So, let’s say you’re new to Wing Chun or you’re in the market to study at a school near you, how do you know you’ve found the right school? What are some characteristics and qualities you should look for in a Wing Chun School? Here are some things to look for.
The most important factor in selecting a Wing Chun school is the instructor’s lineage. No, I’m not talking about making sure you select this lineage over that lineage, Wong Shun Leung lineage versus Hawkins Cheung, or Moy Yat lineage versus Ip Chun. Although, that is also important, what I’m talking about is the idea that lineage means the full art has or is being passed down to your Sifu. You see, nowadays, people will study with a Sifu for a short period of time, then go and open a school without having received the blessing to do so from their Sifu and without having learned the entire Wing Chun system. In many lineages, it’s not necessary to learn the entire system before you open a school, but one should have the approval from their Sifu and continue to learn under that Sifu. There are many instructors nowadays who are very skilled, they may also hold rank in other martial arts, but they stopped studying with their Sifu and haven’t learned the whole system. They can teach you excellent self defense techniques, some maybe Wing Chun or a blend of what they already know. Others only teach you the Wing Chun they know, but it may feel empty, lacking, like there is something missing.
Typically, instructors who remain with their Sifu and are studying the whole system will be part of an association aligned with the Sifu’s lineage. This is something to look for as you’re researching schools. If the school’s lineage claims to be from Ip Man, but is obscure or can’t be traced and verified back to Ip Man, then beware of this. Often reputable Sifu’s will list on their websites who is authorized to teach or who they passed on the art to. This is one way to verify lineage. Now, many people learn from multiple Sifus and there is nothing wrong with that. However, one should be authorized to teach from at least one of those Sifus who should also have been authorized to teach from their Sifu all way up the line. Lastly, beware of folks who get a certification only after attending a few seminars, workshops, or with only a few weeks of training with their Sifu. Often, folks will travel great distances to train with a Sifu, and after a few weeks, they are certified to teach. While they often go back for re-certification, no one can properly learn any martial art system by only attending a few weeks of training per year.
The second thing to look for in the school is a realistic approach to combat. Do the advance students spar? Do they compete or fight in the ring or cage? They should have some way to battle test their Wing Chun. Competition fighting in a ring or cage is not necessary, but is the most helpful in learning how to fight with Wing Chun. Sparring is a must. The school must support active sparring. If all you do in class are drills and Chi Sao, then you’re missing the entire purpose of the art which was designed for fighting. It is also helpful if the instructor spars with his students. While some instructors are too old to bang with their students, for instructors that are young enough, they should participate in sparring periodically. Many instructors don’t spar even if they are healthy enough to do so. Many fear that they will get beat by their students or otherwise lose face. The reality is you may beat your instructor in sparring, but does that mean he’s a bad instructor or you can’t learn something from him? Of course, not! In fact, it’s the instructor’s dream that you’ll one day be better than he is or was, but stay humble, there is still more to learn.
Third, how good is the instructor in performing the techniques and movements of the system? Can he execute and apply them in real time or just talk about them? Is he skilled? Does he practice what he preaches? A good instructor should also still be a good student who is continuing to study, learn, and improve. Ideally, he or she will also be in good physical shape, have some endurance, stamina, speed, and strength. These should be a result of consistent martial arts training, discipline, and a good diet. He should also represent the values of the system in his character and how he deals with other people. He should have a sense of respect, honor, and discipline. He should be honest, trustworthy, and humble. He should also treat his Sifu with the same respect and honor. He should be more concerned with preserving the art than with his own profit. Many schools water down the system, blend it with other styles, and do whatever it takes to get more students. These are the McDojos that produce a false image of the style in order to turn higher profits. A good Sifu turns a profit because he values the art, his students see the value he places on the art, and they willing pay for what it’s worth. A line attributed to Ip Man’s character in the movie “Ip Man: The Final Fight” he says, “you can’t buy kung fu like a bowl of rice.”
Fourth, the instructor should be involved and engaged in teaching and training you and not leave it up to you to get it. I’ve seen many instructors who are great martial artists, but horrible instructors. They show up to class, not to teach, but to train alongside their students. There is nothing wrong with an instructor training alongside their students and that is actually ideal so the students can see how something works. However, a teacher’s primary purpose in class should be your training and not his/her own. That’s what you’re paying them for. A good instructor will be able to teach you not just how something works, but also why it works. He should be able to explain the details of a technique and also modify it, if necessary, to fit your build, shape, and size. A good instructor will try to work with everyone in the class at least once during the class time. You should not just be stuck with a senior student the entire time. The instructor should be engaged in your progress to ensure you’re learning properly.
Fifth, look at the students. If the students suck, then this will give you a pretty good idea of how good or bad the instructor is. In the beginning, it’s difficult to determine how good the students are, but after you’ve been around for a while, you should be able to determine if they hold water or not. While you can be your instructor’s top student and improve all the other students, why bother? Why not find a school where you’ll be surrounded by people better than you, challenging you to get better as well. You’re only as good as the company you keep and the people you train with. So, you want to improve your Wing Chun skill? Train with better Wing Chun practitioners.
While these are just guidelines, no school is perfect. Your nearby school may only have a few of these qualities. The important thing is that you’re learning and training well. I will say, however, that if you have a Wing Chun School in your area that is no good, avoid it. It would do more for your Wing Chun to study a different style than to learn bad Wing Chun. Learning Karate or Hung Gar from a legitimate and highly skilled instructor will do more for you than learning bad Wing Chun and have to later un-learn what you learned. Don’t focus so much on the style or lineage, but the quality of the instruction. That’s what will make you a better fighter, a better martial artist, and a better Wing Chun practitioner.
Thank you for reading. Wishing you peace and compassion.
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