What is muscle memory? The human body, with its brain, is like a super-computer that stores information, from which it recalls to process and make decisions. That much is obvious. Of course, when you are taught something or experience an event you remember it, and though through time, sickness or injury the memory can fade. Nevertheless through repetition that memory becomes more deeply ingrained. So when you need to recall it becomes much less a conscious process and much more automatic.
This especially applies to movement. When you teach your body to do something over time the body and brain work together as a whole and become adept to the action. From this coordination, and spacial awareness are developed. With this applied learning your body effectively stores these prototype actions into “muscle memory”.
To commit a technique to muscle memory requires many hours of repetitions, either in a specific manner or by improvised actions. Two examples of committing to muscle memory are learning to ride a bike and swimming. Once you know how to do these you don’t forget even if you refrain from doing these for some time. Your stamina and fitness levels may fall, but you won’t forget how to do these entirely. It is the same in Wing Chun, once you have committed actions through Chi Sau to muscle memory these will remain with you for the rest of your life.
With time it becomes easier to store techniques into muscle memory, the body becomes more skillful at learning new moves faster and with greater skill and coordination. Physiologically and neurologically you body will change to suit how it is being used. However the rate at which this happens varies so don’t feel bad if it is not all smooth sailing, that in itself will help you body learn, you just have to keep trying.
Wing Chun demands a high degree of repetition of techniques not only in a fixed method but also more spontaneous and improvised. After all, what is shown one way can be used in many other ways. In Wing Chun, this concept enhances a student’s ability to commit actions to muscle memory and adapt to use these in many different ways and combinations. Muscle memory forms the basis for “auto-pilot” responses, which is a characteristic of Wing Chun advancement.