The Wooden Dummy

I've never really had anywhere at home to erect a dummy so I found myself many years into the study of Wing Chun without the benefit of ever having the "ever ready" training partner. Sure, my Sifu has run me through the form on occaision but without your own dummy to practice on in order to drill it into your memory the form is quickly forgotten. Anyway, the opportunity arose and I found myself with a second hand dummy (one of Pagoda's imports). Having no wall space I decided to build a frame outside in my garden (the Sun was shining at the time!). I have to say I do enjoy using it, I don't think it can ever replace a real training partner but there's something about being able to bring full force to bear that is very appealing, and the clak clak clak annoys the neighbours :-). The dummy form itself is paramount to the developement of any Wing Chun practitioner and is second (third?) only to the first two hand forms. Althought the movements in the dummy form are also expressed in the hand forms the dummy allows you to test your own structure against something solid. Ip Chun says it's all about your structure! Your hand forms can look impressive but if you start putting the same moves on your dummy and it's you who is being thrown about then you have serious work to do.

The set-up of the dummy is not as straightforward as it may seem to the uninitiated, the original dummy was basically a tree trunk set in a hole in the ground with a couple of solidy fixed arms (Muk-Yan-Jong, Jong meaning 'stake in the ground'). Like everything in Wing Chun the dummy has evolved and been refined as the "Kung Fu" has been passed down from previous generations. The dummy today seems to have reached a plateau and has resisted further evolution, people do try though, even Bruce Lee shaped a head on it and I think he even tried to make it spin at the waste but this has not been widely adopted. Our practitioners seem to prefer it just the way it is. Being an Engineer myself I also feel the need to ignore our maxim of "if it works don't fix it" and try to improve it, my Sifu once told me if he could have the upper arms set at the same level then this would be an improvement. This is easy enough to acheive and still maintain the movement but you'd probably want to reinforce the necessarily weakened arms with metal. I'm guessing the Chinese prefered to keep the manufacturing cost down and so they stick with the offset arms. As for materials It does surprise me that no-one has improved on a lump of hardwood, I mean if it costs £500 to import a dummy from China why hasn't a British company started chucking out some drop forged steel dummy bodies for a fraction of the cost? If the dummy is supposed to mimmick your ideal training partner (i.e. Yourself) then a heavy metal sheild is probably better than a wooden column. I weigh approximately 90kg, my dummy is nowhere near that(34kg). Training with it makes me feel like Superman because I can throw it around like a wet lettuce. I guess the other aspect is that people are a bit predjudiced in that they like the look and feel of a nice bit of wood. Of course you could always front the metal with a nice veneer. Drop forged steel is a bit more York Gym Equipment and a bit less ornamental furniture.

Anyway, back to the set-up, the dummy has evolved to have a certain amount of give in it. The arms move a bit in every direction including backwards and forwards. The leg moves a bit, the whole body can spring backwards and forwards, left and right, up and down. It all serves to give you a bit of force-feedback and even a bit of auditory feedback. I once asked "why are the holes square when it is patently easier to drill a round hole" my initial theory was to stop the arms turning but Sifu reckons it's to make it more obvious to the user where his energy is being directed. Because of the 4 walls you can feel and hear the changes in direction of force on the arms, it's all about knowing whether you're applying energy in the right direction or not. The modern dummy is attached to a frame to give it the bounce which is the main issue for most people, you do need a solid wall. Some attempts at making a stand alone dummy with the intent to make it take up less space and be portable have been made but in my opinion not very successfully (not cheap either at £550?!). It's no real surprise to me that it can't compete with the wall mounted version because the amount of extra engineering you would have to put into the dummy to acheive an equivalent is immense and you lose the beautiful simplicity of the original and end up with a Cylon Centurian!

I've also seen arms that are spring loaded, bodies on springs (imagine training with a Weeble) and I've even seen that weird pneumatic monstrosity they built for The Gadget Show, either the people who have built these things had a very specific purpose in mind or they have plainly misunderstood the basic principle of what the dummy is for. You're not trying to move the dummy's arms, you should be going around them. The dummy represents the immoveable you. The opponent that is stronger than you, who those techniques that use raw power just don't work on. This forces you to improve by moving and finding the holes. Certainly as far as the form is concerned the game is not to try and break your dummy's arms off, the game is to go around the bits that stick out and deliver all your power into the core of the dummy without compromising your own balance or position.

As I've said earlier, your dummy is supposed to mimmick yourself so the dimensions naturally vary hugely (as they should), I was up in Leeds at Colin Ward's "kwon" and I noticed he has a whole wall of dummies down one side and no two the same! My dummy can be set at different heights, you are supposed to set it so that the upper arms are level with your shoulders when you are in your training stance. My Sifu deliberately varies his training and sets his at different heights. Training constantly on your dummy can lead you to take for granted that an arm or leg or body will always be in a particular place which is a mistake you will never make if you train with real people. The vertical distance between my dummy's arms and leg cannot be adjusted and neither can the angle between the upper arms (perhaps another possible future improvement!).