The Wing Chun training methodology has evolved significantly over the last few hundred years, and the Wing Chun Concepts course is simply the latest step in that evolution. In this chapter, we’ll explore the three main ingredients of this recipe, which include
Three Main Steps of Wing Chung Training
- (1) selecting the material to study
- (2) establishing guidelines to make your practice sustainable
- (3) fine-tuning the learning process to make it both effective and efficient.
If effectiveness is doing the right things, efficiency is doing things right. The training process as outlined in this guide is designed to cultivate maximum skill in Wing Chun Kung Fu in the minimum amount of time and with the least possible impact on the rest of your daily schedule. Some Kung Fu masters have said that it takes 20 years to learn their system. That’s a horrible return on investment. Our goal is to make you proficient in Wing Chun in TWO years.
The Wing Chun Concepts system is based on a time-tested training algorithm that produces repeatable success in efficiently training Wing Chun concepts and skills.
The Right Stuff
The first step is to take Bruce Lee’s advice to “hack away at the non-essentials” very, very seriously. The Kung Fu world is both deep and wide, and it is easy to get overwhelmed with all of the possible options and opportunities. Our goal here is to sift through all of the many good options to select and focus on the few truly great options. There are three phases to this work: deconstruction, selection, and sequencing.
DECONSTRUCTION: The Explore Phase
What are the minimal learnable units 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 conducting an inventory audit to identify all of the most basic components or building blocks. This phase is a lot like 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 these letters into words, then sentences, and finally free-flowing prose.
SELECTION: The Elimination Phase
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.”
SEQUENCING: The Execution Phase
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 that 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. One training maxim that you’re likely to be reminded of repeatedly:
“Don’t practice until you get it right; practice until you cannot get it wrong.”
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.
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 are quick to 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.
Part of the very definition of Kung Fu is that it is mastery of skill through disciplined practice over time. In this age of instant gratification, that “over time” part really trips some people up. First, let’s be completely clear about the idea of practice. You cannot gain Kung Fu skills just by reading about it or watching videos any more than you could learn to play a piano or guitar without touching the instrument. These are skills that require a LOT of dedicated practice. The real trick, then, is to cultivate a practice that enables you to get good, but without boredom or burn-out.
After many years of teaching and training, we’ve learned that this sweet spot of practice volume and frequency varies greatly from person to person. The variables in this equation include your fitness level, your recovery time, your learning speed, and the amount of discretionary time on your daily schedule. To help you find your personal sweet spot, we’re going to define the minimum amount of practice required, flag the warning signs of over-training, and then help guide you toward your optimal practice schedule.
The Minimal Effective Dose (MED)
This term, borrowed from pharmacology and sports medicine, means finding the smallest dose of medicine or the shortest duration of therapy that will have a predictable meaningful effect. The concept of Minimal Effective Dose (referred to as MED from here on) in this case means how little training can I do and still gain Kung Fu skills? Unless you have opted to become a Kung Fu monk and live in isolation on a mountaintop, you probably have an overwhelming list of responsibilities that are competing for your time and attention. There’s work or school, family and friends, and the full spectrum of personal demands and household chores. Who has time for Kung Fu?
The good news is that Wing Chun was developed by regular people who had regular lives. As you will read in Wing Chun History, all of the grandmasters had jobs and families, too. They developed specific training methodologies that could be effective by training in intensive but very brief blocks of time. We are going to continue that tradition throughout this course with Wing Chun MED.
DAILY MED: 5 MINUTES
Your commitment to learning Wing Chun Kung Fu is that you set aside five minutes every single day for training. You don’t get weekends off, and you still have to practice during full moons and when it’s raining. In those five minutes, you will practice the Siu Lim Tau form. As you learn the other forms, you will add those to your daily practice (and it becomes ten minutes, then fifteen minutes). But at a minimum, you will always practice Siu Lim Tau every day.
