Essence of Wing Chun
According to legend, Wing Chun kung fu originated from the Shaolin Temple in China, around 300 years ago, during the end of Emperor Yung Jeng’s reign. Ng Mui, already an accomplished martial artist, developed the core ideas and philosophies of what is now Wing Chun kung fu after witnessing the fateful encounter between a crane and a snake. Ng Mui observed that the snake, though possessing no limbs, was able to skillfully defend itself. The snake would lure the crane into initiating the first move by coiling up its body while constantly moving its head. The snake remained deadly calm, poised for the most opportune time to swiftly attack. The crane used the opposite tactic. It would make a lot of movements to distract the snake while also waiting for the right moment to launch an attack. The crane would jump up and down and side-to-side to avoid the snake and to bait it into initiating the first attack. The crane would smack the advancing snake aside with its wings and immediately follow up by attacking with its beak. It would also lure the snake further within the range of its deadly beak by dancing back. Once the snake took the bait, the crane would immediately lash out with one of its talons and follow up with its beak. Ng Mui thought that this battle demonstrated an awesome display of strategy and technique. It was through this battle’s edification that Ng Mui received an epiphany: to apply the strategy and techniques of the crane and snake into human combat. Although the battle between the crane and snake provided the inspiration for Ng Mui’s ideas for combat, Ng Mui did not use the specific motions of the two animals as a basis for her new system, but rather only the strategies she observed in the encounter.
Whether through chance or fate, Ng Mui had the opportunity to pass on her newfound knowledge to a girl named Yim Wing Chun. It seemed preordained that Yim Wing Chun be Ng Mui’s successor, for she possessed both a deep, diligent passion for martial arts and an innate genius for understanding martial arts and its application in real combat. Yim Wing Chun undertook much hard work and research to refine and expand upon Ng Mui’s ideas and philosophies through numerous challenges and conflicts. Yim Wing Chun took the teachings of Ng Mui and created what would be the beginnings of Wing Chun kung fu. In order to memorialize and forever recognize her incredible achievements, people called this once nameless martial art system, Wing Chun.
Wing Chun cannot strictly be considered an independent style. This is because before Yim Wing Chun developed her own system, she already had a foundation in southern Shaolin martial arts. It is believed that Yim Wing Chun had a foundation of Fukien Shaolin kung fu prior to her studies with Ng Mui. This is why we consider Wing Chun kung fu as merely a branch of Shaolin. In fact, many Chinese martial arts can trace their roots back to Shaolin. The arts of Hung Ga, Choy Li Fut, Mok Ga, Praying Mantis, White Eyebrow, Hap Ga, Jow Ga, Eagle Claw, and numerous others are also branches of Shaolin. Each of these styles emphasizes different aspects of the Shaolin art. It is only when later generations of martial arts practitioners divided and categorized these different aspects that these “styles” came into existence. The Chinese people have a saying: “mahn faht gwai jung, yut sui lam.” Simply put, this phrase means that all styles flow back to Shaolin, which is not unlike the ancient saying, “All roads lead to Rome.”
Actually, all styles have their own special emphases and advantages. It is very important for a martial arts practitioner to have an open mind when encountering other ideas and streams of knowledge. This should be done with humility and thorough research, so that our quest for knowledge may remain sincere. A mutual comparison and exchange of ideas with other martial artists of any style can help you gain a clearer perception of both the advantages and disadvantages of your own martial art. This will not only result in a better understanding of your opponent, but also of yourself. This relentless research and self-examination is essential for taking martial arts to a higher level, improving upon the art until it can gain universal popularity. This kind of insight cannot be achieved by isolating oneself from other ideas while learning.
Thanks to the extensive research, review, and real, applied fighting experiences of past generations of Wing Chun practitioners, an accumulation of knowledge and real application allowed Wing Chun to evolve and be refined into an amalgam containing the best of these ideas.
Although Wing Chun theory is very scientific and systematic in its approach, the application of Wing Chun is simple. Unlike many other styles, Wing Chun techniques do not try to imitate the movements of animals such as tigers and monkeys. Although it is commonly believed that the movements of a crane and snake in battle inspired Wing Chun, it should be noted that only the idea and not the actual movement was incorporated into Wing Chun. Because we are humans and not tigers or monkeys, we cannot hope to gain the ability to pounce like a tiger, jump like a monkey or coil up like a snake. No matter how diligently we train, our hands will always remain human. Human hands cannot possibly be like the claws of a tiger or the deadly talons of an eagle; nor will one be able to grow taller or that much bigger through training. This is because the human body is limited. If one attempts to imitate an animal, the movements will be much harder to learn and perfect because, as humans, we are not designed for specialization in their movements. It follows that a great amount of time can be consumed in attempting movements that humans are not born to do. This is why Wing Chun techniques are designed to accommodate the structure and capabilities of the human body.
The majority of sound scientific definition or theory is derived from observing conditions in nature. For example, Sir Isaac Newton observed an apple falling from a tree and later developed his theory of gravity. This is also the case in Wing Chun. The idea behind Wing Chun was inspired by watching an intense battle between a crane and snake. Furthermore, it uses the key hypothetical assumptions that we are smaller, slower, and weaker than our opponent. If we hold to these assumptions, we must then find a better, more clever way to conquer our adversary.
