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"Political Infighting within the Family"

By Si-Fu Scott Baker, Ph.D.

 

Back around 1972 when I started my journey in the martial arts I had no idea about the politics that were caused by the unfortunate passing of Grandmaster Yip Man. While he lived Wing Chun was seen as a small but well-adjusted family where Yip's kung fu sons got along with each other. However, soon after his passing this all changed. One can expect such a drastic and unfortunate change in the "family" structure to cause difficulties, and as Wing Chun has grown from Yip's small group of dedicated students to a worldwide system she has experienced no shortage of growing pains. Today most of these rifts caused by ambitious students each claiming to be the appointed or rightful successor of Yips kung fu family have been smoothed over. However there still exists some political overtones from these initial family divisions. As some of Yip Manís students broke away from his traditional Wing Chun organization they began setting up their own organizations and affiliations. Some chose to change the English spelling of the arts' name as a way to differentiate themselves from the rest of the Wing Chun family. Several different spellings now exist, all essentially stemming from Yip's original Wing Chun Family. Some you may have seen are Ving Chun, Ving Tsun, Wing Tsun as well as the original Wing Chun. No matter how the schools spell the systemís name, they have no more or less claim on the systemís skills and secrets than any of the others. These distinctions do not represent authenticity, but simply show distinctions in family divisions between some of Yip's original students.

Today if you practice Wing Chun and visit another Wing Chun school one of the first questions you are asked is what your lineage is. They are simply asking what your family line is, whom you learned from, and what line can you trace back to Yip Man. There is nothing wrong with this in and of itself, however, often the old family disagreements and rifts are carried over when one family meets with a member of another that has a sour history. Much is shown about the character of individuals who hold onto such prejudice and speak with disrespect and contempt for others who essentially practice the same art that they do. It is time to put this in the past, chalk such infighting up to growing pains and turn back to a united Wing Chun family where the great insights and skills are once again shared among family members freely. I am sure many students have been put off and even left the practice of this great fighting system all because of the politics they have seen within the family. When one teacher talks against another, he in reality is only revealing his own inadequacies. Each school has good, as well as not so good aspects about it. No one is perfect.

Some of the best experiences I have had with sharing Wing Chun have come from visiting other schools with different family lines and seeing the similarities and differences in how we practice, understand, and perform this great system. It is always rewarding to me to meet with others who are also disciples of the Wing Chun way and feel the bond that should exist among kung fu brothers. To those of you I have met and shared the brotherhood of our kung fu roots with, I commend you on being able to rise above the now fading politics of our Wing Chun heritage. I have found that there is no one teacher that has all the insights, and all the skills. No matter how long you practice this incredible system you can always learn more and increase your skills. No one teacher or school has all the knowledge. It is in sharing your knowledge and insights with others who have walked a similar path that even greater understanding and abilities are fostered. No school, teacher, or master has the right to claim absolute knowledge and authority as the guru of Wing Chun lore! Even Grandmaster Yip Man didnít place himself on such a precarious pedestal. The price of such a prideful claim would inevitably be a damaging and shameful fall.

To those who persist in feeding such political subversiveness within the family I invite you to take another look. What value comes from such action? Does it make you feel superior or better than a competing school or instructor? At what price? Can you really afford to let your students and colleagues see just how unsure of your skills and insecure about your abilities you are? Do you really believe that those who you expose such political badmouthing to will want to learn from someone who invests so much energy into building themselves up by tearing others down? I have found that those few schools who continue to invest in tearing down other Wing Chun schools and instructors have very few students who remain with them for any real length of time. And of those brave souls who do remain there seems to be two types, those who turn a deaf ear to such talk and simply put up with it out of loyalty to their long time teacher, and those who enjoy having someone to disrespect and hate. The first group is rare indeed. Most of the students that stay with teachers who teach disrespect of other schools are those sad people who just seem to enjoy hating someone. Such bigoted prejudice is a character flaw one should find shameful. This kind of disposition creates the bullies and thugs we all hope will never be found in our families, and in our schools.

To those of you who may be starting your journey along the Wing Chun path, I invite you to make a choice. Choose now not to listen to or participate in conversations or actions that are disrespectful and destructive to the reputation of any other Wing Chun school. If each of us do our part in healing these old, immature wounds within the family we may well again enjoy the brotherhood that comes from the shared discipline of learning this great martial art.

About the Author:

Dr. Scott Baker earned his Ph.D. in Psychology from Brigham Young University in 1995. Born and raised in New Zealand, he began his training in Wing Chun there in 1972 under the direction of Master Tam Hung Fun. He is now a member of the Yuen Kay San line under Zopa Gyatso. Si-Fu Baker resides in New Zealand.

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