Sifu Ralph Haenel, learning and teaching Wing Tsun Kung Fu since 1984
Changing lives, one punch at a time.
Book "The Reality of Self-Defense!" by Ralph Haenel
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The practical strength training guide for Wing Tsun Kung Fu (Wing Chun, Ving Tsun) practitioners and fitness enthusiasts.
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Siu-Nim-Tau, a Wing Tsun Kung Fu form for WingTsun (Wing Chun, Ving Tsun) practitioners and fitness enthusiasts.
Training notes on the journey between Kung Fu Beginner and Master INFO
Kung Fu - The Workout; an easy to follow result driven guide for beginners and fitness enthusiasts. INFO
WingTsun-CoreConcepts, Beyond tradition and technique - training concepts for Wing Tsun Kung Fu students and instructors! INFO
Wing Tsun Kung Fu Vancouver Blog
Monday, 14 November 2016
To be a beginner again. Discover the Kung Fu Secret.
Thinking of it, currently in November of 2016. It happened almost 40 years ago. I stepped for the first time into the University Judo Club in Rostock (HSG Südstadt). Somebody helped me in the locker room to figure out how to tie up that brand-new white belt. Loud noises came from the mats. We were about to be introduced to the first falling exercises (Ukemi-Waza). Just making that loud noise, slapping the mat while falling seemed very manly. Very exciting. The instructor with his washed out brown belt was preparing for his upcoming black-belt test. Judo throws, breaking balance, bleeding elbows, getting the wind knocked out of you, gasping for air, eying up what comes next, yellow belt, manly sweat in the air, orange belt, feeling almost motion sick from the sheer amount of falling exercises.
About a year later, I switched to Jiu-Jitsu. The oldest members, around 17, 18, were juggling with strange round weights (kettlebells). I was 14 years old. The about 70-year-old Sensei, Johannes Trybull, appeared on the mats, doing several falling exercises. I remember thinking how somebody that ancient, could still move this powerful. A handshake turned into a painful fingerlock, throwing me on the ground. It really hurt, but damn did I want to be able to do that to someone else. More falling exercises, now on concrete floors. Even the kettlebell dropped on toes, wasn’t really that bad. You want to learn to defend yourself? You get every now and then hurt. It was that simple. It was exciting.
1980, the first karate katas in the backyard. Long evening walks, checking the neighbourhood buildings for roof repairs, grabbing quickly a stack of roof shingles. I remember one breaking test in particular. Some fifteen roof shingles piled up, gasoline poured over it, match, fire, lights off. Guests said, that the flames went for a moment up my arm while breaking the tiles. How much cooler can you be as an 18 year old.
In 1984 I started training the Siu-Nim-Tau, chain-punches, partner exercises, exchanged letters and postcards with my future Si-Fu, Keith Kernspecht. Soon I faced my first WT instructor, a mighty 1st Technician Grade. WT people might chuckle now. It was the mid 80’s. First level TG’s were the kings. One hand still in his pants pocket, he knocked three of us young guys down. I wanted that skill.
Now it is 2016. I still enjoy showing every beginner the very basics.
To be a beginner again.
What do you do?
Ask yourself what single point you want to achieve in tonight’s class?
Help a training partner.
Show up! Get involved. Don’t wait at the sidelines.
Communicate with your training partner.
Remember the magic of the first hours of training.
Remember your goals. Did you lose sight of them?
Is the grass greener on the other side?
I see so many, even instructors jump from one martial art to another. Everywhere seeking the “thing”.
Challenge yourself. Set goals. Write them down. Ask your instructor for help.
Don’t wait to be entertained.
Find something new, even in what seems the most basic exercise.
To be a beginner again. That is the Kung Fu secret. Train hard. Ask. Make others better. Analyze yourself. Only you can make yourself good. Don’t wait for something to happen. Don’t just jump on the next bandwagon, the next trend. Kung Fu is hard work.
To be a beginner again.
Posted by ralph haenel
at 4:03 PM PST
Tuesday, 6 September 2016
Enter the Attack
Here is to the first moment when trying to defend against the attacker, trying to counter-attack him, trying to bridge the gap.
Let’s look at the three major options in case a situation is about to escalate into a full scale physical confrontation.
1. Try to dissolve it through verbal communication. Assume a non-threatening position that will protect you, yet also enables you to be ready to instantly fight the attacker.
2. Always try to walk away. Even run away. It doesn’t make you a wussie.
3. Most important: Through a combination of healthy confidence and natural awareness as the result of intense training, you learn not to be tagged as a victim in the first place, or to recognize potentially dangerous situations before they happen.
Unfortunately, in many scenarios one or more of the following four problems occur.
1. The defender, the good guy is trying to just stop the attack, still in disbelief about what’s about to unfold, holding the arms of the attacker, holding the attacker at arms length, ending up being overrun by sudden attacks.
2. The attempt to traditionally defend without major continuous counter-attacks, thus not stopping the attacker. Same result as in the first point.
3. The good guy is attacking the assailant without sufficient defenses, for example chain punches only, ending up seriously hurt or worse.
4. The attempt of applying a trained drill from beginning to end, not responding in the moment, not adapting to changes. Chaos erupts.
What ought to be our goals? Let’s call them the good guy action ideals!
1. Bridging the distance safely without getting hit.
2. Timing one’s actions well, causing us to be a step ahead. Instead of speeding up and losing control.
3. Maintaining balance throughout via well-coordinated hand- and footwork.
4. Delivering powerful strikes born out of functional strength and fluid motion while controlling the opponent to disable further attacks.
5. Being able to combat violence without getting caught in a jittery, shaky state of quickly losing control.
Conclusion: It’s not really much we want to succeed at, or? Yes, it is difficult, but not impossible.
It is part of all of our beginners’ classes, to point out that the attacker is likely taller, stronger, faster, more skilled, plus violent and pumped up, not afraid of getting hurt, most definitely without hesitation ready to hurt and injure you. Want me to top that? He might even enjoy hurting you, dragging it out, playing with his prey. By the way, that’s you.
