When I started teaching wing chun I felt an obligation to pass on the art in the traditional manner. Students should first learn the Sil Nim Tao, then start chi sau with bong/tan, then fook sau, followed by rolling hands, Chum Kui and Bil Jee etc. Only moving on once they understand that which came before. On top of this at Sung we have a heavy emphasis on standing practice and structural tests, as this was an important part of how CST taught. I have met many people who learned differently. The classes they came from had them rolling and doing chum kui after a few lessons, but almost all had no sense of structure even if they had trained many years, so to me that approach was flawed. They were unable to stand up to anything approaching real pressure. We decided at Sung to teach in a way similar to what was taught at Si Gung's kwoon, this was despite being told by people from our own lineage that it might not be a good idea as the average student would prefer something more commercial. But to be honest, we are not after the average student who has the concentration span of goldfish.
The paradox of SLT is that although you are apparently standing static as you practice the form and only moving your arms, it is not about isolated arm movements at all. It is about how you integrate your arm movements with the rest of your body and move as a unit. We talk about moving from your centre, but really this is shorthand for saying you utilise your whole body mass in your movements; when one thing moves the whole thing moves, even if others cannot see it. You are not actually still whilst you are standing to do the from, it is a constant release into the floor and a corresponding release up from the feet, legs and up through the spine. Are you going up or down? Both actually but at the same time.
We get people come to Sheffield from far and wide for private lessons to see if what they have seen on youtube is for real. Some have only done wing chun for a few years and suspect that their sifu is not quite doing what they say they are, and others are teachers of other lineages themselves whom want to delve deeper. It is not easy in a few hours to pass on to someone how to do what we do. We can demonstrate the logic of it, the power of it, the deficiency in what they might be doing, but what can they take away? They already know SLT movements, but the habits they have of pulling in muscles and pushing into the elbow really hinder them from finding relaxed power.
Recently I have found some something that does help. Instead of working too much with SLT, most people can be helped to get a connection to their centre when doing larger movement, when they can feel a connection from their feet through the body to an outstretched arm. This might be akin to a movement from the chum kui or even bil jee. Once they are set up in this movement, it becomes obvious how the power can work effortlessly. From here with careful adjustment the position can be brought closer to recognisable positions of the SLT, whilst maintaining the connection. It becomes obvious that even a tan sau utilises the whole body.The irony is though that once a recognisable position in found, poor habit and alignment immediately kicks in and the power is lost. However this transition point does give the individual a signpost, a method of identified when they loose connection. I don't think I am the first to think this way, Mark and Jon work in similar ways, I have experienced people like Ma Kei Fai and John Kaufman do it and I see Mark Spence help his students get the connection first and from there all things flow.
There could be an argument for starting with bil jee form first and reducing it down to the refinement of the SLT later. I call the SLT the old man form, become for someone who has trained a lifetime like CST or Ip Man, they only need a small movement to utilise their body mass whilst others need large winding movements. However, teaching this way in a large class would be impossible, you need the hands on instruction to get the body knowledge along with standing practice, or an individual will just be relying on speed without usable mass.
I have decided that in teaching I will do away with the restrictions of hierarchy related to the forms. I do not believe in levels and gradings so why restrict someone from learning what they need to learn when they need it. What we need to recognise is how we connect our bodies, so if you require a large spiralling movement to get that connection, then we can start there and refine it. This does not mean that students will learn the forms in the wrong order, but movements can be discussed and learned at any time they are appropriate. In that way it might be quicker to learn the whole system and really you cannot understand the wing chun system if you have only experienced one part of it.
So connection is the key, the mind, limbs and body all working together without the clutter of habit and ego getting in the way. Instead of throwing an arm at someone, direct 70 or 80kg at them and they will know what power feels like even if it is only moving at slow speed. I've never been asked by anyone to feel what a one inch kick feels like for a second time, but sometimes we all need a kick to get us thinking.
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