I got my Wing Chun dummy 5 years ago in winter of 2003. As I had written earlier on this blog, I had coveted the dummy for about 9 months before paying for one. It is a fair amount of money and I had to do some research into which one to get, what type and even should I get one.
Overall I would say yes. I am glad I got the dummy. The deep indulgence of learning the 108 moves and the research around that were exhilarating. The effort needed to go through the moves, cross-check and adapt and verify were quite time consuming. I had to make adaptions to my knowledge. When I went to Australia I had come back with some new Wing Chun knowledge that added finesses to what I had learned. 'Chasing the arm' was something that reinforced the need for forward focus - e.g in tan sau make sure you don't use it as a wax on wax off block when sparring when scared.
The searching for video knowledge was useful. Seeing the diverse uses of the dummy were interesting. Jospeh Simonet and Randy Williams are two good diverse starting points. The JKD literature on the dummy isn't as good as I felt it should be. Although Lucay Lucay does use sticks on his dummy.
Also there have been moments of doubt when using the dummy. A learned friend - in sync. in the spirit of 'aliveness' from Matt Thornton, had said the dummy was not a good tool and to forget it. This is because trapping doesn't work.
This was in 2004. Already there was an emergence of a different way of thinking in martial arts and the dummy was not part of that. This put much dissonance in my mind. Why spend time doing forms on it if they are not of value. Bruce Lee said this, but he still has his sets on the Wooden Man. This is the argument on the next level.
After some thought and training in garage with friends I can say that the dummy is of obvious value when there is stiff arm energy. When there is a constant pushing type force for you to feed off. When there isn't don't expect to have much dummy knowledge flow in to be of value off you. I think, that it is worth training the dummy in a non-stick ballistic way then too.
The number of dummies on the market has increased - and designs have diversified. E.g. you get half dummies on sale now.
I use my dummy outside and if I costed out the time I have used it in 5 years then it is value for money as I really do use it. I think there are untapped uses for the dummy out there - for MMA type drills that would work, for example plum Thai head hold can be mimicked and escape too. (Maybe I do a video).
Silat uses of the dummy are out there but rare. Only seen one Silat dummy video on YouTube (which is linked below in a previous post). Simonet has handshapes that are Silat like in his form.
These days I split up my form into mini drills. I rarely do the whole form. The reason why is the upright stance needed for it isn't that useful I find and in sparring my chin must not come up. A couple of times I have hooked punched and my chin surfaces to get countered. The tension between tradition and practicality does rankle with me sometimes. But its my journey and my body. I am responsible for my training and evaluating what is best for me. The (traditional) form can't dictate what I can and can't do.
Of all moves on the dummy probably pak sau - slap hand - is the one that comes out in sparring the most. Bong sau very rarely sees the practical light of day - beyond weapons. Tan sau is of use and getting it pushing into the body of the dummy is good practise. Double garn sau does have some uses I have found out in its 'jaws' you can catch a committed stab energy.
When I was doing the research in 2003 for the dummy the arguments against classical and traditional training were only angry rants on forums. I didn't know they were a real issue - due to BJJ and Cage fighting. Now if I had been exposed to this argment and the people I now know and share with I wonder if I still would buy a dummy now. Mmmm. The people around me would not be sympathetic to it. That may infleunce me. Its my like of Wing Chun that goes back to 1988/9 that put the seed in my head. The symbolism of the dummy is quite strong. The VHS instructionals were like £30 or £50 in the 80s. And the wooden dummy was seen as one of the last hurdles in the journey. I think this has an issue in sympathising with it. It makes you desire it as you are getting closer to the unobtainable goal. I just jumped in later unoffically and untraditionally, as we can these days, with no apprentiships.
Dummies don't hit back. This is true. Learning not to flinch and turn the head can only come from human interaction in training. This could not be obtained from dummy training.