Wing Chun World

Technical Note #6

Fighting vs Training

"If you practice to win, you will lose."

Student: Master, how long will it take me to get good?
Master: 10 years.
Student: What if I really practice hard, then how long will it take?
Master: 20 years.
Student: But what if I do nothing else but practice, then when will I obtain a graduation certificate?
Master: 30 years. The master went on to explain that if one eye is on the destination, then you have only one eye left with which to find the path.

There are specific ways to train Wing Chun skills. These ways depend on understanding the basis for the Wing Chun art. We all want to win but winning without a strategy is not the best way. In Wing Chun we train to respond to force in particular ways. Other arts sometimes use shapes that resemble Wing Chun shapes but the mental attitude and body mechanics are still different.

  1. The Neuron Concept

    The brain consists of many interconnected cells called neurons. When we are in learning mode, input signals from our senses are processed by the brain to produce new neuron connections, or alter the strength of existing neuron connections, or alter the information content of a mass of neurons.

  2. A Model of Neuron Learning

    One neuron model of learning that is used in Artificial Neural Networks is to present some input to the network, and to present the expected response as the correct answer. The network computes an output based on the presented inputs and compares this with the correct answer. Then the network adjusts various parameters to get closer to the answer. This process is continued over and over until the neural network has just the right parameters to get reasonably close to the correct answer each time.

    When learning an internal type of art the idea is similar. The Master presents various input stimuli to the student. The student reacts in a certain way and the Master guides the student to a more appropriate action. After much repetition (REPETITION is the key to all learning) the student reacts in the appropriate way.

  3. Can you have many options as a correct response?

    When there is a force such as a push on your arm, what do you do?

    1. resist
    2. get pushed off balance
    3. yield in the direction of the force
    4. press back until your limit has been exceeded, then release the force
    5. lots of other ways
    6. all of the above
    7. none of the above
    8. it depends on what I feel like at the time
    9. who cares about a push on my arm
    We train to react in specific ways. At non-combat speed any option is possible. During practice you have the time to ponder over which action to take. It doesn't matter if we choose option 5 and take one second to think, but at high combat speed your reactions must be built in. A good opponent will just explode into you. If you hesitate, or must think, then you are lost. You must train your neurons to act reflexively.

    So what is the correct way? Is there a correct way? Some people say as long as you win it is good. But beating one person with inferior techniques may get you killed if you meet up with the wrong person.

  4. So What?

    When we practice martial arts in a competitive way at too early a stage, we may fall into the trap of only memorizing the idiosyncrasies of our opponent which will enable us to win. But different people will react in different ways and we can't practice with them all. Our tactics for beating one opponent may fail against another if those tactics were of a specialized nature. So we have to train in such a way that general principles and reactions are acquired which will maximize our chances in all cases.

    When you confuse ideas or use conflicting principles in your fighting, you will lose to people who have built in reflex reactions. The split second that it takes for your brain to decide on what to do, will get you beat. If you hesitate because you don't know whether to back up, or to advance or to turn you will lose to an opponent who has no hesitation in what they do. If you train in the methods of art A on Monday, art B on Tuesday and art C on Wednesday, then in the real fight which art will you use?

    If you train Tai Chi with the elbows out one day and you train Wing Chun with the elbows in on the next, then what will come out in the real fight? If you practice the turning step of Aikido on one day and practice the pivoting on the next day, then which type of step will your body switch to when there is no time to think?

    At slow speed, you have the option to use any art, any method. But at a high speed any hesitation could end your life. Many Jeet Kune Do people feel that the more arts they mix together the better. Wing Chun people disagree with this concept. They feel that artists who believe they can do many kinds of changes are not thinking of the realistic critical distance and high speed case. If the opponent slowly creeps up as close as possible and explodes into you like a cat catching a mouse, then what options do you have? Will the one-punch knockout or kick to the head work, or will you get dumped? Will a wrist lock work, or will you get punched with the other hand? Can you just move aside, or will the opponent face and follow?

    If you are really serious about self defense and combat, you have to eventually make up your mind and concentrate on one art. If you are just having fun and playing around, then it doesn't matter what you train.

    If you look at the top people in boxing, fencing, tennis, Olympic wrestling, etc. you will find that they concentrate intensively on just that one thing. Top Hockey players are not usually also top football players. Top swimmers are usually not top divers. Top Tai Chi experts are not also top Karate experts. A champion has highly tuned neurons designed to react in a specific way to input stimuli. At a mediocre level it doesn't matter what you do, but at competitive levels microseconds and distances make the difference between winning and losing.

  5. Internal and External training

    If you practice just pushing, shoving and applying fast hard hits to your opponent, independent of what they are doing, then you are practicing in the hard external way. This way can be effective if your opponent is slower and weaker than you. The hard way leads to quick early results, but in the long run it will be a detriment to mastering the soft touch. The internal method is more concerned with effective force neutralization using your sense of touch. In the internal way, you feel what is happening first. You respond to what you feel. You don't respond with random flurries of activity. At first it is not easy to discover what should change to what. With thought the simple ideas of change contained in the first, second and third forms can build the proper reactions. Just take the idea of how a Tan sau changes to Bong sau, and a Bong sau changes to Tan sau or the second set idea of pivoting when you feel a force or the third set idea of a Man sau collapses to the elbow position, and build from there. Eventually you will discover the soft way to change from movement to movement. You will find the economical paths of least resistance.

    It takes thousands of hours of slow careful practice of a few fundamentals to develop the Wing Chun touch. Constant repetition of correct response patterns results in the proper skill. This skill is very difficult to achieve, and very difficult to deal with once it has been achieved. Most people find the external way of training easier and more satisfying. But for that you don't need Wing Chun.

  6. How to Train?

    It takes a long time for some students to realize the difference between practice or training and fighting. When many people do sticking hands, they just fight but they don't train. This is a very common problem in probably all Wing Chun clubs. Yip Chun devoted several pages of his book to just this topic. Grandmaster Bobby Taboada of Escrima mentions quite frequently to students that this is only training, not a fight! Students think that by beating up fellow club members that this is training. After such a session they have come away with no improvement in skill. Improvement in skill comes from thousands of repetitions of correct responses to an input stimulus. You have to monitor how you fight and compare this with some ideal. Your ideal may not be what the teacher has in mind. Some people have to learn through the school of hard knocks that maybe their ideals are not good enough. Without master guidance, we have to be critical of our own performance. This is possible only if we try to understand the ideas contained in the Wing Chun art. What is Wing Chun really about. Is winning, anyway you can, the goal? Is the idea "as long as it works, it is OK" correct? In Wing Chun, how you win is important or else there is no art and science. The crude brute method is not in the same class as the refined minimal energy base method.


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