BREAKING THE 5% BARRIER: One Simple Hack To Smash Training Plateaus and Never Lose Your Drive or Enthusiasm for Wing Chun

Bob, meet BOB: refining my Wing Chun combat skills within the framework of combat sports. The more ways you can approach functionalizing your Wing Chun skills the better off you will be, period.

I read somewhere recently that the population of earth hovers around 7.6 billion people.

Think about that for a second-7.6 BILLION.  Wow.  If you are like me and just like knowing stuff, you can even see a running total up to the minute here.

According to several surveys I have come across, roughly 4-6% of the world practices some form of martial arts.  That means that of out of the entire world’s population, all the people who begin any form of martial arts training amounts to only around 5%. Keep that little gem in mind the next time you start comparing yourself to any of your friends or some random douchebag standing on a yacht in your Instagram feed.

7.6 BILLION people share this big spinning rock…yet according to several surveys only 5% do what we do.  Now there’s a feather in your cap.

Logic would dictate that even beginning such an undertaking that puts someone in such a small, focused segment of the world’s population that one would stick with it, since to me that is akin to running a marathon and stopping at the 26.1 mile mark. Now as we all know, in reality this is not the case and in fact is far from it.

The question in my noggin then becomes, even after becoming a member of such a small segment of the world’s general population, what separates the casual dilettante from the dedicated practitioner?  In other words, what separates the true student from the, as we say, “taster” – the person who either dabbles in a martial art or tends to bounce around from art to art, style to style, never putting down roots in one art long enough to gain any measurable skill?

After thinking about this for years, I have come to realize that in reality the difference is very very simple and as students of Wing Chun this holds particular significance to us since our art is not a large one, technique or curriculum-wise.  I have also come to the answer to my question:

The difference between the dedicated Wing Chun practitioner and those who quit early boils down to one thing: motivation.

That’s it.

Motivation is the missing link as to what separates those who persevere and progress in any system of martial arts and those who fiddle around for awhile, or start off like gangbusters but soon lose interest.

Knowing this, the next logical question then presents itself: How do you become and more importantly, stay motivated?  Read on.

The Secret Ingredient To Your Training

After reflecting on my 25+ years of martial arts training and more specifically my training in the art and self-defense system (which is what all martial “arts” are really designed for-not stress relief, weight loss or a better attention span & report card for little Timmy) of Wing Chun is that the key to real and lasting improvement is whether or not you are able to find something different in the same exercise, technique or drill each time you practice to focus on.

THAT is the secret.  THAT is the shortcut to greater skill.  THAT is the key to staying in that top 5% demographic in the world.

Myth Vs. Reality

In today’s world, we suffer from information overload.  Everywhere we look, things are coming at us faster and faster.  We cannot escape the constant stimuli being pounded into our heads.

I read somewhere that when computers first were being developed, the selling point was that it would cut the work week down to 30 hours.

Once again, those two favorite words sprang to my mind: BULL and SHIT.

Now we can get email, FaceTime, Skype, faxes, PDF documents and everything else in an office directly to our phone.  The mirage or myth is that technology makes us more efficient; the reality is that we simply cannot escape from things that cause us stress.  An average worker in an office now can’t even enjoy a freaking vacation with his or her family and must constantly be checking his or her phone.  Is it me or is that just ridiculous?

Now I’m not knocking anyone’s situation.  If you truly enjoy working, then have at it, hoss. I’d be willing to bet that for the vast majority of folks kicking around on this planet, they’d rather be out in nature or at a nice meal with their loved ones than hunching over a phone or in a dark room staring at a screen.

I recently overheard someone talking about a coworker of theirs in the construction industry who was on vacation and who had still quoted 4 large jobs from his hotel while in Mexico or Disney World or wherever the hell else this guy may have been with his family.  It was said in a complimentary way, but all I could think about was how stupid that sounded to me.  In my head all I could think of was, “why the f**k did you even go on vacation, then??”  If you croak in your hotel room, guess what?  Shit’s still gonna get done and you’ll be at the Smith Brothers Funeral Home so what good does all this stress get you?”

