When the training starts student learns the basics, stances, hand positions, kicks and punches, proper body structure and power generation. At the very beginning things cannot be more complicated. To adjust all these little details in order to perform even a seemingly simple movement, even very slowly, looks impossible. Kung fu in general and especially Southern styles are notorious for the amount of small anatomical details that should be kept in correct position and executed in particular sequence in order to perform “something” correctly. This can cause a lot of stress for newcomers. After a while, students get better control of their body and are able to perform basic movements correctly and in full speed. Along the way, practitioners learn why they perform all those in particular way, what are practical (fighting) and bio-mechanical reasons, what principles and tactics are behind them and often some other factors are included like Qi Gong.
Next phase in training brings drills with a partner which brings new level of skill and understanding of practitioners own body. These drills brings better understanding and reinforce concepts of the art already introduced to students.
As the training progresses new skills are introduced and students gain more knowledge and understanding of their chosen art. Footwork, combat drills, light sparring bring deeper understanding of the concepts and principles of the art and how to develop them in fighting.
At the end of the training or along the way, depends of the style practitioners learn how to use traditional weapons which give them wider understanding and deeper insight in their chosen style.
Different styles have different curriculums and different approach to training. Every student has its own goals and expectation from training and these goals draw students to different arts and different teachers. To learn complete curriculum of the style, to complete the art requires a lot of hard work. Of course every style has its own characteristics which make him distinctively different from all others. These characteristics are shown not only in physical form, the way how the movements are performed but also in combat tactics and basic concepts of body mechanics. Every style has its specific vocabulary, customs, background, history and culture. All these things are inseparable parts of every art and they influence practitioners in various ways, not only physical but also psychologically, culturally …
This influence is in its core neither good nor bad, it is simply necessary for completion of the style. Learn and practice all the content of the style, not only physically but follow the patterns of thinking and resolving the problems drawn from the fighting principles of the art will greatly influence the practitioner. Usually, this influence is quite positive, at least for the better part of the training. The problem may occur after the completion of
the style. Just knowing the curriculum, even have a great physical skill and even knowing and understanding the art’s concepts deeply is not enough for true mastery.
To pass the knowledge, teachers need methodology and teaching tools. Using these tools and methodology teachers explain how the systems works, why it is used in certain way and when to use a particular part of the system. Also they are used to develop necessary physical attributes for mastering the art.
Like it was said before all this is necessary to teach and train the practitioner to a certain level of skill and knowledge. When that level is finally reached the true journey of the martial artist has begun. We have to aware of the fact that traditional martial arts stopped to be purely fighting orientated and for the last 100 years or more they have grown into something more and surpassed their original purpose. Today, traditional martial arts are also a way of self-development, some concentrate of sports and competition, some are used as a system of healing and maintaining good health, some even have religious or spiritual elements, some are purely concentrated on movement’s esthetic and many other things. All this different paths are equally important and valid.
When the practitioner reach the “master” level he has to choose which way he wants to go. Many practitioners decide to preserve the art in the form they learned it from their teacher and do not want to change it even a bit. While this is a valid choice as any other it may not be the best one. Times changes as well as people, society and environment , martial arts either follow this changes and adapt or disappear like many traditional arts were lost when big shift in society and technology took over China after Taiping rebellion , or many old styles are on the brink of extinction on Taiwan because teachers cannot adjust to modern times. All these training methods and approaches established by previous generations at some point can become an obstruction, a limiting factor in personal growth and development. True mastery, at least according to some teachers, is when accomplished student uses the art in his distinctive way to express him self completely and differently from all other. Exploring and discovering , not just preserving and transmitting that a true mastery. Finding new ways to use the art, expanding the boundaries and eliminating the limiting factors of the system, following the path of research, trials, experiments that is what true mastery means. Sometimes masters will come with completely new art, sometimes they will change the art so much that it will look totally different from the original art they have learned and sometimes they will make a full circle and return to the original system with completely different understanding and explanations. There are many different paths in traditional martial arts, each and every one of them is correct if chosen with full understanding of the system and clear goal in mind .