A lovely piece from CST alum Marty Anderson on his experience with Grandmaster Chu Shong Tin in the 80s.
I would like to give my opinion why CST Wing Chun is so simple yet so hard to do effectively.
I do not pretend to know the thinking of CST, even though we spent a multitude of hours together, as neither spoke each other’s language. Talking through translators many times is not that useful as it depends on their translating skill and knowledge of the subject being discussed.
Sometimes what you get can be worse than worthless as it can be misleading. This is why I trusted what I saw more than what I was told. I analysed what I was seeing through my western mind rather than one immersed in the oriental culture and terminology. Any of my Wing Chun friends are painfully aware of my ignorance of Wing Chun terminology as well. I just wanted to know how things worked and not what they were called. This is simply my explanation of what I have experienced and know.
To me Wing Chun is a ‘singularity’ in that a single function takes on an infinite value. Early on I noticed CST moved differently than others. When force was applied to him no matter how small his waist would move. If he applied force his waist would move as well, no matter how small the movement. I started to think that this was the source of his amazing abilities which I experienced on a daily basis. I formulated a question to ask him that could not be misinterpreted and did not rely on the interpreter’s knowledge to ask him. I asked if a person was born and lived in the forest without input from others and training would he poses the ability CST uses. His answer was a “Yes!”.
I had travelled to the other side of the world to learn something new and exotic that could not be found where I was, but now realized what I was trying to understand was old and primal and was already in me. The problem was not learning but unlearning. Other animals don’t need to go to kung fu school to be able to utilize their full power in a life and death conflict. It is my belief that in other animals, and humans at one time in their history, the default seat of the ‘mind’ is their centre of mass.
As humans became more technological and lives more complex the ‘mind’s’ seat shifted more peripherally to use fine motor control that now has become the default setting. Almost everything we do now is centred around fine motor control. Try threading a needle with centre of mass being the controller. Threading a needle requires deep concentration to be focused in our finger tips, but we can also use this same concentration to focus on our centre of mass as well.
The mind can move throughout the body or rattle around in our skull while we talk to ourselves. We cannot concentrate on more than one thing at a time but the mind can jump from one place to another very quickly. If you were asked to concentrate on your hand and someone steps on your toe it would immediately go there.
This in my view is the problem with using centre of mass in a combat situation. It is no longer the default setting that we go back to when the fast cadence and chaos of combat is encountered. Everything we do on a daily basis now takes away from our ability to focus and seat our mind as the default in the centre of mass so we can react and move from there with our full being and its power.
If we feel force on our arm our mind wants to run there to deal with it from that location which causes tension there and a very limited response. If the mind can stay seated at the centre of mass, since we can only concentrate on one thing at a time, but are aware of everything, no excess tension will occur in the shoulder or arm and the defensive response will be generated from the centre of mass and the muscles will be used in a similar fashion as when we casually walk down the street, which feels mostly effortless.
We do not have to make a conscious effort to engage the ground with our feet and legs even though the actual forces are quite high. I view Wing Chun training as an elaborate mechanism to get us back to centre of mass as the default control setting. From the first set that helps us find the centre of mass and with each successive set which teaches us how to move and spin the centre of mass and to keep the mind seated there even though the distractions become more severe.
Spherical forces are inherent because of our rotary joints. The easiest way to move a thousand pounds with an ounce of force is to rest it on a ball. These spheres already exist in the movement of our limbs unless we do something to change that by intervening with our mind. Nothing moves until the centre moves and nothing is left behind. If the centre of mass is moved then whatever is connected to it carries its power.
We can chase our centre of gravity externally but we can only control our centre of mass internally. Same mind, same concentration, different default location. The centre of mass can create spheres as the arms and legs can create spheres and they all have power but the centre should control them all. Once we find the centre of mass, we can learn to make it our default setting by using it whenever we can, like opening a door, pushing a shopping cart or shovelling snow, like I have to.
Be aware that most things we do all day are taking this ability away. That is why the skills of training a few hours a week seem to simply vanish in a real-life defensive encounter. This is just my humble opinion why CST Wing Chun is effective and simple but hard to do. It is my opinion that CST’s mind was centred and unbreakable. No distraction could break his concentration.
There are other methods to learn how to fight effectively but if you want to fight and move like CST then changing the mind’s default is essential. We have seen many examples of so-called masters of kung fu who’s skills seem to evaporate when faced with the cadence and chaos of a real fight encounter. Like the Lord of the Rings, “The Ring of Sauron”. One ring to find the other rings, one ring to bind them, and one ring to rule them all. This to me is the centre of mass’s default ‘mind seat’ for lack of a better term. I stopped training with CST back in the early 1980’s so I can’t comment on anything after that. I hope this will help others in some way.