How does it start?
What do you do?
What do you discover?
Your Kung Fu Coach 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
Buy it Now!
Book #1 - coming 2013
The practical strength training guide for Wing Tsun Kung Fu (Wing Chun, Ving Tsun) practitioners and fitness enthusiasts.
Now with bonus chapter: Kettlebell training! INFO
Book #2 - coming 2013
Kung Fu - The Workout; an easy to follow result driven guide for beginners and fitness enthusiasts. INFO
Book #3 - coming 2013
WingTsun-CoreConcepts, Beyond tradition and technique - training concepts for Wing Tsun Kung Fu students and instructors! INFO
Wing Tsun Kung Fu Vancouver Blog
Sunday, 19 May 2013
Functional training doesn't have to look good, it has to produce great results!
During the open-air class on May 18th 2013 we used the Wing Tsun version of the old Lat-Sau program 3. The third Lat-Sau sequence from the late 80's introduced typically the student to various backfist striking options, famously shown during the initial fight scene between Bruce Lee and Bob Wall in the 1973 movie classic "Enter the Dragon".
This particular Lat-Sau program helped to develop defensive actions and counters as Wing Tsun practitioner against backfist attacks and setups, which initiated in Jeet Kune Do and later naturally became part of the curriculum of Wing Chun styles and many other martial arts.
Even if entries are first generated in a similar manner, the idea behind it as well as the execution of Fak-Sau options are very different than backfist strikes.
We used a particular set-up of Fak-Sau responses to help developing a feel for positioning, shifting, leading towards whole-body movement. Once again upper-body mobility was paramount, while at the same time working on solutions for timing, distance, hand- and footwork coordination. ... Yes, and striking power!! Click here for more photos from the WingTsun-CoreConcepts class.
You attack the attacker into the onset of his first action against you.
You partner gives you different "answers", blocking your action to the left, right, up and down.
Using the fighting and strength principles, you learn to employ elastic force from fingertips to toes, utilizing the whole body, to produce powerful Fak-Sau actions, 'folding' forward rather than collapsing backwards, fluid motion as opposed to stopping in preset positions.
Any techniques turn eventually into horizontal, vertical, diagonal, spiral movements.
The techniques were mere tools to integrate the ideas of elasticity and fluidity into our whole-body movements.
It is important to recognize how technical drills evolve into functional strength and mobility training. It leads from learning technical drills to understanding the concepts behind them, to applying the concepts.
Even shorter: "Doing" techniques turns into moving efficient!
Eventually everything will be a movement that happens in the moment!
The weekend prior to our Victoria Day weekend class was the date of our almost 7-hour WingTsun-CoreConcepts seminar.
Watch a few exerts from the seminar in this 2-minute trailer, filmed and produced by Anselm Meyer of Lonewolf Arts.
1. Move slow. 2. Move correct. 3. Move fast. 4. Move powerful.
Tuesday, 30 April 2013
How can YOU learn from MY experiences with more than a dozen Wing Tsun masters?
Benefit from WingTsun-CoreConcepts, a blueprint for training, learning and even teaching Wing Tsun Kung Fu!
Join the ‘One Day Only’ seminar in Vancouver BC on May 11th 2013!
Wing Tsun is devastating Kung Fu for the underdog. Are you the underdog? When outside a club or restaurant, when walking at night to the parking lot; the moment someone begins to threaten you, starts to become verbally abusive, they will see you as the victim. They think they can take you out. That they can crush you.
Even if we feel relatively skilled, fit, strong, fast - to the aggressor, it doesn’t seem to matter, we ARE the victim.
There is the surprise moment, nobody typically expects, when the victim literally explodes into the attackers position. From underdog to successfully fighting violence! This is where the organized learning and training process comes in. A dedicated program structure as well as the right tools to make it work for you.
The attacker doesn’t know Wing Tsun, nor does he care. Your skills must be able to adapt to an high-pressure scenario under elevated stress while being the underdog. Remember, that’s you!
May 11th 2013 will be featuring for the first and only time all the ideas behind the WingTsun-CoreConcepts with 20+ short demos and explanations throughout that 6-hour seminar, an extremely condensed version of the experiences of my 29 years of Wing Tsun. The essence of what I learned from more than a dozen WingTsun masters. The seminar will deliver the how-to of using the WingTsun-CoreConcepts, the blueprint for training, learning and even teaching Wing Tsun.
