Sunday, 22 February 2015

Leaving wing chun

There will be a time when I am no longer able to practise wing chun, at least in a formal setting.  At some point, for reasons I'm not going into here, learning wing chun in a class will no longer make sense.  It would be wise, therefore, to spend time learning how to make the most of solo practice.

I'm pretty obsessive when it comes to learning the forms.  I'm by no means perfect - I doubt that description would apply to anyone - but I've got the general structure of sil lum tao, chum kiu and the beginnings of biu jee.  What about the muk yan jong?  For now, I've changed the order for myself and, when I think about it, this is just one of many modifications I've made along the way.

Why study biu jee next, leaving the dummy form until later?  The best I can do is to say that, for me, it makes sense to learn the forms in that order.  Knowing that the next step is to be graded on muk yan jong does nothing to change that.  What I learn has to be effective when the brown, smelly stuff hits the spinning cooling device.  How one person makes wing chun effective will differ from how another makes it work for them.  The next step, at least in my practice away from the class, is to learn what I can from biu jee.

None of the above is meant to offend my instructor, who stands as the only one of the many martial arts instructors I've had that I'm actually able to respect.  Nor is it meant as an insult to those who came before him, who played their part in the history and development of wing chun.  In truth, these people serve as pointers of the way, and we may ultimately walk a different path or, as Bruce Lee did with jeet kune do, create our own path.

I have to train twice as hard to progress at the same pace as other students.  Again, I'm not going into the reasons for this, save to say that they are the same reasons that I know formal training in wing chun will, one day, no longer be in my interests.  Everyone's wing chun will be different, and I'm certain that my fellow students will realise that my wing chun is very different, but again I'm not going into the reasons for those adaptations being necessary.

In some ways, I have already left wing chun and, at the same time, am still very much involved in it.  If that sounds like a contradiction, you have to realise that no two people will do wing chun in that same way: they will naturally prefer some aspects of the art to others, and have their own interpretation of how things are done.  In effect, they have their own wing chun and have left a generalised understanding of wing chun behind them, though the same principles underpin what they do.  If they punch, is it wing chun, or is it simply a punch?

Arnis has also affected what I do.  Importantly, working with a weapon has a positive effect on hand-eye coordination.  In my opinion, if the ability to use improvised weapons is available, it is wise to take that option.  Again, adaptations are made, some of which aroused the concern of the instructor at the eskrima club I attended for a few months.  I was asked what style of Filipino martial arts I practise, because I made comparatively short, hacking movements with the stick, combined with a lot of thrusts.  For this reason, it was suggested that I had learned a style with a focus on bladed weapons as opposed to the sticks.  In reality, I was using the principles of wing chun, adapted to stick fighting: covering my centreline, not overextending, and so on.

To be fair, I train privately in modern arnis and kombatan, so those influences are obviously going to make themselves known if I have a weapon in my hand.  Maybe I'm picking it up wrong, but the focus of the arnis of Luzon seems to be on the shorter blades, as opposed to a focus on longer blades in the eskrima of the Visayas.  I have no doubt that I will be corrected, if I am mistaken.

I also noticed a striking similarity between the movements and principles of arnis and those of biu jee.  When you think about it, this makes sense.  The point of Filipino martial arts is that something has already gone very wrong, and you are probably on the wrong end of a bladed weapon.  Logically, this is not dissimilar to the idea in biu jee that we are fighting from a position of disadvantage.

I think I understand the past masters who took their secrets to the grave.  I see the lack of tolerance in the modern age, and I'm able to remind myself of my reasons for wanting an effective method of self-protection, but I also see an argument for advanced methods of combat being concealed.  I will occasionally walk by someone whose eyes are nervously darting all over the place, and I understand them.  As much as we like to think we are civilised, there is an ever present undercurrent of barbarism in our society; it has probably always been this way, and probably always will be.

Through the martial arts, I unwittingly internalised some of the teachings of Zen from an early age.  The irony of this is that, although I see the value of learning a method of combat, I have little desire to use it in anger and certainly no need to prove myself.  The motivation I have for learning martial arts is that humans continually fail to live in peace with each other and, in some cases, actively seek to prevent others living in peace.

As I've said before, I'm nowhere near considering myself a master, and probably never will, but there is still the idea that I should keep some of my relatively limited knowledge under my hat, as it were.  At the same time, I hope that what I choose to share proves to be valuable in some small way.

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