Is Wing Tsun really that frustrating? Why does any progress appear to be so slow? (part 1 of 3)
One of the common occurrences we all experience throughout our Wing Tsun career is frustration over what seems to be incredibly slow progress. Is this actually the case, is it more difficult to learn Wing Tsun than other martial arts, or is there another explanation?
Just recently I have been asked about what to do, to avoid being too tired at the end of a lesson. Also very common are questions like: “Will I ever get better?”, or “When will I finally progress?”
Well, to compare it; many martial arts schools sell, instead of memberships, seemingly prestigious black belts with slogans like: “Get your black belt in one year”. Many advertise with teaching you literally hundreds or even thousands of techniques, to be ready for just about any scenario. Or so they make you think.
What about competition sports? Martial arts competitors usually have enough time to get into shape, often they know their opponents, have studied their behaviour on video, and prepare special fight plans. Even the so-called no-rules fights assure that no third parties get involved, that no weapons are used, what type of clothing or shoes are worn, they guarantee that the fight area is limited and clean, providing special flooring or mats, that quite a set of rules is being enforced by a referee.
Above points and more, like weight, age, experience, and intent of actions, the element of surprise, mind games and intimidation tactics of the aggressor - nothing is on your side in a real-life scenario.
But one step back to typical martial arts training. I hear it quite often, that students talk about the empowerment, the good feeling, the joy of achievement when training other martial arts. Why is that so? Is Wing Tsun that different? Quite a few martial art schools practice pre-arranged partner exercises, where you can’t fail. Many don’t even allow any contact whatsoever. Sometimes you are not even allowed to talk to each other during exercises. On the downside this builds up the inability to deal with violence, ending up being incapable of hurting the aggressor, and teaches unrealistic technique pattern, impossible to apply under unknown conditions.
In the martial arts school it works. Isn’t that great, limited exercises routines, no physical contact, no talking, what can go wrong? Nothing, that’s why it feels so good. You have the feeling of getting better and better. Nothing spoils your progress. Unfortunately, this is a very dangerous assumption. Without wanting to paint the picture too black; Reality strikes often with horrible violence. Fighting for your life is not a sport!
Again, what is so different about Wing Tsun? For one, especially in Wing Tsun we experience that talent and skill take you only so far. Over the years one finds out that it takes four virtues to truly advance. Every hardworking student begins to understand how focus, commitment, perseverance and determination drive you to excel.
The Wing Tsun instructor has the difficult task to take on the persona of different assailants, to pose as the attacker according to the progressive Wing Tsun programs and to point out every mistake, to expose every gap, to raise awareness of every conceivable scenario the real life attack might put you through. It is the job, the responsibility of a dependable Wing Tsun instructor to support your progress by continuously pointing out your weak spots. This is (most of the times) not fun. In Wing Tsun we all learn to prepare for a completely different type of circumstances, for real life, Period.
That is the reason why we never stand still; never let you rest on skills you have achieved, why we push you to new levels of stress training, eventually enabling you to make rational decisions within fractions of seconds. This is how you learn to act under heavy pressure in a high risk situation.
One of my instructors, a former professional boxer, rounded it up: “If it feels good, it ain’t Wing Tsun”. A responsible Wing Tsun instructor drives you to the point of exhaustion at the end of a lesson without neglecting the technical training, without forgetting the fine-tuning.
You fight as you train. That is why every progress is yet again improved through putting more stress on you, by exposing you to a higher level of difficulties. In return if may feel like a standstill, because you are still being corrected.
Everyone with enough patience will eventually discover their enormous progress, especially when working with beginners in class, who will complement you on your skills, who will look up to what you have achieved already.
One instructor told me once, during a for me very frustrating training session: “You know, when I face Sifu, I too feel as if it is my first day in Wing Tsun Kung Fu. He controls me at will.” Look at it the other way. If your Wing Tsun instructor, even after years, can still turn up the heat, lead you into new high-pressure scenarios, makes you sweat, leaves you tired at the end of a session, it means that he is good enough to teach you for years to come.
Otherwise you might possibly be wasting time and money.
In conclusion, how we train Wing Tsun and how the progress is measured cannot be compared to the typical workout in most martial arts schools. Believe me. One develops over time an appreciation for this unique training, to be fit for survival in life.
