If there is a band wagon to be jumped on in wing chun at the moment, it is called internal wing chun. We are being offered the 'rediscovered' 1800 variety said to be patched together from secret documents, the tai chi/hybrid inspired variety, whilst some say internal was always there but only taught to Ip Man's favorite students. Although some of the teachers proclaim their own method is the most legitimate because they can prove it works in the ring, they are generally build like gorillas and their movements suspiciously resemble boxing. For the others, they talk a good talk but you never see them demonstrate on anyone other than their own students. I always say I could teach Mike Tyson enough wing chun in one week that he would beat practically every wing chun man in the world. The thing is he would not need much wing chun to do it, and his internals would be the same as everyone elses.
The principles of internal arts are very simple, but to internalise those principles takes a lot of thought, work and practice. Effortlessness take great effort in the beginning. The more complicated the instructions give by the teacher, the more I smell a fraud. An endless curriculum is a great way to sell videos and books, hold seminars etc, but the skill is in the touch, in the feel; not so profitable.
Chu Shong Tin never sold himself with the internal badge and despite what people try to say he did not infuse tai chi principles into wing chun. However, every movements he made contained the core principle of the internal arts. How did he do it?
1. Ip Man told Chu Shong Tin to practice Sil Lim Tao whenever he could. He told him to think up through his spine and soften his limbs. Chu Shong Tin took him at his word and practiced at any free moment for two years. After that time he felt his power growing and he was able to overcome his class mates without effort.
2. Chu Shong Tin understood that a relaxed straight spine was to the key to all internal arts. The muscles are able to relax away from the centre and you no longer have to rely on localised muscle.
3. Through continued practice Chu Shong Tin was able to use a deeper part of his mind to not only release muscles and increase his power, but also rely on a more natural instinctive way to move.
4. Importantly Chu Shong Tin did not rest on his laurels, instead he practiced and improved over 60 years. He did this by demonstrating, breaking down and understanding his own processes and passing that onto his students. Hands on teaching is one of the best learning aids there is, but only if done humbly and not just a way to show off.
For me wing chun is not complicated, it is very simple, but it is counterintuitive and takes great patience to change the way you think and the way your body first seeks to react. The standing practice introduced in Sil Lim Tao is the key element to understand your body, so when in contact with others you can discern changes in yourself. Without this your wing chun is always going to be based on external alignment.
I do not make claims that the instructors at Sung are the best, but the way we move and feel to other practitioners differs from almost anyone who has come to our class to train. The key to our improvements I believe is trying to hold on as best as we each can to the basic principles passed on by Chu Shong Tin, and importantly the giving of feedback. We do not compete with each; we test each other and push each other. Consistently giving live feedback allows the chance to not only identify when you personally feel powerful, but when your partner feels you are powerful (which can be entirely different). If you use your mass/structure to neutralise force, there is very little muscular feedback to give an awareness that it is working. Because of this there is always a temptation to go back to old habits which feel effective. However if you can feel a better way in someone else, help them cultivate it, then there is a possibility you can map it back on yourself. Eventually you can work on a virtuous feedback loop where you both improve.
The method Mark, Jon and I have used and refined is the method we now teach. If you want to do what we an do, you need to do what we did. By placing the emphasis on both standing practice and the feedback through chi sau, the chances for improved kinesthetic awareness are multiplied.
In my opinion, in order to understand what' internal' is you need to have reached a sufficiently relaxed state that to can recognise and inhibit tension and reactions within your own body when it is acted on by an external force. This is the first step before you can accept or generate force. The next stage is using the awareness you have gained from chi sau to share that force through your body in a manner that neutralises it without restricting the movement of your joints. If you try this without a proper internal awareness (gained from constructive chi sau feedback) my belief if that you will find relaxed alignments, but they will still remain crude alignments in the direction the force is coming. Ultimately this is still external, and therefore contains the flaws of that type of system. For an internal method to work, your opponent/partner is forced to align in a direction not of their choosing (away from your centre), causing excess tension in them and still allowing free movement of your own joints (so you can hit their cente).
I do not know how internal Ip Man's wing chun was but I am very grateful that he taught Chu Shong Tin the keys to find a method for himself. Ultimately that is all a teacher can do. We at Sung give the best instruction we can to our students to improve their body awareness through standing, we answer questions as honestly as we can, and feedback is the cornerstone of our method helping them to not resist force (be it the force of an opponent or of gravity). It does take time, but many of our students are beginning to grasp our method and results are starting to show. Once you have this you become the master of your own development, and then you will have a lifetime to grow and improve.
Let me finish with a few questions which I want you to visualise and think about. What would it feel like to chi sau with yourself? Are you soft or heavy? Don't you draw people in or move then back? Do you have sharp angles or roll a perfect circle? Do you rely on speed? Do you push or pull? Do you have rooted balance or active balance? Do you want to 'win'? Do you really know, do you want to know? How can you find out?...
Jon and Mark giving corrective feedback
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