It is always better to prepare for the worst, assume the worst, paint the most drastic picture of what could happen, imagining the adrenalin monster type of attacker.
Now a few often occurring technical problems.
1. “Reaching” across the distance, ending up being grabbed, pulled or pushed.
2. Delivering only a few techniques or a combination, not enough to control or break the rhythm of the attacker.
3. Not having enough functional strength, ergo lacking striking power to stop the mugger.
4. “Holding” static defenses for that moment too long, ended up being flooded with attacks.
5. With neither defensive nor offensive actions or a mix of them affecting he structure of the opponent. Nothing left to stop the bout.
6. The preference of using the upper-hand, “lifting’ counters over the arms of the aggressor, disconnecting the imperative coordination of hand- and footwork, the engine of our desired whole-body mobility.
We also say during beginner’s classes that in the ideal world scenario our first action should
1. stop the first attack against us dead in its track,
2. take away space to carry out a second attack,
3. not allow the time to further attack us,
4. stealing the opportunity by driving the attacker instantly into defensive mode. That lack of defenses on the part of the assailant should lead to his knock-out.
While possibly never loving it, we learn to train in a constantly elevating stressful scenario, advancing into what I call “the eye of the storm”. Survival under pressure.
Against vs. With – The Yin and Yang of entering the attack
The biggest problem is often the fight against the attacker, that we are in fact saying “NO” to the attacks. What does that mean?
In our Wing Tsun we strive for a training of becoming one with the attacker, using the strength of his attacks, the speed of his attacks, the direction of his attacks. With him against him.
1. Fluidity turns into smoothness, becomes speed.
2. Connecting all muscle groups, toes to fingertips, creates whiplash-like delivery of power.
3. Sliding along the arms, typically learned in the wooden dummy form, pulling and pushing with concave and convex ‘yielding’, tactile sensitivity turns into elasticity.
Speed and power and elasticity morphing into being alert in the moment, delivering instant and complete response, which can be of a defensive or offensive nature, also at the same time.
Yin and Yang.
Yes, instead of No. Working ‘with’ the attacker, not merely against him.
Paper, or in this case your screen, is patient and allows for the coolest and most powerful descriptions of the skill we are striving for. Some may even sound like platitudes. It’s up to the right training and learning methods to turn empty words into reliable skills.
Let this be a reminder that perfection is only an ideal. Let’s enjoy the daily challenges of our training. Creative training with demanding yet supportive training partners.
Feel where you can go. Enter the attack.
Posted by ralph haenel
at 9:47 PM PDT
Tuesday, 30 August 2016
Old programs or new programs, where do I miss out?
The other day I was having a conversation with a student. He pointed out: “Some days I don't feel like learning new material, but would prefer to practice the earlier student programs. Despite that, on those days, I have remained on the advanced side of the class to learn the new material because I fear that if I miss out, then I won't be keeping up to date with the advanced programs.”
When you are not just showing up for classes, but analyze your progress, when you initiate connecting the dots and start to see the “big picture”, many of us begin to question how much time and effort we spend on which part of our training.
Whichever program we work on, we are sometimes frustrated that thus far "it" doesn't work, that it even feels complicated. We may not yet see its importance within the framework of the martial art. It might not make much sense to us. Any program takes time to show its effects in our performance. Many parts of the curriculum are amazing functional strength building and movement potential building workout routines. But just like going to the gym to build muscles, to get fit, to lose weight, to gain muscle mass, it all takes time and patience plus the right training tools. And of course a knowledgeable, skilled trainer, instructor, … Sifu.
You also have to take into account that you might not realize the interaction between the building blocks of the syllabus. Either way, you need an instructor who knows what he/she is doing. Someone who is actively keeping the program outline alive. Someone who understands how you learn, guides you as to what to train and is a good teacher.
Here are a few ideas to help you train a wider bandwidth of programs. What have members of our school been doing?
1. During group-meets of like-minded training partners outside of regular classes, many of the varying participants over the past years requested to work on very specific, often earlier programs. Typically, one member is in charge of the little group.
2. Quite a few also meet outside of group classes with one selected training partner at a time, to work on different programs.
3. In regular group classes I put advanced practitioners in charge, 20 minutes or longer at a time, to work with beginners or intermediate students in their programs. Learning through teaching. Plus, one doesn’t miss the advanced programs, when training and teaching only selected and time-limited class segments.
4. I often recommend enthusiastic trainees to start their own meet-up on days and times selected by them. Then they can determine the program they want the small group to work on.
5. Whatever programs I teach, train in, work on, I often include variations of earlier programs, to make myself see and continue to test, even question the evolving connections between the programs.
The extremely helpful point I discovered eventually in my own teaching career is, that by working on advanced programs, we begin to understand earlier programs sooner better, even if we don't train them for a while. This of course requires the continuous analysis of one’s training and progress. It also entails a critical approach to begin to visualize the connections between learning, training and teaching methodology of the technical programs.
Posted by ralph haenel
at 10:17 PM PDT
Monday, 15 August 2016
Testing, a few experiences in Wing Tsun Kung Fu and Life
I have already written extensive papers on the how and why and when and what of testing. Today I want to simply reminisce about a few experiences, which might help you to review your own goals and expectations. Four experiences. Four questions. How would you answer? How would you deal with it?
Coming from West Germany, my first WT instructor, Sifu Leo Czech visited his family near East Berlin. I was invited for the day, to attempt to pass my first two grading tests. Shortly after arriving I was told to start with the Siu-Nim-Tau form, to “warm up”. My Si-Hing was a bit exhausted from his trip and wanted to stretch out for a little. I ended up doing the form slowly, uninterrupted and concentrated for over two and a half hours. Sweating all-over and with shaking legs, the testing started. Unfortunately for me, one of my Si-Hing’s East German relatives was a high school boxing coach. For all who don’t know the back story, I have to mention that Leo Czech was earlier in his life a professional boxer (264 fights) in the camp of Gustav „Bubi“ Scholz. So, what does a former professional boxer turned Kung Fu instructor show his relative who is a boxing coach? He demonstrates how powerful Chinese boxing is. With what? Better ask with whom! I had to attack him for hours, so that he could show it all. Did I mention, I had an infected tooth in the morning, could barely get my teeth together. No way that I would have missed that day. The first punch under my jaw, I saw stars and almost fainted in pain. By the end of the day, I had received my first and second student grade in Wing Tsun Kung Fu, my upper body was blue, black, green, red and all colours in between. I could hardly breath, shallow painful breaths, and my chest and my rib cage were so sore, but no problem with my teeth.
