There is a peculiar phenomenon that is found in Chinese Martial Arts.
Practitioners are often accused of being fake masters, degrading their art or even making up their lineage for financial gain.
There have been many debates over the years regarding the true lineage of this or that master, whether they had really learned from such and such or whether this person was even really doing Wing Chun. Some people who have modified Wing Chun over the years to better suit their needs, have felt compelled to change the name of their system, simply because the accusations that what they were teaching was not Wing Chun became too intense to bear.
It’s a strange thing. Why does lineage play any part on whether someone is a master or not. Shouldn’t it be up to the skill of the individual? And what gives someone the right to say “that is not Wing Chun” simply because there are differences to how they train? Do we see this in other arts? Boxing? BJJ? Not really. Why?
It’s fairly obvious that lineage should play no part on whether someone has fighting skills or not. Either your Wing Chun is effective or it isn’t. You can either use it or you can’t.
You may have been Ip Man’s top disciple, but if you cannot fight your way out of a paper bag, you are simply not qualified to be called a Sifu. Similarly, you may have learned your Wing Chun from books (unlikely, I know) but if you can use it and teach it effectively, then you may have earned the title of Sifu.
And yet, we constantly see people having to justify or prove their lineage amongst accusations that they are not real Wing Chun masters. Surely their skill level is all you need to determine this?
No, lineage is of little consequence in determining the skill set and ability to teach of a Sifu. It may make people feel better to know they are 2nd or 3rd generation Ip Man students, but ultimately your Wing Chun should be judged by its effectiveness in combat and /or sparring.
This is a little trickier. We sure do see a lot of different versions and modifications in Wing Chun. Opinions on this are varied. Some claim they are all valid and part of our rich history, others claim that these are fake systems taught be people who never learned the system properly.
First of all, why the many variations? We don’t find this is Boxing or BJJ for instance. The fact that these arts are also sports with governing bodies which determine what is and isn’t part of the discipline surely helps.
Sometimes though, you can get variations of the rules but the art still remains more or less the same. Judo for instance has had many rule changes over the years which have resulted in certain techniques being banned. Some have lamented that this has made Judo less effective as a Martial Art. Certainly Judo 30 or 40 years ago had many techniques which are not allowed today, yet it is difficult to imagine masters of old looking at modern Judo and claiming it is a fake variation or simply not Judo at all.
The competing nature of these disciplines means that ultimately, they have to be effective if they are to be successful in competitions. Boxing, BJJ and Judo have this is common. They must remain competitive, and this limits the number of modifications and variations you can get.
It’s like this. You can only get one correct answer to a Mathematical question. If you end up with multiple answers, this is a clear sign that most or all are incorrect.
Same in Martial Arts. You only have a limited number of variations that are effective. Too many variations and modifications and you can be sure someone had veered off in the wrong direction. But who?
Is it the ones making the modifications, or the traditionalists that insist in doing things exactly like Ip Man and Wong Shun Leung? Well, it is hard to say. We have no bench mark due to a lack of competitions in Wing Chun.
If Wing Chun was a sport, 2 masters could duke it out and settle their differences very quickly. What’s more, the endless variations would be quickly weeded out as only the most battle tested techniques remained, just like in Boxing.
We do not have governing-body sanctioned fights like in Boxing or BJJ, nor do we have fights to the death. What do we have really that can conclusively demonstrate someone’s level of competence? There are Chi-Sao tournaments …but one can hardly conclude anything from these.
It seems Wing Chun and Kung Fu in general are destined to remain caught in a no-man’s land. Supposedly too deadly to use in sparring or competitions, and thus impossible to gage.
We have no real way to separate the true masters from the fake. You might even go as far as to say that there can be no true masters if these cannot be judged in the heat of battle.
A BJJ or Judo black-belt running a school has earned his stripes by competing for many years. They are proven warriors and all things being equal, they should be able to dispatch of a white belt novice with relative ease in combat, within the confines of their rules set.
Can the same be said for most Sifus? How many Sifus have competed, engaged in sparring or fought to the death using Wing Chun?
When accusations are hurled at certain individuals and they are forced to respond and defend their lineage, their Sifu or the modifications they have implemented, it is a symptom of a greater problem; we have no bench mark with which to prove who is right.
Two BJJ guys would simply spar and be done with it. The good news is that we are seeing a movement towards full contact sparring in the Wing Chun world. Perhaps one day, we will have competitions the way BJJ, Judo and wrestling does. This will standardise the art, for better or for worse.
I say for better. We will finally see an end to the arm chair warrior syndrome and the petty quarrels between lineages. Wing Chun will be better for it. We will finally be one family under Wing Chun. Ω
By Javier Garcia