Sense or Non-Sense? The #WingTsun Chi-Sau sections.
- Which WingTsun Version is better?
- Four Stages of Technical Evolution
- Bandwidth of Performance
- Pitfalls and Four Groups of Mistakes
- The Power Scale
- Four Training Methods & Categories of How-To of Chi-Sau
- What do we really learn?
The following are combined excerpts from several chapters of my upcoming book “WingTsun-CoreConcepts, Beyond tradition and technique - training concepts for Wing Tsun Kung Fu students and instructors!”
Many have discussed over the years the sense and non-sense of Chi-Sau sections, Wing Tsun’s ‘two-men forms’. Many have obscured, misinterpreted, or simply not understood the ideas behind them; why Chi-Sau sections were created in the first place.
No musician becomes an artist by simply writing better or more notes, by copying other songs. I am not talking about commercial success here! Some people are good at playing a few cords on a guitar. Some can even perform a few songs. Some are very good studio backup musicians. And then there are the few who become more or less celebrated music talents, composing music, writing and performing music, being creative and even trend-setting, decade after decade.
Some gifted people can pick up crayons, chalk, markers, a pencil, oilpaint, watercolours and draw or paint on just about any canvas, while many of us still draw stick figures.
Chi-Sau sections are blueprints, giving you ideas on how to internalize movement pattern, how to respond eventually intuitive, how to be in the moment.
Example movements to understand concepts.
How inventive, creative, ever-searching are you as martial ARTIST? Do you break taboos? Do you inspire others? How innovative is your teaching style?
As so often in my posts, I stress the factor that a martial ART grows eventually beyond self-defense applications. But it also has to be self-defense. Initially everyone wants to feel safe, learn how to take care of themselves, become more confident, and learn to be mindful and aware.
Looking back, at one point in time, the number of (EWTO) Wing Tsun students was growing exponentially, compared to other Wing Chun or Ving Tsun styles.
Just like the forms, the masters were thinking about a way to standardize the programs, make skills and knowledge accessible to a large number of students, while minimizing the loss of information down the line from grandmaster to masters to instructors to assistant instructors to students.
Why? Remember nicknames like ‘King of Siu-Nim-Tau’, ‘King of the talking hands’, etc.? Instructors are human beings who develop preferences for some programs while neglecting others, which lead to the next generation of students missing components of the system. Some interpret techniques, forms, training programs, applications differently than their own teacher.
Some even argue which Wing Tsun is better:
- the European version,
- the ‘tough’ first generation European version,
- the latest European version
- the Eastern European version,
- the Hong Kong version,
- the North American Hong Kong influenced version,
- the North American European influenced version, …
I wanted to add a few versions, also to show the absurdity, but you get the point. For me personally it is important that my Si-Fu inspires, researches, changes, adapts. That is what my Si-Fu Keith Kernspecht has been doing for decades. And no, I am not on his pay-roll. I am not even a member of any Wing Tsun organization. Until the year 2000, I learned and trained for 16 years in the EWTO, IWTA, AWTO.
For me personally it is also important, imperative you might say, that my delivery of learning, training and teaching methods fit the needs of us average people. I know that most people don’t want to be called average. I am talking about us average not being over 6 feet tall, not 120 kg heavy, not previously having been knock-out champions, not bench pressing 300 pounds for a warm-up, … well us average people, who are willing to learn and train hard.
One-man or in this case two-men forms preserve fundamental ideas which should be the core of one’s training and learning.
In Wing Tsun it eventually leads to seven sections, showcasing ideas (concepts) as displayed in the ‘tool-boxes’ of the first two forms, the Siu-Nim-Tau and the Cham-Kiu form. Followed today by four Biu-Dje Chi-Sau sections. Plus eight sections of Wooden Dummy Chi-Sau.
The sections are guides that show us most common usages of the techniques, movement ideas, applications. Examples of most often occurring types of (fight) interactions between two human beings.
Some despise techniques as being too limiting. But one has to start somewhere. One can’t jump from nothing to formless.
Example: Take a Tan-Sau in the first form or a Lan-Sau / Cham-Sau response in the first Wing Tsun Chi-Sau section and consider the following four stages.
