Being Fixed is the Way to Death, Fluidity is the Way to Life

The Chun (春) in Wing Chun is a beautiful metaphor rife with meaning. Literally meaning the season of spring, we can deduce youth, life, refreshing change, rejuvenation. The art of Wing Chun is indeed quite young compared to the traditional gung fu styles practised in the feudal China of the 1700s. On the mountains of Omei, our two monastic founders, Ng Mui and Mui Shun, sought to inject new life in the prevailing, stuffy notions about martial arts of that era. The result was a revolutionary, new martial art stripped of unnecessary and inefficient concepts, strategies, principles and last, but not least, techniques. The fluidity and martial relaxation evident in accomplished Yuen Kay San Wing Chun practitioners, such as sifu Yun Hoi, is an embodiment of this life quality of spring. Rigid and overly tense execution of techniques are what I’d call “dead” techniques because one does not have the wherewithal to quickly change in mid-flight, or react with razor sharp sensitivity to the opponent’s reaction. And overly floppy strikes, in contrast, are “lifeless” because they lack the power to inflict its intended damage.

Another great and revolutionary martial artist,  none other than Miyamoto Musashi (1584 – 1645) on the other side of the western Pacific Ocean pulled off a feat similar to that of Wing Chun’s founders in the same era. Musashi breathed new life into the prevailing sword fighting arts of the samurai in Japan. He wrote his insights gleaned from a life time of life and death challenge matches into the famous “A Book of Five Rings”.

Which art is better?  This is a favourite topic of discussion among martial artists. There are no easy answers to that, but one should be careful of too quickly dismissing the effectiveness of any art other than our own. Having had the great good fortune to have studied under martial arts giants both from Japan and China to a very high level, sifu Yun Hoi is very well placed to give an informed opinion based on his own life-long experience on both sides to comment on the quality and effectiveness of both karate and Wing Chun gung fu. Musashi’s words, which are the title of this blog, do not just refer to mere technique…

by Yun Hoi

What greater an endorsement of our Yuen Kay San Wing Chun principle of flow (fluidity) than these words? The above saying, by Miyamoto Musashi, is a resounding statement all martial artists need to consider and fully understand. It applies to technique; to strategy; to concepts; to one’s mindset; to one’s way of thinking; and, to martial attitudes.

I have never been one to exclude martial knowledge from my thinking based on whether it derives from China or from Japan – nor, for that matter, from anywhere else. (Although, I do have to say, I find little if anything novel or useful in the martial arts of some countries). Some gung fu practitioners denigrate Japanese martial arts and karate-do in particular, for example. When I was a young man, I recall many times being in the company of Chinese fellow practitioners of gung fu and listening to them pan karate. Yet, I am utterly certain that none of those who proffered the negative comments would have survived a real fight with any of the accomplished karate practitioners I knew. Most of them had had no experience of karate and had never tested their skill against karate. To me this seemed not to be very empirical.

Through my life of training and studying martial arts from my early youth to my present age of 65, I saw a number of practitioners of genuine, traditional karate-do (not the modern sport karate, I must emphasise) who would definitely defeat almost all the gung fu practitioners I’ve seen. I could make a similar comment about practitioners of sword arts. This is not to set Japanese martial artists against Chinese martial artists nor to elevate one above the other. Nor is it in any way intended to be derogatory of gung fu practitioners. What I am saying is that it has too long been an unexamined notion held by many gung fu practitioners that Japanese martial arts are inferior. It is a fixed attitude. It obviously has historical reasons but if one accepts it unquestioningly it can distort one’s perception and open-mindedness.

There are worthy masters of the martial arts of both Japan and China in my view. And, I have to add, finding them is not necessarily easy. In many cases the person seeking the master actually needs to become more aware of what genuine martial art entails and what constitutes a true master as opposed to the commercial hype they will have been immersed in. I have thought for several decades now, after extensive and intensive study that the Chinese (if you follow the appropriate teachers) have a very distinct advantage in the method of developing internal power whereas the Japanese have the distinct advantage in transmitting methods to develop the best mindset for real world combat. To evaluate knowledge based on geographical origin or the ethnic group espousing it is not at all wise in my opinion. “Being Fixed is the Way to Death, Fluidity is the Way to Life”.

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