Many people today practice Wing Chun, Chi Sau (sticking hands). However, they only stand in the same position and they do not move their feet. In this way it is very easy to lose a lot of energy, because when your opponent is very strong and they are attacking you, you cannot move to avoid their power.
The most common way we do to avoid an opponent’s power is to change your technique such as changing from the Bong Sau to Tan Sau or the other way round. Of course, there are other techniques you can use by yourselves but because you do not move your stance, you have to use more strength. Therefore we see many people, who do Chi Sau just like they are fighting. With this kind of skill, only the stronger and bigger guy will win easily. Even if you beat up your opponent, you can also suffer injury, so this is not the best way for Chi Sau.
In many Wing Chun training sessions we will train Juen Ma (turning stance). This is about turning your feet and your body 45° by rotating on your heel. If someone tries to attack you, you should turn your body to 45° to avoid their attack. Technically it is very correct, but if somebody who is really strong attacks, turning 45° is not enough so that is why Juen Ma is very good. However, if the energy is too strong, then some more footwork is required.
Personally, I believe that in Wing Chun skills, footwork is actually the most important. Many people studying Wing Chun spend so much time on hand techniques such as Lap Sau (pulling hand), Pak Sau (slapping hand), Gau Cha Sau (crossing hand) etc, that they forget working on their footwork. Footwork is the way to bring the right position in the right place. Without good footwork, even good hand skills would not work.
If you hit someone who does not move, then it is easy. However, if he moves, you will miss him. It is the same if someone wants to hit you, you can move to avoid the attack. Therefore footwork is very important for attack and defense. I have
seen so many people keep the same position in Chi Sau and only leaning back to avoid the opponent’s attack.
Actually, this is wrong because Wing Chun does not allow the body lean forward and backward. The body should be straight all the time. That will make all the energy in your body balanced. Also leaning backwards or forwards makes our backs stiff and also you will not clearly see your opponent attacking you. Even if you can block it, the opponent’s next movement will not be clear to you. That is why stepping back is the best way to defend against a strong opponent’s attack. Your back will be straight and your vision and energy will be clear, and you will be able to read you’re your opponent’s energy correctly.
For training the good footwork, we must keep our stepping in accordance with Wing Chun training and be ready anytime for Chi Sau and defend yourself. Always be aware of the distance of the width of your feet and make sure that they are the same as your shoulders width. Wing Chun stance is always shoulder width. That is the fastest and most effective footwork. When we are walking we can walk as Zen Ma (Forward Stance), with every step we walk being in the Wing Chun Stance. No matter whether we walk fast or slow when
we stop, the stance should always be shoulder width. When we walk as Teu Ma (Backward Stance), the footwork is still in the Wing Chun Stance, which is shoulder width. It is the same even when we walk to the side or in a circle. Good footwork is not difficult, we only need more practice which will bring us perfection. Just always be aware of the distance of your footwork, make it a habit, then it all happens without thinking.
Actually Wing Chun skills are about using the whole body. You cannot just move one part of the body without connecting it with the rest. This means your hands, legs, body and head should be all connected and cannot be separated. For example, when we punch, we should punch with the footwork in unison with the punch. If we just punch from the arm, without using the footwork and whole body, then this will damage the body every time you punch.
You should consider how your feet move, how your waist turns, and how the body connects and how the other hand balances what the other hand does. We should not just think about the one punch only. A student sometimes will ask me why we only move the hands and not the feet in the first form, Siu Lim Tao. This is because, just like in languages, students learn the vocabulary first not the grammar and sentences.
It is in the second form, Tsum Kiu, and the third form, Biu Tzi, and the wooden dummy technique, that the whole body moves. So therefore, in Wing Chun technique, footwork is very important because it gives the correct angle for our hands and also allows clear vision and sensitivity. If you spend more time in footwork training than on the hand technique training, then this will give you a high level skill of Wing Chun.
Wing Chun philosophy is similar to our lives. We always think about yourself and how much benefit we will have if we do this or that and forget to think about other people. Actually, the other people are just like the rest of our bodies. If you can have a good relationship with the people around you, then you will be balanced with everybody and you will benefit from them and at the same time they will benefit from you as well. At the end, you will have a better life so always be friendly with the people around you instead of making enemies. This is the principle of Wing Chun.
 Michael Tse, Footwork, Qi Magazine no. 67, pp. 36-37 (Oct/Nov/Dec 2003)