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ralph haenel, hänelwingtsun, wing tsun kung fu instructor, author, publisher, self-defense expert Sifu Ralph Haenel, learning and teaching Wing Tsun Kung Fu since 1984
Changing lives, one punch at a time.
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Wing Tsun Kung Fu Vancouver Blog
Monday, 28 December 2009

Wing Tsun Chi-Sau marathon with Sifu Ralph Haenel, www.wingtsunkungfu.comThe Tan-Sau of death and other secret techniques of Wing Tsun Kung Fu - part 2 of 2
The 14-hour Chi-Sau marathon, thoughts on a Wing Tsun training method

In various martial arts, you can find sayings to the effect: “If you want to master martial art ABC, you have to train basics, basics and the basics!” Why is it then so hard for many to do just that?

Wing Tsun works under the idea that the attacker is looking for a victim, ergo usually for at least an apparently weaker person. Furthermore, we learn to use this temporary victim status and turn it all around by exploding unexpectedly into the face of the attacker. This sounds all very nice, but doesn’t work without ‘firepower’ and also the experience of what adrenalin does to you. Having more punching power, even or especially if the attacker is physically stronger, is one of the (strong) points in our Wing Tsun training. Some days I train up to 6, 8 hours or more. Wing Tsun Chi-Sau is an excellent, yet at times somewhat overlooked training method for building a flexible structure, good footwork in coordination with your arm-techniques, and an extreme focus on various striking methods in a very close range.

Update: In the previous paragraph, I wrote: “and also the experience of what adrenalin does to you.” It couldn’t be more timely; Please read the following in Sifu Brian Yam’s blog. Click here.

Earlier I asked: “Why is it then so hard for many to do just that (train the basics)?” I talk often in my classes about one particular experience. The setting is in the early 90’s, the beginning of a big seminar at the Langenzell castle in Germany, the Wing Tsun castle. Many of us were warming up for parts of our Technician Grade testing. More and more began to watch two guys who were just flying through their Chi-Sau routines. Everything looked amazing, appeared well-timed. The right responses popped up like gunshots. Everything looked super precise. Power and speed and techniques melted into a Wing Tsun wonderland. Many started to let their heads hang, sure about not being able to match this kind of supermen performance. Sifu Kernspecht arrived and opened “the games.” You know, his personal mix of Chi-Sau and Lat-Sau, <cartoon mode on>you still slowly nodding and answering that you do know what a Wu-Sau is, while simultaneously looking at the wall you are flying towards to<cartoon mode off>. He soon started to work with the WT super dudes. Easily destroying rhythm, responding unexpectedly, moving seemingly out of sync, suddenly nothing seemed to work for either one of the two guys. They were easily hit, their attempted strikes merged into nothingness, just like shooting blanks. Moral of the story: It doesn’t matter how well you perform WITH your training partner, especially with someone you are very comfortable with; it all has to translate into striking power, structure and the ability to handle stress, and also not to fold when getting hit. No student, instructor, trainer, sifu, master or grandmaster is unbeatable.

Moving now from a valuable lesson of the past, back into this year; earlier in 2009, just for fun, I did a 10-hour Chi-Sau marathon. Recently on Saturday, December 19th, everything came together, and I turned my private lesson schedule into a 14-hour Chi-Sau marathon. Friday was a “warm-up”, six hours with six participants. The line-up for Saturday showed a name list of 12 participants for 14 hours altogether. Two had decided to go for a double session.

Before I get to the Chi-Sau Saturday; Related to the topic “Back to Basics?” I posted a brief note on Facebook. Funny enough someone, who I don’t know, sent me an e-mail: “Fitness doesn't play an important role in the process of learning wing chun.” Hmmh ... Yes, fitness can also be a relative factor. I have seen very fit people collapse within moments under the pressure of a stressful fight exercise. My point has always been to do your strength and fitness training alongside your martial arts training, not one after the other. Why? Life is too short. It’s that simple. However, purposely staying weak or neglecting fitness? Well, the next violent drunk who isn’t afraid of getting hurt will punch you right out of your martial arts dreams into reality. Or as Evan just wrote in a related blog entry: “What if you're too tired to even run away!” Click here to read Evan's blog entry.

