Strike Beyond the Surface!

Recently in my Wing Chun group as the students were training with hitting pads, the lesson I emphasized was to hit beyond the pad; don’t just hit the surface!  I repeated over and over and then I had to demonstrate it for them to hit at the point that is beyond the surface.  When I showed them, they saw and felt the level of power that was generated, which had nothing to do with an increase in my musculature or pounding the surface harder.  It had to do with where I was focusing.  I recognized a target that I couldn’t necessarily see but perceived was there.  The tendency of the students was to simply strike the surface of the pad, which meant they were just hitting the lining.

I think we often tackle issues in life in the same way.  We are allured to hitting the surface issues of life, character and problems only because, frankly, that’s what we see in front of us.  We tend to focus on what are in front, but these are often not the critical matters.  When we target only the surface, we fail to realize that the main issues lie beneath.  And most likely, the deeply embedded issues fuel the problems and challenges we experience on the surface.  In other words, they are the roots of our difficulties.  How often do we struggle with the same marital problems, self-esteem issues, financial troubles, emotional ailments, etc. because we only hit the surface.  In the end, we run the hamster wheel of repeatedly and tiresomely attacking the surface matters and never really making a substantial dent in the root issues that allows us to triumph and move forward.

It reminds me of the lesson Jesus taught when he healed a paralytic (Mark 2:1-12).  When this physically paralyzed man was brought before him, he did something unexpected – he forgave the man’s sins.  A person looking on might think Jesus missed the point.  Obviously, this man’s problem was that he was physically incapacitated, so what he really needs are his legs healed.  Right?  Did Jesus not see that?  Or, perhaps Jesus saw something beyond the man’s problems on the surface; he saw the condition of the man’s soul and nature; he saw the man needed the healing grace of God for the restoration of his human condition, and the physical ailment was just a surface matter.  It was suspected back then in the Judaic religion that physical handicaps could’ve been judgments from God for sins in his life.  So by forgiving this man’s sins, Jesus met the spiritual needs of his soul and in turn restored also his broken body.

God is insightful and precise in targeting the real problems of our lives.  We think it’s financial.  We think it’s relational.  We think it’s circumstantial.  But really our issues are spiritual, and the spiritual affects all other areas.  God wants us to ask the spiritual questions of who He is, what He says and what He wants.  He wants us to address the conditions of our souls, our secret sins, and our relationships with Him (or lack thereof).  While we fret over troubles on the surface, God is like a fighting coach in our corner screaming at us to strike beyond the surface!  Don’t just hit what’s in front you!  Because unless you hit the real target, you’ll never knock out the challenge you’re facing.

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The Virtue of Self-Control in Wing Chun

In all martial arts, the virtue of self-control is (ought to be) taught.  In Wing Chun, it is a vital attribute to develop not only for the sake of not hurting someone but for the sake of becoming a better Wing Chun practitioner.  Since Wing Chun utilizes the sensitivity of touch as a way of reacting and sensing the opponent, self-control ought to be a naturally developed trait.  Being able to move at full speed but also being able to stop a punch right at the opponent’s skin is being in control.

As I’ve been teaching Wing Chun in my studio in Hollywood, I’ve increasingly recognized the important need for methodically training self-control.  The person who strikes without the ability to intentionally and determinatively hit exactly where he purposes to hit and as hard as he purposed to is like an undisciplined animal, wild and unskilled.  On the contrary, the person who shows self-control is an artist.  I suppose it’s not too different for me from painting – I apply the right amount of pressure on the canvas with the brush, move the brush exactly at the speed I want to move it and stop the stroke at where I mean to stop it.  It’s not overdone and the motions which results in the amount of paint that goes on the canvas is not unintentionally superfluous.  In art, the inability to have self-control will create mud.  The ability to take a punch only as far as I intend to while under challenging circumstances indicates a personal strength.  The person who cannot control himself cannot establish control in adverse or trying situations of life. To train the body to have self-control requires training the mind.  Self-control is a strength not only in the physicality of martial arts but also as a virtue in ones character.

This principle highlighted for me the Biblical emphasis of self-control as a godly attribute (Gal.5:22).  The ability to resist temptation, turn away from distraction, restrain urges that lead to regrettable consequences, and refrain from over indulgence is a form of inner power.  It demonstrates a mastery over oneself.  Living life without self-control can and will result in mud.  The absence of self-control means being out of control; being out of control means being powerless.  Sometimes we feel like we have control when we give ourselves the license to do what we want and as much as we want without restraint.  But in actuality, we’re mere powerless beings when we lack control over the most primary object we should have control over – self.  In the end, we may feel immediate gratifications for our urges.  But we’re not making art our of life.

Wing Chun as an Art of Grace

What I’ve come to like about Wing Chun and how it resonates with me is what I call its “aggressive grace.”  Without trying to use muscle strength to overpower a person, it teaches you to flow, use relaxed movements and to be non-resistant.  We don’t try to clash with the person’s energy but to flow with it, so that we could use the opponent’s own energy against him.  Wing Chun generates power from harmony, peace and grace.

I think one of the key principles of Wing Chun illustrates this grace-oriented flow.  The principle is: as the person gives, I take (loi lau) and as the person takes, I give (heui sohng).  Wing Chun teaches us to fight with a person by not fighting with a person.  If the opponent wants it then I’ll give more of it and if he wants to give to me then I’ll take more of it.  For instance, if he pulls my arm or retracts his own, I’ll let it go and move in for a strike, which is following the flow of his own energy.  Or if he pushes forward, I’ll let his arms pass me and let him walk into my punch.  It’s a wonderful and artful concept, and yet I find it is not a new one just a rarely discovered one.  I think the martial art of Wing Chun illustrated a teaching of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount, when he said if a person wants your cloak, give him your tunic as well; or if someone forces you to go a mile, go with him two miles (Matthew 5:40-41).  The Apostle Paul reinforced this teaching and added the effect of grace where he said if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink, so that it is like heaping hot coals on his head (Romans 12:20).  There is power in grace.  To a friend, the power of grace moves a person’s heart.  To an adversary, the power of grace overcomes the opposition.  In either case, grace changes things

I think there is a misperception of power in this world.  We think power only comes from might.  The common lesson for every Wing Chun student is to not tense up but to relax when you feel opposition.  It’s our normal reaction to tense – we unconsciously believe muscling our way through a situation will help us prevail.  I find there is tremendous power in grace.  Grace is meant to change a situation.  It is delivered by a person who has complete inner strength.  A person who exercises grace is always at peace, is not anxious and is not a victim to blind rage.  A person of grace does not resist because he can’t, but because he chooses not to.  And he does not exercise force not because he is weak, but on the contrary because he is generating power.  A person of grace flows with adversities in the world and delivers power through that flow.   Martial arts teaches the art of overcoming struggles and oppositions in a physical fight but even metaphorically in life.  In Wing Chun, I see the general revelation of God’s truth about grace.  There’s power in grace to overcome and create change.  Jesus knew this and ultimately demonstrated this on the cross of calvary.  If there is a martial art against sin, death and Satan, it’s seen in the redemptive work of Christ on the cross.