One characteristic of Wing Tsun is its structured teaching system. While many styles of martial arts teach techniques in a non-linear fashion, WT’s system is structured like a school curriculum, with each grade building on the previous, rather than just introducing more information to learn. Also, unlike the traditional master-apprentice model of teaching where a student would follow his instructor for several years or even a lifetime, the IWTA’s structured approach ensures all students receive a complete WT education at each grade level. A busy individual who can only train twice a week would not miss out on important concepts or ideas that would give their devoted classmate, seemingly always in class, an unfair advantage – though an advantage would likely arise from their classmate’s diligence and further developed skills from the extra hours of training.
The WingTsun curriculum consists of twelve student grades which cover the first two forms, Siu Nim Tao and Chum Kiu, as well as the related Chi Sao training and applications. In addition to the hand forms there is also a standardized set of leg forms that are learned with the Siu Nim Tau.
The student grades can be split into three sections, based on the topics they cover:
- 1st – 4th, Learning fundamentals across the three ranges.
- 1st – Basic fundamentals of movement and style, long range engaging, beginning of Siu Nim Tao.
- 2nd – Long range fighting, with bridging, all of Siu Nim Tao.
- 3rd – Transitioning from Long to mid-range attacks.
- 4th – Transitioning from mid to short-range attacks, beginning of Chum Kiu.
- 5th – 8th, Ranges applied with movement and transition.
- 5th – Short range attacks, and fighting with two hands simultaneously.
- 6th – Poon Sao, Chi Sao
- 7th – Chi Sao 1st attack
- 8th – Chi Sao breaking bong saos etc..
- 9th – 12th, Application of the style, against kicks.
- 9th – Against a single attacker.
- 10th – Against multiple attackers.
- 11th – Against a single attacker with a weapon.
- 12th – Against multiple attackers with weapons.
At student grade 9 the student is considered to not only know the style ( as in grade 8 ) but be able to apply it effectively against an attacker. The subtle, but important difference between these two grades means that either one of these, depending on the school, can be considered equivalent to the “black belt” rank. There is no consensus, as there is no direct formal comparison.
Following the student grades are twelve instructor grades. At the instructor levels, the student begins training in the more advanced programs of Wing Tsun:
- Biu Tze
- Mook Yan Chong Fa (Wooden Dummy)
- Luk Dim Boon Kwun Fa (“Six and A Half Point Pole” or Long Pole)
- Bart Cham Dao (Eight Cutting Broadsword or Butterfly Sword)
The instructor grades are themselves split into three sections:
- 1st – 4th Technician
- 5th – 8th Practician
- 9th – 12th Philosopher
Each instructor section name describes the focus and idea behind the quality of fighting that is expected at that level. A technician is expected to fight with technique, a practitioner is expected to be a complete practicing fighter, and a philosopher should understand the mental, and spiritual, elements of the style.