Sunday, 22 February 2015

Leaving wing chun

There will be a time when I am no longer able to practise wing chun, at least in a formal setting.  At some point, for reasons I'm not going into here, learning wing chun in a class will no longer make sense.  It would be wise, therefore, to spend time learning how to make the most of solo practice.

I'm pretty obsessive when it comes to learning the forms.  I'm by no means perfect - I doubt that description would apply to anyone - but I've got the general structure of sil lum tao, chum kiu and the beginnings of biu jee.  What about the muk yan jong?  For now, I've changed the order for myself and, when I think about it, this is just one of many modifications I've made along the way.

Why study biu jee next, leaving the dummy form until later?  The best I can do is to say that, for me, it makes sense to learn the forms in that order.  Knowing that the next step is to be graded on muk yan jong does nothing to change that.  What I learn has to be effective when the brown, smelly stuff hits the spinning cooling device.  How one person makes wing chun effective will differ from how another makes it work for them.  The next step, at least in my practice away from the class, is to learn what I can from biu jee.

None of the above is meant to offend my instructor, who stands as the only one of the many martial arts instructors I've had that I'm actually able to respect.  Nor is it meant as an insult to those who came before him, who played their part in the history and development of wing chun.  In truth, these people serve as pointers of the way, and we may ultimately walk a different path or, as Bruce Lee did with jeet kune do, create our own path.

I have to train twice as hard to progress at the same pace as other students.  Again, I'm not going into the reasons for this, save to say that they are the same reasons that I know formal training in wing chun will, one day, no longer be in my interests.  Everyone's wing chun will be different, and I'm certain that my fellow students will realise that my wing chun is very different, but again I'm not going into the reasons for those adaptations being necessary.

In some ways, I have already left wing chun and, at the same time, am still very much involved in it.  If that sounds like a contradiction, you have to realise that no two people will do wing chun in that same way: they will naturally prefer some aspects of the art to others, and have their own interpretation of how things are done.  In effect, they have their own wing chun and have left a generalised understanding of wing chun behind them, though the same principles underpin what they do.  If they punch, is it wing chun, or is it simply a punch?

Arnis has also affected what I do.  Importantly, working with a weapon has a positive effect on hand-eye coordination.  In my opinion, if the ability to use improvised weapons is available, it is wise to take that option.  Again, adaptations are made, some of which aroused the concern of the instructor at the eskrima club I attended for a few months.  I was asked what style of Filipino martial arts I practise, because I made comparatively short, hacking movements with the stick, combined with a lot of thrusts.  For this reason, it was suggested that I had learned a style with a focus on bladed weapons as opposed to the sticks.  In reality, I was using the principles of wing chun, adapted to stick fighting: covering my centreline, not overextending, and so on.

To be fair, I train privately in modern arnis and kombatan, so those influences are obviously going to make themselves known if I have a weapon in my hand.  Maybe I'm picking it up wrong, but the focus of the arnis of Luzon seems to be on the shorter blades, as opposed to a focus on longer blades in the eskrima of the Visayas.  I have no doubt that I will be corrected, if I am mistaken.

I also noticed a striking similarity between the movements and principles of arnis and those of biu jee.  When you think about it, this makes sense.  The point of Filipino martial arts is that something has already gone very wrong, and you are probably on the wrong end of a bladed weapon.  Logically, this is not dissimilar to the idea in biu jee that we are fighting from a position of disadvantage.

I think I understand the past masters who took their secrets to the grave.  I see the lack of tolerance in the modern age, and I'm able to remind myself of my reasons for wanting an effective method of self-protection, but I also see an argument for advanced methods of combat being concealed.  I will occasionally walk by someone whose eyes are nervously darting all over the place, and I understand them.  As much as we like to think we are civilised, there is an ever present undercurrent of barbarism in our society; it has probably always been this way, and probably always will be.

Through the martial arts, I unwittingly internalised some of the teachings of Zen from an early age.  The irony of this is that, although I see the value of learning a method of combat, I have little desire to use it in anger and certainly no need to prove myself.  The motivation I have for learning martial arts is that humans continually fail to live in peace with each other and, in some cases, actively seek to prevent others living in peace.

As I've said before, I'm nowhere near considering myself a master, and probably never will, but there is still the idea that I should keep some of my relatively limited knowledge under my hat, as it were.  At the same time, I hope that what I choose to share proves to be valuable in some small way.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Becoming an expert

"If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants." - Sir Isaac Newton

I am occasionally consulted as an expert, in certain subjects, by friends, family and sometimes even acquaintances.  It is not, however, a one way thing.  If I know someone with specialist knowledge, I will consult them on matters relating to that knowledge: it just makes sense.  As I said, it's others who judge me to be the expert, not me, and I certainly don't believe I will ever have the necessary arrogance to consider myself a master of anything.

If I accept the notion that I have specialist knowledge, however, as there is clearly evidence to support this, then how did this happen?  How did I, or anyone else, surpass the knowledge of those with a passing interest in specific fields?  The clue, I would suggest, is in the question.  I know more than someone with a passing interest.

How easy would it be to develop a working understanding of something in which you have no interest?  It would be difficult, wouldn't it?  How about going beyond a basic understanding to a more comprehensive appreciation?  I don't know if it would be possible, but I expect it would be something akin to torture.

Becoming an expert in your chosen field takes patient study or practice, often over many years.  This can seem like a chore or, if you're genuinely interested in what you are doing, it can be very enjoyable.  Why would you choose to become an expert in something you don't enjoy?