What is this blueprint based on and what does it even mean?
1. During 1990 and 1994 I traveled all over Europe and joined hundreds of hours of seminars of the WT grandmasters Leung Ting and Si-Fu Kernspecht. I met several well-known students of the late GM Yip Man. During seminars, private lessons, regular group classes in their schools, I received instruction from just about all the first generation WT instructors. During those five years I also graduated from the self-financed WT job education at the trainer academy of Langenzell Castle.
2. The next 15+ years I worked with many instructors who visited me from the EWTO, AWTO, ITWA-NAS, NTWO-GB and the list goes on. Also with Wing Chun, Ving Tsun instructors, and masters in Karate and Taekwon-Do, just to name a few.
3. During this time I began in thousands of training hours to formulate the WingTsun-CoreConcepts, tested them, asked and received valuable feedback. I started to write a book about the Core-Concepts which got with every seminar better, more focused, more relevant and to the point ... but yes, also took much longer than anticipated.
In short: The blueprint of the WingTsun-CoreConcepts is a system of training, learning and teaching methods based on 29 years of my Wing Tsun experiences, teaching twenty-one years of it full-time.
The essence of what I have learned from two grandmasters and more than a dozen masters, a blueprint which I "test-drove" for over 15 years.
One Day Only! Six-hour Seminar!
1. Have you missed a seminar or two, or more during the past couple of years?
2. Did you ever want a blueprint of what Wing Tsun material is in which program? How to train it? How to check your progress?
3. Do you feel at times that you just can't remember certain crucial exercises? Trying to remember the important key points?
Now is your chance to get it all in one day! You will have a set of organized and systematic training tools for a long time! Making sense of your training - measuring your progress!
WHY should you join the seminar?
Only during this one seminar will I deliver the result of my work of the past 15 years in one complete presentation! The 20+ demos will be filmed.
Sign-up has started: Save $10.00 via http://realisticselfdefense.net/2013_knockout_seminar.html
Tuesday, 27 November 2012
The shocking truth Otto Ahrendt taught me a long time ago about Wing Tsun!
When I started attending elementary school, my family lived in a typical German pre WW2 apartment building. My parents had to leave early for work. So, as a 6 or 7 year old dude, I grabbed my breakfast and my backpack, walked up one floor and stayed at an elderly couple’s apartment until I had to leave for school. Otto and his wife had a early morning ritual. Still in their morning robes, Otto opened the fridge, poured for his wife and himself a double shot of vodka and they drank it on an empty stomach. Every day, for about 60 years already, one double shot, no more no less!
photo: Otto Ahrendt and his wife, 1978 in Rostock.
Going back in time, maybe around 1910 or a bit earlier, when Otto was about 10 years old, he ran away from home, went on a four-mast sail ship, sailed around the world for a year and a half and returned almost a man. In 1970, I was only 6 years old, I listened to his stories from the olden days; and his wife told him to withhold certain pieces of information, as to what made him a man at his time in foreign exotic port cities. I thought it must have been the early portion of rum for the ship’s crew, before breakfast, every morning. I was sure of that. What else?
The master carpenter on the ship took him on as apprentice and taught Otto everything there is to know about wood working, carpentry, carving and more.
At some point in the late 1980’s Otto’s grown up children argued about who will inherit his enormous collection of old tools. I remember his little workshop in the basement of the apartment building in Rostock. One wall was packed full with dozens and dozens of wood working tools. Any size gouge, knife, chisel, coping saw, mallet, veiner, sharpening stones was hanging on that wall, reaching from the workbench until under the ceiling. I vaguely remember that he got this collection from the master carpenter on the ship, so it was a pre turn of the century tool set from the 1800’s.
Otto could make just about everything, a brand-new bannister, new steps for the stair case, a picture frame, a whole staircase, doors, ladders, boxes, candle holders, anything. If it could be made out of wood, he made it. I guess he was more than a crafts man; he was an artist, a master carpenter.
Lesson One from Otto!
You can have all the ancient tools, the world best and sought after tool sets (in WT the forms, Chi-Sau, Gor-Sau, Lat-Sau, sections, sets, exercises, mottoes, concepts …). Still, you have to bring them to life, know how to use them, which tool fits which job, you have to have experience. You need to be able to interpret what you learned and help others to improve; teach successfully, master your craft. Be innovative. My main instructor at the Wing Tsun castle (Langenzell) in Germany, Sifu Heinrich “The Cat” Pfaff, he was (is) a WingTsun artist.
