ARE YOU TRAINING A MARTIAL ARTS "STYLE" OR "SYSTEM"?
By Benny Meng and Richard Loewenhagen
Submitted From Ving
Current times discussions and written treatises
on martial arts training often treat the terms "Style" and "System" as
interchangeable, yet they are not at all synonymous. A style is
a form that is distinctive and identifiable as an artistic expression
with characteristics particular to the artist. In contrast, a system
is a combination of intricately related elements organized into
a complex whole that produces results far greater than the mathematical
sum of its individual parts. A style could also be a system, but
most are not. They reflect some of the attributes of a system,
but are not complete.
A complete system is one that at all times adheres to a consistent philosophy
yielding practical combat applications, practical training methodologies, and
a complete science with principles, concepts, strategies, and tactics that
do not allow the outcome of an engagement to be determined by luck. Every aspect
of a complete system must be consistent with every other part. A system's philosophy
is what drives that consistency. Most martial arts studied today lack an overriding
philosophy that guarantees consistency throughout training and application.
They are best classified as styles rather than as systems.
Even modern day Wing Chun, which prides itself on its systematic attributes,
may require closer scrutiny. As you are training it today, are you guided by
an overriding philosophy that is consistent with every aspect of your training?
Are your training methodologies completely consistent with your combat applications?
For example, many "looping" exercises are employed to train muscle
memory, but this looping would never be attempted or allowed in actual combat
application. A consistent philosophy would dictate methodologies aligned directly
with combat application, negating the need for deprogramming the looping from
the practitioner's instinctive reactions before sending him off to battle.
Does your training involve looping exercises? Are there so-called "transitional" movements
in your forms that are not directly tied to combat applications? If so, your
forms, philosophy, methodologies, and applications are not consistent with
Shaolin Temple Wing Chun, as trained by today's Hung Fa Yi Wing Chun practitioners,
is an example of a complete martial arts system. It has an overriding philosophy
that keeps applications, methodologies, and employment of science consistent
throughout training. Hung Fa Yi practitioner's train every move at every level
in exactly the same manner as they would use them on the battlefield. As a
science, Wing Chun's logic flow is crucial to maintaining its integrity. The
sequence of learning must follow this logic flow closely. The philosophy that
guides this sequence is called "Saam Mouh Kiu" and it is deeply rooted
in Shaolin tradition.
Within the Southern Shaolin Wing Chun Tong was a place used to train called
the Saam Mouh Dei meaning "Three Connecting Grounds". There is a
direct connection between this name and the three levels of reality practiced
in Zen philosophy called Saam Mouh Kiu. These same three levels of Zen reality
gave rise to Hung Fa Yi Wing Chun's way of viewing combat in the framework
of three connecting bridges, also called Saam Mouh Kiu. The key to unlocking
Hung Fa Yi Wing Chun as a combat system is the Wing Chun Formula, and the key
to understanding the formula is the concept of time and space. The key to properly
approaching the concept of time and space is embracing the philosophy of Saam
When a Wing Chun fighter is in combat he goes through a progression of Ng Jahn
Chiuh Mihn Jeui Ying (5 Stages of combat). Within every stage of combat the
fighter must recognize Saam Mouh Kiu at that particular moment in time. Saam
Mouh Kiu as used in Wing Chun refers to three specific time frames. Sam Mouh
Kiu is employed by a properly trained Wing Chun fighter to identify his opponent's
knowledge of time and space, and from that determine which strategies and tactics
to employ to ensure the enemy's self-destruction. Saam Mouh Kiu is used in
conjunction with the Wing Chun Formula and is supported by scientific principles
and concepts. Together, they enable the Wing Chun fighter to completely understand
both his and his opponent's strengths and weaknesses within the space and time
of the confrontation. Saam Mouh Kiu as a Wing Chun concept posits that there
are only three types of bridges, employing "time-frame" as the guide
to which bridge is in play. This allows the Wing Chun practitioner to determine
the time frame used in combat and to understand the true nature of that combat.
Once the Wing Chun practitioner reaches a level of understanding Nature itself,
this concept is no longer concerned with just techniques. It extends to his
total interaction with the world around him. The Three connecting bridges of
Saam Mouh Kiu are as follows:
1. Fao Kiu - "Floating Bridge".. Another frequently used expression
of this same concept is "Hoi Fao" meaning "Illusion, cloudy,
or unclear". Philosophically, the Fao Kiu stage is the stage of "Wandering".
The level of one's existence is primarily at the basic subsistence level of
Maslow's famous Hierarchy of Needs. There is no time for higher-level development
or life. In terms of combat, Fao Kiu represents "Lucky Strike" time.
At this stage the practitioner is violating the Wing Chun time frame. He possesses
no realized comprehension of space or time. In a physical confrontation it
would be the same as standing right in front of the guy and trading blows with
him. This means the practitioner and his opponent can hit or kick each other
as chance dictates. Fate will select the winner. Philosophically, they represent
a stage where both combatants are unclear of their path or reason for existence.
They exist in an illusion. As martial artists, they are unaware of the basics
of time and space and have failed to recognize any higher level of knowledge.
2. San Kiu - "Separate Bridge". This is also referred to as the "Awareness
Stage". This stage represents partial nature and/or understanding of the "True
Time Frame", but they have no concrete ability to identify and deal with
the intricacies of the interactions between time and space. They cannot express
both together in harmony. At any moment, they may be able express one or the
other in their kung fu, but not both simultaneously. Philosophically, at this
level practitioners are beyond the basic level of subsistence. They have the
capacity and the time to engage in incomplete considerations of religion, and
3. Wing Kiu - "Everlasting Bridge". It is important to note the character
for "Wing" is the exact same character employed in the original name
of the Wing Chun System. It represents the everlasting nature of the real science
upon which it is based. Wing Kiu is also referred to as the "Focus Stage".
Another phrase used on the journey to this stage is "Hoi Gong" meaning "open
light" or enlightenment. It is used in the Siu Nim Tau level of training
to represent that the practitioner has been exposed to this idea (Nim) - he
is aware of Saam Mouh Kiu, space and time, and the Wing Chun Formula and the
relationships between each of them. Philosophically, the Wing Kiu stage reflects
the practitioner's comprehension of the true reason for his own existence.
He is approaching real enlightenment in terms of the universe surrounding him.
His perceptions of his universe are in harmony with reality. In a physical
confrontation, the practitioner's every motion is in harmony with space and
time with no distortion of either. This is the highest level of combat skill.
Harmony with reality replaces struggle. The opponent's own distortions defeat
him while the practitioner maintains harmony with the realities of space and
As a martial artist are you training a "Style" or a "System"?
Which bridge are you at now and where are you headed? Is your system complete
enough to get you where you want to go? You will need to do some serious philosophical
investigation to answer these questions. Hung Fay Yi's "Saam Mouh Kiu" gives
you one framework for beginning that investigation.