As Wing Chun people we are, by nature, defenders of the art against those who question whether or not Wing Chun works in real life, whether or not Wing Chun is effective as self-defense and so on. The problem is this: most of us go about it the wrong way. How? Easy. We feel compelled to rebutt or refute all the shit-talkers on the internet (whose belts, if they even train at all, resemble bow-ties), pounding away at our keyboards with the enthusiasm of Ralphie writing his “What I Want for Christmas” Red Ryder BB Gun manifesto for his grade school class writing assignment. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong...
Flamboyant showmanship aside, John Keehan/Count Dante was a worthwhile and necessary part of the evolution of the martial arts in America. Love him or hate him, you knew him-and if you knew him, you knew his opinion on the subject of combat effectiveness because he wasn’t afraid to preach the Good News of fighting with as much gusto and passion as a televangelist to a sold out stadium. As Wing Chun folks committed to honest, no-bullshit training, it would serve all of us to see through the hype, myth, machismo and character flaws and really listen to what someone like Keehan has to say on this topic.
The Wing Chun mentality recognizes when it is best to take stock of the pros and cons of a situation and cut one’s losses by continuing home rather than cause a probable or even potential accident and thousands of dollars of damage for the pride and self-righteous satisfaction of paying for the whopping $1 candy bar. The Wing Chun mindset assesses whether or not the risk is too great and if it is, the Wing Chun mentality takes note of this and will always be more cognizant to avoid such a repeat. Because this is not a physical attribute, the discerning mindset of Wing Chun is probably the one aspect of training that takes the longest to develop. That makes complete sense since we tend to first learn physical skills and only after mastering physical skills do we begin to understand the non-physical aspect of them.
It was in February of 2002 – Sunday, February 17th to be exact – on the day of the Chinese Lunar New Year parade when I quite literally stumbled upon what has become my true home in martial arts. That day, while looking for anyplace to get in from that winter Chicago wind that slices you like a knife and find a nice cozy spot to watch the parade, I wandered into a school in the upstairs of a 2 tier strip mall on Wentworth Avenue in Chicago’s Chinatown and was first exposed to the art that I have continued to train in and consider to be my root and base in the martial arts: the Wong Shun Leung system of Wing Chun Gung Fu. The school was the the Ng Family Chinese Martial Arts Association...
Forms are the quintessential blueprint for Wing Chun’s effectiveness as a system of close-quarters self-defense and personal protection, as well as providing you with the raw material for being able to functionalize your Wing Chun skills for full-contact sports such as MMA and kickboxing. When we treat our forms training as something to merely be endured or walked through without much effort or attention placed on the forms themselves, we are throttling the process by which we gain deeper understanding of our knowledge of the art. We may then spend an inordinate amount of time on a drill to elicit a certain response from the body or feeling that diligent and focus training in the forms would have given us.
I read somewhere recently that the population of earth hovers around 7.6 billion people. Think about that for a second-7.6 BILLION. Wow. According to several surveys I have come across, roughly 4-6% of the world practices some form of martial arts. That means that of out of the entire world’s population, all the people who begin any form of martial arts training amounts to only around 5%. Keep that little gem in mind the next time you start comparing yourself to any of your friends or some random douchebag standing on a yacht in your Instagram feed. The question in my noggin then becomes, even after becoming a member of such a small segment of the world’s general population, what separates the casual dilettante from the dedicated practitioner? In other words, what separates the true student from the, as we say, “taster” – the person who either dabbles in a martial art or tends to bounce around from art to art, style to style, never putting down roots in one art long enough to gain any measurable skill?
Sparring is perhaps the one aspect of your training that has the greatest effect on all others. If you are timid in sparring, you will be timid and non-assertive in chi sau. If you are hesitant towards taking, and more importantly, giving shots this will reflect in a sense of hesitation towards even the most basic drills of Wing Chun. In fact, I will go so far as to say that if you aren’t sparring, you are not really training realistically. So much of sparring is based on developing confidence, specifically self-confidence in your abilities-be it in performing a form at a demo or in front of your class, chi sau, drill work and most importantly, the ability to call on these skills should you ever need them for the protection of your life and well-being from the many sick, twisted dirtbags out there who want to take it from you.
How many times have you practiced a certain skill but were unable to grasp it? The harder you tried, the harder it was to perform this skill, until finally you just didn’t care anymore, and then – BAM! You performed the aforementioned skill flawlessly and with ease. It seems that I had to re-learn this idea every time I learned a new skill in Wing Chun: poon sau rolling, stepping, pak sau entries, keeping the wu sau hand up while moving in. I could go on listing them but any more and I’d probably start weeping, but you get the point. Self defense has no room for ego or feelings of doubt or fear, yet self-defense training often involves extensive work in dealing with those topics.
The Emotional realm of any self defense encounter is where people are most often attacked first, many times without knowing it. This manifests itself in the “gut feeling” one gets when in an uncomfortable or unfamiliar environment. Many times you’ll hear someone say, “I just have a bad feeling about this place” or words to that effect. This should be your first indicator to increase your awareness, for a bad situation will beget an emotion. Often times you will feel a certain emotion before you formulate a clear thought about why a person, place or situation is cause for concern.
The Physical factor is the most-often focused on aspect of self-defense and any system or style of martial arts. Many might read the previous sentence and think to themselves, “no shit!” I agree that it sounds so obvious it’s insulting but just work with me for a second. It is obvious that physical techniques are going to form the largest component of training, as one obviously needs to learn specific techniques and be able to execute them correctly. I am not implying that the Physical aspect of self-defense training is the least important – quite the contrary. What I am saying is that the Physical aspect of training is all too often done incorrectly or, at the very least, much less effectively than it could be. At the end of the day, repetition really is the mother of skill – so long as the repetitions are done correctly. with the proper mindset and mentality and in the proper scenario or situation for self-defense and personal protection.
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