Can you transform your technical tools into adaptive, fluid motion?
Can you transform your current physical strength into functional strength = striking power?
Just to name one example: Can you show and demonstrate the evolution of Tan-Sau throughout the forms, starting with the Siu-Nim-Tau?
Can you give examples of how to progress from Wing Tsun form(al) techniques into reactions, into seemingly formless responses born in the moment?
Otto could do it as a carpenter; knowing his tools inside out; feeling a piece of wood in his hands, seeing already what shape it will take on.
Lesson Two from Otto!
He told me a lot about the guys on board, who were responsible for the ropes, the wires, about the masters of masts, yards, sails, and cordage. Next to the captain and the cook, they were the most important on board.
If a sail couldn’t be set fast enough to take advantage of the winds, or if it couldn’t be pulled in fast enough and strong winds caused a sail to break or even a mast to splinter, there was hell to pay.
Now, how can this possibly relate to Wing Tsun? Feel how the training of our forms develops our muscles, ligaments, tendons, most important our fascia! How do our forms affect muscular balance throughout the body? How is your co-ordinated cascading function of muscle groups? Do you mainly use a few muscle groups or can you deliver whole-body movements, powerful elasticity from fingertips to toes?
Read the following excerpt about rigging:
“Running rigging is the cordage used to control the shape and position of the sails. Running rigging must be flexible in order to allow smooth movement of the spars and sails, but strong enough for the role it plays. For instance, a halyard, used to hoist heavy yards up and down, must be very strong and durable. On the other hand, a sheet, used to control the orientation of a triangular sail, must be very flexible and smooth, and need only be strong enough to support the tension caused by the wind.”
Besides posture and body alignment, think again about your muscles, ligaments, tendons, and your fascia tissue.
Only today I read a quote on the Facebook page of ‘Stop Chasing Pain’:
“MyoFascial slings function like modified body rubber bands. Storing and releasing elastic energy, providing stability when they are under tension, and increasing movement efficiency when releasing. Probably a good idea to make sure the rubber band can expand to optimum so you don't have Fascial brakes on movement. Just an idea:)
Try throwing a ball without your oblique slings working well...I dare ya. Shoulder pain anyone?
And to the obsessive, detail oriented people...yes there are other slings involved with throwing not just the oblique ones.”
In above quote substitute throwing a ball with throwing a punch.
Some may ask now: “Seriously, what does this Otto guy have to do with Wing Tsun? Nothing!” Well, you are wrong. He has something in common with my second WT instructor, Sifu Peter Vilimek. Both could tell fantastic stories. Stories which help you to learn better, retain knowledge. Even today I am still using some of Sifu Vilimek’s stories to explain ideas of the Wing Tsun system, stories I first heard from him on June 1st of 1986. Those stories create associations, help us understand, helped me personally to teach better, more colourful!
Besides, stories are fun!
As the last point: What did Otto really teach me?
He had all the tools, ancient tools if you want. Directly from his master, the master carpenter, he had the real deal, closed-door tools [inside joke]. Did this make him good?
No, he had learned to use those tools. Produce something valuable with them. He worked very, very hard!
With the same tools, he created every time something new, something unique, one piece of art at a time.
Do you still collect techniques or are you doing Wing Tsun?
Monday, 12 November 2012
Action + Sci-Fi + Movie + Wing Tsun = Passion Project “Quantum Shock”
First, let’s back up a bit. In 1995, it was only my second year in Canada; I went to several auditions for TV commercials. I remember one of them for a ticket special for the Vancouver Canucks. None of the meetings with casting agents panned out. It wasn’t my time. I was also way too busy with my work at the first Canadian WingTsun branch, which I had founded only a year earlier in 1994. Press coverage of this work prompted a local video company to contact me, wanting to produce an instructional self-defense video. This didn’t work out. Read my Facebook note “The Self-Defense video story”. For many years any movie aspirations were on ice.
Several members of our trainer team have been filming my seminars and classes for years. But that’s another story for another day! Back to Quantum Shock.
Quantum Shock is the brainchild of Anselm Meyer (executive producer, writer, actor) and Dave Campbell (director, producer, camera man and grip), described by CHEK TV Vancouver Island as British Columbia's smallest film crew.
