Sifu Red, Bay Wing Chun
Part 1: The Lonely Road to Knowing.
I write this to celebrate my 26 years in Wing Chun, to offer encouragement to students who would stick and endure the solo training and finally to acknowledge those great students who get it.
Looking through the photos recently it dawned on me that there are very few photos of me around, that perhaps I am not known throughout the greater Wing Chun family who were not training 20 or more years ago. So for those who do not know me, here is my story. To this day I do not resemble a martial artist in any way. I still rip around on motorcycles and snub authority dressed in old jeans, boots and one of my schools’ grotty old hoody’s that says ‘hit like a heart attack’ on it. I live alone with my thoughts and various habits and opinions. In short I am pretty average despite occasionally eating from the free peanut bowl at Thugs’ Bar and Brawl Café.
The lonely road to knowing, is more about what I did as opposed to who I am. So what did I do?
Well, I started Wing Chun 26 years ago and I start again each day, starting is very important you know!? What I did next is never stop my Wing Chun despite the challenges and demands from others wanting my time. Everyone knew I had a set training time so everyone learned and accepted that. Had I have given in to the demands of family or friends, my training habit would have developed cracks. Class no-shows, isolated living and no close seniors often gave rise to disheartenment sure, but still I trained every day – alone. That is simply what I did, loyally dedicated to my training and never forgetting my Sifu, Sifu Kevin.
Within the first few months of my Wing Chun life I took on an instructors role and then oversaw classes several times per day in Manchester Street. At one point for several months we had 3 or 4 classes per day – I thought it was a huge honour to have a key, to open up and put the sign out then bring it in at night – I was there all day. It was a huge honour but more than that it taught me to train solo, utilising time between classes. There were no windows, just the sound of the Wing Chun advertising loop on the TVs set up in the stairwell; so training was all I could do. This set up a life-long solo training habit… and I never stopped! With the sound principles and teachings I was privy to, I assimilated quickly in thought, practise and application.
Just a few short years later I found myself in the wilderness doing the wild things that wildlings do. I was very isolated from any organised Wing Chun and so I locked into my own little idea of Wing Chun. Solo training is what I did with a tree, a parry/punch/ kick and various movements directly from the form, including the form itself. The FORM itself was the critical part apart from my resolve to train regardless of my isolation. In essence “resolve” or intent also became an incredible part of my form, much the same as Sifu Kevin considers “invincibility”… simply unstoppable.
Of my 26 years perhaps 17 or 18 were spent isolated with only the briefest appearance in a class. I tended to train alone or with one other or if the situation allowed I trained with Sifu Kevin. Meanwhile, new students, seminars and celebrity Wing Chun visits and dinners came and went along with the photos I might otherwise have appeared in, hence few photos and faces that might otherwise recognise me exist. To some I may have missed out on technical advice and other benefits and, perhaps my learning has suffered. I would argue though, that practise and dedication have provided the basis for a greater depth of knowledge rather than width. After all, I was taught the basics well and I learned well. My solo training and dedication have allowed me to understand well and to know these basics better than well; to know them deeply…
Part 2: The Depth Of Knowing
I still mostly train alone with only one class per week and the occasional private lessons. I do and have done my form every day at least once…365 days @ one form per day x 26 years = 9,490 forms. One form would take about 8 to 12 minutes on average, say 10 minutes…x 9,490 = 94,900 minutes /60 = 1,581 hours of form work, which is solo! Actually at times, my form might take up to an hour. So form time to date might be close to 2000 hours….12 weeks solid 24/7. With solo time like this…how could one not know…deeply?
With hours like this in mind, the question arises as to why one would commit such time and effort? To answer, ask yourself this, what is the form actually? For me my training grows from what we think of as “the form” to becoming our actual physical skill, combined with precise thought and intention without deviation… “centreline theory”. So, if your form is one precise action at a time, how do you combine those actions and mobilize them as a united body of movement and transport it from one place to another in order to satisfy your intention? The answer is in our form-work. It is here you will find balance, fluidity and power, in a word, invincibility.
