Research Approach

The Ving Tsun Museum's Approach
to Research, Definitions and Terminology
Benny Meng, Richard Loewenhagen, and Levi Melton

Comprehension of terms and definitions is essential to communication and learning. A teacher is nothing more than a guide to individual pursuit of self-development. Guiding is not possible without communication. Misunderstandings created from a lack of shared comprehension of terms can only sidetrack and delay the development sought. The terms must be fully understood and agreed to by both the teacher and the student before any real training and learning can begin.

This emphasis on 'learning the native language' is the first of an overall three-stage process employed by the Ving Tsun Museum when approaching a new style or lineage of Wing Chun kung fu. In short, this is how we build a Knowledge Base. All initial emphasis focuses on first learning the new system's terms and definitions and their corresponding reference points. Great care is taken to ferret out those terms native to the art and those terms native to the particular teacher. Before true communication becomes possible, both the system's and the teacher's environments shaping the use of these terms must be fully deciphered.

The second stage for approaching a new style or lineage involves the application of established Cultural Anthropology research techniques to ensure accuracy of reporting. There are two principle arenas of research methodology within the field of Cultural Anthropology. The Ving Tsun Museum employs both to ensure accuracy. The first, Ethnography, is the systematic study and documentation of a culture or cultural practice independent of the researcher's culture. Ethnography relies heavily on the principal of 'cultural relativism'. Simply put, adherence to this principle requires that any part of a culture must first be documented and interpreted from within the context of the culture from which it originates. This means that words, gestures, or concepts must be defined by the vocabulary and precepts of the host culture, not researcher's culture. Cultural relativism is the principle by which a researcher may remain non-biased and objective.

Cultural Anthropology's second arena of research methodology is called Ethnology. Ethnology can be described as the comparative study of cultural expressions. The researcher must maintain continuous vigil to ensure that Ethnology is neither confused with, nor replaced by Ethnocentrism (the exclusive comparison one culture to the researcher's culture) until after the research is complete. Ethnology, when utilizing data gathered ethnographically, allows multiple cross-cultural comparisons to be made while maintaining objectivity in the study. It is through ethnology that field research is gathered and analyzed.

Five detailed steps are employed in the Field Research stage of documenting a culture. They are as follows:

Step 1. Selecting the research problem (Identifying the specific topic of examination)

Step 2. Formulating a research design (establishing a scientific methodology for identification of facts and reviewing previously documented history of the subject)

Step 3. Collecting data (Ethnography)

Step 4. Analyzing Data (Ethnology)

Step 5. Interpreting Data (Only here do subjective opinions enter the picture. If the first four steps are carried out properly, subjective opinions should be greatly limited.)

It is important to note that in many cases a "pseudo-culture" is used to function as a comparison control in order to test a hypothesis that will "create" a new culture upon its completion. By way of example, we'll use the Ving Tsun Museum's search for the true roots of Wing Chun Kung Fu.

The five steps employed in Field Research look like this:

Step 1. What are the true roots, precepts, and tools of Wing Chun?

Step 2. Since virtually all lineages of Wing Chun profess adherence to the scientific principles of simplicity, efficiency, directness, and economy of motion use these as the 'yardstick' for measuring results and categorizing collected data. This yardstick becomes the "pseudo-culture" for later analysis.

Step 3. Study (first-hand) and research the known styles of Wing Chun. The study must include lineages, language, idioms, training methodologies, techniques, strategies, and tactics. It must be emphasized that this step is only valid if the data is gathered ethnographically (using the rules, precepts, vocabulary, and worldview of the culture the data is gathered from).

Step 4. Compare the data gathered in Step 3 with the "pseudo-culture" of pure efficiency, simplicity, directness, and economy of motion.

Step 5. Discard what does not fit, while putting what does fit into the "new" culture.
* Repeat Steps 3 through 5 until there is no longer any available to gather.

The third stage for approaching a new style or lineage is to systematically document the style's teaching and training formula - the science behind its curriculum. Each style studied is laid out and examined in the following six categories. This greatly enhances objective study of how each contributes to the output product of the system.