Anselm will tell us in his words about the origin: “Well, this is how Dave and I meet. Originally we just started talking about making a film that he has written called "Operation Risk." I found some actors for the roles, but at the end almost everyone canceled. So I came up with an alternative film project featuring a story that could be made with the minimum of characters and a flexible story concept that is unique yet entertaining. And so Quantum Shock was born. The early version was supposed to consist of only 2 actors. Dave would be Josh, while the rest is all me, Colt Stahl. Originally we planned on using Dave's 480i SD camera and maybe shoot only in Black and White to make the non-HD resolution not as obvious. So, already back then we were fairly pragmatic how to get the best quality using the smallest resources.
Anselm has been for many years the trainer of my Wing Tsun Kung Fu branch in Victoria on Vancouver Island. Initially we talked about producing better, more realistic fight scenes, also introducing WingTsun to the movie world. I ended up playing the part of German general Conrad Matheus, a character with a questionable East German past.
Now, let Dave tell us a bit about the project: “Like Anselm said, we did meet because of a script that I had written titled “Operation: RISK” back in the spring of 2009. I always knew I wanted to film the story but never really knew of anybody wanting to commit to a 120 page story and little budget. I had the knowledge and 2 1/2 years of film school backing me up. Well, add my Love for the camera since I was a young child.
The future movie Quantum Shock is currently being released one webisode at a time on YouTube. Four out of six episodes are online as of October 2012.
Act 4 "Bitter End" features a long scene with 15 members and friends of Wing Tsun Kung Fu Vancouver; scene starting at time mark 8:08. Watch it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XLvjeHEaBK8
Watch the Quantum Shock 'Fight Scene Teaser' with Anselm Meyer & Ralph Haenel (preview act 6):
Also, watch Quantum Shock, the Movie - 'Behind the Scenes' with Ralph Haenel & Anselm Meyer:
CHEK TV interview with Dave Campbell and Anselm Meyer:
- Quantum Shock - Act 1 "Hollow Hope"
- Quantum Shock - Act 2 "Empty Justice"
- Quantum Shock - Act 3 "Dark Origin"
- Quantum Shock - Act 4 "Bitter End"
Credits for Quantum Shock Act 4 “Bitter End”:
Monday, 16 April 2012
Train detailed, fight simple!
The workout is secondary to building the skill!* The Wing Tsun “secrets” are hidden in the bandwidth of one’s performance!
The latest Wing Tsun Kung Fu Vancouver event was hosted by Sihing Philip Lee of the Golden Monkey Martial Arts Studio in Burnaby, BC. Saturday, April 7th 2012 was the date for the very exciting first 2012 Wing Tsun Program review seminar in a series of three for the members of the trainer team. Five of our Sifus showed up, altogether advanced members and trainers of the Wing Tsun teams from Victoria, Sidney, Burnaby, Calgary and Vancouver. It's always again very motivational for me as well, to see how for six hours like-minded practitioners work very concentrated with each other.
The workout is secondary to building the skill!*
* Sometimes you see a quote, read a sentence which perfectly fits what you are working on. So did the first part of my sub headline. On different social media platforms I am connected to inspirational people in WingTsun, martial arts in general, fitness, kettlebells and other areas of expertise. One of those experts is Dr. Mark Cheng. He again was responding to a post by yet another expert, Franz Snideman. You truly never know how far your actions and words reach!
Above quote is what our Saturday review seminar was about. Because working out hard, punching to the limit, getting strong and quick is all great! But first we must build the skill, take time for all the fine details which will lead to those qualities. Once stress, panic, aggression hits in a self-defense scenario, then it’s too late for any details. Also, I encourage going to the tiniest level of detail in one’s training, so that under pressure, when the adrenalin rush explodes, at least a somewhat high percentage of your fine-tuning literally survives. I have shared stories about experiences with many colleagues and it was often mentioned that of 100% of skills maybe 30 to 40% is left under extreme conditions.
Last point in this paragraph; Talking about far reaching actions and words. The day I started writing this blog post I received on Facebook unsolicited and unexpected feedback from a former student. Commenting on a 2006 seminar photo he wrote: “Thanks to my Sifu Ralph Haenel I actually made many realizations about music instrument techniques through studying Kung Fu!” I responded: “Sensory awareness, fluid whole body motion, co-ordination between hand- and foot movements, judgment of distance, feeling for timing, positioning of techniques and more is a big part of the Wing Tsun training and has often influenced the performance of our members in sports and arts. Even the martial art'istic side of Wing Tsun has often lead to a better 'Kung Fu' in many areas of life! :-)”
The (Wing Tsun) Click!
