System or Style

I was watching a TV documentary on Bruce Lee the other day and they showed a scene from ‘Long street’ where Bruce was asked to teach what he did .He responded that he did not believe in ‘method or system’, ‘ I can only teach you to explore yourself’ he continued on. I thought ‘ Yes! ’He was saying he had mastered the system and therefore gone beyond the system. He didn’t have a system to teach, he was the system. He had personalized it, understood it inside out and had become an effective fighting system himself.

The Problem:Today many people try to attain a complete style of fighting without a basic mastery of a system. This means they have many techniques but no guiding understanding of when to use them. They may freeze up under pressure, as their minds have to work overtime to make a choice of which techniques to use. Sensitivity training is great for developing an understand of flow and correct choice of movement.

Testing your system: In the art of Wing Chun we have Chi Sao to test and hone our ability to make the correct decisions within our system. In grappling we use pummelling drills when in stand up and on the ground we roll with our partner. These methods are core systems training as they allow you to have a template to work from. Within the rules of the system you must master the game; only then can you break free from the boundaries and make your own rules.
This doesn’t mean you can’t be eclectic, but you must have a very deep understanding of the martial arts and have reached a level of mastery in the arts.

But are these tests? Yes and No; They are good ways to develop the skills and test in part, but you must when in stand up or on the ground understand correct body structures. Many say they do, but when they give an explanation, it cannot be tested. It is like maths you have an equation that will work out the answer. Your system is an equation and you must understand it in order to know how the answer came about, not just be told the answer by someone else. When in stand up fighting you must know how you correctly control your centre. When on the ground, again, you must understand how to use your weight and position. So far I see a higher level of ground control on average than I do in stand up fighting. I believe this is because in grappling we roll with partners a lot and learn to feel when things are working and when they are not. Also when they are not striking people relax and do not tense up as much.

So in stand up you must learn to use your centre and control your opponent’s centre without striking and then with striking. This will allow you to relax and feel correctly if you have balance and control. It is the heart not the art. This often means it is the individual that makes it work, not just the art they know. Yes, I do know guys who do not train in martial arts and you really would not want to come up against them. But equally I know guys who because they study the arts are in better control and have become even tougher, but the philosophy has made them calmer and more controlled.

But where does the Heart come from? Some, as I said have it already. Most develop it from becoming more confident via training in their chosen art. This is a big part of why most start martial art, but, often I see that the average practitioner does not have the level of confidence to make the art work for them. Why? For any martial art to work you need to believe in it! You have to know inside you that you have the skill. If you have a doubt in your mind then this will destroy you. The other down side to self-doubt is insecurity, which is often transferred to others. Some instructors and students will often project negative states due to this. We’ve all seen it. Instructors who hold back students because they are worried that they are learning too quickly and may out grow them. Also bullying in its many forms holds back and damages the student’s development. I know it would seem crazy that within martial arts this would exist, but it does. The way to overcome all of this is to understand the system you train in so you develop that confidence. To understand your system you need to know how it works, you need to know why it works and when it works. You must also understand how the system relates, its underlining key methods. With these tools you will be able to build your knowledge to the higher levels of skill.

What is a System? Style and system are often confused by practitioners of martial arts where they are told to follow, dogmatically the actions of their teachers . They copy their teachers style but fail to fulfil their potential because they lack the intellectual and practical discipline of a system. Now to really define systems theory it would take a chapter or even a book, so what we will give on systems will be enough for you to see the benefit of this way of training. We will however concentrate on giving you ideas of how to test your art and to improve your methods of training it. For a system to be effective it must be clear, structured and prove to be effective in practice. Without a true system there is no clear sense of progression, no comprehensive level of competency and ultimately no sense of established confidence whereby the art begins to become second nature.Let’s look at some key system elements that work together:-

A: A purpose belonging to a person (Intention).
All living systems have purpose, even if it is only the purpose to survive, but people can develop consciously by knowing what their purpose is, observing its success, and
learning to adapt.

B: Sensory feedback
Once we have intention and begin to act we get sensory experience. This can be called feedback. We can see, hear, feel what is occurring and what we are doing. It is feedback on our intentions. We can use it to adjust our actions to get our intended results. At the next level we may change how we approach things if our method doesn’t work.

C: An embodied set of structures
When we act physically we start to learn the different elements involved. How the different parts work together become known as a set of structures we understand. So a system is formed as we learn a structure of relating the different parts into one overall whole. Throughout, our purpose becomes responsive to feedback to achieve all the sub functions that are needed to maintain the whole.When we are mindful of the purpose of an action the feedback comes straight back to us and we can easily adjust and maintain its
function. Simple actions that work become automatic. These simple functions can then link together to achieve larger more complex functions without the need for conscious thought. If you have learned with both intention and feedback centered in yourself at each level then it will all come together as an integrated whole. You are the system and your overall intention will make all the elements work automatically and responsively. You have gained intuitive skill (unconscious competence) and the whole system is “self alive”.

