Hidden Secrets of Wing Chun

Philip Holder Ph.D
Grandmaster – North American Wing Chun Association
Copyright Dr. Philip Holder 2006-2016


Even the most sincere student may be refused the knowledge that he or she so desperately seeks. Many instructors frequently do not teach students all aspects and details of a system. There are two primary reasons for this. One reason is that some instructors have a fear that their students may become better than they are. The Instructor thinks that the student will lose respect for him or her if this occurs. This is flawed reasoning in two respects. If the instructor is a caring and loving instructor, the relationship with the student will remain strong even if the student does become technically better than the instructor. In fact, in most cases, the student will have even greater love and respect for his or her Sifu because of the priceless gift of knowledge the instructor has bestowed upon the student. It is important to realize that when an instructor develops a great student, it does not diminish him or her as a practitioner. In reality a highly competent student is a living testimonial to the instructors teaching ability.


Students who become instructors learn more than just kicks and punches from their instructors. They draw their sense of decorum from their instructor. If an instructor holds back knowledge from students, the student, assuming this to be proper form, will follow that lead and do the same when he or she becomes an instructor. The result… The knowledge contained within the system will deteriorate and diminish with each passing generation.


A Sifu (or other title/instructor) should see, as part of his or her responsibility, the duty to uplift the quality of that style during his or her career. This should be done out of respect for the name and heritage of the art(s). It should also be done out of a sense of integrity and honesty in providing students with the competent instruction they came for.


The second reason some instructors appear to be holding back knowledge is that they simply don’t have a clue about the deeper teachings of their system. These are what I call the “Kick/Punch” or “Martial Arts Aerobics” instructors. This category of instructors may either be innocently ill-equipped to teach, or in some cases may be blatantly dishonest, misrepresenting the depth of their knowledge.

If an instructor has been brought up by his or her instructor in an environment of learning by mechanics and individual techniques only, he or she will teach in the same way. This person may sincerely be trying to do a good job. Unfortunately, due to a limited education, these instructors are incapable of giving students in search of deeper meaning the education they are after.

The most despicable are instructors who blatantly deceive students. Often these instructors imply to their students that if the student sticks it out and does A, B, and C they will someday reveal a magic formula to the student that will make all the secrets of the system crystal clear. In effect, they dangle a carrot in front of their student’s noses to entice them to continue paying their tuition. Students of these instructors can train year after year learning little after the first year or so. These same unscrupulous instructors will often bounce about in their spare time attempting to learn a little bit from this or that style in order to have some new “techniques” to teach in class. This is designed to create the illusion that they still have some knowledge left to offer to their students. The problem with this type of improvised curriculum is that there is often a loss of continuity and a corruption of the uniqueness of the style when fragmented teachings of diverse styles are indiscriminately thrown together into a “Junk-Pile style.”


Although I believe in the open passing of knowledge, I do not advocate that all students should be privy to all knowledge instantly or simply because they show up. There are certainly some things that should be passed only to those special students that have proven their sincerity. This is for the protection of the student, the instructor, and any third party that might encounter a less than honorable and sincere student, on unfriendly terms.

In Kung Fu there is a belief similar to that of Karma. If an instructor indiscriminately teaches a student something that could hurt others and that student does hurt someone unjustly, the “bad Karma” will not only come back to haunt the student but the instructor as well. A good instructor will act responsibly in passing knowledge that could potentially harm others. He or she will pass lethal knowledge only to students who they trust not to misuse it. After all, the martial arts must teach more than fighting alone. Instructors should be helping students to become more at ease, confident, secure, and through this more caring, kind and peaceful. The students who have reached this higher plateau are qualified and deserve to be gifted with the deeper teachings. It will benefit you to remember this…It is more important to be a good person than it is to be a good fighter.


Each system has certain elements that make it unique. An instructor who truly understands his or her system, has essentially acquired the tools necessary for personal growth. This instructor aspires constantly to reach both higher levels of personal excellence and to gaining new insight into his or her chosen system. Through this search he or she will also gain greater personal insight.

