Chinese martial arts, particularly the ‘soft’ styles based on balance, timing, striking vulnerable points and use of chi are very popular amongst Pagans who are looking for a system of self defence. These systems can be highly effective, but take a long time to learn. Hard styles such as Choi Lei Fut, Hung Gar, and Lau Gar are easier to learn but the ‘hard’ nature of pure physicality tends to put a lot of Pagans off learning them. This is because they seem to be devoid of self development and use of internal energy, particularly at the lower grades. One exception seems to be the Wing Chung style which is popular amongst Pagans in several areas of the UK particularly in the major cities.
The style’s main attractions is that it stresses deflection and flow rather than block and strike, also the practice of Chi Sau (“sticking hands”) which aids in the development of sensitivity and development of Chi- the same life energy that is used in Pagan ritual and spellcraft.. In Wing Chung the use of Chi is more apparent at the beginning stages than in many other hard styles because of the use of relaxation and anatomical alignment which enables a more perceptible flow of this energy while training.
“Wing Chung is a structurally fast style” Explained one Witch who trains in this system. “Most striking martial arts are based on the ‘block and strike’ method. It’s ok to do that but can be very cumbersome and can make you vulnerable to a faster or stronger attacker. In this style we deflect the attack and the deflecting hand becomes the striking hand as soon the attack is nullified. Or we deflect and strike at the same time.”
She demonstrated both techniques with me. First redirecting my punch just clear of her body with a palm up deflection that then became finger strike to the eyes, then punching inside my second punch using her straightening forearm to deflect my punch away from her. Both techniques were done as a whole body movement expressed through the techniques so that it was fast, powerful, and also incorporated the ‘being hit with a slightly padded steel pole’ sensation that I associate with a martial artist using Chi.
“The idea behind Chi Sau is to learn to feel what our opponent is going do next, flow with it, and attempt to succeed with a counter attack” She explained “A better translation of the term would be ‘Energy Arms’ since this is a key to developing internal energy in addition to sensitivity. In Chi Sau you are both using a springing forward energy and being perceptive to your training partners at the same time - similar to casting a spell and clairvoyantly sensing how it is working”.
Even the apparently simple forms the Witch was taught also incorporated the idea of building Chi. Unlike many Kung Fu styles Wing Chung forms or sets are quite short and seem easy to learn, the hard part is doing them in a relaxed and balanced manner.
“At the club where I began training we were taught to do the first form very slowly, relaxed, aligned, and with full concentration.” She said “After a while when we did the Sil Lum Tao (the foundation technique form) we started to feel warm, or warm and cold in sort of waves moving through the body, some of the class sometimes sweated heavily. Only later were we told that this was the result of meridians opening and Chi starting to flow, at the time our instructor just said that this was a normal part of the training. What I, and the coven I belonged to noticed, was that my Craft skills increased dramatically particularly with charging tools and casting circles.
We also did the sparring and training in the other forms, but always in the same relaxed way emphasizing dynamic movement and balance. The aim of the sparring wasn’t to beat your opponent but to learn correct technique, timing and distance and keep the same ‘feel’ as when we were doing the Sil Lum Tao. This was emphasized in the second form (Chum Ku) when we learned correct footwork so that we could use Chi while moving. I think that was the first time the instructor explained about Chi and why we had the effects we did when we first began practicing the first form. He also introduced the use of actual Chi into the Chi Sau exercise
Sadly our instructor went back to China at the end of his University course, but not before he taught us the beginnings of Biu Tzi , the form where you learn to use Chi as an attacking energy against your opponents vulnerable acupressure points. Also he moved the class to his house for the last few weeks and we learned how to work with a life-size wooden dummy. We trained in striking those points on the dummy and learning from the sounds and movements it made if we were doing it properly.”
“Does the club still exist?” I asked
“No we disbanded when the instructor left and I moved house because of work. I did try other clubs but none had the same feel., so I trained on my own and occasionally met up with a friend from the group Because of my skill enhancement from the Chi training I attained my Third Degree while at my old coven and set up a new one here (near Sheffield). As part of the training within the coven I do share what I learned with those who are interested, which is most of them, so the knowledge gets passed on.”
I asked if she thought her teacher was the only one who had taught Wing Chung as an ‘internal’ art.
“No” She replied “At one of the Christmas parties he said that several of his friends who trained under the same Sifu (instructor) travelled abroad to further their studies and possibly teach if they found the right students. He also said that the Chi side of Wing Chung is becoming more well-known generally as the styles’ tradition of secrecy becomes less hardline so more Kwoon (training halls) are teaching it. So if anyone of a Pagan persuasion wants a martial art compatible with their spiritual path Wing Chung might be right for them.”