The Wooden Dummy

wooden dummy

While watching the Ip Man movie, I found myself asking “what is the wooden dummy for”? Throughout the movie, the actor that plays Ip Man (Donnie Yen) works out with this mysterious wooden contraption and while it definitely looked cool and was fun to watch, I wasn’t quite sure of its purpose. A lot of Kung Fu styles adopted wooden dummies to learn to manage a human being’s similar shape but one of the most celebrated and effective is for sure the Wing Chun’s wooden dummy. (or Mu Ren Zhuang).So I did a little research on what the wooden dummy.

The structure of this fantastic training tool:

  • It is basically a trunk with 3 small arms (same length) and a single central leg
  • The 3 arms are short because they simulate a closed guard position
  • The 4th extension is bent and represents the frontal leg (the other one is ideally incorporated in the central body)

In the story of Wing Chun Kung Fu, the structure of this dummy is originally related to the use of wooden benches and ship masts.

What are the benefits of training with the wooden dummy?

The wooden dummy is said to be one of the most powerful solo martial arts training devices out there. Let’s face it, it can’t always be easy to find a training partner who is ready and available to help by sticking their arms out while you practice your Kung Fu. It’s important to mention that during my research I learned that the arms and leg on the dummy aren’t meant to be a literal representation of the human body. Instead, they represent obstacles, or energetic pathways. These obstacles are around which you can practice your moves, and against which you can practice your energy. I also found out that training on the wooden dummy helps gain powerful structure to be used against bigger, stronger opponents. When you make contact with the dummy, you are given immediate feedback regarding your structure. This way, the Wing Chun dummy helps practitioners avoid using force against force. It also helps develop balance, accuracy, timing, mobility and positioning.

  • Trapping training – The main objective of this tool is to accustom and sensitize the limbs to close combat (read Trapping) at high speed / precision (touch, speed spatial intelligence, coordination, etc.)
  • Hand conditioning – Without protections, a wooden dummy is a fantastic tool for strengthening the hands (but only for advanced practitioners and with extreme graduality)
  • Alternative training – Especially for those who want to train seriously, it is not always possible to have the right training partners on hand; for this reason from time to time, to have one that is passive but does not feel pain, fatigue (etc.) it’s really fantastic (read 5 effective ways to find a training partner)

The impact with such a mass of wood can easily cause bad fractures, especially if we do not know how to hit (and if we do not have a base of conditioning more than solid).

The construction and characteristics of the wooden dummy must fall within specific parameters:

  • In the classical version, it is normally made of full wood (but there are also metal, plastic and mixed materials variants.)
  • Depending on the materials and type of manufacture, it can weight 40-70 Kg
  • The core component is a cylindrical trunk of solid wood
  • The 3 upper limbs are generally truncated cones that starts larger near the body and become thinner at their extremities
  • The 2 upper arms should be at the height of the shoulders’ practitioner (generally there are 3 measures)
  • The frontal leg is a cylinder (or a beveled parallelepiped) bent in the middle and does not touch the ground
  • All the 3 limbs are removable and the holes in which they are inserted are slightly wider than necessary
  • The total height of the structure should not be higher than the practitioner’s head
  • The impact parts of the central body are often covered with rubber, rope or bags containing various materials (rice, sand, etc.)
  • In the original version, the dummy is never completely fixed on the ground (it is mounted on a structure that allows millimetric oscillations)

Matser xu training wing chun and Wooden dummy

And that’s it. Just remember the answer to “What is the wooden dummy for?”… The dummy helps practitioners avoid using force against force. It’s also a powerful training device to help develop balance, accuracy, timing, mobility and positioning The Wing Chun wooden dummy is not only a core training tool for learning the movements of a style of a martial art, it is also a powerful totem associated with the modern-day master of one of the most popular kung fu styles in the world. It is argued that it should also be a requirement of kung fu schools to have at least one wooden dummy in their kwoon.

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