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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
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Wing Tsun Kung Fu Vancouver Blog
Sunday, 28 August 2011

Bridge over Troubled Water – About storytelling and details of training


I like stories. Stories help me remember important details. They generate meaningful connections between seeing an exercise, getting a feel for it, and listening to instructions. I enjoy teaching using stories.


My second WingTsun instructor, Sifu Peter Vilimek, used a lot of mini stories to reinforce the understanding of his teachings. The stories support the journey from training mere techniques towards forming reliable movement pattern within one’s Wing Tsun performance.

One of his stories I like to call today “Bridge over Troubled Water.” No, it’s not a mystical Chinese Kung Fu inspired metaphor. And no, it has nothing to do with Simon & Garfunkel’s classic hit from 1970.


For most Wing Tsun (Wing Chun, Ving Tsun) practitioners the term Fook-Sau stands for Bridge-Arm or bridging arm. Yet in application, I myself have seen many very different interpretations. But I don’t want to join in, nor do I care about the “battle” of some about the traditional, original, modern, authentic or modified “Kung Fu truth.”

Techniques have to follow the laws of physics. Our structure, the angles of temporary positions, the connectivity of all muscle groups, development of power, all of it has to work for the underdog. Who is the underdog? The by the attacker chosen victim, finding himself in a confrontation, which is about to turn physical.


My teacher then, in 1986, told me to look at the function of Fook-Sau. The arm builds a temporary bridge to transport an army, your punch “across the river” into the opponent’s territory (his structure). Think of the use of Fook-Sau in combination with a simultaneous punch in the second form of Wing Tsun Kung Fu.

Imagine Fook-Sau as a pontoon bridge build by the engineer company of your army. It has to be build straight from one side of the river to the other. Also due to its temporary transport function, it wouldn’t make sense to build it diagonal to reach the opposite bank (Fook-Sau position). What would you think if the bridge is in the middle of the operation being destroyed (retracted) so that your troops fall into the water? Why building a bridge in the first place, when your soldiers anyway swim across and may not succeed while encountering strong currents (separation of Fook-Sau and Punch). Also, imagine your bridge drifting off the bank while you are still in mid transport (no forward pressure). These examples might help you to understand how the Fook-Sau/Punch exercise should be performed and executed in application.


Think again of the idea behind combining Fook-Sau and Punch in the Cham-Kiu form and now read this quote about the design of a pontoon bridge: “The roadway across the pontoons must .. be able to support the load, yet be light enough not to limit their carrying capacity.”


Stories make vital details more memorable, give us examples we can easily understand. However, we must be able to attend to all the details necessary to improve.


When did you the last time pay attention to ALL details of a training exercise?


Recently I held a bonus class featuring a particular topic. I didn’t reveal it at first. I wanted everyone to form their own conclusions, by analysing how we trained that evening. I’ll get back to this class at the end of this post.


Sihings Tony and Edmond of Wing Tsun Kung Fu VancouverTake the portrayed situation in this post’s photo as example. Naturally, you can’t see movement in a photo, but hey you have to get the work done for yourself anyway. Theory is one thing, bringing it to life, training hard, another. Limiting the length of this post I won’t mention all, but some details to be checked while you train. Some details mentioned may be unique to the Wing Tsun system.


- are you moving your body behind your punch, bringing your bodyweight into the punch?

- is your foot work moving you only forward, or do your leg/s control the attacker’s stance, or even better is your footwork attacking the opponents stance?

- are you using your arms as a shield which also attacks?

- are you making contact without chasing arms?

- do you punch full power without getting tense? Remember: Kung Fu is Eastern boxing!

- meeting greater force, could you instantly yield without losing your structure, without getting weak, without having your positions destroyed?

- are you holding your breath while going in, or have you learned to breath somewhat regular under stress?

- are you toes cramping or do you have a solid contact to the ground, being able to use your fluent footwork?

- are your knees bend or do your legs freeze up, erect your body, ending up resisting and wrestling the other guy?

- are your hips and shoulders supporting your movement and direction as well as being supportive of your defenses and attacks?

- can you generate power out of your spine? (Think of horizontal movements in Cham-Kiu and vertical movements in Biu-Tze.)

- are you aware of using shoulder, elbow and wrist as chain-linked or even independent power sources for your flexible strikes?

- are you aware in your exercises how muscles, ligaments, tendons, your fascia operate?

- can you make yourself feel what I call the “four hinges” for your punch: (simplified) chest muscles, upper back muscles, lats, shoulders?

- can you utilize the lower back muscles and your stomach muscles to build a strong yet mobile connection between your lower and upper body?

- what happens to your neck, head position when you go in?

- do your fingers turn into the “deadly tiger claw” or can you switch from open to closed hand applications without getting your fingers broken in a fast and aggressive exchange?


Ehmmm, and now do all of the above at the same time!! Well, here are a few of the not so magic ways to get it done: Find a supportive, skilled and knowledgeable instructor, meet up with like-minded training partners who keep pushing each other forward, maintain your passion, and .. film your hard training and analyze relentless.


Remember, I wrote earlier that I would come back to the special topic bonus class at Wing Tsun Kung Fu Vancouver? One of the participants was asked to e-mail me his conclusion as to the class topic that evening.

Kevin did a great job. He wrote: “The topic was to pay attention to details. This topic is important because it means to break down the techniques/movements into parts in order to carefully analyze the positions, strikes, and timing.”


So ... Are you still repeating or already working on the details?

Posted by ralph haenel at 8:34 PM PDT
Updated: Sunday, 28 August 2016 12:53 PM PDT

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