Sunday, December 31, 2017

Wing Chun - Tradition and Innovation


Hoping to meet you on that higher evolutionary plane in 2018

Sometime around 1980:

Rick was sweeping the floor of the Wing Chun Academy hall. He lived in the Academy in the role of what the Japanese call an Uchi-deshi. He trained, ate, slept and lived in and for the Academy and Wing Chun.

Sifu entered the hall. He took up a position where Rick could see him, and began to execute the Sil Lim Tao form. Rick knew better than to stop work and watch, but he certainly kept sweeping and watched.

This version of Sil Lim Tao used different stances. And footwork. Plenty of footwork. Lots of footwork.

Sifu completed his form, and left the hall, not speaking to Rick or even meeting his eyes.

Rick, once he had picked his metaphorical jaw off the floor, kept sweeping but made sure he filed that away in his internal dashcam memory. If he had the facility to upload a backup of the last five minutes of his brain activity to the cloud, had the cloud then existed, he would have done that for sure.

True story.

The danger with adhering too closely with tradition and following exclusively what your Sifu instructs and demonstrates is that your copy of his Wing Chun will necessarily imperfect, as we are all imperfect creations.

Following this path down the generations would be like taking a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy of a ... of the Mona Lisa. Before too many generations pass, you've turned a priceless artefact into something only suitable for the trash.

On the other hand, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. You have to understand the rules before you can break them. Where is the right place, where we are surfing right down the dividing line between Yin and Yang?


I move from the Japanese concept of an Uchi-deshi to that of Shu Ha Ri.

From Wikipedia:

Aikido master Endō Seishirō shihan stated:
"It is known that, when we learn or train in something, we pass through the stages of shuha, and ri. These stages are explained as follows. In shu, we repeat the forms and discipline ourselves so that our bodies absorb the forms that our forebears created. We remain faithful to these forms with no deviation. Next, in the stage of ha, once we have disciplined ourselves to acquire the forms and movements, we make innovations. In this process the forms may be broken and discarded. Finally, in ri, we completely depart from the forms, open the door to creative technique, and arrive in a place where we act in accordance with what our heart/mind desires, unhindered while not overstepping laws."[1]

In other references, I've seen right duration of each stage as being of around ten years. Around the average time you'll have been teaching Wing Chun for at least a few years, or to reach a black belt level in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

So after about ten years, according to this philosophy, you can and you should start experimenting with the rules, and seeking new sources of learning and information to bring back to your practice.

I always teach students the Wing Chun forms as close as I can to what I have been shown by my own instructor, to the best of my ability.

However, that same instructor has always encouraged his more advanced students, including myself, to experiment and become creative with the stances, footwork, movements, sequences, etc. of the forms, generally following some well researched mechanisms for creative problem solving.

He naturally had developed ideas of his own, some based on pivotal past events like that in the introduction, which he shared with us.

I now see the three forms, not only as a manifestation into the physical world of the Wing Chun concepts and principles, and a vocabulary of techniques, but as frameworks on which to experiment with new ideas and make Kung Fu my own.

 (yes, three forms, we used to have four but now only three - the first now includes elements of both the former first and second).

Eventually leading to a fully integrated synthesis of the best the Wing Chun tradition has to offer, with personal insights and those that can only come with changing times and circumstances. Or so I hope - there's still a fair way to go ☺.

Followers of Dr Jordan B Peterson's work will be familiar with the myth of Horus and Osiris.

Osiris (tradition, old, and wilfully blind) is beaten down into fragments and sent to the Underworld by his brother, Set. Isis, Osiris' wife, follows him and finds the reproductive part of him, thus conceiving and giving birth to Horus (Innovation, nature, the Zeitgeist, paying attention).

Horus has a titanic battle with Set, during which he loses and eye. After defeating Set, he ventures into the Underworld to rescue his father, and recover his lost eye. Rather than replace his eye, he gives it to his father and they return to the World, ruling together, Tradition with its sight restored by Innovation.


The Eye of Horus. This is deep.


Tradition and innovation. In my opinion, we and Wing Chun need both and will not survive otherwise.




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