WEEKLY MED: 2 HOURS
In addition to the five-minute daily form practice, commit to at least two hours of training each week. The Wing Chun Concepts curriculum breaks down into small practice blocks called Twenty Minute Modules (20MM). Each week, commit to training at least six modules. Maybe that’s one 20MM every day, Monday through Saturday (rest on Sunday). Maybe that’s one hour of practice (three 20MM) every Tuesday and Thursday. Maybe it’s two hours on Saturday morning. The actual organization is up to you and your schedule, but make a firm commitment to at least six 20MM each and every week.
Can such a limited amount of practice still be effective? Yes. Coach Henk Kraaijenhof, a former world record holder and world champion himself, and coach of Merlene Joyce Ottey, who won a combined 23 medals at the Olympic games and world championships, has this to say about the training: “Do as little as needed, not as much as possible.”
Burnout: The Risks of Over-Training
At the other end of the training, the spectrum is over-training. Especially in the beginning when Kung Fu is novel and exciting, it’s tempting to want to go full-throttle and train every available minute. Most of us have been there, and so we can share some warning signs that you may be trying to practice too much.
The first red flag you want to avoid is injury. You see this every January when flocks of people head to gyms with their New Year’s resolutions firmly in mind. In their zeal to lose weight or gain muscle, they crank up the settings on the stair-steppers or stack a lot of plates on the weight machines, and then — BOOM — injury. The setback derails their imagined plans, they get disheartened, and by March have canceled their gym memberships.
The Kung Fu approach — disciplined practice over time — is, by contrast, incremental. You train, you recover, then you train again. One of the key Wing Chun skills that you will be learning is called Listening. In the combat curriculum, you will learn to tune into and listen to your attacker’s energy. But before that, you must develop the skill of listening to your own body: discern between the pain of sore muscles and the sharp pain of impending damage; discern between natural fatigue and true muscle exhaustion. One of the core concepts of Wing Chun fighting is, First, don’t get hurt. This same principle applies to your training.
Side Note: Throughout the course, expect to learn some anatomy. When we explore a technique, especially if it involves a joint (shoulder, knee, elbow), we’re going to learn how it works and identify what kinds of things can go wrong. This does two important things: it helps you avoid injury and prevent damage, and teaches you how to cause an injury if needed.
The other big red flag you want to watch for is social or familial. The effects of Kung Fu training on your personal life are overwhelmingly positive: you become more even-tempered and calmer in a crisis, you have more energy, and you look and feel better. Your friends and family can see these positive changes and will support you. But be careful not to cross that line into becoming obsessive with your training (it can happen, ask me how I know). Alienating your friends and angering your family sets you up for a different kind of conflict. Don’t go there. Temper your enthusiasm and remember that you’re playing the long game. The Kung Fu Life is one of harmony, balancing your personal journey with the needs of all those who care about you.
Optimal Wing Chun Training
Somewhere between the MINIMAL training (5MIN/DAY + 2HR/WEEK) and burnout is your sweet spot: your OPTIMAL Wing Chun training schedule. Remember that this is a sustained practice; you will need to commit to this much training time for the next two years to get solid results. For the truly dedicated, this is one hour each day, almost every day, encoded as 1HR/DAY/WEEK.
An hour per day of training equates to 10 minutes of study prep, either reading new material or reviewing current material; plus 5 minutes of forms practice; plus two 20MM practice sets (40 minutes); plus 5 minutes of self-evaluation, note-taking, and updating your training journal. If you have more time, add another 20MM; less time, subtract one. Be flexible with your training and flow with the demands of your daily life. It’s also reasonable to not train one or two days each week, but even then you must always find five minutes for practicing the Siu Lim Tau form.
Investing an hour each day may not be practical for you, but experiment and evaluate. Start with the MED, and add additional practice time as you can. As you ease into the Kung Fu Life, you may begin to re-orient, re-evaluate, and re-prioritize your schedule. Less TV or gaming, more fresh air, and exercise.
But note that getting good isn’t about just racking up training hours. Rather, it’s about being fully engaged in every single hour that you invest. It is quality of practice over quantity (Quality > Quantity). It’s something we call Deep Practice.
