Sometime back I posed a question what was Wing Chun in Year Zero? This was meant to make you think about the value of tradition and lineage.
I use tradition and lineage as a means to evaluate a school. Tradition and lineage should mean unbroken transmission of knowledge and practices, as well as traceability of a system.
However, in actual practice this is not always the case. Tradition and lineage can act as a reference guide but without proper setting up of standards and processes (think of ISO systems) then tradition and lineage is more of a sales and marketing tool than anything else.
Recently I saw a video on a traditional style which made two interesting points :-
a) The person who made the video said that he modified his style to have a less frontal facing when facing an opponent instead of sticking to facing frontally as how he was taught.
This is a good point except that if he had researched more widely he might have discovered that the art was never meant to be used frontally in the first place.
It was good that he discovered the point about not facing frontally. Its just unfortunate that he thought he had to modify his art to do so because an outsider might think that if his art was traditional and by implication proven in the past then why the need to modify it?
b) The person said that he used a stance with 50:50 balance because he can moved quicker than if he had kept his balance 100:0.
While this is a good point he missed out on the point that by using 50:50 he would not be able to kick without telegraphing. And also without further research he missed out on the fact that using 100:0 is unworkable without a paradigm shift brought about by the use of a body structure that enables 100:0 to be functional.
This part about the body structure is what kung fu is about, training a special skill that outsiders cannot easily access without knowing the process for learning it. Anyone can stand in 100:0 and 99% will have a hard time making it work, in the end reverting to 50:50 because this feels more natural and easier to use.
If you catch the trick in using 100:0 you will find that you can move just as fast as when you use 50:50. Even in iKali we have a drill in which Tuhon Apolo pointed out that we should keep the balance on one leg when moving forward and backward. In this way we can move faster.
Things are not always what they seem in the world of martial arts. Some things are documented so you can easily discover the things you have a misconception about. However, many things are undocumented and passed on verbally and not always to everyone so many times we will have a hard time finding out what they are unless we are lucky to be in the right place at the right time.
Another example, I saw a post where someone wrote that he preferred the Wing Chun butterfly swords over FMA weapons because the butterfly swords have a guard. This would make sense if by FMA you think of the use of rattan sticks. But if you do some research you might discover that FMA swords do have a guard and their guard is cleverly designed to allow for stabbing and slashing. I was just fortunate to listen to Tuhon Apolo explain about this much earlier. Google “Filipino Weapons” and you’ll see what I mean.
Getting back to thinking of what was Wing Chun in Year Zero I am reading a book entitled “Coders : The Making of a New Tribe and the Remaking of the World” by Clive Thompson that could help us to think about this.
Here’s the first thought – if Wing Chun was founded by a woman and some make a big deal about this then why are there not many female practitioners within the first two to three generations of the lineage of those who are from Yim Wing Chun.
Its curious, right? Maybe the answer is that females do not practice martial arts back then. Or maybe Wing Chun was a secret art so access was limited (but why would a female teach a potent self defence art to a stronger male is another question; OK Yim was said to have taught her husband and he taught to other males (but why not females?)). So this was back then but even today the number of male practitioners outnumber female practitioners.
What comes to mind? Male or female?
Chances are you would say male. You would probably think of a nerdy, unkempt, unsociable white male, right?
In Coders there is a chapter “The ENIAC girls vanish” in which the author found that the earliest programmer in history was a female. This was long before the computers that we think of as a computer came along.
Then the modern computer came and the first generation of programmers were predominantly females. The nerdy white male programmers came a lot later in the 80s. How a field that was largely dominated by females got taken over by males make for interesting reading.
The point that I found interesting is that males were not interested in hardware in the early days and programming the hardware became the lot of the ladies (there are other factors, read the book for yourself). It was only later when salaries for programmers rose that males started to enter the field. This plus other factors led to a decline in female programmers.
So a field essentially founded by a female had many female practitioners in the first generation. But in Wing Chun we don’t see something similar. OK, its a different field.
In Japan in the age of the samurai (I am generalizing here, you have to do your own research to find out the specifics) the females weren’t exactly helpless. I read that the ladies learned to defend their village by learning the naginata (specifically ko-naginata or onna naginata). There were even schools led by female headmasters which was rare. The video below is a documentary on naginata and includes its practice as a sport :-
The point is while I don’t see many female practitioners of the katana, I do see many female practitioners of the naginata. The video below is of a school, Yoshin Ryu Naginata Jutsu, headed by a female headmaster. Look at how vigorous the techniques can be beginning at 0:45 :-
Take a look at 5:30 in the video above – the naginata practitioner charged forward, only to find that her range is restricted. She threw the naginata at the opponent, rushed in and grabbed the opponent’s short sword and used it against him. I
I read the comments for the video. One person thought its a mistake but it is not. This is an example of strategy. I saw that in one naginata school they also used the short sword against the katana. I suppose this would be the response when for whatever reason the user dropped the naginata or perhaps the naginata was cut in half (you can see in the video where a short stick is used; some said that this represented a bladeless naginata).
Funny aside – one Wing Chun teacher told me that in the old days the practitioner should carry three butterfly swords. In the midst of using you could throw one at the opponent as a surprise attack, then quickly grab the other one and continue the attack.
