TCMA: In Search of Fragments


I am a Gung-Fu man. I have studied Wing Chun and Gung-Fu earnestly since 1994.

In my final years of Chinese medicine college, I met a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu who gave me a lot of trouble during stand-up and dominated my skillset on the ground.

Instead of jumping off the Kung-Fu ship, I approached my Wing Chun instructor and asked him why I had had so much trouble.  After ten years of Kung-Fu, including three years of dedicated Wing Chun practice, I hadn’t been able to do much against crude boxing and a first-belt in grappling.

“Wing Chun doesn’t spar,” was his response.  “It’s used for self-defense.”  But I wanted to spar.  If my training partner knew how to Chi Sau I would do that, but if they didn’t partake in the Kung-Fu version of chess, perhaps being trained in Karate or Jiu-Jitsu, they wouldn’t know Chi Sau and I would have to communicate with them in a language they understand: sparring.

I felt trapped between tradition and reality.  It seemed my instructor had just parroted the standard response that was given on the online Kung-Fu Forums when someone asked senior members a similar question.

A year later and a chance encounter with a boxing gym left me inspired.  Maybe I could learn how to box and that would help me to spar.  And it did.

Now, 24 years later, after feeling more rounded as a stand-up fighter, I am immersing myself in the ground game.  There is no way this would have been possible if I had stayed within the myopic view of my instructor.  I had learned the Wing Chun system but it was a fragment - as many people say: an engine.

Non-Classical Gung-Fu was what ultimately gave me confidence in my Wing Chun skill. NCGF put gas in my engine and made it go.  Now, I am able to concentrate on other things in life and training.  I no longer feel like something is missing from my striking.

There is limited time in a week between work and familial engagements so I have switched my training to be more grappling oriented.  When I decided to make the switch I honestly had a bit of an identity crisis. ‘If I now train Jiu-Jitsu, am I no longer a Gung-Fu man?’  It is the same question I asked myself when I took up amateur boxing...

No. I will always be a Gung-Fu man.  I am of the mindset that it is important to have a good base in something, an engine of sorts all skills can go into to help make sense of them all.  But I’ll always be looking for fragments.  It’s just who I am.  Never someone to be content with just rote, blind tradition.  To have respect for the tradition and to transcend it is my personal goal.

When the spiritual teacher and his disciples began their evening meditation, the cat who lived in the monastery made such noise that it distracted them.  So the teacher ordered that the cat be tied up during the evening practice.  Years later, when the teacher died, the cat continued to be tied up during the meditation session.  And when the cat eventually died, another cat was brought to the monastery and tied up.  Centuries later, learned descendants of the spiritual teacher wrote scholarly treatises about the religious significance of tying up a cat for meditation practice.

- Zen story

Kenton Sefcik