It has been said that water and creativity go hand-in-hand. Dr. Yoshiro Nakamatsu, a prolific inventor who has been called “The Edison of Japan,” credits swimming with the source of his best ideas.
While in the shower the other day I had my own mini Dr. Yoshiro moment as it relates to Wing Chun, and forms training in particular.
The other night, after returning from work I hopped into the shower to get cleaned up. I realized halfway through my shower that I always follow the same pattern: I shampoo my hair, then lather up and wash my face, neck and shoulders. From there it’s the left arm, then the right arm and so on. I’ll spare you the rest of the gory details but it did hit me under that stream of water for just how many years have I been doing this the same way without thinking about it at all. At that moment, I made it a point to switch up my routine and it was as if I started a brand new activity.
As the water flowed it then dawned on me how many times in my own personal Wing Chun training I have trained our forms without thinking, I mean really thinking, about the motions of those forms. Now some might argue that this isn’t a bad thing and that to train without thinking is the highest aim- I disagree. To be able to ATTACK an opponent’s centerline based on whichever opening is made or created in their structure without thought or hesitation is the highest aim of our Wing Chun training.
Training the second section of Chum Kiu. This form is where your technique and approach becomes refined; building on the fundamentals of the Siu Nim Tau form.
To do so, however, requires conscious thought and effort in our forms, since it is our forms which provide the blueprint for our entire repertoire of technique and theory, acting as “moving textbooks” as Sifu David Peterson says in his classic book Looking Beyond The Pointing Finger: The Combat Philosophy of Wong Shun Leung. Far too often when training their forms, most folks go through the motions of their forms either to get to the more attractive, fast-paced aspects of Wing Chun or because they just quite frankly haven’t been taught anything otherwise.
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 have found three key shortcuts which serve as keys to unlock the door to much more effective and productive Wing Chun forms training. Utilizing 3 key shortcuts, or what I personally refer to as my “3 hacks,” to increased Wing Chun forms performance will lead to a much deeper and more applicable understanding of the role and importance forms training plays in your own personal Wing Chun training regimen insofar as being able to actually call upon and use your Wing Chun skillset for both self-defense. These 3 hacks are INTENTION, FEELING and IMAGINATION. Let’s break each one down.
There is a principle out there well known in personal development and performance enhancement circles called the “10,000 Hour Rule.” Basically what that means is that in order to master something you need to put in 10,000 hours worth of training. There is a hack to this rule, and it is called Deliberate Practice.
Demonstrating the Siu Nim Tau form at a Chinese New Year celebration. Without deliberate practice, large crowds would distract me. Now once I dial into the form, I’m good.
What Deliberate Practice simply means is that instead of merely training a particular move, technique or motion for an hour or for X amount of reps or X amount of minutes a day, you train that particular motion skill activity etc. with the deliberate intention of improving.
For example, in the first form when training the tan sau section, rather than merely going through the motion correctly you will go through the motion with the intention of improving your structure and that technique of the form. Think of sharper angles in chi sau, crisper punches, increased body unity and so on.
Just this one change to your training drastically reduces the amount of time it takes for that proper skill to be downloaded into your muscle memory.
Having the intention of improving ensures that not only are you training correctly but you are training progressively. The next time you train your forms, practice each motion with the intention of improving. Run through the form with the knowing in the back of your head each time you train this form, that you will perform this form in a more correct fashion this time than you did the last time you performed it. Practice with the intention that your moves will be tighter, more crisp and with more forward pressure and so on.
You will be shocked at how much this tightens up your Wing Chun game. Give it a whirl.
The other night I was watching Enter the Dragon, one of my favorite movies. One of my favorite scenes of that movie is where Bruce’s character Lee (how original) is being approached by a British intelligence agent named Braithwaite who has asked Lee to participate in a martial arts tournament in order to gather information about a druglord who lives on a secluded island and who hosts this tournament every 3 years to recruit new talent for his worldwide narcotics operation.
Noncommital and quite apathetic to his request at this point, Lee sees a young student coming up to the outdoor area where he and the Braithwaite are sitting, pauses Braithwaite mid-sentence stating, “it’s Lao’s time,” and proceeds to give a daily lesson to his young pupil in which he stresses the importance of FEELING during training. Check it out:
Practicing your forms should involve intention, yes, as per Hack # 1, but the other half of that equation is the FEELING of the motion.
And so on…
The point I am getting at is simply this:
Practicing with intention is the springboard; practicing with feeling is the anchor to your brain. The two work hand-in-hand; they are the heads and tails of the same coin.
Be in touch with your body the next time you train and from now on, especially as it relates to forms, and train until you are physically aware of everything in your body while doing the forms, literally from the ground up. Why? Because the body calls on muscle memory in times of stress, and muscle memory is most effectively downloaded into my subconscious mind through intention and feeling.
