This is one martial arts training tip that many of us already know. However, knowing that we should ignore the latest shiny object and actually doing it are two different things.
In this day and age of information overload, it can be difficult to remember. Even the most basic truths get buried under mountains of “junk food” imagery. We get bombarded so quickly with advertisements for the latest shiny objects (AKA, fancy training gear) that it’s hard to figure out where to focus.
Well, I aim to bring some of that back right now.
This article is for anyone who feels like they have currently lost their way. Let’s steer you back to the path that will lead you to your full potential as martial artists.
A Shiny Object for Wing Chun – The Budo Tec Chi Sao Board
Some people might think the Wooden Dummy (or Mook Jong) is a shiny object. However, I would argue that it is not. There is a purpose behind the Wooden Dummy that I feel makes it indispensable.
Basically, the Wooden Dummy takes all the techniques you learned in the first two empty hand forms (and some from the third) and lets you practice them against something that takes up physical space. No more punching and kicking in the air; now you need to find out what your real skill level is by hitting this thing and seeing what happens. (HINT: If you kick the Dummy, and it feels more like you are pushing yourself away from it, then you are not releasing your energy properly, and you need to work on it.)
Plus, if you accuse the Wooden Dummy of being a “shiny object,” then there is nothing left to call the piece of gear that I had in mind: the Budo Tec Chi Sao Board. For those who have never seen it, here it is:
To non-Wing Chun practitioners, that doesn’t look like much. What do we do with this thing, anyway? Fortunately, there is a video to show it in action:
In this video, the practitioner does not have the leg attached. However, he is still showing how the board is used to replace a Chi Sao partner.
Desperate Times…Call for a Moment’s Pause and Review
If you are like me, then you are the only person you know (other than classmates) that trains in the martial arts so fanatically. In other words, a good Chi Sao partner is impossible for me to find outside of class. Therefore, the Chi Sao board seems like a no-brainer, right?
Well, hold on a second. Let’s put on our sunglasses to shut out the distracting glare from the “shiny object” and see.
The device has spring arms, which means you will feel tension when you push on them. You can think of that tension as the energy you would get from a partner. That’s good.
The inclusion of the leg is super cool because when you get to a higher skill level, your Sifu will introduce you to Chi Gerk (Sticking Leg) practice. You will need that limb for later.
However, as I watch the gentleman in the video move his hands to redirect the energy and step in and strike, there is one thing I do not see: any movement on the part of the Chi Sao board. By that I mean there is no footwork, no effort at deflecting his blows, and no attack or counterattack.
Naturally, that is not shocking because it is an inanimate object fixed to a certain spot on the wall. However, these boards appear to be selling quite well.
“Shiny Object” Syndrome. People see this and are so in awe of the device’s mere existence that they overlook the one gigantic flaw: you meet no resistance, nor do you have to deal with a moving and striking/counter-striking human being. When you are missing out on that much, I’m not sure the Board is worth its super-high price tag.
Don’t get me wrong: I am not saying this is a bad product, or the company is greedily gouging Wing Chun suckers. I am sure the time and effort they put into the creation of each board makes the price justifiable. All I’m saying is the lack of an uncooperative partner is a heavy blow to its usefulness, as far as I’m concerned.
Ignore the Shiny Object, Return to Basics
No matter what fancy gadgets are out there that you wish had but can’t afford, there is one thing that poverty can’t take away from you: your body.
Yes, it is true that basics are…well, basic…which (let’s admit) can be boring. However, sometimes you have to work with what you’ve got. In fact, showing you how to do that is the entire reason I started my YouTube channel: Geek Wing Chun. (See a link to it at the bottom of the article.) What if you can’t afford to make it to class, or your work hours won’t allow it, or you can find people to join you, but they don’t do Wing Chun?
Last but not least, what if you can’t find anyone to train with?
That last question is what makes people seek out the “shiny objects.” Aside from Wooden Dummies and heavy bags, there are countless models of grappling and striking dummies on the market. There are people selling courses online that offer “virtual sparring.”
Of course, there are several downfalls to those videos. First, you are “sparring” with a two-dimensional person. In other words, you cannot develop any sense of correct distance because the person is not in the room with you. Second, they contain videos featuring people who were filmed doing certain attacks, and those are frozen in time. Once you have the attacks in the video memorized, what use are they?
If you take the time to step back and analyze these “shiny objects” before forking over your hard-earned money, you will avoid sending yourself to the poor house for a piece of equipment that has limited use and appeal.
What Basics Are in Your Schedule?
I am so glad you asked!
You might not recognize these activities by name. I will do my best to provide a brief description. However, if you are still unable to visualize them, drop me a line (see my email below), and I will send you a short video on it.
Another thing to keep in mind: I don’t do all of these on the same day. I cycle through them over the course of the week. However, the point of listing them was merely to show you what I do, not when I do it.
- Sil Lum Tao: The first Wing Chun form. I do this for 15 minutes or more. (There is a part that many people do slowly for meditation purposes, plus the fact that it helps you develop rooting, and it allows you to clear your mind so you can really focus on and feel your techniques.)
- Chum Kiu: The second Wing Chun form. I do this just once per day.
- Punches: I do 1000 per day. This can be done in the air, on a wall bag, while standing still, with footwork, etc.
- Iron Palm Training: I put a wall bag on a service that is approximately waist-level. Then I hit it with a set of 10 techniques with my left hand, repeating the sequence with my right hand. I cycle through these five times per hand.
- Kick Up/Kick Down: An exercise my Sifu gave me to strengthen my legs. I do a Front Kick at waist height, then down toward shin level. Then I do two Side Kicks, aiming high and low again, without setting the foot down between them. In other words, when my foot leaves the ground, I do four kicks. Actually, I do more than that because I aim to do 10 repetitions per leg. Over time, that number will increase.
- Front Kick and Jut Gerk: More leg-strengthening practice.
- Pak Gerk and Side Kick: More leg-strengthening practice.
- Low Punches: Yep – more leg-strengthening practice. We get in a super low horse stance and punch to our side while also taking a step.
- Mook Jong Improvisation: Some people do Shadow Boxing. Others hit a heavy bag. Me, I freestyle on my Wooden Dummy.
As you can see, there is a heavy focus on leg strengthening. That is because in the lineage that I am studying (Leung Sheung) the most important and basic aspect of our training is our ability to root. Without that, a Wing Chun practitioner can be useless. Therefore, that is where I am focusing my time.
I don’t need any fancy gear or a training partner for that. I just need the patience to do something that most people won’t.
CONCLUSION – Strong Basics Will Outshine ALL “Shiny Objects”
That last sentence right there is really where it’s all at, in my opinion. If you can’t master the basics, then no other skill you develop will wind up being worth much. It might be cliche to put it this way, but if you built a house on a shoddy foundation, it will easily fall.
Put on your shades, folks, and focus on those basics.
Also, like I said above, if you can’t visualize an activity and want to know what it’s like, write me here:
PS: Having said all that, I probably will buy the Budo Tec Board if money ever allows. However, right now while I am living paycheck to paycheck, I’m not going to give up my first born to get a hold of one!
Editor’s Note: For another article discussing getting back to the basics, check out Francis Cordon’s The Eternal Beginner.