TCMA: Why It Takes So Long To Learn Kung-Fu


When I was in my teens, and watching Kung-Fu movies, I yearned for the opportunity to be made to wait outside the temple doors. I wanted to prove my worth. I wanted to wait in the hot sun and the pounding rain while the head monk would check every morning to see if I was still there and not yet let me in. Days would turn into months, and finally I would be permitted to gain access to the famous Shaolin Temple.

If you want to learn how to fight there are better ways. Boxing is not only an amazing sport, but a practical self-defence tool. If a student comes to class a couple times a week they will likely be sparring after a year and after two years they may have their first amateur fight. A couple of years is a quick turnaround to learn how to throw hands.

Most Kung-Fu styles take years. Instructors of Wing Chun, the system I practice, tell the public it is an easy and fast martial art to learn - and I believe they are correct, compared to other approaches.

To learn Wing Chun, one basically must memorize certain drills that lend themselves to the system. Many of these beginner drills look like a game of patty-cake. Even Chi Sau, Sticking Hands, can have a slapping nature to it. Unfortunately, for many, the buck stops there. Students and instructors don’t typically pressure-test their art.

Chi Sau is Wing Chun’s version of chess. If you play chess and I play chess, we can have a game together. If you practice Wing Chun and I practice Wing Chun, we can have a game (of Chi Sau) together.

What happens if you practice Wing Chun and I practice Karate? Chi Sau is not a viable bridge to our styles. We will have to spar. Wing Chun, in its simplicity, is built upon partner drills and Chi Sau. These drills build attributes such as contact sensitivity and good body mechanics. Attributes can improve fighting, but attributes can’t fight.

Taking a look at Muay Thai kickboxing all the drills are geared towards the dance of sparring which eventually leads to fighting. All the drills in Wing Chun are not.

It takes so long to learn Kung-Fu because all that attribute training is given precedence. The reason for this, and perhaps the most important factor in this discussion, is that there are life-metaphors hidden within the training. Learning Kung-Fu so that one can go have a fight is not as high of a priority as being a good person and cultivating virtue.

‘Receive what comes, follow what goes, if the obstacle disappears thrust forward.’ ‘Others walk the bow, I walk the string.’ ‘The punch comes from the heart.’  These are not just Fist Poems. They are more about overcoming life’s obstacles, constantly putting one foot in front of the next, and living a balanced life filled with passion.

Wing Chun is not a complete system on its own due to modern times. After 24 years of Kung-Fu I can safely say that now - and that’s okay. I know what it isn’t, but I know what it is.

Learning other martial arts has actually improved my understanding of Wing Chun - and that’s okay. I can’t think of anything more helpful to personal growth than continuing the journey but always coming back to the source. Wing Chun Kung-Fu is the source of my love for Chinese culture, the Dao, and Chinese medicine.

Without Kung-Fu, there would be no Kenton Sefcik.

After gaining access to the temple, the head monk would then start me on menial chores such as sweeping the training halls and hoeing in the garden. Sweeping and hoeing would be done a specific way, however - with emphasis given on the feet driving the hips back and forth so the whole body moves as a unit. Not unlike Daniel-San’s famous car washing and fence painting scenes, Kung-Fu would be taught as a way to move my body in a superior biomechanical way for fighting and longevity.

After years of sweeping practice I would be permitted to train the traditional forms. All the waiting at the gate and patience shown perfecting chores would show my true character - that I am a good person who would use martial skill to protect the weak and defend my family.

If one is looking to learn to fight, and fight quickly, there are other methods. If one is looking for a long-term approach to being a good person, and living a long, healthy life, may I suggest Kung-Fu.

Kenton Sefcik