What’s that? A new training program? No! One participant of Saturday’s seminar wrote to his training partner, thanking him for the shared workout, having reached an important conclusion. That's also something I always want to encourage, advanced members working with each other. I have seen it so often, that one explains something 20 times, shows it in x different ways, encourages questions about it, yet one particular training scenario seemingly all of a sudden makes it click! You never know when and how this "click" of understanding happens. Share your experience! Lean from one another!
The Program Review Seminar!
As so often, I broke down the contents of the day into several segments with each one focusing on a particular problem zone. The beginning of this year’s review seminar series put a spotlight on certain setbacks we suffer regardless of how advanced the programs are that we train or how advanced we consider ourselves. Here I simply must repeat the highest praise I got at rare occasions from my second Wing Tsun teacher, Sifu Peter Vilimek, accompanied by a smirk: “Well, it wasn’t quite as horrible today!”
Never ever consider yourself “done”, finished, advanced enough. That’s what I am trying to express with my personal tagline: “learning and teaching Wing Tsun Kung Fu since 1984”. This would be truly horrible for me, to assume or think of having finished learning!
I will now begin to list only the “skeleton” structure of the first 2012 Wing Tsun trainer seminar.
1. Balance of stance / Structure of body
We started off with bringing our training partner out of balance through pushing and pulling. Three problems popped up: One is either to resistant (stiff), too weak (trying to be relaxed), or shows a lack of sensory response (attacks just ‘slipped’ through).
We continued working on three solutions:
1. Stance - Recognizing the importance of absorbing pushing and pulling by way of using our upright, yet deeply rooted flexible stance.
2. Arms - Pointing out the importance of our shoulder as powerful and mobile connection between sending and receiving impact (shock absorber!) from our arms into stance and vice versa. Distinguishing the exercises, for example in our Siu-Nim-Tau form, which are responsible for powering the ‘four hinges’, very simplified the chest muscles, shoulder, upper back and lats. Realizing the value of being able to use the three powerful ‘engines’ or power-sources in our arm in sequence as well as also independent (shoulder, elbow, wrist).
The ‘four hinges’ is only one of the many visualizations, visual examples I use when teaching and describing technical scenarios. The terms ‘Funneling’ and the ‘wet blanket’ is coming up.
3. ‘Freeing’ ourselves from the contact and going forward. - …
Stay tuned and join us for part 2 of the seminar review. Thanks!
Monday, 23 January 2012
The Kungfukologist speaks out about Wing Tsun Kung Fu
Well, it doesn’t happen just every day that a widely known expert scientist talks about you on his show. Prof. Hans Von Puppet, who is indeed a web'lebrity, mentions me in his 116th show with the title “You and your punch!” The studio was nice enough to forward the recording to me. Enjoy!
P.S.: If you seem to discover that I think that some martial artists take themselves a bit too serious, you might be on the right path.
- About numbers in the script of the video:
The numbers 116 and 6.5 are familiar to the Wing Tsun practitioner. Possibly also the importance of the number 8 in Chinese numerology.
- Quote mentioned in the script:
The (slightly changed) quote: "You can get a lot farther with a kind word and a tough punch than a kind word alone!" is attributed to whom?
Other than that, I can only Thank Prof. Hans Von Puppet for his gracious endorsement!
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School video: http://video.wingtsunkungfu.com
Monday, 9 January 2012
Piotr and the dangers of a confrontation. Plus the dark side of a fight won.
Who is Piotr? He was a security guard in the North of Germany. He was a father. He did his job protecting people.
Two of the favourite quotations on his Facebook site read:
“Trust is good, control is better.” Lenin
“Trust is the feeling to believe another person, even if you know you would lie in his place.” Henry Louis Mencken
While reading about him, just before the holidays, I had to think about the advertising of so many martial arts schools. The reoccurring implication of how dangerous the streets are. That it is so important, to learn how to defend yourself. While this seems right, in my personal opinion it often leads to the wrong conclusions. What’s wrong with defending yourself if you have the skills?
You really want to know? It can go horribly wrong. Period.
I teach Wing Tsun Kung Fu, self-defense for the underdog. I also teach what you could call a mantra in just about every class, whichever exercise I demonstrate, regardless of the drill I explain, the scenario I describe.
