Learning and teaching tools in Wing Tsun Kung Fu Gary Hughes, a long-time member at Wing Tsun Kung Fu Vancouver, has created the animation to the left.
The graphic gives you a visualization of the powerful 'shield' a Wing Tsun practitioner produces through hard training. Employing a aggressive yet protective forward movement, does the practitioner use his arms and legs simultaneously for attacks and defenses. Often are the techniques seen as the most important ingredient. Some, who have trained for a long time, may have discovered along the way the so-called technique-collectors or grade hunters.
Even a beginner realizes very early on in his/her Wing Tsun training, that a powerful structure has to be build. Let's look at only one example, your very first punch in this scenario. Imagine you are being attacked and you attempt to defend yourself, following the Wing Tsun concepts, by going aggressively forward, trying to punch the attacker.
- If the punch is too weak, nothing happens. The aggressor will continue to hurt you. - If the punch is thrown out of the wrong distance, the effort will have been made in vain. - If your footwork doesn't connect with your punch, a big part of your potential cannot be engaged. - If you cannot maintain balance, your own punch might throw you off, on impact or while missing the target. - If you are too tense, you will not be able to 'transform' your physical strength into actual striking power.
And a Wing Tsun practitioner finds out early on that only few decisions can be made, if at all, in the fractions of seconds a fight is about to explode. At an advanced stage in your education, your reflex-like responses will have to be employed instantly. You need to stop, control or disable the very first attack and also take away space, time and opportunity for a successful second attack, driving the attacker into defensive actions. You want to use the moment of surprise and as the presumed victim you will have to turn the situation around by aggressively exploding 'into' the attacker, even if it is for just a moment, to give yourself the chance to run away, while the attacker is momentarily stunned.
The system of Wing Tsun Kung Fu offers us very clear instructions, which guide the practice of our four (empty-hand or weaponless) forms, as well as the partner exercises. Like a overlaying blueprint do the four fighting concepts, the four power concepts and their application in four dimensions, give us the necessary hints and tips for a great training.
Over the years I have seen many times that the assumption of failure has been blamed on the technique, or in order to improve performance one was seeking the next form, the next exercise, the next Chi-Sau section, in order to achieve success.
But as so often in life, the devil is in the detail. It's not about doing more, it's about doing it right. Well, I know that's easier said than done. Many martial arts masters have expressed it in various ways: "The path to mastering your skills is training basics, basics, and ... basics."
But to do it right, we need learning and teaching tools that enable us to reach successful results. My very own learning and teaching method has over the years formed a systematical approach, which I call the ten CoreConcepts of Wing Tsun Kung Fu™.
More about all that during the next days ...
As always, Thanks for taking the time to follow the articles in our blog. Keep coming back! I also very much appreciate your feedback and encouragement.
Fit For Self-Defense - Wing Tsun form training
Above a few exercises of one of the most advanced Wing Tsun forms, the wooden dummy form, performed by Nilo Lida.
Health/Fitness/Strength training at Wing Tsun Kung Fu Vancouver: In my classes I often talk about the fact, that a Wing Tsun practitioner should not just be able to inflict pain (if absolutely necessary), but also know how to avoid and prevent pain. Many of you have already made the experience, how many details one is discovering while practicing the Siu-Nim-Tau form over and over again. Sometimes wrongly interpreted as a beginners-only form, is the Little-Idea-Form of the Wing Tsun Kung Fu system also seen as a form of the master. There are more than 430 muscles in the human body, which allow an enormous potential not just in the range of motion, but also in power development and the fluidity of motion. There is (almost) no part in our body without any function. But it is a sad fact that many people nowadays perform only a fraction of the movements their body is capable of doing, which leads eventually to a decrease in functionality and usability.
Our members have often heard about the benefits of the first form of the Wing Tsun Kung Fu system: - exercising from short-term stretching towards long-term lengthening of muscles, - increased mobility of muscles, - better integration and usage of ligaments and tendons - the learning of all basic techniques of our system - breathing methods - the benefits of an upright, yet deeply rooted, powerful and flexible stance - amazing increase of punching power - for many also a great form of meditation, - a improvement in quality of life due to achieving a better range of motion, muscular balance, … just to name a few points.