Now back to the 14-hour Wing Tsun Chi-Sau marathon, back to Saturday, December 19th. Typically, I start at 10am, but for some reason I had scheduled the first session for 8am. It was 7am, time to get up, OK ... one hit on the snooze button, shower and I was ready for the day. At 7:30am I was out on The Drive, Commercial Drive that is, which has at that time a very different feel than at midnight or 1am on Friday, Saturday nights when there is live music at so many different places. I got a macchiato at Continental Coffee, my favourite coffee shop out of some 30+ coffee shops on The Drive. A macchiato is a double espresso with milk foam, nothing else.
Dangerously convenient, we have a 24-hour grocery store around the corner, where I got some juice. I had to run after an old man who forgot his umbrella. A day earlier, he forgot his cane. Right before a 14-hour workout, I really didn’t want to think about what might be in store for us when one gets old.

Friday had already been a great day. I worked with Mike, Chung, Sifu Steve RKC, Wayne, Bojan and Doug. Now Sebastian, Wing Tsun trainer and Salsa instructor started the Saturday marathon on the spot at 8am, followed by Dave, Edmond, Sia, Philip, Anselm for a double session (Wing Tsun Victoria), Vasile, Sifu Chris, Tanya, Jennifer, Marcel and as the last one, Sifu Gary K. for another double session.

Certain basic ideas popped up repeatedly throughout this long day. Here in no particular order some of the points.

There are many different ways to practice Chi-Sau to extract different benefits. Some have been mentioned in Part 1 of “The Tan-Sau of death.”

Speed of striking techniques and responses in general, is in the end for many a factor. Well, if you want to get really fast, train really, really slow to make yourself aware of all the components that make you eventually fast.
There are different stages to slow detailed Chi-Sau training:

1. arms or shoulder or neck or biceps start to hurt,
2. many experience the wonderful feeling of arms or the whole body shaking,
3. you move slow, your Chi-Sau appears to the onlooker boring.
4. arms, shoulder and various other parts of you are now severely burning,
5. you just heard a noise and wonder if was the impact of your arms falling off,
6. you experience cramps, sudden feeling of weakness, instinct to run away
... and then we start the real training! Tongue out

Important while going through above scenarios:

1. Do NOT break contact!
2. Do NOT stop for a moment and shake your arms out.
3. Do NOT follow the instinct of answering your phone, even though you know you switched it off.
4. Do NOT pretend you suddenly have to go to the bathroom.
5. Do NOT attempt to bribe your Sifu by saying that you paid already for the session and that there is really no need to finish it.

I am really not a tool man, I can get a nail into the wall; most likely at least. Therefore, if someone would surprise me with a brand-new 299-piece toolbox from the latest Sears catalogue, I wouldn’t really know what to do with it. Many ‘know’ a lot of "tools", meaning techniques and attack/defense/counter scenarios, which under pressure become worthless and cannot be used. Work on structure, coordination of hand and footwork and knock-out power, rather than on a trazillion of secret techniques.

If working with a fifth student grade or an advanced technician grade, the core concepts of how to train, how to learn and how to teach remain the same. Let’s look at only one example, one single punch, and one possible problem you may face ... among many.

The blueprint for teaching and learning Wing Tsun. The WingTsun-CoreConceptsDistance – Punch in or out of the wrong distance and one action is wasted.
Timing – If your timing is off, you might get hit at the same time you punch.
Coordination – One of the few “real secrets” of Wing Tsun is the coordination, the connection of hand and foot work. Involve as many musclegroups; put your weight behind your punch. Remember the ‘falling step’ idea by Jack Dempsey and Bruce Lee?
Balance – Punch too tensely and your own punch on impact may throw you off balance.
Power – Physical strength is not necessarily the same as punching power.
Release Power (ability to deliver power) – Having punching power and being able to deliver it in the right place at the right time is a tricky business.
Mobility – Remember Muhammad Ali’s footwork, which puzzled many boxers? Review you Wing Tsun Kung Fu footwork. How mobile are you?
Positioning – Deliver your punch, have your Wu-Sau too low and get hit.
Centerline – Have your punch also protect you, for example your ribs, while punching.
Fluidity – Can you deliver a whiplash like punch that employs the whole body while moving in on the opponent?

