Wing Chun is a Chinese based martial art that focuses on strikes, kicks and grappling techniques at close quarters. It was developed and refined over many centuries, before exploding into popularity in the West largely as a result of Bruce Lee’s iconic films.
I first encountered Wing Chun when watching Enter the Dragon, surely one of the best martial arts films ever made.
Here’s a short clip of the master in action actually wearing Wing Chun gloves (black Speedos optional):
For those of you in a rush, here’s a list of my prefered gloves, having tried on a multitude during many years of training in the martial arts:
Hayabusa T3 Kanpeki MMA Boxing Gloves
RDX MMA Gloves
UFC Official Pro Competition Fight Gloves
What’s special about Wing Chun Gloves?
The key difference between a glove designed for Wing Chun and, say, a boxing glove is that the fingers are much more exposed allowing for a much greater freedom of movement.
This allows the wearer to employ the full arsenal of techniques that form part of Wing Chun including knife hand techniques and grabs.
Take for example, the simultaneous block and attack movement below which typifies the Wing Chun style. Notice how the blocking hand is open, guiding the attacking arm away, whilst the other hand is clenched in a fist, striking the opponent’s face.
In contrast, boxing gloves restrict your finger movement, holding them in a fist, meaning this type of block wouldn’t be possible.
This open handed blocking technique is a major component of Wing Chun’s defensive arsenal and therefore it’s important that any gloves worn allow the hands to move freely.
I’ve noticed that Wing Chun’s punching style is also quite unique, incorporating a “snapping” action of the wrist.
You can see how the wrist straightens on impact, increasing the force delivered to the opponent. It also allows you to punch and counter an incoming blow simultaneously.
I’ve noticed that if the gloves I’m wearing feature heavily supported wrist straps then it can actually impede this motion. They can also prevent the wrist from bending when delivering palm heel strikes.
Wing Chun also incorporates “finger thrust” where the fingers are straightened and thrust into your opponents throat or eyes. Quite a gruesome technique and not one I’d recommend trying in a sparring session. However, you don’t want to keep having to take your gloves off and on during training if you’re practicing this technique.
I’ve also noticed that boxing gloves are heavily padded. Whilst this might be okay for boxing, I’ve noticed they feel quite cumbersome when performing Wing Chun techniques. The extra size meant my gloved hands kept bumping into each other.
Lightly padded gloves are much more suited to the rapid punching style of Wing Chun.
Why is it important to wear Wing Chun Gloves?
I’ve spent a lot of time sparring. Even if you’re both taking it easy and only performing ‘light’ techniques’, it’s quite common to suffer injuries.
I’ve lost count of the times someone has not exercised proper control and ended up hitting me in the face.
In many of the punching techniques, the power from the body is focused through one or two of the knuckles in the fist. This is an incredible amount of force that is being channeled through a very small area. In short, it really hurts when one of these blows makes contact.
When you wear gloves, the light padding helps absorb some of this force and it spreads the force generated over a greater area rather than through a few bony knuckles.
Sure, it still hurts if a gloved punch lands but I’d rather take a punch from a gloved fist than a bare knuckle any day of the week.
It’s also the person throwing punches that can suffer injuries.
In a scientific study, De Sousa et al. (2011) recorded the location of the injuries of those martial artists training and competing in tournaments. 15.5% suffered from injuries to their fingers and hands. Injuries of the hand are very common.
You can see my article here on how to harden your hands for martial arts for more info.
It takes consistent practice on tools like a wall bag (click for an example on Amazon), to toughen the skin of the hands.
Without such training, it’s common for cuts and grazes to develop, particularly on the knuckles. I’ve only noticed when I see drips of blood appearing on my gi and we then stop to try and work out where it’s coming from. Invariably one of us has torn the skin on our hands.
Wing Chun gloves protect the hands from this type of abuse. Clearly this is good from a cosmetic point of view (who wants to walk around with grazed knuckles?) but also from a hygiene point of view: clearing up drips of blood isn’t great.
Wearing Wing Chun gloves allows you to train as realistically as possible whilst minimising the risk of injury.
What should I look for when selecting Wing Chun Gloves?
One of the key considerations is the material that Wing Chun gloves are made of.
Gloves made from leather, as opposed to a synthetic material, are likely to be more durable and to last longer. However, I have found that leather gloves can dry out and crack over time if they are not well looked after and treated with a leather oil to condition them.
I also like the way that leather gloves will stretch slightly over time and mold themselves to fit your own fist. It’s a bit like breaking in a new pair of leather shoes; it takes a bit of time before they become really comfortable.
I’ve also noticed that leather does absorb sweat quite readily and you need to look after them to ensure you don’t end up with a stained (and smelly) pair of gloves. Fortunately, if you ensure they have time to dry out after each training session and treat them regularly with leather oil, this is rarely a problem.
Perhaps the main drawback of genuine leather gloves is the price. They tend to be slightly more expensive than synthetic pairs. However, given that there likely to last considerable longer, they may work out cheaper over the long term.