A teacher is like a parent. They must give you your first steps and point the way, but simply copying them is not enough to reach the higher levels of mastery. We must use the inherent systemic learning qualities within us. Children may need to be told what is right or wrong but later they must think for themselves. Even if your school has a style with all the answers it will not belong to you until you have experienced trying to make each part work and bringing it all together. Otherwise, you could easily end up with accumulated set of dead techniques with many gaps between them that require decision making.

In our system two students of a good level will be constantly flowing during practice. Even if they are equally matched they will not reach a clashing point or dead end. This is due to the systemic awareness. In other words, their intention to go forward and win is balanced by their acceptance of the opponent’s actions and incorporating these actions. Equally, it is not a case of switching from attack to defence but of feeling the whole system. At one level we may be redirecting their force whilst at another level we are simultaneously issuing a more powerful force to control the system. The superior student has the more complete systemic awareness. This finer calibration can only exist if you own your intentions.

Establishing effective levels of Learning.

Mental game plan: Let’s look at some of the methods I use to in order to teach and check what I am teaching. If your student can clearly understand at what level they are working with then they can work with a strong intention and receive a higher level of success.

These terms come from systems modelling {note 1} and can generally be categorised as:-

Level 1 Procedure
Performing a technique in a specific fixed way

Level 2 Process
Learning to use the method to make sure it achieves a desired result

Level 3 Pattern
Understanding how to achieve our desired result without any one specific method.
Although these are essentially different they can also exist at the same time. I will both further divide them and overlap at the same time to create more precise learning levels.These are the way I personally use the levels:

Level 1

Procedure –A simple mechanical action i.e. The correct order of movement to perform a technique. This is the basic level of Principles and sequence.

Practice — Calibration of the skill. We check the effect it has. Does it do what we want it to do?

Process – What is the outcome of the practice? We now have feedback to adjust and
ensure the result is correctly achieved.
Level 2

Mindful Procedure – We have an understanding of the use in repeating a basic skill in order to teach our bodies to perform the movement. Therefore even at procedure we can now iron out technical errors by repeating correct movements.

Mindful Practice –Now at this level we can practice the skill with a finer level of understanding of procedure therefore calibrating at a much deeper level.

Mindful Process – Our awareness within our feedback is much more layered therefore
we can now start to look at any level of training from different points of reference and see
what needs to be adjust in order to improve.
Level 3

Pattern – We can now see and achieve the type of result we want in many different ways as we have the skill control and an intention of our goal. This is the skill to organise principles to work and flow together.

Mindful Pattern – As we now understand fully the levels and patterns within the system we can see beyond the patterns and start to feel and experience the pattern rather that just identifying them.

Mindfulness – The level of Unconscious Competence. We now make multilevel choices without even having to check through our Procedure or Process Level as we are now self learning. Therefore a superior student has the more complete systemic awareness. This idea also appears in the Tai chi symbol. Yin and Yang, but Yin within Yang and Yang within Yin. They do not and could not exist without each other. It can only exist in the mind of the observer not in the thing observed.

This is why so much is often missed, as if you do not know what you are looking at or for you will not see anything. Now a student can see which level or area of learning you would like them to be working on. Rather than them trying to guess or just do what they think you wanted them to do. This is very important as I have seen students who work very hard not knowing they are working hard at the wrong level. You may have a student who has seen some of the skill at the Patten Level and thinks they understand it, which they may do. But they may not be able to do it, as they never mastered the original Procedure Level. Which therefore means their Process Level is flawed. So learning about these ideas of structuring our learning means we can communicate our teaching and what depth of practise is required at any time.

Teachers who input knowledge and empowerment rather that just tell you what do are a key to success.

When System becomes Style
It is sound concepts and principles give life to a system. They are the laws of the system. The Chu Sau Lei Wing Chun System is based on these ideas. That is why it stands out. All students can master it!You can see a person’s style if you have an eye for what you’re watching. Like in many sports. All the players are playing the same game, but they all have their own way of doing the same things. The game is the system and the way they play is their style.When the application of the principles and concepts of the system become personal that becomes style.

I think this is a main misunderstanding in the martial arts today. People talk about which style is the best, when in fact style is only truly a personal expression.Structure gives awareness, as you feel comfortable in the space, this gives a feeling of confidence. Having confidence allows you to express yourself more freely. This is now your style. In Chu Sau Lei Wing Chun, our ‘System’ has a structure and from within this structure our teaching of the system also has structure. A system within a system.Knowing your system in depth is what will ultimately free you of it. As you no longer have to learn, just do.

Liberation is a feeling of oneness with the system.

Training Tip: Train hard, but train wise! If you do not understand how something works then it will never work for you. You must question what you don’t know and never take ‘because I said so or that’s what I was told ‘as the answer. Understand it and you own it!

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