Dyson & Tai Chi

I read an interview with James Dyson in last week’s The Sunday Times entitled “No Such Thing As A Silly Idea”.

Whether you agree with him or not, his comments can nevertheless be useful to us in learning Tai Chi.

Comment No. 1 – “Knowing what has worked in the past really doesn’t help you at all now. In fact, it does always the opposite. It’s a hindrance.”

Opinion No. 1 – Its a no-brainer to say that the most obvious example is this was when BJJ met the striking arts in UFC and we see strikers being defeated left and right.

However, I will talk about this in the context of Tai Chi instead. The thing about knowledge is that it can be a double edge sword. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we know a lot just because we learned a lot or is learning from a knowledgeable / famous master. However, until we know the boundaries of our knowledge we cannot really say that we know a lot and by extension what we had learned may not be as helpful as we thought.

Nowhere is this more obvious than when I switched to learning the Yang style of Grandmaster Wei Shuren’s lineage. If you look at some of the videos of people playing the forms from GM Wei’s style you might think that in terms of flavor there is not much different though the same techniques are played differently from that in Yang Cheng Fu’s descendants’ style. This typically is the problem of making the mistake of thinking that you can bring your previous learning experience from other Yang styles to GM Wei’s style.

If anything, your previous learning can be a hindrance to learning GM Wei’s style. I had to practically relearn GM Wei’s Tai Chi style from the ground up once I realized that what I had learned from the Yang styles of Cheng Man Ching, Dong family, Yang Sau Chung and Nip Chee Fei was of little help to mastering GM Wei’s style, if not an obstacle.

It is only when I go back to the beginner’s mindset that I could change my physical habits. GM Wei’s style is not just about outer movements but how what you are thinking of can affect the way your body moves and reacts. Once you know what this is you can read the Tai Chi Classics and things that do not make sense will now make a lot of sense.

So Dyson’s comment can be taken in this manner also, that your past is a hindrance to your present and therefore future. This is especially true in today’s fast changing technologies that look set to change a lot of things across many fields of knowledge and industry.

Comment No. 2 – “I think naive curiosity, naive questioning, wrong suggestions, are good ideas.”

One reason why I don’t join many forums is because people that flock together tend to be of the same feathers. They have a tendency to agree with each other, shouting down those that they don’t agree with.

Innovation comes about because of questioning the status quo. If we agree with everything we will still be living in caves and hunting with stones. You will be surprised at how closed minded Tai Chi people are. A number of practitioners have told me that they consider zhanzhuang to be super important. One of my friends even told me zhanzhuang is the secret to mastering Tai Chi.

They are so super assured that zhanzhuang is the way that they have never considered the alternative argument that zhanzhuang is not the way (or not the only way). They never thought to ask me why. They never asked why the Dong family, GM Wei and some masters don’t have zhanzhuang practice yet these masters have superb skills. In fact, I doubt anyone who considers zhanzhuang to be the way can explain how GM Wei did his fajing but for us what zhanzhuang people do for fajing is so obvious that to call it a secret is doing a disservice to those who want to uplift the practice of Chinese internal arts.

Comment No. 3 – An experienced person will only put forward a sensible suggestion, which might work, whereas a native person, or a young person who is unafraid to make mistakes, will ask the wrong question, will make an outrageous suggestion, which might actually be a very good idea.”

I am relatively new to learning FMA. I was taught that we can hold the blade with a forward grip or an ice-pick grip. We could also switch from one grip to the other while we are wielding the blade.

Forward Grip
Ice Pick Grip

At one point I thought why not hold two blades in one hand? Wouldn’t this eliminate the need to switch from one grip to another if I want to switch the way I am holding the blade? The question why anyone would want to switch grip is another matter.

This is not a new idea. In fact, there is a weapon from the style of Yin baguazhang called Judge’s Pen (goggle it) that sparked off my thinking (past experience can matter sometimes…….) in this direction. I played around with it while holding two knives in one hand. Seems like a good idea.

However, the reality is that unless a real blade is made this way this idea is not practical. Why?

