"If people say Jeet Kune Do is different from this or from that, then let the name of Jeet Kune Do be wiped out, for that is what it is, just a name. Please don't fuss over it." In the process of studying both Wing Chun and Jeet Kune Do, I find that most prospective students consider the name of the art as more important than the art itself.
It’s most important for those enamored by the aura of Bruce Lee to say, “I study Jeet Kune Do” regardless of how worthless their instructor is or the training they are receiving. Likewise, those captivated by Donnie Yen’s role in the Ip Man movies strongly desire to say, “I study Wing Chun,” but they can’t use it to save themselves in a fight. Those caught up in the popularity of the UFC and MMA, feel it’s important to study MMA regardless of how unintelligently they fight.
It doesn’t matter if their JKD or MMA instructor sucks and couldn’t stand up in a fight. It doesn’t even matter if the class sucks and the training is unrealistic. It doesn’t matter if the instructor inflates his/her credentials. At the end of the day, there is a desire for people to say, “I do Bruce Lee’s martial art” or “I do what they do in UFC.” And ultimately, it’s this desire that drives the McDojos of the world that produce more black belts than McDonald’s does cheeseburgers. For the instructors who teach quality martial arts honestly, how can they compete?
The reality is by and large, the target audience for martial arts is uneducated with regards to quality training. The difficulty is in the names. When shopping for a car, you hear a good brand name like Mercedes or BMW and already one assumes high quality and value. Similarly, most prospective students apply the same logic when shopping for martial arts schools. However, the difference in martial arts is anyone can use a brand name, claim to teach it, and genuinely believe they are teaching it well.
Someone can study for only a couple of years, open a school, make more instructors, and start a chain of schools. If he happens to teach a popular martial art such as Muay Thai or Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, then regardless of how bad he is, if he is a smart business person, he can be very successful with a chain of schools. Why? Because Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu are well-known “brands” of martial arts mostly as a result of the growth of MMA as a sport. These styles or brands have an international stage in the form of UFC, Bellator, and other promotions that allow the real art to be displayed.
What kind of “brand name” does Wing Chun have? By and large, I would say most people don’t know what Wing Chun is. Those who do know usually fall in one of four categories. Either they know of Wing Chun as a result of knowing Bruce Lee did Wing Chun before developing Jeet Kune Do. Or two, they know of Wing Chun as a result of the Ip Man movies. Or three, they know of Wing Chun as a result of watching a few Wing Chun guys get beat up on Youtube. Or finally, they know of Wing Chun from a qualified Sifu who showed him or her Wing Chun fighting.
The problem for Wing Chun schools is they have an uphill climb to re-educate the public on what Wing Chun really is. Yes, Wing Chun is what Bruce Lee did, and yes, it’s displayed in popular movies, and yes, some Wing Chun guys get beat up on Youtube, but none of these really represents Wing Chun. Bruce Lee went on to develop Jeet Kune Do with the influence of Wing Chun, but he would be the first to say that he does not represent Wing Chun or what it should be. He only sought to represent himself as a human being. And yes, Wing Chun looks good in the Ip Man movies, but is that what it is? A theatre art? Those who try to demonstrate real Wing Chun on Youtube get beat up, do they represent Wing Chun fighting?
In the eyes of the public, the brand name of Wing Chun is just as important as the art itself. The future of Wing Chun, both the brand and the art itself, is already forming and is not found in Bruce Lee, or the Ip Man movies, or the ring or cage. While Wing Chun will always have a place in movies and possibly combat sports, these venues are not defining the brand. The future of Wing Chun is being found right now by many in its very roots of fighting as a reality-based combative system. This is the niche market and always has been. The closest modern system with a similar market would be Krav Maga or any type of civilian combatives program.
Yes, Jeet Kune Do, Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and Wing Chun are all just names, but names have meaning, the meaning we choose to give them. There’s a growing movement in the Wing Chun world across lineages choosing to give Wing Chun back its original meaning in no-holds-barred fighting. This movement is continuing to grow, develop, and reshape the brand of Wing Chun.
Thanks for reading. Wishing you peace and compassion.
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