Almost every one of our ChiKung classes focuses on a different aspect of the form, even supportive and challenging partner exercises. The ChiKung Siu-Nim-Tau (SNT) form is probably the most valuable form of the Wing Tsun Kung Fu system. Beginning to understand the SNT form means: - learning about the healing effects of the movements, - target the relief of stress, - conscious relaxation of the whole body, - awareness of the use (or previous misuse) of muscles, ligaments, tendons, joints, - special muscle extension and strengthening exercises, - a physiological well functioning muscle structure, muscular balance, - pain relief.
These are just a few points listing the value, meaning and contents of this extraordinary form. There is a Chinese saying in Wing Tsun: "Siu-Nim-Tau bad = Kung Fu bad"; which sometimes may take years to understand. Why? The more often you train the form, the more detail you pay attention to, the more you will feel the subtle changes in your performance.
Visit us and train with us during the next WingTsun-ChiKung class. Click here for dates of upcoming classes!
When does Self-Defense start? or The very first line of Defense! (part 3 of 3)
Mini excerpt of a Wing Tsun demo in early 2002 at the Simon Fraser University (SFU), located in Burnaby, British Columbia. On a side note, some viewers have already discovered that the SFU buildings in the background can be seen in many shows of the X-Files or Stargate SG 1.
Back now to the third part of our mini series, talking about the first line of defense.
What are the main complaints about training partners I have received over the years or heard about in different schools, even different countries and cultures?
My training partner … 1. never, or rarely ever follows the routine, the exercise we are supposed to be developing. 2. is trying to solve everything with strength. 3. is too aggressive right from the start, instead of training with each other. 4. is combating any effort to begin training the exercise correctly. 5. doesn’t want to train with partners who are too short, too weak, too new, too young, etc. 6. is calling the training partner names because they don’t want to “train hard”.
To top it off, my favourite quote of one training partner to another (favourite = being as sarcastic as possible): “Let us train, you are a woman, I need a break.” This statement illustrates that the student is not only very self-absorbed but also likely to progress very slowly due to an unwillingness to overcome some very dated perceptions.
So, what can you do? Do you “let it happen”? Do you go home? Do you avoid this training partner the next time? Do you talk to the training partner? Do you talk to the instructor (of course!) on a confidential basis?
Here we finally find our answer. This is the first line of defense. This is where Self-Defense should and must start! Of course it is quite the opposite from being pleasant and enjoyable. But this is exactly the point. Here you begin to learn to defend yourself, to draw a border, to make a clear statement “Not with me”, “I will not allow you to treat me that way”.
Is that difficult to say? Yes, of course, at least for many people. Some say “I just want to learn to defend myself, I don’t want to have to deal with unwilling or obnoxious training partners as well”. (Remember in other martial arts? … no contact, no talking, no problem)
Here we would be missing the point, this is your best training, the best chance to really learn how to defend yourself. Your training partner is only intolerable towards you, but not actually knocking you out. You have other training partners around you, who are willing to help you, instructors you can approach. Here is where it starts, the first line of defense.
If you don’t train it here as uncomfortable it may be, yet in the safety of your school, with your training partners, how do you want to solve the problem on the street, somebody furiously yelling at you, invading your space, pushing you, when you quite possibly notice for a brief moment how bystanders turn away, when you feel you are alone, when physical injury, pain is imminent? It could be too late. In your school, this is the place where Self-Defense starts!
The class room is the place to safely gain knowledge of the specific strategies and tactics that make Wing Tsun Kung Fu so unique. It’s the place to heighten the perception of beginning violence; and often where you become aware of the signs in the first place, where you find out in what ways we could possibly be attacked. While increasingly learning to deal with this extreme form of stress (vicious attacks) we practice stress relief.
This of course does not exclude tough training in which the student will be guided (!) through high-pressure scenarios, which have to be explored according to the skill level a student is at.
Many Wing Tsun students know these training units, where nothing seems to work. It is not about right or wrong, it is not about mistakes you think you make, it is about the difficult adaptation process of being exposed to continuous attacks. You don’t ever have to like them, but in a strange way, you do get used to them. Sport is rules, self-defense is chaos. So, we have to learn to adapt to chaos. But the learning process must be controlled to be efficient and to yield positive results.
A good well-educated Wing Tsun Kung Fu instructor will have the ability and skill to slip into the roles of different attackers, tackle, box, wrestle, kick, etc. and more importantly put you under increasing pressure so in a real situation, the stress and pressure will be secondary and your trained reflexes will take over and keep you safe.
