It seems to me that some people practice our art often without critical self reflection or at least without sufficient critical self reflection. Those who engage in constructive critical self reflection under the guidance of a true sifu are those who emerge to master their art. Some folk over-analyse everything and lose the wood in the trees. Others draw conclusions about our art being the way they would like it to have been in the past. They begin to change their speculation to fact, asserting not that their views are the way things might have been but rather their views are the way things actually were. A number of prominent Wing Chun figures have creatively rewritten Wing Chun history to benefit themselves. Some do this deliberately to put others down and elevate themselves. Others do it seemingly unthinkingly.
Another thing people often do is to practise the art as robots. They do exactly what their sifu says. This, of course, is a good thing. However, if it is done mindlessly without questioning and understanding why things are done the way they are it is a bad thing. It leads to enslavement of the mind and sifu worship or sifu idolatry. It leads to limited Wing Chun where the individual never emerges to mastery – because they have been enslaved and enslaved themselves! Worship of the sifu and his way replaces the art. The same applies to accepting without question and passing on as gospel the tales some sifu relate about lineage and history. I chose the word “gospel” deliberately in that last sentence as it represents the fundamentalisation, the cult-izing of much of modern Wing Chun wherein what ought simply be a martial art is morphed into a business. Art becomes enterprise. Enterprise predominates and the art dies. The sifu-student relationship becomes a commercial transaction and/or a personality and group cult. “Passing down the art” becomes perpetuating the business. There are certainly examples of all these sad options around. People who support these processes distort the art and its history not only for present-day practitioners but also for future generations. They send forth lies into the future. There is so much utter nonsense around the world these days muddying the real derivation of some lineages and the “history” or re-constructed “history” of Wing Chun it is nothing short of an incredible testimony to human gullibility and stupidity in my view. However, all that is really simply prelude to the following reflection where I contemplate what we might learn from the name of our art.
The alternative interpretations of “Wing Chun” give us something to reflect on. It matters not a whisker whether Wing Chun means “sing the praises of spring” or “beautiful springtime” in my view. Who cares? Does it render us more knowledgeable, more effective, more efficient fighters if we know one way or the other? Logically, not! The notion of springtime and what it connotates can teach us valuable attitudes. Spring follows winter as we all know. We gain a new energy in spring. Flowers bloom, trees sprout and animals birth their young. The days lengthen and there is more sunshine. Things are abounding with energy. Seeds blossom. Newness abounds.
This overall concept of freshness, vitality and growth is the theme of Wing Chun’s emergence. The notion of the new arising from the old is paramount. Wing Chun brought to gung fu a very different mindset and a fundamentally different set of concepts by which to construe combat reality. These concepts were not shrouded in any esoteric cult language only revealed to the initiated, they were obvious to those who entered the door of Wing Chun training and were taught to see without bias.
Wing Chun founders must logically have analysed the various techniques of a range of arts and focused not on the techniques themselves but the function they served. They must have looked at various techniques and concluded many were unnecessary clutter as they had the same function or set of functions covered by their simple but comprehensive range of techniques. Traditional was not better just because it was traditional. This was a major break with Chinese tradition and culture! More was not better. More complex was not better. More effective was better!
The founders must also logically have analysed not the vast range of gung fu techniques across numerous arts but rather the limited number of potential paths they had to take towards their target. They saw the structural determinism of human combat. They realised that human beings can only move in certain paths and ranges. They will have appreciated that it mattered not a whit whether their attacker was attempting to strike them with a hook, “crane beak”, or a chop, an “eagle claw”, a “leopard punch”, a straight palm thrust or a straight jab if the path each took was the same. The solution to stopping the attacks was to close down the path to prevent entry. The founders dared to break with tradition. Rather than, as in many arts of the time, matching a set technique with another set counter-technique, they dared to look with fresh eyes. They saw the same landscape others saw but with different eyes. This was like a spring awakening from winter slumber.
Today we ought to take the same view as the founders. It is not that we ought to try to second guess the founders and derive our own art here in modern times. The founders have already done that work. They brought forth Wing Chun. There is no need to change it if you have inherited the true art. It is not that “master so-and-so” or “grandmaster bells-and-whistles”, “grandmaster magazine author” or “great grandmaster megabucks” says whatever zany idea it is which some with a public voice sometimes decide to broadcast! The combat logic of Wing Chun is simply determined firstly, by having been fully taught correct, undistorted Wing Chun to begin with then, by being able to free one’s mind from the servitude of sifu or lineage idolatry to arrive in the mental landscape of spring. This is what the name of the true art of Wing Chun means! We have no need to borrow or steal from other arts. We have no need to pirate powering methods. There is no need to collect techniques or lineages. It is simply a matter of finding the true art and then developing and maintaining the correct mindset. It is that simple – and that incredibly difficult!