Four Stages of Technical Evolution
4. whole body motion
1. Any drill, exercise is in the beginning an idea. The student knows what he/she is supposed to do, is practicing movements that may feel uncomfortable, that may appear for example to be too slow, not strong enough.
2. At one point during one’s training it progresses into a technique that often works, yet may still fall victim to a fake-out, or for example may start too early or too late.
3. On the next level one understands the importance of working with the attacker, rather than against him (resisting, ‘wrestling’, breaking …). The basic idea, which evolved into a technique, becomes a movement, which covers more outcomes of any given scenario, but may still lack the ever so important coordination of hand- and footwork.
4. This is the stage we desire to achieve. Our action has turned into a whole body motion, intuitively adapting to the opponents actions, using speed, strength and direction at a moment’s notice without waiting passively.
If one would take a scene apart like a movie strip, you could in still-frames spot a Man-Sau, Bong-Sau, Lap-Sau, Fak-Sau. But trying to repeat the scenario by “doing” the techniques one after another would hopelessly fail.
It’s about how you move, not which techniques you try to apply!
Bandwidth of Performance
Often I get asked as to how I improve my own training. This goes hand in hand with what I call the training of the bandwidth of performance. Say, for example in the training of a Chi-Sau section.
1. Space – I work on responding within the smallest space available to me without getting hit, while employing horizontal, vertical, diagonal, round, straight, spiral whole-body movements.
2. Time – I work on responding in the very last moment possible without getting hit.
3. Strength - I work on responding with the least amount of strength necessary to deal with an attack while having just enough to shock the attacker.
Pitfalls and Four Groups of Mistakes
The first seven Chi-Sau sections contain almost all techniques of the Siu-Nim-Tau and Cham-Kiu forms, eventually extracting the concepts behind these forms. What could be the pitfalls?
Many points can make or break our Chi Sau performance and more so the skills this training is designed to produce.
- advanced instructors ‘mix’ in their Biu-Dje and Wooden Dummy training induced skills or interpretations
- instructors who ‘must’ always win and thus force their students, future instructors, into a victim role, a role in which they eventually turn into ‘fear-biters’
- taller instructor enforce their personalized solutions onto shorter students
- shorter instructor impose their personalized solutions onto taller students
- stronger instructor force their personalized solutions onto weaker students
- relatively weak instructor enforce their personalized solutions onto stronger students …
Even a somewhat good reflex-like (Chi-Sau) response might end up somewhere on the scale of performance between being:
- too early or too late,
- too little or too much,
- too slow or too fast,
- too weak or too strong.
It’s not the number of techniques in a Chi-Sau section, but the completeness of concepts behind the forms. As a Wing Tsun instructor can you show and demonstrate the logical structure throughout the Chi-Sau sections? The carrying of the theme through the sections or what the Germans mean by the term: “Roter Faden”.
The sections do not follow the forms on a 1:1 basis; some sections may contain technical ideas from other forms. The seventh Wing Tsun Chi-Sau section will be performed differently by someone who is actively working on the wooden dummy form.
Few are early on already interpretative martial artists. We average fast, average strong, average (martial) artistic, average imaginative, we need guiding ideas. The forms are catalogues of techniques and concepts behind them. The Chi-Sau sections are catalogues of movements and concepts behind the motions.
Yes, some schools and instructors and students have turned these sections into meaningless partner dances. Some have turned the learning of the concepts into piles of techniques, far removed from reality. Some have begun to think and act only within the framework of Wing Tsun against Wing Tsun, completely ignoring that our tools, our skills need to work against someone who doesn’t know WT. Someone who doesn’t care about a style, someone who is OK with getting hit, someone who starts right from the beginning with animal like aggression and enjoys violence.
Other instructors have turned Chi-Sau sections into their own instruments of show-off exercises, very far from the original idea of teaching, helping the student.
Most important for an instructor is to recognize what guidance the student needs. Bring talent to the surface; don’t get lost in endless technique A against technique B combative exercises.
Remember the first training days? While considering the law, we learn how to become over time confident, how not to get into trouble in the first place, learn to verbally defuse a situation, or remove ourselves (yes, even running away).