Regardless of how long an instructor has been teaching, a truly competent instructor who seeks enlightenment through the arts is always involved in the research and development. As an example… I have students that started with me over 35 years ago. They still drink from the well, and come away refreshed. Even those who no longer actively participate in formal training classes will approach me with questions about how to better apply the art of Wing Chun to their daily lives. This could not happen if it were not for the fact that I am always working to hone my knowledge to a sharper edge. This is not a tribute to me. It is a tribute to the vast amount of knowledge contained within the art of Wing Chun (and other arts). To pass on this great knowledge an instructor must first understand what lies beneath the surface of his or her system. Instructors must always look deeper into their own base of knowledge to see how and where growth can occur. I, for one, am always interested in making positive contributions to my art. In this way, both I and my art will always continue to grow and develop.

There are many caring instructors of all styles around the world who, like myself are always striving to better their art. As well, there are equally as many armchair instructors who are content with mediocrity. If you, as a student, seek the deeper teachings of the arts, chose an instructor who is also aspiring to greater levels of understanding. With such an instructor as you grow, your instructor will grow and the well will never run dry. Avoid armchair instructors (Instructors who teach verbally but don’t do much). You will find little there to satisfy your appetite.

Use your system (style) as a guide to personal development. Avoid viewing it in terms of mechanics. The byproduct of this will be the growth of your own personal, internal, and spiritual, Kung Fu. It will be Wing Chun (or whatever your art happens to be) personalized in a way that exists in harmony with your nature. If you merely copy your Sifu, you will end up with second hand Kung Fu (or Karate etc.).


When the conversation turns to Wing Chun, topics discussed usually include close in fighting and Wing Chun’s lightning fast punching and trapping skills. These are virtues of the system but there is so much more. In fact, these are only the tip of the iceberg. Wing Chun provides a conduit for your own creative juices. It is designed so that each new generation of practitioner has the potential to become better than the previous generation. In this way the art can become stronger with the passing of time.

Many instructors (of all styles) teach by mechanics and prearranged sets. Students are told… “If a punch comes, block it like this or if a kick comes, block it like that.” The problem is that real fighting on the street or, for that matter, sparring in the ring doesn’t happen so neatly. Students taught by mechanics, with no understanding of the underlying principles, become locked into perceiving applications in a very limited way. Greater possibilities, intended to be accessible are then lost. Once the system is understood and internalized, discovery is possible and the variations are endless.


To maximize your potential you need the ability to spontaneously respond to whatever is going on at any moment. Pre-arrangement of movement only works when your partner/opponent is cooperating. Open your mind and you will discover on your own, things you never expected to find. That which you discover through hard work and investigation, you will always remember. What is lectured to you or handed to you is more easily forgotten.


Wing Chun forms do not teach application. They teach position and movement of energy. They are intended to make your hands and feet “smart.” In Wing Chun it is the job of the wooden dummy to translate the movements and positions laid out in the forms into the “Root Applications” of the system. Forms and the wooden dummy along with Chi Sao (to train contact reflexes) and sparring (to train penetration, perception of distance and angles, and to learn to cope with stress) give the Wing Chun practitioner a balanced training curriculum. This balanced training is intended to enhance your perception of events that occur during a defensive encounter. Once you learn to “be where you should be” and to “manage energy” efficiently, the need for individual applications for each possible attack becomes not only unnecessary but cumbersome. Once internalized, your Kung Fu will be there for you to draw on at anytime.


Wing Chun advocates “tuning in” to the energy. Become part of the process, not something separate from it. If you are one with your adversary, you will know his every move just as he knows it. So it is with the Wing Chun forms, Dummy and Chi Sao. Become one with them and they will reveal new and exciting things to you. The power that you possess inside of yourself may surprise you. The “system” is only a tool. Do not view it as the end product. For the greatest benefit allow all of your training to become a moving meditation.


The limitations most people have, are self-imposed. The greatest barriers to knowledge that are present are the boundaries that you place in the path of your own creativity. It is certainly true that you need a competent instructor to guide your way. He or she, however, should be precisely that… a guide. Students… Do not attempt to “be your instructor.” Instead, use the tools that he or she provides to help you walk YOUR OWN path. The real source of knowledge and the answers to your questions lay within you.

It is my hope that this article will stimulate and broaden your perception and open new possibilities to you. Look deeper within yourself and discover things that you might otherwise have overlooked. The greatest tool in the acquisition of knowledge is an open mind.

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