There are times when a student will come up to me after class and say, "This person showed me this technique this way. Is it right?" The first thing that I think of when I hear this is how much more effective it would have been to ask that question on the spot in front of that other student.
I know, you might feel awkward about doing so because you think your training partner might feel offended that you didn't trust his or her advice. If you ask the question and I confirm that what he showed you is right, you might feel embarrassed to have doubted him. If I disagree with him, it might cause him to feel embarrassed for showing you the wrong thing.
I recognize the awkwardness. Having said that, none of you should feel embarrassed about asking questions or offended when your partner wants to confirm something with me. Our school's website has my name on it, so it's only normal that students may want to confirm with me that what is being shown to them is correct. Whether you're doing the showing or you're the one being shown something, if you're uncertain of what you're doing for whatever reason, you should ask me on the spot. Here's why.
Every honest mistake is a learning opportunity. Use it wisely. And, be humble when you're right because there was a time in the past when you didn't know what you now know. If you are committed to lifelong learning like I am, there will be times in the future when you will be the one making the honest mistake. There is more value in learning something and applying that newfound knowledge than in being right or wrong.
Sifu Gary Ma
Anytime you perform a new technique, make sure to take your time to allow yourself to develop proper habits. Every single repetition counts. Once something becomes a habit, it is difficult to correct. Therefore, it is very important to ensure that you are developing proper habits from the start.
In order to do this, you shouldn't be concerned with speed or power. Instead, you should be focused on proper posture, alignment, relaxation, precision and coordination. The only time it is acceptable to attempt to increase speed or power is after you have performed a sufficient number of controlled repetitions and have developed proper body awareness and muscle memory. This way, the application of speed or power will not derail your movement from its most efficient and effective path. Any application of speed or power prior to having developed proper technique will increase the time it will take to develop proper technique.
To ensure that we will perform well when it counts, we must practice well and make sure each repetition counts towards that goal. Under extreme pressure, the only thing that we have to rely upon are the habits we are developing now. Let’s make sure they are good ones.
Sifu Gary Ma
How to Make the Most Out of Training With a Partner
When you're training with a partner, most of the time, you'll both be at different levels in your training. For those who do not know how to approach this, it can be unclear how this type of partnership can be of benefit to both partners. One thing for sure is that if both partners are focused solely on their own individual training, they will get very little out of the partnership if anything at all.
The way to make a partnership work effectively is through cooperation. In other words, both partners must share a common goal. The way to do this is to take turns. Both partners should first focus on one person's training for a few minutes, then switch the focus to the other person's training.
Acknowledge and respect your current level as well as that of your partner. Take turns, ask your partner what he or she is working on, and cooperate in a way that allows them to improve.* The goal is to allow both partners to benefit from the five to ten minute interaction, so that both individuals come out of the interaction better than they were before. If you approach partnership in this way every time you change partners, you will all benefit immensely from each interaction as individuals and as a group.
Imagine what could happen if you applied this philosophy outside of the Kwoon into your everyday lives. Imagine the opportunities that could present themselves if you could succeed in making every interaction beneficial for others as well as for yourselves. Sometimes, all it takes is a smile, a compliment, kind words, a book recommendation, a sandwich, or a client referral. A little gesture can go a long way.
Sifu Gary Ma
* Normally, the senior student gets to go first. Not as a privilege, but as a way to show by example. This assuming that the most senior of the two (the student who started training with us first) is also the most skilled, which isn't always the case. Ultimately, it is of little importance to me who starts first as long as both partners take turns, and everyone respects and cooperates with each other regardless of rank or level.
When I started teaching Wing Chun 4 years ago, I thought I would give it six months and then decide whether or not I liked it enough to continue.
My father started the first Wing Chun school in Montreal back in 1978. He was a very well known figure in the Chinese community. I always thought those were big shoes to fill, and I had no interest in trying to fill them.
