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I checked out two Wing Chun places near where I live. Both are good, with good lineages. I like both instructors. One style seems more natural to me, the other is super-traditional. Let's call the modified one "new" and the other one "old-school." If money weren't an issue, I would go with New School: it's more organized, I got hands-on instruction from the head Sifu, the place is much nicer, and has the wooden dummy and pads. Old school is in a rented room with no dummy or pads. Instructor talked to us for a while during trial but then handed us off to a senior student who led us through basic techniques.

At New School, they charge $100 entry fee and $45 for every level within each of the forms. There are 6 levels in each of the empty-handed forms, but the last level requires me to take an "instructor certificate" exam that costs $300. The wooden dummy has eight forms. I can thus expect to pay, over the course of roughly 5 years I suppose, $2,890 in these fees.

Old-school charges $100 for the end of each form, so a total of $400 including wooden dummy.

I'm torn between the two. Overall New is better, but Old seems to be good enough for my criteria (which is quite good) without ridiculous fees that I can't agree with.

So... are the heavy fees worth it for better instruction? Note that both schools have the same monthly rate, and no contracts.

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  • WOW, those fees are high!... – Sardathrion - against SE abuse Jul 2 '15 at 7:03
  • What is the monthly rate? Amortizing those gives you less then $50 per month. Instructors are entitled to eat. Also, is new school solely living from the school, where old school has a "real job"? Lot of info needed. – JohnP Jul 3 '15 at 1:08
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    Also, how many classes are available per week per school, and how many can you attend? – JohnP Jul 6 '15 at 15:57
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It is normal for Wing Chun sifus to hand off instruction to senior students. For example, despite popular conception, very little of Bruce Lee's Wing Chun training was given by Yip Man. I guess a better question is: do the senior students actually training you give you a lot of good, one-on-one, hands-on training in the "Old" school?

Understand that the ranking system is different in Wing Chun. Receiving instruction from a senior student could be, depending on the quality of the school, as beneficial as receiving instruction from a junior black belt in a Karate or TKD school.

Another consideration: it's weird to not have a dummy. Like, almost as weird as trying to learn Kendo without a shinai. If the school doesn't have a dummy, how "old-school" could it really be? Is the sifu planning on getting one (i.e. is this a new location)? Maybe the dummy is somewhere else, like at the sifu's home? How are they going to charge you $100 to learn the dummy without a dummy?

I'll edit this answer when I receive more information based on what I've expressed above.

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  • Agreed completely about the handing off to senior students. When I was training in TKD the belt system was WTF - white, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, purple+white strip, brown, red, black. We sometimes had purples and above working with blues and below due to class size, though normally it was a poom or 1-3rd Dan working with the lower ranks. Master Rob was a 4th Dan. That being said, the dummy without a dummy is also confusing to me. I say to OP go with what you're comfortable with. Does one school recognize the other if the comfort level dips below where it's just weird? – Matt Lerner Jul 1 '15 at 20:38
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As you mentioned, by your estimation, both schools are good. So it's really a question of your comfort level (do you feel you will definitely learn better from the more expensive school?) and your own finances.

The right instruction and the right type of instructor for you can have you learn things almost ten times faster than poor instruction or bad fits between instructors/students.

However, you usually have to have some significant experience with martial arts in general to pick up how well you're going to learn from someone and whether they're giving you key insights or dragging it along.

Here's some factors that you should consider to that might help you figure it out:

More students? Better network of training partners?

If one school has a lot more students, you might be able to train more often, and take advantage of more body types and personal styles to train with. McDojos can draw a LOT of students and give you that opportunity. However, the other half is you want people who are interested enough to train/practice outside of class, and that could go either way depending on the schools.

Wing Chun Dummy

If we're just looking at the testing price differences you're listing, you can buy your own wing chun dummy at what you'll be saving at the traditional school. That said, you learn more live-movement skills against actual partners, and the dummy is better for developing power and conditioning when you don't have partners.

What you SHOULD look out for from the Traditional School

The smallness of the traditional school shouldn't be a concern - Wing Chun is a close range fighting style anyway. The summer I took Wing Chun there was a tiny room in the back of a store in Chinatown we trained in. So, that's not really an issue.

The thing to watch out for with some traditional schools is that (unfortunately) some will be very abusive and cult-like. This can happen in McDojos too, but usually the money incentive limits how far the asshole behavior can go, while the traditional schools fall back on the worst parts of Chinese traditions to excuse every bad behavior. The school you were looking into might be completely like this, or not at all, but that would be the thing I'd be watching out for.

What you SHOULD look out for in the "modern" school

It's one thing to have a progression track - that makes sense and is a key part of a lot of athletic training in sports in general - but it also can be a key point of salesmanship.

The question is, how do they test your actual skill at each level? Is it just "do the form" "break some boards" "punch 1000 times"? Or, do you have to get into some serious sparring?

The trick to the McDojo is they sell you on the reassurance you will get X skill over Y time and Z dollars spent, and never actually put you in tests that genuinely test your skill, so you never realize your time (and money) has been wasted. They're very good at appearing organized, having a simple to understand "program" you follow, and it seems like it's going to be very easy to learn, and what you learn, IS easy to learn, it just might not be anything useful.

You may want to check out their sparring or watch some video if they do tournaments.

(This is not to say there aren't traditional schools with this same hustle, however, the modern schools are good at the X skill/Y time/Z dollars marketing, whereas the traditional schools sell more on "Just show up and train and be part of this select brotherhood".)

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