…And This Relates To Wing Chun HOW?

In self defense, less techniques = MORE applications…provided you get your mind right.

Fair enough question.  How this relates to us as students of Wing Chun is, as our old pal Sherlock said, “elementary.”

Wing Chun as an art is very streamlined.  Unlike damn near all other karate and kung fu systems who may have 20 or 30 empty hand forms, several one and three-step sparring patterns and even more weapons katas, Wing Chun has only 3 empty-hand forms, a wooden dummy set and 2 weapons sets.  All are quite short, and all are very basic.

Once again, let’s talk myth and reality and how this ties into today’s modern dilemma.

The MYTH is that Wing Chun, being so basic and simple in its’ design, is somehow inadequate given today’s “more is better” mindset.

The REALITY is that when shit goes down, all the extra forms, techniques and possibilities jam your servo-mechanism and bog you down.

Rest In Peace…

As a kid I was a Bruce Lee fanatic and still am today, though my focus has shifted away from memorizing such trivial details as his Hong Kong address (218 Nathan Rd. in Kowloon, by the way) and even his dog’s name (a great dane named Bobo) to studying, digesting and really trying to apply his philosophical writings on the truth in combat and how it relates to life in general.

One of my favorite examples of his thought process is the mock tombstone he had created for one of his kwoons (training studios) that greeted folks at the front door, complete with a miniature flower bouquet.  The headstone simply read, “In memory of a once fluid man, crammed and distorted by the classical mess.”

A picture of the original tombstone Bruce Lee had created for his school. I can’t help but think that not even he would have realized just how tragically prophetic his words were back then for today’s population.

In Bruce’s day, he was referring to the “classical mess” as the rigid and codified structure of all martial arts.  Back then, cross training was tantamount to treason; if you were a Shotokan karate stylist, for example, you simply did not venture outside of that system.

Fast forward 40 years and in the age of YouTube, the UFC and mixed martial arts in general, it is a given that cross training and unrestricted information access is as much a part of our lives as food and water.

The new “mess” I submit to you is paradoxically the reverse of what it once was; our new ” mess” lies in not truly training and understanding an art, style or system such as Wing Chun long enough to extract all its’ value.  This takes us back to the key hurdle to overcome of motivation.

One Simple Hack To Always Stay Motivated

Simply put, what I have come to realize and apply to my training is that in order to constantly progress in my quest to make my Wing Chun skills as functional, practical and effective as I can, I must constantly seek to find something new within the finite curriculum of the Wing Chun system to focus my attention on each and every time I train.  It’s really that simple, and that profound.  I found my “Wing Chun life-hack” and since implementing it, my Wing Chun skills for self-defense and fighting have skyrocketed.

Let me use an example to clarify my point:  I do not listen to the radio in my car.  Instead, I have several motivational and performance enhancement audio programs saved to a flash drive which I keep on repeat to constantly reinforce key concepts of growth and development in order for them to seep into my subconscious mind.  Much like my Wing Chun training, I am always seeking ways and methods to to maximize time spent doing anything including such mundane tasks as driving to and from work, the grocery store, etc. 

The other day while driving to work I happened to be listening to a Wayne Dyer program (one of my favorite speakers).  I have had this on in the background at various times for months.  For whatever reason I was listening not particularly intently, but with nothing else on my mind, and I heard an entire strand of this program that I swear to God I never had heard before. For a minute I was shocked;  I had listened to this program for weeks in the background as I drove to and from work and had never heard this entire 2-3 minute segment of dialogue. I felt as though a whole new dimension to this existing program had just opened up to me. The reality is I heard it every freaking time I drove, I just never heard it it before. That day I did and I viewed the entire program in a different way. As I was thinking about what just happened it hit me this is how my Wing Chun training should be.

