Sifu of Wing Tsun Kung Fu - Student of Sifu Ralph Hänel's WingTsun-CoreConcepts

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

What am I learning, anyways?

As you know, kung fu has traditionally been passed down from generation to generation with no noticeable structure per se. Students did not sign up each semester for Kung Fu 101, then 102, then 201 and 202, etc. I wonder how people knew their progress then? Perhaps they got into a lot more fights and random challenges with other styles back then e.g. “Bei Mo”. Before, perhaps teaching was more individualized, and students were taught when they were presumed to be ready. Sifus either passed down kung fu to their own family members, or only had a handful of students, not like nowadays.

Now though, with so many schools and students, how would the Sifus and To-dais keep track? WT has been touted as having a more structured approach with a standardized curriculum. Theoretically, you should be able to go anywhere around the world with your WT Passport and continue training in your own program. I’ve never really tried that out actually. A balance of being both between standardized and individualized.

A skeleton

Now that I think about it, whenever we had guest instructors in Toronto, there may have been differences in the specific details of each technique that may not have seemed standardized. But, in the end, the framework was actually there. I’ve come to realize that the so-called structured program is just a skeleton on which to build upon, since everything that we learn is so spread out across the whole system of levels.


On the other hand, having a checklist for each level has been useful for me in the past. It told me what the basic requirements were for each grade. Like pre-requisites for the next course. Plus, I’m sure everyone has enough unpredictable and unstructured things in their lives already, be it at home or at work, so it’s nice to have some structure in one’s life. It also gave the instructor an idea as to where the students were at and what they haven’t learned yet.

However, it’s not like after you tick off the checklists, then we are done with it! Also, in mathematics, when we learned long division, you still had to use addition and subtraction. Okay, bad example… how many people whip out their cell phones now for calculations?


So, how do we know that we are getting better in WT? Why, get into a random scrum at the bar of course! Just kidding - if you want to talk about unpredictability and unstructured, that approach is highly not recommended.

Well, we can simulate the realistic and practical side of assessing progress throughout our training. In Toronto, we routinely practiced defending against “random attacks” to test our skills. That way, we can try and apply and test out our skills. (As an aside, that’s another great reason to have a variety of students with other martial arts experiences in the class, because they can throw a proper TKD kick, or boxer’s jab/punch, or Jiu-Jitsu take-down, etc. )

Then there is formal testing to advance levels of course, as a standardized way of saying: “Now you are ready grasshopper, to start learning the next technique… monkey plucks two peaches!” Students become aware of what they have accomplished. Everyone needs some encouragement and confidence now and again as well. A sense of pride and achievement. Plus, some credentials for teaching and passing it on in the future.

Overall though, I don’t care much about a label, as long as I know the skills are there. Someone once told me (paraphrased): “having a technician suit doesn’t help my WT when I have to use it.” What do you mean, you could take that jacket off, throw it at your opponent to blind him right before your pummel him with chain punches!

Anyways, as long as I keep a record of my training, and spend the time re-thinking and recalling what has been taught, that helps me identify gaps and weaknesses. Then, just train harder!

What are your thoughts?

Check out these older posts at Grasshopper 2.0 and WT Vancouver with a similar theme:

WT Structure

Columns of Wing Tsun training and How to train

Sifu Ralph's CoreConcepts

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