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