I was standing with the university official. It was just the three of us. I’d been summoned through from the class not understanding quite what was happening. I was a PhD student and my sifu was keen to get himself out of a bit of bother with the university. The question on the official’s mind was, “why exactly have you been opening our security doors to large numbers of unauthorised persons?”
The answer was, “because he has been teaching large numbers of private classes here without permission, even going so far as to run a children only session at the university’s expense.” I suspected that wouldn’t improve my Sifu’s situation, but nor did I feel they were actions I should defend. So I walked. I passed on his teaching and moved on in search of a more scrupulous instructor. It was a difficult choice to make, as the sifu was one of the UK’s best, but pissing off the faculty wasn’t high on my agenda.
It’s been one year since I changed Sifu. This might not seem like such a big deal. They both teach Wing Chun, right? Well yes, right, but it’s not that simple. You see a point of contention between Wing Chun practitioners is footwork.
My previous Sifu subscribed to the line method. We stood with our feet angled, one leg in front of the other facing forwards. Weight was distributed unevenly, approximately sixty per cent falling on the back leg and forty on the front. My new Sifu, however, sees things slightly differently. He believes that standing as though balanced on a tightrope lacks stability – not unreasonably. His response is to widen the stance.
It might not seem a big deal, but a small change can carry a big impact. I adjusted; but, in stabilizing my stance, I destabilized just about everything else. A shaky foundation isn’t great news for the structure; because I was concentrating on my footwork, everything else suffered.
Wing Chun isn’t restricted to the arms. The body has to move together with legs and body generating or dispersing the energy behind each movement. After repeated practice the body begins to adopt techniques automatically, unthinkingly, with the whole body falling into alignment. However, when an element is changed everything the whole action has to be revised.
A disadvantage of learning Wing Chun is that each Sifu practices his own interpretation of the art. This means a lot of revision. I’ll certainly think twice before changing Sifu again. The good news is that adaptation, at least in this case, came quite quickly. My new Sifu marks himself out on his mobility. He has tested his method against different styles. He’s philosophy is that of the modern day. It is Wing Chun through the prism of MMA. He has interpreted the form, but applied it to the most challenging level. While I may have lost one of the most respected teachers in the UK, I may have embraced Wing Chun’s future. Failing that, at least we haven’t been expelled from our training premises, which has to be a plus.