Over the last two months, I’ve travelled nearly 25,000 miles to teach WingChun throughout the United States, Taiwan and the Philippines. It inspired me to see such a diversity of students motivated to learn the art. This stimulated me to pass on as much knowledge as I could in our limited time together. Given the large amount of material we covered, a common concern was voiced: How do I remember everything?
First, we must accept that 100% recall is impossible. Sometimes apprehending 50% is impressive enough! Your brain has a limited capacity to absorb new information before reaching saturation. That is why ongoing lessons and repeated corrections from a live teacher are mandatory. To support this process, note taking is invaluable. By jotting down notes during or after a class, you have to mentally replay what you learned. This exercise reinforces your memory.
Ideally, your note taking is efficient, especially if you do so in a class. You don’t want to waste too much time writing rather than training. An optimal system allows you to record a lot of data with a few symbols. Your notes should also be consistent and accurate. Have you ever been unable to read or understand your old notes? Perhaps they were unclear or too complicated.
Here is how I take notes in a quick, easy way:
1. Create a glossary of abbreviations for common techniques. For instance:
- Man Sao (問手 Inquiring Arm) = M
- Wu Sao (護手 Protecting Arm) = W
- Tan Sao (攤手 Spreading Arm) = T
- Pak Jeung (拍掌 Slapping Palm) = P
- Tsong Kuen (衝拳 Thrusting Fist) = TK
- Zi Ng Ma (子午馬 Meridian Stance) = ZNM
- Dap Bo (踏步 Striding Step) = DB
2. Use a shorthand notation to describe each frame of movement:
- Write left arm technique on left side of a forward slash = W/
- Write right arm technique on right side of a forward slash = /M
- Write leg technique after an underscore = _ZNM
- Thus, left Wu Sau with right Man Sao in Zi Ng Ma = W/M_ZNM
3. Define prefixes and suffixes for more descriptive detail:
- Use p as a prefix for a starting (pre) position such as pre-Tan = pT
- Use p as a suffix for an ending (post) position such as post-Tan = Tp
- Use r or l as a prefix for right or left leg forward such as right Zi Ng Ma = rZNM
4. Separate each frame of a movement sequence with a comma (see below).
That’s it! This is a simple and, with practice, fast method to take meaningful notes. Here is an example to describe a 3-frame movement sequence. See if you can translate it into action:
- W/M_rZNM, pTK/Mp_rZNM, TK/pTK_rDB
Now try this flow with 6 frames:
- W/M_rZNM, W/pT_rZNM, W/T_rZNM, pP/Tp_rZNM, P/pTK_rDB, pTK/TK_rZNM
As a full body practice, WingChun prioritizes technique because it maximizes the effect of your power and speed. An essential aspect of technique is exact limb coordination. In other words, footwork and armwork must work in unison. This moment to moment synergy of limbs is what I call a frame.
Like a high definition film, much detail is contained in each frame. In WingChun, each frame must describe three elements: left arm, right arm and legs. What is your left arm doing? How is your right arm moving? Which stance, step or strike are your legs executing? To perfect your technique, you have to answer these questions precisely. To facilitate that, take good notes!
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