Wing Chun is full of many terms. No matter which lineage you are a part of, you will have Wing Chun terms and movements of the same kind, and at the very least, similar names. In this article, we will discuss some of the more commonly named hands of Wing Chun.
Here is a video of Wing Chun Terminology from Siu Nim Tao:
What does Wing Chun mean in Chinese?
“Wing Chun” in Chinese translates to “Song of Spring.” Springtime is often associated with birth, a time of beginnings. It represents vibrant and colorful surroundings out in nature, full of life and energy. Songs too, are often filled with vibrancy and energy, capable of renewing someone’s spirit and filling them with a spring-like energy at times.
What is a Sifu in Kung Fu?
A “Sifu” (師父), in Kung Fu, translates as fatherly teacher. They are the ultimate authority in the Wing Chun classroom. They are a walking, talking Wing Chun glossary. There is no real set in stone amount of time on how long it takes to become a Sifu. It is up to a Sifu to determine when a Sihing has earned the title of Sifu. A Sifu’s responsibility is to teach, to be there for their students when they need help with their own training. A Sifu is a gardener, and their students are the plants that need cultivating—it is something that cannot be done quickly. A Sifu can be more than just an instructor on how to defend yourself. They can also be a life-coach, using their own Kung Fu experience to help their students beyond teaching them how to defend themselves.
What does Sihing mean?
“Sihing” translates as “elder brother”. They are the senior-most students of the class (including kids classes) who have earned this designation. The Sihing also often acts as the “assistant instructor” in class and leads several portions of the class. It is very important to note that a Sihing will not always be the oldest person in the classroom, only the student who has been training the longest.
The responsibilities of a Sihing are just like an assistant instructors: to assist the Sifu in teaching. A Sihing can be considered an authority in the Wing Chun classrooms, who answers in place of a Sifu, should the Sifu be preoccupied.
In Ip Man’s school, the sihing was responsible for leading the class. He would work directly with the other students. Ip Man would come around from time to time and make adjustments.
Ip Man’s senior-most student (Sihing) in Hong Kong was Leung Sheung. This means Leung Sheung was the senior over all the other Hong Kong students of Yip Man. However, as time passed, different students became sihing such as Lok Yiu, Chu Shong Tin, Wong Shun Leung and other after.
On a side note, in recent years some have made claim that Wong Shun Leung was Bruce Lee’s real teacher. That is incorrect. Yip Man was Bruce Lee’s sifu, not Wong Shun Leung. Wong Shun Leung was the main sihing of Yip Man’s school at the time. Bruce Lee began learning. Therefore, Wong Shun Leung worked with Bruce Lee.
What are some of the Wing Chun Hands?
When it comes to Wing Chun terms, the system’s hand and arm techniques are important to know. It should be noted that there are no singular Wing Chun blocks and punches. Wing Chun is an offensive-minded martial art—the best defense is a good offense. Below are some of the prominent hands of Wing Chun that are used.
Note: For a more complete list of Wing Chun Hands, see our Wing Chun Techniques page.
The Tan Sao, the palm up hand, or supinated hand, is used as part of a wide array of movements, but its purpose is thus: to protect the outside line under the opponent’s arm. What that means is that when you use your Tan Sao, you already have a hand inside of their center. To put it in layman’s terms, it is the foot that keeps the door open.
The Fook Sao, the controlling hand, is the Tan Sao’s counterpart. Where the Tan Sao is used to protect the outside line under the opponent’s arm, the Fook Sao is used to protect the inside line over the opponent’s arm. The hand is seemingly devoid of energy when a Fook Sao is being used, but remember that Wing Chun teaches us that emptiness is a breeder of potential.
The Bong Sao, the wing arm, is a hand used for one thing only: Transitions. A bong sao is, by its very nature, a failed punch. It is NOT an attack! When performing a Bong Sao, it is very important to remember that a transition is not a place you want to be in for long periods of time, as a transition is when we are at our most vulnerable.
The Wu Sao, the protective hand, is just that: a hand that protects. Wing Chun is an art of duality, meaning that when you have one hand attacking, you should always have your second hand ready. A Wu Sao is always up and at the ready.
The Man Sao (Asking hand) is often what we first start off with. It is what we use to gather feedback (or energy) from our opponents and to probe for vulnerabilities in their structure. Unlike the Wu Sao, the Man Sao is an extended hand placed along the central plane. Contact made with the Man Sao should always be along the pinky side of the arm—the Ulna line of the arm.
Wing Chun Terminology
When practicing our Wing Chun techniques, we also practice application of those techniques. This is where the conceptual side of Wing Chun comes in to our training regiments. It is never a matter of “How do I counter this attack?” It is a matter of “How do I end this fight quickly and efficiently?” Below are some concepts that we implement into our training. Note that these are under the Dragon Family Wing Chun Association, which stems from the Leung Sheung lineage.
