Some beginners questions

The reason for this page is to outline how a simple question could be the most important one a martial artist could ever be asked. Especially since it would most likely come from a potential student, or referral person, such as a parent asking in relationship of a child.

Here it is.

What type of Martial Arts instruction is the one I should pick?”

Sounds simple right? I mean, most of us have heard it at least once.

Ok then, how would you answer it?

(But they say to never answer a question with another question Sifu Rick!) LOL

Well thankfully, one positive trait that I believe we as Martial Artists have as a whole, is the ability, and the natural desire, to answer this question as honestly as we can. Which means, most of us also realize right away there’s a need for more information.

I figure they’ll be starting out with this,

Shotokan Karate Institute

To this,

Shaolin Kung Fu show at Tivoli in Copenhagen.

To this,

Bruce Lee (All rights reserved)

Or this,

aikido guillemin poznan seminar

Or even this.

West Coast Taikai

The point is,

We don’t know. All we can do is tell them what we know, listen to them very carefully, expect a bit of what seems like fascination with one style, while seeming contempt of another. If so, maybe try and determine where they got those opinions from if they don’t know much about the arts.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this. At a different Martial Arts site, there was a beginner who posted the exact same question. And got what I thought were good, honest, straightforward answers. Yet by the end of the conversation I couldn’t help feeling as if the person asking the question didn’t get the answer they were looking for. Which is too bad because he seemed to only want help finding an art form that would fit around an average schedule, be interesting, and something he could try and enjoy with his daughter. (I bet most of you will come up with the same answers we did.)

So what did I learn?

That when dealing with an absolute beginner, a lot of patience, understanding, varied and accurate information about many different arts and at least a working knowledge of their basic principals or the location to find it, good communication skills, active listening skills, motivational concepts, and most of all, the ability to give an honest answer.

For all I know, they might just become the next great (Enter favorite here).






Rest in Peace Master Bruce.



















Here’s a long article I wrote as a response to a question that was asked by a member of my favorite Martial Arts forum at:

The question:

Hi guyz im back, how you all been? 🙂 I just needed some martial arts advice gain. Well ive been on a long holiday to my home country and since i lived in the village i got bit by a snake during a powercut. I took a very strong antipoison which led to side effects and me not training in martial arts for a few months.

However i have recently started Wing Chun, and quite enjoy it because the quality of teaching is obviously much better than that of GKR. There is a slight problem though.
I dont think my sifu like me due to the fact that ive done Karate (GKR) before and gets really annoyed when i make mistakes as i find it hard to relax after all those years i have been taught to be strong and tense. He would say things like ‘This isnt karate‘ or “if you want to be like that go back to doing karate“. I dont know why hes saying this as lots of people change from one style to another and he simply isnlt liking the fact that ive done GKR before. I was thinking of changing clubs, what do you guyz recommend?

My response:

