On Top of the Wing Chun Mountain “image by JACKRATANA”
by Robert Chu
There are many pretenders to the throne. Material comforts, money, fame, prestige, respect are all what common people clamor for. In the USA and other parts of the world where wing chun or other martial arts are being promoted, we often come across people who wish to promote themselves as the most “orthodox”, “original”, “secret”, “underground” or “mysterious” inheritor of a particular system. Since I am from the wing chun school, I speak of a subject that I am most familiar with. I am sure people from other arts can see the parallels immediately. Perhaps within the context of one’s own system can be considered “orthodox”, but not in terms of wing chun as a whole. Everyone claims to be the most “orthodox” (or most “traditional”, “original”, “secret”, “mysterious”, etc.) system and in my opinion, this is a rather limited worldview of the wing chun system as a whole.
In my opinion, our ancestors had nothing to do with any of that. They simply practiced and developed the art. I idealize our ancestors as more spiritual, and this egotism that is attached to a system is sadly lacking in martial culture, as well as realization and self actualization. No wonder there are so many petty squabbles in martial arts. I am rather entertained by these claims in wing chun and find it fascinating that people, despite many years in the art, are still attached to ego and pride, and willing to promote themselves as such. Martial arts are supposed to cultivate mastery of self – body, mind and spirit. Along the way, it is hopeful that people develop some realization and chose to develop themselves more spiritually. People more realized would know to avoid these silly methods of promotion.
One member of the secret school of wing chun told me his footwork was superior for movement, after I mentioned his stance was not being used for power when he threw a punch. When I cornered him against a wall, he couldn’t do anything, let alone punch or move. Another underground member told me that his art was original, and when I asked if that were so, why did he not use his body throughout his motions of the first form? After all, wouldn’t all high level wing chun use the entire body for power instead of just the arms? Another master of the original school told me that “tan sao was supposed to be up to the height of the eyebrows”, when I asked what if I were much shorter – would he still put his hand up so high when facing me? He merely huffed and turned away. Another classical master said the one must lean backwards when executing a double grab and low kick, but when supporting peg was removed from the dummy arm, he fell flat on his back when he demonstrated the true application! Another master wouldn’t show me his 6.5 point pole set because his students were around. All of these examples aren’t to downgrade others, but to point out that some people swallow all the hype they promote. P.T. Barnum was correct.
We all take different paths up to the peak of the mountain. Some want to take the scenic route, some want to take us on the long route, others want a short cut, some say they have a secret route, others have a direct route. Whichever way you choose, the peak is the same peak. Also the journey just makes you better. Even disciples of the Buddha all created their ways with the many schools of Buddhism (Chan, Amitabha, Pure Land, Vinaya, Esoteric, Consciousness Only, and the like), but in the end, to realize enlightenment is the ultimate goal. Pettiness amongst the three vehicles abound in Buddhism – a teaching that is supposed to help people see the nature of things clearly, help others and do no bad. People merely get attached to what they want to cultivate. For them, that is why their way was created. It is the same in martial arts. That is why there are so many styles and systems.
Many times, secrets are things people don’t want you to find out. They keep a secret because they want to hold out for more money, or don’t want you to know that they are lacking in certain skills. People make up things, whether they be rules, oaths, rituals or secret skills, forms, and the like – this makes people feel important and foster attachment to illusions. Only in America, can you find these false masters popping up, with secret, mysterious traditions that don’t exist in China, and are even unknown to people in China who have practiced the arts for decades. The truth is many people cannot keep secrets – they are bound to tell someone somewhere to unburden themselves with a truth. It’s only a matter of time to come across someone who really knows. I, myself, was seduced by masters of secret traditions and found that in the end, the secret lies in the individual. What will you cultivate and train everyday? Through practice, you discover even more in depth. Eventually, the system is just seen as a method from crossing over from ignorance to wisdow – a paramita or vessel to cross over. You stop worshipping a system, and find that it is simply a tool.
In my opinion, many in wing chun have not given enough thought on the body power and connection, and seeing through the illusions of rituals, oaths, secrets, and mysteries and what they are for. This is a core concept in wing chun – to see things from the center way. Wing chun is a concept – the most efficient, simple, direct, economical and transitory, made alive with the sensitivity, timing and positioning – no secrets, all is original in the sense that it is borne out of creation of the moment. That is true wing chun. I hope this can help readers. Life is precious and short – we cannot waste time holding back the true art, nor hold back from true seekers to attain and cultivate our art for future generations