these principles, a practitioner of another style will say, of course, ‘we do that too‘. Really, these principles are just natural requisites for efficiency in any discipline, be it martial arts, scientific research, song writing, or running a business. I will present them as they relate to wing chun, but do not claim them as wing chun’s invention. Also, each principle will involve the qualities of the others, i.e. directness must imply economy of movement and simplicity, etc.




Wing chun will almost always take a direct line to the striking point. This is not incontrovertible as circumstance may require a deviation from a straight line in order to deflect an incoming blow, or avoid a hard clash of force.




The simplest solution is the best. Occam’s razor applied to fighting.


Minimum use of brute strength

Most styles will claim this, however wing chun, at least the type that I do, is obsessive about this point. We take the idea literally. Any movement should take no more physical strength than is required to do the movement in the air. For that matter even moving through thin air we learn to use less muscle and aspire to use no muscle at all. This idea is often met with derision, ‘scientific’ types will say that any movement requires muscle. Whether that is true or not, when wing chun is done correctly, it feels as if no muscles are activated, and the simple way to achieve the desired physical state is to try to move without muscle. Without being precious, I think only those who have practiced an internal style comprehensively can understand this concept. As evidence I can say that at 50 years old, 26 years of training has made me many times more powerful than I was as a young man, despite of course being physically much weaker now than then. Strength and power are not mutually inclusive in wing chun theory.



Once again, every fighting style aspires to be practical I cannot think of any discipline that see impracticality as a quality. Anyway wing chun people like to claim this as theirs. Of course, done badly, wing chun can be extremely impractical, but done properly it is devastatingly effective. It must be said, however,  that most styles can make this claim.


Economy of movement

This principle is important to wing chun and inherent in other principles, such as directness. Over years of training, a wing chun student will whittle away wasted movement, refining their skill like a sculptor polishing a statue. The same can be said about wasted effort. One’s wing chun can constantly be improved, unimpeded by the negative effects of aging such as muscle deterioration, and enhanced by the positives, such as patience and wisdom. For me, that is one of the most attractive  aspects of this remarkable style.