Its a wet weekend. Its been raining since early morning, I don’t know since when. Youtube throws up videos and one video led to another and another and to the song With a Little Help from My Friends which got me listening to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
On the album there’s this song Fixing a Hole. For some reason I heard the following lyrics clearly this time as I was cutting up the vegetables for lunch.
I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in And stops my mind from wandering Where it will go
I’m filling the cracks that ran through the door And kept my mind from wandering Where it will go
And it really doesn’t matter if I’m wrong, I’m right Where I belong, I’m right Where I belong See the people standing there who disagree and never win And wonder why they don’t get in my door
I know this song is about marijuana but man, all this stuff about stopping the mind from wandering and being wrong is right is so Zen-like.
Sometimes walking in the rain or even meditating under a waterfall (or a shower if you can’t find a waterfall) is a way to keep your mind focused.
I walked to the market today. I didn’t take the bus. Since the road, pavement, grass, everywhere was wet I have to mindfully take each step, basically meditation by walking, step-by-step while feeling the ground especially these tiles they put on the ground which is supposed to help stop wheelchairs from rolling freely across the entrace but can be slippery when wet.
Nothing like the rain to fix the hole in one’s attention.
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.
Here’s something I posted to Facebook on 24 Dec 2021 :-
Fuzzy is the cross you talk to in your mind as the Dragon courses through the nine crooked pearls as you connect to heaven and earth while opening and closing. Energetically you feel even as you seem to cease to exist and You inside be as one with the outside so that No you, no me
In the book on the Yang family long form by GM Wang Yongquan he presented his version of the Song of Chaos. I like this better than the Yang family’s Song of Chaos.
This is because GM Wang Song of Chaos explained the concept of how to apply fajing against a moving opponent. He also explained the keys to mastering the fajing that is unique to his lineage of the Yang family Tai Chi Chuan.
Unfortunately, GM Wang does not explain what the attainment would be like once you mastered the keys of 松散通空 that unlock the ability to fajing.
Though I call them keys they are more like a process as far as actual learning is concerned. Chapter 2 Learning Stages in TaijiKinesis Vol 2 : Learning the Taijiquan Form presents the same information in a more general fashion that allows other Yang stylists to understand what the keys are about.
What I wrote in the FB post is the feeling you should have when playing the 22-form of GM Wei Shuren after attaining the 4 stages of 松散通空 if you follow the steps as taught by my teacher.
Though I presented it as a block of lines, it should properly be written as :-
BLOCK 1 Fuzzy is the cross you talk to in your mind …..
BLOCK 2 …..as the Dragon courses through the nine crooked pearls
BLOCK 3 as you connect to heaven and earth
BLOCK 4 while opening and closing.
BLOCK 5 Energetically you feel even as you seem to cease to exist and
BLOCK 6 You inside be as one with the outside so that No you, no me
BLOCK 1 – this is how you train to merge with the opponent in order to be able to efficiently surge your power into and through his body. There are two methods mentioned in this block and the methods are found throughout GM Wei’s 22-form
BLOCK 2 – this enables you to open up your body like an inflated balloon, basically enabling you to use the 5 bows of the body
BLOCK 3 – this is the key to rooting while retaining mobility
BLOCK 4 – this is part of the process of using the 5 bows to issue power
BLOCK 5 – this is an extension of BLOCK 1 on a more advanced level
BLOCK 6 – this is when you have achieved BLOCK 1 and BLOCK 5. When you are here the moment you touch the opponent he will feel as if your energy is enveloping him. This is the stage at which you can generate power from a short distance at short notice without having to go through an elaborate process of setting up
Summary – the most important to made is that everything mentioned in the 6 blocks must work together i.e. you must do them at the same time instead of separately. This is one reason why the 22-form is like a physical koan that you work on daily until you can perform everything together.
When you reach here then you can explore the use of the power using the various techniques found in the form. You can also refine how you use the core power by using the examples of power generation models mentioned in GM Wei’s book on the 22-form.
As you keep moving forward you might come back to just using the core power as it is without having to worry about the various power generation models. This keeps things simple so you never have to think about which model to use. When things are moving fast during push hands you have but a split second to decide how to issue the power. It would be best if you let it happen on its own, just like how you would bounce off a trampoline depending on how you land on it.
Great article here! Another way to kill the art faster, if its not dead already. How do you teach nuances, feel, the thinking behind how to make the art come alive and apply it. Below is the video showing the launching of the book for this project :-
In the field of engineering I’ve had companies talk about how they want to develop AI software to do machine maintenance. They think that with big data they can anticipate machine problems. One local company even used AI software to spot problems by examining data patterns.
