I’ve often said that what we do in the classroom is the same as we do outside of the classroom; in other words, that every aspect of our lives, no matter how different they might seem to each other, are all parts of the same thing. They are all parts of the One, or the Tao, if we want to make it all mystical and esoteric.

But part of what I’m trying to convey to my students through their Wing Chun training is that it is not just about fighting and self-defence. Their training is also about dealing with life; it’s about dealing with change and how such changes can and will shape the course of their lives. Whether they are for better or for worse can again, often be judged by what perspectives we choose to look at the consequences of those changes.  By looking at one’s martial arts training more as a lifestyle, and not just another “part” of what one does, a person can begin to look at all aspects of his/her life as a unified whole, and not just as pieces to be held together in a basket to be sorted out individually as one’s attention gets drawn to each piece.

By drawing parallels with what you train and learn in your Wing Chun class to what you experience in other aspects of your life, you can create a unified way from which you deal with Life’s ups and downs, a way that doesn’t create unnecessary distinctions that can distract you from the important and necessary elements of your life.

For example, a typical class situation might have you learning a concept for dealing with a person throwing a straight punch to your face. Once you’ve learned the core basics of successfully defending that, the progression moves to the attacker then faking that first punch, then following it with a real punch, like a rear cross or a lead hook. When the student first learns the core concept of dealing with that first straight punch, the introduction of a fake, followed by a second punch will usually cause a moment of hesitation and of ‘freezing’ – what I call the “Oh S*** Factor, or from now on, OSF. It is that moment of hesitation that provides the opening for the opponent’s second, and real, attack to strike true, causing one’s anticipation of the situation to become a self-fulfilling reality. The pain in your face can lead to one of two choices; either you cringe in fear thereafter whenever a punch is thrown at you and hope that luck will pull you through or you backtrack, slow things down and reverse-engineer the encounter so as to learn where the adjustments need to be made, so that the proper skill sets can be learned. From there, you have taken the step of using an obstacle or a hazard to move you to the next rung up the ladder of kung fu achievement. In essence, you’ve taken a “bad” thing (getting faked out and then punched in the face) and turned it into a “good” thing (becoming better at successfully neutralising combination attacks).

Viewed in this light, how can you say the “bad” thing was really bad? It led you to take actions to better yourself and move to a higher evolution. Being so, wouldn’t you now say that that “bad” thing was actually a “good” thing? Or could it be that they are both just parts of the continuum that is your life – the flow of your Tao?

Experiences such as those occur all the time in one’s kung fu training, teaching one to accept such challenges and progressions as part and parcel of the learning and development of one’s skills and of one’s being. Acceptance of those challenges, through repeated and progressive physical encounters leads to a lessening of OSF, and therefore a lessening of attempts to stop the ever-flowing current of one’s life, of one’s Tao, which is an impossible thing to do. This is where much of the conflict in our lives comes in, when we mentally or emotionally try to stop moments in our lives. Sometimes we try to stop our life because we’re so happy, we’re in love, or we’ve travelled to a place that has thoroughly enchanted us and we never want our life to change because of that. More often, though, we want to stop our lives because of a tragedy or a perceived failure of some sort – the breakup of a relationship, losing one’s job after twenty years, or coming home one day to find your house burnt down.

In such situations, many can only see the “bad” and OSF sets in, leading to denial, a mental breakdown, depression, possibly a turn to drugs and/or alcohol to escape the reality of the change that occurred in their life. Our news, TV programs and other media are filled with such life tragedies everyday. But could they be lessened?

I believe so, and encourage you to think of these situations this way. To go back to the beginning of this musing, remember how I asked if any thought of the benefits of something “bad” happening to them, and of how most people don’t think about “bad” situations that way. For most of us, we tend not to think at all when our lives are “good” and all is well. But then when something happens and our life turns “bad”, we try to fix it, often thinking in all directions, envisioning the worst and often over-reacting, causing panic. Panic leads to a freezing of thought, of action, of decision-making and can make our solutions a hit-or-miss proposition.

Our Wing Chun training can help us learn to become more mentally composed, more emotionally neutral when a ‘disaster’ occurs in our everyday life, because we can see it as we do an opponent’s fake and combination attempt in class. Both are, in essence, only changes that are part of what we should expect to come. The repetitions and progression of training stimuli we face in daily training can help us translate the benefits of that environment into the other areas of our lives. Being more composed and emotionally neutral allows us to see more clearly the situation(s) we find ourselves in and the options available to us. This allows us to accept what is happening in such a way that we can look for the appropriate steps to take from there and to continue to move with the flow. Physically, we remain more relaxed, being more able to respond appropriately to the fake and the next move; emotionally we are not stuck in the mud and are thus able to work out options and a game plan to take us to the next phase. Our training is as mental and emotional as we think it to be physical; or at least, I think it should be.

If you can see the parallel tracks I’ve laid down here, perhaps there’s something of value for you when the next ‘disaster’ strikes, in whatever arena of your life it happens. I’ll touch on some concrete ways that our training does give us a well-rounded ability to cope with adversities in my next instalment. Until next time –  Happy Training!

“Repetition does not transform a lie into the truth” – Franklin D Roosevelt

Creative Commons License
Musings by Sifu Dana P Wong is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


A Matter of Perspective?

Ever pondered the benefits of a computer virus crashing your computer? Have you ever considered the value of burning your hand on the hot stove, or weighed up the merits of losing your last job? What did the punch in the nose that you copped last night in training do to enhance your life?

