Teaching without Teaching

Training with Grandmaster Ip Chun

Many years ago my Sifu coined the phrase, “Teaching without telling.” When you are being taught you expect to be told some new information, this could be a technique, skill, application or new movement in a form. This is a very fundamental level of teaching and learning. You are shown what to do and you then copy it and repeat it again again until you remember how to do it. When we are young and go to school our teacher tell us exactly how to do things, take writing for example. When we first learn to write we have to practise every stroke in a particular order. Later on when we good enough, we write in a natural way that flows, but we can only do this because we have followed what our teachers showed us at the beginning. Leaning martial arts and Wing Chun is the same. We must first copy our Sifu very carefully and repeat it many times before we try and do things another way.

This is the way we need to start and this is also what we should do when we do not know what to do. However there comes a time when we cannot always wait for our Sifu to tell us exactly what to do. We should develop our “eyes” so we can watch our Sifu and see how he does things. If you can do this and work out what is happening and then are able to copy it ourselves, then we have learnt without having to be told, this is what my Sifu, Grandmaster Tse, meant by teaching without telling. This is something I try to instil into my own students. I show them things to work on, things that they need to practise, but more importantly, I explain that these are examples of Wing Chun principles and that I want them to open their minds to different ways to do things. Then they will look further than just the technique, but will look at the principles behind it, and if they can follow these, then they truly understand the technique. Now I see them watching me and I can tell they are looking not only at what I am doing but also working out why I am doing it. Sometimes they ask me because they cannot work it out, but sometimes they ask me because they have worked it out and just want to confirm it. I can tell this by how they ask their question. When you can do this then you will be constantly learning, no matter what and this is a big part of the Wing Chun puzzle, it is not just about what to learn, but also how to learn.

I am sad to have come across students who have studied with people who have just kept them busy doing things, but not taught them why they are doing it or how it works. Then there is no meaning and so they have not learnt anything. To me this is “teaching without teaching”. The worse case I heard was a student told me his teacher would not let them see the seniors training and one day scolded him for doing a technique incorrectly, but give no explanation as to why it was incorrect. Later found out he was doing it they way a the higher grades do it and at his grade he should be doing it differently. This means the teacher is teaching the lower grades at best inferior skill and worse the wrong skill. Either way he was doing it in order to have something to teach in the future. I asked the student how much Chi Sau he had done and was not surprised to hear that he had done very little and was not sure what it was he had been shown.

Wing Chun only has three hand forms, one wooden dummy and two weapons forms. A teacher who does not know Chi Sau will run out of things to teach. To make up for this he or she will have to make endless sequences of techniques and break the forms up into many parts. The most I have heard is breaking Siu Lim Tao into twelve parts with each part ending with a grading. Another common thing is making students wait until they have spent years learning all the forms before letting them learn Chi Sau. This is also a sign that the teacher’s Chi Sau maybe weak because they can not practise with anyone for many years, and even then can only practise with the small number of students who “last the course”. There is no “end” to Chi Sau and so you need to start sooner rather than later. Of course I understand that some teachers may want their students to know some basic hands and techniques before they start teaching them Chi Sau, but waiting so many years? Some people may say that in the past a teacher would make someone train one thing for many years before showing something else. Yes, this did happen, but this was done as a test to see if you were the right person to pass the skill onto, but this is very rare to find today.

Along side of teaching martial arts a Sifu also has the responsibility of teaching a student to improve their character and become a good person. Then all his or her students will have a positive effect on everyone. I remember many years ago I forgot that the car park ticket on my car had expired and when I got back to my car a traffic warden was giving me a ticket. I was in the wrong so there was no point in being upset about it. I apologised to him and then started having a chat with him. After a few minutes he stopped mid sentence and asked me what I did. When I told him I was a martial arts teacher, he smiled and said, “I knew there was something different about you. That must be why you are being so nice about me giving you a ticket. Most people get angry and start shouting.” I smiled and said, “I have a good teacher.”

There is a lesson in everything we see and do. Being able to see it and learn from it is an important skill and this is something my Sifu has taught directly or indirectly. I want all my students to be able to do the same and then they will always be learning and always be improving.

  1. Mike says:

    I’m interested in the Liverpool wing chun lessons , can you please provide details of prices

  2. Monsef says:

    Hi, I’m an 18 year old from Manchester and I am interested in wing chun classes to work on my self defence. Please can you reply to me with prices of classes and any other important information if possible. Thank you.

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