Random notes taken over several years
During classes taught by Sifu Chow Hung-Yuen
Compiled and edited by Dan Lucas
Other styles tell you what to think. In Wing Chun we teach you how to think. There’s a big difference.
Open your eyes and you can see further. I can’t see it for you. I can only open the window; you have to do the looking. I say one, you say one. I say two, and you say two. That’s not the way to learn. I give you the basics, you have to make three yourself. Nothing was explained to us when I learned, we just learned by doing. After a while we learned for ourselves what worked and what didn’t. I learned, for instance, after struggling to resist for so long, that it doesn’t work to resist. So I gave it up and tried to let go instead.
In the beginning don’t try to learn too much at one time. If you eat too much, its bad for your digestion.
Instead of trying to exploit your opponent’s mistakes, it’s better in the beginning to see you’re not making any of your own. If your foundation is not solid, the higher the building the more dangerous it becomes. The same is true with the martial arts. If your basics are not good, the higher your level of skill the more critical it becomes. The better your foundation, the stronger it is, the higher you can build on it.
For other styles, contact is the end. For Wing Chun, contact is just the beginning. Chi Sao is training for sensitivity. After class you can do the Bong Sao by yourself a hundred times, but if you can’t use it in the right way, what good is it? If you do it right, once is enough. If you do it wrong, a hundred times won’t help.
When styles rely on strength, there’s a limit to strength. As you get older your strength naturally declines. Wing Chun relies on letting go, and there’s no limit to letting go. As you get older you can also improve. It’s not whether or not to use power, but how to use it. It’s not whether or not to spend money, but how to spend it. Make every penny count.
Wing Chun isn’t a hard style or a soft style, it’s both. I don’t resist force, or meet force with force and so it’s a soft style. But when there’s an opening I use all the force I have, and so it’s a hard style too. Greater strength is a natural advantage. It’s also a disadvantage if you can’t let go of it when you need to. Strong people naturally rely on their strength and are unwilling to let it go, and so have a hard time learning Wing Chun. Are you more powerful than a car? If a car comes at you, you don’t try to hold it back – you get out of the way. Your real enemy isn’t your opponent; it’s you. Your natural reaction is to tense up when attacked, so train to replace this natural reaction with new ones. If you compare power with your opponent, you’ll eventually find someone stronger than you. I don’t care how big or how strong you are because I don’t resist you. It doesn’t matter if it’s a car or a train, I just get out of the way. How can you hit me if you can’t find my center? If you touch a spinning ball it sends you off in one direction or another.
When you aim at me I can’t move your aim, but I can move your target. When you change your aim I move the target again. But I always aim at you. If we run a race and you’re faster than me I don’t have much chance of beating you. But if I choose the direction I’ll always have a headstart.
Redirecting force is like opening a door. First I have to know which way the door opens. I don’t want to push sideways if the door opens up and down. I try one direction, if it doesn’t work I try another. Keep moving, like flowing water. If I stop, I give you the chance to use your strength against me. Instead I redirect any strength you have by moving with it. Don’t start something, then wait till tomorrow to come back and finish it. Keep moving; take action. Don’t stop to think about your next move; it may be too late.
The secret isn’t in the technique, but in the situation. More techniques don’t make you a master, it’s how you apply them. Each situation differs and nothing stays the same for long. Learn the principles and how they apply to one technique, rather than a new technique for every change or situation.
Wing Chun theory is firmly based in Yin and Yang. This can mean turning power on or off in one arm, but more usually means one arm is Yin while the other is Yang. It’s like breathing in and out, you can’t do both at once. Yin and Yang doesn’t mean I attack either hard or soft. It means that in any situation you or I will be stronger or weaker, changing with the situation. I constantly test you to find weaknesses to exploit or strengths to avoid. If one hand is heavy and the other light, don’t fight with the heavy hand. Attack the light one instead. If there are two doors, one hard to push and one easy to push, why not go through the one that’s easy to open? Chinese philosophy is based on harmony and balance. When you are positive I am negative. When you become negative I switch to positive. I don’t mean that I think about it. It has to come naturally through the movements.
Magic is only tricks, not really magic. There’s nothing secret, no magic, in Wing Chun. You only have to learn the tricks. Like the old Chinese saying about picking up a rock and hitting yourself with it: for instance, nobody traps your hands against each other, you allow them to be trapped. You offer them to be trapped.
I don’t know how dumb the fish is, or how strong; I just throw out the bait and see if it takes it. Of course I shouldn’t go fishing unless I know I’m skillful enough to reel one in.
I don’t move unless I have to. And if I move, I move as little as possible. For instance a punch on center defends as well as attacks. I keep my elbows on center and attack on center to make it difficult for you to take or use the center, and force you to go the long way around. A circular attack like a roundhouse punch is just an attack, but is in no way a defense. And I don’t have to get in on every opening. Sometimes it’s better to let one go by to set up for another. Put together the right ingredients and you’ll make a fine supper. In other words, if I set you up in the right way, it’ll be easy to finish you off.
Either make the right move, or make the move that’s right for you. Sometimes just being in the right position isn’t enough. What really matters is pressure: the pressure you apply and the pressure applied against you. When you’re in the right position but apply pressure in the wrong direction, I can take advantage of it and your position won’t matter. Good contact means the right amount of pressure at the right spot going in the right direction. Wing Chun is not for display or for competition. A bystander can’t see it, but you and I can feel it. That’s why we can practice blindfolded or in the dark, because it’s something you have to feel and not see. With your eyes open and in bright daylight, practice as though blindfolded and depend on what you feel rather than what you see.
The worst thing for you is if I know what your next move will be. In chess if I know your next move and the move after that, how can you win? So in fighting I put you into a position where you have to respond in a certain way. Then, by sticking with you, I know where you’re going and what you’re doing. When I’m dealt a hand in poker, of course I know what’s in my hand. If I know what’s in your hand too, I have a much better chance of winning. You may still have a better hand than me but at least I have more options. When I have contact with you I can sense your movement and so have a better chance.
And always remember that it doesn’t matter how good you are. What matters is how good you can become