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Monday, July 25, 2011

How to Learn Wing Chun

Right after "Where can I learn Wing Chun?", "How can I learn Wing Chun?" is one of the most popular and relevant questions we receive from enthusiasts all over the world. Finding a Wing Chun school can be very difficult, but once you actually find a school -- well, then what?

Asking how one can learn Wing Chun Kung Fu is a very nuanced question. How should I approach my training? How much should I practice, how often should I attend class, how can I ensure personal success?

The simplest answer is to work hard, be realistic, and above all, be humble.

Working hard sounds easy, but it's not. The Shaolin monks are famous for their incredible skill -- skill cultivated through thousands of hours of study and practice. In fact, in his book "Outliers" author Malcom Gladwell posits that 10,000 hours of training are necessary to achieve greatness in any discipline from computer programming to athletics. He calls this rule the "10,000 Hour Rule." Of course this rule should be taken with a grain of salt, as some disciplines take longer to master than others, and some students have access to better teachers than others. However, there is certainly merit to the basis of his theory: repetition, above all things, is necessary to achieve mastery.

Being realistic also sounds easy enough, but again, it's not. Many, if not most, prospective students cite martial arts movies as one of their motivations for training. However, in martial arts movies, action stars train in montages. In real life, there are no stunt doubles to do the hard work for you, and no quick cuts to make the time pass more quickly. Accept this, and you will enjoy each second of training rather than constantly wondering what's next. Students are always asking us this: When can I learn the next form? When can I participate in Wooden Dummy training? Never forget what Ralph Waldo Emerson said, that is too profound to ever become cliché: "Life is a journey, not a destination."

Being humble is important for a myriad reasons. First of all, without humility, one's mind is closed to new possibilities. Martial arts is about self-improvement, but conceited people cannot accept the potential for self-improvement within themselves. Secondly, teachers enjoy working with humble students; they do not enjoy teaching students with "know-it-all" attitudes. It is just as important for the teacher to respect the student as it is for the student to respect the teacher. Finally, being humble means you accept the possibility of failure. Accepting the possibility of failure enables you to battle the hidden enemy inside: fear. Fear of looking stupid, of losing, of doing the wrong thing. To paraphrase Sifu Tei's article on "Overcoming Fear" published in Inside Karate Magazine in 1996, letting go of this fear will free your mind and let your training take over. Humility is key in all true martial arts; at our school we bow before and after training, always.

In 1995, when Sifu Tei had just opened California Academy of Martial Arts, he said, "I want my school to be a sort of Shaolin Temple in America where students learn more than martial arts but a philosophy of life." He added, "Adults also need an outlet to relieve the stress of everyday living."

The key to learning Wing Chun and Chinese martial arts -- the "how" of mastering it and reaping all of its rewards -- lies in approaching it as a philosophy of life, not just a method of fighting. If all you have learned from your martial arts class is how to defend yourself, you have achieved much, but you are missing much more.

-Kung Fu Los Angeles staff