Wing Chun: Finding Mr Right Sifu

The perfect house isn’t an exact science. People have different likes, preferences, styles, the list of alternatives is fairly long and who can really be bothered anyway. Those with the good fortune to buy tend seem to plumb for, if my infrequent visits to suburbia are any judge, for simple Barratt style new build away from the crush of the urban centre. Accessible, practical, even perhaps reliable, but perhaps lacking that unique expression we might consider perfect.

Not enough for some, others pursue this homely idyll on quests to escape this comfortable conformity. These quests can take different forms, some pursuing self sufficient farms in the Cotswolds, others converting water coolers in central Manchester, and some just throwing hard cash at an historic old pile.

A Kung Fu teacher, or Sifu, is equally difficult to get right. And getting your Sifu right isn’t the end of it, you want to get your classmates right too. Interpretations of Wing Chun differ considerably. Unlike Taekwondo and Karate, there isn’t a central body to grant belts and ensure a uniform standard. Wing Chun also doesn’t run tournaments or competitions, so your exposure to different practitioners is probably going to be limited. This makes finding the right teacher all the more important, because they’re going to be the dominant part of your practice.

I’d say teaching Kung Fu boils down to three essential points: application, form, and touch. Application is taking Wing Chun and using it in a realistic context, this means sparring, pad work, and combination drilling. This is all great if you want to use Wing Chun for self defense, otherwise you’re just not training yourself to deal with the physical reality of applying the art. Another aspect of application, which you may or may not wish to consider, is bone strengthening. Successful blocking in Kung Fu is assisted by the conditioning of arms and legs to better withstand strikes. I’ve heard anecdotal accounts of skilled martial artists blocking kicks with technical precision only to break their arm. Bones are strengthened through a process of regularly knocking arms and legs together, this create tiny microscopic fractures, which healing to increase bone density. If this isn’t for you don’t worry, regular sparring will physically condition your body to contact.

Form is central to Wing Chun, I’ve heard it described as the alphabet with which the art is written. Siu Nim Tao is the first from new practitioners will be asked to learn, it is a series of specific movements each of which form the core of the Wing Chun syllabus.

Touch is different from application. It is about developing the ability to read an opponent through touch. It is this understanding that should inform application. Wing Chun is always questing for an opportunity and developing a strong sensitivity to your opponent state is about understanding and exploiting that opportunity when it comes.

I’ve seen three Wing Chun Sifus and each lent their focus to a different point, but I couldn’t recommend one over the other. The important thing is to expose yourself to different styles and approaches to find out what works best for you. The lack of structure to Wing Chun brings with it freedom to express and apply the art in different ways, each Sifu having the potential to bring their own benefits.

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