To gain true gung fu

To gain true gung fu, train diligently, study carefully, and fully grasp the principles.

Yuen Kay San Wing Chun passes down “yiu jee” – important ideas to help the trainee learn the art. Whilst this saying – “To gain true gung fu: train diligently, study carefully, and fully grasp the principles” may seem self evident to some people it’s been rare in my experience to encounter a student who actually does this over a sufficiently extended period of time to “gain true gung fu”. Sure, I encounter lots of people who say they practice “gung fu”. Yet what I see if I see them perform is not gung fu! It’s a mish mash of techniques and concepts from a variety of arts generally enlivened with a big dash of ego! Sometimes they’re strong, and sometimes they’re fast. Sometimes they show ferocity. But all too often they also show impractical techniques or techniques the usage of which they have no idea. I think these sorts of criticisms are not unique. They are not merely mine, they’re common across a number of critics of much gung fu. And, they have a legitimacy!

The yiu jee says “true gung fu”. The adjective “true” is pivotal! I won’t comment further on this except to note that a majority of martial artists I’ve seen certainly didn’t lack enthusiasm – what they lacked was discernment! Most practitioners I’ve seen were, bluntly, exceptionally poor! And, blind to the fact of how ridiculous they looked! Some practitioners across a number of arts I’ve seen have been superlative! I hasten to say this lest any reader who doesn’t know me might mistakenly assume arrogance on my part, mistaking my comment’s intent entirely.

In today’s modern world I see far too much confusion and erroneous thinking emanating from the notion that everyone is equal – therefore everyone is correct. This is logically absurd but you’d be surprised how often this core idea is enacted. Whilst I endorse the notion that everyone ought to be equal in terms of access to opportunity – which is not equivalent to the absurd and impossible idea that everyone should actually have the same opportunities. There is a world of difference between having equal access and having equal opportunity. The former may necessarily involve the state or others to ensure equality of access. It is certainly more of an ideal than an actuality. The latter, equal opportunity, hinges on an impossibly naïve ideal. Let’s use an obviously exaggerated example to make the point: should everyone (every inhabitant of the planet) have equal opportunity to become a jockey? Logically this is absurd. The obese, the tall, the infant, the geriatric, the person with quadriplegia – none of these people can (or realistically, should) have this opportunity! Another example – should everyone (including a ten year old with ADHD) have the opportunity to fly a passenger jet? Logically not! A final example – should everyone have the opportunity (they already theoretically have the access to the competition) to acquire a medical degree? No. They need to prove they can complete one and act as a professional. The access to opportunity and insisting on equality in opportunity have been badly (and I think deliberately) confused. So, my argument is that, misled by American political thinking that everyone has equal political and social rights into thinking everyone is actually equal in terms of daily life. Outside the political and general social realm the idea is not realistic. This confused thinking has leaked over into the martial arts world.

In the US a group of internet junkies devised the notion that “all Wing Chun is the same”. Well, you don’t know what you don’t know! If you’ve seen as much Wing Chun as I have you have to laugh at this egalitarian notion. It’s as patently absurd as asserting that “all gung fu is the same”! A Ba Gua practitioner certainly wouldn’t credit that his art is the same as Hung Gar! A Choi Li Fut practitioner wouldn’t give any credibility to the idea that his art is the same as Tai Chi Chuan! And so on. And, in the Wing Chun world there are gung fu styles that call themselves Wing Chun that are as different as Hung Gar and Tai Chi! To assert that the various gung fu arts that call themselves “Wing Chun” are “the same” is only something some Americans might believe! It’s given the lie by the simple fact that different people swear (often fanatical) allegiance to different Wing Chun groups. I won’t tire of pointing out the “feel good”-ism of this stupid catch-cry because it’s patently absurd to anyone who is able to see the vast range of quality, the genuine and the bogus, in the modern Wing Chun world.

Thus, my point is to acquire true gung fu you must first find a true gung fu! There are several fantastic gung fu arts. There are also a lot of very average arts, a lot of flashy but impractical arts, and a whole heap of eclectic and fraudulent arts. There are far, far more poor quality and fraudulent arts than quality ones. One has to choose wisely! Not all arts promoted as “gung fu” are actually gung fu, let alone of equal quality.

Having chosen wisely, one has to train diligently. Sifu was always saying this. Gung fu is the acquisition of skill by sustained practice over time. I like to add “perfect practice – not just practice” because simply with practice one could become very good at incorrect techniques! So, we have to select our art and our sifu wisely then train wisely. One can train hard but not smart. This not only doesn’t help, it’s counterproductive! You have to “train smart”. I’m constantly pointing out my focus on short, intense, quality bursts of application to anything we want to master.

The essential ingredient is to study the art carefully. Just as we can train very hard but be training the wrong things the wrong way, so too we can be studying false ideas. We have to always study the art against the context of realworld combat reality not the fairy tale illusions of the tournament scene, the exhibition or the gung fu movie. One trap I note with learning the non-physical side of the art is that people simply don’t think for themselves. They become a “sifu slave”. Instead of understanding the logic of the art they idolise the sifu. A good sifu tries to avoid sifu idolatory. Followers are useless. Blind followers are a burden. What the true sifu wants is seekers after the true art who question and think for themselves! The other common folly in the modern world is to blindly adopt the internet chat group as some sort of coven of masters and to regurgitate snippets of ideas as factual when most often they’re fantasy.

Finally, this short yiu jee extols us to fully grasp the principles. This means all the principles, not simply a minimalised sub-set of them. The subset may well be correct and vital – but if they are partial then the practitioner will always have a limited art. It also doesn’t mean a set of principles devised in this era by a charlatan. It means grasping and being able to vitiate, to bring to life, to demonstrate the actual principles of true gung fu.

The yiu jee were devised to pass on insights from our ancestors. They are meant to promote analysis and discussion. Above all, they are meant to improve your art. Giving them some thought will surely improve your gung fu.