WingTsun is the art of solving problems
Instead WT has a concept, or rather a kind of philosophy, on whose basis an advanced fighter is able to create his own movements in combat. A WT fighter therefore has no finished techniques which he then adapts to the relevant fighting situation, bur rather a flexible concept, a form of strategy, which acts like a categorical imperative or golden rule and helps him to come up with exactly the right, 100-percent suitable answer to an attack.
Accordingly the WingTsun fighter does not already have a fixed, preserved answer for which he seeks a question, but instead creates a tailor-made answer to each question – and within fractions of a second!
This is made possible by unique sensitivity training for the arms and legs known as "Chi-Sao" or “Chi-Gerk” respectively, and I shall return to this later.
The WingTsun user therefore does not need to make an already finished answer "suitable" by changing it, moving extremely rapidly or forcing it to be applicable by excessive use of his strength. To this extent, strength is not as important a factor in WingTsun as in the conventional martial arts, and indeed WingTsun is the only martial art to be developed by women right from the start: WingTsun was originally conceived and developed by women, until it fell into the hands of men in the early 19th Century.
Like strength and endurance, absolute speed does not play an important role in WingTsun; because of its special "sticking hands" sensitivity training (Chi-Sao), movements that are too fast or too slow are disadvantageous, the foremost aim being a simultaneous response, i.e. "exchanging" with the opponent in the same instant.
The absolute, individual speed of response, which anyway cannot be significantly improved by intensive training, is of secondary importance in WingTsun.
The fight-winning factor that is important in WingTsun is the speed required to adapt to a changing situation without loss of time. I must not allow my reaction to follow my opponent’s action in time; instead my reaction must come practically at the same time as his action.
Even the thought that the other party is an "opponent", who by definition desires the opposite of what we want, is not conducive to success in WingTsun. We do not see ourselves as separate from the other party, but rather as complementary to him. By virtue of the sensitivity in our arms and legs as a result of Chi-Sao training, we "know" what the other’s intentions are. Instead of saying No to everything he wants to do, we say Yes to all his actions and assist them. This means that we actually help him to do what he wants, however we overdo things and help him too much, so that he loses his balance. We only control his movements to the extent absolutely necessary for our safety, but we allow him enough freedom of movement to let him make sure of his own downfall.
As we have recognised, the Taoist philosophy of life is an important component of the concept. This includes softness, giving way to greater strength rather than resisting, and using the attacking force of the opponent for oneself by "borrowing" it, recycling it and sending it back to him, so that he is struck or brought to a fall by his own strength. This also takes into account the legal concept of ’reasonable’ force, i.e. the attacker only receives back what he gave out, a form of "justice" that prevents excess and also safeguards the opponent’s health.
WingTsun as a self-defence system uses the successful "tit-for-tat" strategy.
1. We are friendly and cooperative towards others if they behave in the
2. If the other person becomes unfriendly, the WT user will also change to
3. If the other person becomes cooperative again, we resume our friendly
At its highest levels, WT is purely defensive in nature. The experienced master should be able to prevent physical conflict in the knowledge that he and the other person are not opposites. The end result is the profound understanding that "he" is "me", and that the point is to reduce suffering in the world.
However, the beginner has not yet learned to enter into his opponent’s spirit and adapt to him with empathy. In a self-defence situation, his only chance is therefore to pre-empt the other person with a hard and lighting-fast preventive attack. At this level "attack is the best defence", and that is also the title and subject matter of my relevant book.
The more advanced (intermediate) WT user is able to use the right brain hemisphere and left eye to intuitively anticipate the other’s intention to attack, enabling him to attack as the opponent’s own attack commences. This means that he is actually the defender, even though his skills do not yet allow him to let the opponent make the first move. Accordingly his attack is of a "forestalling" nature.
But because the preparation to attack (even though the attacker is not conscious of it) requires more time than the reaction, the defender is faster than the attacker. Accordingly the title of my latest book is "The last shall be first".
It is only the master – and certainly not an entry-level master – whose many, many years of sensitivity training known as Chi-Sao have given him this ability, who can await the opponent’s attack and only react when his arms and legs are contacted like the antennae of an insect, giving him all the information he needs about the impending attack.
In the final analysis, everything the attacker tries to do only serves to protect the master. The opponent’s attack ensures the master’s defence by mechanical means, for trusting solely in his own energy, the master will confidently await any attack in the certainty that the attacker will himself provide the means of defence – as paradoxical as this may sound.
One can regard, learn and disseminate WingTsun as a particular Asian martial arts style. In this case one follows WingTsun in order to do WingTsun. I refer to this as "l'art pour l'art WingTsun", i.e. WingTsun for its own sake.