While considering the law we would rather attack the attacker than "running behind" by hastily defending against single attacks.
This means our first attack against the attacker should:
- interfere with or stop his first attack,
- make a second and third attack difficult or impossible,
- force the attacker into non-attacking / defensive mode.
With our actions we learn to take away his:
- time to attack us successfully,
- the space he needs to attack us,
- and the opportunity to do so.
If we are just like two fighters in the ring, checking each other out, we may give the attacker too much time as well as too many options. By attacking we greatly minimize his options thus force him into an immediate decision. We learn to set him up!
Due to the nature of Wing Tsun our type of attack shall be a setup, forcing the attacker into very specific and limited response pattern.
The Power Scale
In Chi-Sau as in any exercise or application of ones skills, the question of the right amount of functional strength comes up. How much is perfect? What is the right amount? Should we just be as strong as we can?
Scenario 1 – While trying to be relaxed, loose if you want, we often end up being weak, brittle. Our Chi-Sau positions collapse.
Scenario 2 – While trying to be strong, we often end up being stiff, tense. Through our resisting Chi-Sau positions we get pushed back, out of balance. We might end in an attempt to wrestle the stronger opponent.
Now visualize a large scale. On one end of the scale we want to move the value “relaxed” to the ideal center of the scale, while leaving the attributes weak and brittle behind.
From the opposite end of this scale we move the value “strength” towards the ideal center, leaving the characteristic stiff and tense behind.
Once the values “relaxed” and “strength” meet at the ideal center of the scale, which is of course from person to person different, these values combined form a new quality: “power”.
A very important factor for our Wing Tsun, the difference between functional and physical strength will be explained in detail in my upcoming book “The practical strength training guide for Wing Tsun Kung Fu (Wing Chun, Ving Tsun) practitioners and fitness enthusiasts.”
Four Training Methods & Categories of How-To of Chi-Sau
We train every element of Chi-Sau in four scenarios:
1. speed – slow motion, regular, fast,
2. distance – far apart, regular, close ,
3. power – barely any strength, regular, full power ("Bull" Chi-Sau),
4. training variations – supportive, 50/50, going through
That all four scenarios come in three variations is simply for explanatory reasons. You could of course train five variables of the component distance. Three variations can stand for minimum, optimum and maximum of the chosen scenario.
There are four categories as to the how-to of training Chi-Sau:
1. You learn Chi-Sau FROM your instructor.
2. You train Chi-Sau WITH your training partner.
3. You teach Chi-Sau TO your student.
4. With everyone else, who doesn’t fit into the first three categories, you would have to apply what the ‘training method” Chi-Sau has taught you, … if you then must prove your skills.
In his November 11th 2014 blog post “If you build it … Chi-Sau sections” Evan asks: “If we don't know that we don't know, how do we practice potentially useful skills we don't know?”
On January 23rd 2015 he followed up with the post “How sticky is your Wing Tsun Wooden Dummy?” You find it here: http://kyklosphaira.blogspot.ca/2015/01/how-sticky-is-your-wing-tsun-wooden.html
The WingTsun Chi-Sau sections. What is it now? Sense or Non-Sense?
What do we really learn?
At the Langenzell castle, for many years the German WingTsun castle, the international trainer academy, I was once with others waiting for a test to begin. A couple of guys were eager, still training; they seemed to be flying through the sections. Everything looked so great, smooth. They appeared to know so many details and combinations. All of us staring at these guys, our jaws dropped. We were in awe. Then Si-Fu Kernspecht came in, friendly as always, his eyes spotting instantly the team keen to perform, to get tested.
To make a long story short. Poor bastards. They tried to show off their routine, but their timing was always off, they tried to finish techniques even if they didn’t fit, they were easily set up, fell over their own feet.
It was a catastrophe. Even though their training performance looked so amazing.
My Si-Hing at the castle, Sifu Heinrich Pfaff, told me already back then that I must use two tools:
1. “Watch and analyze yourself!” (constantly and consistent)
2. “watch and analyze your teacher/s!”
The tools of the master.