Firstly, a real knife handle may be thicker and oval shaped, making it difficult to hold two knifes in one hand. Secondly, how will you carry the blade in a concealed manner? How will you draw it out quickly when required without cutting yourself? So what seems like a good idea is not a practical idea. But who knows, maybe someone will make this into a practical idea, which begs the question how does a Yin style baguazhang practitioner carry a Judge’s Pen?

Comment No. 4 – “Being very open to every suggestion and not ever saying ‘that’s a silly idea, don’t be so stupid’ – that’s my style. I like the unobvious suggestion…I get very worried when someone says they’re an expert.”

There’s nothing wrong with being an expert. The problem is when their mind is closed even when they are obviously wrong. They want to argue until a corpse can come alive, to use a colorful Chinese saying.

The basis for creativity is to not be afraid to ask what to others would be obvious stupid or even impossible questions. Remember the assumption that things heavier than air can’t fly (Lord Kelvin said that heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible). So for a long time if someone brought up the idea of flying they would be laughed at. Yet birds can fly. So obviously the assumption that things heavier than air cannot fly is not true.

Assumptions can be wrong. What is today correct may also be wrong tomorrow (flat earth versus round earth argument). So it is this way with the argument with zhanzhuang being the secret to developing fajing skills in Tai Chi. I say that this is not true because any beginner can learn to do fajing without having to learn zhanzhuang. They don’t even need to learn forms or to put in years of practice.

There is a difference between being able to use freely (requires years of practice) and being able to do fajing in controlled environment (does not require years of practice, just a few minutes of instruction and tinkering the movements for proof of concept). The latter is proof that it is important to know what you are doing clearly and not be caught up by outdated dogma that is enslaving you.

So in this sense when an expert, someone who proudly tacks a sifu before his name, tells you that you take years to learn how to fajing take it with a few spoonful of salt because it is not true. Even if I don’t tell you the basis of my argument you can figure it out easily with the help of a physics textbook and a partner willing to be your guinea pig. Once you figure it out you will probably slap your head for not seeing it for the simple thing that it is.

Lesson Number Two

A week passed by very quickly. Lesson 2 came and passed for new student.

First a review of Lesson 1. Correction number one – eliminate unnecessary movements in the hands before raising hands in Beginning Posture. Root cause – slight hunched back leading to palms facing unnaturally.

Correction number 2 – hand lead the body in sub-movement 1 of Grasp Sparrow’s Tail, differentiating joint movements and strength usage clearly. Also, how to shift the vertical axis from one side to the other without compromising balance. Mindfulness in left hand grasp and control.

Correction number 3 – fingers in left parry hand at commencement of sub-movement 2 of Grasp Sparrow’s Tail. Control body angling. Importance of positioning to remain offensive even when parrying. Right arm closing movement re-emphasize again the holding hinge concept, aligning the right wrist to body to facilitate neutralizing, closing the posture. How to properly raise the right wrist to form cross with left wrist, passing the imaginary opponent’s right fist to land into space, as you open up a space to enter for your right hand. Again, not to lose balance by unneccessary moving of vertical axis causing sway and tilt. Showed student how to move without causing axis sway and tilt after he tried but could not move if I impose a restraint on his left shoulder to check his vertical axis. Correct placement of right palm on target area and left hand on guard after completion. The how and why of this application, addressing loop holes in posture, how to set up for a follow up movement from the start, possible strikes in this position. Check correct holding of sphere in right arm, sphere holding between left hand and right hand.

Correction number 4 – sphere rotation in Ward-off, control superfluos body turning, how to rotate properly to apply movement as a technique. Left hand curve, wrap, bind and control, contribute to unbalance attack and power issuance. Beware of elbow to body disconnect, define appropriate elbow-body connection.

Correction number 5 – defining the physical path for Rollback in the mind – visualize it, map it, move and feel. How to maintain structure and pressure while relaxing before neutralizing, avoiding collapsing of right arm structure or opening up space for opponent to enter. Proper structure of right arm in Rollback, proper timing to change from Rollback to Press. Mother-son relationship in right arm-left arm movement correlation. Whip palm attack in Rollback, if required. How to use elbow position to control opponent’s left arm when attacking without creating a gap for opponent to counter.

