Walking the Path “image by JACKRATANA”
by Robert Chu
There are two types of martial artists, one who is into beating others and the other is the one who cultivates oneself. Many people have to be the best, be the top dog, or have the most followers, or make the most money. Many people say their style is the best, most original, traditional or secret, but this always causes problems. In Wing Chun, many people go around saying they are the most original. Some say that Yip Man gave so and so some important books, or recorded the original forms of the dummy, pole, or butterfly knives. Others point fingers at others saying that other masters have made up or created their own forms rather than retain what is original.
I have to say, always look at the function. As I say, “Let function be your sifu; let application rule over form.” If you think you can punch hard, let’s test it on a focus mitt. If you think you can kick hard, try it on a kicking shield. If you think you are skillful in knives, try chopping some brush or tree branches. If you think you’re great with the pole, try cracking some walnuts. If you think you have good structure, try staying balanced when people put their weight on you. If you think your footwork is effective, try it against an attacker that comes in directly on you at full speed. If you think your entry technique is so good, try it out and see if it works. If you think your timing and positioning are great, test them in practice. If you think you have great sensitivity, try practicing blindfolded. Even if these are good tests, to use all of these skills in combat are also a different matter. All in all, it’s not about words or lip service or style, theories or techniques, lineage or secrets. It’s all about you and how well you have cultivated.
Lineage or style can only tell where your basics are from, but not necessarily what your cultivation is today. In my opinion, too many people place too much stock in that, your art is not where the base information is from, but how you have cultivated it now. Cultivation is everything. All is good if you cultivate it. There is no one true form. What did you cultivate, and how many changes can come from it? Recordings are only recordings of that moment in time, of what a person knows and understand at that moment. As we are always changing and growing, we can always cultivate and grow more.
I am no guru or master, or anyone important, so I don’t have all the answers to everything. I am just a fellow cultivator of the way. Everyone’s style or system is good and correct, but it depends on the correct context in which you use and what paradigm you use to define your form from. This is why to me, function is greater than form. All branches are correct, all styles have their part of the truth, the important thing is how you cultivate it. My words here stem from the Buddha. May your own Buddha nature perceive the truth in these words. If these words can help you, it is my pleasure to share with you fellow cultivators. If you don’t agree with me, that’s fine, you have your own truth, and I clasp my hands and salute you.
When people show too much ego, there are bound to be resentments. I think that sometimes martial artists are too egotistical and can be unwilling to be humble or submit themselves to anyone else. They get stuck by the mark of self. Greed, anger, stupidity, pride, delusion – these all get in the way of true cultivation. To cultivate yourself higher, you must rid yourself of these afflictions. Martial arts are a vehicle for self awareness, to cross over from ignorance to wisdom. It’s not about ego or killing or beating another – it’s about destroying the ego. In my opinion, some of the Japanese and Korean arts are superior in character development to many of the Chinese martial arts – they ideally teach people the Dao (way – “Do” in Japanese) and how to be of good moral character.
I have heard where people speculated that my ancestor, Leung Jan, was allegedly not a part of secret society and had learned an inferior, “incomplete system”. Well, “inferior” or “incomplete”, Leung Jan made the entire Wing Chun family famous throughout southern China with his functional application of the art in combat. My concern about people presenting material in this way is that it gives a wrong message to current and future generations of people. The wrong message is, “in order to learn true Wing Chun, you must be a part of secret society”. Many Secret Societies today have underground dealings, very different than perhaps the original ideals or altruistic concerns of some of the founders of these societies.
People can get confused and try to join these present day “societies” thinking they can learn the “real art” from people like these. It is a danger, and as a responsibility to our ancestors and our future descendants, we must behave properly and pass on the correct example. I certainly do not deny that secret societies like the Tien Dae Wui (Heaven and Earth Society) and the Hung Mun (Hung League) may have originally had honorable goals, but what is now known as secret society have less than altruistic goals.
We must differentiate ourselves clearly from such people, as it can cause young males to behave improperly and less than constructively in society today. A look at my previous articles and book already discusses my position on these organizations and how we derived a separate noble martial culture distinct from their current activities related to crime.
People today who are “certified” or hold black belt ranking, or are considered instructors have a very high moral responsibility. With their responsibility and status, they should be ashamed if they abuse their power, set a poor example, or abuse their students, and act like thugs. They should not be teachers. Even Confucius warned, “It is best to keep a student from a teacher’s own influences.” It is poor form to be a teacher if your investment is only in ego. I realize when I write stuff like this, I hold up a big mirror for people to look at and they get upset. Sure, I hear it in letters, or emails or websites, but I also have to be honest with what I write. If someone does something not correct or in the best interests of others, is it not best to tell them that things can be done better? Even if you invoke their rage, you still have to help people see what is right. When they are cooler, perhaps they can see you mean well for everyone. Perhaps even then, they can change their ways and think more responsibly when they are viewed as a public figure.
Some people complain about instructors with shady histories that remain in the dark. I say that if an instructor can change, he can do good, whether or not his history is suspect. People can change if they want to. Some people may have good intentions to provide good information, and tried to popularize teachings, but failed in protocol. If a person can check his ego and change, they can do much better, and be a better resource in the community. But it’s hard. A Chinese saying goes, “To move mountains is easy, but to change one’s basic nature is very difficult.” It all begins within you.
There is also a saying in Buddhism, “Drop the butcher knife and right away become a Buddha” from a story of a Butcher who became enlightened. People are in hell when they have low self-esteem. They are hurt themselves and are not afraid to die because they think they have no value and no respect. A strict sifu can give them disciplined training and encourage them to walk the correct path. We all have Buddha nature and we all can be Buddhas and make a difference in the world. In the Lotus Sutra, the “Never disparaging Bodhisattva” tells others, “I don’t dare to disparage you, as you are cultivating the bodhisattva path and you will become a Buddha.” Many others thought he was nuts and some would even kick him in his butt when he bowed to them. Perhaps this Bodhisattva meant to be an extreme ideal for us to follow.
In Buddhism it is said, “When one is deluded, one must rely on sifu; when one is enlightened, one relies on the correct way.” We should all strive to rely on the correct way and not people. A sifu is a raft to cross over. When we have the wisdom gained from our journeys, we respect and fondly remember in our heart our sifu who helped us to cross over. However, a sifu will not want you to carry them around because that turns into a personal attachment. A true sifu wants a student to be better than him. If a student is attached to his sifu and worships him as god, the student will not travel further than his sifu. In this manner, I say for fellow Wing Chun students to think like a founder, and not like a follower.
Martial arts is a tool for enlightenment, it’s not all about making dollars, having the most followers, or having a martial arts collection to develop a market niche. Martial arts are not meant to be abused and feed your ego and develop power, or to control your students and have hundreds of disciples following you. Many people have abused and corrupted the sifu/disciple relationship for many generations. They discourage would-be good students and turn off many good people to the martial arts. But with martial arts, you can also help people get strong, develop confidence, develop character and good manners, and help develop constructively so that they can be an aid to society, all the while making it a bona fide respectable profession . The choice is yours, my fellow travelers. I’ve seen both sides of martial artists, and we can all do better. Won’t you try treading the path?