Cooperative Training vs. Competitive Training in Wing Chun

Learn about cooperative versus competitive Wing Chun training from SIfu Alex Richter in this Howcast martial arts video.

Well, in Wing Chun, as in all other martial arts, or all other athletic endeavors, you have both competitive training, and you have cooperative training. Because generally martial arts tend to be a little competitive, even if it’s not a sport-based martial art, people, especially guys, they like to get in there, they like to compete with each other, see who’s better, and unfortunately sometimes this actually prevents people from really improving, because at the end of the day, you’re not going to be attacked on the street by your Kung Fu brother or Kung Fu sister; you’re going to be attacked on the street by somebody who just wants to either take your money, take something you have, or just hurt you. So the idea is that you have a very different animal when you’re defending yourself on the street.

So if you’re in training, what’s really important in training is that you develop the skills that allow you to handle these situations. And while a lot of people think that competitive training is the way to do it, it’s actually, normally not the best way. In fact, if you look at a lot of professional fighters, you’ll find that a large part of their training is actually cooperative, skill-based training, because you need to develop skills, you need to develop attributes that you can use in fighting, you can use in self-defense. And if you’re always training competitively, you’re not going to work on the things that you’re weak at. If you’re always in a competitive relation with your partner, then you’re only going to do the things you know you can do well. You’re only going to do the things that you know can at least keep you safe, but you’re not necessarily going to work on the new skills you just learned, because you don’t have confidence in them yet, or you’re not going to work on other things that you may be weak on. So that’s why you need to have cooperative training. You need to have skill-based training. When you’re practicing something new, you need to do it slowly and correctly first.

There are basically three steps to learning anything in martial arts. The first step is you have to understand what you’re trying to do. If you don’t understand what the point of the exercise is, or the point of the drill, you’re not really going to go anywhere. The second point is to practice slowly and correctly. When you practice slowly and correctly, you allow your nervous system to take in the new movements and work them into muscle memory slowly, and as you get better, then you can go to step three, which is to train for speed or power or intensity.

But you have to do it in that order. If you haven’t done, or you haven’t the laid the groundwork to get these movements into muscle memory, and already you learned something two minutes ago and you’re trying to do it full power, full-bore, again, somebody who’s really resisting, the results may not be what you want, so better you practice it progressively. As your skill becomes better and tighter, you can tell your partner to resist a little bit more, to go a little bit harder, to give you a little bit more power, so that you can develop your skills, as well as the intensity, in a progressive way. This is how you can go from cooperative training, or skill-based training, and then eventually make it competitive training.

Non-competitive training, or cooperative training, is very important for the development of skills. Competitive training is very important for the testing of skills, but you need to develop skills that you can test. So that means the majority of your training should not be competitive. A large percentage of it should be skill-based, and then certainly, once you’ve developed those skills, you should absolutely try to have your partner suit up, or have your partner come at you full power, whatever, and then see if it really works, and whatever doesn’t work, you can go back and retool it in skill-based training. But if you only do competitive training, you’re just going to become really nervous, really tight, really tense, and always on edge, and you’re not necessarily going to be able to refine your technique.

So proper martial arts training is about finding a balance between both of them, and depending on your chosen martial art, or your chosen Wing Chun lineage, those things may vary. If you’re in a sport-based martial art, you may need to do more competitive training. If you’re in a skill-based martial art that’s for self-defense, you need to do a lot of skill training, but you still do need to test it, absolutely.