How to Train Wing Tsun

A. Hard and Smart

Knowing how to train wing tsun is the key to success. Having the right focus, the right mental attitude, and the right information is crucial.

An old and favorite joke of my former Sifu's went like this:

Q: What are the only three ways to learn wing tsun?
A: Practice, practice - and practice.

There is of course a lot of truth in that statement, but it's missing an essential point: Practicing is naturally an absolute prerequisite - but you can practice either hard, smart, or smart and hard.

The best option is the last one, but how do you do that?

In the beginning, your objective is to become self-aware. No, not of your personality and your emotional construct, but of your body, your posture, positioning and direction of movement of your limbs, your breathing, and your thought processes as you are paying attention to all of the other elements.

That's what Siu Nim Tau is for, the first form in wing tsun.

B. The 'Little Idea'

When you practice this form, there is no time pressure on you. There is no opponent. There is only you and your mind and body. (Question: can you really separate these three?)

The wing tsun mottos that apply to SNT are these:

  • Push the head up to the sky, feet planted firmly on the ground;
  • Keep the head erect, eyes on the horizon;
  • Sinking the elbows and dropping the shoulders;
  • Legs like mountain, arms like lightning;

What you are training in SNT is primarily correct posture and awareness of what happens to your body and your mind as you go through the various movements of the form.

What happens when you puch Tan Sau forward, for example? What happens to your balance? Your shoulders? The tension in your muscles of that arm? Are you forgetting about the uncomfortable "Sau Jong" position of your other arm while you are focusing on performing the Tan Sau?

Are you pushing "tan sau" in the right direction? What are your knees doing as all of this is happening? Are your feet relaxed on the ground, or are your toes uncomfortably crimping up? What is happening to your breathing? Is it still slow, deep, and even, or are you holding your breath?

How does all of this feel? Are you needlessly tensing muscles that don't contribute to what you are doing at the moment? Are your inner thighs correctly and actively pulled together? And, most of all: is your head erect?

Is your center of gravity in the middle between your feet? Are your feet therefore firmly planted on the ground? Are your shoulders relaxed and down? Are your elbows as low as they can be without straining? (i.e., the "mottos" above)

All of these are things you should try to pay attention to. At first, you will only be able to "think about" (be aware of) one of these at a time. As you continue your practice, you will find that you are becoming aware of more than one without even trying.

Eventually, you will be aware of all of these factors simultaneously without actively and consciously "thinking" about them. At that point, you will realize that to be aware of something doesn't really require "thinking" about it at all. Awareness is much more of a passive thing. Restful action and active rest - the yin and yang principle.

That will be your first breakthrough - but it will be only one of many.

At the SNT stage, you will mainly be doing battle with yourself, i.e., your own bad habits of posture and movement and breathing and thinking.

Solo Exercises

While you are learning and practicing SNT, you will learn a number of solo exercises. The same principles of posture and relaxation apply here, but now you add the idea of combining simple movements so that one and is performing a defensive movement while the other attacks. Then you start working on simple footwork like advancing steps, sifting, and turning, and very soon the "arrow step" or single advancing step from the "Character Two" or "IRAS") stance.

Next you learn to apply some of these against an opponent who attacks you with kicks or punches. At that point, you add the dimension of another human to the equation, and the game totally changes.

Partner Drills

Partner drills are like adding "water" to your dry-dock swiming exercises. Now you have to contend with an incoming force fo some sort. How do you engage that force? With tension, apprehension, and aggression - or with calm relaxation?

The entire concept of wing tsun is based on a completely new, to most people even alien way of dealing with force. Most people have learned to deal with force by applying counter-force. In wing tsun, you deal with force by dissolving it. That's why there are the three stages of development in wign tsun:

At the first stage (SNT stage) you learn to "lose" your own force, i.e., you learn to relax and to lose your tendency to respond to force with force.

At the next stage, you learn to lose your attacker's force by weight-shifting and allowing his fore to bend your arms into defensive postures.

At the final stage, you learn to use your attacker's force against him while adding your own.

Quite obviously, you do use force in wing tsun, because you are learning how to fight. The difference lies in where you use it. You don't use it in defense. You reserve your power for your own attacks, and when something obstructs your attacks, you don't fight it but you "stick" and yield to it until you arms/legs are freed up and can spring forward again.

It's All Principle (Concept) Based

From beginning to end, wing tsun is not about "techniques" or combinations of "movements." It's all about force and how best to respond to it in a natural, efficient, and effective way that protects you and utterly disbales your attacker in the shortest possible time.

That takes training. Practice. And practice is the meaning of "kung fu".

So do yourself a favor and very pay close attention to the wing tsun mottos or sayings. All of the so-called "secrets" (really keys to doing something correctly and effectively) are hidden in them. They are quite literally goldmines of wisdom in self defense - and you quite literally have to scrape and dig that wisdom out of them.

And that brings us the foundation of all progress in wing tsun:

C. Laying the Foundation

An old practical joke of my Sifu's as told to me by my first Sihing, Curtis Dittrich, supposedly took place at a wing tsun seminar in Germany (I don;t know if it happened that way; it's just what he told me).

One of the participants was pushing one of his younger kung fu brothers around a bit, taking advantage of his partner's smaller size and lack of experience,so my sifu picked him out of the crowd and proceeded to teach him a lesson.

He asked the guy in front of the other participants who the best teacher was in the world, and t guy started guessing, not knowing what to say: "Uh, Grandmaster Leung Ting?" he queried? "No, not even close" said my sifu. "Uhmm, ... you?" "No, totally wrong" replied sifu.

The student, getting really insecure, mentioned a few other names, only to get the same response. Finally sifu grabbed him and slap-punched him in the chest. As the student slightly reeled backwards, sifu said: "Pain! Pain is the best teacher!"

The student, bewildered but grateful that it his embarrassment and pain appeared to be over, tried to get back into the safety of the line of students, but sifu called him back: "Hey, wait, we're not finished. Come back here!"

The student, now totally freaked out, cringes and hesitatingly comes back to the front and sifu asked him: "Who is the second best teacher?" The poor guy, now completely at a loss for any answer, said "I really don't know, sifu." At that moment, sifu hit him in the chest again and said: "Repetition!!"

Those were different days back then in Germany in the mid-to late seventies. Obviously, the student wasn't really injured or actually hurt. He just had his ego cut back down to size a bit, but the real lesson here is that repetition really is one of the top "teachers" in the world.

Repetition is what allows you to lay your foundation in wing tsun. Repetition, the only real way to practice (and to teach!) successfully, is the cornerstone of your foundation in kung fu. In fact, the entire meaning of the term "kung fu" is based on repetition. "Kung" (or "gong") means energy, and "fu" means time: lots of energy expended toward achieving high skill over a long period of time is roughly the meaning of that phrase. Skill through repetition.

This is a crucial point to understand, and important to accept, in your training. Sometimes, especially in the beginning, a good teacher will make you repeat the same movement or element of footwork or part of a form over and over, and over again, with only you working by yourself in a corner of the room somewhere.

If you quit or allow yourself to get discouraged or disappointed by that, or if you say to yourself: "Hey, this sucks!", that's your own fault. Without this kind of training, you can never achieve even a moderate level of skill in wing tsun.

When you take wing tsun lessons, you'd better not expect to be coddled and 'entertained.' When you are paying your training fees, you are not paying for a 'service'. You are paying for the privilege to learn, and to practice, and for a chance to become good at wing tsun and be able to save your own life some day. Do not expect to be coddled in class. Repetition is crucial, it is absolutely central to wing tsun training, because ...

It's the Way of Wing Tsun