Correction number 6 – changing right arm structure at end of Rollback to beginning of Press. Left arm control – definition, process and applications. How to issue power using momentum from application of stance shifting for instant result, no waiting for years of training to master or having to learn secret qigong method or complicated fajing processes, merely using intuitive method most people already know as they are likely to have performed before at home. Using a spiral movement to neutralize, bind and control before issuing power throgh the same right arm. Single arm power generation for better control and defence; illustration of how facing wrongly in Press and using two hands leave student exposed to a counter.

So much for the second lesson this week.

The Attached Mind

I just glance at the topic of a Youtube video “Israeli Study of Natural Immunity vs Vaccine” and my immediate thought was natural immunity earns big Pharma nothing but vaccine brings billions and opportunities to earn more in other ways.

This also reminds me of those Tai Chi masters who would sell you that secret Qigong packaged training, that secret meditation practice, the secret small frame fajing form, that secret this, that secret that.

Why can’t they sell you one form that teaches you how to use the techniques, how to push hands, how to fajing, how to meditate and so on?

Cause you earn more by breaking the knowledge up and selling them. That’s why.

Its more exciting for the consumer, I mean student, to know that there is a secret spinal whip, chakra fire or is it water qigong (or maybe call it tummo to sound more exotic, nah that’s Tibetan), tree hugging, tree rooting, bricks hanging from the balls methods that they can salivate after. The more money they pay the more they buy into the secret and defend it even they found out that they have been conned. That’s the psychology of the victim.

Telling a student that he’s got it is a downer. Whatdaya mean I got it? Already? Where? Like a horse he needs a carrot dangled in front of him to chase after cause the fun is in the chase rather than the getting there.

That’s why in big classes they need a common identify, to reinforce the brainwashing cause you know cultish behaviour leads to loyalty even if contrary hard evidence is presented. This is a kind of attachment, a reason why Tai Chi is difficult to learn. You have to let go of your attachment to resistance if you want to be able to flow like water. To be attached means the opponent’s pressure will cause your mind to be stuck and your body to freeze.

That’s why Tai Chi is easy to learn, difficult to master as you have to deprogram your habitual, instinctive reaction to mental and physical stimuli.

Restarting Teaching

This week I restarted teaching Tai Chi. I am taking this one student at a time. I have lost track of time but I am guessing that its at least a year since the last lesson.

This time I changed my teaching approach in that I aim to get a student moving first before finetuning his movements. To do this I held back some details. Its not something I would do in the past but it certainly made it easier to teach a bit faster.

It was all I could do to stop myself from saying more. I kept to straight forward corrections like remember to stretch out the fingers, point the thumb up, thumb touch the center and index point forward to apex, grab-hold-bring to waist level, secure as if pressing a big ball while squeezing a small ball, etc.

Despite the cut down in the number of details it was still not easy for the new student to remember every step in the process. Sometimes its the little things that are easy to forget. The mind just keep forgetting. But never mind, we will just keep at it until all the details fall into place.

Sometimes it is better to just enjoy the learning and keep at the practice rather than to rush it. As long as the student practices regularly while keeping the steps and details in mind he should get it.

A Practice A Day

There is an old saying that an apple a day keeps the doctor away.

However, I think a Tai Chi practice a day is better. This is because Tai Chi is not just an exercise for the body but for the mind too.

We say that if there is no intent then there is no Tai Chi. If you just stand there and breath then there is nothing different between what a normal person does and what you, a Tai Chi practitioner, does.

When we stand we are not standing we are activating our mind. In our mind we formulate a connection between heaven and earth. This is not some mystical shit for the New Age groupies.

Instead, it is a method to open up the body without moving visibly. The key phrase is “WITHOUT MOVING VISIBLY”. There is movement but its subtle, like a gentle ripple on the pond surface. You can’t really see it but you can feel it.