The Reason Why So Many Quit

The chief reason why so many people begin and then quit their Wing Chun training within 6 months is boredom. In today’s fast-paced instant gratification mile-a-minute information society there is a non-stop barrage of external stimuli competing for your attention.  Think of how we are conditioned by the demands of today’s world to drive a car on a daily basis: You can maneuver your phone (which we know we shouldn’t do but everybody does anyway), pay attention to the road signs or swerve to avoid a pothole, sip coffee or eat a burger from the McDonald’s drive-thru and adjust the radio…all at the same time.  We are being hit with stimuli from all of our 5 senses at once!

As consumers, we are being programmed to believe that nothing is ever good enough and that we must constantly seek out whatever is new to be “complete.”  Consider the following:

  • Every fitness routine out there is competing for your attention offering the newest, bestest, fastest or quickest this or that, despite the fact that fitness boils down to eating right and moving your body more.
  • The entire self-help section of the bookstore is consistently releasing new books every month that essentially say the same thing but re-worded and re-packaged in a shiny new container promising promising quicker, faster and easier results.
  • An average smartphone packs more technological punch than the Apollo program that sent the first man to the moon and can handle every function we do on a daily basis with ease, yet what do we see on TV every day?  Commercials for the latest phone that can do everything but tie our shoes for us.

The pattern here is that the same information is essentially repackaged and re-released to us in order to catch our attention, since we are trained as a society to focus on bright, shiny spangly things and to move on quickly as soon as something bores us.  As students of Wing Chun for the only reason that counts (self defense and combat skill), we must guard against this way of thinking and mindset of lack and instead seek to find the answers to all our combative questions within the system’s structure, ’cause they’re all there for the asking-but not simply for the taking.

The Simple Truth About Wing Chun

The irony is that as a system of self-defense and close quarter combat Wing Chun contains everything we will ever need within its simple, direct and efficient structure.  Its’ extremely small cadre of forms and techniques and few core principles cover every scenario to the degree that we can focus our attention on it to extract the lessons contained within them. 

In order to truly gain the skills and confidence needed to handle oneself in any combative or self-defense situation through our Wing Chun training, there should be something new extracted clarified or (at minimum) focused on each time you practice the same sequence or pattern. First form, second form, third form- it doesn’t matter.   The real key to Wing Chun mastery lies in the deliberate practice of seeking a new concept, angle, variation, viewpoint, etc. to focus your attention on each and every time you practice the Wing Chun curriculum.

Just taking a look at the structure of the Wing Chun system will explain why there is so often a plateau people feel after training for a year or so.

When starting Wing Chun training, the first three to six months bring a constant stream of new information, techniques, principles and concepts.  If being viewed as a pyramid, these first few months lay the foundation.  The higher up on the pyramid, the more it is supported by the layers beneath it.  So too it is with Wing Chun skills; as your skill and understanding of the system increases, less and less “new” material is introduced.  The focus then becomes growing in your ways to apply what you have already learned. 

How and Why Wing Chun Is Structured For Success

Wing Chun’s success in preparing the student for real-world, no- bullshit self defense is based on the idea of PROGRESSION.  Let’s take a second to review just how and why Wing Chun is set up the way it is.

The first form, Siu Nim Tau, which means “small idea,” and contains in it all of Wing Chun’s key principles, concepts and techniques.  It is performed bilaterally so as to train both sides symmetrically and equally, and is done from a stationary position so as to develop a sense of rooting and body unity

The techniques of the second form Cham Kiu, for example, are not “new” techniques: they are compound versions of singular Siu Nim Tau first form techniques done in a mobile and all-encompassing way to train functional and efficient application of Wing Chun’s techniques within the 180 degree sphere of any angle facing you, from shoulder to shoulder, thus addressing any of the ways to apply Wing Chun in a real-life encounter.  

At this stage, chi sau practice is introduced.  Chi sau teaches us to apply the principles found in the first form and the techniques trained in the second form in a live-fire, unrehearsed and non-cooperative environment.  It is truly the glue which binds all aspects of Wing Chun together and is the foundation for any form of free-sparring or full-contact Wing Chun fighting.  Training Wing Chun without chi sau is like training in baseball without a batting cage; it’s not the game itself but is the one key aspect to the game that cannot be ignored if one wishes to play.