1. Learn to be confident, so that you don’t get picked on as a victim in the first place.
Only if it’s impossible:
Many martial arts teachers, masters, grandmasters want to make their students believe that they are (almost) untouchable. To make a long story short, you can have a bad day, plain bad luck, a moment of surprise after all, there isn’t a person who cannot be brought down.
I had very good, very tough WingTsun instructors. Some of them have been in many fights. They have been challenged and they won. But in quiet moments they also talked about having been very lucky. Lucky not having been killed or having ended up in jail. Besides the possibility of losing, there is also ...
The dark side of Self-Defense!
Uuuhhh, the dark side it is, eh? So, what does that mean? Some people could have walked away from an unpleasant situation. Some could have talked and withdrawn. They didn’t. Imagine how your life would change if you successfully defend yourself, yet it goes too far, the attacker falls, hits his head and succumbs to his injuries. You are being sued by the family, end up in a lengthy court battle, have to pay restitution, end up in jail.
Piotr on the other hand didn’t have a choice. He was doing his job, helping and protecting others. He was young, well trained, very aware, yet it went wrong. He was stabbed and even a emergency operation couldn’t save his life.
It was the 20th of December. A few days later, his daughter Michelle spent Christmas without her dad, “Pitt” Piotr T.
Feeling fit, strong, ready to strike? Think you should take someone on? Someone needs to be taught a lesson?
Never ever easily engage in a fight.
Think of Piotr. He was one of the good guys.
Sunday, 1 January 2012
What's in a logo? My way of teaching Wing Tsun Kung Fu!
A lot goes into a logo. Everything; and by the same token as little as possible. For years now, I have had my ideas of what I would like to see in an ideal logo.
After almost 28 years, it was time to brand my way of teaching Wing Tsun Kung Fu, the CoreConcepts-WingTsun teaching method. It all started in 1984 in Rostock (East Germany), at the coast of the Baltic sea, back then inside the German Democratic Republic. Symbolized by the griffin head is the beginning in Rostock behind the ‘Iron Curtain’. The griffin is a dominant part of Rostock’s centuries old crest.
A big Thanks for all the detailed feedback regarding the logo from you, the members of Wing Tsun Kung Fu Vancouver, the first Canadian Wing Tsun branch, established in early 1994. Also Thank You to many WT friends in Germany and England, who sent me their valuable feedback.
P.S.: January 1st 2012 - It has been 20 years exactly since I jumped into the adventure of teaching Wing Tsun Kung Fu full time.
Saturday, 31 December 2011
Time for a New Year's Tradition - Have some fun!
Same procedure as last year ... I know, some would expect me, to now talk about how to start the new year with some serious training, or to finish on this last day of 2011 with 5.000 non-stop chain punches, so that even the last one is as strong as the first. Sure, you can do that. Knock yourself out!
But sometimes it's good, just to have some fun, to be silly. Many people in Germany, whole families, circles of friends have a new year's tradition. It's all about a old TV Show recorded in July of 1963. It's best known, also in many other European countries as Dinner for One. People have Dinner for One parties, either just watching this funny almost 18 minute long show, or even to reenact it, have a whole theme party around it. Some have been watching this show for decades, every single New Year's Eve.
You should try it out. But don't you dare, to pause it, to answer the phone. Sit back, have a good drink and simply have a good time. Feel for the butler! :-)
Dinner for One, starring British comedian Freddie Frinton is a cult classic in Germany and across various European countries, shown every New Year's Eve. Yet still remains almost completely unknown to North American audiences. A lonely upper-class Englishwoman, Miss Sophie (May Warden), hosts a dinner every New Year's Eve for her long-dead admirers: Mr Pommeroy, Mr Winterbottom, Sir Toby and Admiral von Schneider.
The vital exchange is: "The same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?"
Happy New Year!
Watch Dinner for One or The 90th Birthday - A New Year's Tradition
Monday, 31 October 2011
The best training method in the world; that fails (in martial arts) 99.9% of the time.
Controversy over whether the terms martial art and soft belong in the same sentence?
Plus, a story about storytelling.
An old videoclip by a then wing chun school in Germany sparked once again the conversation about how much of the element of ‘soft’ could be connected to one’s martial art performance. Of course, the very word ‘soft’ might lead you to think something along the lines of a rather cuddly martial arts performance. Well, we wouldn’t want that, right?