Would you train that hard?
My second WT instructor, Sifu Peter Vilimek, had crossed the border from West into East Berlin, disguised as tourist. That day was my test for my sixth student grade. Quite a big affair in the 80’s. I had to get into my stance, left arm in Fok-Sau, low elbow with continuous forward pressure and bent wrist, right arm in Tan-Sau with continuous forward pressure, stretching the hand and fingers. Now switching Tan-Sau to Bong-Sau and back. And repeat, for the next hour or so. He sat down, started reading an East German newspaper, looked over to me every now and then, complaining that my Fok lacked pressure, that my stance wasn’t grounded enough, not sufficient knee pressure, that my Bong-Sau was too sloppy. Imagine how you feel after over an hour. Sweat running, shoulders burning, arms shaking, forearm muscles cramping, feet aching.
Do you have the patience?
It was my second visit to Italy, ready for the annual EWTO summer seminar in Livorno. Second morning, languages spoken Italian, Danish, Swedish, German, English and more. My Si-Fu asked me if I had taught before. Naturally I answered, yes, mentioning proudly that ever since I started to learn WT in 1984, I also had to teach from day one. He said, second question, do you want to become a more advanced instructor? Sure. Of course. Next he said, OK, good luck, teach this group. Tell me in the afternoon what you did.
I had no idea what grade any of the guys had. Or even who they were. Didn’t know what to do. So, I thought I might as well pretend. Greeted everyone, made up a topic on the spot, started to split the group into teams and got going.
Can you respond in the moment? Can you make a decision and go with it?
A large school gym in Eckernfoerde in the heart of Schleswig-Holstein near the Baltic Sea coastline. The local instructor, Sifu Peter “Piet” Thietje. Some 120 students had arrived. Everybody was waiting for Si-Fu Kernspecht. Quick phone call from Si-Fu that due to an urgent family matter he had to turn around. Quick decision on his side, you guys do the seminar in my name. Piet gave clear instructions, we started the seminar as if it is the most normal thing in the world. Back then, there were no other grandmasters in the EWTO and Si-Fu did teach just about all seminars himself. It was a great experience.
At the castle Si-Fu once talked about this being a great way to test current and future instructors. Can they display authority? Do they know how to teach, let along a big crowd? Can they speak in front of many dozens or even hundreds of students? Can they employ the right program tools? Can they make a seminar a great experience for all attendees? Are they a bit of an entertainer as well?
Can you leave your comfort zone?
P.S.: Other instructors at other occasions failed. They began to scratch their head, mumbling that SiFu probably wants them to do this or that, not providing a clear topic for the seminar, second-guessing exercises when being asked, leaving groups of people stand around, contradicting themselves while attempting to teach.
Wing Tsun supports you in developing a reliable self-confidence. You gain a better posture through improved awareness and training of new movement pattern. You don’t easily become a victim once you have learned to be mindful and observant.
Wing Tsun Kung Fu, the adventure is in you.
Train Wing Tsun to its full potential.
Discover your movement potential.
Have fun and train hard.
Posted by ralph haenel
at 8:48 PM PDT
Sunday, 14 August 2016
Learning the Biu-Tze form was a big disappointment – … and Thanks to the late Sifu Thomas Roggenkamp
Well, many of you know my blog posts and training notes. Stay with me until I reveal the real meaning behind this headline.
In the early 90’s I did a lot of Wing Tsun related traveling. I followed my Si-Fu from the North to the South, West to the East throughout Germany. One week I learned from him in Italy, a couple of weeks earlier I joined his seminar in Copenhagen, Denmark. A few months later I visited the beautiful WT school in Kuesnacht, Switzerland. A month after the Langenzell Castle I was on the way to Salzburg in Austria. It was fun and hard work at the same time. And yes, it cost busloads of money. I was a WingTsun fanatic. Here, I admit it.
One of the very exciting parts of the four years long experience between 1990 and 1993 was to meet the majority of SiFu Kernspecht’s first generation students. To get to know the WT variations from Sifu Edel to Sifu Roggenkamp, from Sifu Dingeldein to Sifu Avci, from Sifu Ringeisen to Sifu Ataseven, Sifu Mannes, Sifu Sabri, Sifu Reimers, Sifu Boztepe, Sifu Gefeke, Sifu Schembri, Sifu Koenig. All that alongside learning from my main instructors, Sifu Vilimek in Berlin and Sifu Pfaff at the castle.
Also standing out in my memories, the meet-ups, quiet talks and big hugs from the late Sifu Alexander Fenz.
Some of my training partners in those years were Juergen Kestner, Gilbert Boutoumou, Gernot Redondo, Peter Grusdat, Michele Stellato and many others.
There was the one or other occasion during those travels, when my SiFu asked me jokingly if I am stalking him.
Very early on Sunday morning, August 15th in 1993, I was with a friend on the Autobahn from Berlin to Hamburg. It was pretty warm. I had started with WT in 1984, so after nine years I was very much looking forward to learn that day the complete Biu-Tze form from my SiFu, the last part of the second Technician Grade program.
When arriving in Hamburg, everybody in a very narrow room was about to start the Siu-Nim-Tau form until SiFu arrived, who was stuck on another stretch of the Autobahn. No time to get changed. I started in my jeans and a white T-shirt. Which leads to the funny part of the day. A tenth student grade saw my white T-shirt and came to correct my Wu-Sau, later a Gam-Sau, then my chain punches a little bit. My friend who knew that I was here to learn the last part of the second TG, he almost peed his pants trying not to laugh out loud and could barely contain himself. We had a little break. I changed into my official TG uniform. The 10th student grade turned white in the face, came to me and wanted to apologize. So, I told him there is nothing to be apologetic about. He just wanted to help and was nice about.
