In this article, we’ll answer a few questions about how much time is required to learn Wing Chun. We’ll cover the question of how long does it take to learn Wing Chun, what are Wing Chun belt ranks, Wing Chun rank requirements and other information about the Wing Chun kung fu belts system.
Because commiting to learning a martial art such as Wing Chun takes dedication, knowing how much time it will take to get to black belt level is naturally a very important question because so students can make sure they can fully dedicate themselves to getting good at Wing Chun.
One of the very first questions is… how long it takes to get a black belt in Wing Chun? Well, most Wing Chun schools do NOT follow a belt system. But most do have a ranking system of some sort. The first thing to know is that there is no standard time frame for becoming a Wing Chun sifu.
Depending on the student and school, it can take about 5-10 years of training (those who do daily solo practice may progress faster). This is for the most advanced belt level, the Sifu (aka black belt level).
Good Wing Chun takes time to develop and a good school is VERY hard to find! Because of this, if you can’t find a good school with a good teacher, we advise choosing to learn another martial art instead of Wing Chun. Not all Wing Chun is created equal. And despite what people try to sell you, you can’t only learn Wing Chun at home. (You can learn Wing Chun online but it can’t be the only way you learn).
However, here are some general tips to help you discern a good Wing Chun school from a crappy one:
- Generally, no good Wing Chun school will award a Sifu in less than 3 years!
- Wing Chun schools must spar as a regular part of their classes. You must hit and get hit. If there is no alive, pressure testing, it is not a good school.
- A Sifu (black belt level) must be achieved through both technical knowledge and practical application. Learning the forms alone is NOT practical knowledge.
- You should sweat during class. If not, you are not working hard enough to develop good Wing Chun skill.
- How to handle different threats (takedowns, kicks, boxing-type punches, grabs. etc.) should be addressed
- Your teacher (or sifu) should be able to easily dominate you, regardless of your size. If not, they aren’t good enough to make you truly good.
- For more tips, see Wing Chun Advice for Fighting (video)
What is a Wing Chun Black Belt?
Although there really is no such thing as a Wing Chun black belt, the closest equivalent to a black belt in Wing Chun is a “sifu”. So what is a Wing Chun Sifu and what does it mean to become a Sifu? Basically, becoming a Wing Chun sifu means that you have been certified by your teacher to teach others. It is recognition of your ability to pass on the knowledge that your teacher has taught you. Although some translate the word “sifu” to mean master, the real direct translation of the term sifu has two characters; one for teacher and another for father. So sifu translates to mean father/teacher. This translation shows the idea of the family as an integral part of the kung fu way.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Wing Chun Sifu?
The time spent to learn Wing Chun in order to become a sifu is ALL over the place! From one school (kwoon) to another, there is no given time agreed upon. Some schools take 5 years, assuming you are attending all classes offered. Others can take 7-10 years. Note that some poor Wing Chun schools give away black belt levels in shorter periods of time. However, only technical knowledge can be attained in short time periods. Application against fully resisting opponents takes several years. Generally, it is safe to say that the longer it takes to become a sifu, the more time the student has spent honing their skill.
So how long does it take to learn Wing Chun? This is the real question.
- It would seem that not all Wing Chun schools are created equal. I’ve heard that most Wing Chun teachers don’t even have the honest ability to apply their skill. They only have the ability to pass on knowledge. Not apply nor help their students to apply. Finding a Wing Chun school with a teacher/sifu who is good, is very difficult. This alone makes learning Wing Chun much more difficult.
- So back to the original question. How much time does it take to learn to do Wing Chun? Because learning Wing Chun is completely dependent upon you, your teacher and on your school, it could be as little as 5 years in some schools and as long as 10 years in others. Wing Chun can be learned in as little as 5 years depending on the time dedicated in class and at home. Students generally become much more confident in their abilities with as little as a year, while other traditional Chinese martial arts can take up to 15 – 25 years to become proficient.
For instance, at my Wing Chun school in Orange County, the time it takes to become a certified “sifu” is a minimum of 7 years. This minimum term requirement ensures that the student has put in enough time in order to become proficient in applying the art, not only technical knowledge. However, there are other students who have been training under my sifu for 10-15 years or longer who haven’t attained skill enough to qualify to be a sifu. So 7 years is a minimum, not a guarantee.