Click on above graphic to view the large file version of the WingTsun-CoreConcepts.

By now, it was 9.20am. I was working with Dave, a hardcore hiker and camper who doesn’t believe in tents. Yeah, a little bit of sunshine was peaking through the window. Each lesson I was repeating above mentioned points, explained the WingTsun-CoreConcepts, corrected mistakes.

What else came up throughout the day? Think of the following thoughts, visualisations as ideas of how to check your training process differently. Perhaps it might support the notion of how exciting it can be to discover the ART behind the martial ART.

- John Wayne and Wing Tsun
Don’t “reach” with your punch across the distance. Remember the WingTsun-CoreConcepts? Do it like John Wayne and shoot from the hip. In addition, try to look cool and merciless! Kidding aside, use your punch like a shield and move your arms following the cone-idea. See the graphic by Gary Hughes.

- Can you find the white spots on your map of muscles? Explore the four hinges!
When you train, feel which muscles are involved. Which muscles feel relaxed? Where can you produce power? Where do you feel too much tension? Which muscles feel like white spots on the map, meaning they don’t respond. Explore your toolbox, your Wing Tsun forms. Which part of the Siu-Nim-Tau or Cham-Kiu can “wake up” the muscles you need to improve? I often talk about the ‘four hinges.’ This refers to the usage of your chest, lats, shoulder and upper back while punching. How long is your whip? No laughing here. We are talking about the connection of muscles from your toes to fingertips. How many muscles in your body can produce a fluid and whiplash-like punch?

- Impact and reflection
Can your arms deflect an incoming punch and lead the force through a connection via upper body into the stance? Can you use your footwork, even the lifting of your heel, bending of your knee, to generate a more powerful punch?

- Power of the seven joints
Yes, we know that the joints are powered by muscles, ligaments and tendons. The late Sifu Yip Man supposedly said: “The more joints are involved in a technique, the more powerful it will be.”
If we look in a simplified way at the first three Wing Tsun forms, we find out that
1. the Siu-Nim-Tau develops the power of shoulders, elbows and wrists,
2. the Cham-Kiu develops the power of hips, knees and ankles, and
3. the Biu-Tze connects through the usage of the spine the “lower” and the “upper” three joints.
Hence the talk about the power of the seven joints, looking at the spine as “one joint.” (wrist, elbow, shoulder, spine, hip, knee, ankle = seven joints)

Can you independent position and move your shoulder, elbow and wrist, ... and do that on both sides? In a fight, your muscles have to constantly reposition six joints, both shoulders, elbows and wrists. Does this now translate for you into more powered punches, fluid movement, flexible actions?

For some it is helpful if we look at some aspects of our Chi-Sau training as partner supported isometric exercise. Why not?!

Some fire a single arm technique, then a step, then a turning stance or yielding, followed by another technique. In order to make the connection between punches and steps, defenses and attacks, I use yet another visualisation. Imagine you have short bungee jump cables connect your knees, elbows, from your left elbow to your left knee, diagonal, and so on. Now see those imaginary connections as flexible powerlines that support your structure and prevent it from being ripped apart. Latest during the training, it begins to make sense.

- Don’t run out of bullets too early
Stamina, power management and power generation under pressure, under stress show what’s real and what’s beautiful but useless theory. There is so much more that can be said.

What matters! – The Real Secret of Kung Fu – Wing Tsun that is ...

  • It doesn’t matter how traditional or classical your punch is, of if it’s a “bad, bad modified” punch.
  • It doesn’t matter how killer-like the Fak-Sau of your instructor is.
  • It doesn’t matter how your lineage performs the Tan-Sau.

All that matters is angles, positions, movement; all that matters is physics!

Enjoy your version of Wing Chun, Ving Tsun or Wing Tsun. Train hard. Have fun with your class mates. Check your progress. And don’t let plateaus and setbacks discourage you. Have a vision of what you want to achieve, define your goals, dream a little bit and your martial art will be an exciting martial art!

Have fun, train hard and stay real!

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Posted by ralph haenel at 10:25 PM PST
Updated: Sunday, 22 May 2011 7:23 PM PDT

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