Kung Fu (AKA Gung Fu)
Kung Fu is part of the terminology? YES! Believe it or not, “kung fu” translates to “skill developed through hard work.” This is not something exclusive to martial arts! In order to get good at anything, one must develop their skills through hard work. One could have great kung fu in carpentry, for example. Hard work is the very essence of what we do in Wing Chun!
Siu Nim Tao
The Siu Nim Tao (also known as Sil Lim Tao), or “The Little Idea,” is the first empty-hand set learned at The Dragon Institute. The Siu Nim Tao is viewed as the seed of our growth in Wing Chun. It is considered the master’s set, in addition to the first set learned by new students. A completely stationary standing meditation, the Siu Nim Tao is our strongest, most reliable structure builder. The Siu Nim Tao is a shift into pure, raw awareness of self and awareness of your surroundings. The variations of this set are numerous—some will perform upwards of a 20 minute long Siu Nim Tao, some will perform their Siu Nim Tao while standing only on one foot, and some will do a one-handed variation of the set, perhaps to work on their non-dominant side.
Chum Kiu is the second empty-hand set of Wing Chun. It translates roughly to “Seeking the Bridge.” Unlike Siu Nim Tao, Chum Kiu is not a stationary set. Where Siu Nim Tao was development of structure, Chum Kiu is learning how to move with that structure. In addition to this form being mobile, kicks are also added. While many consider the Siu Nim Tao to be our most fundamental of the three empty-hand forms, Chum Kiu also rightly earns its place as a very important set to develop, as Wing Chun does make a lot of use of legwork. A key aspect of Chum Kiu—seeking the bridge—is understanding how to seek your opponent’s center. In a true self-defense situation, nothing is ever certain. Things are constantly changing, save for one thing: an opponent’s center. Chum Kiu teaches us how to remain focused on an opponent’s center.
The third and final empty-hand form of Wing Chun, Bil Jee (also known as “Biu Jee”) is a very different form compared to its predecessors. Bil Jee translates to “Thrusting Fingers,” and is famously what got Robert Downey Jr. started on his Wing Chun path. It is a form that is not as practiced compared to Siu Nim Tao and Chum Kiu. So why is it important? As stated above, in a self-defense situation, nothing is ever certain. There are times when a Wing Chun practitioner will need to recover, and recovery often requires thinking outside of the box. Like Chum Kiu, Bil Jee is also a mobile form. Unlike Chum Kiu, however, Bil Jee’s movements are bigger. Also unlike Chum Kiu, Bil Jee does not have any kicks. Despite not being as practiced as the other two forms, Bil Jee holds importance because of that constant changing of situation in a self-defense situation. Recovering yourself in a self-defense situation is still a very important thing, and thinking outside the box is part of that process.
Sil Lin Di Da
Sil Lin Di Da, which translates to “simultaneous attack and defense,” is the teaching of duality in Wing Chun. At first, we learn how to attack and defense with both sides of our body, but eventually, with diligent practice, one can learn how to attack AND defend with one arm. Early on in Wing Chun, we are taught to defend and attack at the same time—deflect a punch, while throwing a punch at the same time. In time, after proper development of our structure, all one needs to do is throw a punch. That punch will not only deflect a punch thrown at the practitioner, it will also be their punch that hits the attacker. Sil Lin Di Da is a teaching of Wing Chun that you will learn early on, and take with you for years to come.
