Learning Kung Fu is an ongoing process of instruction and practice. In time you become adept with the movements, or techniques and you understand how to do them. The first part of your Kung Fu journey focuses on the how. How to stand, how to punch, how to kick, or how to perform a form. In the context of Kung Fu it is important to learn how to do something before delving into why we do it the way we do.
In time you begin to question why. You become compelled to learn why something works, or perhaps why it doesn’t? Why doesn’t the board break when I hit it as hard as I can? Why am I off balance when using certain techniques? Or why doesn’t that joint lock work, even though I’m sure that I’m doing it the way I was taught?
Give some thought to why we use a ¾ stance for sparring instead of a forward stance? What is the purpose of a forward stance? Why do we chamber our hands when we punch in a forward stance, but not in a ¾ stance? Why does a forward and reverse punch begin vertical and switch to horizontal? Why is it often safer to move than to block?
You owe it to yourself and to your Kung Fu evolution to question things. That doesn’t mean that you should direct a continuous string of questions to your instructors; try to discover the answer for yourself first. Then examine the validity of the answer. Does it make sense from the perspective of the movement? Does it make sense from the perspective of my body style or physical limitations?
Don’t confuse yourself by asking the same question of multiple instructors. Instead, watch, listen, experiment, and form your own opinion, keeping in mind that “your opinion” may be subject to further scrutiny. This is particularly relevant for technique and self-defence. Students are often looking for a definitive answer where none exists. A joint lock can change from simply restraining to extremely damaging with a simple change in body alignment. A technique might work for a tall person, but not for a shorter person. A strong person may believe that their techniques work when it is really their strength that overcomes their opponent. When used against someone of equal strength the poor technique no longer works. Experiment and discover why something works, or does not work, for you.
Forms tend to be much more restrictive in terms of personal modification, but even there you should look for the meaning behind the moves. The nature of the animal being emulated will often give strong clues into why things are being done in the way that they are.
I don’t teach Kung Fu the same way I taught it 25 years ago, or even 10 years ago. I spend a lot of time examining, rationalizing, and understanding the “why” of almost everything, and have evolved as a martial artist because of it. Remember that instructors may not have all the answers, but most are willing to help you find the answer and perhaps answer their own “why” in the process.