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Master Wong: Awareness in Training and Becoming a YouTube Sensation

master wong
Black Belt Plus

Start With the Right Philosophy

All martial arts are good, Master Wong says. However, people often believe otherwise because they see moves that are done differently from what they’re used to in their style and they seem ineffective.

“People want to learn, and when they don’t understand, they start to slag each other off,” he says. “Newcomers don’t know any different. When things like that happen, students get confused.

“A good instructor needs to educate students, teach them that nothing is best and everything is good. The key is the context in everyday life in which you use it. As long as you make use of it to change you, to become a better version of yourself, to improve yourself, it is good for you.

“People may learn martial arts to fight, to hurt others, even to kill others. But martial arts are about the mind- set that comes with training the body, mind and spirit. When people don’t understand that, they put fighting on top of everything.”

Don’t Depend on Technique

When students convince themselves that fighting is all that matters, they fixate on techniques as the solutions to every problem, Wong says. “When something hap- pens in real life, when you think someone is going to do [something specific] to you — it’s nothing like that. On the street, nobody’s going to suddenly attack you that way.

“If they do attack you a certain way, you probably won’t be prepared for it because you’re wearing differ- ent clothes [than] the clothes you train in. Or because the environment is different, with people or obstacles around you.”

In the dojo, he explains, you train in a safe environment, often one-on-one. But when you’re outside the dojo and must defend yourself, you may be in the middle of a conversation in a place where things are happening all around you. To avoid being taken by surprise, you must be aware. Awareness often will give you enough time to respond in a manner that fits the situation, rather than reflexively firing off your favorite technique in hope that it will save the day.

“It’s the master’s job to educate students so they understand this,” he says.

Strive to Act Before Physical Contact Takes Place

Martial artists also should devote time to learning skills they can use before the fight begins, Wong explains. “That’s why I tell them to [focus on] awareness. Most of the time in class, you’re training movements but you’re not aware. The movements are good, but they will be bet- ter if you’re aware. For example, if a person is getting into their car, they should keep an eye on everything because that awareness can save their life. When you are aware, often you can save your life without doing any kind of attack on the other person. A technique is not needed.

“But if you’re sitting there and you don’t understand what’s going on and somebody behind you gets a baseball bat — boom! You get hit. Maybe you drop dead. Does that mean you were no good? No, it means you were not aware because your martial art was not in your mind at that moment. That’s why you were sitting there with your back exposed.” 

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Enhance Your Understanding

“I’ve got a saying for when you’re training: ‘Know your- self, know your enemy, know your ability and know your surroundings,’” Wong says. “This is a full concept.

“Know yourself and know how to defend yourself. Know how to move effectively.

“Know who your enemy is and how he potentially could hurt you.

“Know your ability to do damage to other people. Understand that you can hit somebody hard enough to kill them — even if you don’t intend to. For example, you hit them and they fall and hit their head on the concrete. They could die.

“Know your surroundings. Know that when you’re in some locations, you won’t have open space [to maneuver]. You might need to reposition yourself to make sure you can defend yourself.”

Another facet of understanding self-defense is knowing the law, Wong states. In a fight, you can’t just take any action and use any technique and then tell the police that it was self-defense. “You might go to jail,” he says. “Then your life is ended. Your wife is not going to stay at home and wait for you to come out. She will have left with your best friend. She’s not going to wait because you were stupid. You didn’t understand yourself.”

master wong

Good martial artists understand themselves and use that understanding to foster self-restraint, Wong adds. You know that it’s acceptable to hit other people while training, in part because they know how to block and/ or use a breakfall. You also know that it’s unacceptable to hit people outside the dojo, in part because of the law and in part because they’re more likely to fall and get seriously hurt.

Unintended consequences involving the martial arts are a problem that needs to be avoided at all costs — whether you’re striking or grappling, he says. “If you grapple too loose, it doesn’t work, but if you grapple too tight, it’s easy to break something. You have to respond appropriately. You have to know your ability.”

Foster the Proper Attitude in Training

Attitude plays a crucial role in the dojo, Wong says. “If you put a crank on me, I’m probably not going to train with you. If I do train with you, I’m going to make sure I break you [the next time]. That is not learning.”

Never forget that training is about learning, he adds. “Learning is about controlling movement. When you understand that, you [can exert] control to make sure he cannot move but you’re not hurting him. That is the skill of learning.”

Adopting such an attitude about training does not mean letting your guard down. “Always be prepared because you don’t know what [your opponent is] going to do,” Wong says. “He might crank your arm and hurt you, so you need to always monitor what he’s doing so you understand. Know yourself, know your enemy.”

In short, you must be aware, he explains. When he does a technique on you, flow with him so you and he can learn. If he’s a good martial artist, he will understand how to control his power so you’re not injured. If he tries something ill-advised, that’s when your awareness needs to kick in and tell you to take action for self-preservation, he says. “You need to be aware and keep an eye on your opponent.”

Use Violent Action When Necessary

Violent action enables you to use whatever skills and attributes you have in order to respond to a threatening situation right away, Wong explains. “When you attack with speed and violence and with the element of surprise, he’ll have no chance to [escalate], to pull a knife or gun.”

To do that most efficiently, you must understand the roles that time, place and method of attack play in self-defense, he says. That readiness should be in play at all times.

“In the morning, when you have not drunk your coffee and are not yet awake, are you ready?” Wong asks. “In a strange place, are you aware? If he uses a method of attack that is not the punch you [have been training to defend against], can you take action? What if he uses a knife, a gun or a stick?”

Violent action, when coupled with awareness, is the key to countering such unknowns, he says. “When you under- stand that, everything you do becomes easy.”

Stay Aware at All Times

“Whatever you do, wherever you are, you have to be pre- pared,” Wong says. “Keep an eye on people around you. You never know who they are or what they are doing, so watch their hand positioning, their expression, the bulges under their clothing, whether they are touching [certain things like their waistband]. 

“Standing where you are, be ready to attack — or not to attack. If something happens, how are you going to move? Pre-scan things so that when something happens, you’re not surprised. You’re combat-ready all the time.”

Train in a Suitable Environment

Being able to function in any environment is crucial for self-defense, he says. “We train in the open, not on a mat. We do a lot outside, as well. But we always look at safety. If a student tumbles, they might fall. Safety must come first, especially when they’re still learning about awareness.

“If you’re experienced, you’re aware. Someone can push you and you will take a step back while avoiding an obstacle. However, someone who’s just learning about awareness might not be able to avoid [the obstacle]. They can fall down and hurt their back, break their wrist, hit their head.”

master wong

Learn the Four Things

Master Wong’s final lesson harkens back to the fundamentals of philosophy. “I teach the four basic things: the purity of your intent, the focus of your will, the level of your awareness and the quality of your character,” he says. “If you have all four, you can excel at anything in life.

“Go back to the quality of your character. Is it good? Is it clean? Are you a good person? If you’re a good person, you can learn from anyone and everyone because you’re ready to absorb. You understand, you absorb, you listen. You’re aware.”

When you approach your martial art in this way, you’ll better understand yourself, your world and everything you do, he says. “Then everything will be easier because you won’t have problems with people. This is the most important thing — not just for martial arts but for everyday life.”

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This article originally appeared in a 2020 edition of Black Belt Magazine.

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