Wing Chun Equipment – What Do You Really Need?

One of the great features of martial arts and maybe what has helped them spread so far and wide is because all you really need is a training partner.

Using your own bodyweight for conditioning work and a partner to learn and hone new techniques, spar and push you is all you really need.  An important point to remember when your new, super keen and ready to buy every gizmo and gadget on the market!

The health and fitness industry is full of crazy stuff you don’t really need.

So assuming you want to invest your money into Wing Chun training equipment – where do you start?  What’s essential now, in the future and what is simply a luxuary you can live without.

Let’s get started.

Traditional Wing Chun Equipment

Wooden Dummy

Bruce Lee using traditional Wing Chun Equipment

Bruce Lee using traditional Wing Chun Equipment

Probably the most famous of all traditional Wing Chun training equipment  – the Wooden Dummy plays a key role in the system.  The ‘unarmed’ Wing Chun system consistes of 3 empty hand forms and the wooden dummy form.

Made up of two arms high, a middle arm and leg – the dummy is designed to replicate an opponent you can move around.  Hitting the arms will provide an element of conditioning – however this shouldn’t be seen as the primary purpose.

Inspired by Bruce Lee – there have been many attempts to modify and improve the Wooden Dummy – to make it more alive and your training more realistic.  The only real change that has happened (almost universally) is the switch to a Wall Mounted Wooden Dummy.

Historically the Wooden Dummy would have been outside and allowed practioners to move 360 degrees around it as though it was an opponent.  When practioners started training in Hong Kong the lack of space triggered the shift from free-standing dummies to wall mounted wooden dummies.

For more experienced students (and those with the space and money) a wooden dummy is a great investment provided you use it!

They’re great for training your forms, free practise, footwork and training low level kicks to the body and legs of an opponent.

Look Dim Book Kwan (or Long Pole)

The Wing Chun Long Pole is 8.5 feet in lenght and unusual in that it tapers to a smaller tip.  Grandmaster Yip Man’s Pole Form is somewhat of a secret with video footage owed only by a handful of people (GM Yip Chun and GM Leung Ting).

The Long Pole is held using the end quarter which makes the pole form a good conditioner for the arms and forearms.  With a deeper stance the legs are made to work hard while spearing with the pole and chi kwan can be performed with a partner.

Like the Bart Cham Dao – the Long Pole is a very specific piece of training equipment more suited to more senior students who know the form.   Training the form combines the technical aspects and very specific functional training for your body.

Butterfly Knives (or Butterfly Swords)

The Bart Cham Dao or Butterfly Knives are an unusual weapon used in pairs.  Sizes vary although they are typically the length of the users forearm, have a handle that protects the fingers and a tang which can be used to spin the blades or catch and twist an opponenents sword.

In many Kung Fu systems – heavy weapons are used for conditioning purposes and whilst this isn’t the aim of the Baat Cham Dao – it is definately a secondary benefit as your grip and forearms are worked.

As Wing Chun equipment goes – the Butterfly Swords are of more benefit to someone who knows the Sword Form and not a piece of equipment I’d recommend to new or even intermediate students.

Weapons move in a very different way to punches and kicks so the Butterfly Knive form has more mobile footwork useful for all levels of students – although you can train the footwork without knowing the entire form (or needing a set of knives).

In many Wing Chun systems the Baat Cham Dao are the last piece of the Wing Chun Kung Fu jig-saw and complete the unarmed and armed system.

Look Dim Book Kwan (or Long Pole)

The Wing Chun Long Pole is 8.5 feet in lenght and unusual in that it tapers to a smaller tip.  Grandmaster Yip Man’s Pole Form is somewhat of a secret with video footage owed only by a handful of people (GM Yip Chun and GM Leung Ting).

The Long Pole is held using the end quarter which makes the pole form a good conditioner for the arms and forearms.  With a deeper stance the legs are made to work hard while spearing with the pole and chi kwan can be performed with a partner.

Like the Bart Cham Dao – the Long Pole is a very specific piece of training equipment more suited to more senior students who know the form.   Training the form combines the technical aspects and very specific functional training for your body.

Wall Bag Training

Low cost and very simple – the wall bag is a easy to use traditional pieces of Wing Chun equipment.  Wall bags usually come as single, double or three sectioned – the later being my favourite as you can work your strikes at a variety of heights.

The biggest fault with most wall bag users is their lack of imagination as they bang out straight punch after straight punch.  You can easily come up with lots of training exercises, work footwork, shifts and combinations of punches, palms and chops to the bag.

Not to mention the infinate combinations you can practise.

Filling your wall bag is a little controversial – anything from ball-bearings and sand through to old clothes.  After years of hitting a wall bag filled with sand (always trying to get it as compact as possible) I made the switch to something a little lighter and user friendly.

