Recently, I tested a student (let’s call him Fred) into his brown sash. During the test, he repeatedly voiced uncertainty about his ability to perform, at a master level, every drill on his requirement list. I chose this time to discuss his Tool Pouch submission.
It is important, at this point, to talk about the history of Wing Chun Do. Ever since I’ve known Sijo DeMile, he has been conflicted regarding the nature of the system – that being a Martial Art vs. a Self-defense system. On the one hand, there is the science, logic and orderly method of the Wing Chun Do martial art. It contains a large body of drills and exercises designed to inspire and develop self-mastery. Many are intended not for practical application but as attribute builders. On the other hand is the indisputable effectiveness of the core self-defense techniques which, by themselves, provide the individual with solid personal protection.
Back to the test – Fred’s tool pouch sheet was sparse. It seemed to me to be lacking many of the techniques and concepts that I knew were integral to making Fred the great fighter I know him to be. I queried, “What about biu jee?” “What about sole kick?” What about the dark side?” etc. He replied, “I’m already good at those things. They’re part of me. I didn’t think I had to put them down on the list. I thought I’d put down the things I’m working toward perfecting.”
Here we must revisit the intended purpose of the tool pouch. The tool pouch is designed to produce maximum results from your valuable training time. The concept is to establish a minimal number of techniques which, when mastered, will be sufficient to handle 99% of the possible self-defense situations in which you may find yourself. Success does not rely merely on the number of techniques in your arsenal. After all, mastering a large number could take a lifetime. Rather, it is the number of techniques mastered which will save your life on the street. Plus, the more techniques to choose from, the more decisions to be made. On the street this is dangerous. If you have to choose between technique A or B by the time you get to the word or you’re too late.
Back to Fred – with this reminder, together, we reformulated his tool pouch form until we were both satisfied. I explained that there was a difference between Wing Chun Do and the student. I pointed to the green sash requirement list and said, “This is Wing Chun Do. This is a list of drills, exercises and attribute builders, many of which are not necessarily designed for practical application. Rather, they are designed to enhance one’s ability to defend oneself.” I then pointed to his tool pouch and said, “This is Fred. This is Fred’s personal expression of self-defense. It reflects Fred’s natural abilities.” I explained further that Wing Chun Do doesn’t win the fight. Being proficient at the drills and exercises on the page doesn’t win the fight, though they are definitely instrumental in refining and fine tuning the practitioner. What will win the fight, however, is the ability of the individual to perform, with mastery, the elements contained in his/her tool pouch. Holding up the curriculum I said, “This is Wing Chun Do. This is desirable. Fred is pretty good at this. Then, holding up his Tool Pouch, I said, “This is Fred. This is essential. Fred is excellent at this.”
Fred went on to test admirably and performed masterfully on the applied self-defense portion of his test. He said that our interaction that day significantly changed his paradigm. I believe that it relieved the pressure that many students feel to be perfect at everything. So to all students I say, “Don’t let perfection stand in the way of excellence!”