For example, a parry/punch with springy power and side-ward shift combination… what is that and how does your form and solo training actually work? Mine in the first instance is foundation, the very first part of the form…so well practiced that I need not think of it, so familiar that as I step, I automatically land in it… I don’t know it is correct… it just is correct, as my own personal form practice dictates. The same is true of my posture, and the parry, and the punch. My training synthesizes my thought and intention and consolidates it as memorised actions through my form at a sub-cellular level. This allows me to isolate my muscles in a controlled way so as to let each one do its job in balance with the others, creating an “economy of movement”.
I combine the parry and the punch with the side-ward shift as a drill made up from single parts of the form. I practice it as a form (drill) derived from forms within “the form”. As a combination of forms actioned through thought and intention, it keeps my movements sharp and coordinated. My thought says go, my intention says where to and my body delivers my thought to its intended destination. Deviation from this may end in defeat so I use intention as a destined force of shear will. Alone, thought is flexible giving rise to good or bad outcomes, intention is solid and direct. Combined they slice through to the absolute intended physical outcome.
There are so many training examples that this relatively surface analysis applies to, so many more hours of form work and solo practice is required for your actions and combined actions to be just right to the point of becoming pure thoughtful, intentioned action. Personally, I like to practice my form slowly. Much of my other solo work too is slow. Slow solo training cultivates a surety of action using a synthesis of thought and intent supported by a deep knowledge. If your form is slow, your depth of knowledge is increased, and your idea becomes smaller and focused and thus offers a purer, smoother action. Slow is smooth, smooth is fast and this is “conservation of energy”.
And so, when I fight I give no give, I give no thought to right and wrong or any form of justice. I give no thought to the damage or risk, nor to fear. My action is the synthesis of my thought and intention delivered through my body to its destination, without compromise of distraction. Very simply, I do my form, my personalised synthesis of thought and intention…delivered and felt deeply.
For me the biggest fight I have had is with myself and I’m not sure yet who has won! In 1990 Instructor Martin Cooke told me that the more I learn, the more I will realise there is to learn. Recently I learned that my commitment to my Wing Chun path and the resulting benefits are far more important than the actual time it has taken to walk my path thus far.
2000 or 200,000 hours; 26 or 260 years in solo training may or may not make a lot of difference as the time itself is unimportant. Actually, it is the regularity of habit and thus my sub-conscious development of self-discipline that has helped me advance along my own chosen path over time that is important. As an instructor I feel this will be true for all who pursue invincibility and have some desire to become Wing Chun rather than just participate over time.
Let me explain “becoming Wing Chun”. Wing Chun has three main principles; center-line theory, economy of movement and conservation of energy. "Becoming Wing Chun" is using these principles in the first instance as a clear and practiced method on how to walk through ones life and challenges. If one uses the 3 principles combined with structural intent, this Wing Chun formula can be applied to any oppositional situation be it legal, personal, business, learning …in fact anything that can benefit from having a strategy to further ones cause.
As a student myself, I endeavor to use Wing Chun to help myself to be more mindful of my place in the world. It is no longer just something I do or merely an effective form of self defence. Actually for me, Wing Chun is everything more. Learning Wing Chun is akin to learning a pathway through the everyday challenges that I face: one small set of “forms” that can effectively deal with a myriad of challenges. For me, the Wing Chun model has become my strategy for living my life, now I just have to practice and refine it realising all the while that the more I know, the more I realise there is to know, but also knowing that all the answers I require stem from the basics of practicing my form and lending my knowledge of the Wing Chun model to living my life.
So, for my “26 years Solo”, this 3-part article sums up a little of what I’ve learned and wanted to share. Wing Chun was a way for me to survive in and around Thugs’ Bar and Brawl Café. Through my Sifu (Kevin) and other great students, I first learned to move, then through my form and solo training I learned to think. Now, Wing Chun has become a habituated model and an ethos to follow and in applying the principles to my movements and ideas, I have an effective way of dealing with my various challenges.
As a result the path I now walk is easier than the one I once walked and my failures are fewer. My hope for my students and my peers is that they get it.
- Sifu Red, Bay Wing Chun. Copyright 2016