In order to draw the very first line of defense your training goals should be:
1. Learn how to draw your borders while you safely (not stress-free) train in a protected environment with a skilled instructor, for example in private lessons. 2. Train with partners who are willing to cooperate, to discover and respect these borders. 3. Workout with training partners who are willing to help each other, improving to protect these borders.
SPEAK OUT! This is where Self-Defense starts!
In conclusion: Wing Tsun Kung Fu stands for fierce self-defense, fear management and a healthy confidence, but the necessary skills can only bloom when the training process is geared towards working with each other and not in an atmosphere of working against each other.
Note #1! Whenever we do comparisons between the realistic self-defense system Wing Tsun Kung Fu and sport-oriented martial arts, we do not claim that others cannot defend themselves. The point we are making is that Wing Tsun Kung Fu is DIFFERENT; Wing Tsun is a highly specialized and sole self-defense system, while others promote fairness and sportive attitude which is only partially connected to self-defense.
Note #2! When learning how to defend oneself, this is often set equal to learning how to fight, which is not the same. Another article will at one point explain the actual differences between a typical self-defense situation and different types of ‘fights’, i.e. ritual fights, honour fights, competition fights.
When does Self-Defense start? or The very first line of Defense! (part 2 of 3)
A brief excerpt of a appearance on Breakfast Television in Calgary, Alberta in February of 2000.
Well, we are back again to our headline question or better questions: “When does Self-Defense start? or What is the very first line of Defense?”
To answer that, we have to look at the typical problems some people encounter in their training, very similar to what I experienced long ago during my Jiu-Jitsu and Karate days. If techniques or drills weren’t effective or simply didn’t work, the instructor(s) usual response was often one of the following: 1. You are too slow. … Get faster. 2. You are too weak. … Do more strength training. 3. Your timing is wrong. (example in judo, pulling sleeve counting while walking 1, 2, 3 and throw) 4. What you did was against the rules. 5. It was the wrong technique. … Try this one.
Once you follow the choreography to perfection, step by step, move and counter-move, everything seems to be fine, since it is clearly defined by rules & regulations as is any sport. Or is it?
In Wing Tsun Kung Fu we train for the event: - that we are the victim, not the fair opponent - that we are slower than the attacker - that we are weaker than the attacker - that we do not have the advantage of having adrenaline already surging through our veins - that we are not looking for a fight nor to inflict injury - that no rules are in place to protect us
Now add FEAR to the mix! Even the best boxer knows fear, or at least should, imagine yourself in a potentially life threatening situation, are you afraid? Well, you should be. There is nothing wrong with that. So, how do we train & prepare for all of that? After consideration of all the facts it is natural to draw the conclusion that one needs a responsible, helpful and supportive training partner.
Now we are getting somewhere!
Learning Self-Defense is not about who you can “take down” in class. Never forget: - people have different motivations for their training, - plan different goals within different timeframes, - train with different intensity.
If you feel stronger, better, faster than your training partner, that doesn’t mean that you are better in reality. Remember, reality versus perception, where you face the stronger, faster adrenalin monster, as we sometimes like to describe the worst possible attacker.
In actuality, it is very valuable to train with physically weaker partners (smaller, slower), allow them try to follow through with a punch, hit you as fast as they possibly can. If their punches don’t hurt you? Who cares, that isn’t the goal in a training situation anyway. If they are actually getting through – you have more work to do whether or not they are your physical match. You can focus on the finer details of a movement, when strength is not an issue, focus on developing true reflexes, move beyond natural human tendencies to compare and conquer. Training partners are one of the most important aspects of successfully learning Wing Tsun Kung Fu – not only having a good training partner but more crucially, being a good training partner.
Are you a good training partner? In any case, come back tomorrow for part 3 of our mini series!
When does Self-Defense start? or The very first line of Defense! (part 1 of 3)
In order to answer the question of what the very first line of defense is, I must first explain some details, leading up to the conclusion. So, please bear with me and also consider that some readers may require a little additional insight while others are familiar with certain aspects of this topic.
1. When being asked at what point a self-defense action typically starts, or at least should start, the most common reply is: “When one is attacked.”