The techniques of the Biu Jee form provide the link to get back to the ideal structure of Wing Chun as laid out in Siu Nim Tau and approached from the outside vantage point-that is to say, if your structure has been compromised due to injury, circumstance or our own fault in not applying Wing Chun correctly in the first place.  This form provides the links to get back into our Wing Chun “wheelhouse.”

The muk jong or wooden dummy form puts one in situations where one’s structure has been compromised and one needs to reposition his/her body to align with Wing Chun structure, concept and purpose.  The dummy provides us with the feel of a mock opponent and specific instances where our structure has been jacked up so we can learn what it feels like to be out of alignment with how we should be and more importantly, how to recover our position.

Check out Sifu David Peterson performing the muk yan jong form below.  Pay attention to his structure and body unity.  No “fluff” or extra motions for the sake of making the dummy arms go “clack-clack;” just honest, real and functional technique practice.  As an aside, his DVD on this form (which you can pick up HERE) is the most comprehensive, clear and thorough one I have seen and is the one I watch regularly.

Wing Chun’s weapons sets, the luk dim boon gwun long pole set and the bart cham dao butterfly swords set, serve to promote body unity and develop the mindset of swift attack and aggressive offense while reinforcing Wing Chun’s key principles in our minds by applying them to something outside of our physical bodies.  Weapons serve as extensions of the body itself, so by applying the principles of how our bodies are meant to move in Wing Chun and why, these ideas gain a firmer root in our muscle memory and our mind.  Once again, the base of Wing Chun remains unchanged; its’ application grows more narrow and streamlined as one progresses through the system’s curriculum.

Can you see how everything has its’ roots at the base of the pyramid?  Rather than tacking on extra “this” or “that” for shits and giggles, the proper Wing Chun training progression gains its’ strength from the base upwards; it is refined and perfected from within.

The Hourglass Analogy

Think of an hourglass.  Looking from the bottom at the base one can see how it starts wide at the bottom and tapers to the tip.  The bottom of the hourglass represents the techniques, forms, etc. of the Wing Chun.  Everything is built on the base of the key concepts, principles and techniques of the first form.  As you progress in the system, less “new” material is added, instead the material of each new level is built and based on the levels before it.  Together with chi sau, the first and second forms comprise roughly 85% of the Wing Chun curriculum.  The remaining 15% (dummy, weapons and third form) are designed as supplemental training for us to regain favorable position or reinforce key concepts from the first 2 forms.

 

Forget snakes, cranes and dragons-this is the perfect symbology for Wing Chun.  The bottom represents techniques, the top represents application. As you progress, less and less new material is added however your understanding of how to apply the system grows more and more with deliberate practice and applying the “Wing Chun hack” discussed in this article.  

The top half of the hourglass presents exactly the opposite, inversely going from narrow back to wide. This is is your knowledge of Wing Chun application-the how’s , when’s, where’s and why’s.   As you grow in your understanding, your mind expands much the same way the top half of the hourglass flares out from the bottom upward to the to top, increasing the amount of ways that you can find in your mind to apply the techniques, concepts and core principles of the Wing Chun system to any scenario, from addressing a mugger or rapist to handling stressful situations in the home or the workplace using the Wing Chun mentality and discerning mindset.

Applying the Wing Chun Hack: 2 Quick Ways To Get (And Stay) Motivated

Now let’s get down to the meat and potatoes – HOW to apply the “Wing Chun Hack” to your own training to reap the rewards.

Here are 2 key ways I have aligned my own personal training of the “Wing Chun Hack” of constantly seeking something new to focus my attention on each time I train through the concept of deliberate practice as stated earlier.  It behooves you to model this process if you are serious about being able to devlop and use your Wing Chun skills for self defense or combat sports such as boxing, MMA and kickboxing, but self-defense especially.

