We cannot become what we want to be by remaining what we are.

Ignition: Getting Started

Hold this thought clearly in your mind: I CAN DO THIS. It does not matter where you are starting from. Your age, weight, athleticism and physical ability are irrelevant. The only thing that matters is your determination, and that is ageless, weightless, and stronger than you can possibly imagine.

Every human achievement – in fact, every human talent – begins with Ignition, that powerful spark that sets off a chain of events that gets you off the sofa and into action. In this case, you're moving onto the training floor. As you face challenges – and we'll cover the most frequent in just a moment ‐ remember that with every step forward you are becoming more powerful. This is how you get started. 

The First Step

Human beings are funny. They want a Reward Ratio to motivate them. They have to be challenged or excited or entertained in order to be motivated to do anything. From a purely logical standpoint, we would progress through the Wing Chun Concepts self-defense material based on a descending arc from most common to least common threats and responses. Unfortunately, that's really boring.

Most threats can be avoided with simple Evasion strategies, but that involves learning about violence dynamics, types of Bad Guys, recognizing pre-incident indicators, and personal behaviors that make you a "hard target." While valuable to know, its mostly lecture and abstract understanding. There's not much to do in that section.

The exciting part about self-defense is dumping the Bad Guy on the ground and breaking pieces and parts that he considers important. Unfortunately, accidents happen if we jump straight to the really cool stuff. We don't want people to end up getting hurt unintentionally. So we're going to take a hybrid approach.

We're going to build a solid foundation that gives you practical stuff from day one, and add onto that with each and every module. As you saw in the Curriculum section, each phase is a combination of forms and drills. Each of the Wing Chun forms is like a textbook containing physical structures, techniques, tactics and principles. All of the drills start simply and then become progressively more challenging. Just when you begin to get comfortable with a drill and think, "Hey, I got this!" we're going to modify it, add onto it, or blend it with something else. The goal is to continually stimulate and challenge both your brain and body so that you continually improve.


It is possible that as you begin Wing Chun training, you will likely face down every fear and doubt that your mind can dredge up. This is your Ego resisting change. Before you step onto the mat the first time, simply be aware of the most common tactics your monkey mind is going to throw at you. With some simple agreements with yourself, you can get past this stage.

In the old days, the Kung Fu Master would make a potential student prove their dedication and commitment before they could begin the training. Often a student would be harshly rejected time and time again before finally being accepted. This was done to test the student's persistance.

Training Kung Fu is not easy, and it is not for everyone. The Kung Fu legends are full of stories where a new disciple would have to endure a brutal series of physical and mental tests to prove their readiness. This course has no such initiations, but the sense of commitment is the same.

Once the novelty wears off you'll figure out that Kung Fu is Chinese for "Hard Work." Your first agreement is simple: be willing to do the hard work. Push past the short-term pain to reach the long-term goal. It takes effort, determination and pure grit, but you are forging a Warrior's mind, body and spirit.

This is huge. This excuse is one of the most powerful weapons our change-resistent brain will use to keep you parked in the recliner in front of the TV. No one wants to be embarrassed, feel awkward or look stupid. How many people do you know who won't try a yoga class, dance class or new sport for this same exact reason?

There's only one way around this: be willing to look stupid. I wish I could tell you that with this approach, you will always be comfortable, happy and graceful. You won't. Feeling awkward is no fun. But being willing to look stupid — risking the emotional pain of making mistakes — is absolutely essential to success.

The way you improve any skill is to try, reach the limits of your ability, fail, and try again. You problem-solve, playfully. If you screw up, laugh it off and try again. If toddlers were afraid of falling, we'd all be crawling around on hands and knees. Mistakes are not verdicts on your self-worth; they are sign posts that help you navigate to the correct move.

As a last resort, your monkey brain will throw a tantrum and start calling you names. You know the drill: you're too fat or too skinny, too old or too young, too flabby, too busy, or too something. If one of those hooks sinks in, your brain will start bargaining with you. Come back to this after you've lost weight, it whispers. Or maybe, wait until you're in better shape. Sound familiar?

Go re-read that first line on this page and make it your third agreement: I CAN DO THIS. Every excuse you can dig up is just that: an excuse. Start right now from where you are. This is a transformational process and it works TWO WAYS.

One, we're going to use the training to get you into the fittest version of yourself. In other words, eat right, exercise and pay attention to your body. The Focus strategies will help you manage time and stress. We can't make you any younger, so just don't put this off. Start now, or that "I'm too old" excuse is going to be a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Two, you'll learn to adapt Wing Chun to you. This is a core concept of the art. Your arms are too short for that technique? Here's how to modify it. You're not flexible enough to do that? Try this other variation. Problem-solve.

