If you haven’t got a training partner the wooden dummy is the next best thing for practicing fighting positions and techniques as a wing chun martial artist. Indeed it is actually better than a real partner in some ways. You can take the time to ensure correct training for your hands, feet and posture – you don’t have such a luxury when sparring or even performing drills with a partner – unless your partner is willing to wait a long time for you to examine every movement.
My good self training on my wooden dummy in Vietnam.
Unlike a partner a wooden dummy will stand still as you examine whether all your positions are correct – with a partner you will not get as much time to appreciate the finer points of everything that is needed to adopt a good fighting or defensive position in Wing Chun. Only by using the wooden dummy can you really appreciate your form and structure during and after every movement around an opponent.
The wooden dummy works because it gives you a target allowing your mind to engage a physical object rather than make believe one. This means that unless you train with the dummy regularly you will not be aware of how much you compromise many of positions you have trained using the forms which will inevitably lead to greater weakness during chi sau, sparring or even real fighting.
For example when approaching the dummy from an angle you may find yourself leaning in on your toes and your structure being compromised – this is a weakness I constantly need to correct. Consider that you may do this against a wooden dummy and then move onto a real life opponent and no doubt your form will be compromised even more.
Another weakness I found within myself was I was drawn to thinking of striking the wooden dummy only with my hands and not with my full body. Also my hips began to square up as opposed to remain at 45 when approaching the dummy from an angle. Practising slowly made me realise how much training I still need – even before I considered my positions and fighting form against another person.
With a wooden dummy you can also freeze frame every movement and ponder whether your arms and feet are positioned correctly after a movement. You can also examine how you move around the wooden dummy – how your weight changes and whether your balance is correct or sloppy.
The wooden dummy is essential to refining your fighting technique in Wing Chun and for anyone who ignores it – you will be less of a fighter and martial artist for doing so. It cannot replace a real opponent but then again it can afford you the luxury of time and slow reflection that you miss during training with a partner. It is also there whenever you need it unlike a training partner who may tire or get bored of training.
Currently living in Vietnam, I do not have the luxury of training in Wing Chun with a partner in Hong Kong style wing chun so I acquired a dummy for $200 (considerably cheaper than the West as they manufacture them locally here). The wooden dummy has become my number one training partner and has allowed me to continue my training on a more enhanced level than if I just practised the three forms. So if you are serious about improving your Wing Chun long term I would fully recommend you dip into your savings and invest in one – you will not regret it!
My Classic Mistakes on the Wooden Dummy
- Moving too fast too soon: There is no point moving fast on the wooden dummy until you get use to all the hand, feet and body weight positions – I always remind myself to slow down and examine how I am moving ensuring I have the correct posture to strike the dummy with my full body behind it and not my upper body alone. Moving too fast too soon will also compromise your footwork and balance. You may trip over the leg!
- Thinking more of the elbow and not of the hands: A common mistake I get caught out with is to start moving away from focusing on striking and defending with the elbow and more towards the hands. This compromises your centre line and can disconnect your elbow from your body leading to less power and less safety – it will leave you open to counter attacks in a real fight down your centre.
- Detaching from the dummy when I shouldn’t: Loosing contact with the dummy in attempt to generate more power – the idea of the dummy is to focus on making and keeping contact in the most effective manner possible – yet sometimes I find myself recoiling my arms to generate a little more power instead of choosing the shortest distance between one hand position and another.
- Leaning forwards: Always keep your shoulders pulled back and posture upright otherwise you may as well be boxing instead. Sometimes I lean forward as if I am letting my hands draw me into the wooden dummy. I need to remember to strike by moving my whole body in one smooth movement and keeping my weight more on my back leg than front.
- Squaring Up: Forgetting to keep my hips at 45 degree when approaching the dummy from the side such as form 1, 2 and 5.
I hope these notes prove useful to anyone practising on the dummy and maybe you can offer some additional useful points by posting a comment below?