If the gist of my train of thought here is coming through, you’d say, well, they all are telling me I will learn or should learn from my mistakes. I should have updated my anti-virus software (or put some on in the first place); I shouldn’t have reached over that open flame to grab that pot; I should have kept up with the trends happening at work; I should have parried that punch instead of tried to slip mine in first. But HOW do we learn from our mistakes?

What often happens in such instances is that we get caught up in ourselves, without a thought for what else goes on around us, usually until something “drastic” or “terrible” or “wrong” happens and then we panic and try to fix it. Our pre-occupation with ourselves causes us to work in a vacuum until such times that the rest of the world, of which we are an integral part, says “look, we are a part of you, and you are a part of us,” and does something to remind us of that fact and brings us back to the fold.

Is there a place in today’s society for philosophy and how it can impact on your life? I believe so, even more so than ever before. With so much technology, progress and “advancement” (look at how I can communicate with so many of you, around the world, right now) in today’s environment, we’re provided with so much convenience meant to free us up “to do the things we want to do.” With all that free time available, how much of it do you spend looking for the balance? And if you are looking for the balance, are you looking in the right places or are you looking for it with the appropriate means?

Too often, we cruise along through life, not really thinking about what’s happening around us, feeling that everything is alright, because nothing has gone ‘wrong.’ And then when it does go pear-shaped, we panic and often over-react doing things that have no rhyme or reason, in an attempt to set things ‘right’ again. Later, if the consequences of our action/reaction aren’t too drastic or severe, we settle back down again and continue just like before, because we’re comfortable and it feels familiar that way.

Feeling familiar and being comfortable sounds good; yet it doesn’t allow for much growth and real understanding of our lives and the experiences to be had therein. Comfort and familiarity can often be viewed as narcotics, numbing us to the possibilities of better things and greater achievements.

I watch students in my classes, and have even seen it in myself at times, only doing partner drills or practicing forms and techniques that they are ‘good’ at, that they feel comfortable doing and ones that they know will provide a ‘successful’ outcome for them. Yet, true development and real growth often come from when something goes wrong.

For that is when we take some time to examine what has happened or back-track to feel what has occurred, reverse-engineering the situation so that we can come up with a good and viable solution to the problem; hence the meaning of the first paragraph of this entry – getting it ‘wrong’ often gives us the stimulus to take some action for changes we need for our continued evolution.

For Wing Chun practitioners, this often comes during chi sao (contact reflex) training, when one gets trapped and then hit by one’s partner. Too often have we seen an over-reaction that allows the trap to be set more securely, accompanied by the over-commitment of force and energy that leads to fighting a greater force with force, and we get popped instead of borrowing the opponent’s energy and going with it to find the natural release and neutralisation of an attack.

Philosophy enters into the picture here for me, because too often in such cases, we zero in on ‘what happened to me’ and ‘what’s wrong with my response or reflexes’ when we get caught out in training. To do so is only half of the picture, because the focus is squarely on what you did or didn’t do. That’s not to say you shouldn’t ask such questions. But maybe you should ask them in conjunction with some others that give you the other half of the picture – that of your partner/opponent. ‘What did X do to make me react that way’ or ‘what did it feel like when X trapped me like that’ are a couple of questions that I run through both my mind and through my body, so that I can learn to accept what has happened when I got trapped or caught out.

I’ll ask my partner to trap me again, not only so I can try to figure out how he/she did it, but also so that I can feel what it’s like to get caught, or in other words, to lose. Too often we only think of training as winning and losing, yet no one ever says that they want to lose. Wing Chun is great, because it makes you learn to train to lose, so that you can accept what comes along with losing, so that you can learn how it can lead you to the next step in your development, to find out what it feels like in order to give you the key to neutralise the trap. By accepting the feelings and energies expended by both your partner and you, you can find the place where the release should come from, and when it does, it is often a natural reaction that offers seemingly a minimal amount of energy and resistance – certainly far less that what you probably expended when you panicked and got caught.

A few things are often bandied about when martial artists talk about philosophy, and the deeper meanings of our training and existence: Yin and Yang, Zen,  and Taoism amongst others. Thousands of books have been written about them, people clamour to participate in seminars and workshops regarding these concepts, and a million conversations have sprung up over the merits and values of such ‘deep’ philosophies.

We get to experience them all, when we practice our Wing Chun, and we need no books nor do we have to sit and meditate. How? Think about it a little over this long Easter weekend, and then I’ll give you my take on it all and maybe we can all find better ways to train, not only our kung fu skills but also our overall life experience.

Creative Commons License
Musings by Sifu Dana P Wong is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


19 April 2011

This page is dedicated to thoughts and ideas that I’ve had and will have, on martial arts training and its relevance to our life journey. After almost 40 years on my kung fu journey, I’ve discovered many parallels between what I’ve done in training and how it has helped me to navigate life’s obstacles and challenges. The discoveries I’ve had have enabled me to lead a richer life. My hope is that through my expressions on this page, others may find ways to help them find the opportunities and stepping stones that obstacles and hardships afford us all.

I may write frequently at times, and at others, hardly at all. But I will write spontaneously, for by doing so, my thoughts and ideas will come from within, as they are, with no manipulation or adjustment – as it should be, if we are to live “in the moment.” It is something we always try to be in, as a martial artist, and that we always want to be in, in our daily lives as well. For to do so is to exist fully, with an enriched sense of our world and the life around us. I encourage your comments and discussion with what I may write here, and hope that it will lead us all to a deeper understanding of ourselves and our training, and ultimately, to the real meaning of our life journeys.

Creative Commons License
Musings by Sifu Dana P Wong is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.