Remember that your muscle memory does not remember what angle your toe was on or how far rotated your hips are based on facts and angles as we see them from the outside, but by what it feels like in the body. Train using this second hack and soon you won’t have to “remember” anything with your conscious mind; your muscles will remember what the motion feels like and you will call upon the correct motion, position or technique at the correct time it is needed, be it in the training hall, the ring or the street.
When you FEEL a motion, your body remembers everything and freezes it into place in your subconscious mind. Your body’s muscle memory memorizes the feeling of a motion, not all of the small points that put it into place, because when you need to call up on this shit and heat of any issue or conflict you’re not going to remember where your big toe goes or how far off of the centerline your nose is on a proper rotation. Nope, you won’t “remember” any of that – nor should you. All you should remember is how a particular motion feels.
The third hack to Wing Chun forms training skill is what functionalizes the first two, Intention and Feeling, and that is Imagination.
One must practice with a deliberate intention of improving and along with that intention one must practice in full feeling of one’s body and emotions it is running through. The two are symbiotic and run in tandem with each each other:
the third “hack” in effective and efficient Wing Chun forms training back is not necessarily a third leg to the tripod but an enhancer to the 1-2 combo of Intention and Feeling , and that is IMAGINATION.
Why is Imagination so important in training your Wing Chun forms? For starters, training with imagination provides you with limitless scenarios to train any aspect that might be lacking.
For example, let’s say you are picked to lead the class in one of the forms but you were having trouble with your confidence in doing so, you can use your imagination to imagine that you are doing your form during the seventh-inning stretch demo at Fenway Park in Boston or Yankee Stadium. Imagine that your name is called over the loudspeaker and as you walk out there you can see all 40,000-plus people just staring at you. Putting intention and feeling into this exercise while using your imagination provides you with a much richer training experience as your body will begin to react the way it would if it were a real scenario: butterflies, sweaty palms, increase in heart rate, self-consciousness – the works. Now you must confront your demons head-on and do the form anyway.
Imagining a real world scenario will help you functionalize each and every aspect of your forms training in a different way.
Imagine, for example, you had a long day at work, you got your ass chewed out for something that wasn’t your fault, you had a fight with your spouse or significant other and now as you walk to the car from the grocery store at 11:00pm it starts to drizzle ice cold rain. As you hunch forward and put your head down while making a bee-line for your car, someone steps out of the shadows to attack you.
Get my drift?
You can use your imagination to enhance just about any aspect of your forms training, from one-legged balance to the ultimate goal of self defense training, which is to morph fear and sensitivity into assertiveness.
Simply holding your mind’s eye anything that will enhance you’re training in each scenario you can imagine that won’t answer training and provide you with the immediate sense of motivation.
Wing Chun forms contain everything we need to know about using and applying the Wing Chun system for practical and effective self-defense.
How many of us have trained our forms in a certain routine or a certain way for so long without thinking about it- not slacking mind you but not fully present and in the moment for each motion of each form we do? We all have.
Even though it might not seem so at first (hell, it may even feel a bit weird or downright uncomfortable) training your forms without three qualities I have just listed above is on par with muddling through your form to get do the next thing you want to work on in your training session. A bitter pill to swallow perhaps but one that nonetheless is true. Luckily we have our 3 hacks: our three simple acts to cut to the heart of forms training and help us to arrive at the position of functional competence and skill mastery, not just for the art’s sake but for our end goal of simple effective and practical self-defense.
Training with intention, feeling and imagination is what transmutes the double jum sau from the opening section of Chum Kiu into, with a little situational adaptbility, a double eye gouge against a choke.
As a bonus, internalizing the skill set of Wing Chun as laid out in the forms and practicing with both intention and feeling of one’s body coupled with the active use of one’s imagination is a chief ingredient in whether or not Wing Chun is successful in the combat sports arena. Regardless of the proliferation of YouTube naysayers and other dumbasses who say it can’t be done I assure you that applying Wing Chun concepts and skillsets to combat sports such as MMA, boxing and kickboxing can be done and done well – but you need to train the right way.
Pick one form today and apply these these 3 hacks. Train your form with intention of motion, feeling of both your body and the purpose of each technique as you perform it, and imagine yourself in a halftime or 7th-inning stretch at a ballgame where everyone is watching YOU and your every move. It will be scary at first, but I think you’ll be more than pleased with the results after a few weeks of training this way.
Train with intention, feeling and imagination and, as always, remember that Wing Chun only works if YOU do, so get after it. That punch to a mugger’s nose and stomp to his kneecap ain’t gonna train themselves.
Train smart, stay safe
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