Motivation vs. Habit: Applying Wing Chun For Self-Defense and Fighting

Once motivation wanes-as it will-all you have left is the HABIT of deliberate practice to gain you the skills you seek. Here I am drilling the lop sau entry with training partners Kevin Casey and Brad Liberio as Tai Chi Master Young H. Lee look on. Habit is what gets shit done, period.

In my never ending quest for tools, tips and techniques that will refine and improve my Wing Chun training routine for self-defense, fighting ability & combat sports I am always on the lookout for good quotes.  Now I don’t collect them just as a novelty or as a way to blow up my Twitter of Pinterest feeds; I remember ones that resonate with why I train the fighting art of Wing Chun and help me ingrain in my subconscious helpful reminders regarding self-defense and personal protection.  One of my all-time favorite quotes goes something like this:

“Motivation is what gets you started; habit is what keeps you going.”

Too much emphasis today is placed on being “motivated.”  Rah-rah self-help coaches make obscene amounts of cash selling books, workshops, programs and all this other stuff to get someone “motivated” to change their life, weight, job, etc.

Know what happens?

99 times out of 100 once someone has bought the book, listened to the cd’s or attended the workshop…Nothing happens.


Have they lost motivation?  Not necessarily.  These workshop attendees may still be motivated to get the changes they would like to see, however, they have failed to form a HABIT of performing the necessary actions to get them where they want to be.

To be fair I really do think the word “motivation” has kinda gotten a bad rap by being so over-played by the jumping-jack, loudspeaker gurus that now its’ meaning is being diluted in our pop culture lexicon.  Navy SEALS use that word all the time-but their use of the word is rooted in self-discipline and self-motivation so in reality, their use of the word “motivation” really means closer to what the anti-gurus are saying.  They just don’t give a shit about semantics since they’re too busy, you know, being bad-asses.

Catalysts vs. Continuing

In self defense training and more specifically for us as Wing Chun folks, someone may experience an event which leads them to feel the need for safety-it could be a break-in, a mugging, a robbery or an assault.  Many times, they will take a class, maybe read a book, or go to a gym teaching some martial art for awhile.  Eventually once they FEEL safer, the need for safety decreases and they stop training.

NOTE: I am in NO WAY trivializing anyone’s misfortune; in fact, if I had Aladdin’s lamp I’d wish for the ability to suspend time, fly around like the anti-Santa Claus and bash the balls in of each and every mugger, thug, abuser, rapist, terrorist and all around shitbag.

Now this doesn’t happen all the time but many times this is the case; I have taught folks who have trained diligently when the fear of a recent event was fresh in their mind and embedded in their psyche; however, as their confidence grew coupled with the elapsing of time, their edge seemed to dull, their motivation seemed to wane.  Now does this mean that they were never serious in the first place?  Hell no!  What it means is that they, while having true motivation, never tapped the source of that motivation deep enough to make it a HABIT.

Stopping off for some impromptu practice on a nature trail. Why? I hadn’t yet done anything that day and my HABIT of daily practice in some way simply wouldn’t allow me to not practice that day.  Get it in however and wherever you can each day.

Be The Master, Not The Slave!

A habit is defined loosely as a  behavior pattern that you perform without conscious thought.  The ones who truly progress in their training are the ones who make their training and improvement a HABIT.  You don’t need “motivation” to continue once it becomes a habit.  You don’t need to think about why or if you will train; it’s just like brushing your teeth or combing your hair.  You just do it.  No second thoughts.  Best-selling motivational and success author Og Mandino wrote, “I shall form good habits and become their slaves.”  

One of the most famous quotes of Grandmaster Wong Shun Leung, patriarch of my lineage of Wing Chun was, when speaking about making the art of Wing Chun work for you in a useful and practical way, to “be the master, not the slave!”  What GM Wong meant was to practice in such a way that the art serves you, not the other way around.

