HOW DOES ONE OPEN A CAN OF WORMS? WELL, THE EASIEST WAY IS TO POINT OUT THE OBVIOUS AND WATCH EVERYBODY WITH A VESTED INTEREST REACT. IN THE WORLD OF MARTIAL ARTS, ESPECIALLY ON THE INTERNET, CANS OF WORMS ARE BEING OPENED ON A DAILY BASIS!
Look at any Wing Chun forum, and you’ll immediately see the arguments jumping out at you from the screen. The simplest discussion over the most innocent of posts can quickly become a battlefield. You name it, someone out there will try to knock you down the moment you comment or express an opinion. And it seems that nobody is off-limits for attack, with even well-established teachers with decades of experience coming under fire.
Funnily enough, the bulk of the criticism seems to come from people who hide behind false names, false titles, even false photos, and often, these “experts” turn out to be people with mere weeks of training or even no Wing Chun training at all.
Pseudo “masters”, who wouldn’t know a Taan Sau from a brick, but who have the audacity to mock and condemn truly skilful practitioners, seem to be a dime a dozen these days. This brings me to the first and most obvious answer to the question posed in the title of this article—what’s wrong with Wing Chun today? Too many people claim to be authorities on the subject, when most of those procrastinating haven’t studied the system long enough to know it—that’s what!
There are few in the Wing Chun community who haven’t come under fire from these “keyboard warriors” who lurk in the shadows, waiting for the slightest excuse to condemn and criticise. Their antics range from anonymous insults on YouTube to long threads of abuse and threats on Facebook and Internet forums. They are quick to point out what they deem as faults or weaknesses, yet rarely, if ever, do they offer anything by way of proof to support these claims.
Having fallen prey to the antics of such clowns and morons over the years, I understand all too well how frustrating and hurtful such people can be. More importantly, the ravings and repeated nonsense that such antics incite in others go a long way towards understanding why many non-Wing Chun martial arts aficionados look badly upon Wing Chun and think we are all nuts. The way they see it, we have more crazy people in our “family” than all the other martial arts combined, giving the impression that Wing Chun is more like a soap opera than a serious combat system.
To these masters of the art of “Lip Sau”, those of us who actually have something to offer are never right, and only they have the “true answers” to what makes Wing Chun work. Write an article and they’ll say you’re wrong; produce a video clip and they’ll tear it to bits. Even when you put years of your life and your personal savings into creating something to honour an individual or lineage, you’ll be attacked for your efforts and accused of being unworthy or unqualified for the task. But once you’ve done all the hard work, they’ll demand it for free and even try to pass it off as their own!
I’m sure many reading this are shaking their heads in acknowledgement and can identify with these observations. Naturally, I also expect there are a few who think it’s funny and probably agree with the current attitude of, “If I want it, I’ll just take it”, actually believing they have the right to expect everything for nothing and to profit from other people’s hard work. The concepts of respect, honesty and integrity seem sadly absent these days and no more so than in the ranks of so-called Wing Chun practitioners.
This leads me to the next thing that is wrong with Wing Chun today; there are too many people prepared to take shortcuts, to attempt to jump generations, to give themselves rank and titles, and worst of all, to abuse the trust of their teachers for fame and profit. I guess you can sum that up with just one word—ego! Yes, there are many out there who are proclaiming themselves as “masters” and “grandmasters”, yet so many of these pretenders are barely in their thirties. They claim multiple lineages and systems and tenuous connections to teachers, whom they have never even met.
Such people also make use of the wrong terminology when referring to themselves, adding what they think are honorific Chinese titles to their names, when in fact genuine practitioners in any lineage NEVER use such words. So, we find people referring to themselves as “founder” or “ancestor” or perhaps “uncle” or “big brother/big sister”, terms that no self-respecting Wing Chun practitioner would EVER use—under ANY circumstances! Anyone with even the most basic knowledge of Chinese is dumbfounded by such nonsense, and alarm bells start ringing immediately.
Of particular concern is the casual way people proclaim loyalty to a teacher, only to “stab them in the back” the moment they believe they have attained whatever knowledge was desired from that person. Like many of my esteemed Wing Chun brethren, I treat my students as family, friends, as well as students, breaking bread with them, being there for them outside the classroom. Thus, it comes as a painful shock when, after accepting people into your family and devoting sometimes many years towards their growth, they cast you aside like old furniture and treat you with total disregard.
