Nearly every martial artist or fighter is familiar with a heavy bag (sometimes also called a punching bag). Even people who are not martial artists or boxers still know what a heavy bag is; they’re either seen them on TV, in gyms, or hanging from a beam in someone’s garage or basement.
But there is a much less commonly-known training device that not even many martial artists know about: the Wing Chun wooden dummy. A wooden dummy is a wooden pole that is between 8.5 and 9.5″ in diameter, and has three 12″ arms coming out from it, and one wooden leg coming out from the bottom. The dummy’s arms and leg simulate an attacker’s arms or legs and allow the Wing Chun student to practice his techniques against them, with force, without hurting another student.
Since both of these are used to develop martial arts techniques and power, let’s take a quick look at some of the similarities and differences:
Power Development – both pieces of equipment will let the student begin to develop more power over time. When a beginner punches a heavy bag, his wrists may buckle because they are not used to the force of impact. A similar thing may happen the first time someone punches the body of a dummy. But over the months, the student will slowly be able to increase the amount of power he uses, and his strikes will become more effective.
Hardness – heavy bags are dense, but are usually relatively soft. This softness helps absorb some of the impact of the strike. In fact, a very strong strike will often cause a heavy bag to fold over on itself for a moment as the martial artist’s hand or foot seems to go into the bag. Wooden dummies are hard. They are made of wood. There is no “give.” While this is good for the arms and legs, which simulate and attackers arms and legs (which are also hard), punching the body is slightly less realistic than with a heavy bag because there is no softness. In fact, you can actually injure your hand by punching a wooden dummy’s body too hard before you are ready. To counter this, some people will wrap soft cloth around the body to provide a bit of “padding.” This allows harder strikes to be delivered with a reduced risk of injury to the martial artist.
Blocking Techniques – a heavy bag isn’t very useful when it comes to blocking, as the only thing you can really do is deliver strikes to it. A wooden dummy, on the other hand, has arms and legs that can be used to practice blocking. Many of Wing Chun’s techniques involve simultaneous blocking and striking, and these can be trained on the wooden dummy; one hand blocks against one of the dummy’s arms while the other hand delivers a strike to its body. This simulates a situation with a real opponent where there is going to be actual physical feedback when you block their attack, and thus provides a more realistic training scenario.
So this is not to say that one is better than the other, just that they have some similarities and differences, and both heavy bags and wooden dummies can be used to enhance a martial artist’s training.