  • Seek the New Within The Old – When training each of the Wing Chun forms, pick one aspect of each form to focus on while giving your attention to practice each form with intent and attention to detail.  Knowing WHY each motion of each form is being done is key to measurable improvement each session; the quickest way I have found is to pick one aspect of each form to focus on each time you perform it.  I recommend you start with a more general aspect first, such as the rooting tension of your thighs in the yee jee kim yeung ma stance during the first form, or the rotation on the center axis found in the second form (which itself is simply the rooting of the first form combined with motion on the center axis-see how things build on each other?) and then progress to more specific motions within each section of each of the forms and eventually sin gle techniques themselves.  You can take this as far down the rabbit hole as you want.  Just yesterday I was performing the second form and focused on the punch after the 3 bong sau’s  in the 2nd section.  I made the deliberate effort to focus not on an uppercut motion but a rotation of the fist and forearm, which generated much more power and yields much greater application potential.  A priceless asset to this aspect of training involves reviewing each form on DVD.  Click HERE for my personal stash of preferred DVDs on Wing Chun’s forms.  I watch these regularly and always find something new to focus on, something that I can do better or more efficiently.  This practice alone pays off huge; I mean, if championship football teams “watch film” and reap the benefits, why the hell aren’t we?
  • Scenario Training: The “Golden Egg” Method –  Just like the Aesop fable, use the deliberate practice idea discussed earlier to provide limitless benefit to your training.  Here is one way to start immediately: Vary your training.  Don’t just run through the same exact sequence of forms, drills, chi sau and then you’re done.  That shit ain’t gonna cut it anymore.  Make training as diverse as any scenario you can dream up. if you can conceive any possible scenario in your head, so can someone else and it’s already been a scenario in which someone was attacked, raped and possibly killed before. The greatest training tool you could ever ask for is right between your ears. Simply picture different scenarios you may find yourself in, and then train in them. Inside, outside, grass, gravel parking lots, if you can think of it, train in it.  Practice coming out of your car or going to your car. Practice in a closet or doorway. Practice in different shoes and clothes. Practice outside when it is cold and windy and drizzly or hot, foggy and muggy. Practice in the blinding light of the sun and in the blackness of a moonless night. Since it is imperative that both men and women get a feel for being on the ground, practice being taken to the ground, either by headlock, tackle or in women’s cases a rapist either straddling them or on top of them. The more scenarios you are familiar with the more you can see that the targets are still there, waiting to be hit and exposed through your application of the Wing Chun system. That is the key to training, seeking and finding commonalities among several different scenarios.  Click HERE to outfit yourself and your partners with the right gear to allow you train in a variety of ways effectively and not have to worry about injury.

Recap:  Separating The “Myth” Of Boredom From The Reality Of Unlimited Potential

As stated in the beginning and reinforced throughout this post, the reason why so many people fail to get to the level of true proficiency and quit after about 6 months to a year of training in Wing Chun stems from boredom, which I think is bullshit.  If you are bored in training, you aren’t looking for training.  You are looking for a dog and pony show to amuse you or keep you excited with something new every single time like a 7 year old with A.D.D. who just drank 2 cups of coffee.

Now before you go thinking I’m just popping off and being a jerk, let me say that this lack of patience in training is mainly due to the fact that up until this point, folks are being fed information at a fairly constant pace to being them up to speed with the basic principles and techniques of Wing Chun.  Once they receive enough information and the foundation is set it becomes a matter of practice not accumulation; it is now an issue of refinement and discerning repetition.  Given today’s instant gratification, stmuli-obsessed society, this presents a natural conflict and indeed is where most people hang it up.  They are more accustomed to learn more and more for the sake of learning more and more, not realizing that it is at that stage that their skills are in the prime position to really take off not because of any new knowledge or learning but because of the refinement process and the rewards it yields to those truly ready to approach their training in this way, truly focusing on seeking something new within the repetitive each and every time.

It is true that performing the same motion over and over again will get you a certain level of skill and a rather high level of skill at that, however, practicing with the intention of improving one specific technique, concept or even idea each time you train cannot be matched.  

