-“Not training hard when young, no skill when older”
On occasion I hear some Wing Chun students say that Wing Chun doesn’t require any conditioning and that other than practising the art, a student could develop skill. To an extent, the possibility exists that solely by practising the art – in a more focused, more intense fashion and for several more hours daily than modern students are usually capable of – a student could develop some skill. However, it is what you train and how you train that is pivotal! I’ve yet to encounter any modern student who was training so hard and only training the art that they’d developed extraordinary skill.
Our art of Yuen Kay San Wing Chun has passed down quite a lot that has been lost (or never existed) in other lineages. Amongst these is the lien gung sik, meaning “training work forms”. These methods enable the student to practise movements and power levels that would be impractical or unsafe if trained against a training partner. Amongst these methods are: sandbags; candles; a mirror; chopstick bundles; rattan rings; paper; and, of course, the wooden dummy. Some of these were environmental objects on the Red Boats so naturally found their way into the art as Leung Bok Cho taught our ancestors, Wong Wah Bo and Dai Fa Mien Kam. Other modern methods have since been invented that can replace some of these supplementary training devices. We now have cables, weights, strength training machines, video-taping, and various grip training devices like the “Gripmaster”, which is very useful in allowing you to train individual fingers, and the cool “Gyrotwister”, which is really addictive! We also have decades of research and experimentation on how best to train strength, speed, power, and agility. Not to use this knowledge would be very foolish!
Sifu Sum Num said that Yuen Kay San, whilst a very traditional master with respect to manners, protocol and the ethos of our art, was amazingly open to new training methods. Sifu said he once asked Yuen Kay San to teach him the Fei Biu, the flying darts. Sigung replied that they were now redundant given that handguns had been invented and were readily available. He said to sifu that he’d be far better off buying a handgun! He argued that the gun took very little training and could be used at a greater distance. So much for “preserving tradition”! This story does illustrate Sigung Yuen Kay San’s approach though. He advocated modern methods because they were scientific and logical.
There is the saying: “Lein kuen but lein gung – do lo yut cheung hoeng”. This means that if you only practise forms and don’t do any conditioning or development of your strength then eventually you will not have skill. It’s summarized, to an extent, also in the shorter saying: “Not training hard when young, no skill when older”. I’m a firm believer in developing a flexible, agile, strong and fast body. It’s logical for daily living and overall health, let alone solely for our gung fu training, to be as fit as you can. Yet, I still encounter people, who I think are work shy and lazy, to be frank, who tout the line that you don’t need to do any supplementary training. OK. Imagine this fictitious interview with sprint phenomenon Usain Bolt:
Interviewer: “So, Mr Bolt, you only run the hundred metres to train? Nothing else?”
Usain: “Yes, I think weight training will make me stiff and slow, so I just run the hundred metres. If it was good enough for the old hands in the early days of the Olympics, it’s good enough for me. I also see if I can sense when my training buddies might move. I think running is sensing and sensing is running.”
Yeh, right! Nonsense, obviously! Wing Chun, as a real world fighting art has to be performed with explosive speed – like a sprinter. You’ll have to trust me on this, if you have a real world self defence situation sprung on you you’re going to feel a little drained after the second or two it took to win. If you have a fight with multiple attackers then, assuming you have any skill, after the few seconds it takes to win you will feel like you’ve just sprinted a hundred metres! Also, with respect to our weapons training – how slowly, how Frankenstein-like can some folk plod through the forms, eh? What a disgrace! In the past people lived in an era when the bad guys had razor sharp swords and various bladed weapons and heft them around mightily quickly! Take a peek at some of the Wing Chun knife forms you can see on Youtube and look me straight in the eye and tell me you really believe some of those guys could survive the first slash of a skilled blade master! You need speed! You have to train for speed! And, who better to learn that from than Olympic sprinters and weight lifters! Weight lifters? Yes! They’re the most explosive of all athletes – including sprinters.
Olympic sprinters train intensely using weight training, stretching and explosive plyometric drills. Sure, they obviously run the event too. But, if they only “trained the art” they would never reach the top levels. Today, we’ve researched and developed superb sciences related to training applicable to gung fu and Wing Chun. If we just train forms and the pop chi sau exercise we’re really living down (not “living up”) to the expression that “Wing Chun is the lazy man’s art”. If the Wing Chun student wants to attain mastery, and wants to be a superior practitioner, then they must train using all available means. They must train like sprinters. That means training hard, training smart, training regularly, with focused intensity and quality knowledge and skill! That means pain. That means discomfort. That means soreness. In short, you have to suffer! You have to “eat bitter”! The student who wants to be superior must train using the best information from biomechanics, ergonomics, progressive resistance training, nutrition, exercise physiology, sport psychology etc. Sure, I’m often referred to as “traditional”. But, this is only with respect to honouring and preserving the art as I’ve learnt it. As for training methods, I certainly employ some traditional methods. But, I also employ modern methods – especially if I’ve found they achieve better and/or faster results. A strong and fit Wing Chun practitioner stands a far better chance of surviving and winning a multiple attacker scenario on the street than does the “weekend warrior” student whose main focus has been internet forums and forms. So, “Lein kuen but lein gung – do lo yut cheung hoeng”! And, if you waste years, it’ll be too late to train intelligently! If you want to be one of the crowd – follow the crowd. If you want to excel – to rise above the herd – then you need to do things differently!