Over at Kung Fu Tea, there is yet another great article. This one has to do with the history and development of the Wing Chun wooden man as we know him today.
As someone who practices on their own an awful lot, my eyes and ears are always open for aids that can help my own training. The wooden dummy is used in many Southern Chinese Martial Arts.
An excerpt is below. The full article may be read here. Please pay a visit. Enjoy.
I have been shopping for a new wooden dummy (Mook Yan Jong). Obviously Wing Chun has a long and fruitful association with the wooden dummy, but this training tool is used throughout the southern Chinese martial arts. Southern Mantis and Hung Gar boxers occasionally use the dummy, as do Choy Li Fut practitioners. In fact, Choy Li Fut employs a great variety of somewhat more mechanical complex training tools.
While Ip Man probably owned a dummy in Foshan, our story does not really begin to get interesting until we reach the 1950s. In 1949 Ip Man and a daughter fled to Macau and then Hong Kong in anticipation of the Communist conquest of Guangdong. After a number of years of KMT sponsored anti-Communist campaigns it was probably no longer safe for him given his prior employment as the leader of a local police unit. After spending a few months in Hong Kong Ip Man decided to take up the title of Sifu and become a professional martial arts teacher.
Of course there were a number of complications. To begin with, he did not have a dummy. More to the point he had yet to establish a local reputation, a pool of stable students or a location for a permanent school. Ip Man would spend the first few years of his teaching career addressing each of these problems.
There are any number of ways to mount a dummy, but Fung’s idea was both simple and innovative. Rather than supporting the dummy at its base (the traditional method) he instead hung the jong on wooden slats that passed directly through the body. The thin slats acted as springs. By moving the supporting structure up the body, where most of the form was actually performed, the feel of the dummy was substantially changed.
Most Dai Jongs had a limited rocking motion, if they moved at all. The new Gua Jong (Live Dummy) was different. It all had to do with the placement and strength of the slats. When a student engaged the arms or leg of the dummy they were in effect loading a spring which would throw the dummy back forward in a more lifelike way the moment the pressure was released.
In effect a Gua Jong offers a degree of feedback on your movements that you simply could not get from a buried dummy. Given that this instrument is often used as a sort of “silent training partner” every ounce of feedback you can squeeze out of it is valuable. For instance, in Wing Chun students want to punch towards the opponent’s “center line.” If you do that with a dummy, from practically any forward facing angle, you will force the body back onto the slats and then the recoil will return the dummy to its initial position. But if your lines of attack are off and you are punching across the front of the dummy, or simply pushing at its arm, its body will slide along the rails, retreating from your incomplete strike. Again, this is critical because it provides instant feedback to the students on the sorts of subtle pressures that must be “felt” to be understood.
Together Ip Man and Fung Shek fine-tuned the new creation. The basic idea was sound but it took a bit of experimentation to work out exactly what sort of slats and mounting system yielded the best results. The final product was a truly custom, and innovative, dummy for the young Hong Kong Wing Chun clan.
Fung Shek delivered his prototype to Ip Man in 1956. While Ip Man worked with a number of different dummies over the years (as he moved from one school to the next) he always kept the Fung Shek creation with him. It was his preferred dummy to set up in a school, and eventually in his own home. In fact, this is the same dummy that used in the now famous series of photographs taken by Tang Sang in 1967. It was always his personal jong. It can now been seen on display in the Ip Man Tong in Foshan.
Yet by the middle of the 1950s things were looking up. Ip was building a larger group of more advanced students and it was now time to consider installing a dummy so that their training could progress. In fact he was already showing some his students sections of the dummy form which they were practicing like any other set. In Wing Chun parlance this is called “using the air dummy.”
While good for a quick review, it is no substitute for the geometric discipline of the real thing.
Life in Hong Kong was very different from Foshan. To begin with, people tended to live in tall apartment buildings, rather than in one story dwellings with flagstone floors. And outdoor space was extremely limited in the city, just as it is today.
Sometime in the mid-1950s Ip Man approached a carpenter and friend named Fung Shek. He explained his basic problem and talked about what he wanted in a dummy. He then commissioned Fung to devise some means for constructing a mounting system for a portable dummy (Ip Man moved frequently during this period) that could be used indoors.