There are a number of different ways of observing a community. One of the most frequently overlooked is to pay attention to their physical culture. What sorts of objects do individuals invest their scarce time and resources into? How has this changed in recent years? Of course no object better captures the flavor of the Wing Chun world than the iconic wooden dummy.
We are very fortunate that Aaron Cantrell, the owner of Everything Wing Chun, has been able to stop by and chat with us about the evolving market for wooden dummies as well as their increased visibility within popular culture. His company is a major supplier of Wing Chun training gear and sells a number of different styles of dummies. All of this makes Aaron ideally situated to discuss the current state of the market.
Kung Fu Tea (KFT): How is the market for dummies doing in general? Does it seem like more “average” Wing Chun students buy dummies today?
Aaron Cantrell (AC): The market is steady. It does not seem like more students are buying full wooden dummies today, no matter what their level.
There was an increase in sales at one point, but that came years ago. I can’t even remember when, but I did notice an increase in Wing Chun popularity, around the time of the Ip Man movies. It is kind of hard to tell as it probably started to increase just before and then peaked sometime after that first movie. But for the most part, sales volume does not change much. That’s true not just of dummies, but of all of the products that have been established. Advertising doesn’t even seem to increase sales. The other vendors that I talk to all seem to have a steady business as well. From my point of view the Wing Chun market seems to stay about the same size.
(KFT): How has popular culture (especially the Ip Man movies) affected the market for dummies?
(AC): I think that popular culture, the Ip Man movies in particular, affected the market as a whole as it brought more people into Wing Chun.
Somewhere along the line wooden dummies became something that the general population equated with being a bad-ass in martial arts. i.e. If you train on a dummy then you can really destroy your foes in devastating fashion. You see dummies everywhere now. We sold some dummy pads to ABC’s Revenge (in Episode 8 of season 4 you can see them used when the heroine is hitting on a dummy). Although the intent is comical, in the Mr. Bean Snickers commercial he is playing on a dummy. The other day I saw a dummy in the training gym on the TV show Nikita or something like that. You just see them everywhere now. It is like “the thing” to have in the background when martial-arts training is happening on-screen.
I think this is cool. It means that in popular media Wing Chun is in some way associated with being a bad-ass.
But as far as the market for dummies or their sales… I don’t think that anyone that doesn’t know how to use a dummy or take wing chun is running out to buy one any more than they have in the past. They are too expensive for that.
(KFT): Do you think that there is a growing market for dummies outside of the Wing Chun world?
(AC): I do, but it is very limited. I find that people outside of the Wing Chun world don’t want the full dummies. They want flat board dummies, half dummies—dummies that they can strap on their heavy bag—they don’t want the real thing. A lot of JKD guys obviously have dummies, but I consider them part of the Wing Chun world to a degree.
Occasionally we will get people in other martial arts that want to play around on a dummy or who are looking to buy one, but it is not what I would call a “growing market”.
(KFT): It seems that there are basically solid wood, PVC and laminated dummies. Which are the most popular? Have you seen a move in one direction or another in recent years?
(AC): The solid body dummies are the most popular. They are the most beautiful and the most traditional. They are also the most difficult to take care of. If people are in an environment where they can’t care for a solid log dummy then they will go for laminate or PVC.
PVC tends to be an economic consideration rather than a preference. That is one of the reasons why we try to provide quality PVC dummies. Buying a PVC body is a way to own a dummy useful for training at an economic price for most people. The solid body dummies can be $1,000-$3,000 dollars, and that is out of the price range for most people – those are the dummies that most Sifu’s or senior students buy. PVC (top quality ones) are $350-$550 depending on the shipping and configuration.
Laminated dummies are really good when made in America (We have not had luck with any overseas manufacturer to date). They are really solid dummies and they last. If there has been a move in any direction it is towards them… however I think this mainly is due to the mounting that can be done with the laminate dummies, specifically the “freestanding” versions, which you cannot make using a solid-log dummy.
Because the “freestanding” designs are now the most popular mounting system, we actually end up selling more laminated dummies than anything else. But they are still not the “popular” type of dummies with buyers, if that makes sense. If solid-log dummies could be mounted well on a free-standing stand without breaking, then that would be the most popular item.
Also, what we call “laminated” is simply a dummy with a solid core (usually a 4×4) that has other wood glued and or screwed into it on each side (usually kiln dried ash or red oak) and then lathed down into the round body. So you have maybe 7-9 pieces of wood that makeup the trunk. This is not particle board or plywood, or other types of cheap glued/laminated wood. At least this is true for the dummies we sell – it is quality stuff. The advantage of this is that the wood reacts better to humidity fluctuations and won’t develop checking (or cracks) as easily as a natural log.
(KFT): Lets talk about mounting systems. In some ways I have always considered that to be the more interesting question as it has such an impact on how the dummy feels and reacts when you use it. Have you seen a move away from hanging dummies to “pillar and post” freestanding models have we seen in recent years?
(AC): Absolutely yes. The freestanding dummy is now the most popular dummy. We definitely do not sell very many laminated wall mount dummies. I would say that 99% of the models that we sell that you can mount on a wall are the Buick Yip dummies—those are solid body traditional dummies that Sifu’s want or that they use in schools.
Since it is difficult for most people living in apartments, or who want to move, to put a permanent fixture in their place of residence, the freestanding models are very popular. You can pick them up and easily move them. That is what I use myself because I move a lot.