If you do it you will feel your spine lengthening as if it is reaching upwards towards the sky, hence connecting to heaven. You will also feel as if your feet is merging with the ground, developing roots that dissolve into an endless bottom, as if you are standing on quicksand.

With this connection set up then you can move into the preparatory posture with two feet apart. But you do not move without a reason. You have to use your intent to command your body to move in a specific manner so that you have an integrating between inside and outside, internal and external.

In this way when you stand in preparatory posture the way you stand is different from the way a normal person stands. You will also be standing in a manner that is not the same as the average Tai Chi practitioner.

This is only the beginning. You next have to use intent to configure the inside of your body. You don’t try to relax, you don’t try to control your breathing. This is where we approach the practice differently.

You don’t try to relax because we practice a specific method to bring about a state of minimizing the use of strength. This in turn will allow you to relax. This type of relaxation creates a state of pliant tension such that the body is like an inflated ball sans the attempts we see sometimes to be like a ball by splaying the elbows sideways.

This relaxation method is based on using the mind to tell the body to do something and this something brings about the relaxation. You don’t have to try to relax. Just doing the principle will bring about the relaxation.

We also don’t try to breathe in and out to bring about the relaxation. Doing this can cause the mind to be attached when we want to detach the mind, to allow it to quiet down, so that we can listen and feel how our body is responding to the series of commands that our mind will issue it to perform the subsequent movements.

The carrying out of the procedures to create the Ancient Bell Body will open up your body from within such that you can feel as if you are hollow inside like an actual bell.

The Bell Body will magnify the ballooning of your body like an inflated ball without having to make posture physically. This is a more natural approach. This is also why we say this is a true internal approach because you can’t see it.


We can also conceal the feeling of this internal opening of the body. When necessary we can demonstrate by letting another party feel how this opening of the body allows us to channel an external pressure into the ground without having to move the body a lot.

After the creation of the Ancient Bell Body then you can proceed to start going through the other movements of the form. You have to be careful not to lose the Ancient Bell Body. It has to be kept intact throughout the performance of the entire form.

The Ancient Bell Body is the foundation for freeing up your old habits so that you can tap and use the power that is already inherent in you.

Yes, you read correctly. We don’t have to acquire internal power, we merely have to remove the obstacles that is stopping us from being able to use what we already have all along.

Unless Newton’s Laws of Motion and Classical Mechanics do not apply to you then you already have internal power. Its just a matter of unlocking it.

Power issue aside, practicing Tai Chi daily with the Ancient Bell Body is beneficial for your health. For one it makes for good posture by opening up your joints. This is something that you will understand once you feel it.

The second point is that Tai Chi practice somehow energizes the body. This is why it is good to practice it in the morning and if possible, do it also in the evening.

Spiciness & Internal

Is your Tai Chi internal?

I doubt you would find anyone who would say their Tai Chi is not internal unless they know they are just doing the exercise version.

However, what does being internal mean? This is not an easy topic to tackle.

Let’s look at it another way, something that all of us can understand. If you don’t you can always find out easily.

Take the Ghost chilli pepper. Is it spicy? Definitely.

How about Carolina Reaper chilli pepper? It is spicy too.

What about a more normal chilli? For example, the Shishito pepper from Japan. It is spicy too to those that can’t take heat.

All the above peppers are spicy but that doesn’t tell us much until you put one in your mouth.

If you take a bite from a Shishito pepper you would go ah, not too bad. Then you bite into a Carolina Reaper, and find yourself practically jumping out of your seat and reach for water (actually you should reach for milk).

Then after this when you put a Ghost pepper in your mouth it would also feel spicy but not as bad as when you bit into the Carolina Reaper.

Taste is subjective. So is the ability to take heat. So what is spicy to one person may not be to another person.

As such, we can end up with arguments of this pepper is spicy and this is not. Its just like the way we argue about this Tai Chi being internal and another Tai Chi is not.

Except in the case of pepper we have an objective way to define the heat level. This is where the Scoville scale comes in to measure the concentration of capsaicin and record it in SHU units (Scoville Heat Units).

By using the Scoville scale it would be difficult for someone to argue that the Ghost Pepper (1,041,427 SHU) is more spicy than the Carolina Reaper Pepper (1,569,300 SHU).