List of Wing Chun Terms
Kuen – Boxing or Fist
Hoi Ma – Opening the stance
Yee Jee Kim Yeung Ma – Square stance
Do Ma – Knife stance
Kwan Ma – Pole stance
Doi Gok Ma – Side stance
Juen Ma – Turning stance
Bil Ma – Advancing stance
Joan Sien – Centerline
Sifu – Teacher
Sigung – Teacher’s Teacher
Sihing – Elder student
Sidai – Junior student
Kung Fu (Gung Fu) – Skill developed through hard work, time and patience, or practice and excellence
Mook Yan Jong – Wooden Dummy
Hong Jong – Air dummy
Sao – Hand or Arm
Gerk – Foot or Leg
Chi Sao – Sticky Hands
Don Chi Sao – Single sticky hands drill
Seong Chi Sao – Double sticky hands drill
Chi Gerk – Sticky Legs
Tan Gerk – Knee Turned Out Leg
Bong Gerk – Knee Turned In Leg
Goang Gerk – Splitting Leg
Pak Gerk – Splitting Leg
Chung Choi – Chain Punches (Lin Wah Kuen)
Chung Kuen – Vertical Punch (Yut Jee Kuen – “Sun Character Punch”)
Tan Sao – Palm up hand / Supinated hand
Goang Sao – Splitting Arm
Fook Sao – Controlling Arm
Bong Sao – Wing Arm / Elbow out arm
Dai Bong Sao – Low Wing Arm
Wrong Bong Sao – Crossing Bong Sao
Jow Sao – Inside- to outside-line hand
Man Sao – Inquisitive Hand / Jamming Hand
Wu Sao – Protective Hand
Pak Sao – Slapping Hand
Fak Sao – Whisking/Swinging Arm
Toy Sao (Tok Sao) – Lifting Hand
Jum Sao – Sinking hand
Mut Sao – Lowering hand
Huen Sao – Circling Hand
Bil Sao – Knife Arm / (Type of Palm Strike)
Gum Sao – Pinning Hand
Chin Gum Sao – Front Gum
How Gum Sao – Back Gum
Ju Gum Sao – Side Gum
Lan Sao – Bar Arm
Jut Sao – Jerking Arm
Lop Sao – Grabbing Hand
Chang Sao – Spade Hand (a type of palm strike)
Dai Chang Sao – Lower Spade Hand (fingers facing down palm strike)
Mang Geng Sao – Neck Pulling Hand
Shat Geng Sao – Throat Cutting Hand
Scissors Goang Sao – Upper and Lower Goang Sao (inside and outside)
Kwan Sao – Rotating Arms (low bong sao and inside tan sao)
Powl Sao – Turning Bong Sao
Kao Sao – Zoning Hand/ Circling Block (scooping bong sao)
Phon Sao – Trapping Hands
Jeet Sao – Intercepting Hands
Chin-Na – Locking, seizing, and controlling.
Kwai Jeong – Butting Elbow
Pie Jeong – Hacking Elbow
Butt Doan Jeong – Immovable Elbow
Luk Sao – Element of Sparring
Nuk Sao – Free Sparring
Gow Sao – Sparring from Seong Chi Sao/Fighting practice
Pa Da – Fear of being hit
Dwai Da – Fear of hitting
Tom Da – Greedy to hit
Kwan – Pole
Do – Knife
Luk Dim Boon Kwan – Dragon Pole
Baat Jam Do – Butterfly Knives
Sam Pie Fut – “Three Prayers to Buddha” (from Sil Lim Tao form)
Sam Sing Sao – Hitting the 3 stars hands (drill)
Huen Ma – Circling Steps (Horse)
Huen Got Sao – Circling cut (turning Huen Sao)
Po Pie – Embracing the Edges
Gnoy – Outside
Gnoy Pak Sao – Outside Pak Sao
Gnau – Wrist
Jee – Finger
Jeong – Elbow
Mai Jeong – Elbow Position
Jung Dao – Head up, chin tucked
Ting Yiu – Straight lower back (Spine anchored to the ground (pelvis tilted, coccyx tucked under)
Kim Sut – Pinching the Knees (Constant pulling together of the thighs)
Lok Ma – Lowering the stance (Connecting to the ground)
Lik – Power, Force, or Energy
Mok Lik – Targeting your gaze
Lower Tan Tien – Energy storage place in lower belly
Kung Fu Terminology
Many of Wing Chun’s terms are general terms used in many other types of Kung Fu. Here are some of these Kung Fu terms.
Founder: Jung-Si*, Si-Jo (both male/female)
Teacher’s teacher: Si-Gung (his wife: Si-Po)
Older Gung Fu Uncle: Si-Baak (both male/female)
Younger Gung Fu Uncle: Si-Suk (both male/female)
Uncle’s Wife: Si-Sam
Teacher: Sifu *
Teacher’s Wife: Si-Mou
Older Brother: Si-Hing, Si-Go
Younger Brother: Si-Dai
Brother’s Wife: Si-Sou
Older Sister: Si-Je
Older Sister’s husband: Si-Je-Fu
Younger Sister: Si-Mui
Younger Sister’s Husband: Si-Mui-Fu
Student: Dai-Ji, Tou-Dai (both male/female)
Student’s wife: Tou-Sik
Student’s Student: Tou-Syun
In Door Student: Yap-Sat-Dai-Ji
School: Gun (Kwoon)
Lineage Holder: Jeung-Mun*, Jeung-Mun-Yan
Kung Fu School: Kwoon
Note: Most of the above are only the positions in one’s own Kung Fu family. Most are not used as professional titles. Only Jung Si, Jeung Mun, and Sifu can be used as professional titles!
*Also note that a Wing Chun Sifu does NOT translate to Wing Chun master (despite how it is often translated.) A Wing Chun Sifu translates as father/teacher (aka a fatherly teacher).