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