WingTsun’s most difficult technique – humility

For most anybody living today learning WingTsun, WingTsun is a discovery. They did not invent it. They found it. They do, however, find that it is a brilliant martial art. It does make one feel smart for following it. It also might make a practitioner feel that this makes them smart enough to think their way out of a tight spot in a fight – except that they will never be able to “think” their way out of a tight spot in a fight. Thinking is too slow.

WingTsun is brilliantly designed so that a fighter does not have to think at all when an attack occurs. Thinking in a real fight is death. A practitioner must practice and make all of the mistakes first. A practitioner must make mistake after mistake in practice in order to train the body to react according to the pressures on their arms or legs. Making mistake after mistake can exact a toll on one’s ego. That is why the masters of the martial art have renounced the ego.

The roadblocks to progress in training include lack of humility. Any ego or “win at any cost” attitude will stop progress. The “win at any cost” attitude will cause the practitioner to try a training shortcut or a fighting shortcut and then a mistake will occur. In WingTsun we want to use the shortest distance but we also want to use the safest path. None of WingTsun’s concepts are absolute. WingTsun’s concepts overlap and one’s training has to involve which concepts take priority in a given situation and which ones have to be overridden such as taking the second fastest route in order to avoid being hit in reaching the practical result (practical is a WingTsun concept), self defense. Once learned, they must be built-in to one’s muscle memory.

Some students always want to “win” in practice. It is not necessary to win in practice to be a successful practitioner. In fact, WingTsun is not about winning a fight (huh?). In real fights, there are no winners. Not being hurt is its own victory. In WingTsun practice, students want to try to hit first to “win” according to the motto “start later, arrive first.” It is a good goal that would insure your safety and survival in a real fight and should be the goal if attacked. However this is not always practical when learning a technique. The technique should come first. The student may think he or she knows a technique quite well but often executes it wrongly. A student can practice it wrong forever by emphasizing the wrong mental attitude and never be able to “start later, arrive first.” It would be better to be humble and not worry about a “winner” in practice session. The flight path of the strike might be

  1. …too distant due to incorrect delivery. A student’s punching flight path might be incorrect for economy of movement.
  2. Their body might be too tense for good speed. It is not always necessary to have faster speed than one’s attacker to make a technique work. Sometimes good speed is the right speed.
  3. The hand speed might be “too fast.” Now wait a minute – how can it be too fast? The hand speed might be too fast by initiating an attacking movement with inappropriate timing, i.e., too early or it could be too hasty and leave one open to counter-attack.
  4. The hand technique might not follow the center thereby nullifying the advantage of the shortest distance.
  5. The hand technique might be using a “threading of a needle’s eye” approach without sufficient technical polish. With an attacker throwing his own attacks, a set of arms that is threading a needle may not be in the right position to deflect incoming blows during the attack.

Having the advantage of 30 years in the WT system, this author is well aware of the situation of, for years, not being able to land a blow successfully on certain advanced practitioners. This is usually because of being unaware of a small misplacement of limbs or pressure or a habit which a student stubbornly refuses to correct. Then one day, the student works with a different practitioner at a seminar, a private lesson or lesson in another state or a different instructor who has had students with this same problem. Another scenario might be that this new practitioner has a set of arms that are weaker, longer, shorter, or stronger, and all this will add up to a different learning experience.

If two or more of your training partners tell you of a mistake, definitely listen. It is best to be humble in this situation too. It is a good bet that they are at least on to something. These good fellow students or instructors that are telling you this are also humble. If they were not humble but rather insecure or egotistical, they would not tell you out of fear that you will learn from it and it would become too difficult for them to “defeat you in class.”

Great skill in fighting sounds like an unnecessary skill in modern America where we have plenty of police protection, laws and prisons. However police cannot follow you around. In addition, having skill at WingTsun is akin to having an invisible secret weapon. You have the confidence to handle difficult situations. Couple this with humility and it also makes it difficult be intimidated by a threatening or larger individual.

WingTsun is probably not for people who enjoy being hit. We have all seen the movies where two “tough guys” fight just for the joy of hitting and getting hit! If you get hit in a real fight, it is wise not to show pain. Stand straight and brush off a successful strike. However, if you have the attitude that “I can take it” and “I have been hit multiple times so go ahead and give me your best shot,” you will not be a good WingTsun learner! This type of person may also believe that he or she has to “take a punch to give a punch” or some other code or belief. If you believe this, then you will most certainly get beat up quite often!

The above personality is the one that lacks humility. He or she has no innate reason to learn a technique of self-defense well because of a belief that they are inherently tougher than the next guy. It is the idea that “I am going to win because my face is tougher than your fist.” If this is their belief, why does this person want to learn how to be effective and defend against attacks?

In the Dynamic WingTsun Kung Fu book, Grandmaster Leung Ting states the following motto:

“A real Wing Tsun practitioner should always imagine himself to be a poisonous snake – someone provokes you but if you think that it is not necessary to fight back, you keep silent or leave him alone. Seeing no reaction from you, he probably stop irritating you. However, if you feel you can’t avoid a fight, then don’t hesitate, but initiate an attack as fast as you can with an aim to defeat him totally!”

This motto boils down the general philosophy of fighting that is inherent in this practical Chinese martial art system. A skillful practitioner has nothing to prove and fighting is generally unnecessary. I would add the caution that you must be aware of the details of various state laws regarding self defense. Self-defense always involves risk. Sometimes those risks go beyond your fighting skill and might involve injury or death caused by falling, drowning, automobile and so on.

© Copyright 2010, Keith Sonnenberg. All Rights Reserved. No reproduction without permission.