"Traditonal" and "Modified"
by Robert Chu
What is "Traditional" and "modified"? These are words we hear often in Wing Chun, and often these are terms to denote a difference in style. For example, Bruce Lee taught "modified Wing Chun", which he called Jun Fan Gung Fu, and others in Wing Chun, teach what is called "Traditional" or "Original" Wing Chun. These terms can be confusing, at best. Even cars are "traditional" and "modified". They are "traditional" in the sense that they are based on time tested principles, but are constantly being "modified" with every new model year. The Ford Focus certainly inherited a legacy from the Model-T, but will certainly smoke the "original" in every way imaginable, except in age and value.
In Chinese culture, Chinese often seek to differentiate themselves by saying that their martial art, medicine, cooking or whatever skill is "secret" or "original" or "orthodox" or "Passed down in secret from ancestors, demigods, saints, monks, holymen", but often these are mere forms of marketing and puffery. Chinese culture reeks with claims like these. In the West, from time to time, we also see this "marketing scheme". For example, a laundry commercial once had a scenario of a Chinese hand laundry patron asking the shopkeeper the secret to his getting clothes so bright and clean. His answer? "Ancient Chinese Secret!" Of course, at the end of the commercial, we realize that it is the advertised laundry cleaner and a washing machine. The patron and the shopkeeper's wife sarcastically chime to the shopkeeper, "Ancient Chinese secret, huh?!"
And so it is for many martial arts, as well. They differentiate
themselves by telling everyone they're the best because they are the original
and traditional and that everyone else is modified and giving you their
own interpretation of it. I hope people in today's world realize puffery
when they see it and often look beyond it, looking at the relative merits
of any claims before falling for them. If an advertised product does not
bring results and perform, then "secret" or not, consumers will
not buy that product, at least until the "new and improved"
version comes along. At least here in the West, those who don't fall for
"older" may fall for "new and improved", whereas in
China, "older and secret" is the ad pitch of generations. Advertising
does allow for different forms of "puffery".
Any martial art has it's traditional forms, salutations,
techniques and base applications, and also has it's "clinic"
where adaptation and modification is encouraged through exercises like
push hands, sticking hands and sparring. This is the means to develop
the art fully. Students should have a strong traditional base, then learn
to modify and apply the right movements at the right time. All martial
arts should take into practice five major areas of study of tools, structure,
timing, positioning and sensitivity. The first two area of tools and structure
are your "traditional", and the last three, timing, positioning
and sensitivity are your "modifying" factors.
At any rate, within the scope of traditional, there is a
degree of modification, and that we should avoid any rigid minded thinking.
The truth is that in the "traditional", we have to have a degree
of "modification" to fit in with the situation on hand. And
in the "modified", we must have a strong basis in the "traditional"
to know what we are modifying. Neither entity can exist in itself.
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