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A young gentleman, who recently became a father, has been training in Wing Chun for a few years now and although he is convinced this Southern Chinese art’s techniques and combat principles are of practical use on the street, he told me about a traumatic experience that he is afraid will debilitate him when faced by an attacker.
When he was much younger he found himself accompanying his elderly father in the confined space of a night train back in his country of origin, India. During the journey a couple of thugs gave his father a hard time and being the good son he stood up to them and actually faced off against the leader of the pack. Little did he know that the thug’s mates were behind and above him in the bunks of this night train and you can guess what happened. Being outnumbered and attacked from all sides he and his dad were lucky to have escaped alive.
Even though I now know enough Wing Chun to defend myself, I am so worried that in a real life confrontation I will be overcome by fear. The train experience is still fresh in my mind, and I just know that my mind will be racing, and fear will strike paralysing me. How can I overcome this?
I will address this question for our gentleman, let’s call him Moses, and for anybody else who wonders if all the hours spent in the gwoon and at home drilling will come to the rescue in a life threatening confrontation. Let us therefore assume that you have done your due diligence, including applying common and practical sense such as not walking home alone through a dark alley late at night, but preferably, especially if you are female, travelling in a group.
The training of a gung fu man and woman involves not just physical conditioning and skills, but very much cultivating the mind. My sifu Yun Hoi spoke in a recent guest post about engaging your mind during practice as if you are fighting for real.
Strangely enough, much more frightening than being accosted in the street by a no-good thug, is speaking in front of an audience. Apparently, nothing strikes more fear into the thumping heart of a person giving a speech. The incumbent Vice President Education at my ToastMaster club, told the club that even the most experienced speaker is plagued by stage fright and apprehension. And that is a good thing, but only if it snaps your mind to attention and concentration into the moment.
In that same meeting I gave a speech titled Awakening the ToastMaster Within which is very pertinent to Moses’ concern. Before you can overcome nerves you need to know why you have them in the first place. If a speech is well prepared, and you have belief and confidence in your message, then being afraid means you are not primarily concerned with communicating your message. Instead, you are more concerned with yourself, ie. how you look, whether you will remember your lines, whether people will like you.
Do you see how this applies to Moses’ problem?
In gung fu terms, being well prepared means you have trained hard, smart and long enough. And having belief and confidence means you trust your martial art and your abilities.
But the crux of the problem, and hence the solution, is that one should not be concerned with or for oneself because then you are not fighting for your life. It is of no surprise to me to detect the Buddhist notion of non-self in my art of Wing Chun, that is to let your ego step out of the way. Public speakers should only concern themselves with the message they wish to convey. Martial artists should only concern themselves with eliminating the threat. This requires full and undivided attention to the task at hand.
If you can do that, then how can there be room in your heart for fear?
Be afraid. Be very afraid. Not you, though. But your assailant.
Many intelligent questions were left in the comments on my earlier post How Good Was Bruce Lee’s Wing Chun by Derek, an experienced Wing Chun practitioner, which had me thinking long and hard because they are worthy of an elaborate answer. He asked:
- “Am I to believe that once Wing Chun was created that there was no “tweaking” period? That it was developed in secret by the Nun (or whoever) and one day they said “There! It’s done and perfect. Now I can go and teach it to the world”?Are Sifus human? Do they add their own emphasis or preference to an art? Why is there Pin Sun Wing Chun, Cheung Bo Wing Chun and Yuen Kay San Wing Chun? Are they are all the best? Are they all Wing Chun? Can they all be Wing Chun if they have differences?”
- “How should a student respectfully question what he is learning to best establish genuine teaching?”
I would like to get to the heart of the matter and this requires reframing Derek’s questions. In doing so, I hope that the original questions will be answered.