No doubt about it, flowing through a wooden dummy session is cool!
This is sifu Alon Peterson at normal speed (not fast motion video). I wish I could flow smoothly like that, don't you? And look at his smooth footwork. This is the goal when you train on a Wing Chun dummy.
In his book, The Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell repeatedly mentions the “10,000 Hour Rule” as the key to success in any field. His premise is that to be an expert in your field requires that you practice your skill or art for at least 10,000 hours.
An old Chinese proverb (which Bruce Lee borrowed) states:
“I fear not the man who practices 10,000 techniques once, but the man who practices one technique 10,000 times holds my respect.”
If you're one of the lucky few, you have a Wing Chun wooden dummy at home waiting for you to practice. If you're like me, you have to wait until you get to the kwoon to touch hands with the mook yan jong (wooden dummy - or mook jong, for short).
[Mook yan jong is the Cantonese pronunciation (close enough). In Mandarin it is: mu ren zhuang: 木人桩. Literally wood, person, post (stake).]
One of the more popular legends behind the wing chun wooden dummy's origin says it came from the ancient Shaolin Temple.
About 300 years ago, before the Manchu government burned the temple to the ground, the temple had a tunnel with 108 individual dummies. Practice one move on one specific dummy; talk about practicing one move 10,000 times!
In order for the monks to graduate, they had to pass through this tunnel and successfully neutralize each dummy, which represented being able to complete each of the 108 combat techniques.
Ng Mui, the buddhist nun and matriarch credited for founding Wing Chun Kung Fu in many lineages, escaped the Manchu attack and survived the Shaolin Temple's burning.
She took many kung fu secrets with her, and also combined all of the individual 108 wooden dummy combat techniques, and unified them into one training set (Wing Chun form) that could be trained by using just one wooden dummy.
Originally, wooden dummies were made from tree trunks that were set in the ground with gravel so they would give slightly when struck. Modern wooden dummies are made from various types of wood, with teak, a hardwood, being quite common and sought after.
Many craftsmen make wooden dummies that are both functional and beautiful works of art. Just like a fine piece of furniture, though, Wing Chun dummies cost a pretty penny.
In general, you'll want to favor dummies made from hardwoods like teak, oak, hickory, and others. These hold up well over time compared to softer woods like pine. At my kwoon we have two wooden dummies.
The hardwood one is teak and belonged to our grandmaster. The dummy traveled across the Pacific Ocean to the U.S. and was used by my sifu's sifu. And now, my sifu inherited it. It's got to be close to 40 years old. The leg on it broke, but was recently repaired with a metal splint. It's still going strong.
The second dummy is about 10 years old, made out of some cheaper, softer wood and stained to look dark. The main body (the trunk) already has a nasty split where the double arms come out. I don't think it can be properly repaired (the log is split deeply).
The trouble is, even the less expensive wood dummies are not cheap. I recommend investing in a quality dummy. You'll be able to pass it on to the next generation, and like a good piece of heirloom furniture that gets better with age, you can sell it. Besides, hardwoods, like precious metals, go up in value with time.
The purpose of Wing Chun dummies is to prepare you for combat by allowing you to get in the hours necessary for success and to allow you to practice your techniques in isolation.
The dummy helps you in developing the skills of Wing Chun: correct angle of deflection, balance, flow, accuracy, timing, positioning, speed and power.
The timing and power of all fighting techniques can be drilled repeatedly on the dummy.
Don't waste your solo training time. It has been said that an average martial artist will spend 80% of his time training alone. By using a wooden dummy, you can maximize your solo training benefits, bringing you closer to your peak physical, mental, and spiritual awareness.