The seminar was five hours long, with a one-hour break in between. I happened to be the only one that day for this (at the time) advanced program. Sifu Roggenkamp suggested to SiFu that there is single room downstairs. If I remember right, a part of the building was under construction. The room I was lead to, so that nobody could watch the instruction of the third form, seemed to be former kitchen space. It had several doors and pass-throughs, service windows, as one can find between a kitchen and a lunch room. Why am I describing that? My SiFu could suddenly sneak up on me through any of the doors, or look through any of the windows from other rooms. When he made his rounds at seminars, from group to group of trainees, he spotted who was taking it easy, who was talking, who wasn’t training what they were supposed to, snuck up and “apologized” for interrupting, saying that he would be back, when they weren’t talking o taking a break. This happened to you once and never again.
SiFu had shown me the first two parts of the Biu-Tze form, he walked away and I started practicing. Nonstop. Sweat was running down my face, legs, arms. The shirt was sticking to my skin. But I was training the third from!
SiFu and Sifu Thomas Roggenkamp can speak Low German (Plattdeutsch). As people from the coast, both had a bit of different, better connection. Thomas was also a very funny guy. Later that day, during the break, he was standing outside having a smoke. Students walked up and very politely asked about how smoking and practicing a sport go together. Sifu Thomas answered that first of all Wing Tsun is not a sport and then told two of them to attack him. He inhaled the smoke, held his breath, struck and threw them down within a couple of seconds, exhaled the smoke and continued to answer: “You see, it’s not a problem!” In his dry, North German attitude and in Plattdütsch. Only Germans might understand that.
Back to the Biu-Tze instruction. SiFu Kernspecht and Sifu Roggenkamp were talking in great detail about the Biu-Tze form, what and how SiGung Leung Ting has been teaching the form in different time periods, how he applied the technical solutions, what observable skill other masters did not display. They talked about how my SiFu had tricked his SiFu, SiGung Leung Ting, into revealing details of the form and its applications. Sifu Thomas had the uncanny ability via a bit of “Klönsnak op Platt”, speaking low German that means, to get busloads of information out of our SiFu Kernspecht. Whenever both left, I hastily wrote down every single detail, even the ones I didn’t get, didn’t understand at the time.
SiFu explained more to Sifu Thomas that (at that time at least) he trained all three elbow strikes three times, left right left and then right left right. Not just the first one. All three. He pointed out, that key exercises in the forms were done at least three times, underlining their value within the form. Just think about the changing form TanSau to HuenSau to WuSau to FokSau in the third part of the SiuNimTau form.
SiFu Kernspecht continued to talk about seeing the elbow strikes initially as stretching exercises, feeling all the connected muscles groups. Just like getting the pumped up feeling during weight training. How the first form trains the muscles, ligaments, tendons and fascia tissue of the shoulder, elbow and wrist. How the Cham-Kiu follows building functional strength via the mobility of the ankles, knees and hips. How eventually the third form connects the upper three ‘engines’ and the lower three ‘engines’ via the spine, the ‘seventh joint’.
Older Wing Tsun practitioners will remember how the work of Walter Packi (biokinematik.com) found its way into the training methodology in the EWTO via Dr. Osama Sabri. Later in Canada I found via clinical rehab specialists the confirmation as to how our WT Chi-Sau training and our form training effects the Fascia tissue and with that the building of Wing Tsun specific functional strength. Many people are strong, few have real power.
But back then in 1993. I only saw the techniques. I was only interested in the form. I didn’t get it yet, how the form will change my whole-body motion, mobility.
Later I remembered letters from Eberhard Schneider, the author of the German book “Strength training for Kung Fu and Karate”. Always checking out trends, he at one point compared the WT form training as motion specific strength training to body resistance strength training, a somewhat new trend at the time. Eberhard Schneider was very kind, sent me copies of his book, and many personal letters into East Germany.
SiFu Kernspecht showed Sifu Thomas how elements of the Biu-Tze Chi-Sau sections form elasticity, how it allows the whole body to deliver whiplash-like fluid power. Chi-Sau sections are Wing Tsun’s two-man forms that organize the strategies and tactics of the one-man forms into a cooperative training exercise which enables students to train via the technical solutions in each form the Wing Tsun concepts. If done right, a very valuable tool.
SiFu Kernspecht was hitting, elbowing, “cutting”, “slashing”, throwing, hook-punching Sifu Thomas. He showed how it starts with an upright, yet deeply rooted stance from the SiuNimTau, continues with horizontal mobility from the Cham-Kiu, vertical options from the Biu-Tze form. How we initially defend, control and counter-attack, then via the Biu-Tze tools attack the attacker directly.
While I stood somewhat invisible in the corner, watching, trying to get what was going on, SiFu left. Now even Sifu Thomas wrote something down, what apparently didn’t happen very often. Just to make small talk I remarked how cool all that demoing was. Now Thomas chuckled and said: “You see, now SiFu didn’t even notice how I got him going, to reveal that he is currently working on applying the ideas from the double knives form.” He was very pleased.
I was nodding as if I knew what was going on. But I made my notes, which later helped, once I had learned different double knives forms.
At the end of the day I was disappointed. As just about everybody else, I learned the Biu-Tze form in the late 80’s from SiGung Leung Ting’s video “Authentic Wing Tsun”. I had learned from the poster. That day, to me it seemed I had only learned what I knew already. So, really nothing new. Disappointment.
It took me years to realize, how all the stories SiFu Kernspecht told Sifu Thomas, all the tips he gave, all the demos, all the background ideas, mentioning of concepts, all that delivered for me an incredible wealth of information. I was truly lucky to have had that day. Big Thanks to the late Sifu Thomas Roggenkamp, it made a huge difference.
