Muk Yan Jong, The wooden dummy of Wing Chun
According to popular legend, in the 1600's the Shaolin temple contained a hall or alley in which 108 wooden dummies were assembled. The dummies formed a corridor through which the most senior students were to pass as a final test of their skills before leaving the temple. A single technique was to be performed on each dummy to complete the test. Some believe the dummies were in fact the most senior monks, either dressed in wooden armour, or fixed dummies with moveable arms and legs operated by the monks by way of ropes to perform attacking movements. Whether truth or fiction, this is the modern perception of the origins of the wooden man.
When the Manchus raided and burned the Shaolin temple the corridor was destroyed, any possibility of a second one being built was out of the question under the repressive government. Over the years the possibility of rebuilding such a corridor became unrealistic and subsequently the 108 techniques evolved into a single set performed on one dummy.
When the five surviving Masters of Shaolin fled the temple their skills went with them, Kung Fu was for the first time taught to outsiders as a way to overthrow the repressive Ching regime. The skills of Shaolin spread quickly as they were adopted by the lower classes and bandits, many attempts to overthrow the government were made, however none was successful. It was not until the might of the allied armies of England, Europe and America combined during the Boxer rebellion of 1900 that the death knell was signed for the Manchus.
During this period of insurrection Wing Chun flourished, its open hand and weapon techniques were used to assassinate high ranking Manchu officials and to cause chaos and unrest throughout the land. All training was done behind closed doors and seldom was there anything written for fear of discovery by the Manchus.
The ancient texts of Shaolin had been lost during the burning and looting of the temple and subsequently word of mouth became the only method for the system to be passed on, this undoubtedly accounts for the various interpretations of the system known today as Wing Chun. When one thinks Wing Chun the first thing that jumps to mind is the wooden dummy.
Although many Chinese Kung Fu systems use training dummies as an integral part of their systems, none have the same structural format as the Wing Chun Jong. The jong is constructed to simulate a man, and is similar in weight and height. Two "arms" are mortised into the upper section with a centrally placed single arm at mid section height. Lower down, a curved "leg" simulates one's opponent in a leading leg stance, or a low kick. The specifications of the jong are today standardized throughout China and Hong Kong, however many variations exist throughout south-east Asia.
The dummy may be used for a variety of training methods. Striking the jong provides a certain level of conditioning for the arms and legs; however the primary function is to hone the correct angles for attack and defense in preparation for real combat.
The diversity of the Wing Chun family has produced many variations of the forms, while some schools may look very different the core techniques are basically the same. It is said the great Grandmaster, Yip Man, changed the order of the sets and the sequence of movements of the Wing Chun Jong form on three occasions before settling on the one currently taught throughout Hong Kong today, Master William Cheung's dummy form is different again.
Having studied both of these forms in depth, I conclude that the differences are merely in perception of application rather than major differences in practical technique. The open hand forms of Wing Chun teach correct structure and positioning of the stance and limbs, few "techniques" are demonstrated.
The conceptual value of each movement is stressed, for "a movement without meaning is just movement", however it is the real fighting skills of the system that are honed on the Muk Yan Jong. The jong enables a practitioner to strike with full power without the fear of injury to one's partner, whereas the defensive maneuvers and one's structural integrity is honed to perfection through constant practicing with the apparatus. The jong acts like a mathematical protractor, attention to detail ensures that all angles are applicable to that of a real opponent.
Constant practicing with the Muk Yan Jong improves the strength, angular perception, stance and subsequent technical perfection in the student, a heavy debt to be repaid to the founders of our system, but one gladly accepted.