In iKali Tuhon Apolo said that GT Leo T. Gaje Jr. said to carry three blades and give one to the opponent if he does not have one. Then you have justification of pulling a blade out to defend against an opponent with a blade.
Man, if I had known about naginata earlier I might have tried to learn it. The techniques are much easier to understand than Jodo which I learned at the urging of my Wing Chun senior.
Jodo practice is slow and exact. 64 katas for each side (that’s 128 katas in total) can be a lot to remember. However, the real issue is that it takes many years to learn how to use the jo properly. Funny thing, when you reach the end of the journey they would teach the original five techniques which are supposed to be very simple.
I have not seen them but my teacher, Maloney Sensei, said that they would demonstrate it once every ten years in public (not sure if this is still true). Another Jodo master said that when he learned it he was taught one technique a year and he would be shown it only once! Did reading this make you realize something?
This is what you might suspect – the original Jodo was made up of 5 techniques. From reading the story of the founder this is what I am guessing – he made a connection between using a shortened Bo (Japanse 6 foot pole) to prevent Musashi from trapping his Bo using a long sword and short sword which he did in their first encounter.
However, a shorter Bo would not be able to use the techniques of a normal Bo effectively. The second connection was in adapting katana techniques to that for the shortened Bo.
Since the founder knew how to use a katana as well he only have to experiment to see how he can use the shortened Bo with a combination of katana and Bo techniques. Knowing it is one thing. When it came to teaching it as a system a person who get taught the 5 original techniques would also have to learn the Bo and katana techniques, and then make the connection in order to have a similar understanding as the founder.
I am guessing that to solve this problem of teaching the use of the Jo in a more orderly and systematic manner the founder (or perhaps his students) organized the learning by strategy and used short katas to teach how to use the 12 basic strikes to carry out the strategy.
I am making this guess based on what I know of the Ngok Gar Kuen pole. We have core postures, an example, is where we hold the pole pointing to the sky. This posture is found in a form in which my teacher, Master Cheong, said is for the purpose of fighting multiple opponents.
It took me years before I understood what this movement could be used for to address the question of multiple opponents. There are various ways to fend off multiple opponents – a popular method is by wielding the pole over the head to draw a circle which is similar to what is shown below :-
The Ngok Gar pole pointing to sky posture makes it easy to hit in any direction. You have to try it to see. Without asking how to solve the problem of multiple opponents from multiple angles you would not think of it this way.
I have written a long post here. I will end it with another thing I read in Coders. In the early days of coding how does one learn how to code? Neither schools nor universities teach the subject. Many coders learn by themselves. Eventually, some universities offer it but then those who had learned to code by solving problems found that they knew a lot more than what was taught. One coder dropped out when he found that they weren’t teaching how to apply coding to real life applications. However, the staff in his faculty was using a program this dropout had written and they hired him instead. They had to get a waiver to hire a dropout for a position that required a degree.
If you take this example from the coding world you might ask whether Wing Chun was ever a complete system from the very start. Perhaps it was like how coders learned to code, by having a programming language and trying to get the code to do fun things by trial and error. Yes, codes rarely run properly the first time.
In the world of coding a lot of traditions and lineages spawned. Many coders share their work. Many do not even sign their work. Could this be a reason why many movements in Wing Chun (Cantonese art) resemble the White Crane system from Fujian and Foochow? Wing Chun hand movements also resemble that of Hakka Mantis.
This is where some wise-guy will jump in and say but in Wing Chun we use centreline when our hands are placed on the centre but in those styles they position their arms to form an inverted triangle. This is where I ask and how do you do that movement in the 1st section of the wooden dummy after you do the “wrong” Bong Sao?
OK, I have an issue with the name of this technique called “wrong” Bong Sao. In my opinion, it is not a “wrong” Bong Sao at all. It is more of a case of misunderstanding the usage, somehow forcing an explanation on it to make a fit and ending with a funny explanation. Then the mistake gets passed down and voila we have a “wrong” Bong Sao.
Tradition makes our life easy when it comes to learning. Without the tradition it does not mean the end of the world. Look at how ground grappling was pulled into Judo only to have it sidelined. Then Grandmaster Helio Gracie turned this aspect into a distinct art, giving birth to Gracie Jiu Jitsu.
Thanks to UFC and the numerous competions Gracie Jiu Jitsu has become super popular and well known. Nowadays we sometimes refer to Gracie Jiu Jitsu as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. However, a book I read recently pointed out that BJJ is not quite the same as GJJ due to the rules of competition.
The author’s writing on how he learned GJJ from Rorion Gracie at the very beginning of the start of GJJ in United States is very informative. Listen to the podcast below :-
This clip introduces the book :-
Read the book. It is super informative and funny but many good points are made. I was surprised to read about what the author said about his encounter with Gene Le Bell, Bill Wallace and the brother of Benny the Jet. I won’t tell you about them but its an eye opener and not quite what you may think.
Well, this is the end of my Christmas rambling. I wanted to talk about how the traits of a high level coder, the unicorn programmer aka 10X coder, has lessons for us on how to learn and master Tai Chi. I thought of making a short clip to illustrate what I mean but I ended up spending too much time on this post so maybe another time.