Posted by ralph haenel
at 3:00 PM PDT
Updated: Sunday, 14 August 2016 5:29 PM PDT
Saturday, 13 August 2016
Movement potential - The evolution of Tan-Sau from the Siu-Nim-Tau form to the Double Knives
Sometimes we all get lost in exercises, trying to make sense of where it all leads. Why is the Siu-Nim-Tau the first form and not the third? What are the conceptual differences between the Cham-Kiu and the Wooden Dummy form? Hey, it’s not obvious to everybody. Even models of explanation can vary greatly from lineage to lineage.
How does the curriculum set our path in Wing Tsun? Others have it easier. Runners. When you run, you can check the time or the distance. Fitness enthusiasts. When you lift weights, you can count the reps and sets. Sport-oriented martial arts. You measure your success in wins and losses and trophies.
But a self-defense system like Wing Tsun? What do you do? How do you measure your progress? You really don’t want to get into the habit of counting bodies. Just to be on the safe side, I am joking.
You need a unique instructor, a real martial artist. Somebody who can explain and demonstrate the big picture. I learned for 16 years in the probably largest Kung Fu organization, in the EWTO under my instructor, Si-Fu Keith R. Kernspecht. I learned how to teach, how to analyze training methods, how to review progress. My Si-Fu is until this very day living the idea, to always question everything, to never stand still, to keep learning, to research.
The German-engineered Wing Tsun Kung Fu grew over the decades through the feedback of thousands of instructors, bringing in their feedback from teaching tens of thousands of people, feeding off their prior experiences, being black belts in other martial arts, having been instructors in other martial arts, having had the experience of competing in the ring or on the mats. Their feedback also shaped Wing Tsun’s learning, training and teaching methods.
I am using a certain imagery at various stages of teaching the respective student and advanced programs to accompany the technical instructions. For example, the following line-up:
idea -> technique -> movement -> whole-body motion -> concepts
In the beginning an exercise generates an idea of what should be done. The idea morphs eventually into a solid technique. The technique becomes a (still limited) movement, an application. More ideas are being generated. Comparative learning and training creates now more complex yet simple whole-body motions, delivering defense and offensive components. And yes, ‘complex yet simple’ is not an abstract term. Via movement and tactics and strategies, we begin to form concepts.
In the big picture, look at it this way. Wing Tsun teaches us initially techniques. The technical drills teach us ideas of how to defend ourselves. The ideas grow into reliable techniques, into movement, into whole-body motions and so the techniques begin to teach us concepts. The concepts teach us Wing Tsun, the martial ART.
Oh, the ART, the martial art! Is that now some weird abstract, pretentious babbling?
What is that, the ART? I for example continue to grow my martial artistic abilities through challenges like:
- performing in the smallest space, until failing.
- I perform, for my own progress, at the slowest speed possible, until failing.
- I train with the lowest amount of functional strength, until failing.
I limit myself to specific responses. For example:
- I respond only with defensive actions, until failing.
- I limit my response to all the punches the system offers. Nothing else, until failing.
- I solely employ palm-strikes.
- I answer with different Fak-Saus only.
I train Chi-Sau, standing only on my toes or my heels, until failing.
Never stand still. Make your training enjoyable. Challenge yourself.
Here is another example. I often demonstrate the Wing Tsun concepts by performing my ideas of the evolution of Tan-Sau and Bong-Sau throughout all six Wing Tsun forms. Which of course causes some to respond to me that I am still thinking too much in techniques. HELLO! Those are demonstrations and explanations of concepts. Of course you have to make them visible via easy to understand technical drills.
The following is not complete, not exclusive. I mention only some, limited ideas.
Tan-Sau is on the Siu-Nim-Tau level a defensive action, that can teach us about absorbing force, the training and use of functional strength, a well-balanced stance, positions and angles as guidelines for future movement.
Tan-Sau on the Cham-Kiu level allows us sliding, shifting, turning of our stance from the point of contact, while maintaining defensive positions as flexible shields that provide us with a certain ‘crumble zone’.
The Biu-Tze form forms a fluid whiplash-like Tan-Sau that turns into a powerful attack (Chan-Sau), past the attacks, attacking the attacker. Sorry, it’s much more fun in class when I say: “Now repeat that ten times!” What used to be a defensive Bong-Sau can turn now into a continuous folding elbow strike, turning Biu-Tze-Sau and it goes on.
In the Wooden Dummy form, the active Tan-Sau can turn into a tool that shocks the attacker on contact, sending his structure into tense resistance, lowering the number of options he thought he had, allowing us to move into and attack his blind spots.
The two weapons forms can wonderfully show the physics behind the positions and angles, showing horizontal, vertical, diagonal, spiral planes of motion in straight and round and curved pattern. You will find your Tan or Bong in your long pole or double knives training. Your performance has transformed into concepts with limitless options.
Our one-man forms have archived ideals of techniques to transport the knowledge of concepts, strategies and tactics.
In our two-man forms, aka Chi-Sau sections, we begin to train initially via technical drills. These ideal example scenarios further the development of concepts. The concepts guide our responses, rather than trying to make specific techniques fit.
What does that mean? Here I often jokingly ask someone to question me what day it is:
“What day is today?”
My answer: “I am cold and it is 8pm.”
Result of this mini conversation, confused faces. Then I am explaining what I mean. That we should not wait with pre-set answers (techniques) to answer questions (attacks) that we might not understand, or that change in the moment.
Remember, initially we train technical drills. Got to start somewhere. Then we begin to understand the concepts. Then the concepts will allow us to work in the moment. This of course is an ideal, for the master.
What are Chi-Sau sections? Two-man forms of the Wing Tsun system, where each section includes a set of attacks, defenses, counter-attacks, counter defenses. Most common reoccurring scenarios, happening between two fighters have been organized into sections, each section carrying concepts, strategies and tactics as derived from our one-man forms aka Siu-Nim-Tau, Cham-Kiu and so on.
There are seven Siu-Nim-Tau / Cham-Kiu Chi-Sau sections, four Biu-Tze Chi-Sau sections and eight Wooden Dummy Chi-Sau sections. In the international Wing Tsun organizations it became at one point necessary to teach a large number of students.