The Secret Sauce in our Wing Chun training recipe is something called Deep Practice. Effective and efficient training isn’t just about logging practice hours; the true magic happens when every minute of your training is fully engaged, highly focused, and playfully challenging. This is an idea fully explored in the book The Talent Code:
The sweet spot: that productive, uncomfortable terrain located just beyond our current abilities, where our reach exceeds our grasp. Deep practice is not simply about struggling; it’s about seeking a particular struggle, which involves a cycle of distinct actions.
– Daniel Coyle
Almost everyone prefers to stay in their comfort zone. You get the work done, and it’s relatively easy. You don’t have to struggle too much, and you get it right almost all the time. The Kung Fu way, though, is to go deeper. You go looking for the challenge. You find a skill that is just out of reach, that you can just brush with your fingertips, and you struggle and you problem-solve intensely until you have it. Then you reach again.
Deep Practice isn’t something that can be summed up in a paragraph. It is a skill of its own and is learned over time. It is a very specific approach to learning new skills that we are going to integrate into every lesson. The key phrase to remember: If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.
Wing Chun Training Format
Wing Chun Concepts uses a very specific training format to predictively produce results. All of the core lessons will have three distinct phases: Absorb, Practice, and Evaluate
ABSORB: The Learning Phase
The first time that you are exposed to a new concept, you will need to fully understand both the mechanical actions as well as the underlying key concepts. All of the lessons that teach forms, drills, or tactics will follow a streamlined format containing five elements:
WHAT: The Lesson Intro
The first section gives a concise overview of the lesson so that you know exactly what will be covered.
REMEMBER: The Key Points
The main steps of each form, the important training points of each drill, or the key strategies of each tactical drill are listed here in bullet-list format. It is recommended that you copy these to your training journal as a way to reinforce memory and recall. By the time you mark the lesson “complete,” you should be able to easily recall from memory all of the key points listed here. If you cannot, this is a sure sign that you need to invest additional practice time before you advance to the next lesson.
SHOW ME: Visual Reference
Each form and drill will be illustrated with photographs, illustrations, a slideshow sequence, or a video. The more complex the form or drill, the more detailed this visual reference section will be.
HOW: Step-by-Step Instruction
As the main content of the lesson, each section of the form or variation of the drill will be broken down into easy-to-follow steps. Each movement will be fully explained, along with specific safety notes and guidelines for self-evaluation.
WHY: Conceptual Understanding
The final section digs a little deeper for those who need to understand the meaning behind the movement. Be warned, this section may veer into topics as diverse as sports physiology, Asian symbolism, philosophy, physics, Qi energetics, Chinese medicine, and human anatomy.
PRACTICE: The Training Phase
After you have grasped the key points of the lesson, you will put them into practice by working on the forms, doing solo drills, training on the battle post, cooperatively working through partner drills, or testing your reactions through tactical drills. Follow the step-by-step instructions for each lesson, and repeatedly cycle through the form or drill until you master the skill. Note that there are relatively few skills that can be mastered in a single practice session. Like a musician who must practice a song over and over before they can play it effortlessly, expect to repeat individual lessons as many times as needed.
EVALUATE: The Feedback Phase
You will be checking and validating your progress throughout each lesson, but you should always conclude each training session with a brief self-evaluation. An objective way to do this is to maintain a Training Journal. This can simply be a notebook where you write down your observations from the current session, and/or make notes to yourself for the next session. This provides a feedback loop that allows you to course-correct or fine-tune as needed. Even if you know you’ll remember what you’ve learned, writing it down – being forced to articulate your thoughts – activates another region of your brain and helps reinforce the learning.
NEXT: The Final Countdown
By now you know what Wing Chun is, you understand the goals of the Wing Chun Concepts course, you’ve seen the scope of the curriculum, and now you have an idea of how it all works. The final step is the most important: making a decision, making a change, and making a commitment. If you feel that this path is right for you, then go to the last chapter in this section, and get ready to launch in 3, 2, 1…