Ignition: Getting Started with Wing Chun Training

Ignition: Getting Started

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.

By feeling that first spark of interest in learning Wing Chun, you are in what we call the IGNITION phase. Our goal here is to provide kindling and make it easy for the spark to become a flame, and for the flame to sustain you through the months and years of dedicated training ahead. To do this, we are going to draw from both modern and traditional sources to create a solid framework for progress.
 

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:

DECONSTRUCTION
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.

SELECTION
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
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.

STAKES
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.

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.