Why Is Wing Chun So Difficult?

Zoe Adams Lau (2/2003)

It is said that Wing Chun is a gentleman's art, a martial art for the dedicated. There are many Masters of hard styles of martial arts but true masters of internal martial arts are few and far between. To practice Wing Chun one need humility, modesty, and dedication. Wing Chun is a martial art that many spend half of a lifetime striving to understand and implement, yet do not even come close to controlling. They are chasing the relaxed power generation that separates the good Wing Chun practitioners from other martial artists. Most, if not all of them will fail. This is because the highest skill levels of Wing Chun are very difficult to master.

There are many levels of training in Wing Chun, and there are many delicate balances that must be coordinated simultaneously. It is often the case that the balances are so solute that many cannot even detect the slight shifts in our mind or body that can mean the difference between performing this internal martial art effectively, or staying at the initial stages of learning. This is certainly among the most repeated things that my Sifu tells the students at our school: "The problem with you people is that you always change your mind." It says a lot that the teacher can feel that we've changed our mind before we can feel it ourselves.

This coordination of all the basics (such as back straight, tai gong, focus, etc.) of this martial art is quite difficult. Our minds do not have total control over our bodies, and often we blunder through training sessions not really knowing what it is that we are actually doing. (We may think we know what we are supposed to be doing, but not actually doing it.) We need to develop an awareness of our own body in order to correct this problem. This kind of awareness is higher than in any other kind of activity I can think of. Constant meticulous scrutiny of the body's level of relaxation and the method of thinking forward is required to create the optimum condition under which this elusive energy can be generated.

When beginners first join our school they go through the 'copying stage'. This is the easiest part of Wing Chun, as only the movements have to be learnt, not how the minds spirit is infused into the body. When practicing Wing Chun our movements are theoretically meant to be as much like natural movements as possible. This is because natural movements are relaxed, and it is necessary to be relaxed in order to generate the mind force. Our mind must be thinking in a relaxed manner towards the target, and it cannot force the body to relax or force its way towards the target.

It is in training the Siu Nim Tau that it is easiest to practice the generation of the mind force. This is when no external pressure is applied to the practitioner. But in practicing Chi Sau it is quite different. Most practitioners add in some kind of martial application to this unique exercise. Martial arts students, when pushed, inevitably push back. Even when we don't intend to, if we lose concentration of Tai Gong and our structure fails us, we resort to muscular effort to support our technique.

The line between the right (relaxed) way of thinking and the (wrong) forced way of thinking, is again a fine one. It's hard to understand how you can 'think too hard' until you accept that people 'wear their hearts on their sleeve', or remember that someone who snarls or grits their teeth has angry thoughts. In other words our bodies reflect externally what's going on internally. Grandmaster Chu Shong Tin said when he was learning Wing Chun regardless of how hard or often he was struck, he never struck back.

When you walk into training and somehow, miraculously, everything is working correctly, the delicate balances are coordinated as well as your skill level will allow, and you are able to think in the correct way, you are faced with the most difficult hurdle yet. Your Siu Nim Tau feels relaxed, and you can feel the chi flowing through your body while you train your Chi Sau. The indescribable feeling flowing through your body is so wonderful, so unlike anything you have ever experienced before, and you feel elated because you think you've finally made some progress. You cannot forget the feeling, and you are forever chasing after it. You get to the next training session, and your mind is so tied up in producing the feeling again, and when the disheartening realization that it is not something you can remember and simply repeat hits you, your mind forces your body, and the cycle of mistakes begins all over again.

Wing Chun is very difficult because there are so many factors that determine how well you are able to perform it. Mind force isn't a tangible object you can pick up off the weapons rack, and goes far beyond that which can be physically conceived. The devastating power that can be generated has its own safe guard. I believe significant amounts of mind force would be nearly impossible for an angry person to attain. It is also very difficult because Wing Chun is not simply a series of movements, but it is a way of thinking, a feeling that can never totally be understood or described. In explaining this, our Sifu often says, "You may look like you are doing Wing Chun, but you are not really doing Wing Chun. You are only doing the movements."

Doing drills and developing fighting skills can be easily achieved, but to develop internal power, the kind of force that is portrayed in myth, legend, 'Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon', only those have inexhaustible patience, the willingness to lose and the dedication to scructinise their internal goings on need apply.

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