I started my Martial Arts journey with Boxing and after several years changed to Judo, in both of these arts competition is a fundamental aspect of the art. No one takes up boxing for some spiritual purpose, no one gets on the Judo mat to practice mindfulness or for health, it is about contact, about fighting. In both of these disciplines sparring is a real necessity if you wish to improve, and sometimes sparring is about learning how to take a beating and get back up, sparring is very rarely play fighting, it is purposeful and usually based around what you do badly and not what you do well, learning how to hang in there, not to lose as opposed to learning how to win. If you are in a good boxing gym or judo dojo with a good trainer or sensei most of your sparring matches are against fitter, faster, stronger more skilful opponents, how else can you expect to learn?

In my 26 years of Wing Chun I have never made meaningful contact with a fellow Wing Chun student, there is nothing radically wrong with this, not to spar is part of what Wing Chun believes in, proper sparring at any rate, and I understand why but it is also not very helpful in the long run so over my Wing Chun years I have touched hands with quite a few people from other arts, usually decent black belts, 2nd or 3rd Dan, quite serious people. The majority of these guys I would touch hands with many times, most were also Chefs so we could spar in our break time {frequently in the fridge so we did not get too sweaty, Chefs are very practical people}, over many sessions with the same guys there were times when I won easily, times when I struggled and times when I quite literally got my arse handed to me, when I later debriefed myself to understand what had gone right or what had gone wrong it, was very rarely my Wing Chun, that remained a constant, it was something else.

In all martial arts there is a lot of chatter about Mind / Body connection, but in times of crisis or stress the body simply over rules the mind, the body makes decisions before the mind even knows that there is a decision to make.  If we take a good hit our body thinks it is in danger and registers fear, anxiety, its response is to give us a shot of adrenalin, this makes us faster, stronger and makes our blood clot quicker, it is a survival response that has nothing to do with the Mind Intelligence, it is all Body Intelligence, it cannot be out thought, it cannot be trained away.

The most obvious effect of adrenalin is nervous energy that makes us move, if for some reason we do not move, our body thinks it under dosed us and gives us another shot, if unneeded this second shot usually brings on a total freeze. 

For Wing Chun students this is really important.


Some Wing Chun schools claim that Wing Chun trains our nervous system, they go on about how doing something over and over brings about perfection, 10,000 hours practice hard wires it into place, this is not true, in fact it is completely false, we cannot train our nervous system because all training is the domain of the Mind Intelligence, the nervous system is Body Intelligence, yes you can thicken and enlarge the neural pathways, lay down more myelin so the information passes more rapidly from brain to body, but in times of stress the body is not listening to the mind, it is too busy saving our ass.

The 10,00 hours rule is a complete pile of something we would rather not step in.

In my sparring experiences no one was seriously trying to hurt anyone but every now and then someone lands a cracker, when it happened to me all of my strategy flew straight out of the window, no matter what I thought I should be doing my body was trying to get out of town on the first available flight.  When I landed a bomb I would instinctively notice the glitch in my partner as his body took control away from his mind and of course I would press in to take advantage of the situation and take a position my partner could not come back from. Our sparring matches usually ended when one person had a position that in a real fight would lead to a beating, that is what happens in the street and it is good to stay aware of it, one wrong step, you get done in.

Some days when I knew I was going to touch hands with a mate I would be excited and looking forwards to it, I would feel light on my feet and radiant, to be expected they were good days, other times I would not really be up for it, my feet would be like plant pots, my hands heavy and lifeless, a head with no thoughts, I would just be going through the motions, they were usually bad days.

The difference between the good days and the bad days was never my Wing Chun as such, or my friends Karate, Muay Thai or B.J.J, it was usually about who had the better attitude and most importantly the better movement, if we move well we quickly get into better positions to use our martial style and of course get out of bad positions that suit our sparring partner equally quickly.

In fighting there is only one bad move, and that is not moving.

Mental attitude is important but movement is the something else that wins the day, there is plenty of movement in Wing Chun if you look for it, but how many people look?




