Wing Chun: The will to teach

This teacher is a colourful man. He has a wealth of experience employing Wing Chun practically across a career spanning Asia, America, and Europe. Amongst his many achievements is being one of the early Wing Chun instructors to practice in England. Never too shy to make claims, his knowledge of kung fu was acquired as a student of Ip Man himself, he has worked as Harrison Ford’s bodyguard, and trained in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Gold’s Gym.

Half of the class is given over to Qigong, a Chinese health exercises related to Tai Chi – I’ve heard it described as Chinese yoga. The second half of the class was devoted to drill, form, and sparring. The teacher has developed a syllabus over a lifetime of practice, which has made its way to professional quality DVDs illustrating these forms and breaking down their application. This is a huge benefit to practitioners and gives a tangible level of professionalism.

One of the great benefits of this class is the pad work. The physical reality of martial arts is essential for those seeking to practice. Almost as important as the conditioning involved in throwing a punch or kick is the reality of adsorbing it. The exercise is also intense with practices involving drilled sit-ups, push-ups, and deep stretches. Attack combinations are drilled into students through constant repetition. Students are also exposed to the kung fu practice of bone strengthening. Shin and forearm bones are clashed together to create tiny fractures, which when healed, over a prolonged period, increase bone density. This becomes important when applying blocks in high intensity combat, but certainly isn’t a comfortable practice.

All of these are strong positives for the program. The teacher has strong experience and the syllabus is both challenging and comprehensive. The class scores highly for application and would score highly for form, but for its negatives.

Experience is a great thing, but enthusiasm is essential. Wing Chun at its highest level isn’t about punch and kicking combinations, it’s about understanding and responding to your opponent. I enjoy this strong mindful element of the practice, which removed all internal considerations and encourages a complete absorption in the present. Central to this is developing a strong technique. This sadly was where things start to sag.

The teacher seemed less interested in ensuring that technique was executed correctly. This was also true with touch. Sticky hands is a technique that lies at the core of Wing Chun, it is this drill that creates a feeling of your opponent’s balance and defence. It is by practicing this that you can really draw yourself into the present and become focused on the motion. I felt that insufficient time was taken to transfer this knowledge in a meaningful way; much was touched on, but not with the clarity and detail it demanded.

The program is well developed with a long history to draw from, it should be incredible, but it isn’t. Complacency and lack of enthusiasm on the teacher’s part mar the experience. I stuck with the program for a long time, because of its many benefits. It’s only failing sadly was a big one, the lack of passion to teach. He is interesting beyond measure, but ultimately knowledge is only useful if you can communicate it.

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