 It’s like anything else-the more you practice a skill (and make no mistake, Wing Chun is an art but more so it is a skill set first and foremost) the more it becomes entwined in both your mind and your muscles; it becomes so ingrained with the HABIT of daily practice that it becomes a part of you, impossible to extract from your DNA. That would be like saying you want to extract my Polish blood but not my Italian or Finnish blood -shit doesn’t work that way.  They are all part of who I am.  So too, now, is my Wing Chun.

That is a great spot to be in-it is a very empowering one.

Motivation? Pshh… ANYONE can pump you up all rah-rah style with loud music, jumping around, cutesy phrases and high fives…but what happens once they go home and none of that laser light show crap is there anymore? Still motivated now? Didn’t think so. Make your Wing Chun training and preparation for self-defense and a HABIT.  There’s no other way.

It All Starts With the Self Image

Your skills start with your mentality.  They start with your image of yourself.  If you don’t think it’s worth it, chances are excellent it’s because deep down you have convinced yourself YOU’RE not worth investing in.

Knock that shit off right now.

Psycho Cybernetics for martial arts
Reading this changed my view on training forever.

I have read and re-read the Bible of self-image training, Psycho Cybernetics, to the point where I no longer even question if what I’m doing is worth it.  I KNOW it is, so I get off my lazy ass and do it.  If you haven’t read this gem, order and read it.  Then read it again.  Apply what is written and you will reach a point where no circumstance, time constraint or opinion of anyone will knock you off your schedule.  Check out my review of this and other books which I have used to traverse the gap from self-doubt to self-confidence HERE.

Tony Robbins has a daily practice of what he calls his Hour of Power.  He sets aside one hour each day to focus solely on him and what it takes to keep him on-point and centered, since the rest of the day doesn’t belong to him.  We can all relate-I know I can- since as soon as we get up our day isn’t ours; it belongs to work, family and whatever else needs to get done.  If an hour is simply too much, he suggests starting with 30 Minutes to Thrive or at minimum 15 Minutes to Fulfillment.  I like that one so, just as I do with any cool shit that I wasn’t clever enough to coin myself, I’m stealing it.

At minimum, I run through all 3 empty hand forms and the wooden dummy set in the air.  This usually takes right around 15 minutes and calbrates me for the day.  Some days I get more in, some days not, but at least I know I will have gotten my daily dose of Wing Chun in to hold me over and keep my skills up for the days that I can devote a full hour or more to more advanced training.

Those who say they don’t have 15 minutes really mean they’d rather watch Netflix or surf YouTube instead.

Give These a Tumble…

  • Set aside 15 minutes a day to practice ANY way you choose.  Soon it will become so knit with your daily routine you’ll feel incomplete without it, like not brushing your teeth or combing your hair.  You may choose to practice forms one day, stepping the next, the dummy another day-I don’t care what you do, just DO.
  •  Watch a Wing Chun video to keep your skills up.  If you miss a day, no worries.  Remember, the body can’t tell the difference between a vividly imagined experience and a real one.  Personally I watch Sifu David Peterson’s videos of the Siu Nim Tao and Cham Kiu forms to download the specifics into my brain so that when I am resting, my subconscious will chew on the info I watched and it will come out in my practice.  Click HERE to read review & reasons for personally using them, pick them up and watch them over and over.
  • If nothing else, practice your stance for 15 minutes.  Work the yee jee kim yeung ma stance for 15 straight minutes.  If you commute by train, stand in the between spaces where the doors are and sit in the stance, allowing the moving and occasional jostling of the ride to force you to sink and tense your thighs.  Or do it in the AM or PM as you brush your teeth, shave or even eat breakfast.  I’ve let go of people thinking I was weird long ago.  I know I’m a bit off so I couldn’t care less.  Truth be told, if I’m gonna get into it with some shitbag mugger in a dark parking lot, the naysayers aren’t swooping down to come to my rescue, so screw ’em and their opinions anyway.

It All Comes Down To YOU

Remember, you are the only one who is responsible for you.  Make sure you form the HABIT of daily purposeful practice.  It will pay off exponentially.

Motivation? PSSSHHH.  Give me HABIT any day of the week and twice on Sunday.


Train Smart, Stay Safe

Sifu Bobby

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