How long does it take to master Wing Chun?
To many today are self-appointed “masters”. But the truth is that you can not master Wing Chun. You can get good, but you can’t master it. Even sifus are still students. Mastering Wing Chun takes more than one lifetime. Plus, Wing Chun is a vehicle for self-discovery and self-improvement. It enhances but does not serve you, nor should your students be considered or treated as your servants to you.
Does Wing Chun Have Belts, Ranks or Levels?
How many levels are there in Wing Chun? Although Wing Chun does not have belts, there are several Wing Chun levels. Unfortunately, there is no one agreed upon curriculum across different schools, lineages or sifus. The reality is that Wing Chun schools are so different in terms of a ranking system that you can’t really tell one from another.
I know this doesn’t help you wrap the mind around the time needed to get good, but it looks to be the reality.
My Wing Chun school’s program has levels signified by chevrons and its kids program uses sashes for student ranks. They are very much different, yet both are aimed at accomplishing the same goals. Students, of all levels, sometimes have a hard time moving up the ranks. It could be from not focusing on one thing at a time, not practicing at home or going to fast and too hard. See more Common Mistakes Beginning Wing Chun Students Make.
To move up the rank, we first need to understand the different categories. Each Wing Chun school varies slightly in their methodology but shirt colors are typically the same. The white colored shirt means you are a beginner and a black shirt means you are a Sifu. For example, while some Wing Chun schools don’t have belts for adults, their kids program may still follow the typical standard belt color system of white, yellow, orange, green, blue, purple, red, brown, and black. With one exception, Wing Chun schools commonly do not give black belts to kids. Although kids can become proficient, many believe a black belt should stand for expert level and be reserved for proficient adults. This is why there is not black sash for kids in many schools, nor can a child become a sifu until they are an adult who has shown undeniable ability to handle themselves against bigger, stronger opponents.
Wing Chun Belts / Ranks Levels Explained
So when asking the question, how long does it take to get a black belt, it’s important to make it easier to understand. The key for any beginner is to focus on the fundamentals. It’s important to understand the basic positions, strikes, and the Wing Chun stance. The fundamentals are the foundation to mastering skill. If you practice at home and attend Wing Chun class two or even three times a week, you should understand the fundamentals in a little over a year. This can be equated to learning the fundamental technical knowledge.
But knowing and applying the fundamentals are two different things. Practical application training is what takes the longest time because you have the technical knowledge but are now working on the application of that knowledge. This is generally considered intermediate level. It revolves around refinement of the fundamentals in application. In good Wing Chun, you don’t learn a million moves, techniques or forms, you learn the basics and then hone them until you can’t get them wrong. The are no advanced self-defense combinations, advanced strikes or new techniques. This type of thinking is in complete contradiction to what Wing Chun attempts to free its students from.
Depending on the student, the intermediate level of Wing Chun can take about 4-5 years of training leading to advanced levels. The most advance belt will be, of course, the black belt or in the case of some schools, a black shirt signifying Sifu level.
Students must understand the complexity of Wing Chun yet seek to master the simple philosophical development of the art. Attaining a Wing Chun black belt (or Sifu level) doesn’t mean that training is over. There are higher degrees of the belt, but more importantly, with time and practice, students will continue to learn more about themselves and the art form of the martial art. To read more about the history of the ranking system you can visit this link.
In Wing Chun, A Black Belt isn’t the Goal – The Journey Is The Destination
But in the end, it’s not the amount of time it takes to become a sifu. It’s how much we appreciate the journey along the way. This basically means that the destination is now, a Kung Fu life lesson.
So what’s most important for Wing Chun beginners to focus upon, is not so much on the time it takes to become a sifu (aka get the Wing Chun black belt). Instead, it’s a matter of focusing on seeking to master the art of Wing Chun and enjoying every moment of your journey toward mastery. The creator of Wing Chun Life states it well… he says that “Wing Chun is a skill and you improve it by putting in hours. In this case, train at home, on your own.”