The Wing Chun way
There used to be a time when martial arts was practiced for actual battle and to establish territories. Specific arts was also only taught to direct descendants and students of certain tribes or villages. Those days are long gone. Today there are a bewildering array of martial arts from all over the world, from well known ones such as karate and tae kwon do, to lesser known ones such as Bartitsu, a form practiced by Sherlock Holmes. There are even art forms that incorporate the best of everything, a practice currently know as mixed martial arts. MMA, as it is better known has received a lot of exposure from tournaments such as the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). Exponents of MMA need to be well verse in grappling as well as mat work, and as such practice not just one but a couple of different arts.
One particular form of martial art that have seen a recent renaissance in recent times is wing chun. This is probably due to recent movies from Hong Kong showcasing Ip Man, who is most famous for being Bruce Lee's mentor. While not the first person to practice this form of art, he is most well known for popularizing it. As a person who has tried different forms, from karate, tae kwon do and maikido to shaolin, I find wing chun very refreshing. Part of this lies in the simplicity of the movements, as well as the philosophies behind the art and its concepts. It is not difficult to learn this form. Wing chun incorporates both attacking and parrying moves, and provides much of the basis for Bruce Lee's Jeet Kune Do. There are many benefits to practicing this too. In this article I hope to highlight the benefits of this art.
Part of the concept of wing chun is economy of motion. Jeet Kune Do teaches us to hack away at the unessential. This is also one of the grounding philosophies of this art form. The movements usually take the most direct route to the target, and that basically means attacking or parrying in a straight line. There are only three empty handed forms in wing chun, siu lim tao (little idea), chum kiu (gap bridging) and biu jee (thrusting fingers). Beginners are usually made to practice the siu lim tao over and over again as it contains all the moves required to practice wing chun. The other forms teaches you the application of these moves. Practicing siu lim tao also trains the muscles to have "muscle memory" so the moves will be almost automatic when a situation presents itself.
One of the many benefits of practicing wing chun is also in its spirituality, even though you don't have to necessarily subscribe to any religion. The very act of performing the siu lim tao teaches us to relax our limbs and to breath properly. This in turn relaxes the body physically and refreshes the mind. This art teaches us to use minimal force (softness via relaxation) when deflecting an opponent. Its much easier to counter a move when your limbs are not tensed as this will waste energy trough muscle tension. Besides having a tense limb will provide the opponent something to grab onto. Just like in real life situations, it is always better to deal with an strong opposing force with gentleness, rather than with aggression and force. This form's uncommited moves allows its practitioner to flow into sticky situation, reflecting fluidity of real life. Also much emphasis is placed on structure and stance. The correct stance can be compared to a shoot of bamboo, firm but flexible. It is this rooted structure that can be used to deflect external forces or redirect them.
Any martial art will greatly improve your physical health. The very fact that you are moving, as opposed to sitting down and not doing anything is a great boon for health. Wing chun can be practices in a group setting, where you can spar or chi sau (sticking hands) with a partner. In chi sau, you have constant contact with your partners hands so as to learn how to feel and anticipate moves that the person might spring on you. Some sifu's (masters) would actually have you chi sau blindfolded to better aid in this sensitivity training. This art form can also be practiced on your own (i.e. training the empty handed forms and also using the wooden dummy). This to me is also one of the great benefits of practicing wing chun.
Of course most people take up martial arts as a way to defend themselves should a need arise. As with all arts, wing chun was developed to defend and protect oneself rather than for attacking. Practicing this art also gives the practitioner more self confidence to face every day situations, be it in life, or in other more sticky situations.