Nine pearls, three springs, one wave punch, and a lot of chi power, by Gary Kaiser - part 4 of 4
Let’s add one more in our search of analogies for Wing Tsun’s whiplash-like force, fluid and wave-like power, previously explained through old concepts as the "seven joints" or "nine pearls". Now, another visual analogy would be seeing your body as a coiled spring. Each coil would be represented by one of the body's major joints. A rising step/punch would be the action where the spring extends; a falling step would be the pulling back action.
In Wing Tsun Kung Fu we lift our head up, while trying to point our tailbone downwards. This is similar to Tai Chi's concept of "lift the spirit, flow the chi heavenwards". Doing this action tends to stretch the spine so that the vertebrae are separated as far as possible (good for preventing back pain) and this 'flattens' the lower back. A flat lower back gives the body a much better mechanical advantage in using the hip flexors. These muscles are extremely strong, possibly as strong as either quadriceps (thighs) or lats, and often under-used by martial art practitioners.
This extra leverage and range of movement are shown in the following. Stand straight and turn your torso, many people can turn almost 90 degrees and the move seems smooth and easy. Now bend forwards from your waist so your torso is at about a 45 degree angle. Try turning form this position and you will see that you cannot turn as far, and that the action is not as easy. As far as mechanical advantage, imagine a football lineman bent forwards like this, and he puts out an arm to grab the opponent running by. Stress in this case typically goes through the body, but the weak points are the shoulder, lower back and knees. The joints are not weak per se, but since he is not facing and square and level to the target, there is a far greater shear factor on the joints. The muscles may not be able to hold these extended positions, and injury may occur. In Wing Tsun terms, this misalignment does not allow as much energy transfer i.e. power for hitting.
Also if your back is straight, this allows the stomach, intercostal muscles between the ribs, and chest more room to expand and move, and be involved in adding power to the action (rising punch). Or the opposite, to compress during a falling step/punch.
Your imagination is an incredible tool and can help you shape the success of your training. Without going further into the part of sports psychology in connection with visualization, we simply want to state that old sayings, poetic martial arts terminology at times just has to be unlocked, to produce great training results.
Next week. Join us for a multiple-part series under the title: "When does Self-Defense start? or The very first line of Defense!"
Nine pearls, three springs, one wave punch, and a lot of chi power, by Gary Kaiser - part 3 of 4
Here a few ideas in regard to the rising step with punch.
1. The ankle joint which is stretched open during the step, closes to a smaller angle as the knee (and upper body) moves forwards over it.
2. The knees straighten somewhat, propelling the upper body forwards and upwards.
3. The hips drive in and up, moving the torso into the target.
4. The torso expands as the ribs separate, and the main bends of the spine straighten upwards.
5. The relaxed and rounded back allows the shoulders to move in and extend forward.
6. The previously low (protecting) elbow straightens while advancing, eventually lengthening the arm when hitting the target.
7. The wrist moves forwards, transferring power to the knuckles of the hand which in turn strike the target.
Test it yourself. If you keep your elbow low and put your upright fist solid against a wall, you should feel a linkage back to the sole of the foot.
While in this position do an isometric exercise. Slightly increase the pressure, joint by joint, starting at the ankle and moving up. The muscle work should feel even or smooth throughout the different body parts. You should feel a bracing or linkage from the ground to the fist. More experienced students may be able to add a feeling of a spiral (or torquing) motion to the push or power-flow through the body. The resultant power at the hand is magnified by each increment of movement through the "seven joints" (or "nine pearls").
Nine pearls, three springs, one wave punch, and a lot of chi power, by Gary Kaiser - part 2 of 4
Wing Tsun Kung Fu’s 'wave' punch.
Generating power in your punch involves many areas of practise. Here we want to focus upon the 'feel' of the move by analogy and by specifics in regard to the physical power sources. Visualising in slow motion snapping a wet towel, or a bullwhip, we could see that each part of the flexible material consecutively bows out and then straightens up.
Wing Tsun Kung Fu's rising and falling steps might be seen as the hinges of a step ladder. When you snap open the ladder this hinge snaps into a locked position. It is a smooth, yet powerful whip feeling to the motion. If we try to feel this in all the joints of the body, in a flow from the foot to the fist, this creates a wave like motion.