This is what happens when today’s engineers and software programmers jump into the fray without the benefit of actual hands-on maintenance work. It is like nobody wants to look at a problem any more, much less try to solve it. They just want to throw everything to big data.
In the world of machine problems there are also nuances and small details to look into to solve a problem. Data can tell you its one problem or the other depending on the type of data collected, how you collect it and how you intepret the data.
I remember one story of a ship engineer calling for service because the machine was vibrating a lot. When the engineer I sent boarded the ship he asked the ship engineer to show him what he did. The ship engineer put his measurement probe on the machine cover and showed that the vibration was high.
And that exactly was the source of the problem, except there was no problem at all. Its more of a case of what is commonly known as GIGO – garbage in, garbage out. The probe was placed on a part that would vibrate more than usual so it is not unusual for the vibration to be high. But placed at the proper place to take data there was no issue.
A second example is that of a plant engineer arguing that a machine situated below a huge tank was causing vibration to be high. A measurement showed that the tank vibration was fine but the enginner insisted that this was the cause but data showed otherwise. Finally, my engineer found the cause – it was the other way round in that the huge tank caused the machine to vibrate.
However, since the tank is not a machine that moves how did it cause the vibration? When we think of movement we frequently think of visible movement. A tank that does not seem to move is always moving, except the motion is not visible to the naked eye. You can only see the movement if you have a high speed camera.
In this cause the tank is old and huge. If a tank is old its structure may no longer support it the way it is supposed to work. It won’t collapse but the tank may press against the machine below it. Plus, more investigative work uncovered that the tank was supposed to be reinforced as per the original design. But as-built the tank was never reinforced.
So therein are the possible causes which rectification work can confirm if this is the cause. It was interesting that the plant engineer was not aware that the tank was supposed to be reinforced much less know why the reinforcement was never carried out.
This case is an example of how big data would not be able to solve the problem because the cause is due to something that was not there in the first place. So even if a baseline measurement was carried out on commissioning the data would be flawed because of the omission of the reinforcement.
The idea of AI is very appealing. I know many customers want to use AI because its what we call “new toilet”, basically they want it cause its new and they think it will be useful but unless they understand their own problems they will not know if a new approach is truly superior.
Last example which I use to explain to customers about solving problems. One plant claimed that their new pump has a problem. The vendor that sold the pump to them took their word for it and called for someone to solve the problem. Yes, the vibration was high but the pump didn’t seem problematic so what could be the cause?
The data couldn’t explain the problem away. Then my engineer, the human AI, asked the right question about the pump’s load. And there was the answer. The problem was not so much caused by the pump but by how the customer was using the pump. In layman terms we can think of a person of 250 lb lying on top of a bed designed to take the weight of a 150 lb person, causing the bed to collapse and finding fault with the person instead of the person who laid on the bed. In technical terms the pump was designed to run above 90% load but the customer was running at 85% load, causing the pump to have vibration problem (if you want the full technical explanation you’ll have to attend two levels of an engineering course to learn about this). Once the explanation was given the customer could easily verify the cause. Again, data couldn’t solve this problem, merely point out that the cause is not due to the typical causes.
So in using AI to teach WC I would say interesting, nice, great but there is no way to teach the nuances, small details and feel of a movement. I am not against technology, just that not everything can be solved by technology.
Oh, the technology we use for solving machine problems have been around for more than 20 years. AI can’t improve on them, just collect a lot more data which someone or a software programmed not necessarily by a machine engineer (we typically call them mechanical engineer) who has to teach the AI how to intepret the data. This in turn depends on the input they get from the people they consulted when designing the software and the limitations of the software.
It would be nice if this was another revolution like “De revolutionibus orbium coelestium”.
But I somehow feel as it this was more like what it was before Nicolaus Copernicus introduced his revolutionary model that came to be known as Copernican heliocentrism.
Master Wong is very entertaining. Some of his videos on emptyhand techniques are not bad. Then he put out videos on the Wing Chun weapons and I was kinda like meh…..
Yesterday, I saw his video on defending against a knife attack. He is still entertaining.
His explanations sound so convincing too. It even looked effective and could work against someone who does not know how to use a knife and just thrust without any idea of follow up.
However, I am more worried about the attacker who knows how to use a knife or an attacker who repeatedly thrusts and slashes with speed.
I have seen different techniques against the basic thrusting / stabbing attack in Master Wong’s video. One of the more recent ones is from Master Yang Jwing Ming.
Whether dealing with emptyhand technique or weapon attack the problem is always the unknown factor i.e. I don’t know what the attacker will do or not do.
