Sun Tzu and YOU: the Key to Wing Chun’s Street Effective Mentality and Mindset

Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu is best known for his classic work on combat, The Art of War.  This book has to be up there with the Bible as one of the most often quoted or referenced books out there.

The ultimate guidebook to the mentality of personal protection and self defense.

Every chapter in this simple little book contains gold nuggets of wisdom for damn near any subject involving any type of conflict with others, from relationships to banking-so much so in face, that so many people have lost touch with the fact that it was created as a guidebook to the mentality and mindset of life or death conflict and combat.

Of the many quotes that have been used, posted and hijacked by everyone looking to make an inspirational meme or poster on the internet, one of my favorites for training Wing Chun for combat, self defense and combat sports such as MMA or sparring goes like this:

“strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory; tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

The book shown above is my favorite version of this classic.  Why?

The author, Hanshi Steven Kaufman,  is a 50-year veteran of the martial arts who has faithfully translated the writings of Sun Tzu as they were originally intended-for combat.

Too many versions out there tailor or interpret his lessons for purposes of business or finance, banking, leadership, executives or even relationships.  This version presents simple, honest and at times quite blunt truths of combat as they were originally intended.  Any other copy you may have lying around was probably written by some corporate trainer or banking guru who couldn’t fight off one of the midgets from the Wizard of Oz.  

Now to dissect all the goods in this little book could and most likely would take another dozen posts or maybe even another site altogether, depending on how deep down the rabbit hole someone would want to take this.

For this post however, we will stick with the above mentioned quote.  For us as Wing Chun practitioners, this means that if our training is too conceptual in nature but has no element of realism, we are merely engaging in a discussion of “what if’s.” This bears no fruit for us.

On the other hand, if all we engage in is hard training with lots of contact but pay no thought to the Wing Chun forms and dummy training and neglect our basic skills training in favor of sparring and the “flashier” aspect of Wing Chun, we are not doing Wing Chun.  Now this may yield faster returns on your investment of training at first since as the saying goes “nodding your head won’t row the boat.”  

Wing Chun is a martial skill whose benefit lies in its’ training and usage-but it must be properly trained in order to be effectively used.

Jump In The Pool!

Imagine someone trying to learn how to swim.  They read books on swimming, they watch instructional videos, they obsessively research every suit, goggles, swim cap, etc.  They practice all of the techniques of how to kick, flip stroke and breathe-on land.  Doesn’t make much sense does it?

Now imagine someone else who wants to learn how to swim.  They get up, go to a pool and jump in.  If they don’t drown they will likely learn the doggie paddle on their own out of instinct and may even pick up a basic stroke but they will never progress beyond that because they have no guidance or desire to study the subject.  Much like how I said that jumping into the physical aspect of Wing Chun will yield greater short-term results sooner, at least they are getting wet-but they will never grow into what they could be.  If they find themselves in deep water with no knowledge of proper swimming they are in deep shit.

In our training, if we rush into more physical aspects of training without a proper understanding of the fundamentals and the concepts behind those fundamentals, we will find ourselves in the same pile.  I know because I have been there more times than I can begin to recount.  Folks who are athletic or physically gifted may best those who are more advanced but less so-but only to a point.  The only formula for competence is mixing purposefully directed action with  conceptual understanding. Period.

The purely physical will often trump the purely cerebral in fighting, but both physical and cerebral alone cannot stand up against the physical and cerebral combined.  A self defense scenario is a situation involving a physical, emotional and a psychological component.  The techniques must be simple, direct and efficient.  The mentality must be one of neutrality and coldness and the fighting spirit must be one of a hornet whose hive has been bashed in or a bear who has been poked with a stick repeatedly.

The fact is there are benefits to both the conceptual and the physical aspects of Wing Chun.  The task for us as Wing Chun people is to balance both in such a way that the concepts are expressed through our training, and our training reflects the principles of the art.  This is the reason for my website, and it is also the reason why I named this site the way I did.

At the grand opening of the new Ng Family Chinese Martial Arts Association school in Chinatown. The right school and training partners are of the highest importance in making your Wing Chun effective for self defense and personal protection, but at the end of the day it all boils down to you and how you train to prepare for the street.