Category 1: Systematic Examination of Sequence and Methods of Development
a. The science, ideas, natures, and strategies
Category 2: Motions / Techniques
a. Motions, techniques, sequences, forms, and exercises
Category 3. Forms and Mechanics
a. Alignment, structure, position, identity, etc.
Category 4. Attributes
  1. Fitness (Basic Exercises)
  1. Physical: flexibility, strength, endurance
  2. Mental: adaptability, power, perseverence
  1. Martial Arts (Basic Movements)
  1. Symmetry (posture) balance stability coordination (body unity) strength
  2. Relaxation sensitivity speed
  3. Space distance (positional sense) timing
Category 5. Concepts and Tactics
  1. How style approaches and implements strategy
  2. Development of working tactics
Category 6. Applications
  1. Physical Combat (requires purpose and courage.... How is it trained?)
  2. Kung Fu life (requires strength of character.... How is it developed?)

One final step is needed to enable communication of findings to the world outside the research lab - identification of a common set of terms for relaying the results of the research and formulating additional subjects of research. The following terms and definitions begin to establish a basis for such activity. As such, they are employed exclusively in the Museum's reporting of its findings and it's training seminars on Wing Chun Kung Fu.



Nature is the fundamental essence and purpose of an object, function, or entity. In Kung Fu we often speak of understanding the "nature" of a technique or movement. For example, the nature of Tan Sao is "to disperse." Therefore, it is not in harmony with its nature when used as a block.


A system is made up of separate components with their own purpose, related to each other, that when put together make a process greater than each individual part. Additionally, a system is affected by both internal and external environments. Individual parts of that system cannot deal with environmental forces as efficiently and effectively as the combined components of the system. For example, forms constitute an important component of a martial arts system, but they alone cannot deal with external environmental forces. In isolation they cannot make the practitioner "centered" or focused. Alone they cannot provide the wisdom and balance needed to deal effectively with crises. In fighting, forms in themselves cannot provide the practitioner with the tools needed to survive.

For a system to be successful in supporting its intended outputs, it must be reasonable, logical, and well-integrated. Comprehension of the relationships of each of its components is essential. Honoring the nature and function of each is the only way the system can function as intended.

Lastly, the system must be alive. It cannot be made rigid or stagnant, because its external environment is always in transition.


Principles are the fundamental "laws" on which a martial arts is based. They constitute the strategic rules of operation for an art form. In Ving Tsun, the key principles are Simplicity, Efficiency, and Directness. Fancy, exaggerated movements and methods are not in harmony with "principles" of Ving Tsun. For example, if an opponent throws a punch and the student needs four movements to counter it, the principles of Ving Tsun have been disregarded.


Scientific abstractions and guidelines that give the practitioner specific means to tactically employ "Laws" on which the art form is based. For example, if the principles of Ving Tsun are simplicity, efficiency, and directness, then how does a practitioner remain within them? How does he become more "Direct?" The "Concepts" of "facing" (Doi Yeng) and "straight line" (Jik Sien) give him the means to tactically employ the laws of the art form.


A method is a means to an end. It is human nature to create and employ methodology in the process of learning. A form is a method. Chi Sao is a method. Ultimately, the system itself is a method. Always remain aware, that a time will come when the method must be deprogrammed from actual practice and employment of the art.


An exercise is a particular task for developing attributes, techniques, and forms. If the results of the exercise are to remain within the principles of the art form, then the exercise itself must reinforce the concepts of that same art form. For example, if a practitioner's punches are going to be direct, then facing and straight line must be taught. The Pak Sao exercise is one example of training facing and straight line theory and application.


A form (Toa) is an artistic expression of the formal standards of the skills required for a martial art. In practice, it follows a sequence (Tong) of movements and contains a body of knowledge designed to develop structure in the practitioner. In purpose, it constitutes one of the formal methods used for passing on an art form to future generations.


A technique is a "tool of the trade" or a "solution to a problem" -- nothing more and nothing less! For example, a hammer drives a nail, but it cannot build a house. The skilled carpenter may be able to erect a mansion with that hammer, but a car salesman may not be able to even if he uses the very same hammer. The same is true of all martial arts techniques. There is nothing magical, mystical, or secretive about any of them. They have no special powers in and of themselves, but they must have knowledge and training to become what they are. Throwing a hand out without proper structure and intent does not make a technique (Jiu). It is merely a motion (Sik). Attributes and the wise employment of concepts (tactics) and principles (strategies) allows the evolution of techniques for creating works of art or getting the job done.


