By: Sifu Jeffrey Davis, Peaceful Mind Wing Chun
Edited By: Crystal Field
Since my journey as a martial arts teacher began I have experienced and taught many different people, each with different reasons or motivations for starting their journey as a student. For some, their motivations were to get fit, and for others it was to develop their cage fighting skills. There were ones that trained because they were attacked, as well as those that trained hard hoping they would never have to use it. All of these and more are valid reasons for wanting to pick up learning any martial arts in general. While this does change my approach to ones training it doesn’t really change what I teach them. So, what should one expect to learn when training here with us? Thats what todays blog is going to be about.
The most important part of learning a martial art in my opinion is the forms. Not only are the forms important for carrying a style through time, but the forms teach us how to move and give us a sense of the structure of the system. I’ve heard it argued that Wing Chun can be learned and taught without the forms, but I disagree. There probably is a way to learn and practice the drills and techniques from the forms without learning them, but everyone I have met that neglected the forms suffers from structural problems in their kung fu. These structural problems prohibit the student from using the power that is in the shapes of the system, and without that knowledge the student often defers to using strength instead of skill. Using muscular strength to do exercises like Chi Sau, creates vices within the student which then goes on to pollute their learning overall.
Strength is not a part of Wing Chun training. Aside from the conditioning you get from simply doing the forms, brute strength doesn’t really come into play. Using such things as forceful grabbing or muscling our partner in Chi Sau or sparring will not only inhibits one’s understanding of Chi Sau, but it also gives one a false sense of what Wing Chun is, how it works, and why. Structure beats Strength. This is something any experienced martial artist would agree on. To this end, one must not neglect their forms and they should inquire often about their uses in fighting. A good teacher will have some answers, a great teacher will show you how to find the answers yourself.
Aside from the forms, which are among the first things taught at our school, we also begin to take techniques from the forms to be practiced as drills with a partner. This allows a student to take the structures they have been using in the forms and apply them to another persons structure. This is very important and the biggest reason why martial arts such as Wing Chun cannot be learned strictly from videos on youtube. Doing drills with as many different people as possible is important to understand the intricate mechanics of each move, and how they apply to people of various sizes and shapes. The forms teach us what structures and shapes look like, but drills teach us what they feel like.
While the drills we practice here may be different to some Wing Chun schools, for the most part you will notice they are similar. Thats because while most people have found their own way of understanding, interpreting, and teaching Wing Chun, there are only so many ways for the body to move. For this reason you will learn the same techniques even if you happen to learn it from a different teachers perspective.
Next on the list of learning is Chi Sau, or the exercise of “sticky hands”. This training exercise is meant to test ones Wing Chun in a lab like setting. Undeniably, Chi Sau has its uses in fighting, but in itself is not fighting, and should not be practiced as such. Chi Sau is where we practice our drills in a more dynamic way. No longer is the partner standing right in front of you repeating the same move over and over again. Now they are actively trying to inflict their structure onto you, as you are trying to do to the same to them, fostering a proper learning environment for both students. Done properly and with a good partner, Chi Sau should be fun. When individual egos get involved then fun turns into competition, and the only competition anyone is in, is with themselves, and the person they were yesterday.
Inevitably Chi Sau will lead one to more lively training exercises like Gor Sau, which is similar to Chi Sau but starts the partners off without having contact of each other. This next step takes students from not having contact to properly “bridging” their partner in a way that they are safe upon entry and able to use their Wing Chun techniques inside of Chi Sau range. This is a perfect time to test footwork and fluidity of techniques, but excess speed and power should be avoided since this should still be involving another partner or student. If a move is done properly it will work as well slow as it will fast. There’s no need to make Gor Sau or Chi Sau very powerful or fast since they are still training exercises with friends and we don’t want to see our friends or partners hurt.
Toss on a helmet and some gloves, because its time for Sparring! Everyone’s favorite part of class if we’re being honest. This is when you get to dance with your partner on the mat, and try to employ all of the things you’ve learned in your training against your partner, save for the use of power. Try to out speed your partner, practice feints and combos, but we avoid the over use of power even in sparring. Sparring is still essentially a training exercise for both you and your partner. There is no need to hurt those we train with, less we render ourselves unable to train from lack of partners. Having partners to practice with is pretty much why most people start teaching in the first place, so be kind to sparring partners in class for they are just like you but at a different part in their training. Also, I’m always in the sparring cycle with students, so be nice.
Lastly we’ll talk about fighting. After all the basics, mastering ourselves, our balance, control of power, space, and timing, we should be ready to fight. This usually involves us traveling to some competition where we test our mettle against other martial artists, each trying to do their best to knock you out and not get knocked out themselves. There are more organic ways to practice fighting, but I don’t suggest you going out and picking fights to test your training. Your fighting ability should consists of all the training you’ve had until now. It’s not that you should look a certain way while fighting, but more like you body will just behave properly if you have trained well up to this point.
Aside from having developed the ability to fight from all of the training, you will have also condition your body and in time increase your physical fitness. You may also gain some self confidence from the fact that you persevered through learning all the forms and drills, or discipline for pushing yourself to this point. I as well as other students have noticed how other things become easier when you have developed kung fu in Wing Chun. It could be how someone learned to move more efficiently as a kitchen chef, improved as a dancer, or as a person, but I have definitely found that it has something for everyone. If they have the will to do a little digging, the student will find limitless value in Wing Chun, and that is what I aspire to teach.