I was thinking about David Bowie’s 1990’s hit, “Changes.” I was also thinking about discussions I have read on social networks about Wing Chun, as well as discussions about Si-Fu Francis Fong. Si-Fu Mills is always saying, “He is always changing things.” It is true. Learn Siu Nim Tao today, and three years from now, several moves may have been changed.
On the social networks, I often encounter discussions about how Wing Chun is deficient because it does not take this or that into account, or that its structure is more defensive counter striking, and lacks an ability to bridge the gap. I generally have no trouble debunking most of these types of comments. But the discussions in general led me to a few thoughts.
Several hundred years ago, a Shaolin nun, Ng Mui, developed what we call Wing Chun. It is a wonderful story of a nun who observed a crane and a snake fight. She was taken with the crane’s ability to block and strike simultaneously. She developed her techniques and then taught them to a young lady, Yim Wing Chun, from which the art got its name.
Today we think about Wing Chun and this four-hundred year linage. We assumed that Ng Mui, like all ancient martial art masters, developed some sort of perfection, and that any deviation would be wrong. But think for a moment. Certainly Ng Mui did not create Wing Chun out of whole cloth and that simple insight. She had some vast martial arts background that she also drew from. Ng Mui changed what was being done by her Shaolin brethren. A few generations later, Leung Yee-tai developed the six-and-half staff form, and taught it to his Wing Chun instructor, Wong Wha-bo, and it became a part of the art.
The story is that Ip Man introduced the high kick to Wing Chun, which had not been previously used. There certainly are not any high kicks in the three Wing Chun forms or the Mook Yan Joang (the wooden dummy form). Ip Man is also considered instrumental in the creation of the “living dummy,” the shoulder and foot mounted dummy as opposed to the centuries old Dai Jong, a dummy buried at the base, called the “dead dummy.”
Ip Man taught Bruce Lee. Is it any wonder that Bruce Lee broke ranks to develop his own concepts? Frankly, he did what his instructor and his ancestral instructor, Ng Mui, did. He changed what was being done at the time. Likewise, is it any wonder that Si-Fu Francis Fong changes things from time to time? I think not.
It seems to me that change is part of Wing Chun’s genetic code, so-to-speak. And like genetics, change leads to diversity and strength. Poor changes will crash and wither. Good ones will flourish and grow. I think Wing Chun survives, not so much out of tradition, but out of its willingness to change. Honestly, there is little in Jeet Kune Do or Lee Jun Fan Gung Fu that isn’t Wing Chun at its core. It is kind of like a child, with similar genes and some inherited learning, a family resemblance with a different name. Wing Chun’s current popularity grows, in part, due to Bruce Lee’s. He injected some good changes.
I am not a Ng Mui, or an Ip Man, or a Bruce Lee. But I practice arts that have accepted change from their very beginning. Don’t be surprised if I happen to change a few things too.