As I sit and watch the wave of violence sweep our nation, I have been reminded of some very important principles of Wing Chun Kung Fu (Kung Fu, here, translated “a way of life”) that date back to its very founder, Ng Mui. These principles are what led me to write this blog: Making a Traditional Martial Art Relevant Today.
There are four key words in the title that require understanding in order to grasp what I’m about to say on the topic:
1.) Traditional = “existing in or as part of a tradition; long-established”; “habitually done, used, or found.” Here in the United States, we have commercialized the learning of martial arts into step-by-step programs of exercise or competition fighting for sport. In the process, we have lost many of the teachers who can direct the principles of the martial art taught to the student in a direct and applicable way (i.e., a way the student is empowered, or made able). As this degeneration (i.e., “having lost the physical, mental, or moral qualities considered normal and desirable; showing evidence of decline”) has eroded the possibility of many students to embrace the original lessons of the martial art they practice, and the value of the martial art they practice has been reduced, making many irrelevant to today’s martial artist’s needs. This brings me to the next two words, which will define what martial arts is:
2.) Martial = “of or appropriate to war; warlike.” (Therefore, I will not be talking about competition fighting.)
3.) Arts = “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination.”
Together, these words mean the expression and application of human creative skill and imagination in a warlike – appropriate to war – way. In such a context, we come to the heart of something that many don’t want: WAR. The ugliest expression of humankind, and the deadliest. There are no rules or officials to enforce those rules. It’s kill or be killed, with or without direct intention. (But I’ll get to the later part of that sentence in a moment.)
If we are not training in a way that is relevant to today’s needs and our known, suspect or potential circumstances, can we be said to be prepared, truly able? This brings me to the final word:
4.) Relevant = “appropriate to the current time, period, or circumstances; of contemporary interest.” As I watch the unedited videos of violence across the United States, I am struck with the number of people who are collectively gathering with blunt, sharp and other instruments of war, ready, in their numbers, to strike at opponents with variable force (i.e., some are striking with empty hands, while others follow with weapons, causing serious injury or death). I am, also, struck by how many in these communities were unprepared, inexperienced by these types of events. That’s not to criticize. It emphasizes that this is a new condition to the environments they live and work, and they are being seriously harmed by it.
For those of us interested or practicing self defense, these situations should teach us something about what we should be doing to prepare and what we will have to be if we are faced with such circumstances.
Wing Chun has always sought to take its principles and make them about who and where one applies them. For example, a group of our Wing Chun ancestors may have lived in a small farming village, with no more weapons than the farming tools they owned. If they were dealing with invaders on horseback, wielding swords, that’s what they prepared to use, where they prepared to fight, and whom they prepared to fight. They didn’t go through generic, unnecessary programs of training – because that had proven useless in the face of invading armies already. In contrast, those who lived in urban areas may not have access to farming supplies. They may be surrounded by office equipment and environments, automobiles, large crowds, and less known attackers. They would train differently. They did not do this because they were changing Wing Chun, quite the opposite, they were embracing its basic principle: If it’s not effective, it’s no good.
It is this lesson that I bring to life in this blog. It is a lesson that all of us, regardless the martial art you’re practicing, need to re-embrace, seeking adequate directing in that training for real self defense. Otherwise, what are you really doing?
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