We would also know where the Shishito Pepper (50-200 SHU) stands in terms of heat in relation to the other two peppers.

Now wouldn’t it be nice if we can develop something like the Scoville scale to define where a particular Tai Chi system lies on a scale from most external to most internal.

The problem with this scale is that everyone wants to argue that their approach is internal without being able to assign a specific and clear definition to what this means. It would be even better if there is a scientific approach to it.

Again, when we look at how science defines the Scoville scale they didn’t just leave it up to a board of tasters to define what is spicy and how spicy is each type of pepper.

Instead, they used a scientific approach to answering this question. This resuled in the Scoville Organoleptic Test in which a tester would extract the capsaicin oil from a dried pepper.

This extract is diluted with sugar water to the point where the heat can no longer be tasted by a panel of professional taste testers. How much dilution is required to get here would determine how many Scoville units is assigned to the tested pepper.

We can borrow an idea from this test by checking a number of factors. One of them would be how much movement is visible or better still, can be measured (whether by sensors or by a high speed camera) of a power generation process that is impacting a shock force on a consistent object (or person) that is giving a constant amount of resistance (or an amount of resistance that is proportional to the weight, height and muscle strength) of the person being tested.

That there are a lot of politics within Tai Chi not to mention the size of egos and money involved means that an independent means of determining what internal means will never be developed.

Shock vs Vibration

I remember reading about vibrating palm a long time ago.

The thing about terminology is that the person using it may not understand what the term really means.

Neither does the average reader like me. So I went on thinking that vibrating palm is like a super duper powerful strike.

A decade, maybe two or three, I have a better understanding of what the term vibration and by extension vibrating means as it relates to rotating machinery.

This is where I realized that those who called their palm strike by the name vibrating palm may not understand what vibration is about and as such has given a meaningless term to what they do.

There’s a study here on the impact on the wrist from playing different sports. Unfortunately, there’s nothing on the impact of striking though catching a ball would be closer to what impact would be like from striking. The author concluded that the three worst events are :-

i) Throwing a baseball
ii) Catching a football
iii) Hitting a volleyball

Of the three it looks to me that the football catch and volleyball hit would be the closest to what impact on the wrist would be like if you are punching with a fist as the motion affects the z-axis.

By comparison, the baseball throw sees the wrist moving more over three axes and is more like what a hand slap / relaxed palm strike would be like.

The author concluded that :-

a) The level of vibration affecting the wrist is low. Extrapolating this conclusion onto a vibrating strike by referencing baseball, football and volleyball I suspect that the term vibrating strike would be a misnomer!

b) Sports that are more damaging on the wrist are those that tend to cause the bones and ligaments to absorb a sudden high level of shock.

If this is true then I would think that the relaxed palm strike aka vibrating palm is actually generating shock force rather than vibration. If you study how the body moves when going through the motions of a powerful palm strike you are likely to see the entire body move in a sinuous manner, a movement pattern that allows acceleration to build up before suddenly dumping the accumulated force into a target in the form of a shock energy.

This is why the energy of a palm strike is sometimes compared to that of a wave motion. This being the case a vibrating palm should properly be termed a shock palm.

Another Tragedy

A tragic attack occurred this week. A student was murdered by another with an axe in school. Details at present are scarce.

We can never be vigilant enough in today’s climate. However, being vigilant is not enough. We have to be able to respond to the situation if we are forced to do so.

In Kali we are taught that the attack that we don’t see is the attack that gets you. As such, if you didn’t see the attack coming then no matter how skillful you are there’s nothing you can do.

But if you do see the attack coming then the question is how much time do you have to react. Can you run? Or do you have to fight? And there’s not a lot of time to think about it. This is why we train, to learn how to decide, to know how confident we are if we have to act.

We don’t train a lot of techniques because it is self defeating if you don’t have enough time to be proficient in all of them. We train enough techniques, that limited they may be, they enable us to mix and match to come up with more. The more you train the same technique the better you will be, and the more confident you are to use it.