You do sacrifice a little bit of that springy energy, but that is something that Ip Man brought in with the wall mount, and it didn’t exist before him. The freestanding dummies do have some energy, it just plays differently. So people are going for portability and the fact that they don’t have to drill holes in the walls of their apartment over the exact springy energy found on a wall mount.
Also, this mounting system allows you to move more than 180 degrees around the dummy. A lot of Sifu’s these days are teaching techniques that you cannot do on a wall mounted dummy. These include some of the older techniques from when the dummy post was buried in the ground.
[KFT]: Are we going to see a laminated bamboo dummy in the future? What would the advantages of that material be?
[AC]: We do have one vendor who will soon be introducing a bamboo dummy. It is actually made from bamboo flooring, so it is laminated bamboo. It appears to be a very solid dummy. We haven’t completely tested it out yet. We have just seen a prototype and are waiting for the first ones. I don’t know if there are any advantages to this material over normal wood but it is definitely very cool. We will have to see.
[KFT]: What about smaller, half-sized or flat board dummies? How popular have they been and what sort of feedback have you gotten on them?
[AC]: Believe it or not, they are actually very popular. The flat board dummies are the most popular because of their price. They take up very little space and allow you do some drill work or work on your form. They are definitely popular with the JKD guys and people who do not need the rounded body for positioning work.
The half sized dummies definitely have their place. They are for people who have a small space yet need the rounded dummy body to practice their Wing Chun structure and positioning.
[KFT]: Do you think that the greater availability of dummies (as well as greater selection in styles, materials and mounting systems) is generally a positive thing within the Wing Chun community?
[AC]: I do. I am not really a traditionalist. I respect it, and would not arbitrarily change anything, but I am open and very creative as well. I like seeing new products and new ways to train harder. I like seeing people thinking of ways to evolve the training of the art. Having more variety is a great thing so long as it improves the training.
I don’t know who first invented the freestanding dummy. I have heard several claims. I think that James from Warrior Martial Arts supply was the first individual to make this mounting system that I am aware of. If he didn’t invent it, and was just the first person to put it out there, it doesn’t really matter. Look how popular that has become. It changed the entire landscape of dummy mounting systems. That kind of thing is great for the Wing Chun world. Someone who could never have a dummy before (because they lived in an apartment and couldn’t mount it on the wall) can now get a freestanding jong, keep it in a very compact area and really train properly with it.
It is great for the students. And it is great for Wing Chun in general to have more people be able to practice it. I am all for innovation and greater selections of unique training equipment, dummy materials, mounting systems, etc, etc.
[KFT]: Do you have any general advice for someone thinking about buying a dummy?
[AC]: The most important thing that I look for when evaluating a dummy are the specs. A lot of people claim that they have “Ip Man” specs, but I have seen so many of these dummies that just have awful specs. A lot of these guys are copying copies or they never understood Wing Chun in the first place. They are just making something cheap that looks like a dummy. I think all dummy carpenters should first be Wing Chun practitioners that have trained beyond the dummy level. (And as a side note, every carpenter we work with has done this).
The few companies that we work with, including Buick Yip who is in Hong Kong, know what they are doing. Take a look at a Buick dummy, or some of the other ones that we sell on the site. You don’t have to buy from us, but just take a look at them and see how the specifications of the arms and legs are formed and compare it to the dummy that you thinking of buying. If it looks close and you don’t need exact specs, then go for it. If it is too far off – stay away.
I see some people training on dummies which have arms that are way too close or too far apart, or not spaced correctly vertically, and it makes me think that their training is going to be quite poor. Their footwork is going to be messed up, their arm positions are going to be messed up, their posture poor as they reach or etc. Look – you can train on any dummy once you know what you are doing. Heck I LIKE training on all sorts of dummies no matter what the specs because it forces me to adjust my footwork and arm positions. But if you are just learning, you need one made properly or you’ll develop bad habits. That is my first piece of advice.
My second suggestion is to know your humidity. If you have a fairly stable humidity level you can buy a solid-body dummies. If you don’t, you should go for laminate. That is probably the second major thing that people need to consider after thinking about the specs. Which wood and which body style? It is all going to depend on your humidity.
Wood will always adjust its water content to the surrounding air. It will absorb moisture and it will release moisture. If it does it too fast your dummy will crack. That is true of laminate dummies as well, it is just a little bit harder for them to crack. It does not matter how long you have had your dummy. If it has been stable for 10 years and then it is moved to a low humidity environment too quickly, the wood will shed its moisture quickly and develop cracks. And BTW, cracks are mainly a cosmetic issue. I’ve never seen a dummy crack so bad it can’t be used. 45-60% relative humidity is a good range to keep a wooden dummy in.
So know your humidity, know your specs and then think about the mounting system that you prefer. These three things are something that you should know before digging into your hard-earned money to buy a dummy. If you have any questions about dummies, feel free to stop by everythingwingchun.com and shoot us an email. We’ll be happy to discuss your situation with you.
[KFT]: Last question, who should not buy a dummy?
[AC]: That is an interesting question. I think they are great for everyone to have [laughs]. I’m not sure that I can answer that one.
I actually think that everyone should have a dummy if they are serious about Wing Chun. You might not need it for a couple of years, but you are going to want to have one. Same for JKD guys. I have seen Mixed Martial Artists use dummies effectively in a completely non-Wing Chun manner. When you are training by yourself, or working on something specific, you have got to have something to practice on… and of course it is also a very important part of the Wing Chun System.
[KFT]: Plus Mr. Bean has one, which means they are now officially cool! Thanks for taking time out of your schedule to stop by and tell us about some of the recent developments in the market for wooden dummies.
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