The Wooden Dummy, mu ren zhuang (Mandarin) or muk yang jong (Cantonese), is an iconic piece of equipment in Chinese martial arts. It is a training device that dates back hundreds of years. It is used by a number of martial arts including Wing Chun, Hung Gar and Jeet Kune Do.
The Legend of Ng Mui
In a Shaolin Temple in Fujian province, the monks would practice martial arts. In one corridor, there were 108 wooden dummies. They would move down the hallway and practice their attacks and defenses on each of these. The use of wooden dummies was well established already at that time. In fact, wooden carved warriors were used.
When the Manchu, sometime in the first half of the 1600’s, burned the temple to the ground, only one nun, Ng Mui, remained who recalled all of the dummies. She helped to change all of the 108 Shaolin dummies into a single dummy.
Today, there are various configurations for different martial arts, but all are based on Ng Mui’s design.
The Wooden Opponent
The purpose of a wooden dummy is to give the practitioner an opponent, with one leg and various arms positioned to train and retrain the student in the core movements of the practice.
“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”
The Wing Chun dummy is the embodiment of this philosophy that Bruce Lee repeated more recently, but that is the basis of all martial arts. In many of the arts, they are ‘forms,’ the same action repeated over and over again until it’s perfectly executed every time. Once the body has learned to execute those moves without thoughts, the entire woman or man becomes machine that moves faster than thought.
Much of this philosophy can be traced to Buddhism and its emphasis on basics. For example, the most powerful Buddhist meditations are incredibly simple, such as following the breath or contemplating a specific subject. It’s this repetition that brings power and enlightenment. It’s also the meditative nature of martial arts that is responsible for much of its deep, soul-changing effects.
The Basic Configuration
The dummy consists of a core that has traditionally been made from wood, but today is available in plastic and steel. It mounted onto flexible wooden boards that allow the dummy to give and take much like a strong human opponent. There are typically two arms that come out as chest height with a third at abdomen height. There is a leg in front that strongly resembles a person’s bent leg. Modern designs can be freestanding or wall mounted.
Called the balanced dummy, this type of dummy is used for Choy Lee Fut style’s of arm motions. There is a single arm that protrudes directly in the front of the dummy that is anchored to a rope and a heavy weight. It moves up and down to provide the student with the experience of unpredictable action. In more modern version, this arm is mounted on a spring.
Sui Sau Jong
“The Breaking Arm” dummy is designed for quick reactions and speed. There are two arms, one at the shoulder and one at the head. They are mounted with heavy sand bags. The arms will spin around, causing the student to defend themselves and develop very quick reflexes.
There are several other styles as well, each designed to teach a different technique, but with the same basic concept in mind, repetition makes a master.
Getting Started with a Wing Chun Dummy
There are many great teachers, each with their own technique, but there are a few basics to getting started with a Wing Chun dummy that apply to everyone’s training.
Move slowly at first – It’s not about power or speed; that will come. The initial goal is to learn perfect technique. As you get more proficient with the technique, you’ll naturally speed up and be able to be more powerful.
Stay loose – Don’t tense up. If you begin to tense and learn to fight that way, it will be much harder to knock you over. A relaxed body, like a young, flexible tree, can’t be bent, but is very hard to break.
Don’t over-commit – Not to the practice, but to the motions. If you over-commit, you’ll through your body off of center of mass. This means that it will be much easier to knock you down or pull you off-balance. Much of the beginning practice is simply in the hands, the wrists and the elbows. When you throw your shoulder into it, you will throw your core off balance and fall over.
Repeat, repeat, repeat – Everything in life that involves mastery involves repetition. Whether it’s using a quadratic equation in algebra or mastering a martial art, it’s all about doing it over and over until your body does it by itself or your brain knows the path perfectly.
The Wing Chun dummy takes the place of a sparring partner. Anyone who has seen The Karate Kid knows that sparring together is one of the standard techniques that is used to train students. With a Wing Chun dummy, you are sparing with a partner that is inanimate, but will allow you practice your forms smoothly, until you have them perfected.
One of the ways that the Wing Chun dummy enhances your training is toughness. Your hand and fist are smacking into wood. In just a short time, the muscles and bones in your hands will begin to toughen, getting accustomed to the impact of your hands on a solid object. This is why it’s important to go slow and easy at first. You need to build up that tolerance before you can go around punching trees.
The Wing Chun Principles
Among the principles that the dummy teaches is to avoid using force against force. In this case, a person of breakable flesh against a dummy made from solid wood. If you try to attack on the wood’s level, you’ll lose.
Correct angle of deflection – The positioning of the hands, palms up, palms down, open handed, etc. are all very important to learn. This is because this will train you to deflect your opponent in a specific direction.
Balance – As mentioned earlier, if you allow yourself to be drawn off balance, you will have already lost.
Accuracy – The precise correct spot to deflect or hit is the key to a short fight. A Wing Chun dummy will train your body to be exactly where it needs to be for each motion.
Timing – The timing of each motion is based on your opponent’s recovery time and the speed that you can move to a new position. The dummy teaches you this by allowing you move at your own speed.
Mobility – Moving is more than just your hands. It needs to be your whole body. Although the dummy doesn’t move, you will learn to move around it.
Speed – Lightning hands are a learned skill. The dummy lets you speed up at your own pace. Soon your hands are moving faster than your thoughts. That’s when you know that the dummy is no dummy.
Flow – Much of great fighting is being able to flow from one position, one area of focus, to the next. The dummy teaches you this.
Power – Eventually, you will begin to hit the dummy with power. Unlike a human opponent, it won’t fall down, cry, or even try to back away. It can take all of the power you can give it, which will only make you stronger.
Where to Buy a Wing Chun Dummy
If you Google “Wing Chun dummy for sale,” you’ll see a huge choice. Prices range from £400 to £2000. There are plenty of places to buy them from, but there are a few important notes.
Try to buy locally – They are heavy and that can be a significant portion of the expense.
Buy the best you can afford – You are paying for the beauty and quality of the wood. It is worth it to work out with a beautiful piece of equipment.
Making Your Own Dummy
Unless you want to start your martial arts career learning woodworking, you might consider trying to make your own dummy from other materials. For example, there’s a person online who made one out of cardboard tubing. He said it was free. Remember, it’s about form, not power, so the cardboard will certainly work to begin with.
PVC tubing is another good option. It’s relatively inexpensive and very durable. You can use PVC pipes for the arms or use wood. Either way, you will have a dummy that will work well for a long time.
Remember the Basics
Whether you use a Wing Chun dummy in a gym, your house, or your local dojo, remember that it’s all about the basics.
Practice and repetition
Form over power
A wooden dummy is an essential sparring partner. It has been part of traditional Chinese martial arts training for over a thousand years.