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We hold gradings / assessments every four months at the school. The system we use is similar to most schools in Wing Chun that hold gradings. It runs from Red Sash (Siu Lim Tao Level) to Green Sash (Chum Kiu Level) and Brown to Black Sash (Biu Gee Level and above). However, we do not wear sashes in the class at the London school. For simplicity we wear white tops for beginners to intermediate and black tops for intermediate to advanced.

Gradings are a curious thing. In a certain sense they are irrelevant. A person’s skill is what it is regardless of what examination they have taken and passed. We have a saying in Wing Chun that a person’s skill speaks through the hands. It is very possible to have someone who is at Green or Brown Sash level defeat a person who is at Black Sash Level. This is simply because some people pick up systems quicker and with more skill than others. Students like this may go on to be extremely skillful once they have “completed” the system.

It is usually the case that a student will train for three to four years to gain Black Sash level. If the student continues to train and improve he/she should eventually realise that they are still a beginner in Wing Chun. At this point it is a great joy to return fully to the basics and begin the journey of understanding at a new level as if discovering the movements again for the first time. This is a cycle that appears to continue over and over again as the years pass. Wing Chun truly is an art that never stops growing and students should always be striving to improve and push forward until their training days end. For real skill and understanding there is no substitute for training time. And the student who holds the Black Sash as the ultimate goal is busy missing the essence of what he/she is doing. With one eye on the target leaves only one eye on the task in hand.

With this in mind it’s fair to ask, what is the point of gradings? One useful aspect is that it puts the student under pressure, which often reveals mistakes that remain hidden under normal conditions. This is important because mistakes made under the stress of nothing more than an examination will be dramatically magnified should the student ever be confronted on the street.  The main point, however, is to give a student some structure to their training whilst in their early years. It helps the student and the teacher to orderly concentrate on certain aspects of the system; forms, techniques, relaxation, power and so on, at particular times in an individual’s journey. It also gives the student an extra level of notification as to where they are in the system, something to peg their progress against as they walk the Wing Chun path.

However, the real way to understand your progress is to continually train with your peers, seniors and juniors and anyone else who is happy to share their Wing Chun experience with you. This is the way Wing Chun grows, through doing, rather than by wrapping a coloured sash around the waste.