Is IAW WingChun Traditional?
Why and How WingChun Evolves
Being “traditional” in wing chun can be hard to define and is often subject to debate.
Must you allege a particular origin of wing chun?
Some invoke a 17th-century nun, Ng Mui, who developed a new style inspired by a crane and snake in battle. This art became a namesake of her first student, Yim Wing Chun.
Must you acknowledge a certain lineage of wing chun?
Many consider Yip Man (also spelled Ip Man) to be a traditional grandmaster of wing chun. Thus, wing chun taught by his disciples is more traditional than others less directly connected.
Must you assert specific principles of wing chun?
Traditional principles include yielding to the power and sticking to the arms of an opponent. Systems are nontraditional if they do not apply chain punching or centerline attacking.
We in the IAW always rethink everything we do. Does that mean we are not traditional? Perhaps according to the criteria above. However, we can look for a deeper answer. Let us delve beyond what the traditions did and ask why and how.
Action is what you do:
It is normal to identify with a specific approach. We can all get stuck in old habits of acting. These defaults actually save us decision time and energy. The danger is when tradition defaults into empty ritual. For example, traditional wing chun chain punching on the centerline is an easy behavior to imitate. Yet is it actually safe to do so? Repeatedly asking why, and why not, refreshes meaning.
Intention is why I do:
We make an assumption in the IAW: When wing chun was first envisioned, its main goal was immediate combat functionality. Whatever delayed or diminished the effectiveness of wing chun must be revised or removed. The only concepts and techniques we kept or added were those that increased the successful use of wing chun in real-life self-defense situations. This is like updating your software and upgrading your hardware so you can work with maximum productivity.
Method is how I do:
Why you do something then affects how you do it. If all the traditional wing chun masters and grandmasters of the past 300-plus years sought the highest efficiency and greatest efficacy, then how would they evaluate IAW WingChun? Just what did Sifu Klaus Brand, the founder of IAW WingChun, do with wing chun — and why and how?
With 45 years of martial arts experience, including 25 years of specialization in wing chun, nothing Sifu Brand inherited was taken for granted. In the mid-nineties he had already mastered all six traditional forms as well as their applications. Despite this experience, he still sensed something amiss.
Past grandmasters said that the two weapon forms enhance the four unarmed forms. But Sifu Brand did not see this promise realized and so took matters literally into his own hands. Thus, frame by frame, he painstakingly incorporated every single weapon strategy and technique into the unarmed body and limbs. His modern insight and research was in fact fully informed by the traditional intent and curricula.
In present times, it is impractical to carry a 9-foot pole or two foot-long blades as these were designed for past wars. So the IAW, being utterly pragmatic, dissolved them as separate forms. Instead, our students train the formerly advanced, even secret, weapon movements in their very first class of the First Student Level. They are hidden in plain sight. This is the reason IAW WingChun appears untraditional.
Yet is not wing chun tradition to always evolve, to adapt to the moment, to relentlessly seek progress even if it means changing what tradition was to preserve why it existed in the first place? Though in the IAW we spell our art WingChun, we kept the same name because we come from and express the spirit of tradition.