“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
Authur C. Clarke
“Feeling stupid doesn’t feel good, and the beginning of learning anything new is feeling stupid.”
In 1977, I walked into a community center on Pease Air Force Base in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and began my martial arts studies. It was a Karate class taught by a Sergeant who had learned in Okinowa. There were about 8 other students, all adults, many of them soldiers. Suffice it to say, I had no idea what I was doing and felt like an idiot, standing there, 15 years old, small for my age, with my pale hairless legs in a t-shirt and cutoffs, standing about 5’6” and weighing about 100 pounds, my growth spurt waiting until the following summer.
I’ve had this experience many times over the years, beginning different arts at new schools. At the beginning, you never know what is going on. You don’t know the rules or the etiquette or how to dress. At least Karate made sense right away, even if it took a while to get my body to do it. The blocks and punches and kicks were very straight-forward. Decades later, I started training Chinese martial arts.
Wing Chun was not so straight-forward. You have to stand funny (YJKYM). The actions are like patting your head and rubbing your belly – your body rebels in confusion and unfamiliarity. It isn’t immediately clear how it works in a real fight (for many, it will never be clear). Are you supposed to hit them with the Bong Sau? What do you do against a jab? How do the actions in the Siu Lum Tao or the Dummy form translate into fighting? My initial confusion with Wing Chun led me to start this blog. When I started to “get it,” I realized it was mainly confusing because it had not been explained to me clearly (or at all).
Back in late 2019, I took a break from Wing Chun due to a persistent shoulder injury (see my How to Treat Shoulder Injuries from Wing Chun Training article from 2015 – written several years into the problem).
I didn’t want to completely stop training.
I’d always been curious about the so-called Internal Arts, such as Tai Chi. Sources I trusted said that if you trained with the right person, it was powerful and dangerous, however innocuous the training looked form the outside. Many Kung Fu styles are said to have internal components, like as Ba Gua, Mantis, etc. There are a lot of mysterious terms thrown around. Chi. Neigung. Tendon changing, marrow washing. Dan Tien.
These terms were even used in Wing Chun but I was taught that in Wing Chun, internal meant something more “practical.” To express internal power meant to have proper skeletal alignment. The joints had to be open. The movements soft and “whippy” like bamboo. I always struggled with being “soft,” so I thought, maybe I can go take some internal arts, it won’t be the sort of stressful training that will hurt my shoulder (might even help), plus help me learn to “stick” and be “soft.”