In this example, if the attacker just thrusts with the knife and leave his arm there you can get away with anything. Similary if he thrusts and slowly withdraws his knife for another attack.
The problem starts when the attacker thrusts fast, withdraw as fast (including stepping back). Then its not easy to do the technique Master Wong showed.
Add to it the possibility of the attacker slashing as a follow up to the thrust whether when he is in forward position or does so when he withdraws his blade and you have a different dimension to the problem.
Shall I then add the possibility of the attacker using his other arm to fend off your attempts to defend against his knife?
How about if the attacker switches hand?
When you consider these few points you will see the loopholes in the responses that Master Wong demonstrated.
He may have more effective techniques that he did not show to the public (most masters do) but for the ones he showed the following pictures below are the things that come to mind when I looked at what he showed. I am not even an expert in defending against a knife attack but the problem areas below are what I spotted with a beginner’s eyes.
Example A and B – Master Wong showed this as the first movement in deflecting the knife thrust. The problem I see with this response is that the neck is wide open to a slashing counter. However, as seen in Example E Master Wong has anticipated this. This is good as long as the opponent is not able to flow with your deflection and take advantage of it to insert his slashing attack in between the timing required for you to move your hands up as shown in Example E.
Example C – before Master Wong secured the hold in Example F he ended in this hold first. This is not a secure hold and by twisting the blade to face up, the opponent can slash upwards as he step back. But once you get to the one palm down, one palm up position in Example F then the hold is secure. The problem is before you get to this secure position.
Example D – Master Wong does foresee the possibility of a follow up slashing counter as shown here.
Example E – a question I like to ask is if I can foresee the attacker trying to slash me as shown in Example D then would the attacker be smart enough to anticipate my response and have a counter ready to both my hands coming up to protect my throat. If the opponent has experience using a knife then bring both hands up to protect myself is an invitation for the attacker to slash my stomach. Because I am reacting to his attempt to slash my throat first it means that the attacker is ahead of me on the attacking beat and the moment my hands come up and he quickly lowers himself to slash my stomach I will not be fast enough to counter the follow up attack.
Example F – good response from Master Wong. If there is a weakness in this counter it is that the attacker can still get out of the control. If he can do this he can easily switch knife hand and re-attack Master Wong. This time Master Wong will be way behind the attacking curve since both his arms are attached to the attacker’s right arm but Master Wong does not have any hand to check the attacker’s left hand with the knife now.
I do this analysis as part of my own study in how to defend against knife attacks rather than a post to take down Master Wong. By understanding what not to do I gain a better understanding of what to do.
Dealing with a knife attack or any types of attack is not so much a case of I am right, you are wrong. Instead, it is a case of given this response what can I do to avoid getting stabbed or slashed, and at the same time be able to counter effectively.
Effectively in this sense means how to prevent the attacker from continuing his attack and take away his weapon. In this regard I need to eliminate his ability to move and change.
This is why in Kali our study of how to handle knife attacks is based on knowing both sides of the equation – the defender and the attacker. We learn how to defend including how to take away the knife, and then initiate our own knife attack. When the glove is on the other hand (or blade in our hand) how can we use the knife and prevent the attacker from being able to defend himself.
Every now and then someone takes a colorized black and white photo of Ip Man, posts it to a FB forum and then proceeds to heap praise and gushes over him.
Other folks would follow with more praises. There’s no attempt to explain to explain why Ip Man is being praised.
I find this rather bizarre. If you write something about Ip Man’s contributions to the art of Wing Chun and praises his effort I can understand it.
But praising Ip Man for the sake of it?
The first thing I thought of is why is the writer praising Ip Man. Is Ip Man his grandmaster or great, great…. grandmaster? Or is he praising Ip Man because he likes Ip Man the actual person or Ip Man the semi-fictional movie character played by Donnie Yen.
Depending on which teacher I had learned from Ip Man is either my grandmaster or great grandmaster. However, my relationship to him is kinda like I know him but I know him not. Yes, I know who Ip Man is but I don’t really know him, and what I know of him is through 2nd hand or maybe even 3rd, 4th, Xth hand news.
Pre-Donnie Yen Ip Man movies some of these teachers would just refer to Ip Man as Sifu. Some might refer to him as Bloody Old Man; depending on the context.
The person referring to Ip Man in this way is either complaining about Ip Man or is using “bloody old man” as a term of endearment (if you are a Cantonese Chinese this would make sense to you otherwise you will probably be bewildered).
As example, one of my Wing Chun teachers was once on a trip with one of the top 5 disciples of Ip Man. During the trip this teacher complained that this “bloody old man” never taught much. In this context the term is used to express frustration.