I show, demonstrate and explain the very idea of soft in my classes by comparing it to a steel spring-like performance. Visualize it as seamlessly connected whiplash-like actions. I know, words can sometimes be incredibly inadequate.
See the term ‘soft’ or better yet ‘smooth’ as a perfect fusion of fluidity + elasticity + mobility + timing.
I have met self-proclaimed soft, relaxed practitioners who ended up just being plain weak, once the action accelerated and adrenalin came into the game.
I have met other soft, relaxed practitioners who at the first sign of stress instantly fell into a very tense, resisting performance.
But the more common occurrence is to talk about being relaxed and yielding to greater force, but not knowing when and how to realize what exactly greater force is and what to do.
Some of my instructors have shown me in the past, how amazingly fast their elastic and powerful actions can be, even or especially under stress. Who? My Si-Fu, Keith R. Kernspecht. My then main instructor at the German Langenzell castle, Sifu Heinrich Pfaff.
Other instructors I learned from, for example Sifu Emin Boztepe and Sifu Salih Avci, are known as extremely strong hardcore Wing Tsun practitioners. Not everyone appreciates, or could see how extremely sensitive their performance can be under stress.
‘Sensitive,’ yet another word, that does not seem to mix well with ‘martial art.’ Really, who wants to be known as a sensitive fighter? Sandor the Sensitive? Not a good ring name. I don’t think so. BTW – Sandor means ‘defender of human kind,’ and is a form of Alexander.
photo: One of the photos Si-Fu Kernspecht mailed me in 1986 or 87 accross the "Iron Curtain" to East Germany.
What does ‘sensitive’ mean for us? Chi-Sau training in Wing Tsun among many other benefits is designed to train tactile sensitivity to recognise on contact the speed, strength and direction of an attack. The tactile guidance system deriving from one’s WingTsun Chi-Sau training naturally has to be combined with the regular visual guidance system. Meaning, by ‘feeling & seeing’ you use double-sure technology. Attention, slight humour. We are talking about ideal scenarios for regular people here! Not the what-if a Mike Tyson infused 200kg Godzilla size MMA monster is in the process of quartering you. The desired training outcome is that one can even under stress maintain and use a high percentage of this combination of visual AND tactile input. As opposed to what? Instead of freezing up, resisting, “wrestling” against the opponent. On a side note, read Sifu Brian Yam’s related blog post: “Gary Lam Challenge Video - The Takeaway Lesson.”
It all reminds me of a story as told by my Si-Fu. First of all: What do stories do? They entertain us. Stories carry information, knowledge, even skill. Stories help us remember the contents and context of lessons we received.
Can’t help it, before I get to it, a quick story about stories ... My Si-Fu often started introducing an exercise, reciting a metaphor, explaining theoretical background by saying: “My Sifu did this, ... taught me that, ... advised me to do ..., had the idea ...”
In one instance, a participant in a WT instructors class responded by saying: “But Si-Fu, I know for sure that you developed this drill. Why don’t you take the credit? Why do you say it was your Sifu’s idea?” The reply? “Very simple. When I say it was my Sifu’s idea, nobody questions it. I can go on and teach. When I say it was my idea, people ask: Why? How? When? Where? ... You get the idea. It cuts down on non-training related explanation time, as it happens right now!!!”
Back to the story about ‘martial art’ and ‘soft.’ I’ll try to keep it short, so that you have more time to train.
‘The best training method in the world, that fails (in martial arts) 99.9% of the time.’
In the 70’s, Wing Tsun teaching and training was surrounded by extreme secrecy. A teacher would hand down knowledge and exercises only in tiny bite-size pieces. So, with whom should my Si-Fu train the techniques he just learned from his master?
As he told the story back then: “The only person I kind of trusted was my wife.” Now if you are tall, very strong and very aggressive ... hmm how do you do that? His only choice was to train very slow, very detailed and very patiently with his wife. He had to yield to the lightest contact, had to pretend that someone with enormous speed and strength attacked. He was forced into moving with his whole body, employing horizontal movement pattern from the Cham-Kiu, vertical movement pattern from the Biu-Tze, and all angles in between. He ‘folded’ around his wife’s attacks, utilizing elasticity from fingertips to toes. Wave-like, springy whole body motions emerged.
