It’s been more than 10 years since I started Wing Tsun (in Toronto with Si-Hing/Sifu Asad Mir). I’ve had the opportunity to learn from Sifu German Ferrer of Calgary Wing Tsun and Sifu Ralph Haenel of Wing Tsun Kung Fu Vancouver, and of course from all of the Si-Hings and Si-Dais. Although Wing Tsun started as a hobby and done in a part-time manner, it has remained a passion of mine. Since being back in Vancouver for nearly 2 years, I have been grateful to be training more consistently with Si-Fu Ralph Haenel.Earlier this year in April, I was awarded the 1TG aka First Technician Grade in Wing Tsun Kung Fu.
What does it mean to be a technician in Wing Tsun Kung Fu? I have heard some say it is like the first Black Belt. Actually some also say that the landmark Student Level 9 in Wing Tsun is equivalent to a Black Belt. But I’m actually not clear about what the different standards of a Black Belt are in other martial arts systems, so I can’t say much about that.
What I can tell you is that in the original Leung Ting Wing Tsun system, there are 12 Student Levels before the Instructor Levels, which include 4 Technician Levels, 4 Practitioner Levels, 4 Philosophical Levels. Some may also say that as a First Technician, one should be a good “fighter” by now. I don't feel like a good fighter, but then again I don't know how to define that. Supposedly as a First Technician level, one has become more proficient and now improves the “techniques.” Interestingly, I believe (as of today at least) that a true understanding of Wing Tsun Kung Fu means there are no techniques per se. It is, as Si-Fu would say, adaptation to chaos. Apparently that is why there are now HG (Higher Grade) levels instead in the EWTO.Why are there levels? When standardizing a system or program taught around the world, it is useful to sub-divide, compartmentalize, and categorize. But when learning something like Wing Tsun Kung Fu, one is really learning about how to move one’s body efficiently. It is more like a continuum. A journey.
If this is the case, so then why test and why advance?
Testing and GradingInitially, I thought that it didn’t matter what level I was in Wing Tsun, but only that I was learning, progressing, and improving. Due to the logistical structure of the Wing Tsun programs, to advance in learning meant to advance by testing and passing levels. The way that the Wing Tsun hierarchy was structured, that elusive black shirt from Student Grade 9 and the red stripe from 1TG were both landmark goals to aspire to. And so I began to love “advancing.”
But then, from my past experience as a Student Level 9-10 training with some that were supposedly 1TG (not in Vancouver!), I didn’t feel that level of skill difference that ought to have been there. Which led me again to think that it didn’t matter what level I was in Wing Tsun. It mattered that I was learning, progressing, and improving, but now more importantly achieved a certain standard coming from the eyes of an experienced and skilled instructor. And in Vancouver, that would be from Si-Fu Ralph Haenel.In the end though, I think we all secretly yearn to advance levels in Wing Tsun.
When investing time, money, effort, sweat, we as humans all want to progress, advance, and improve. We all wouldn’t mind receiving a pat on the back and being acknowledged. This yearning is not only limited to training in martial arts, but in other endeavours as well. People like status. People like certifications and credibility. But all of this requires… you guessed it… commitment! And kung fu (hard work)! And for someone who wants to commit even more to Wing Tsun and teach, I think having certification from someone like Si-Fu Ralph is important.
Are you trying or are you doing?
Framework of Wing Tsun Kung FuThis beginning of a deeper understanding has been helped by visualizing the framework of the entire system. Some reach this beginning sooner. For me, however, it has taken some time to develop this awareness. The roadmap has certainly been helpful in my journey. Si-Fu Ralph Haenel has recently finished laying out the framework of the Wing Tsun Kung Fu system to the advanced team. This includes:
· Siu Nim Tao form
· Cham Kiu form
· Biu Dje form
· Wooden Dummy form
· Long Pole exercises and form
· Bart Cham Dao form
· Chi Sao Sections
· Biu Dje Chi Sao Sections
· Wooden Dummy Chi Sao Sections
There are also programs and training methods including Chi Sao Functional Strength Training, Lat Sao, Blitz-Defense, Folding and Sliding programs, Weapons Chambers, etc. Then there are applications, which is an ongoing learning process. And don’t forget about the CoreConcepts.The whole advanced team must be now Masters of Wing Tsun! You laugh, but others who have “learned” the whole system actually might claim this. Merely learning and “pocketing” the whole system does not make one a master.
This framework has helped me think and “cross-reference”, as Si-Fu would say. It has helped me analyze numerous ideas, movements, and applications. How each motion fits into the interweb of Wing Tsun.I don’t think it is absolutely only due to seeing the framework that has helped me start understanding Wing Tsun better, as much as it has been being more immersed into Si-Fu Ralph’s teaching methods and amazing skill level.
It has taken some time for me to learn how to move. Actually, I am still trying to learn how to move, and generate power from the toes to the fingertips, and absorb/redirect from the fingertips to the toes. It is fairly amazing what the human body can do.Thank you to Si-Fu Ralph Haenel! My journey has only just begun. Still learning…