Beginning Training in Wing Chun

July 10th, 2013 | by Ann Hillman

When you begin training in Immortal Palm’s Wing Chun system, the goals may seem impossible to achieve. Wing Chun demands a lot from its practitioners. To truly experience Wing Chun, you need to develop your body to obtain and hold the right positions, to develop your mind to focus and maintain your intent, and to develop your sensitivity to perceive and deal with your opponent’s energy. Most of us come into the system with little to no sensitivity, so we must hone our sense of touch well beyond normal. Everyone coming into Wing Chun should come in ready to work.

On the other hand, the system is designed to be simple to learn. Anyone can learn it, no matter what age, mental, or physical conditions they come in at. All that is required is hard work and determination. Everything else will follow in time. What follows are suggestions on how to learn as quickly and efficiently as possible. After all, the more mistakes you can avoid or clean up on your own, the more time your teacher can invest in accelerating your growth. These ideas spring from many conversations with excellent teachers and other students, from advanced to beginning. There are suggestions and strategies for getting the most out of our class and for practicing on your own.

The Wing Chun studio is a great place to learn and study. The people there all come for the same purpose: to improve their art form. They work together to reach mutual and individual goals. Here are some suggestions on how to maximize your time in class.

When people first discover Wing Chun, it’s very exciting. Often they will begin making major plans for how much they will train, in and out of class, without taking into account the toll on their bodies and the major restructuring of their time. Practicing on your own is vital to progressing, to be certain. But you are allowed to ease into it. When complications arise or doubts begin to form about your abilities or feasibility of the art, keep one thing in mind: just show up! For the first three months, if you just keep showing up twice a week for class, you’re laying important groundwork for future training.

In class, unless directed otherwise, watch the teacher. When the teacher isn’t demonstrating, watch other students. Pick out students who are doing things right and use them as models of what to do. This observation will help you, consciously and subconsciously, to imitate and absorb proper positions and movements.

Trust your teacher! This point can’t be made strongly enough. You have chosen this person to help you learn an art, so now your job is to let him do it. This trust takes a few forms. Pay close attention to what your teacher and other students tell you. Some things you will hear many, many times, but others you may only ever be told once. Good advice from a well-trained martial artist can be golden.

One of the hardest parts of trusting your teacher can be letting him correct you. With years of training himself and students, your teacher has developed an eye for posture and position beyond the student’s perceptions. Sometimes a teacher will correct something beyond what you think you can handle. Or the teacher may come along and correct something that you swear you were doing right. In each case, the key is to trust your teacher to see more than you currently can. He knows your boundaries and is dedicated to pushing you up to them, and a little beyond, to help you grow more quickly. While it may be uncomfortable, disconcerting, or painful, the corrections are always in the interest of helping you improve. As each individual improves, the overall class ability goes up, pushing us all higher in our pursuit of martial arts skill. We all help each other to grow.

Pay attention to what corrections you are told to make. If a teacher has to correct one mistake fifty times, you are staying at the same level instead of progressing. Something we should all keep in mind is that training at this level and in such pure, powerful art forms is a privilege. No one owes us anything and we have no right to get good. Improvement will come to those who recognize the opportunity and challenge themselves to grasp it every day.

Be positive! As elementary as it sounds, a positive attitude will work wonders for your training. Wing Chun is a simple, straightforward art form, with no secrets or tricky acrobatics. Anyone can do it, if they invest the time and energy!

Don’t compare yourself to others. Everyone is involved in their own struggles, conquering and shoring up their weak areas. Focusing on other people’s progress may make you vain or bitter about your own, neither of which will benefit you. Something that may be helpful instead is to log your workouts. That way you can compare yourself today to where you started and see your progress. This will also show you where you can improve and add challenges to your daily training.

Ask lots of questions of your teacher and other students. Answering questions makes other students think about what they do in new ways and help to review concepts and movements they’ve learned earlier. One of the principles of our training is that we all can learn from one another.

Working in the studio is a big part of what we do. But in order to really progress in training, we have to be willing to put a lot of our private time into working. Serious pursuit of martial arts involves a change in lifestyle. It means devoting not just two to four hours of “hobby” time per week, but making a daily commitment to yourself to improve. It helps if a beginning student realizes the depth of commitment this level of training demands. You also need to have patience and kindness toward yourself, be willing to accept and overcome perceived shortcomings and keep striving for perfection.

A little bit of planning and foresight will help your daily training be more beneficial for you. A space to work out in is a good starting point. Make a conscious effort to secure a space that is good for you, changing as necessary for weather or seasons. Having a back-up plan will help in case you get rained out or your space is occupied. Privacy is more of an issue for some artists than others. Find out what is best for you. Ideally, practice in a comfortable, quiet environment. Constant distractions, fear of interruption, or self-consciousness will interfere with your training.

Starting out, you’ll have to experiment to find a level of training that is right for you. It may be that you begin training for only 15 minutes a day, and then slowly build up more time as your body adjusts. Find concrete ways to measure your progress, such as a timer for stances, with more time added as your endurance grows. Again, keeping a daily log will let you examine your work and see your improvement.

Expect to have setbacks or off days sometimes. Everyone does. Just don’t let them discourage you. The really good days make up for them!

While you practice, focus on just practicing. Doing Sui Lim Tao with the television on, for example, detracts from the mental element of the form. Martial arts is research, to take a movement you have seen your teacher perform and reproduce it as precisely as possible within your own body. This requires concentration and focus.

Learn to relax into the pain. Tense muscles hurt more than relaxed ones. Don’t worry when your legs shake; we all start off shaking. This is another thing to relax into, and trust that the shaking will eventually stop. The pain and shaking both pass with practice.

Push yourself every time you train. This means taking responsibility for extending your own boundaries. Imagine your ability as represented by three circles, like a dart board. The small inner circle represents what you already know. The middle circle is what you can learn on your own. The larger outer circle is how far a good teacher can lead you. The greater an area you begin with, the further your teacher can stretch you. Who doesn’t want greater ability, faster?

When you first start in Wing Chun, it can seem impossible. The beginning stance is an unnatural way to stand. You’ve never just happened to stand like that before, so you are starting from scratch to teach your body to stand. The muscles of your legs must be strengthened to hold your body weight comfortably at a new angle. Few people come into the art with correct posture, or even a clear sense of how they hold themselves. Beginners must learn the basics of standing all over again, with proper alignment for feet, knees, hips, belly, butt, back, shoulders, neck and head.

It sounds like a lot, but don’t worry. With time and effort, after training with a good teacher and mindful practice, your body will begin making some changes itself. The posture will begin to feel natural and your body will feel better when everything is in place. Circulation improves, the flow of energy through the body gets better, and your awareness of yourself heightens dramatically. In fact, the benefits extend outside of martial arts training into every day life. With a heightened sense of the body, you’ll often catch yourself hunching your shoulders or holding tension in your body. When you notice it, you can willfully relax and let the tension dissolve. The combination of making the most of class time and dedicating yourself to daily practice will instill the art into your body quickly, letting you experience it more fully and satisfyingly earlier in your training.

Good luck, and I hope your training sustains you.