First of all, you’ll notice that I take a slightly different
approach when trying to answer questions such as yours. And
the reason for this is because rarely does a question such as
yours involve an easy or “one fits all” answer. The reason
for this is because in a “student/instructor” relationship,
there are actually many different dynamics at play that need
to be addressed.
The first one I notice right away is probably one of the
most common, causes the most frustration, is probably the
number one reason most students quit, yet can be one of the
easiest to overcome as long as it’s noticed and addressed.
And that is “COMMUNICATION”.
Take your situation for instance.
Your Sifu is attempting to communicate that “rigidness is
counterproductive in Wing Chun” by saying “it isn’t like
And you seem to be attempting to say “I understand that but
I’m having difficulty maintaining that flexibility when I’m
so used to the rigid structures I learned in Karate”.
This seems like it should be simple right? Unfortunately
though, humans use more than just words to convey thought. We
use “filters” that often alter our intended meaning. Such as,
culture, experience, stereotypes, or perhaps simply a dislike
of hard styles like Karate.
Certain attitudes can also make communication difficult. Such as frustration, self confidence, impatience, etc. Thus actually stopping the transfer of the information both parties are struggling so hard to convey.
Here’s an example.
Your Sifu gives and instruction, say, Bil sao, or thrusting
arm block. He probably gives a simple demonstration, then
asks the class to perform it. You say to yourself, “Ok, this
is just like a straight punch, but it’s used as a block”. So
you try it. Ooops! Arm went instinctively to first position
(thus dropping your guard) and your hand stayed closed (like
a punch) during execution. Right away you realise what
happened, hoping Sifu didn’t see it, which of course he did,
and before you even have a chance to do it again correctly
real quick, he comes over, corrects your start position,
opens your hand and tries to guide your arm, wrist, and hand
while simultaneously using his leg to make sure you are in
the proper stance. (Even though your stance was correct)
At the same time, you more than likely suffer an attempt to
let him know that you know how you screwed up as he’s
thinking to himself, “If you know what you did wrong then why
did you do it”? “Darned Karate practitioners! This guy’s
gonna be a problem.”
So, you try it again, but being human, you focus so hard to
get it right that you appear rigid, forced, and Ooops! You
started out with a closed fist again. POW! You are both
immediately on the defensive.
The stage is now set for continued animosity.
Sifu- Because you’ve got prior experience and should grasp
this easily.
You- Because your prior experience does tell you your
mistake, while also telling you you “should” know better.
Frustration then settles in with both of you, thus halting
productive communication until one of you either quits or
realizes what the problem is and takes steps to address the
real issue.
So, what is the real issue?
Communication aside, in this case, it’s “Muscle memory”.
Think about it. You are coming from a discipline where
linear movement, force, power, and rigidity were the focus, to
learning an art that is circular and flowing. One that utilizes
finesse and manipulation of “anothers” energy against themselves.
You drilled these principles, movements, and applications to
the point where “muscle memory” was developed. (This actually
means you probably learned your lessons well:)
Lets start with a definition.
“Muscle memory”, also known as motor learning, is a form of
procedural memory that involves consolidating a specific
motor task into memory through repetition. When a movement is
repeated over time, a long-term muscle memory is created for
that task; eventually allowing it to be performed without
conscious effort.
Examples of muscle memory are found in many everyday
activities that become automatic and improve with practice,
such as riding a bicycle, typing on a keyboard, or learning a
martial art.
This is why it is so difficult to perform these movements.
Your consious brain sees and understands what you’re trying
to do, but your unconsious mind repeatedly interferes.
Resulting in those momentary “slips” that are frustrating to
control, and easy to spot by your Sifu.
So how do you overcome something that has been developed to
such a level? Something that has literally become subconsious
and instinctual? The same way you learned it to begin with.
With deliberate, repetitive, consious, and specific practice.
Hint: Your Sifu knows this, but will forget often because
his mind is conditioned to observe the mistakes his students
make in order to correct them. And although he may be aware
of the difficulty you face, he will not necessarily notice
your improvements as easily as he will continue to notice
your mistakes. He will most likely tell himself that you are
simply not practicing enough and are not taking his class
Are there any tips or tricks to help with this?
Yes. I believe so.
Practice your “Mook Joing” or “Wooden Dummy Techniques”.
There’s a good reason why these devices have been used for
more than 300 years – they’re excellent training devices.
In addition to toughening your limbs and learning combat
techniques, the wing chun dummy will enhance your timing,
speed, flow, power, accuracy, mobility, visual and contact
reflexes, correct body positioning, arm and leg coordination
and the accuracy of blocks. And it doesn’t make any
difference what style you practice. These are qualities from
which everyone can benefit.
Speed is never as important as form and structure. The
dummy’s drills are about your body and how it relates to the
blocks and strikes
And I have one more advice. I realise that understanding of
the movements are probably not the issue, but sometimes
allowing your mind to see a bigger picture will help to guide
it in allowing retraining. Since the brain must compensate
for all of the variables associated with similar moves, (You
pick up a coffe cup using “muscle memory” but rarely is it
the same cup, at exactly the same angles, speeds, etc.)
showing your brain a situation where it must reevaluate it’s
approach can sometimes initiate a desire to experiment with
some of the variables it sees.
Here’s an excercise that will hopefully illistrate my point.
(Preferred techniques aside)
Start with a friend willing to loan you his arm and his time
for a minute. (A horizontal pole at upper chest level will
also work)
Center neutral, perform Right Bil sao, or thrusting arm
block to the “OUTSIDE” of a slow or stationary Right straight
punch. At contact, Tan sao, or begging hand at the wrist.
(Rear guard (Left) is maintained with Bon sao.)
Centerline is maintained at all times by simultaneous
rotation to Right neutral. Cycle from Tan sao to grabbing arm
block (lop sao).
At this time, do not continue lop sao downward. Instead,
maintain begging hand, (YES I KNOW YHIS IS IMPROPER!) while
rotating back center, and stepping through with Right foot.
Keep going. (Notice how the punch goes right past?)
Return to original position, repeat excercise to Lop sao
conclusion. Hold position at 45deg Right, with opponant’s
wrist downward to about solar plexis level.
Now examine your options of attack. Note opponant’s balance,
and defensive options. (None) Lightly experiment with
follow-through options, target opportunities, etc. Experiment
with slight variations, primarily Left arm attacks. (Punches,
pushes, joint attacks, followthroughs, Dim mak options, Qinna
options, etc. (Note how little movement is actually used)
Repeat for Left block/attack.
important for form, but the focus should help counter
the body’s desire to utilize those old techniques.
Ok. you have now shown your brain an easy to comprehend
example of circular movement. Practice variations of this in
such a way as to illistrate how your body works within the
tight constraints of very limited movement. Hopefully you
will have an “Ahha!” moment where you are able to see a
broader view of how correct Wing Chun movements are applied
to completion.
Then, practice it all the right way. I’ve seen excellent
results with this excercise in helping to transition from
hard to soft style arts.
So, in conclusion. Learn and practice “effective”
communication, Mook Joing techniques, required lessons, and
position disciplines. Don’t give up!
(Personal advice. Learn and practice your Chi sao blind. My
8 year old daughter is exceptional at this. And take up Hacky
Sack. (Actually a student requirement of mine.)
Hope this helps.









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