The most common attack whether using an axe, a machete, a box cutter would be the Angle 1 slashing strike. Some people refer to this as the caveman strike because even people who never trained martial arts will instinctively use it. I see ladies use the Angle 1 slap naturally in fights. They would grab and pull the hair to pull the head down and slap away.

Knowing how the Angle 1 strike works, knowing how to use it ourselves whether when using a stick, a sword or knife is part and parcel of learning how to deal with it. We learn to not just disarm the training partner of the weapon. Instead, we learn to take it away from them so that we know have a weapon if we don’t have one already.

Having a weapon gives you an advantage. How you use this advantage whether to stop with minimal damage, or inflict punishing strikes or even life taking techniques is something you have to decide. This is what Japanese samurai mean by the blade that takes life is also the blade that gives life.

Again, if there is a situation we would like to call the police but this is not always an option. When an attack is upon you suddenly and you instinctively reach for your phone then you are reacting to the situation. If you drop your phone or suddenly realize that the weapon is about to strike you and you change your reaction it will be too late. We don’t like it but in such situations sometimes your life is really in your own hands depending on your reaction and the attacker’s reaction to your response

Dictionary Form

Open up a dictionary. Or even use an online dictionary.

Look for a word, any word. For example, APPLE.

You get a definition of what APPLE is which is that apple is a round fruit with firm, white flesh, skin of green, red or yellow.

Then you are given context in which the word APPLE can be used. For example, peeling an APPLE, plucking from APPLE tree, making APPLE pie.

You are also given examples of how the word APPLE is used in sentences. For example, he took a bite from the apple. Or an apple fell on Newton’s head and enlightened him to the existence of gravity.

The Wing Chun SNT form is sometimes referred to as a dictionary form. So as a dictionary form we would expect to find defined techniques, the context in which the technique is used and example of how it is applied.

For example, Fak Sau is a strike with the blade of the palm (definition). The context in which it can be used is as a chopping attack to the throat. In terms of usage we can parry the opponent’s punch as we sit back and turn the body, followed by which we quickly sit forward and whisk our palm to strike the throat.

As a dictionary form we have thus learn Fak Sau in the following manner :-

a) What is Fak Sau? How does the movement go? What is the body mechanics of the arm movement when our body is kept facing squarely, allowing us to study the movement of the arm in isolation.

b) What is body turning? Why do we turn the body? What are the biomechanical actions? How much should we turn the body? How does turning the body assist in executing the Fak Sau technique?

c) Why do we sit back and then forward? What stances are used here? What are the body mechanics? How does shifting the stance add to power generation?

So when you consider the above you can see why the Siu Nim Tao (or Siu Lin Tao in some Wing Chun styles) is a dictionary form. In the modern variant factors (b) and (c) have been eliminated. Instead, factors (b) and (c) are studied in Chum Kiu and Biu Jee but not in as clear a manner as when they are delineated within Siu Nim Tao.

When factors (a) to (c) are studied within Siu Nim Tao students can then go on to Chum Kiu and Biu Jee and examine the key lessons of each form instead of trying to seek that which is supposed to be in Siu Nim Tao in the first place but revised out.

I would say revising the form to a shorter version is not necessarily a bad thing. But when this shorter version is not taught with an understanding of how to use a shorter form then a lot of things will get lost in the transition from longer to shorter form.

So the basics learned in Siu Nim Tao are then practiced in Chum Kiu. As designed there are no new techniques in Chum Kiu that have not been learned in Siu Nim Tao. What is found in Chum Kiu are but the techniques of Siu Nim Tao rearranged to teach the application of the principle of seeking bridge as a fighting strategy.

By comparison, learners of the modern versions of Chum Kiu will now be learning how to step, turn body and seek the bridge. They are only given short samples of how to apply some of the techniques of Siu Nim Tao to carry out the strategy.

When you consider the prevalent learning in this limited manner it is not surprising that modern Wing Chun practitioners can learn an entire spectrum of techniques at the Siu Nim Tao level but when they try to apply what they learn in Chi Sau they are only able to use very few techniques instead of using all the techniques as they should. If Wing Chun is a smartly designed art it would have gotten rid of techniques that are not practical or hardly used. But that is not the case though in practice this seems to be it. That students or even teachers fail to see this learning logic is ironic.