Synthetic gloves, on the other hand, over some advantages in that they’re very much the low maintenance option. I’ve tended to throw mine in my kit bag at the end of a training session, where they remain until the next time I’m in a sparring session.
There is also a much larger selection of synthetic gloves on the market. This can be quite daunting if you don’t know what you’re looking for (which is probably why you’re reading this article).
The one thing I would say is that it’s best to avoid the cheap synthetic gloves. I’ve noticed that the finish isn’t great, and my fingers are jabbed by bits of material that haven’t been trimmed properly. The stitching also tends to be a bit suspect and I’m not sure how many hard training sessions they would withstand.
I’ve also noticed that, over time, the material of my synthetic gloves becomes cracked and actually flakes off, exposing the foam below. This was only after a couple of years but it’s something to be aware of.
Some gloves will only allow your fingers to move together, as one unit. In Wing Chun, your fingers must be allowed to move freely so that they can grab and block effectively. The amount of padding shouldn’t restrict the ability of your fingers to move independently.
As I’ve mentioned, some gloves I’ve used had so much padding that I kept accidentally hitting my own hands together when sparring. They felt cumbersome and greatly inhibited the “flow” of my technique.
I’ve also found that if the padding is too thick, it actually affects the accuracy of my technique.
When I wore thickly padded gloves for some time, I got used to making contact two or three inches before my actual fist would have actually struck. If I ever had to use my Wing Chun in a self defense context, any punch would have landed short of its intended target.
The thickness of the padding should be just enough to protect the knuckles and to be absorb some of the force of the strike. Any thicker and you risk developing poor technique.
As I’ve mentioned there is a bewildering number of Wing Chun gloves on the market. I would recommend going with a manufacturer that has a history of catering to the martial arts community. Through years of experience, they’ve worked out the best materials and manufacturing techniques to use to create a durable and comfortable product.
With the above points in mind, I’ve picked out the best wing chun gloves I’ve used over the years.
Hayabusa T3 Kanpeki MMA Boxing Gloves
I love the feel of these 100% full grain leather gloves. They have a inbuilt curve to them which support your hand in a very natural relaxed position. The stitching and overall design gives the impression of a very high quality product.
My fingers could move quite freely and were unrestricted, allowing me to complete the full range of wing chun blocking techniques.
The thumb area is completely uncovered, allowing it to move independently. Some gloves have separate padded area to protect the thumb when sparring. I actually preferred the “naked” thumb design of this glove.
It allowed my hand to move in a much more natural fashion, enabling me to still grab my opponent’s arm when sparring. It also reminded me to keep my thumb tucked in when striking or it would get knocked which is quite painful. It’s too easy to forget to do this when wearing more padded gloves. Forgetting to do this in a real world self defense situation could have in painful consequences.
The gloves also feature an antibacterial lining which helps avoid stains (and smells) of sweat build up that I talked about earlier.
Whilst there is a wrist support, I didn’t feel that it restricted my punching technique which is the case with some gloves which extend further down the forearm.
Hayabusa are an established brand will a reputation for designing superb products.
I think I paid just over $100 for my pair but you can check the price on Amazon here.
RDX MMA Gloves
These were one of the first pairs of Wing Chun gloves I purchased. They’re made of a synthetic material but have lasted several years despite the brutal punishment I’ve inflicted on them.
I had worried that the synthetic material would mean that they would get hot and sweaty during a sparring session. This hasn’t been a problem at all. I believe it is made of a fabric that wicks away moisture and makes them breathable.
In contrast to the Hayabusa gloves above, these feature more of a protected thumb area but this is only a fabric covering the base of the thumb rather than actual padding. The thumb is still able to move freely.
The padded area over the knuckles is reasonably thick but not so much so that affected my Wing Chun technique.
I have to confess, I purchased these largely because of the price. They appeared to offer a quality design at a very reasonable price. I think I paid about $25 for the pair but you can see the latest price here.
UFC Official Pro Competition Fight Gloves
These were about the second pair of gloves I purchased. Okay I admit I was largely influenced by the fact that I was a massive UFC fan (and still am). However, these gloves have proven to be very sturdy and hard wearing. They also look amazing as well.
They are made of leather and are really comfortable to wear.
They have an open thumb area which is full exposed, allowing it to move freely. Quite a considerable amount of the palm is left uncovered allowing you to feel your opponent when you block or grab them.
If anyone has seen a UFC fight, you’ll know how much hand dexterity is required when grappling. These have to be one of the open and ‘natural’ feeling gloves I’ve worn.
The padded area feels like it’s made of a solid gel like substance rather than foam. It gives a good amount of protection for the knuckles whilst not impeding any of my punching techniques.
I really like my UFC fighting gloves; they’re ideal for Wing Chun. I paid about $70 for mine. You can check the price here on Amazon.
In martial arts, what does the closed fist covered by open hand signify?