“So when we’re working on both sides, that means, it can come from either side. And, you realize, after a while, that you cannot, with your mind, control both sides at the same time. You have to at some point rely on reflexes. You have to turn off thinking, turn off being overly analytical and just react. So what this is helping you to do is to promote just a reaction, promote just a reflex, turn off the thinking, turn off the analytical mind that can’t really adequately follow what’s happening from either side. So if you do an action — I will learn how to react back without thinking.”
Sifu Greg LeBlanc
As some of you might have noticed over the last four month or more, my article writing slowed down to a crawl. This was because of issues behind the scenes, which culminated in my leaving my old job and starting a new job on Jan 3rd. But now I’m slowly getting used to the new job and starting to think about my progress in Wing Chun.
Although its very easy to fall into a situation where you are on automatic pilot in your training, going to the school for your classes and either doing what your Sifu suggests or just doing whatever you feel like and using whatever equipment is open, making real progress in Wing Chun requires planning.
I would suggest sitting down at least every six months with a pen and paper and thinking about where you are, where you want to be, and what you need to work on to get there.
My Sifu told me the secret of his success.
He learned all the forms and the drills in his system and then he started doing them all at least once a week. He did this for quite while! As we all know, Wing Chun has relatively few forms and drills (compared to other systems of Chinese combat).
So for all of us, goal number one should be to learn (fully and correctly) all the forms and drills of the system. And then you really begin. Its like they say in Karate – the Black Belt is just the beginning. In Wing Chun, learning all the forms and drills is our equivalent of a Black Belt. Now you really begin.
We have Siu Lum Tao, Chum Kiu, Biu Gee, the Dummy, the Pole, and the Knives. Then we have the support drills (hitting the wall bag, doing the various hands with turning, the various hands with stepping, plus Chi Sao). Throw in some of the more exotic stuff like table drills and X-stepping and you have the complete package. These drills and forms all work together to develop different skills and attributes and they are cumulative.
And more to the point of your semi-annual review (which is what I’m doing right now, since I slacked off for about six months!), many of the specific drills were designed to correct specific weakness and bad habits. Sifu Wong Shun Leung was known as someone who would often design a drill on the spot when faced with a problem in a student. Is the student leaning over too much? Have the training partner pulls his arms away now and then in Chi Sao so the student who has been leaning forward will stumble when they lose the counter-balance of their partners energy. Or if the student is flinching when struck, have the student close their eyes. Well, Wong probably didn’t invent blind Chi Sao, but you get what I’m saying!
Assess yourself in your review and note what problems your teacher and your Sihings have been pointing out to you. NOTE: It will do you and your ego a lot of good to ask your teacher and your training partners to be brutally honest with you (if they are not already). If you want to improve, you need to work on your weaknesses! It is often hard to see these yourself. This is, in large part, what your teacher is there for – they are standing apart watching you and seeing your flaws and problems. Once you have a list of these, you should pick one (the worst one) and start making that your ONE THING to focus on the most.
“The other major thing that gives these limited sports martial arts a huge edge over Wing Chun is pure athleticism.”
A few years ago, I did an extended email interview with a guy I’d trained with for a little while. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to train with him too much as this was around the time I had to take a year off due to a shoulder injury.
His was an interesting perspective because he’d trained extensively in MMA before switching to Wing Chun plus he’s a very smart, articulate guy. Because so many online voices are critical of Classical martial arts versus the “MMA style,” I was really curious about why he’d switched and his perspective on Wing Chun’s training methods.
My questions are in red italics.
>>>Beginning of Interview<<<
At the novice level of training, the classes would spend about 45 minutes teaching you basic techniques: the mechanics of a jab, cross, hook, round kick, etc. At the end of the class we’d do some very simple one step sparring for 15 min or so. Similar to what you see in Kung Fu classes. I throw the cross, you slip and counter hook/cross. Something like that.
Students usually only stayed in this foundational phase for a month or two. Then you’d move to the regular classes. The regular classes were structured similarly. We’d spend about 30 minutes going over some combinations or ideas for attack/defense strategy and then we’d spend 30 minutes doing some sparring.
The class would be generally split in half. The people with less experience going to one side of the room and their sparring would still be a sort of one step sparring but random. For example, you launch some combination of attacks. I defend and let you finish, then its my turn. Similar to what we do (in Wing Chun). The more advanced side of the room would be free sparring at 50% – 75% power.
I think the beauty of this gym’s approach was that they designed their classes so that everyone had contact EVERY SINGLE CLASS. It made people good fast. It took away all the pent up desire to go balls to the wall that I’ve seen in other schools where they spar once a week and everyone can’t wait to throw down. It was nice, steady, and progressive.”