In the next example, when there was a rumor that Ip Man might have a third son out there someone said that Ip Chun allegedly commented that since the bloody old man was randy, he would not be surprised if it was true. In this context, the term was one of amusement.
To me, such stories and rumors of Ip Man whether true or not, humanizes him. To me Ip Man is not a deity, a god whose tablet or photo you hang on the wall, bow and worship him.
From the stories of how Ip Man taught it sounded to me that he was a teacher who taught the traditional way in that he didn’t teach as much, preferring to let each student to practice and find his own answer.
Ip Man also did not discourage questions nor did he give absolute answers. He encouraged students to test out the art to find out for themselves if his (Ip Man) teachings were valid.
Ip Man was not above changing the art or teaching each student differently depending on what the student needed. This is unlike the diehard attitude of some of today’s students who insist on being traditional, unchanged teachings whatever the hell this really means.
Though Ip Man may sound like an undefeated superman of a master he was probably not. I read he was challenged by a Choy Li Fut school but nothing came of it. I read two sides of this story as to why the challenge never happened. I have no idea who is correct. I do know that this CLF school defeated a number of Ip Man’s students in a full contact tournament. I had lately read that Wong Shun Leung (one of those who lost in this tournament) was frustrated that the tournament format as not suitable for the use of Wing Chun techniques.
I was also told a story that Yuen Kay San (if you don’t know who he is, google – one of my WC great grandmasters from China said that Ip Man also learned from Yuen, hence Ip’s version of Wing Chun resemble Yuen’s version in many ways) was not happy with Ip Man’s flirty behaviour with his (Yuen) wife and sent Sum Nung to teach him a lesson in Hong Kong. Sum Nung apparently came but the fight didn’t happen. Why? No idea.
Then came the Donnie Yen movies. Suddenly, the name of Ip Man became a cash cow. Anyone who wanted a piece of the pie had to kowtow and play politics to be on the right side.
Overnight, Ip Man the person became synonymous with Ip Man the movie character. Ip Man, the Sifu of Wing Chun suddenly became referred to even by some of his disciples as Ip Man, Zhong-Si.
Previously, Wing Chun was found in Hong Kong, USA, Australia, New Zealand, some parts of Europe. But today, Ip Man’s version of Wing Chun is the MacDonalds of the Wing Chun world. Practitioners are found everywhere including India, Africa, Middle East and many parts of Europe.
More bizarre, Ip Man’s Wing Chun has exported back into China where it is sidelining the other more traditional versions of Wing Chun. I foresee that Ip Man’s Wing Chun DNA will even infect the traditional versions, changing their practice, and not necessarily for the better.
It is unfortunate, but this is what happens in a world where people are overwhelmed and bombarded with the same information over and over again, until fiction can become fact. The ease of information access also means research can be done by googling it instead of actually going to the ground to do it. The constant brainwashing results in failure to think, hence the cultish behaviour of wanting to deify, to worship, to praise blindly.
If you love the art of Wing Chun open your eyes wide and not throw the baby out with the bath water. No, sorry learn to see the baby first. Otherwise, once the older knowledge is lost it will be lost and then Wing Chun will be nothing but a shell of an art once great, its characteristics distorted in the face of ignorance.
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
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.
After years of learning, practice and researching one truth stands out – you can never run away from the basics.
Basics can look simple, un-sexy, not worthy of our long term attention. However, in a well designed system you can never get enough of the basics because once past the initital stage of learning if you keep on working on the basics you should find that there is more to what you thought you knew or assumed.
Basics are like the pieces that make up a puzzle. You need to put them together to see the whole picture. You also need to fit them in the right place.
When you first learn the basics you are likely to keep stopping as you struggle to remember the sequence of movements. The more you practice, the more familiar you will be and the less likely you are to stop or hesitate.
After you can remember the movements and be able to do them without pausing you should continue to practice. Being able to do the movements without stopping is only the beginning. You still need to get the nitty gritty details down. This is the part in which you learn to express the distinctive flavor of the movements of the style.
This is also the part where you will discover that without the fine details you will struggle in your attempt to use the movements. At this point you should redouble your training efforts. Keep on pushing until you can bring forth the essential principles and attendant characteristics even as you move quickly amidst a blurry flow of movements.
Then reconcile the learning with the application. When you use the movements that’s when you are verifying if you are moving properly. Use and refine, use and refine.
In our SKD training the first double arm swinging exercise may seem that it has nothing to do with the 6-blocks but they do. If not, then we would have wasted our time learning the double arm swinging.