My Si-Fu basically had to pretend, that his wife in a martial artistic way was super-woman, who could throw him around at will. Which produced one important aspect of the ‘perfect’ WingTsun training, under the assumption of being attacked by a stronger person.
It’s probably safe to say that nobody talked in the 70’s about fascia and its function. Only one aspect here; directly under the skin is the surface-fascia instantly responding with millions of nerve endings to the slightest touch, directly sending signals to the spinal cord and brain.
How it all works? Come back to my blog, to read soon the next part of this post. These receptors can feel even a light wind gust, an insect crawling over your skin, the light touch of a fingertip. Now, most practitioners respond only to pressure once they are almost thrown out of balance, or once the struggling has already started. Which means that most people, measured in fractions of seconds, respond way too late. Now hectic movements try to save the day, but the damage is already done. The opponent is already imposing his rhythm onto you and destroying yours. You have become the hunted.
Back to my Sifu’s training with his wife. He talked about the fact that he was often ready to explode. Yet in order to stay married, he needed (in comparison to his exceptional strength) to respond to only a light touch. He needed to train the technical sequences in extended slow motion and so somewhat accidentally, he began to discover nuances in motion. He experienced continuous movement as opposed to a ‘hard’ Bong-Sau that starts at A and ends at B.
Imagine, you are operating a software application via a touch screen. Any touch causes a response. Envision yourself having to hammer against your I-Pad to move a window, open a video. This wouldn’t go over well.
Now one random training example:
Read the following steps slowly. Visualize that you do some steps at times simultaneous and that for a prolonged period of time. Now you may understand why this training method fails for so many. You really need infinite patience. Many athletes train elements of their performance in slow motion. Go through the steps of feeling, using every muscle, muscle connection, coordination of muscle groups. I have talked for example to ice skaters, gymnasts of a National Olympic team, even boxers, who have been using this training method successfully.
Your arm intercepts a punch, begins to form into a Bong-Sau motion. Now, does our wrist move back (withdraw) or does the punch slide off and your elbow moves forward? Did your shoulder lift? Is your chest ‘open’? Or, is your breathing already strained? Did you involve your upper back muscles or do your arms resist in ‘one piece’? Do you feel that shoulders, lats, chest and upper back, I call it the ‘four hinges’, that all four of them are involved in your arm positioning and movement? Are you aware what your other arm is doing? The other shoulder? What are your fingers doing, forming the dragon claw of death? Is your neck getting tense? Head leaning forward? Did you hips shift? Are your legs responding like steel springs, maintaining contact to the ground or are you jumping? “Reaching” across the distance? Are your toes cramped, “clawing” the floor, or are your feet relaxed, heel to toes? Do your stomach muscles brace for impact or do they form with your lower back muscles a flexible and powerful connection between lower and upper body? Are you yielding away from the attacker, eventually coming out of balance or do you yield/fold by flowing forward into the opponent, taking away his space, opportunity and time to attack you? Can you move on several levels? Your arm is yielding, the body shifting, your feet sliding, all at the same time and to various degrees? And all that over and over!!
Are you prepared to continue moving smooth, relaxed, in slow motion, and that for 20, 40 minutes? For an hour? Feel each motion, in what order should you move? Can you feel tiniest level of resistance, not involved muscles? Can you feel unnatural order of partial elements of your movements? Example: Resistance with your arm, just to maintain balance, then letting go, allowing for a weak gap to form, just to move your foot?
Attempting to train this slow and detailed, I have seen people jump back from it, almost hyper-ventilating, getting all nervous and fidgety, not being able to resume this relaxed and conscious multilevel motion.
It looks awkward. Merely watching it, many guys would instantly label it “wussy”-training. Ego, misunderstood manliness typically gets in the way.
It requires a serious amount of patience, a sound idea why you train that way, and what for you train, and a vision of what you will achieve.
Train slow to get really fast.
Train completely relaxed to become really powerful.
Now you may understand, why my Sifu said: “It’s the best training method in the world, that fails 99.9% of the time.” Due to circumstances, he was forced into this training method he otherwise would not have touched with a 10-foot pole, not even with a six-and-a-half point WingTsun long pole (Luk Dim Boon Gwun).
As it so happened, I read today a quote on Facebook (via Dr. Mark Cheng). I could have slightly changed it, made it mine. No, it wouldn't feel right. If I may borrow the quote, which hits the nail on the head.
"The definition of functional
exercise is what it produces,
NOT what it looks like."
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