Attributes are the developed physical, mental, and emotional characteristics and abilities needed to make a technique successful.

For example, relaxation is both a physical and mental attribute required to skillfully release a Ving Tsun punch with force and effectiveness.


Skill is the overall ability to apply forms, attributes, techniques, etc. To accomplish desired goals and/or objectives. It is the external expression of the artist's style.


Style is the ultimate expression of the artist's assimilation of the art. It is never imitative, but rather, always original. Style can only be developed through comprehensive formal training in a highly developed system. It must be accompanied by intelligence and sincerity. It cannot be faked.


The art and science of developing and using psychological and physical forces in the precise measure required to afford maximum self defense by optimizing the probabilities and favorable consequences of victory and minimizing the chances of defeat or injury.

Note: Strategy generally encompasses a long range plan of action with a 3 to 7 year window on the future. It also has a distance component in combat planning. In combat, strategic weapons are generally viewed as weapons that project force from beyond the theatre of battle. For example, a long pole interjected into a weaponless hand-to-hand combat range.


The employment of psychological and physical forces as weapons in combat. Tactics are the ordered arrangement and maneuver of weapons in relation to each other and the enemy in order to use their full potential within the proper time and space.

Note: Tactical planning generally encompasses short term goal of 2 years or less. The distance component for tactical employment is generally much shorter than that of strategic. Tactics are constrained to a specific geographic theatre of battle. For example, grappling range requires trapping and grappling tactics.

Combat Objective

The primary objective of absolute combat must be the destruction of the enemy forces. This is the overriding principle of war or combat, and so far as positive action is concerned, the principle way to achieve our object. (Clausewitz, On War, 1832)

As a general example of how all of these terms tie together we'll examine the Pak Sao exercise. The nature of Ving Tsun is simple, direct, and efficient. So too must be the nature of the exercise itself. As an exercise, it is nothing more than a subset of a methodology employed to facilitate learning. In this case, the methodology is one of repetitive motion to develop muscle memories that enable the attributes of relaxation and release of energy to remain in compliance with the principles and concepts of the art form. The actual application of those attributes in the exercise constitutes skill. As the attributes develop, so does the skill. His applications will be consistent with the principles and concepts of the art, but his expressions will be unique and individual. They constitute his style.

The individual martial artist must always remain more important than the system or the style. However, he needs a system based on fundamentals and scientific principles to develop his mastery of an art. If his system, or his comprehension of it, is disorganized and weak, so too will be his expression of his art.

The above terms give both the teacher and the student the "language" needed to communicate. However, language alone cannot ensure communication. Both must function in an environment conducive to communication and learning. Due to increases in technology, communication can take the form of books, videotapes, email, on-line mailing lists and more. While the language used in all these formats is important, they cannot replace direct, face-to-face, human contact between an instructor and a student. In each of these forms of communication, there is no hierarchy, so there is no way to determine if the advice giver is a novice and the listener is a master. This situation frequently creates a situation of "the cart getting in front of the horse". This ultimately leads to arguments and closed-minded behavior. The proper environment for communicating and learning Ving Tsun is one that is sociologically correct and personal, and that projects a proper attitude. Only then can the journey to development begin.

A Word of Caution About "Roots" and Subjective Comparisons of Various Expressions

The Ving Tsun Museum is first and foremost a research organization pursuing the true roots of Wing Chun Kung Fu. Since the museum's resources are limited, they must be targeted on furthering Wing Chun development through historic research first. Truth, not subjective opinion, in that research must remain at the center of everyone's focus. It is important for any and all serious martial artists to seek truth in what they do. Anything short of truth represents illusion that can ultimately become a fatal weakness. Seeking the true roots of a system is nothing less than an extension of the search for ultimate truth in one's own Kung Fu. At no time should the pursuit of one's true origins be viewed as threatening. However, knowing one 's roots will not automatically make one a better martial artist. The Ving Tsun Museum staff remains fully aware of this fact. Personal choice for specific strategies, tactics, and techniques, along with the 'heart' put into mastering them, will ultimately describe one's depth of Kung Fu knowledge and skill. Identifying a specific system or systems as the true roots of modern day expressions does not, in itself, describe those roots as superior to other expressions of the system, yet some practitioners in the Wing Chun community at large keep attempting to make such an assertion. This type of comparison is subjective in nature and can only be made by individuals (for themselves) in their personal search for truth - a search that must be grounded in real world experience with the systems being compared.

