By: Sifu Jeffrey Davis, Peaceful Mind Wing Chun
As we embark on this journey together some of you will be joining me for the first time, while others will have been walking this path with me for years. Communication is important when it comes to any social interaction, especially in the teacher student dynamic, and whether it is students having to communicate with each other on concepts they are learning together, or me as the teacher trying to explain things to students for them to practice, it is important that we not only hear what’s being said, but also understand it as it is meant. It is with this goal in mind that I write this first blog to establish a context for the future blogs, to ensure that as we move forward as teachers and students together, that we understand each other. I will talk a bit about what words like Kung Fu mean, what I mean when I talk about moving energy, and even what Wing Chun is to me.
A quick google search on Kung Fu will lead you astray if you are looking for a definition. Initially you will see the Google tell you something like, “a primarily unarmed Chinese martial art resembling karate”, but this would be far from what Kung Fu actually means. You would have to delve slightly deeper into the wiki files to find a better definition, but I’ll save you the work. Wikipedia defines it as, “any study, learning, or practice that requires patience, energy, and time to complete. In its original meaning, kung fu, can refer to any discipline or skill achieved through hard work and practice, not necessarily martial arts." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kung_fu_(term). It is here that we start to get to its real meaning.
Kung Fu doesn’t mean fighting. It is not a style of martial arts, except that some people use the word to distinguish it from Japanese systems or styles of fighting. As we see, Kung Fu simply means the skill acquired from the hard work put into learning any skill or trade. Students come to my school with varying levels of life experience. Some having already achieved Kung Fu in some field of their life, while others have yet an idea of what hard work actually means. Even though Wing Chun itself isn’t particularly difficult to learn, it can take time to unearth the true meaning of every move in the forms, or how to use of every body mechanic efficiently. So while it may not be very hard to practice, and you may be able to fight with Wing Chun on the first day of learning, there is far more to Wing Chun than fighting. Which is something you will learn if you put in the time to truly master the skill, aka developing Kung Fu in the art of Wing Chun.
So then, what is Wing Chun? Again I lazily turn to wikipedia which defines Wing Chun as, “ A concept-based traditional Southern Chinese Kung fu (wushu) style and a form of self-defense” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wing_Chun. Southern systems, due to geographic location and necessity, developed martial arts systems which focused on stable rooted stances and quick hand movements. While northern Chinese martial arts styles more usually employed the use of jumps and long range kicks for fighting similar to that used in tae kwon do. This worked for them geographically as they were surrounded with open fields and mountains, with the southern systems being developed around a fishing / harbor rich society.
Wing Chun is traditional in the sense that it is traditionally taught in forms, or sequenced movements meant to repeated in order to understand the basic movements, shapes and concepts in the system. The moves and concepts are extrapolated from the forms and practiced as drills to develop muscle memory for proper movements, but concepts are only truly understood when tested and applied under pressure. That pressure could be a situation where you have to use it in self-defense, or it could be a situation where using proper structure saves you from slipping on ice during a winter day. Either way, you will know it when you know it and it takes time. When you really understand Wing Chun’s use in fighting as well as how it applies to every other thing in life, you will probably have developed real Kung Fu in Wing Chun.
Pages can be written in an exhausting attempt to explain what Wing Chun is to everyone who practices it. Some people will be drawn to it for the ability it gives you to defend yourself, some use it for fitness goals or as a way of disciplining themselves. I’ve known a few who were interested in mixing an understanding of Wing Chun into their MMA (mixed martial arts) repertoire. Aside from all of the personal attachments people may have, Wing Chun is a system for understanding how to move energy through the body efficiently to be used to accomplish anything the body would be used to do.
This understanding of Wing Chun has led me to see the many ways that Wing Chun knowledge could be beneficial to one’s life. After all, what is there in life that you don’t use your body for? I have used Chi Gerk (sticky leg) training to teach children soccer teams, or found the balance developed from training useful for teaching skateboarding basics to my kids. It all boils down to understanding how energy moves through the body.
Kinetic energy is moving energy, and potential energy is resting. Physics explains the often violent explosions that occur when the two energies change from one to the other. That explosion is used in fighting or self-defense as a punch or a kick, applied with skill and technique, to protect yourself or defeat an opponent. This same idea of energy is then applied with a simultaneous deflection to provide Wing Chun practitioners with the concept of simultaneous attack and defense. This along with the principles of center line and forward energy are staples of the Wing Chun system.
So in the end I hope that these contextual clarifications can make for easier communication for everyone, or at the very least to view things from a new perspective. There is no such thing as “Kung Fu v.s. Karate” because one can develop Kung Fu in Karate, or cooking, or painting ect. At the highest level, all martial arts styles teach the same things. Practicing any of them from a perspective of fighting will make you better at fighting just the same as understanding anything deeply enough will change your perspective of the world.