However, WingTsun is not designed for combat with another WingTsun-fighter, but as self-defence against aggression by any attacker who has been trained in some other style, or has perhaps received no training at all. It follows that WingTsun must not degenerate into some kind of incestuous training, where one WingTsun-fighter defends himself against another. We have already seen what can happen if one loses sight of one’s goal: it leads to a focus on techniques which only make sense amongst WingTsun people, and which never occur on the street.
For this reason we WingTsun people have friendly and collegial exchanges of views with other styles, e.g. karate, tae-kwon-do, boxing and of course judo, wrestling etc. Not with a view to adopting their techniques, but to recognise where and e.g. at what distance a certain style is most effective.
The WingTsun system is designed for close-quarter combat, although the more advanced user also has good possibilities at longer ranges owing to his experience with weapons.
Our ideal distance from the opponent is slightly longer than that of wrestlers and slightly smaller than that of boxers. In the past I have therefore been able to give wrestlers useful hints on how to prevent the initial attack of an opponent. Or to boxers on how to fight even more effectively at extremely close quarters.
However, WingTsun is only a self-defence system in its lowest, i.e. physical form.
Personally I teach WingTsun as an art for solving problems. According to its etymological, Greek meaning, a "problem" is "something thrown in our path", i.e. something that is "in our way" and prevents us from doing something we believe we want. What do we do about obstacles? In WT we initially go straight for our goal, using the shortest distance. If we encounter an obstacle on this path, the concept of WT offers several suggested solutions on how to deal with this "problem":
1. Keep working on the problem (but not fanatically)
2. Give way to the problem slightly for strategic reasons, but immediately
make up ground when the problem is no longer there.
3. If we can do so without harm to ourselves and without creating another
problem, we clear the problem from our path – but only then.
4. Since WingTsun also has much in common with the movements of a snake,
we can also glide around problems and still achieve our goal.
5. People often think that to achieve their final goal, it is absolutely
necessary to achieve a partial objective first, and they become obsessed
with doing this rather than rethinking and taking a different route.
It is often the case that we ourselves are the problem: not being able to let go, tensing antagonistic muscles in the figurative sense, being too rigid, not seeing the wood for the trees. This is where "metanoia" is needed: penitence not in the sense of a sinner, but as an act of rethinking, of "knowing oneself", also of putting oneself in the other person’s shoes.
In fact there are three different phases or levels in WingTsun:
Level 1: PHYSICAL SELF-DEFENCE
The aim here is to protect oneself physically from the attacks of others, and to emerge victorious from physical confrontations. Nonetheless, even physical WingTsun is not merely a collection of techniques. In accordance with certain mottos or formulae, and in conjunction with specially trained movements (forms, Chi-Sao etc.), the necessary self-defence movements are directly adapted to the attack and spontaneously created by the defender (WT-user).
Level 2: ACHIEVING ONE’S AIMS IN THE WORLD
At the 2nd level the same formulae that we use at the lower, physical level to generate our fighting movements serve to develop tactics or stratagems which can be used to advantage in our external life and its many facets, at work, at school and in politics.
In this case the aim is not to protect the body, but rather one’s position, social status or business success.
In short, the intermediate level teaches us how to survive in the world and prevail over others with cleverness, skill and guile. But in the final analysis this level must be overcome by each individual, for everything one gains in this way is not forever, and is therefore without value in the end; after all, tactics and management skills strengthen the ego (unless one merely does one’s duty unselfishly), the root of all evil and suffering. On the other hand, Level 2 develops a “personality“ which provides the sustenance for material to rebuild the degenerated essence if it is separated from the ”false personality”.
Level 3: SELF-REALISATION
Ideally this level is that of the master or grandmaster. The highest level has nothing to do with the power of our punch (physical level), or how successful we are in business or with the opposite sex, i.e. in the external world. ”For what does it profit a man if he gain the whole world, but yet suffer harm to his soul?”
The 3rd level concerns itself with our essence, our true life, our internal life. The aim here is not to conquer others, but oneself (envy, hate, frustration, self-pity, fear, offended sense of justice, bad habits etc.).
By taking the path of individual, psychological evolution and e.g. free ourselves from wrong thinking and mechanical physical and mental attitudes, we try to transform ourselves into new, better and peaceable people. When we have worked on ourselves correspondingly, the world will be a better place for our neighbours.
Originally the WT-user worked on himself at all three of these levels simultaneously, but when WingTsun began to be taught to simpler people who only understood the physical level, a division into three learning levels occurred. Most schools, including those in Asia, are now only aware of the physical level and have never come into contact with the other two – sometimes they even deny their existence.
In fact the same mottos and behavioural formulae ingeniously pervade all three levels, and they bring particularly large and lasting benefits at the highest of these.
This has been recognised by many famous individuals who I believe came into contact with the physical and mental version of WingTsun:
- Hermann Hesse
- Carl Gustav Jung
- Bertrand Russell
I hope to say more on this topic in the coming years, though at present I still lack conclusive evidence for the correctness of my supposition.