In earlier times before Yip Man opened Wing Chun to Hong Kong and the world, the wooden dummy, which is also known as the mook yan jong, was traditionally planted in the ground. This made the dummy quite stable, yet it also limited the dummy's movement. Yip Man’s arrival in Hong Kong sparked an evolutionary change which resulted in the wooden dummy mounting we enjoy today.
During Yip Man’s time, space in the huge city was at a premium, and outdoor ground area for planting the dummy was difficult to come by. In order to establish a wooden dummy for training indoors, Yip Man had to innovate. He chose to have the dummy mounted against a wall, suspended in an entirely new way by two horizontal and flexible wooden slats, or wang dam.
This new mounting method situated the wooden dummy a slight distance from the wall behind it. Combined with the flexibility of the wang dam, this spacing enabled the dummy to move and respond with a different kind of energy when in play, and provided Yip Man with a sensation that the older way of mounting could not. This new way of supporting the dummy allowed him to capture an opening and closing sensation, and a newfound resilience when working with it.
When the dummy is bounced back and forth, this resilience is similar to the springiness of rattan. This was mentioned by Leung Sheung and others many times in relation to chi sau, and how the ligaments and flexibility of the human arms also have a rattan-like characteristic. Synthetic plastics were not available until after wider distribution of oil, nor was rubber readily available in southeast Asia. Therefore careful selection of wood for the wang dam was important for allowing the dummy to properly yield.
Yip Man conveyed his fresh observations and his newly captured sensation with precision to his early students, Leung Sheung, Lok Yiu, and Tsui Sheung Tin, who in turn passed it to others. Kenneth Chung often reflects on the importance of this innovation and how, despite the distance of time, it is as though Yip Man still uses the wang dam to convey a specific idea about energy to us today.
Though Yip Man’s earlier students in Fatsan would not have experienced this rattan-like energy through the wooden dummy, we can nonetheless reason that they would have appreciated the new sensation, while recognizing the same old principles within it. On the surface, today’s work with the wooden dummy might seem quite different from its earlier form. However, it is not different in its essence. We still work with the same rattan-like energy and its interpretation, though that sensation is now enhanced for us through the dummy.
The tool we enjoy today was improvised based on circumstances of the time, rather than due to any shortcoming of the dummy itself. The new mounting and its rattan-like movement gave Yip Man a new feeling in his work, while at the same time remaining true to the concepts of Wing Chun. He ensured that his innovation did not sacrifice principles or resiliency. Yip Man gave us the same energy through a new medium. Ken reminds us that, for this reason, Yip Man was and remains the singular Grandmaster of Wing Chun.
Connors, K. J. B. (2017, January 22). Personal interview with Kenneth Chung.