One day, after my father passed, one of his old students came to visit the Gwoon where I was training and said, “You know, your father was not as attached as it may have seemed to the idea of you learning Wing Chun. He only hoped that you would find something that you love and see it through.” Hearing these words relieved me of a lot of the pressure I felt about training and allowed me a sort of Wing Chun rebirth. It allowed me to train Wing Chun at my pace and explore it without any expectations. Then, a wonderful thing happened: the more I trained, the more I enjoyed it and the more dedicated I became.
In parallel, I always knew, even as a child, that I wanted to use my life to inspire and help guide people toward reaching their highest potential. I just never would have guessed that I would be doing so through teaching Wing Chun.
Today, I feel honoured and privileged to have this opportunity. It brings me great joy to have the ability to be a positive force in people's lives. Not only do I get to do what I love to do, but I get to do it with extraordinary people such as yourselves.
Thank you for taking the leap, for recognizing the value in what I teach, and for your courage and your ability to take action. Thank you for your commitment to yourselves and for contributing to each other’s growth. You inspire me to continue to teach and be the best Sifu that I can be.
My wish for all of you is that you find something that you love, define success for yourselves, and see it through. And that you use the lessons that you learn from training Wing Chun to serve you every step of the way.
Today is a celebration of us. From the most senior to the most junior, I am glad that you are a part of it.
Happy Fourth Year Anniversary!
Sifu Gary Ma
If you’ve been practicing a martial art for some time, being asked this question may take you by surprise. It certainly took me by surprise at the age of twenty, when I began training Wing Chun more assiduously. At that point, the best answer that I could come up with was, "...Because I like it.” However, after a few years, this reason became an unsatisfactory answer to me. And I started to question myself about it.
I found it a bit ridiculous to be asking myself this question. Do we question those who like playing the piano why they like it, those who like painting why they paint, or the runner who likes running why he runs? I certainly don’t. I realized that the dissatisfaction I felt with my simple answer stemmed from the fact that the activity that I so enjoy happens to be a combat system, that combat is violent, and that violence in our society is frowned upon. Then I started asking myself other questions such as: "If I like practicing a martial art, does that mean that I like violence?”and "Is it possible to enjoy training a martial art without enjoying violence?"
I noticed that people who are not aggressive by nature find it particularly difficult to verbalize what attracts them to martial arts. I also noticed that high level practitioners of traditional martial arts are often the kindest, friendliest and most courteous people I know.
We cannot deny that martial arts were invented for survival and battle centuries ago. However, if a martial art like Wing Chun continues to spread after 350 years of existence in our current modern high-tech world, we must conclude that Wing Chun is more than just a simple physical activity and more than just a fighting system.
The reasons for which people decide to practice martial arts are numerous. It could be either to learn to defend themselves, for the discipline, to gain confidence, self-knowledge; or as a simple physical activity, to manage stress, to get out of their bubble, for social connection, etc. It is very likely that the reason for which a student began training Kung Fu is no longer the same reason for which he continues to train. The reasons tend to evolve as the student evolves.
Knowing how to defend ourselves is important. It is only when we need it most that we realize how glad we are to be able to defend ourselves effectively. Fortunately, in today’s society, people continue to practice traditional martial arts not only for survival. So why do people continue to train a traditional martial art month after month and year after year? Because it is the most effective way to discover who you are, to better yourself, and to contribute to the betterment of others. Over the years, I have discovered that Wing Chun could meet my needs on all levels: physical, mental, intellectual, and spiritual.
It is true that Wing Chun is a fighting system and that fighting is violent and dangerous. However, if we compared a martial artist to a driver of an automobile, it is obvious that the driver is far more dangerous than the martial artist. When I get into a car, I put on my seatbelt. Not because I intend to use it, but just in case I need it. When I get into a car, it is not to put on a seat belt, but to go to the places where the car can take me.
Trying to explain to someone the benefits that I have acquired through the practice of a martial art after so many years would be, at best, equivalent to “the finger pointing to the moon”. Only by experiencing it for yourself will you find the answer to that question. Today, if you ask me why I continue to practice Wing Chun, the short answer is, "Because I like it!"
Sifu Gary Ma