  1. Hello The “D” Man. I would like to put a different perspective to some of the premises in your article. As a student of Wing Chun i trained under an Instructor in Timaru New Zealand who followed the teachings and had the privilege of training in Hong Kong with the late Grand Master Chu Shong-tin. Through my instructors teachings, i came to understand and appreciate the concept of being able to relax and move the joints with as little muscle contraction as possible, (Great emphases was and still is on the sil lim tao form in his club) that the main focus of my attention should always be on my structure. Without that it would be a match of the strongest. I realized through my practice that the more i relaxed when engaged in Chi Sau with either senior students to me or my instructor i coped better. This meant moving away from watching my hands or trying to “win”. “Just relax and focus on your structure”, was a very common phrase i heard. At a certain point of my training i realized that focusing on my structure not only helped my posture (no more sore upper back) but i became more relaxed within myself. To the point that my actions in tense situations became not about “reactions” but “considered actions”. The longer i spent training the more relaxed i became. I began to appreciate where i came from to where i was, when i saw new students come through the door. Every so often they would ask What is the point of Sil Lim Tao..?? I would reply “It is the key to developing a strong structure and understanding joint rotation. But most importantly it will teach you to relax your mind. If you find yourself in a situation where a fight is very likely, most of what you learn here you will forget due to nervous excitement, to be expected . But the part you do retain will hopefully give you the edge over your opponent in that you are able to relax and asses the situation instead of just wildly reacting. The 10,000 hours idea is valid and is an accepted theory in the world of Psychology. It does come with the a variety of variables such as you need to be learning a technique correctly in the first place and it needs to be realistic. (10,000 hours of learning to levitate solid objects is not going to work). What you mean by “Body Intelligence” I assume is…. The sympathetic nervous system’s primary process to stimulate the body’s fight-or-flight response. It is important to remember that there is no way to completely train away this unconscious behavioral reaction but a person can control it… a point.


    1. Hi Tim, first off thank you very much for taking the time to engage in a conversation about this topic, it is obvious that you are talking about something you believe in and not something that you have researched with an open mind, for instance the 10,00 hour rule has been well and truly disavowed by several independent studies, I am thinking that you are from the C.S.T. lineage, as I indirectly am, so I have personal and quite deep understanding of the premises put forward by C.S.T. I have trained hands on with Master Chu himself, master mo Chi Po and Master Peter Wong, all brilliant men that I respect and admire, and of course my own Sifu Jim Fung. I am not trying to imply that I am right and you are wrong but in my opinion the C.S.T. method has many very serious flaws that only present themselves when someone is trying to mess you up. Something that should never be overlooked is that Master Chu never, ever had a need to use his Wing Chun in a real situation, this deeply affects the way you think, train and teach, especially Chi Sau. Chi Sau in any lineage is nothing more than a game we play and you would do well to allow it to be just that, it can teach us many things but not in the place or the way that it is practiced. I have always admitted that I have a very one eyed opinion because for me if we cannot use what we are training it is less than useless, especially as you mention learning how to relax the mind, you can do this in training but not when you are in the shit, this is the very heart of the flaw in the C.S.T. thinking, Wing Chun is reactive, it is a counter attacking martial art, by definition if we are counter attacking we are already under attack and as such we will not be afforded the luxury of assessing the situation and choosing an appropriate response. You talk about fight or flight response, this is a typical American shortening of relevant information, it is in fact the fight, flight or freeze response, if you force yourself to try to fight in the S.L.T. manner, staying still and remaining calm you are going down the wrong rabbit hole. But there is an even more insidious problem with the post 1999 C.S.T. method, never doubt that every single one of us will fight the way we train, trying to be all S.L.T. will create a far greater chance of you freezing than you would if you allowed your body to respond as it sees fit. As I say I am very one eyed, it comes from experience, more than knowing what works I have a very real understanding of what does not work. S.L.T. does not work.
      Again thank you for this reply, I truly wish more people would engage in this way, and no matter what my reply may sound like I am not trying to say that you are wrong, only that for me this is the only intelligent way forward.


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