Today there are people training that have lost one or more limbs, are blind, and are adapting the techniques to work for them despite their disabilities. Your excuse is invalid.

That said, DO check with your doctor before beginning this or any other new physical activity. Being SAFE begins with being SMART. Make sure that you are "mechanically sound" and ready to train.

A Recipe for Success

In The 4-Hour Chef, bestselling author Timothy Ferriss (4-Hour Workweek, 4-Hour Body) has distilled his ideas about skill acquisition into a simple recipe with the acronym DSSS. The elements of this formula are:

What are the minimal learnable units, the Lego blocks, I should start with? Our first step is to take this amorphous "skill" of Kung Fu and break it down into small, manageable pieces. Think of this as learning the alphabet. We will begin by isolating single hand forms or structural shapes, single-step actions, and basic core concepts. This will give us the "A, B, C's." As we advance, we will be able to combine this letters into words, then sentences, and finally free-flowing prose.

Which 20% of the blocks should I focus on for 80% or more of the skill I want? This concept of smart selection is based on the Pareto principle (also known as the 80–20 rule) which states that, for many situations, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. The grandmasters of Wing Chun took exactly this approach, auditing all of the available styles of traditional Kung Fu and selecting only the techniques that were proven effective for self-defense, could be learned quickly, and could be used by almost anyone. When we say Wing Chun is CONCISE, it is because the system is highly selective — or, as Bruce Lee famously said: "Absorb what is useful, discard what is not."

In what order should I learn these blocks? The emphasis on a logical sequence is one of the unique things about the Wing Chun Concepts curriculum. Most martial arts schools teach using a "technique of the day" approach. Everyone lines up, the teacher presents the technique, then everyone partners up and practices. If you missed that class, you missed that technique. Wing Chun has traditionally always been taught very differently: the teaching is one-on-one, and you follow a very specific training progression.
You start with Lesson One and you master it. Once you can reliably demonstrate one skill, then you move on to the next. It is an unalterable hierarchy where each skill becomes the foundation for the next. You don't skip any steps and you don't move on because you're bored or excited. Master the current step first.
The Wing Chun training progression has been perfected over hundreds of years. You begin with the Siu Lim Tau-level skills where you learn the "seed" concepts and foundation techniques. Once these skills have been polished, you move to the Chum Kiu level and add another level of complexity through dynamic movement (stepping, twisting, kicking, etc.). Once those skills have become second nature, you move on to the Biu Jee level where you learn to fight your way back from worst-case scenarios.
The sequencing is the secret of Wing Chun. It is why traditional Wing Chun fighters are so reliable in their skill — think of Marines reassembling their rifles blindfolded. This is also why we quickly say that Wing Chun is not for everyone. Training Wing Chun, specifically following the exact training progression, requires patience, dedication, endurance and commitment. These qualities are sadly lacking in modern society. If you want to learn Wing Chun, you will either need these qualities, or pledge to develop them.

How do I set up stakes, create real consequences, and guarantee I stick to the training? No matter how much you want to train Kung Fu right now, humans are innately horrible at self-discipline. We have so many choices available to us that it is natural to want to sample lots of different things, trying them briefly before moving on to chase the next novel experience. Kung Fu doesn't play well in that world. The words "Kung Fu" literally mean "skill gained over time." The "time" part requires that you stick with the training for more than a month.
A goal without real consequences is just wishful thinking. Sticking with your training doesn't depend on having good intentions. It depends on the right incentives. If you truly, absolutely want to learn Wing Chun Kung Fu, set stakes on your commitment. The consequences for quitting should have a heavy cost. These can be social or financial. For example, tell your friends that you are learning Kung Fu and ask them to inquire about your progress each month. The fear of failure in front of your friends can be strong motivation. Cash can also be a solid motivator. Put a painfully large sum of money in an envelope marked with a goal. If you quit before achieving your goal, donate the cash to charity. If you achieve your goal, reward yourself. Repeat as often as needed.

For a tech-savvy person like yourself, another option is StickK.com. This combo website and mobile app allows you to set your goal, create a contract to achieve that goal, set real financial stakes, bring in a referee to keep you honest, and recruit your peers for support. As we go forward through the course, we'll be pointing out other apps and technology innovations that can help your progress.

NEXT: The Wing Chun Training Schedule
Now that you have a solid understanding of the Wing Chun Concepts framework, let's look at some actual time estimates for your Wing Chun training schedule. Wing Chun emphasizes effectiveness and efficiency, and this applies to getting quality training time, too. We call this the Kung Fu MED.