One Final Myth Vs Reality Example

Let me leave you with this story, straight from the archives of my personal experience:

As a kid, I was overweight, pudgy and had very low self-esteem.  I was entranced by the martial arts and would devour any magazine I could find.  I remember the back of every issue of BLACK BELT magazine I had there were ads for all sorts of things, among them several home study courses.  Being naive and not realizing the idea behind ads in magazines (i.e. to SELL things) was convinced that for only $35.00 I could get a black belt by mail and then everything would fall into place!  I would be confident, dangerous and deadly-all for only 35 bucks! (Haha!). So I did exactly that: I used every dollar I could scrape up from paper routes, raking leaves and other odd jobs (since my folks at that time were in no position to give us an allowance) to scrounge up the 35 bucks, rode my bike to the post office to get a money order and sent off for this sacred text I was convinced would make me a certified bad-ass.

The ad that opened my eyes to the reality of training vs, the myth of magic and mysticism. Thanks Google Books!

4 or 5 weeks later, after waiting each day like Ralphie for his decoder pin, I got a brown large envelope in the mail.  I was ecstatic!  I ran upstairs, tore it open and began to look through it…and started to get a sinking feeling through my stomach.  This course was nothing more than badly xeroxed pages of what I now know are Takewondo’s Taeguek forms 1-8, an equally poor quality VHS tape and a generic “certificate” that looked like it had been hand-drawn.  I now realize the feeling in my stomach was was the realization that there are no shortcuts to training; it is not a technique issue, it is an application issue. Techniques by themselves won’t make you confident, competent or deadly.  Application and understanding of them is what does.

Now any books I read on martial arts have zero to do with technique or, at the minimum, very little.  My martial arts library today focuses on mental training, realities of violence and self-defense, killer instinct and proper mindset and mentality because those are what separate the dangerous person from the dabbler.  The dabbler seeks to learn 7 new techniques per session, the dangerous person seeks to more deeply understand the same thing, approaching it in a different way and from a slightly different perspective each time until it becomes a part of his DNA.   

For a peek at my personal Wing Chun “success library” Click HERE – but be forewarned, there isn’t a book in the bunch that focuses primarily on teaching you any “techniques” so if that’s what you’re after you’re dumping your bucket down a dry well.  Techniques without the ability to apply them are nothing more than finger painting in the air mixed with Richard Simmons aerobics (sorry to all of you “our style is too deadly to spar” folks out there-it’s true).

Think I’m Lying?  Try Me.

A second ago I mentioned the dangerous person vs. the dabbler and how they are different.  The dabbler seeks to learn 7 new techniques per session, the dangerous person seeks to more deeply understand the same thing until it becomes a part of his DNA.  Which one would you rather be?

I got news for you: if you are one of these folks who likes to train “for the joy of learning” (whatever the f*ck that means) but who lacks the discipline to really apply the Wing Chun Hack principle of deliberate practice to your training sessions, I extend this invitation: Try the crane’s beak, praying mantis or chicken foot strike to my left temple that you practiced a half-dozen times among the 72 other techniques you learned in last training session, and I’m going to bury my thumb in your eye and stomp your balls until they are mashed like applesauce.  We’ll see which one works better.

The point I’m getting at is without exception in any skill the basics win the day. Training Wing Chun’s “limited” (ha!) curriculum with a new perspective each each time is the key to real mastery.  Decide to do so deliberately, through deliberate practice, and use the “Wing Chun Hack” to keep the system laying you golden eggs of wisdom upon which you can ACT by applying to your own training. 

 

Train Smart, Stay Safe

 

Sifu Bobby

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A WORD OF WARNING: I tend to speak and write how I think, so some of what I say may come across as insensitive, rough around the edges and maybe even a bit arrogant. If sarcasm, political incorrectness and occasional "naughty words" offend you, you may want to move on - but if you're serious about making your Wing Chun WORK, then fill out the fields above and let's get started!