In this post, Cam Evans shares with us the relationship between training and habits in Kung Fu.
I was recently training with another student when they had asked me to increase the pace of the particular drill we were exploring because they felt they were over-thinking their techniques, and wanted to prevent themselves from thinking too much.
It wasn’t the first time I’ve heard someone say that; and I know I’ve said it before, so I wanted to write about it.
It’s a common belief that there are two sides to our brains, one side is very analytical, and one side very spontaneous. I believe that both are equally important in developing skill and that, luckily, both receive training equally through the system and through Sifu’s careful instruction.
In Ving Tsun, there is a staggering amount of detail packed into a small number of techniques. Afterall, there are only 3 primary techniques; Pak Da, Taan Da, and Laap Da; that are accompanied by a small number of supplementary techniques. These are the tools that we have, and they should provide an answer for any given situation.
You may ask, or may have asked, how can so few techniques accomplish such a great number of things? It sounds like such a bold claim. Well, it’s the details that really do make the difference. Take, for example, some of the drills that are shown to a new student within their first few classes. Years later, I still get a lot of value from these drills, and I still feel like I have so much more to explore.
With the techniques being so wonderfully full of little details that make such big differences, no wonder it’s easy to ‘over-think’ while training.
Now, let’s examine the other side of our brains.
I’m assuming that everyone, at some point, has burnt themselves on something very hot; let’s say a stove. Thinking back to your personal experience, what happened in that exact moment? Did you stop to consider whether you should remove your hand from the element? Or what would happen if you turned your hand over? Or what if you kept your hand there and turned the stove off, instead?
Did you even have time to think before you had removed your hand? Probably not. I would even argue that you didn’t need to think about it; your body knew that it was getting burnt and did what it needed to do so that it might survive. You removed your hand immediately and then your thoughts caught up with you.
A fight is not unlike this – there’s no time to think, you can only react. You can’t pause time and consider each detail that exists in each technique, weigh options, and ultimately make a decision on which technique you should use to deal with this particular attack. That’s way too slow when faced with an average attacker, not to mention one who has skill. Not only that, but what if you make the wrong decision?
This is why training good habits is so important. You want to train such that your techniques work without having to think about them, as instantly as your survival instinct made you pull your hand back from the stove.
In order to do this effectively, one needs to find a balance between these two sides of the brain. You need the details to be available and useful in the spontaneous reaction.
The way I try to balance this is by pushing the limits of my skill when working with my sihings. Doing so exposes the details I need to train more intently, just like you would decide not to put your hand on the stove anymore once you were burned. Then one simply has to find a good drill that can help them refine those details, and practice them well.
As Sifu has often said: “Purposeful practice makes permanent.”
As a side note, it’s important to always strive to perform your best techniques. When you are working with your sidais, they may be looking to you for an example of how things should look and/or work. Plus, it will help you cement some habits you’ve already built while adding new ones. When working with sihings, you doing your best forces them to do better and gives them a more challenging scenario in which to refine their details.
This way, everyone gets better together.