Some call it WingTsun nonsense. Well, at some point in the past some Wing Chun, Ving Tsun, Wing Tsun master formed and called a set of movements for the first time the Siu-Nim-Tau form a one-man form. Then you should call that nonsense as well. Like any tool, one-man or two-man forms alike, can be wrongly trained or interpreted.
Forms, one-man or two-man forms are tools, designed to archive knowledge and skill, to enable capable instructors to transport information to the next generation of students.
I often get questions, asking me if one should rather defend as the first two forms teach us, or if it’s better to attack with the Biu-Tze tools, or if one should employ the pre”formed” Wooden Dummy drills.
My answer: “NO!”
The point is, that especially under stress you cannot just choose one layer of your movement pattern.
You don’t want to waste time choosing. Period.
All the forms, Chi-Sau, Lat-Sau, FORM you into YOUR version of a martial artist. You might have your personal preferences, how you perform. But that’s it. Just like weights in the gym, paired with the right training for you, they will make you fit, or strong, or build, whatever your goal is. But in the end, the weights are still only your tools. Same as your techniques. They are only tools on your journey. As the lifting of weights can make you strong, so the training of different movement pattern will make you move, well differently, offer more variety, better and more economical options.
If a runner is running on asphalt, does this mean he shouldn’t run in the forest, run an obstacle course, do some sprints?
Don’t limit yourself. Put some variety into your life.
Your instructor should be able to demonstrate, show examples of the different layers, the facets of Wing Tsun.
“You are only as strong as your brain let's you be. So let's unleash it.”
The different sets of Chi-Sau sections teach you movement pattern, the development of (WingTsun) functional strength, and the ability to deliver that power. If you haven’t trained these pattern, your brain is not likely to let you have the movement pattern.
Change your habits. Learn new movement pattern, as defined in our one-man and two-man forms (Chi-Sau sections). Find out the WHY behind these pattern.
I have to quote Perry one more time. I didn’t want to re-word that quote. Here it is:
“What's movement? Behaviour.
Pain (getting hit – I added that.) is a request for change. A change in your behaviour.
Change how you feel and you change behaviour.
Change behaviour and change movement.
Change movement and you change your life.”
Leave out the training on the Biu-Tze level. Miss the Wooden Dummy Chi-Sau. And you will limit yourself. It’s like saying that you train already on different machines in the gym and that is why you don’t need kettlebells or body resistance training.
Don’t get stuck in dead repetitions without meaning. Chi-Sau sections trained right, are not useless partner dances. Techniques are scenarios to transport concepts, strategies and tactics. The cycles of attacks and defenses or attacks and counter-attacks are molds that mold your very own (owned) movement pattern in a variety of similar scenarios.
Wing Tsun Kung Fu, the adventure is in you.
Train Wing Tsun to its full potential.
Discover your movement potential.
Have fun and train hard.
Posted by ralph haenel
at 8:10 PM PDT
Updated: Saturday, 13 August 2016 9:41 PM PDT
Monday, 1 August 2016
Wing Tsun Kung Fu seminar in Victoria, BC - Sunday, June 19th 2016
Topic "WingTsun-CoreConcepts, the blueprint for Knock-Out Self-Defense Skills"
I followed once again an invitation by Sifu Ray Van Raamsdonk to visit his Wing Chun school in Victoria on Vancouver Island.
The main idea of the Wing Tsun Kung Fu seminar was the improvement of whole-body movement, the non-stop coordination of hand and footwork, fluid seamless motion and an increased awareness of using all muscle groups in sequence from fingertips to toes.
Before I go into details, the big Kung Fu secret will be mentioned at the end of this post.
Throughout all parts of the seminar I made it clear, that any techniques or technical drills are only tools to further improve sense of timing and distance, developing power from any level of physical strength, being able to use the power aka Wing Tsun’s functional strength, maintain balance in motion and more.
Wing Tsun is Kung Fu. Kung Fu is Chinese Boxing. Eastern Boxing or Western Boxing, physics remain the same. Strategies and tactics are different due to different circumstances. No Tan-Sau or Wing Tsun vs. Wing Chun vs. Ving Tsun discussion will save the day for you, unless you have knockout power and move well.
During the initial seminar warm-up, we worked on only two exercises, showing the potential of the Wing Tsun forms to transform any level of physical strength into usable functional strength, working ligaments, tendons, muscle and most importantly the fascia tissue.
We then worked slow, yet intense on Wing Tsun pushing exercises to point out the importance of relaxation, distance, timing and balance while learning to use all seven 'engines'.
Several times during the seminar I explained the 'evolution' of the technical tools of the Wing Tsun forms, recognizing the movement suggestions therein.
We continued with arm grabbing solutions, NOT as self-defense techniques, but how to use them to become aware of linear, round, circular and spiral motions in Wing Tsun. Delivering powerful strikes vertical, horizontal or diagonal and every angle in between. The enormous variety of movement planes in Wing Tsun is a fantastic tool to improve one's performance.
All participants resumed with one of my teaching methods, the Wing Tsun 'weapons chambers' as part of the WingTsun-CoreConcepts, a blueprint for better learning, training and teaching. We looked into one weapons chamber, WT’s punching methods, drawing inspiration from punches out of all six forms.
Can you list all punches in the different Wing Tsun forms?
Do you know how to use all the different punches?
Are you truly using different punches, depending on the scenario? Or do you fall back into chain punches? What chain punches are, what the chain-punching exercise is supposed to build, is a different story for a different time.
I had an amazing time to work with so many enthusiastic people. Thank you for the invitation, Ray. Thanks to the Vancouver gang for joining me on this day-trip.
Here in no particular order, a few more pointers from the seminar.
With simple examples I pointed out the Wing Tsun specific functional strength training exercises in plain sight within our forms. The fourth set of the WT Siu-Nim-Tau form served as the example of the day.
Techniques are like preview still-frames of a movie to be shown in the near future.
Techniques are only the tools to create skill.
Techniques are archived as ideal A-to-B examples in our traditional forms, which were formed in times prior to 8mm or video recordings.
Dissect the ideal techniques to find out what the archives aka forms tell us about strategies, techniques, movement, power generation, coordination and more.
