The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

What is Missing in Your Martial Art?

Below is an excerpt from a post at Kung Fu Tea. It is about defining Wing Chun by what's missing from it in particular, but goes on and discusses this theme with a variety of martial arts. It's a very interesting read and the full post can be found here.

Last week my Sifu and I were discussing the public conversation that surrounds Wing Chun.

“So this guy was trying to tell me that we have no head movement in Wing Chun.  Not just bobbing and weaving” he clarified “but that we can literally never move our heads.”
“So he thinks we stand there and get punched in the face?” I asked incredulously.
“Pretty much.  I told him to take a closer look at the forms.”

Such exchanges are not all that uncommon.  Normally I try to ignore them. However, in the last few months I have had a number of almost identical conversations with talented, highly experienced, Sifus all relating practically identical incidents.

Not all of these discussions focused on head movement.  In one case an instructor was approached by an individual (who apparently was not a Wing Chun student) claiming that our system contained only a single punch.  This is a rather odd assertion to make about a fighting system that prides itself on a rich and deep bench of boxing techniques.

I have actually heard a similar claim made before by some practitioners attempting to make a philosophical point.  They note that the basic Wing Chun punch reflects a set of core principles that, when applied in different situations, can yield a variety of techniques that superficially look quite different, but all reflect a common approach to hand combat.  This is sometimes couched in quasi-Taoist terms as “the one thing giving rise to the ten thousands.”  I immediately asked whether this is where my friend’s interlocutor may have been headed.

“Nope.  He literally believed that we only have a center-line chain punch.  Anything else, an outside line, an uppercut or hook, ‘cannot be Wing Chun’.”  The instructor absentmindedly went through movements from the second and third unarmed boxing form as he clarified the objection.
“So what did you tell him?” I asked.
“I just kept telling him to go back and look at the forms.  Youtube is full of people doing all sorts of forms.  For Christ sake, just pick anyone of them.”
“Sending someone to Youtube can be a trap for the unwary.” I offered.
“Yeah, I sent him some links.  But I have no idea if it did any good!”

Perhaps the most interesting thing about such challenges is that they do not all arise from outside of the system.  Earlier this summer I had a conversation with a third Sifu that was more serious in nature.  When another instructor (from the same Wing Chun umbrella organization) visited his school, he was aghast to discover that my friend was having his students practice entry drills (or more specifically, techniques that allow one to transition from disengaged, to kicking to boxing ranges as safely as possible).  Nor was he happy to discover that my friend’s more advanced students were starting Chi Sao (a type of sensitive training game) from unbridged positions.  “This is not Traditional Wing Chun!” he objected.

That was certainly news to me.  The system contains entry techniques.  Why not drill them?  Why not create a greater sense of complexity and realism by adding them (or joint locks, or kicks) to your Chi Sao?  My personal training happened in a school built on a “traditional lineages” going back to Ip Man.  We certainly practiced both of these things, nor was it ever considered to be the least bit controversial.  Apparently not all lineages share this same approach to training.  The uproar that resulted from the visit caused my friend to remove his school from an organization that he had been part of for some time.

Who wants their martial practice to be defined only by the things that one (supposedly) does not do?

This is something all Wing Chun students deal with from time to time.  My personal favorite is when people tell me that Wing Chun is an exclusively short range art with highly restricted footwork.  All this tells me is that the individual in question has never seriously studied the swords and has no idea how much distance that footwork can actually cover.  Let’s just say that there is a very good reason why Bruce Lee turned to fencing in his attempt to augment his own incomplete training in Wing Chun.  Nor would I call a 3-4 meter pole a “short range” weapon.  Wing chun is clearly a short range art…except when it is not.

In reality every self-defense art strives to be a complete system of combat.  Granted, all approaches will have their unique strengths and weaknesses, but real martial artists work very hard to present as strong a front as possible.  No one who wants to defend themselves refuses to train kicks, throws or weapons simply because “everyone knows that Wing Chun is a short range boxing art.”


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