At this point we are only considering the basics that should be learned. We have not considered that Wing Chun in the older variants also teach case studies relating to the application of techniques. An example would be how to apply the techniques to counter an opponent using locks.

On another level, the students are also taught to refine they way they move, the way they apply the techniques and so on. The practice of the weapons is meant to enhance and change the way the body is structured and mobilized. In today’s learning of the weapons these “it” factors are missing. They also happen to be indicators as to whether a person has learned the weapons properly.

The Wing Chun system is designed to be learned in a certain way. When practiced following the road map you should acquire certain body characteristics that allows you to apply the techniques in line with the strategy, principles and power generation methods of the system.

Being Relevant

At a certain time in one’s teaching career or even in one’s personal practice an important question will surface. The question is do you maintain, that is keep the status quo or do you evolve, change with the times. Or perhaps have a bit of both.

A traditionalist will insist on the status quo, keep everything unchanged. That’s admirable, however, such thinking ignores the fact that no system existed unchanged from Day 1 in the first place. If anything, every system started from the seed of an idea, an experience, a need which over time the compiled, tested, and consolidated knowledge was organized to become a system.

Even then chances are this system did not become encased in stone, unchanged intact as it was. To claim that this is so ignores the fact that it is impossible to learn everything that a teacher passed down or even if it is possible, to learn it with the same understanding and this is true even within the same family over several generations. This is due to the fact that each person’s intelligence, physical attributes and life experience will differ. You can approximate a similar level of understanding but never an exact understanding. Well, maybe if you have a clone of yourself this might be possible.

Because of this a system will change. Whether for better or worse is a different question. Take for example, an art that is steeped in tradition – Hung Gar. Can you say that the art has remained unchanged? From what I read the famous Wong Fei Hung added in the Tiger Crane form. Wong taught a number of disciples, one of the most famous is Lam Sai Wing. I read that Lam added in more knowledge to the system and also changed the basic stance. Despite changing the transmitted knowledge Lam’s version of Hung Gar is widely disseminated.

So whether changes are a bad thing or a good thing would depend on how we look at it. I think one question we can ask is whether the changes can help a student learn better and learn faster. I mean what good is tradition if you get stuck in the knowledge and take too long a time to master it. I am not saying that you can master an art without spending time to practice. You can’t. But it is not uncommon to see practitioners spend a long time with a system and end up still not getting it. Then we have to ask whether this is due to lack of practice or a problem with the teaching.

Sometimes a system has to change whether it wants to or not. Every system is a by-product of the founder’s need to address a problem. For example, if arts such as ground grappling, handguns or knives were common back then in China perhaps the system of say, Wing Chun, that we see today will look different, feel different and have techniques that are different. A “traditional” Wing Chun practitioner may argue that facing an opponent squarely is best but I wonder if this opinion will still hold once he faces an attacker with a live blade. Similarly, no Wing Chun practitioner today, or at least, those in their right mind would fight an MMA fighter facing squarely because that is a surefire recipe to be taken down to the ground.

So arts can evolve. When a famous master does it we praise him for being enlightened and forward looking. But when a student adapts it to his needs he is condemned instead. The message here is that every practitioner who wants to be able to use his chosen art would look to those techniques and principles that can work for him given his limitations, time and place. Certain principles are the same or similar regardless of style, system or the times that we live in. But others are relatable to the situation at hand.

For example, when you are faced with an attacker slashing and thrusting a knife at you facing him squarely is suicidal because you just gave him a huge area to attack. If you get a Wing Chun practitioner telling you that this is not true then ask him to try it against a 1-year FMA practitioner and see the outcome. It is common to be blinded to our own weaknesses because we have never see how the picture is from the other side. This is why every art has its strong points and weaknesses that makes it workable against certain type of attacks but not to others. Understanding what you lack or not seeing is what elevates your ability to use your art if you ever need it.