We say that Wing Chun is scientific because any and all of our theories and techniques can be explained through principles of physics and/or geometry. There are no mystical tricks or secret techniques that cannot be explained by universally proven scientific theory. Wing Chun is a complete system of training that includes elements such as confidence, theory, technique, speed, timing, distance, reflex, agility, stamina, coordination, power, strategy, etc. Without training all of these elements, you cannot honestly call what you train a complete martial art.
Due to its scientific approach, Wing Chun has become a style that specifically emphasizes practical, real life application. Proper training in Wing Chun can offer a diligent practitioner decent, applicable combat ability in a relatively short period of time. It is this specialty that has made Wing Chun extremely famous in the martial arts field.
However, martial arts are definitely not for everyone and even fewer people are able to excel at it. There are several criteria one must first fulfill in order to truly obtain the art of Wing Chun. Some of the most important are the following:
1. FATE: You must have the good fortune to meet a SiFu capable of passing on the knowledge to you.
2. THE RIGHT SIFU: Your SiFu must be able to apply Wing Chun in actual combat. For example, how can you trust someone to teach you how to swim if that person has never even tried to swim in the water? Your SiFu must also be willing to teach you wholeheartedly and without reserve.
3. PASSION: To be truly great at anything, you must first love whatever it is that you do. You must want to truly obtain Wing Chun in order to sacrifice so much time, money, and effort.
4. ADEQUATE FINANCES: Obviously you must, at the very least, be able to afford some type of tuition for the chance to learn. But the most important point of this criterion is that you must not have to worry about money if you are to devote yourself to Wing Chun. How can one seriously train in anything if you must worry about even how to put food on your table or how to keep a roof over your head? There is also the question of equipment and a place to train. All of this requires money.
5. TIME: This criterion is closely tied together with adequate finances in that you must have the luxury of time to seriously train. It takes several hours of proper training everyday to achieve the ability to apply Wing Chun in real combat.
6. PERSEVERANCE: The path to truly obtaining Wing Chun is filled with pain, difficulties, obstacles, and other unforeseen circumstances. You must have the mindset to meet and overcome all of these challenges. If you give up because of discomfort or injury, or if you cannot sacrifice socializing and your recreational time, you will never make it.
7. TRAINING PARTNERS: You must have access to a large number of training partners. This is because you must learn how to apply Wing Chun in such a manner that it will work against any type of opponent. It is also imperative that these training partners be willing to help you.
8. APPLICATION: Because Wing Chun is an art of combat, it is necessary to apply the art in real fights. You can read all there is to know about swimming and practice the motions diligently in the air, but unless you actually get in the water and practice swimming, you may very well drown the first time you’re thrown in. So it is necessary to always ask yourself if you truly have and are able to apply Wing Chun in a real fight. The definition of a real fight is not necessarily one that involves defending your life. A friendly sparring match or competitions that are well regulated can also be considered as such. This is because you have no idea what the opponent is going to do. The only thing you do know is that the opponent will try to attack you.
9. AMBITION: You must have the ambition to always achieve more. The only way a style can progress is if each succeeding generation tries to surpass the previous generation. It is true that the succeeding generation may not always be able to surpass the last, but at least the style and art may be preserved.
10. FIDELITY: The quest for knowledge is an endless journey. As such, the desire to acquire knowledge must never be lost or there is the possibility that the knowledge may fade away entirely. In order to truly obtain Wing Chun, you must devote your entire life to the art. Your love for your art and style must never waver since it now rests on your shoulders to educate and enlighten the next generation as your SiFu has educated and trained you.
The above criteria are paramount for truly obtaining Wing Chun. One should also note that these criteria are in no way complete. Due to these constraints, it is rare indeed to encounter a Wing Chun practitioner who has truly obtained the art. In addition to the above criteria, it should also be mentioned that the SiFu must believe that the student is worth teaching. The student must be of good character, sound temperament, and trustworthy. This is because the SiFu must also consider if the student is able to take on the role of being a SiFu to the next generation. He or she must be capable of perpetuating the art responsibly, and whether this is the case greatly influences how much a SiFu will teach his student. I should be clear that when a SiFu takes on a disciple, it is the beginning of a deep bond between the two that goes beyond that of just teacher and student. There is a Chinese saying, “yut yat wai Si, jung sung wai Fu”, which roughly translated means, even if only a day as my SiFu, the SiFu is my father for life. And so it is that the relationship between SiFu and disciple is akin to that of father and son. Each has a great responsibility to the other and each also has a great responsibility to society. Accordingly, the SiFu must determine how much of the art it is appropriate to pass to the disciple. Just because a SiFu takes on a disciple does not mean the SiFu should pass on all that he knows, for there are other factors to consider such as time and the disciples readiness, ability and, most importantly, character. Although a disciple can be effectively considered as the SiFu’s son, we should remember Wing Chun is a precious but deadly art. A disciple must have a deep appreciation of this and be of a sound, responsible disposition if he is to be chosen to continue its legacy.
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