– Old clothing combined with mung beans, rice and lentils.

Slightly softer the bag still conditions your hand and the give in the bag provides a good feel on your knuckle (more like a person) as it sinks into the filling.  Over time any filling with get lower (either turning into dust or leaking out the back) so make sure to keep it topped up or you’ll end up hitting the wall behind the bag.

Canvas bags are the original and will start to tear the skin off your knuckles so be careful while smooter vinyl or leather-like alternatives will let you train for longer.  Personally I like the feel of hitting canvas bags.

Buying considerations should be where you’re going to put your bag because sound will travel through the walls your bag hangs from and aim to get bags with three or four eyelets to hang it up and reduce the likely hood of it tearing.

Simple and effective as a condition, for isometic training and isolating your punches – wall bags are a great tool and complement the more mobile focus-pad perfectly.

Modern Wing Chun Training Equipment

Focus Pads (Hook & Jab pads)

For anyone looking to sharpen their punches while tidying up their footwork – Focus pads are right up there as number 1 choice when it comes to buying equipment.

When it comes to buying pads you often get what you pay for when it comes to focus pads and just as important is having a good training partner who knows how to hold and feed.

Your training here should always have an emphasis on accuracy – speed and power can be worked in isolation (faster lighter punches or slower heavier punches).

Drills are limited only by your imagination – you can couple your punches with steps, shifts and turns and learn to hit from any angle, standing or on the ground.

Focus pads are also good for endurance training where you can use pyramids starting from singles and working upwards … before coming all the way down.

While your Wing Chun training should always focus on explosive bursts and going all out from second to minutes (for self-defence purposes) you can also include and will benefit from rounds (eg. 2 minute round with 1 minute break in between).

Bruce Lee was a keen advocate of focus pads – they’re specific, fun and extremely versitile.

Heavy Bag Work

From 4ft bags to 6ft bags – if you’re after training that pushes your conditioning while working on power then you’ll find it hard to find any tool better than a heavy bag.

If you have space (and already invested in focus pads) the heavy bag is a great tool for working punches, kicks, knees and elbows.

With a little imagination you can treat the heavy bag like you would a person – stepping into and moving around.

Alternatives to the heavy bag are lighter punch bags and maize bags.  You have to be careful with some light bags because they move too much but a lighter bag can offer a more realistic training tool as it moves and you have to chase and follow.

Maize bags are great – round or pear shaped – you can easily combine all your attacks with hooking and lifting punches found in some wing chun lineages.  Downside is they generally cost more than a good heavybag but you will benefit from their versitility.

Like focus pads – when it comes to buying a punch bag you will generally get what you pay for.  Try to use a few bags and get a feel for the weight you’d find most useful (heavy-heavy bags too hard on their hands if they are training bareknuckle and limit your workouts).

Finally – watch out for cheaper vinyl bags, not because of quality – the surface can be abrasive and take layers of skin off your knuckles and elbows.

Floor-to-Ceiling Ball

If speed and accuracy are traits you’d like to hone you can do little better that invest in a floor-to-ceiling ball.  The round ball is attached from the floor to the ceiling by rubber bands making it bounce left, right, forwards and back when you hit it. 

A real test of hand-eye co-ordination this is definately a ‘luxuary’ that helps your training rather than a ‘must have’ like wall bags or focus pads.

There is a skill and knack to hitting the ball as it moves, anticipation of where it may move and it’s good fun watching someone who’s never used one struggle as they throw punch after punch and miss.

The floor-to-ceiling ball vary in price and the biggest downside is finding a floor attachment that can hold it.  Weights and kettlebells rarely work well and the best option is to put a hook permanently into the floor.

Hand Protection (Gloves & Mitts)

With varied and multiple hand strikes available to the Wing Chun practitioner it’s difficult to find hand protection that lets you train naturally.

During partner training gloves not only get in the way they also affect your body mechanics and the way you can hit through gaps in your opponents defence.

However if you’re going to be hitting a bag with thousands of punches it makes sense to protect and look after your hands.  They’re our most important tools and deserve some respect!

For wall bag work I rarely wear gloves and keep an eye on my hands to make sure they don’t get cuts and grazes – otherwise what started out as a little speckle of blood will slowly get bigger and nastier.

For heavy bag work and most focus pad work I like to wear a light glove that cushions the impact on my knuckles.  This is couple with workouts where I go without a glove to make sure I always form a perfect fist if I need to punch bareknuckle.

Bag mitts are ok as are full-contact karate sparring mitts that slip over your knuckle however Mixed Martial Art gloves are even better.

Designed to let you hit and grapple your opponent they’re small enough to let you chain punch (unlike big boxing gloves) and offer a good amount of protection for your hand.  I usually go without handwraps and focus on forming a good fist and not letting it go limp or loose.