I’ll never forget the date: November 14, 2013. I was at the place of work of the woman I was dating at the time, waiting for her to finish so that we could commence with our date.
What I didn’t expect was for an old, trusted friend to show up.
I took one look at the guy, and then at my date.
He took one look at my date and then at me.
I left the place in a huff.
Part of me wanted to hit something—or someone. Fortunately, someone invited me to a Wing Chun demo class. Having nothing better to do, I attended, if only to find an outlet for the growing anger and resentment. Long story short, I enjoyed it so much that I decided to take it further.
That critical decision set me down a path I am still walking today.
While Wing Chun works as a form of self-defense, its principles are paradoxically applicable to life, particularly with respect to dealing with challenges. Here are a few of the most important Wing Chun principles I’ve picked up on my journey.
1. Never Argue.
My fellow Wing Chun student, Jheleen, is a diminutive lady that stands at a modest 4’11”. During one training session, my teacher noticed that whenever I used my forward momentum to push her back, she attempted to respond in kind. Unfortunately, her size made it challenging to push back an opponent who was considerably taller than she was.
My teacher called her aside and said, “Jheleen, why are you sparring with David on his terms? Spar with him on yours.”
Inspired by this, Jheleen immediately changed her strategy. The very next time I attempted to crash forward, she deftly sidestepped and clonked me on the side of my head when my momentum carried me past her.
I’ve often seen my sparring partner’s original strategy in my own life and the lives of others. There is a tendency for people to resist problems, circumstances and change while thinking that they can win their battles out of sheer attrition. While it is possible, it can also be exhausting.
Besides, there is an easier, simpler way: Sometimes, all it takes is the choice to resist less and trust more. This doesn’t mean being passive and doing nothing when action is called for. It means acting more from a space of peace, clarity and genuine desire rather than a space of desperation.
2. Let it Go.
Close-range combat training carries its own risks. There is a fine line between keeping the training as realistic as possible and needlessly hurting one’s sparring partners. Even if people take the necessary precautions, they still get hit sometimes.
Competitive fellow that I am, there is a part of me that sometimes wants to punish the person who unintentionally hit me. My ego can’t stand the thought of losing in any way and will try its best to redeem itself in its eyes. Unfortunately, I’ve often found that the more I tried to hit back, the more I messed up.
Fortunately, my teacher offered me an option: I could continue as I usually do and be miserable or simply let it go and learn from the experience. This is a lesson I’ve had to learn over and over again.
For example, when I met my ex again at a workshop after a couple of years, old emotions started flooding back with a vengeance. I was grieving over the death of a good mentor and friend and it seemed like the worst possible time for me to run into her.
The turning point came as I trudged dejectedly to the workshop venue one morning. A still, small voice that sounded far more grounded and peaceful than the usual voice of fear spoke:
“So for how long will you choose to give your power away to her?”
Someone once told me that emotional pain only lasts a few minutes. Anything longer than that is over-thinking. When I realized that holding on to the pain of betrayal was my choice, I simply chose otherwise.
3. Allow it to Change You
One of the things I quickly learned about Wing Chun is that it is a soft style, which means it relies less on muscular strength and more on timing, precision, structure and proper body mechanics. This means adjusting to whatever attack is thrown at you using a variety of tools at your disposal: sidesteps, parries, redirects, etc in the same way that Jheleen changed her approach to adjust to mine. It is comparable to a flexible bamboo tree learns how to bend when facing hurricane force winds.
I’ve found thisWing Chun principle extremely useful in my own life. For the longest time, I made it my “mission” to try and change everything and everyone I disliked. My old Messiah Complex left me feeling exhausted and disillusioned because there were certain things that were simply beyond my control.
And then I realized that there was one major thing that I always had control over. It wasn’t the circumstances that necessarily needed to change—it was me. Once I gave up my obsession with controlling results, life went much more smoothly.
A greeting card I once saw in a bookstore summed it up beautifully: “People tend to change when their pain becomes greater than their fear of change. There’s no need to wait, however. While that makes sense, there’s really no need to wait, now is there?
4. Turn it into something Useful
One of the most fun things about Wing Chun is learning how to turn an obstacle or attack into something useful. Sometimes, practitioners may find themselves in awkward physical positions or deal with an opponent with seemingly impenetrable defenses. What they do in these situations says a lot about their skill and awareness.
During one sparring session, I did my best to get past my partner’s defending arm, only to be thwarted over and over again. My teacher saw my predicament and said: “Don’t see the arm in front of you as an obstacle. See it as a bridge.”
To prove his point, he applied downward pressure on the crook of my partner’s elbow, thereby disrupting his balance and his defense.
Since that time, I’ve discovered that one of the best things you can do when life throws a curve ball is to look for the lesson and turn it into a learning experience. “What is the hidden gift or benefit in this?” and “How can I turn this seeming disadvantage into an advantage” are two of the most powerful questions that people can ask themselves at this point.
I am living proof of this. Three years ago, I felt like I had hit rock bottom. Little did I know at the time that that “rock bottom” would form part of the foundation upon which I would build my therapeutic approach.
And if I can do it, then so can you.
In closing, I am reminded of one story that an old mentor once told me: One day, an old donkey fell into a pit that a farmer had dug and became trapped there. Things seemingly went from bad to worse when the beast’s master concluded that it was not worth the time and effort to get it out. He decided to bury it instead.
The donkey initially panicked when the farmer started dumping dirt on it in an attempt to bury it alive. However, it eventually noticed something interesting: whenever its master shoveled dirt into the pit, the earth would first land on the donkey and then settle on the floor in a little pile when the creature shook it off.
The donkey had an idea. As the farmer continued to dump dirt on it, the creative donkey shook it off and stepped on the pile. He repeated this over and over until the pile of shoveled earth became so large that it eventually carried the donkey to the edge of the pit, where it trotted away in freedom.
And I’m not just talking about donkeys, am I?