How To Treat Beginners In Wing Chun
Either WingChun.Online or in class
If you are running a school there is a strong chance you will see a turn around of students, certainly if you have been teaching for a while, this is natural and for an instructor, the best advice I would give is;
‘Do not take it personally’
The majority of students will move on at some point, wether down to moving house, finishing university, a job promotion/relocation, or even simply realising that Wing Chun is not for them or they no longer have the time, but for whatever reason, it’s nothing personal.
What this does mean however is that you then need new students, new beginners, and again for various reasons, either to replace the ones that have left, to keep the class energy high and numbers up, or maybe even just to help cover your ever increasing rent (hopefully not just the latter), but how can this affect your regular students and what do they get from this new intake of members?
Like it or not, taking on new students is vital in order for us to continue to promote Wing Chun, wether you are a student or teacher, and for us to be able to share the love of this art, certainly in my case, when in 1991 I was made one of only thirteen world-wide disciples of Grandmaster Ip Chun and promised him, to continue to teach his (and Ip Man (his father’s)) Wing Chun, to as many people as possible (hence the reason for WingChun.Online).
So again I say, how can new students affect your regular students,
and what do they get from this?
It can easily become a vicious circle when a few regulars leave, you replace them with beginners, but ONLY work on the super basics, this then can annoy the remaining regulars, who in turn, then decide to leave, so you get more beginners… and the cycle continues.
We need beginners yes, but we must never neglect the students we already have, these people are not just dear friends, they are family, they are loyal, and, they are the ones who have made your school what it is, and bizarrely, having new beginners can be where your regulars can get the most benefit, providing this approach is understood, and agreed, BEFORE the beginners just come flooding in.
So how do we do this then?
I will always tell my instructors (and myself) that if you are not learning through teaching, then you are not teaching properly, not only can we teach the new guys something, but we can learn from them too, providing you’ve got the guts to do so.
The first thing we need to realise here, is that you now have a group of people who you have never met before and have no idea of their (if any) previous training, and this is where it gets interesting, and why I say, ‘providing you’ve got the guts to do so‘.
After your introductions to Wing Chun, explaining what we have and what we do etcetera, take the opportunity to ask one of them to throw a punch at you, so as to show them a little of how Wing Chun works, remembering to ask them to throw ‘A’ strike, rather than just asking them to try and hit you, otherwise they may repeatedly be throwing attacks, never not acknowledging your counters, and it is never advisable to punch a beginner, ‘Just so they get the message‘. 🙂
You should never need to hit someone in order to show them something.
‘Only a bad instructor hits their students’
Of course when it is your turn to punch them (giving them a chance to use a Tan Sau let’s say), then obviously this will be controlled, slowed down, telegraphed and a particular arm agreed upon prior to its execution.
Do not do this the other way around, when the beginners are hitting you and/or your students (well at least the ones who can handle this pressure), do not tell the newcomers where or how to hit you, just see what comes from them, encouraging them to, perhaps ‘Go for it‘ a little.
This will be great fun for your regulars and also allows the newbies to feel that they are being welcomed by the class from day one!
Your regulars will never get such a safe way of testing their progress than this, having a complete stranger try to hit them, but, in class, in a safe environment, with no repercussions and no intent.
The top tip I give to my students when doing this for the first time, is to not shake hands immediately, chat with them at a distance (NOT asking of their previous training!), talk with your hands, basically keeping your hands busy so as not to be reached out for by your partner, this way that first contact, is the one that means something.
Why I say this is because if you do shake that persons hand before the strike comes to you, you will subconsciously read SO much from that person from their grip, how strong they are, how fast they feel, how earnest they may be and so on… this would not happen in the street so do not do it in this exercise, otherwise that element of surprise is lost.
Obviously do shake hands afterwards and do make them feel welcome (provided you didn’t hit them of course!), and when you all change partners, start this same process with the next new stranger (no contact before the first strike).
This principle can also be used when the beginners are learning footwork, if they stepping in toward you, see if you can gauge their distance by reading their bodyweight, rather than knowing how your regular class mates step (week in – week out), is this stranger going to be timid and keep distant from you, or will they move right in trying to smother you?
That’s the fun!
Okay so your students may think they know Dan Chi Sau and Lap Sau exercise, yes they may be able to go through the moves but do they know why the are doing what they are doing?
Do they know these drills so well that they can clearly and concisely explain to someone else when they are questioned about it?
If the answer is yes, then this is great, but if the answer is no, they must not bull s**t the beginner, call over the instructor and learn the answer together, the new guy will not think less of you, and what if they did? Lose the ego or you will very quickly hit a ceiling level in your progression and your ability to learn will end, YOU are there to learn for YOU, do not feel bad for not knowing something, instead, thank the student for coming up with an original question.
This is then a win – win for everyone!
So often, a beginner can ask a question your regulars had either never thought of, or had heard the answer SO long ago that they have now forgotten it!
Pak Sau drills is another wonderful opportunity to test yourself with a beginner!
When you step in with the Pak, ask the beginner to just try to stop you (without telling them how), their reaction will shock you, but did you still manage to find a different angle of entry, with speed, and with precision, and, without turning the thing into a scrappy scuffle?
All too often in class, students can get used to specific reactions and therefore specific expectations, this is NOT helpful and can easily cause a false sense of security, people believing they are defending well, when it is only against an orchestrated prearranged and all too common, attacking method.
So talk to your regular students prior to a new intake (before the beginners join I mean), explain what you want the regulars to do with new members and what you want them to get from this training, this way everyone will be geared up for it and genuinely happy to train alongside.
Beginners are not beginners for very long, so before you refine their ability to attack, to increase their attacking speed and defensive reaction timing, embrace them, they are a hugely valuable asset to regulars and to instructors alike, providing your approach to them is in line.
I hope this helps in the promotion and continuing growth of your school and to the preservation of Wing Chun.
Thank you for reading.