Top 11 Ways to Pick an Excellent Wing Chun School
This should be a concern for anyone seeking a martial arts school, but I will keep the article Wing Chun specific. The determining factors will, of course, vary somewhat from person to person depending on what each person is looking to get out of their training. I will, however, presume that if you are looking to study to Wing Chun that you want to learn how to fight in the close range, and you want to learn how to fight well. In addition, you may have heard that studying Wing Chun is good for discipline, for developing yourself spiritually, for being healthy, for learning focus, for gaining self-confidence or maybe you just want to be social and are curious! Your reasons are personal and valid. So, how can I help you figure out which school is best for you?
I put together a list of factors I think may help you make your decision. This list is based on the presumption that you want a quality school where you can learn Wing Chun that will work from a Sifu who can help fulfill your personal reasons for wanting to study the art. So here goes, in no particular order of importance. You decide which factor is more important for you…you are the only one who can do that.
1. Wing Chun Lineage
What is lineage? Lineage is a family tree that includes and lays out who your Sifu has learned Wing Chun from and who his Sifu has learned Wing Chun from, and on back through an ancestral tree to the creator of the art, Ng Moi. Many branches these days will list their lineage back only to Chung Si Ip Man as Ip Man Wing Chun has gained in popularity after the last few decades. There are, however, other branches of Wing Chun which have clear, concise lineages, which is what you are looking for. The lineage of the Wing Chun Sifu you are looking for should be clearly traceable and definitive. Generally, a shorter lineage back to the source is great. However, you must pay attention to which
lineage the Sifu belongs to. This is confusing as a beginner as it is hard to tell good Wing Chun from not so good Wing Chun. For now, research, research, research. There will be more advice on what to look for farther down the list.
2. The Sifu’s Skill and the Skill of his/her More Advanced Students
Your skill will probably only ever get as good as your Sifu’s, so make sure the skill of the Sifu you are considering is extremely high. Okay, that statement is not entirely true. Great Sifu’s want you to become better than them! And it is possible, but it should take a good long while, like decades. Yeah, I know, how can you tell if a Sifu’s Wing Chun is excellent or not. Well, as said before, you may not be able to tell and as a beginner that is completely understandable. So, let’s take a minute to explain what to look for in good Wing Chun:
- Clear, clean & concise movement.
- Directness in approach/ attacking.
- Yielding to greater force/ defense. Relaxation.
- Well executed, concise footwork.
- Use of different angles and positioning.
- Power and speed in attacking.
You should also ask how long the Sifu has been learning the art. Some Sifu’s allow their students to become Sifus themselves after a very short amount of time. We believe it should take 6-8 years to become a first level Sifu in Wing Chun. You should also ask whether or not the Sifu is still training. Good Sifus continue to train even after decades of learning. They should be your example and set the bar for your training schedule.
3. Keeps the Focus on Your Learning
A great school and Sifu should keep the focus on teaching the student and relaying information, so you can develop your own skill. The focus should never be on the teacher or Sifu’s ability. If you find a teacher is cocky in his approach and technique, run. And run fast. If the teacher or Sifu does everything he or she can to help you understand what you need to do to develop the higher level of skill, then you are probably where you want to be. Sifus will need to demonstate the lesson, and it will probably seem impressive to you. There is nothing wrong with that! You, of course, want your teacher’s skill to be high…it should just be wrapped in humble pie!
4. Clear and Concise Curriculum
You should find out if the school has a well laid out, concise curriculum for you to follow on you Wing Chun journey. Does the school give the student a syllabus and a clear path defining which steps need to taken in order to progress? Do you understand what is expected of you and when it is expected of you? A detailed and well-laid out and executed curriculum insures that the Sifu has a plan and a strategy for your progression in the art. Further, is the Sifu qualified to teach you the entire system including all three Open Hand Forms, the Mook Yang Jong, the Luk Dim Boon Kwan (the Long Pole), and the Baat Cham Do (the butterfly knives).
It is often typical of Chinese martial arts to be taught in a circular method without a direct linear path. Unless you know that you can learn like this, our advice is to avoid this method of learning even though it may seem more “authentic” to you. Authentic Wing Chun should be determined by research on lineage, possible certification (as long as that certification is earned and not bought) and effectiveness of the art being presented to you. If you live in a culture that uses a direct path of learning, then you must learn your martial art in the same method. Method of teaching is critical in determining who you should train with. Sifus who do not have a clear path for you to follow most likely don’t have a deep knowledge of the art and/or of teaching the art.
