Some of the greatest lessons I received in my martial arts training were mere sentences spoken to me. All the hard training, the extensive drills, the constant repetition of techniques, the intense sparring, and all the other physical aspects involved in improving your martial arts skills require an innate understanding of why you are doing it if you really want to take it to the next level.
In May of 1976, while at the Authentic Karate Club, I met Sifu Duncan Leung. This Wing Chun instructor, who learned personally from Yip Man, helped change my life for the better. Duncan Leung knows fighting. I’m not talking about sparring. I’m talking about real fighting. But that is another story altogether.
One of the most memorable things he ever said to me occurred one hot day in a corner of the Authentic Karate Club one Saturday when he was teaching Wing Chun there. We were practicing some timing drills. I was dominating my partners, over-powering them with my superior size and strength. It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective. Sifu Leung was paying close attention to me.
When we finished the drill, he moved closer to me and said, “You are a big guy.” I nodded.
He continued, “You are strong and you can beat these guys easy because you over-power them.” I smiled in agreement.
Then he dropped the bomb on me. “What are you going to do, when you face a guy who is bigger and stronger than you, and faster too?”
I had never considered the possibility. All I was concerned with was beating my partners in class.
He continued, “You should concentrate on learning the technique the right way. You are already strong. If you do the technique right, your natural strength will help you anyway.”
It was my epiphany moment. Suddenly I understood the training. Suddenly I knew how to utilize my training. As a matter of fact, from then on, I immersed myself into analyzing the technical aspects of each technique and discovering the science within the art. From that moment on, I trained as if I were the frailest, weakest person in the class instead of the biggest and strongest. I convinced myself that my very survival depended on me learning the technique properly, because I could not afford to get hit, and each strike I gave, had to count.
I wasn’t afraid of getting hit. It was just that I imagined I was made of fine, expensive China, so I could not afford to get hit unnecessarily. I was protecting my valuable property.
Applying this theory in real life fights has saved my life numerous times and kept me from getting hit. These ancient techniques have usually stood the test of time, because when applied properly, they work. Your art will be better when you embrace the science behind it so you can properly apply the techniques.
Sifu Duncan Leung taught me many other things over the years, which helped me understand martial arts, and made me more effective in real life situations, but this one simple thing was the foundation for a much broader understanding of martial arts.