There are so many Wing Chun practitioners who discuss the difference between modified and traditional (or classical) Wing Chun. This isn’t a conversation that takes place just among practitioners of Wing Chun, it is a conversation that can take place among martial artists of almost any style. Similar conversations about tradition take place in families, and they talk about almost anything that has been passed down for generations. Some family members may want to stick with certain traditions that have been in the family for generations, while others may want to “move with the times” and do something different. Of course, there may be some who don’t care either way (put an angel or a star on top of the tree, or skip the Christmas tree all together – it doesn’t matter to them).
Several years ago Sifu Bill, my Ba Gua and Tai Chi teacher, told me an interesting story:
A family is celebrating Thanksgiving, and the wife cuts off the head and hind end of the turkey (in most versions it is a ham, but I think I was actually told this story fairly close to Thanksgiving so this is how I remember it). The husband is confused about why his wife just wasted perfectly good meat and asks her about this. She explains that it is how her mom taught her to cook and that this is she had always prepared the meal. He decides her answer is acceptable, but still curious about how this tradition got started. He calls his mother-in-law and asks her about this tradition. She gives him the same answer– this was how her mom had taught her. The husband decides to let it go for a while. Then, at dinner with the whole family at the table, the husband comments on what an interesting tradition his wife’s family has in cutting off the ends of the turkey. The wife’s grandmother speaks up and says, “It has nothing to do with tradition. When I was young and teaching my daughter to cook we couldn’t afford a pot big enough for the whole turkey.”
The point of the story is not about whether or not tradition is good or bad. The point is that so many people follow tradition blindly without ever questioning or looking into its origins. I personally do not think looking into an art’s origins is disrespectful. I think if one truly loves their art they should have a natural curiosity about its history.
There may be a few people who disagree with me. They may view this type of questioning as being difficult. They may even see it as challenging the legitimacy or practicality of the art. They may think the person with these types of questions is trying to say that traditions are outdated and not as effective as the modified approach. One thing I’ve always wondered about was if the yi chi kim yeung ma was always exactly the way I learned it from my first class or if it got modified from some other version because of all the practitioners who traveled on the boats during a certain period in the arts history.
In truth it probably doesn’t matter much as I’m going to continue using the stance I’ve been taught either way. Personally, I use what works for me. Traditional or modified doesn’t make a difference. I do enjoy partaking in traditions (be it in martial arts or other areas of life), but I also don’t believe on following tradition blindly.