Let us pursue those things which bring us joy in the pursuit of them.

Monday, 2 February 2015


Sometimes, things that I see, and hear, from family, friends and acquaintances, lead me to believe that people are becoming less tolerant.  I don't know whether it is the nature of modern forms of communication, such as social media, text messaging and others, or a more fundamental change in society, but there seems to be more of an "I win, you lose" attitude on display.

Maybe it's me.  I have to accept that I may be wrong about things.  For example, I see various movements which are supposedly concerned with creating equality, and yet they represent the interests of one group only.  I'm not saying that the groups that are represented are not disadvantaged, but the people who claim to represent them seek advantages for their chosen group, not equality.  Surely that isn't right?  I must be mistaken.  Maybe I'm looking at it all wrong.

Over the years, I have listened to many people and come into contact with many systems of belief.  Everyone goes through this, and our own beliefs are derived, at least in part, from what we take on board or reject.  How much of this is simple confirmation bias, we have no way of knowing.  Due in no small part to the aforementioned confirmation bias, our internal system of belief determines how we view and interact with our external world.

A personal view

My own way of dealing with others is based on a simple principle, which has more to it than appearances would suggest, though it can be summed up as follows:

1.  Understanding (optional)
2.  Acceptance

Is it surprising that understanding is optional?  It shouldn't be.  We should, of course, make an attempt to understand others, but is it always essential?  I would suggest that it isn't even always possible.  We do not all share the same experience, or background.  More to the point, based on what I have seen and heard recently, not everyone is able to empathise with others, or willing to even try understanding.

Am I suggesting it is possible to accept that which we don't understand?  I'm not just suggesting it is possible; I'm suggesting that it is essential.

Accepting without necessarily understanding

There are people, and viewpoints, we will never understand.  I don't understand terrorism, or racism, or any of the numerous forms of bigotry which are clearly not going away any time soon.  I can't condone these things, and that is not what accepting their existence is about.  Instead, I accept that some people hold beliefs which are abhorrent to me.  Having accepted this, I must ask myself what I can do about it, and accept that, in reality, there is little or nothing I can do.  Others are already fighting against these things, many of whom have more power and influence than I, so another thing I have to accept is that it is not my fight.

I started with an extreme example, so let me approach this from a less contentious angle.  Suppose that I had a friend who, for a hobby, liked to go base jumping.  It's not something that I understand, because I have no inclination to do it myself.  To me, it's a risky pursuit, and I have no intention of endangering my life needlessly.  However, that's just my point of view.  Do I question my friend's sanity, or our friendship, because we differ in this way?  No.  I accept that the friend will continue to go base jumping, even though I don't understand.

A recent example

Recently, a video clip has been circulating where a prominent atheist challenges belief in God.  The issue is that this person is relatively famous, is seen by a number of people as having a great deal of intelligence, and is denouncing a system of belief in a very public way.  It would be easy, and perhaps understandable, for those who feel they are the targets of his outburst to react with anger.  There are good reasons for religion and politics being taboo subjects in most workplaces: few things provoke such strong feelings, and few things are capable of causing such offence if mishandled.

How can we practise acceptance when faced with such a challenge to our beliefs?  Well, we must accept that others have a right to their beliefs, and also that these are the beliefs of just one person.  Some will point out that he is representative of atheism.  No, he isn't.  He is just one person, and I would guess that atheists do not all hold the same beliefs, beyond the one which defines atheism.  I have no reason to believe that he understands, or accepts, people who believe in God.  Then again, I have no reason to believe that he does not understand or accept those who believe in God.  He either accepts that others have beliefs which differ from his own, or he dismisses these people as deluded and not worthy of his time.  In terms which those who put their faith in science will understand, he is Schrödinger's atheist: given that he is in the entertainment industry, and therefore needs an audience for his livelihood, we must accept that the box may never be opened.

When acceptance leads to rejection

A few year's ago, a friendship that had lasted many years came to a sudden end.  Your first thought may be that my friend passed away but, as far as I know, he is alive and well.

There was a time when I hadn't seen my friend for many years, and seeing him again seemed to go well at first.  After a while, however, I started noticing things weren't quite right.  I don't know whether it was the time apart, or a greater level of maturity on my side, but I realised that certain patterns had always existed in the way we interacted.  In short, it had always been a one-sided friendship, and not a very good one.

What I had to accept was that the same patterns would keep repeating, and that I had spent a number of years fostering a relationship that didn't exist in reality.  The hard thing to accept was that the best course of action was to turn my back on someone I had regarded as a friend, however mistakenly.  Once it had been accepted, however, we just drifted apart.  In the time since, I've made new friends, and those are friendships that are actually worth keeping.

Learning to accept ourselves

Acceptance, you see, is not just about what we allow into our lives.  We must also accept that there are some things we need to let go.  This is especially true when we are seeking acceptance, especially from ourselves.  The whole self help industry thrives on us not being happy with who we are, feeling that we must change in some way.  Yes, it is healthy to let go of anger, mindfulness is a very useful thing and assertiveness also has its place, but there is a point at which we must be at peace with who we are.

If you feel that you are not good enough, when is that going to stop?  What will you have to change before you are finally happy with who you are?  Is it not better to treat yourself with kindness, acknowledge flaws where they exist and actually believe that you are fine as you are?  The main point here is to accept our flaws; whether we do anything about these flaws depends on their effect on us, and others.

I hope I have made my point.  It is better to come to accept something or someone through understanding, but understanding is not a prerequisite of acceptance.