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Advanced Ving Tsun: Sao, Po & Lei Stages

You've been through the curriculum and learned all the domains of study - and your skills have grown. Certainly you're good enough to teach others. But what now? Fortunately, the ving tsun system has got your back. It has a whole lifetime of learning available for you!

The Sao Stage

The completion of the 108 step curriculum does not mark the end of the student's training, but is really only the beginning, as the Ving Tsun training is divided into three stages: sao, po, and lei.

With the completion of the 108th step the student reaches the completion of the sao stage.

It is in this first stage that the student becomes familiar with and is exposed to the curriculum. They are now aware of and have been taught about all the drills, forms, and techniques that make up the Ving Tsun system. This is akin to getting a 3 year degree from a university. The new graduate certainly is not a master, but through the apprentice style learning at Wai’s Kung Fu, the student has a strong understanding of the system and can solve any self defense problem. Also, the student will have trained a calm and solid mind, and their spirit is rooted in confidence in themselves and their skills.

After graduation, however, it is unlikely that the student has a high degree of understanding and mastery of any of the steps, and certainly not all of them. It is at this point that the po stage begins.

The Po Stage

In the po stage the student returns to the curriculum with new eyes and understanding allowing them to further explore and integrate what they have been previously taught.

It is during the po stage that the student must break down the different drills, forms, and skills to really understand what they are really attempting to teach, and what their true purpose is for the student is now also a teacher. In attempting to explain this deep system, the student-teacher will gain a greater depth of understanding in every aspect of the system, and will constantly refining their skills and sensitivity.

They are working to not just “know about” the various aspects of the Ving Tsun system, but to dig in and truly understand them.

The student must work to completely integrate and engrain the various qualities, theories, techniques, and skills taught in the sao stage.

They are working to become unconsciously competent with every aspect of the system. It must become a part of them, so that everything becomes automatic and does not have to be thought about. It becomes who they are. The student now becomes the system, as it is literally becomes interwoven into the very fibers of their biology. They become Ving Tsun and their everyday actions reflect the calm, balanced, deep system they have ingrained.

Now the student is at the place where Patriarch Ip Man said, “If someone understands chum kiu and loses a fight I’ll jump off this building,”.

It is when a student has reached this place of understanding the depth and details of each little piece of the system, and of having full confidence in their Ving Tsun skills and abilities that they begin to enter the lei stage.

The Lei Stage

This is when the student starts to become a martial artist in the highest sense of the word. Their kung fu becomes their art, serving as a vehicle of their self-expression.

Now with the skills, techniques, qualities, and theories completely wired into their being, they can express their essence through Ving Tsun, and can truly make it their Ving Tsun.

Here the practitioner can make the art their own, customizing it anyway they see fit. Emphasizing areas they like and possibly disregarding other areas that do not fit how they choose to express their version or conception of Ving Tsun.

The artistic expression of Ving Tsun allows freedom within the rules, much the same way a jazz player will express themselves while not breaking the core rules of music. A squeaky note or missed beat is not a sign of self expression but instead a sign of poor fundamentals.

The artist will be true to the style while also being able to play within the rules. The pro bowler can have some fun bowling while still keeping the ball out of the gutter. Ultimately, the artist must represent the art. A master oil painter who chooses to paint using water colors cannot call his product an oil painting, so some rules cannot be broken. Similarly, if that oil painter chooses not to paint at all and instead just waves his hands in the air as if painting cannot claim to have created a masterful oil painting. The end artwork will be evaluated by the larger community of art masters to determine the mastery level of the artist.

It is important to note that someone in the lei stage can even break the “rules,” and “theories” because they have full command of those. They are consciously choosing to break them because that is how they desire to express their kung fu.

It is like the painter who has complete command of proper perspective and anatomy, yet chooses to distort or brake the rules to gain a specific effect.

Having said that, the artist may choose to break or bend the rules to achieve a specific purpose, but (using the bowling analogy again) if the ball goes in the gutter with each throw the other pro bowlers will frown on this new “artful” way of playing. They believe in the proper rules as what makes their art what it is, and can perform them at will.

It is at this point that the practitioner must be careful. There is a difference between a skilled practitioner choosing to ignore or disregard theory, and a novice who thinks they are skilled disregarding them.

The professional artist, him or herself, can determine when the art is no longer the art and professional judgment will be their guide. He or she will always maintain the ability to be technically perfect if he or she chooses. In the former the practitioner has complete command of the theories and is choosing to stretch or disregard them completely, for their own specific reasons. However, they can apply everything in the technically perfect way if they choose.

A student who can not perform perfectly may try to use the excuse that they are just expressing their mastery of Ving Tsun. They try to mask the weaknesses and gaps they have. They usually don't have the requisite experience to know how much they don't know.

There are two types of people who work on the basics, the very beginner and the very advanced.

A master is simply someone who has mastered those basics that take five minutes to learn and a lifetime to master.

The lei stage practitioner will be accepted by the larger community and will ultimately seek to use their skills for the betterment of mankind and to advance the international reputation of their craft. A person who has not reached the lei stage will use their craft for less lofty and often more personally beneficial goals.

Sao, po and lei are not distinct points. By the time one has completed the sao stage, they likely have po stage knowledge in at least one domain. Another thing the student should understand about these three stages is that their transition points are not rigidly set in stone, but blend together.

Progress Is Affected By Several Factors

Even the transition from sao to po is not always so cut and dry. Some teachers may move their students through the system relatively quickly. Other teaches may move the student through the steps more slowly and teach concepts from the po stage during the sao stage, thus blending the stages a little more.

Each of these approaches has pros and cons. If ultimately the steps are properly understood and utilized by the student, then both methods will take them to the same place.

It really depends on when the student has engrained enough of the theory, qualities, and principles so that Ving Tsun is really a part of them. The speed in which this occurs is also affected by the students' desire and effort to make this happen.

You now have a map for the complete journey through the Ving Tsun system which you can use to help you find the right approach to learning and teacher for you.

Missing Steps Degrades The System's Performance

Part of having this map will be to allow a student to determine and choose a proper teacher.

All too often people go out and start to teach before they are properly prepared to do so. This leaves major gaps in their abilities and this incomplete Ving Tsun is passed on to their students thus degrading the art.

Ving tsun is an integrated system, so to truly perform Ving Tsun at a high level one must have proficiency in all of the 15 domains of study. Each domain is like a link in the Ving Tsun chain. A weakness in any of the links will create a weakness in the overall Ving Tsun.

All too often individuals teach with one, or multiple links missing. Many times unaware that those links exist in the first place. With each missing domain of study, or piece of the domain, the system's performance is degraded.

You now have the map to your Ving Tsun journey. The map only shows the way. It is the student who must make the journey.

The journey can be challenging at times. There may be times when the traveler may want to give up, as many do, but for those who persevere there is much to be gained along the way.

Remember in Ving Tsun, like in the pursuit of perfection in any art or life, the journey is truly the reward. It's the pressure that makes the diamond, the sand paper that creates the fine surface.

Good luck and enjoy the pressure.

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