Yet, it would seem this kind of behaviour is becoming the norm, somehow acceptable to the current generation. As someone who has devoted a lifetime to my own teacher and his legacy, it still shocks me when I hear of such behaviour. Worse still, and painful in the extreme, is when it happens to you, and it isn’t something easy to put behind you, not when you have trusted and cared for people over many years. Personally, it has made me far less trusting and extremely suspicious of accepting new students, particularly those arriving from overseas seeking instruction.
Like a kind of Wing Chun version of Fox Mulder, I now tend to trust no one, and I know I am not alone on this. Many close colleagues in the Gung Fu world have told me of similar events affecting their lives. Whatever happened to honour, integrity, and brotherhood? Why is it that, in the Wing Chun community, such behaviour has become the norm? Where is the Wu De (武德), the concept of “Martial Honour”, which is supposed to apply between teacher and student? The old saying, “It is harder for a teacher to find a good student than a student to find a good teacher”, is becoming truer by the minute.
How many of those reading this article have received emails, phone calls, or messages on social media, often not requesting, but actually insisting, you go to someone’s country/school, conduct a seminar there, after which they will then represent you and your system? Yes, after just one seminar (or alternatively, one week or less of training at your school), these individuals, many of whom claim to know Wing Chun or to be “masters” of other systems, expect to use your name and reputation to open chains of schools in their home country, and you’re supposed to be okay with that!
I continue to be stunned that they have the gall to suggest such a thing, yet time and time again, such calls and messages arrive. I’ve now been practising martial arts for 45 years and, quite honestly, still consider myself a student of the arts, yet these guys, many of whom are barely in their twenties or thirties, actually think it’s acceptable to call themselves a “master” of a system after mere days of exposure to it and have the audacity to claim to represent a lineage without having completed even its most basic elements.
It’s no wonder that Wing Chun’s reputation as a combat system totally sucks when those that the public sees as its representatives have such little knowledge and skill, not to mention a lack of ethics and credibility. This brings us to the final thing that is wrong with Wing Chun today, namely that it is largely a joke within the martial arts community because so many self-proclaimed “experts” are getting themselves beaten to a pulp by practitioners of other fighting systems. It seems like every other day there is another “Wing Chun master defeated by” video posted on the Net.
All excuses aside, the issue isn’t that Wing Chun doesn’t work, but that those who are representing the system are NOT legitimate representatives of it. Most of them are wannabe “masters” who’ve seen all the Ip Man movies and never had a real fight in their lives. Without any decent knowledge or training and lured by the prospect of fame and/or money, they accept the challenge of some group or individual looking to make a name for themselves at the expense of another well-known combat system. It’s not an honest representation of Wing Chun by a long shot, but the public willingly buys into it, and legitimate Wing Chun pays the price.
The public wouldn’t readily accept a soccer player competing in a rugby match, or a badminton player competing in a tennis championship, yet somehow, if it’s an MMA competition, they assume anyone practising martial arts can and should compete in it. Would any sane person step into the ring with Mike Tyson in his prime or challenge Venus Williams to a Wimbledon tennis match if they didn’t have the training and experience necessary? Of course, they wouldn’t, especially in the case of Big Mike, yet the public (and some people in the martial arts) automatically seem to assume that, no matter what you practise and even if you only train just a few hours a week, you should be able to step into the ring and defeat a guy who gets paid to train eight to ten hours a day, and who is familiar with a set of rules and conditions that you are not. Seriously?
Time to take a reality pill, guys! If Wing Chun is to compete seriously at that level, it will require those involved to cross-train in many disciplines, devote hundreds of hours to a very different kind of training routine, adapt to rules that restrict many actions typical of the system, not to mention the constraints of equipment, ring conditions, and many other factors. In many ways, due to the nature of MMA competition, one’s entire approach to fighting will require a complete overhaul, involving re-training of both habits and strategies.
We have yet to see many athletes who are prepared, or even able, to put in the necessary time and effort to prepare and adapt for the rigours of that sport. There are some out there who are trying, but let’s be honest. Wing Chun has not produced any exceptional practitioners yet who can fly that flag. Does that mean Wing Chun isn’t a legitimate combat system? Hell no! What it says is that Wing Chun is yet to produce a prominent fighter who can adapt his/her game to the combat sports arena.
If and when there is such a person, should we expect to see textbook Wing Chun movements being applied? Again, the honest answer should be a resounding “No!” because that would be no different from expecting to see the soccer player perform in his or her normal manner on the rugby field—they will need to adapt to the rules and conditions of the sport. Thus, any criticism levelled against Wing Chun on that basis is irrelevant, unrealistic, and unfair.
On that score, any so-called Wing Chun exponent defeated in such a match should be judged based on their preparation and performance, rather than on style; fighters win fights, NOT systems or styles.