The initial 6-blocks sequence that we learn is just the beginning. Later we add another three movements until we can doing 9 movements. But we don’t call it 9-blocks because its just 6-blocks plus 3 add-on movements to handle unexpected responses that don’t fit the template of the 6-blocks.
When we can flow not just in sequence but out of sequence we should then try to implement the movements in partner training. Just let the arms move and see if you can keep your control of your space using the 6 blocks in whichever sequence that is appropriate to the attacks that your training partner is feeding you.
After this you can add the up or down swinging movement of the arm to follow up on your use of any of the 6-blocks. If you have been training your arm swinging properly you will find that you can move your arms like a whip, with speed and power.
This is an example of how we can acquire speed, power, change and flow even with a few months training as long as we are willing to put in the effort.
P.S. – we can actually accelerate our learning of the arm swings by picking up the first stick movement in iKali but that’s another story for another time.
Learning any combative art is about practicing until you get it, know it and can sleep walk it.
Someone recently told me that doing CMA should be as easy as walking. He is not talking about the practice being easy. Instead, he is saying that one should practice the chosen skills until it is as natural and as easy as walking.
More than two decades ago my Wing Chun senior was talking about being formless. But what does it really mean, to be formless?
If you look to the art world particularly to the modern masters you may note that even abstract art masters have to study classical painting before they evolve into abstract art. In the context of CMA this means that to be formless you first have to master form.
In Tai Chi we normally just work on one form for years before learning another. This is not saying that you can’t learn another form after you finish learning the first form. You can.
However, you end up with cursory understanding of the form. You need to move your practice from surface scraping understanding to beneath the skin understanding, before you ultimately reach bone level understanding. So the more forms you have to practice the less time you have to focus, to specialize.
Of course, you can also learn many forms but just work on less rather than more. The more you understand the one form the more you know its nooks and corners, not just remembering the sequence but how different parts of the form can be used to form new sequences.
In the end, your form may have say 10 sequences but by understanding how it works you can easily form another 20 sequences by combining different techniques. Normally, an easy way to help understand this learning process is by doing push hands because when you learn to apply the techniques you are forced to confront what you don’t know.
Its not just in CMA that we learn to be formless. In Kali what is termed free flow is similar to what we call formlessness. Basically, free flow is the ability to take your basics and move through them freely to make whatever meaningful combinations you want to in response to an imaginary attack.
The study of free flow in Kali begins with the study of drills, of sequences of techniques. First you embed the habit through 10,000 repetitions. Then when you thought you got the habit down you are taught to break out of the habit with ironically more drills.
From Kali we can see that more forms (not kata but predetermined sequences made up of different techniques, example an Angle 1 fluid strike + Umbrella + ……….) are necessary to break up earlier learned forms of movements. Conceptually, the learning is not difficult to understand. But when you try it it feels awkward, just like when you first learn to cycle. You get on the bicycle, you wobble a bit, then you start to move, slowly then you try going faster.
The more you cycle the more familiar you are with the act of cycling. In the interim, its not unusual to lose your balance and fall. The first time I took one hand off the handlebar I fell into a drain. Another time I took a corner really fast and ended up sliding on the road which left a scar on my knee. But its these learning pains that eventually allowed me to master the act of cycling till I could take both hands off the handle as I cycled.
Awkwardness gives way to familiarity the more you practice. When we mention the word practice we think of the act of doing. However, practice can also be in the form of thinking about how to do it. This is the mental part of practice. Its a way to embed the process into your mind. Another way is to call out what you are doing. Anything that works for you is fine.
The more I practice the Tai Chi form the more I start to see the component movements clearly. At a certain stage you can easily change the sequences around, rearrange them even as you practice. Just last week someone came to see me about learning Tai Chi and said he didn’t have the room to practice. I stood between a wall and two bicycles and showed him I could practice a long sequence within that square area. I didn’t change the hand movements, just changed the stepping to adapt to the small area.
If you keep on practicing at a certain stage you can practice the form without even practicing the form any more. You can take one technique and work it in different ways. You can string two techniques as well and do the same. This is when you can say that the skill of moving has been embedded in you, when you move “it” moves you, thus fulfilling the principle of first in the mind, later in the body, enabling you to move as easily as walking.
This is one part of the learning. The second part is to work with a partner to help you learn how to apply what you know. True flow is when you can keep moving even as your training partner tries to stop your flow by putting up resistance and fighting back. This is when you discover something interesting about attachment and detachment of the mind and body in being able to flow.
Interested to learn Kali in person for free? The iKali branch of Pekiti-Tirsia System of Kali has an excellent training method for teaching the basics that eventually allows you to free flow. The best part is that it does not take years to learn. Contact me here.