To understand the many joint concepts: think of throwing a baseball. First imagine just using your wrist and no other movement.
Next, add in some elbow action, this should increase your distance covered and the speed of the ball.
Shoulder action is next; rotation of the shoulder makes a huge difference in the resulting action. Velocity and distance are noticeably increased, i.e. there is more power. Waist/hip rotation should add to the result.
Knee action straightens the legs, resulting in a push forwards. Ankle bend should move all the body above this area towards the target. An extreme version of this is seen in an actual step. Consider running towards the target, this will add more speed, power, and distance. If you were running along the top of a moving surface, say standing on top of a moving train, this would add even more to the equation.
Each joint in the body is adding to the end speed and power. There is usually a specific sequence of which muscles move which joints and when. Keeping upright, square, and relaxed allows for an easier and more complete movement.
Nine pearls, three springs, one wave punch, and a lot of chi power, by Gary Kaiser - part 1 of 4
photo left: punching exercises during a self-defense seminar at Wing Tsun Kung Fu Vancouver
Starting today enjoy reading a few thoughts by Gary Kaiser. Click here to read bios of the members of our trainer team.
Many older martial art teaching methods talk in a very poetic fashion about skills like 'wave power'. Terminology like the 'nine pearls' or the 'three springs' is used. Often these relatively vague descriptions lead to misinterpretations, and lead to claims of magical powers, energies, and other unverified claims.
But the masters of old were extremely realism orientated. So what does this kind of talk actually mean, if anything??? How can we modern students of Wing Tsun Kung Fu translate this to useful training concepts?
The nine pearls is a metaphor for using the major joints of the body in an efficient method to generate power, bracing, and flow. It refers to the shoulder, elbow and wrist joints of the arm (first spring), the 3 curves or bows of the spine (second spring), and the ankle, knee, and hip joints of the leg (third spring). The waist or belly area usually works in conjunction with the horizontal rotation of the hips.
In explanations of power development within the Wing Tsun Kung Fu system you can also hear the term ‘power of the three joints’. It is used in reference to the shoulder, elbow and wrist connection, or also indicates the hip, knee and ankle chain of power. Furthermore you may have come across the ‘power of the seven joints’, which especially in British Columbia should not be misunderstood. The ‘power of the seven joints’ is a term which can give us a visualization of how muscles, ligaments, tendons throughout the body create a wave-like power flow from ankle, knee, hip, spine, shoulder, elbow and wrist.
What offers me more value, joining group classes or taking private lessons?
photo left: Brian leading a segment of our recent fall seminar
A lot of times I have been asked about what gives a better value, taking group or private classes. Of course one should first evaluate one's motivation, is it a mere hobby, or is the goal the exploration of the art of Wing Tsun Kung Fu? Most people start out with a focus on attaining the ability to defend themselves. Very soon the at times sobering reality sets in, that there is much more to acquiring self-defense skills than a set of techniques or even worse, the notion of “tricks”.
Private classes focus very much on the specific personal situation, the training needs of the student. It's a chance to work on details and get the undivided attention of the instructor. A continuous one-on-one work can lift you up to initially unimaginable levels of skill. It is also very challenging, don’t take this lightly, working on improving yourself session after session is very rewarding but also a tough task.
Yet group classes provide the necessary training time and helpful encounters with different students and their personalities. Here, in a friendly scenario, you might face already the problems of successfully communicating with your training partner. Asking your training partner for moderation, help with the exercise, can prove more challenging that it may seem at first. This topic will be discussed in detail in the upcoming multiple-part series under the title: "When does Self-Defense start? or The very first line of Defense!"
Learning WingTsun Kung Fu is about gaining self-confidence, dealing with unpleasant situations, facing reality. Self-Defense abilities for the real world. That is why a balanced mix of attending group classes as well as taking private lessons is the recommended solution. And let’s not forget about your home training, even if it's just minutes a day!