5. The Sifu teaches in a Simple and Direct manner.
Most Wing Chun schools will let you take a free trial class. Do it. This is your best way to determine if the Sifu or instructors can actually teach. The Sifu could be the best martial artist in the world, but if he or she lacks the ability to teach you in a simple and direct manner, what good will taking his/her classes do you? Since Wing Chun is a principle based art and does not rely on memorized technique, it is of the utmost importance that you understand why you are doing what you are doing. The information the instructor gives you should be presented in a simple manner. If the information is not simply presented, then it is not thoroughly understood.
6. Who will be teaching your classes, the Sifu or other instructors?
It is normal for a school to have a Head Instructor and assistant instructors, as it is nearly impossible for a Sifu to teach all of the classes in a full-time school. So, you must ask who will be teaching your classes. You should ask how they are qualified to teach and whether they are accredited through a respected association. You should also ask how much involvement does the Head Instructor have in teaching at the school and whether or not he is hands on in teaching. Students should have direct access to the Head Instructor or Sifu on a regular basis, as should the assistant instructors.
7. Is the school involved in competitions?
We, generally, don’t think that Wing Chun should be put in a competitive environment. It is a combat and street fighting art, not a sport. If a school enters its students in competition, the art is not being used in its intended capacity and is most likely being watered down. Further, competition in martial arts can easily become a breeding ground for unhealthy ego.
8. What is the Kwoon or Facility like?
A Wing Chun school should be clean, organized and have plenty of appropriate well-conditioned equipment. Is there Wing Chun specific equipment in the kwoon. All Wing Chun schools should have multiple Wooden Dummies and mulitple Wall Bags to train stance and power. Some Wing Chun lineages use a Plum Blossom and kick dummies. These are nice extras when looking for a Kwoon. Other equipment to consider looking for when checking out a school are Focus Mitts, Heavy Bags, Uppercut Bags, Throw Walls, and Matting. If these items are present, then you get a clue about how the students are training. These tools specifically show that the current students work power and precision.
Does the Kwoon feel comfortable to you…does it have the vibe you are looking for? You will be spending a lot of time here, so make sure you feel at home and at peace.
9. Prices Should Be Reasonable
Every location will vary as to how much martial arts classes will cost. Your school should fall in the ball park range of the schools around you. They could be a bit on the high end or the low end, or even right in the middle…as long as they are in the same ball park. If your school is trying to sell you a program for thousands upon thousands of dollars or is charging well below the going rate, you should ask yourself why. Unfortunately, there are many schemes out there with people who are just trying to make a quick buck. And if the cost is too low, it is probably (not always) because the Sifu or teacher in inexperienced and is trying to build up his or her student base. That is not always a bad thing either – after all every one needs a break.
Different schools have different criteria and costs for progressing in rank. It is not entirely unreasonable for a school to ask for a small fee in order to cover his or her time on testing you or for any belts, sashes or tee shirts. However, many schools charge exorbitant prices to earn your ranking. Stay clear of these organizations. Rank must be earned through hard work, not through financial trade.
10. Does the Kwoon offer Adult Appropriate and Child Appropriate Classes?
Even though a school may teach both Adults and Children Wing Chun, it is important that the delivery method is age appropriate. Kids and adults must both be taught the difference between hurting, injuring, and maiming. But children must understand which techniques may be used on the playground and which may not. Watering down Wing Chun is a disservice to a child learning true delf defense especially if his or her life becomes in danger. However, teaching children to break an attackers fingers or gouging an attackers eye may have severe repurcussions if he/she uses such a technique against a fellow school mate. Further, Wing Chun principles must be taught in an even more simplified manner than is taught to adults. Make sure that as an adult you are attending an adult oriented class. If you are looking for a school for your child, make sure you find a school that has children’s classes around the same age as your children. Father/Son or Mother/Daughter classes are generally not recommended.
11. Make Sure the Sifu is Ethical and has a Good Reputation.
If there is smoke, there is most definitely fire. Do your research online and in the Wing Chun Community to make sure the Sifu has a good reputation. The Sifu should uphold him/herself as an ethical member of the Wing Chun and local community. He or she should set the example to his or her students on how to carry himself as a martial artist. He or she should be well-liked and avoid conflict, always taking the higher path.
It is exciting beginning a new journey, but if you are going to make a commitment of time and finances, you want to make sure you are getting quality martial arts instruction. Unfortunately, as a beginner, we do not always know what to look for in a school or in an instructor. Most often, we make choices based on convenience or cost. I encourage you to do plenty of research. Good luck in your training and remember Confucius say, “It does not matter how slow you go, as long as you do not stop” :>)