“What should I practice at home?”
“Aw Geez,” I guess it’s inevitable. This question comes up with nearly every new student but, honoring the Wing Chun Do concept of “Learning How to Learn”, my answer has to be, “Nothing.” I used to feel conflicted about the answer to this question. After all, it is commendable – even desirable – for every student to be excited about practicing at home. I certainly don’t want to discourage such zeal and commitment. So, I used to feel the need to come up with some kind of suggestion to give these eager new students. But, over time I came to realize that honesty is the best policy – and honestly, beginners are not yet well enough informed to begin home practice. Without proper understanding, home practice may, quite probably, reinforce misconceptions and ingrain bad habits which will require great time and effort to correct. The plain truth is, until qualified, a student should only practice under the scrutiny of a qualified, knowledgeable mentor.
Remember, the first step in the learning process is to Understand the Technique Intellectually. In other words, you must first learn conceptually everything you can about the technique. For example, if you want to accurately practice a Taun Sao, you must first have a thorough understanding of such concepts as:
- · Perimeter Control
- · The Centerline Concept
- · The Bridge
- · Natural Energy Flow
- · Blocking vs. Clearing the Centerline
- · Startle
- · Whipping Energy (recoil)
Lacking knowledge of any of these elements means that practice of the physical motion of the Taun Sao is, at best, a guess – an assumption of accomplishment. Only when a student is in possession of all these essential concepts, as well as the precise details of the physical application, is she/he qualified to move on to the second step in the learning process – Teach the Technique to the Body (requiring slow, precise repetition). Only now, armed with sufficient knowledge are you qualified to begin practicing at home. Now you are on the way to becoming an accomplished White Sash.
“So, here’s the thing…”
Even more advanced students are subject to the practice pitfall. Many believe that rank and experience qualify them to short-cut the learning process. However, when learning a new technique, an advanced student is as a white belt. He/she still must first: #1. Learn the Technique Intellectually, then: #2. Teach it to the Body. Only then may one begin practicing in earnest to: #3. Make the Technique Reflex.
Now, fast-forward to your Blue Sash. It is easy to have become jaded, thinking your understanding is somehow automatic. But, once again the first step to learning dictates that you have a complete understanding of, not only the conceptual information, but also the logistics – in other words, the “Where?”, “When?”, “How?” and “Why?” of the technique. In addition, you need to understand all desired results, PLUS, the “What ifs?” and CYA (cover your a… butt) contingencies. Lacking knowledge of any of these elements, you’re merely practicing in the dark. The surest way to avoid such pitfalls is to ask your instructor to scrutinize your practice in class so that you can receive instruction, correction and clarification. This is the quickest way to gain thorough understanding and qualify to begin step #3 – performing the reps necessary to make the technique reflex. Comprehending and honoring the “Learning How to Learn” process is a true mark of advancement.
As the old adage says, “The first step to learning is admitting that you know nothing.” During every step of the learning process, the greatest tool we posses is the question: “Is this correct?” This simple question is the key to unlocking true knowledge and skill.
Now, “Go home and practice!”