There is far more to the forms; but that is material for another time.
Would we expect a newbie to bench-press 300 pounds in the gym? Of course not. But some expect a weaker person to get out the grip of a taller and significantly stronger person. The weaker person initially needs time and detailed instruction on how to move, how to employ the stronger legs and whole upper-body. The weaker person has to learn about angles, moving around joints, lifting or lowering one’s stance and many finer points behind the techniques.
Remember the penny on the floor?
Start training without a Klingon death-grip and at a very slow speed.
I am often using the following example:
On the floor in front of me is a very heavy container. A strong person picks it up without a problem. Then I attempt to pick it up and fail, since I am physically not strong enough.
It doesn't matter what advice the strong guy would give me, how to grip the container, how to lift from my legs. Since I am not strong enough, I simply cannot lift it.
Wishful thinking doesn’t do it. Same as for punching power. I cannot think my punch stronger. It doesn’t do anything to ‘want’ or to ‘try’ to punch stronger.
You need the right training methods and a supervising and motivating instructor, similar to getting truly strong in the gym.
We can develop a sufficient amount of functional (Wing Tsun) strength, aka access to the right muscle groups, plus the right functional strength training within our Wing Tsun training.
This can be done in a very specific Chi-Sau training, which is practiced very slow, very focused and with very little pressure.
Funny enough, this particular Chi-Sau training developed out of misunderstood traditional WT Chi-Sau training of the 80's.
If the power transfer is weak, the best kinetic chain cannot improve the output. If one has a lot of (Wing Tsun!!) power, then the right kinetic chain does make a difference, enabling you to deliver it.
The three-layered approach
Too often do I find training partners fight each other’s effort to improve. Here a simple example:
Partner A delivers a punch
Partner B is supposed to control and fight back via a Pak-Sau & Punch combination.
Now Partner A begins to push with his punch against the Pak-Sau, or begins off the bat to trick the partner and punch differently.
GIVE EACH OTHER TIME AND OPPORTUNITY.
Start the exercise slow and without strength, meaning without wrestling each other, without speeding up. Train mindful. Focus here on the technical components.
When all the technical components work, once you know what you are doing and why, when distance, timing, mobility, balance, hand- and foot-work coordination kicks in, then we add some speed.
When the technical aspect works and some added speed is OK, then we begin to add some power.
Whenever the second layer of speed turns the performance into struggle, “turn off” the speed and train again in slow motion.
When the technical part and the speed works, but the adding of power turns it all into a grappling match, “turn off” strength. Maybe it’s not yet real power, aka functional Wing Tsun strength. Maybe the strength you think you are feeling is still tension and resistance.
Fine-tune your supportive training with each other, until the sum of all three layers has built fluid mobility, elastic whole-body motion and targeted knock-out power.
What now about the Kung Fu secret I mentioned in the beginning? Cross training, checking out other martial arts, listening to different teachers is all good and important, at one point at least. But you need to follow initially a style, a system, a teacher, to build a base of reliable skills and knowledge. Otherwise you keep stacking up somewhat useless information and techniques, without truly changing or influencing your performance.
What’s important in the gym? The weights, or the right training with those weights that makes you stronger, fitter? Weights, techniques, … No difference in a martial art. Don’t collect techniques or instructors. Find the right instruction and training environment for yourself and improve. Ask questions. Train hard and consistent.
A good instructor is pushed by the continuous progress of his students. A good instructor reviews his teaching, learning and training methods. A good instructor never stops learning. A good instructor helps the student to connect the dots, until the martial turns into an art, a martial art. Along the way you learn how to avoid confrontation, how not to fight and also how to defend yourself.
Posted by ralph haenel
at 6:29 PM PDT
Thursday, 21 January 2016
Five forms of training that enable you to achieve your goals
1. Group classes
The most common form of training is the attendance of group classes. Going step by step through our student and later advanced programs, we work through interconnected exercise groups. From the aspect of self-defense, to a level of self-discovery it leads many to the deeper studies of the martial ART of Wing Tsun Kung Fu.
Different training partners make up the value of the group class experience. You will work in a cooperative and non-cooperative environment. You will deal with taller, shorter, heavier, stronger, weaker, more experienced training partners. You learn to express yourself. To say what you need to exercise, to speak up, and build a healthy level of confidence. Improve your posture. Become aware of your surroundings among many other benefits.
2. Private classes
In private training your local Sifu is typically working on your personalized training goals. I focus very much on our specific Chi-Sau exercise methods that allow you to transform any level of physical strength into functional strength, while improving properties like distance, timing, balance, mobility and more. I will push you past limits you thought you won’t even be able to touch.
3. Seminar training
In typically 6+ hours of intensive seminars we go in a very unique atmosphere through a whole complex of connected topics, to review past training and set the course for the next months of training.
4. Meetups with training partners
Outside of group-, private- and seminar training you can meet up with like-minded training partners, compare notes, discuss past classes, dissect the issues behind exercises and help each other to improve. Exchange different viewpoints. Listen to each other.
5. Solo training
Make a plan. Print it out. Hang it up. Make yourself accountable. Set a weekly plan for your own solo training. It can even be mere minutes a day, five minutes here, three minutes there.
Even Chi-Sau exercises can be trained one-sided, kind of a shadow boxing, imagining the other half of the exercises. Include targeted and specialized strength of fitness training.
All five forms of training are important to your personal progress. We all lead busy lives, are consumed by a massive workload, attempt a balanced family life, get overwhelmed by information overload and the possibilities of social media connections.
Unless you work six days a week, 16 hours a day, there will always be some time.
One of our members works late, almost every single evening. He still comes to group classes, even if there is only half an hour left. Many others would just go home and be lazy. Edmond is my hero. And he is married. It is possible.
Another one works, is married, has a child, on top teaches another hobby of his, Salsa dancing, AND comes to Wing Tsun classes when possible. He made it due to his steady commitment even into the advanced team of Wing Tsun Kung Fu Vancouver.
Even I don’t know how Sebastian does it. But he does. It is possible! No excuses.