It took me many years to realize and consciously learn, train and teach that the forms and sections are the guitar, the piano of the musician, they are the brush and the paints of the painter.
The Chi-Sau sections teach us through technical recommendations how to:
- work in the right distance
- to maintain balance, especially when pushed, pulled, attacked, grabbed
- to develop a feel for timing
- to get to know the space we are working in, initially through positions and techniques
- how to develop power
- how to be able to deliver that power
- to perfect our coordination skills
- how to become mobile at all times
- how to develop fluidity of all motions (from fingertips to toes)
The two guys at the castle had a perfectly choreographed performance, but not yet the skills Chi-Sau is producing over time.
During a recent seminar I asked: “What should a samurai, a roman soldier, a medieval knight ,,, and a Wing Tsun practitioner have in common?”
They all should know their ‘weapons chambers’. Train with all of their weapons. As a Wing Tsun instructor, can you point out in our forms all the palmstrikes, various punches, Fak and Lan-Sau strikes? Can you cross-reference where they are in our forms and how they are being trained in our Chi-Sau sections? How they come to life in our Lat-Sau programs?
Do you train and teach everything in horizontal motions, vertical, diagonal, spiral, straight, curved? Can you vary your approach for example vertically from underneath, from above, until everything is truly happening in the moment? Until you mindfully move?!
In the 90’s some said that my Si-Fu appears to be bored when attacked by students. He gave the impression of acting ‘lazy’.
Today I read comments under his videos “One (Gyaku) Tsuki on the 12, and the old man is down. He is doing so little. Everyone is just making him look good, playing along.”
Ehm … Then and now a lot of people misjudge what he is doing. It is probably the hardest to unlearn all the many things one could do, and eventually as a master or grandmaster end up doing only what is absolutely necessary, not an ounce more. It looks effortless, even ‘lazy’, when one is only doing what is needed, and only for the time frame necessary. Not a fraction of a second earlier, not a moment too long, or a movement too much. On a side-note; one of my Sihings wrote to me last year, saying: “Si-Fu hits now at 69 more powerful than 20 years ago, when he was younger and stronger.” Think about that one, grasshopper.
In short, the Chi-Sau sections can be an extremely helpful tool to develop:
Functional strength is paramount. I can’t say it any better as one of my favourite quotes below.
"To protect yourself with your fists you MUST become a knockout puncher.” ~ Jack Dempsey (1950)
In my schools the transformation from physical to functional strength is one of the most important points of the desired allover performance.
A last word … for today. Someone asked me; you are talking here about the power scale, (WT) technical evolution, bandwidth of performance and more, isn’t Chi-Sau really about ‘sticky hands’, is it not an ‘clinging arms’ exercise?
My answer: Watch a boxing fight, any fight. Now look at the winning combo of punches, how one champion took out the other. Learn it. Let’s say it’s jab-jab-cross. Will you now be able to knock down a champion?
Certainly not. You discover that the real ingredients are power, the ability to deliver that power, timing, balance, positioning, distance, mobility, elasticity and coordination. Remember? Kung Fu is Eastern Boxing.
Since Chi-Sau is supposed to add the level of a tactile (recognition) guidance system to back-up our visual guidance system, it is important to provide these weapons upgrades. Sticking or clinging might end up being the smallest part of Chi-Sau if the delivery, the application doesn’t work.
In conclusion: Packaging the typical most often occurring Chi-Sau actions and reactions, the different internal and external elements of our forms into Chi-Sau sections (forms), makes a lot of sense.
It’s up to your teacher to fill it with life, to build and encourage the measurable growth of your skills and knowledge. To ensure that Chi-Sau sections, just like one-man forms, do not deteriorate into useless piles of techniques.
Thought that you might read here about the secrets of the fourth Chi-Sau section? The variations of the third Biu-Dje Chi-Sau section? The differences between the first and second Wooden Dummy Chi-Sau sections?
Sorry. This post is about the blueprint of the how-to of training, learning and teaching. Producing knock-out self-defense skills.
Posted by ralph haenel
at 12:01 AM PST
Updated: Sunday, 25 January 2015 8:52 PM PST