When does it end? The art of Wing Tsun.
photo left: some members of the trainer team (standing) Gary, Steve, Sifu Ralph, Nilo, Brian, Ciprian; (second row) Philip, Sia, Edmond, Sebastian, Rob, Tony
It has been a great week. It always motivates me as well, to see your dedication, to feel your enthusiasm. Congratulations to all who participated in our fall seminar, but especially to our members, who received their well-deserved promotions: Tim Schofield 1.SG Sarah McGowan 1.SG Felix McGowan 1.SG Jackie Ho 2.SG Sam Ho 2.SG William Chau 3.SG Dave Zraly 3.SG Michael Oleksuik 4.SG Fred Lo 4.SG David Livingstone 4.SG Mansun Lui 7.SG Adrian Law 7.SG Philip Lee 12.SG Tony Leung 12.SG Siavash Panahandeh 12.SG Sebastian Molnar 12.SG Rob Grylls 12.SG
Someone told me last night: “… the fact is sinking in that now I am really at the higher levels and things only get harder. I really got to work harder.”; which reminds me of a little story of my own. At the beginning of the 90’s during my Sifu’s first seminar in East Germany, I received my certificate of the first instructor level. It made me proud; to be the first in the country and while seminar participants were applauding my Sifu was whispering to me: “This is only the beginning. Now you start your Wing Tsun journey.” When is the studying, the interpretation of an art ever done, finished. I most certainly hope not anytime soon. I am learning and teaching Wing Tsun Kung Fu now since 1984 and it never get’s dull. So, keep discovering new aspects of your martial ART, keep interpreting the old Kung Fu forms, strategies and tactics, handed down over the centuries. Let it never end. Let’s share our knowledge and skills. All the best to our members of the trainer team, who have reached the 12th Student Grade and begin to pursue their Technician Grade training.
Let's learn with each other
photo left: some of Monday night's seminar particpants
A word about testing for eligible members: The following are just some of the factors in regard to who qualifies for testing, the promotion to the next student level: - attendance of group classes, private lessons & previous seminars - performance during the last months and weeks - date and performance of last test - understanding of the programs, which is often more important than the current performance of a particular technique - feedback and/or questions I receive, which also tells me, if one is understanding the program
As I have said very often, it is for me (and for your progress) far more important how someone trains, if someone shows the effort, as opposed to possibly missing or forgetting a technique/drill/exercise here or there. A promotion is often the best motivation to step up to the next level of commitment, to take one's hobby more serious than before, to work harder for more satisfying benefits.
Often does the advancing into the next program produce a better inside view, lets us "suddenly" better understand previous programs, which in the end jumpstart's our progress, yields positive results, as opposed to remaining in the "old" program.
The programs are guidelines, not cast in stone, they are all pieces of a big puzzle, that will one day fit together and have produced a skill and knowledge of the complexity of self-defense, an understanding of the Wing Tsun system, the satisfaction of a successful hobby, a greater awareness of your body, your surroundings, improved health.
Concentration, Focus and Respect!
It was a pleasure to greet about 30 members of our school, the first Canadian Wing Tsun branch, for the opening evening of the fall seminar.
Beginning with selected segments of the Siu-Nim-Tau and Cham-Kiu form, chain punching in intervals, the focus of the evening was set on improving striking power. The aggressive use of punching techniques characterizes this specific system of Chinese boxing.
The partner exercises, which dominated the evening, put the spotlight on important elements of balance, distance, and timing as well as the imperative coordination of hand and foot work. The repeated execution of the ‘falling step’ helped to visualize the necessity of exploding punches in the Wing Tsun system’s favourite distance, the close range.
As supportive tools rubber knifes and yawaras were used, to implement details of different striking techniques. Everybody was fully concentrated, the windows and mirrors started to fog up early on.
Every seminar features a unique set of special exercises to greatly improve your skills and knowledge of the Wing Tsun system. For returning members the seminar is a great time to take charge and let the event be a point in time to redefine motivation and training goals for months to come!
For members who have just joined our classes, it’s a fabulous opportunity to get a condensed inside view in what to expect from this unique self-defense system.
Some of you take usually only private lessons, others can make it to group classes only once in a while. The special topic seminar is a chance to learn new workout routines, discover possible problem situations while working with different partners.
At this point I would like to express a big Thank You! to all of you, who go to great lengths to arrange your work and family schedule, to make it to the seminars. I know it is sometimes not easy and appreciate it even more, since it shows your dedication to your hobby, your respect for your fellow class mates, your willingness to learn.
See you Wednesday night for the main event! Good luck to all members to have signed up for their respective grading tests.