While watching the first Ip Man movie, I found myself asking “what is the wooden dummy for”? Throughout the movie, the actor that plays Ip Man (Donnie Yen) works out with this mysterious wooden contraption and while it definitely looked cool and was fun to watch, I wasn’t quite sure of its purpose.
So I did a little research on what the wooden dummy is for and this is what I found. The wooden dummy (also known as the Mook Yan Jong) is a solo training device used in Wing Chun Kung Fu and other Chinese martial arts. The wooden dummy is designed to teach range, positioning, flow and precision in movements.
What are the benefits of training with the wooden dummy?
The wooden dummy is said to be one of the most powerful solo martial arts training devices out there. Let’s face it, it can’t always be easy to find a training partner who is ready and available to help by sticking their arms out while you practice your Kung Fu. It’s important to mention that during my research I learned that the arms and leg on the dummy aren’t meant to be a literal representation of the human body. Instead, they represent obstacles, or energetic pathways. These obstacles are around which you can practice your moves, and against which you can practice your energy. I also found out that training on the wooden dummy helps gain powerful structure to be used against bigger, stronger opponents. When you make contact with the dummy, you are given immediate feedback regarding your structure. This way, the Wing Chun dummy helps practitioners avoid using force against force. It also helps develop balance, accuracy, timing, mobility and positioning.
Here is a great video on what the wooden dummy is really for…
What are common mistakes made when training on the wooden dummy?
I looked into some of the common mistakes that are made when training the wooden dummy and here’s what I found.
- Using the wooden dummy to condition the arms: The first mistake that many beginners will make is banging on the dummy. While conditioning will naturally occur while training on the dummy, that’s not the true purpose. The purpose of wooden dummy training is positioning and footwork.
- Chasing the “hands” of the wooden dummy: A main principle in Wing Chun is “chasing the center”, meaning that there are no blocks. Wing Chun teaches to make the most of every second and angle and generally try to always keep the arms heading towards the target. Wing Chun teaches simultaneous attack and defense, meaning that the practitioner should always be attacking. Many students hit the dummy as if they are trying to knock away the dummy’s “hands”, which is also called “chasing hands”. Wing Chun hands should move into the target in nearly ever dummy action, always being mindful of where the energy is going.
- Looking down at your hands and feet: In Wing Chun this is a problem because the art gains its power through structure. Structure is created by cultivating a relationship of limbs to one another and the rest of the body. It is important that the spine remains straight and head is up and looking at the target. Looking down breaks structure and causes the practitioner to lose power. By making the body a unit with correct posture and structure, you can harness power from the ground. Your power goes where you look.
How to train on the wooden dummy?
The Wing Chun wooden dummy is a very specific training tool. Traditional Wing Chun training provides specific time-tested ways on how to train. The wooden dummy form is practiced in order to ensure precise techniques are trained in a definitive order. This form is then divided up into 8-10 sections (subsets) depending upon the lineage. First, learn the first section of the wooden dummy form. After that, there are several other dummy training videos on YouTube that give you important training tips for learning how to train on the wooden dummy.
What are the different types of wooden dummies? What are the pros and cons?
There are several different types of wooden dummies, with the most popular listed below.
- Freestanding dummy: This is a great dummy for those that live in an apartment as there is no damage to walls. There is also very little noise and neighbors would most likely not be disturbed. However, the freestanding dummy lacks the stability of the wall mount dummy and additional weight may be necessary to keep it from moving.
- Compact wall mount dummy: An ideal dummy for home training as it is more compact than the traditional Ip Man dummy. It was originally created by a student of Ip Man’s. There was no way to fix a dummy into the floor (traditional method in Ip Man’s time) after Ip Man moved to Hong Kong from Foshan. The dummy was created specifically for apartment living. The wall mount keeps the dummy in place, but the back bars allow the dummy to be adjusted. Now the most popular dummy on the market, it is said that the wall mount dummy provides the best training experience. The cons are that you need a very strong wall to mount it and there will be noise if you share a wall.
- Dummy with recoil stand: What sets this dummy apart is its ability to recoil and react to contact. It will always recoil to the center position after being released. What this means is that the deflection of the arms when blocked gives energy back toward the student. Very similar to someone defending themselves against an actual strike. This allows the student to develop quicker reflexes because the dummy “hits back”, allowing the student to take their training to another level. While other types of wooden dummies are stationary, the specially designed recoil stand absorbs energy and pushes back against it. What this does is create a better feeling of what real-life contact would be like.
Can you make your own wooden dummy?
The question I found myself asking was “Can I make my own wooden dummy”? Well, after a lot of research, the short answer is yes, you can build your own wing chun dummy. However, it doesn’t seem to be as easy as it looks. In order to make a properly designed wooden dummy, you need specialized tools and a lot of patience. The specifications of the dummy trunk, arms and leg must be met in order to get the correct positions for techniques, moves and footwork. If these specifications are not met, a student will be training the incorrect muscle memory which will make the geometry of their arms and the energy of their deflections less effective.
This is a main reason for the common consensus that it’s much easier and often times more cost effective to purchase a dummy. You can find one for as little as $650 to well over $1500, depending on the quality of the design and wood used. It’s true that the wooden dummy is a sizable investment. The good news is that when treated with care, a wooden dummy can last a lifetime.
What is the history of the Wooden Dummy?
The more I researched what the wooden dummy is for, the more I became interested in the history of how it came to be. One of the first mentions of the wooden dummy or wooden man was in “In Records of the Grand History” (written before the 2nd century BCE). Emperor Wu Yi of the Shang Dynasty is said to have made a wooden dummy for bare handed fighting practice. While the timeline may come under debate, we can be certain that the wooden dummy has been used in martial arts and for military purposes for well over 2000 years. Pretty impressive!
The legend of the Wing Chun wooden dummy is that it came about when 108 separate wooden dummies from the Shaolin Temple were combined into one by the nun Ng Mui in an effort to make training more efficient and effective.
Created by Ip Man, the Hong Kong wooden dummy is a wall mounted version of the dummy. In 1949, Ip Man and his daughter fled from Foshan to Hong Kong. Life in Hong Kong was very different than life in Foshan. Ip Man likely lived in a large single level home in Foshan, but had to live in a very small apartment in Hong Kong. Outdoor spaces were extremely rare in the city and it is said that Ip Man created the Hong Kong version to fit the needs of apartment living. The older versions of the wooden dummy were originally placed permanently in the ground.
And that’s it. Just remember the answer to “What is the wooden dummy for?”… The dummy helps practitioners avoid using force against force. It’s also a powerful training device to help develop balance, accuracy, timing, mobility and positioning The Wing Chun wooden dummy is not only a core training tool for learning the movements of a style of a martial art, it is also a powerful totem associated with the modern-day master of one of the most popular kung fu styles in the world. It is argued that it should also be a requirement of kung fu schools to have at least one wooden dummy in their kwoon.