"Craft, Cooking, and Kung Fu" by Adrian Law
There is nothing mystical about the art of Wing Tsun Kung Fu. There is no hidden, secret knowledge or special, unseen, mysterious powers. It simply is what it is: Kung Fu – a craft or skill where anyone can learn the basic, improve slowly over time, and with enough effort, practice, and a little personality, learn to master it one day.
I personally compare it to cooking but I’m sure everyone has their own comparison. I heard someone once describe the four phases of learning a craft; one goes through:
1. Unconscious incompetence – one starts out not knowing that they don’t know
2. Conscious incompetence – slowly they learn the basics but make
valuable mistakes—mistakes that you want to make so that you know not to make them
3. Conscious competence – one has to work hard and focus to avoid mistakes and start getting good
4. Unconscious competence – mastery, one can perform their craft effortlessly
I guess most people drop out at the first phase when they learn that whatever “it” is, is going to take a long time to learn. In the cooking world, this is where newcomers would say: “Arrgh, cooking is too hard. Time to get some take out…” Phase 2 and 3 are probably the most frustrating, probably because it takes the most time, effort, and real dedication to understand the basics, practice them again and again, and then work on the details to get good. Once again, in the cooking world, an apprentice learns to cut an onion and starts slowly with the basic knife cuts. Then as he or she gets used to the motions, they learn more details: why it’s important to make uniform and even cuts, the names of the different cuts, the importance of trimming the root, peeling, ways to cut faster, cleaner, more efficiently, etc.
The cooking world (and the Wing Tsun world I’m learning) is all about repetition. Hours upon hours are spent doing the same menial tasks again and again and again. Hours spent peeling potatoes, making sauces, or breaking down a whole duck. I’ve learnt from cooking, that the key is actually doing the task physically. Sounds obvious but knowing how to do something intellectually is not enough, one has to actually do it! This is easier said then done because most people think: “I already know how to make a soup, let’s move on.” I’ve seen lots of chefs who claim that they know to fillet a whole salmon, but when you give them the nicest looking fish and watch them do it, they fail immediately or have the most horrible technique. I’ve learnt it’s better to say: “I don’t know, please show me” than have an epic fail.
Even extremely talented master chefs will shut up and watch someone else show them how to fillet a fish, because they know there’s always a better way to do something. I’ve always thought that humility and craftsmanship going hand in hand; that good craftsmanship fosters humility and humility fosters good craftsmanship. Phase 4 is obviously the most satisfying, one I’d like to experience one day. I envision this is where one can incorporate their own personal touch in addition to the fundamentals of their craft to take it to a new level, improve it, and be part of the living art. I’ve seen some chefs juggle multiple tasks while making multiple dishes: cooking vegetables, making a stew, braising veal, simmering a stock, stirring a sauce, with the phone on one ear, and talking to the Maitre’d at the same time, all without breaking a sweat and everything tastes amazing!
That’s mastery—when their body has change, when their fingers can feel the difference in quality; when the details of their craft are fused directly into all their senses, they’ve gotten used to the repetitions of the fundamentals so well that they can execute without even thinking and without effort. This is where I want to be—to have good kung fu.