What’s In A Name?

I was asked recently why I named my site “Make Your Wing Chun Work.” My answer was simple and honest: because Wing Chun WORKS. However, it doesn’t work just because!  It is up to each person who practices Wing Chun to train the art honestly and realistically to make the art work for them.  In essence, your task as a Wing Chun guy/gal is to make YOUR Wing Chun work.

The only way to make YOUR Wing Chun work is to keep the end goal ever-present in the back of your mind (self defense and combat skill) while concentrating fully on whatever task, technique or drill you are performing.  A few examples to begin integrating into your practice are as follows:

  • Elbow forward pressure – Why am I doing this?
  • Chamber of the Punch in all 3 forms – Why is it performed this way?
  • Inward tension of thighs – What is this done for?

Notice that if you trace the reasoning all the way back, it always ends at self defense and personal protection.  No smoke, joke or bullshit – just combat skill.  That’s it and to anyone in the know who trains for the right reason, with the right mentality and in the right spirit that is much more than enough.

If I Had a Hammer

Wing Chun at its’ heart is a tool: nothing more.  I can give you a deluxe $2,000.00 set of Craftsman tools but if you don’t know how to use them you would be hard-pressed to put a bookshelf together.  Does that mean the tools don’t work?  No.  It just means that you don’t know how to use them.  As Grandmaster Wong Shun Leung once said, Wing Chun is a tool shed full of all of the things you will ever need to deal with any attack.

It is up to each practitioner of Wing Chun to learn how to use the right tool at the right time for the right job.  That is our job as Wing Chun folks-to make the art work for us, not by altering or modifying anything but by functionalizing.

Remember, Wing Chun was created for fighting.  It was created out of the necessity for a simple, effective and practical system of self defense.  Keep that mentality and it will serve you;  lose it and that won’t be all you lose.


Train Smart, Stay Safe

Sifu Bobby


  1. I can appreciate your stance on the Art of War being quoted in diverse fields unrelated to life or death conflict.

    I would only see it as a misuse of the concepts though if they actually did not work in the situations they were being adapted for.

    For example, your target audience is obviously other martial artists, if not specifically Wing Chun practitioners.

    But as I read this, concepts like learn to swim by jumping in the water AND understanding technique ring true and I can see ways to apply them in my nonmartial life.

    I hope you don’t see that as a misuse of your knowledge. But there it is. I got an unintended benefit.

    (I’m smiling. I hope you are too)

    1. No worries Chazz I am smiling!=-) I agree; what makes the Art of War such a classic is that it is a treatise on behavior and strategy. Those qualities that make a great General or Admiral are also what make for a very successful CEO. That is why this book is so quoted in other circles so, yes, I agree that it is not a misuse of the concepts. For my purposes as not only a Wing Chun guy but for all martial artists, the version I like best is one that is translated strictly from a combative point; I have seen far too many versions “beef up” the book with a translated section and then 3 pages of business related material. Again, this makes for a great boardroom book but for self defense and personal combat the essence of the material gets lost in the shuffle. That is what drew me to the version on my page.

      Thank you again for your comment, I enjoyed chatting with you on this and look forward to more chats as we both progress! =-)


  2. Hello, Robert!

    Thank you so much for this post, I’m an amateur wing chin student and I have read the art of war which is a must read not only for wing chain in philosophy but also for life in general.

    I will keep this page in a bookmark so I can read your newer posts.

    Thank you again!

    With respect

    1. Hey Santiago!

      Much respect back to you! Thanks for checking out the posts I am glad you liked my site and am confident you will enjoy what I will post in the future. The Art of War is a classic, especially the version I have up there since it was translated by a martial artist for martial artists. Not saying the other ones are bad; however, I personally “got it” more when read in the context of fighting knowing that it was translated in the context of combat and war purely.

      As you progress in Wing Chun I have 2 more recommendations that are “musts.” Look Beyond the Pointing Finger: The Combat Philosophy of Wong Shun Leung, and Meditations on Violence. Out of all of the books I have read in my last 23+ years, no joke, if I had to run out of the proverbial “burning building” they would be the 2 books I would grab.

      Thanks for the comment and I hope to interact more in the future=-)


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