Today's Wing Chun practitioners and families, regardless of name, all ultimately come from the same roots. The search for those roots leaves no room for comparing subjective value of one family or lineage to another. All serious practitioners should embrace any endeavor to determine the truth of their roots. Discoveries made by any of the families and researchers pursuing truth through the application of science hand-to-hand should be greeted with jubilation, not resentment. Wing Chun practitioners from all lineages are ultimately brothers and sisters. We should strive to know as much as we can about each other, without falling into the trap of making subjective comparisons. To demonstrate that one posture, structure, energetic, etc. is most efficient in terms of human genetic code is not an open license to criticize other postures that have also been successful. Instead, such a demonstration should enhance everyone's understanding of Wing Chun as a science.

If the center of a circle represents maximum efficiency, and we find a system that has a formula and gets you to the center of the circle with each hand, posture, structure, theory and strategy, it is our responsibility as a research organization to get that information out to the public rather than bury it for political or personal reasons. In a similar vein, if we find a system that leads somewhere off-center, that doesn't mean it is no good or ineffective. Indeed, other factors such as attributal development (both mental and physical) can make it quite formidable. We must acknowledge those great expressionists like Wong Wah Bo, Leung Jan, Chan Wah Shun, Ip Man, Pan Nam, Jiu Wan, Bruce Lee, Wong Shun Leung, etc. Obviously, their personal attributal development and experience made their kung fu what it is and the basis of their success is most worthy of analysis and study. At the same time, it would not be fair to ignore the root science just because it reflects detail not presented by these and other great expressionists. An advanced combat weapon is guided, formed and tested through scientific processes, but it must be put into operation by a human being. Together, the tool and the human factor, make up the overall combat system. If person A trains a system that is 80% efficient and person B trains a system that is 90% efficient, but person A can perform his art at 75% of capability while the person B is only doing 50%, person A will outperform person B every time (at a ratio of 60% total efficiency to 45% total efficiency). There are too many unknown variables in the human factor such as morale, moral conviction, dedication, experience, etc. to ever reduce combat to a simple operation of factors on paper.

If the museum has introduced information in a manner that has been perceived as offensive to other lineages, we apologize. It has never been our intent to imply a subjective value consideration to one system over another. Our true intent has always been the accumulation and communication of science through real experience. Since much of Wing Chun must be learned through touch and the interaction of energetics, the museum will forever insist that its staff members attain this experience hands-on rather than through written and verbal means. The traditional Shaolin phrase for this type of learning is "Hau Chyun San Sau" meaning "face-to-face" and there is great wisdom in the need for it.

Truth in a martial system cannot be ascertained by dissertations and written or verbal treatises. Truth must be discovered by touch. At the same time, we realize there is a place for written documentation in the pursuit of knowledge. The museum will do its part in this endeavor with a comprehensive documented report later this year in the form of a book entitled: Mastering Kung Fu - Shaolin Wing Chun. The book will be distributed world-wide through bookstore chains and magazines. Additionally, smaller articles on the same subject will be published in martial arts and Asian cultural magazines.


A Brief Note About the Authors: Benny Meng is a full-time teacher of Wing Chun Kung Fu and the Curator of the Ving Tsun Museum. He is also a 20 year student/researcher of military history and training systems. Richard Loewenhagen is a retired military officer and full-time teacher of Wing Chun Kung Fu possessing both undergraduate and graduate degrees in Historiography and Military Systems Sciences. He has also engaged in extensive post-graduate studies of martial/military training systems. Levi Melton is an advanced student of Wing Chun Kung Fu and a Cultural Anthropologist engaged in Doctoral studies with an emphasis in Chinese cultures.

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