Posted by ralph haenel
at 8:23 PM PST
Updated: Thursday, 21 January 2016 8:44 PM PST
In pain, can’t train?
Sixty-two year old Ilse, plus 3 other examples tell you to do something. Don’t wait for the perfect day.
Chances are that you will encounter a pulled muscle, have a prior injurie acting up, a bit of old age creeping up at you with aching bones. The sore shoulder from the last game, the lower back troubles from the office, and the list could go on indefinitely.
Too often we take the easy way out and might say something like: “I will be back in a few weeks, once I feel better.” Whatever that feeling better part means. After a few weeks out, the next excuses begin to pile up. One after another.
Who said ever, that everything has to be perfect to resume training? Oh yes, I remember now, the pain. Just a few more weeks and you’ll be back.
One of my instructors got a call from a prospect, seemingly asking the routine questions. He then asked if anyone will be accepted in the school. My Si-hing cautiously replied in a positive manner that this is the case unless someone has a controversial criminal past. The prospect continued now to ask about the location of the school, if it is on street level, if the doors are wide. It turns out that the prospect was wheelchair bound. He soon joined the school and trained for several years.
Imagine, due to an accident you lose one arm, from the elbow on. Even with an artificial limb, with a prosthesis, that would pretty much be it. Right? Makes no sense to pick up training. How?
Well, you are wrong. At the Wing Tsun trainer academy in Germany I worked with a training partner, who was under those circumstances preparing for his instructor test!
Late 1991, Ilse came during an open house event to one of my schools in Berlin. She was fiercely committed to starting her training. Two points to begin with, she said: “I am 62, I have a heart condition, but my doctor said that moderate training is absolutely OK.” A much younger participant asked her if she isn’t afraid that something might happen to her? She smiled and replied: “Oh you young spring chicken; there will always be something. You are past 30 and you start hurting here and there. You can either whine and complain and come up with one excuse after another, or pull yourself together and do something. Today!” She continued saying: “Your shoulder hurts? Your knee is tweaked? Boohoo. Work around it. Ask your trainer for the right exercises. Just don’t be a loser. One day you might hopefully be 62 and will be full of regrets, having waited for that perfect day. It’s not going to happen.”
A young man has a horrible car accident. Then for 12 days in a coma. Painful recovery. End result, he is severely disabled. What does he do? He STARTS his Wing Tsun training. Constant pain, tears. Training the forward step, trying not to fall over. Doing a Tan Sau & punch, being in agony just lifting his arms. Feeling sick. Depressed at times.
What would you do? Even think about starting?
Did he pass a few token student grades?
No, he continued to train, year in, year out. He is now a WingTsun master! The only disabled Kung Fu master with an entry in the Guinness Book of Records.
Now, complain again that your foot hurts, or the shoulder doesn’t feel right. In a wheelchair, with a prosthesis, with a heart condition, severely disabled; the only thing those four people didn’t do, was making excuses.
It is your decision.
Substitute Wing Tsun for bowling, basketball, fitness training, hiking, swimming, … anything!
Posted by ralph haenel
at 7:48 PM PST
Updated: Thursday, 21 January 2016 8:42 PM PST
Tuesday, 30 June 2015
The Wing Tsun reverse-engineering story
First off; it’s a story, no more, no less. Based on historical research? No. It is not just the origin of some martial arts that is buried in a mountain of fables for cultural reasons or due to political, meaning business interests. Real and wannabe experts have over the years revealed important pieces of history, of which some in the end turned out to be fragments of some people’s martial arts business agenda.
All glorifications of historical figures and origin stories aside, many forget that all martial arts are man-made, often forged over a long period of time.
Now back to the topic which is based on a few written down notes, after talks that happened almost 25 years ago.
It was the early 90’s. After long days of hard training at the Langenzell castle, we enjoyed lengthy leisurely dinners, somewhere near Wiesenbach or in Heidelberg. This is how it started. With some of the at the time advanced technician grades, we began to talk about an imagine-what-if scenario. And no, I won’t be naming any names.
What if Wing Tsun was at one point in time, even partially, a made to order fight system, demanded by members of the triads.
Many existing Kung Fu styles used double knives, butterfly knives, short swords. They were easy to conceal. Worked well against long or short weapons. Also against flexible weapons. Seems like a logical choice for weapons used by future assassins.
This kind of ordered fight system was surely intended to be taught in a relatively short time with the vision of vicious applicability.
Now you got a number of double knives experts together and had them teach new recruits. Some prospective practitioners may have turned out not to have sufficient striking, slashing and stabbing power. Wrist exercises like the triple-wagging hand may have been introduced. Supported by piercing punches, whisking arms and thrusting fingers, all added to prepare the students to work with the butterfly knives. Those single drills eventually forming a pre Biu-Dje set of technical training tools. Somewhat resembling a weaponless copy of the future double knives form.
Now the instructors noticed that their new trainees couldn’t produce adequate power out of their whole body movements. To support their training, turning stances, steps and kicks were introduced. Steps for mobility. Kicks as balance and structure exercises. In coordination with arm techniques a rudimentary form was created, which later build the Cham-Kiu form.
Maybe it became apparent that the apprentices still lacked fundamentals, didn’t have enough wrist power, stiff shoulders. The stance wasn’t rooted enough. The elbows weak. The need arose to form stretching and elongating exercises, whilst preparing mentally for the rigorous training. The foundation was laid for the first form, including breathing exercises.
The first form becoming an inner, a ChiKung form, strengthening the upper three joints; shoulders, elbows and wrists. The second form focused on technical recommendations and to generate force in the lower three joints, the power generators or engines if you will. The ankles, knees and hips.
The third form used the spine as the seventh “joint” to connect and combine the lower three and the upper three engines, thus generating a power flow from fingertips to toes, encouraging whiplash-like whole body motions that culminated in Wing Tsun’s unique ways of employing the double knives.
The next generation started at the new beginning, the new first form, the Siu-Nim-Tau form.
I don’t care if you think it’s silly. I still like that what-if story.
Posted by ralph haenel
at 7:37 PM PDT
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