One of the common occurrences we all experience throughout our Wing Tsun career is frustration over what seems to be incredibly slow progress. Is this actually the case, is it more difficult to learn Wing Tsun than other martial arts, or is there another explanation?
Just recently I have been asked about what to do, to avoid being too tired at the end of a lesson. Also very common are questions like: “Will I ever get better?”, or “When will I finally progress?”
Well, to compare it; many martial arts schools sell, instead of memberships, seemingly prestigious black belts with slogans like: “Get your black belt in one year”. Many advertise with teaching you literally hundreds or even thousands of techniques, to be ready for just about any scenario. Or so they make you think.
What about competition sports? Martial arts competitors usually have enough time to get into shape, often they know their opponents, have studied their behaviour on video, and prepare special fight plans. Even the so-called no-rules fights assure that no third parties get involved, that no weapons are used, what type of clothing or shoes are worn, they guarantee that the fight area is limited and clean, providing special flooring or mats, that quite a set of rules is being enforced by a referee.
Above points and more, like weight, age, experience, and intent of actions, the element of surprise, mind games and intimidation tactics of the aggressor - nothing is on your side in a real-life scenario.
But one step back to typical martial arts training. I hear it quite often, that students talk about the empowerment, the good feeling, the joy of achievement when training other martial arts. Why is that so? Is Wing Tsun that different?
Quite a few martial art schools practice pre-arranged partner exercises, where you can’t fail. Many don’t even allow any contact whatsoever. Sometimes you are not even allowed to talk to each other during exercises.
On the downside this builds up the inability to deal with violence, ending up being incapable of hurting the aggressor, and teaches unrealistic technique pattern, impossible to apply under unknown conditions.
In the martial arts school it works. Isn’t that great, limited exercises routines, no physical contact, no talking, what can go wrong? Nothing, that’s why it feels so good. You have the feeling of getting better and better. Nothing spoils your progress.
Unfortunately, this is a very dangerous assumption. Without wanting to paint the picture too black; Reality strikes often with horrible violence. Fighting for your life is not a sport!
Again, what is so different about Wing Tsun?
For one, especially in Wing Tsun we experience that talent and skill take you only so far. Over the years one finds out that it takes four virtues to truly advance. Every hardworking student begins to understand how focus, commitment, perseverance and determination drive you to excel.
The Wing Tsun instructor has the difficult task to take on the persona of different assailants, to pose as the attacker according to the progressive Wing Tsun programs and to point out every mistake, to expose every gap, to raise awareness of every conceivable scenario the real life attack might put you through.
It is the job, the responsibility of a dependable Wing Tsun instructor to support your progress by continuously pointing out your weak spots. This is (most of the times) not fun.
In Wing Tsun we all learn to prepare for a completely different type of circumstances, for real life, Period.
That is the reason why we never stand still; never let you rest on skills you have achieved, why we push you to new levels of stress training, eventually enabling you to make rational decisions within fractions of seconds. This is how you learn to act under heavy pressure in a high risk situation.
One of my instructors, a former professional boxer, rounded it up: “If it feels good, it ain’t Wing Tsun”.
A responsible Wing Tsun instructor drives you to the point of exhaustion at the end of a lesson without neglecting the technical training, without forgetting the fine-tuning.
You fight as you train. That is why every progress is yet again improved through putting more stress on you, by exposing you to a higher level of difficulties. In return if may feel like a standstill, because you are still being corrected.
Everyone with enough patience will eventually discover their enormous progress, especially when working with beginners in class, who will complement you on your skills, who will look up to what you have achieved already.
One instructor told me once, during a for me very frustrating training session: “You know, when I face Sifu, I too feel as if it is my first day in Wing Tsun Kung Fu. He controls me at will.”
Look at it the other way. If your Wing Tsun instructor, even after years, can still turn up the heat, lead you into new high-pressure scenarios, makes you sweat, leaves you tired at the end of a session, it means that he is good enough to teach you for years to come.
Otherwise you might possibly be wasting time and money.
In conclusion, how we train Wing Tsun and how the progress is measured cannot be compared to the typical workout in most martial arts schools.
Believe me. One develops over time an appreciation for this unique training, to be fit for survival in life.
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