In this post I am not going to tell you what are the good things you should look for when choosing a school/Sifu. Instead, I want to tell you about potential “smells” that you should be aware of when signing up. One of the reasons why I decided to write this post, is the fact that in this day and age, the world of Wing Chun (in fact, the world of any other sport) is a very commercial environment. Some Wing Chun schools can really go the distance in their efforts to milk extra $$$ from students.
I have visited quite a number of Wing Chun schools and did a lot of digging and reading around. This process can be daunting and time consuming sometimes. For a young Wing Chun practitioner, it can be hard to see the bigger picture immediately without doing preliminary research, I hope the current post can save you a little bit of time by shedding some light on how some Wing Chun schools operate today.
The “smells” that I mentioned earlier (or the warning signs in other words), might help you to identify whether the school you chose is a money trap. Please keep in mind, that the following is my personal and subjective opinion and you do not have to agree with me.
Uniforms per-se is not a problem. I like uniforms, it brings feeling of belonging. Its just sometimes a school might try to enforce them on you. It is fine if the school sells uniform to its students but still gives them the freedom to train without buying. Some schools demand/require you to buy at least a T-shirt in order to train, while some will require you to buy a whole set consisting of a T-shirt, training pants and a sash.
Some schools have mandatory grading and different colour sashes that come with it. Students have to grade from time-to-time in order to qualify to the next level and track their progress. From a Sifu’s perspective it is easier to divide teaching material into sections/groups and teach this way. Generally speaking, Wing Chun has no levels nor colourful sashes – students keep on training and with time become better.
IMHO, mandatory grading and different colour sashes are just another way to suck more $$$ from you. Gradings should not be mandatory; a student should be able to learn the entire system without undertaking a single grading. The grading structure should only exist to provide feedback on student’s progress and guidance as to what to train at each stage of his/her progress through the system.
It is not rare to hear/see in Wing Chun world Sifus giving themselves title of “Grandmaster”. Usually that happens because they pursue their own way in the art, both skill-wise and money-wise. Many such grandmasters founded their own organizations with their own Wing Chun system/interpretation, their own flavor.
I personally would be cautious/sceptical of a person calling himself “Grandmaster”, even if that person has decades of Wing Chun experience. (Having said that, not every experience is the same and it is a rather broad term). In the East, in general Wing Chun does not have titles such as “Grandmaster” (unless the master is really really old).
If a person gives himself a loud title, to me it seems that this person is trying too hard to attract attention which can translate into more exposure, more students, hence more $$$ revenue. Big titles come to help these “Grandmasters” to justify “their own system” or “their own organizations” and we Westerners unfortunately are hung up on titles and titles translate to $$$. The latter is one of the reasons why some Asian martial artists coming to teach in the West give themselves title of a “Grandmaster”.
By the way, do not be surprised if you are not going to be taught by the “Grandmaster” himself, but by his senior instructor(s)/student(s). Usually these “Grandmasters” touring the world and visiting their international affiliated branches to do seminars.
These days many (if not all) Sifu/schools advertise & promote in some way, that’s normal – a school will not survive without students. But, some schools are really in your face and pushing too hard. Keep in mind, just because Sifu advertises heavily, selling different merchandise, often being published in martial arts magazines (Black Belt, Inside Kung-Fu, etc.), or constantly reminds his students that “he is THE dude” does not mean that the Sifu is the best there is. Remember, there are still remain good Sifus/schools which are away from spotlight.
When a Sifu has such wide exposure, first of all it suggests (at least to me) that a lot of money goes into marketing, and the Sifu is a really good businessman that knows how to market himself and let the wide public know that he exists.
Ask your self why? Does he really want to produce quality students and cares about the quality of teaching or has his school became merely a money factory first and a teaching facility second? It is something worth to keep in mind. Marketing can make wonders to our decision making process 😉
There is nothing wrong with someone trying to make a living from teaching Wing Chun. Do not get me wrong – I do not imply that you should look only for schools that would teach you for free or peanuts – these days it is rarely happens. Nor I am saying that you can not get good quality teaching in a more expensive school – it will simply come at a higher cost.
I think in case of Wing Chun, “more expensive” does not always mean “better”. Do some research (read the forums, but keep in mind that sometimes people are bias creatures), understand what is the business model of the school you chose and Sifu’s background.
You probably noticed that I used words like “business model”, well that’s because unfortunately for us students these days Wing Chun IS a full time source of living for some. Do not forget it and try not to get eaten by a big financial beast. Sometimes your costs being a Wing Chun student in a particular school outweigh the quality of teaching received (what ever quality means for you). If you feel this way, then perhaps you should look for another school. Remember – no matter what the school you chose always show perseverance, be consistent and train hard.