2. The educated answer of a Wing Tsun Kung Fu student is more complex and states that one first of all must try to avoid the situation altogether. If you couldn’t avoid it, try to get away, even run away, and make also all attempts of using verbal skills to talk your way out of a potentially harmful situation. Only if you couldn’t avoid the situation, couldn’t run away, couldn’t talk your way out of it, now it is time for action. If all that has failed and an actual physical attack is imminent, even if the launch of this attack is hardly visible to the untrained eye, then the skilled Wing Tsun practitioner attacks, in many cases very aggressively, the attacker. The solution to defending yourself successfully is aggressive and continuous forward attack in order to combat a violent thug. The objective is not to allow the attacker to even finish the first attack, not to leave any space or even time for a second attack, but rather to force the attacker into a helpless situation.
3. For the bona fide answer to our question “When does Self-Defense start?” we have to explain the term self-defense in more detail. So, stay with me while we look at the subject of Self-Defense from a few different angles: the law, the potential victim, realism versus perception, the training. How does the law view Self-Defense? Please read up on our 3-part mini series “Canadian Law and Self-Defence” by Gary Hughes.
The explanations about the law and self defence can also show us, that the atrocious and unfair scenario of realistic Self-Defense has very little in common with what is typically practiced in many martial arts schools, which leads us to the next point as to why some students, while looking for self-defense, choose to train other martial arts, realism versus perception.
Certain practices in other martial arts can potentially lead to problems for the average person to be able to defend themselves in a real life scenario. Here are some examples:
Practitioners feel good due to of successful 2-person exercises in other styles. Problem: If the exercise is exactly choreographed, it has to work, but what about Reality?
Other styles train many, if not dozens of katas (forms performed against imaginary opponents). Problem: Knowing more techniques doesn’t equal better performance in reality. In fractions of seconds one has to choose the right defense “Less is actually More!”
Students enjoy martial arts training, where techniques “work”. Problem: It is often difficult to admit that a sport-oriented martial art cannot deal as efficient with a scenario without rules. Then there is also the comfort of a previously acquired skill, whether or not it will be beneficial in a real life situation.
Going to other martial arts, where the system of rules and regulations protects and promotes the theory that a “collection” of techniques equals self-defense skills. Problem: In short, since there are no regulations whatsoever in the martial arts business, many schools claim to deliver everything to everyone, also self defense skills. Think about the “pill that cures it all.”
Going to other schools, because self-defense techniques work there, without any physical contact. Problem: Yes, I’ve even heard this one: … “In the new school I finally learn something, since we are not allowed to make contact. The techniques are too dangerous.” … does this make any sense or need further comment?
Going to other schools, because no talking is allowed during training Problem: Just imagine, no physical contact, no communication, what can go wrong?
Training Wing Tsun Kung Fu. - Are we really better? Is Wing Tsun truly the best? Well, let us start with the statement: We are DIFFERENT! As our slogan says, we are committed to deliver Complete Self-Defense for Real People! No sport, no trophies, no competitions, well other than with ourselves to continuously strive for improvement and growth.
I, personally, dislike the assumption of being better. Have you ever seen a famous boxer who did not at one point in time or another get knocked out? Martial arts practitioners, masters, are also just people who can have a bad day. But on the other hand, professional teaching and learning methods plus a self-defense system that focuses 100% on self defense, gives you the edge you need to face reality.
The following training sample is integral to illustrating how & why Wing Tsun is different when it comes to self-defense. Over time, in subsequent program blocks, Wing Tsun training includes: - Lat-Sau (fight) programs that focus on types of problems which occur in reality, rather than specific series of techniques or drills - very few forms (4 to be exact), which we see as “toolboxes” of the system, manifesting concepts and strategies of the Wing Tsun Kung Fu system - intuition, reflexe-like responses, rewiring the way we move and respond to certain scenarios - dealing with the acceptance of “no rules”, the harsh realization that anything can happen - medium contact to arms, legs and upper body, which should be based on a mutual agreement of both training partners - moderate talking is encouraged to support the exchange of information during partner training while helping each other to improve their training efforts
A real-life attack does not include the referee, time-outs, rules or fairness that people become accustomed to when approaching martial arts as a sport. Sifu Keith R. Kernspecht, founder & chief-instructor of the European Wing Tsun Organization with over 2000 schools, published two easy to understand ‘BlitzDefence’ guides about selected Wing Tsun responses, one for men and one for women; yet a few key-points are valid for any group: 1. define your borders (know your personal space, and be aware of obstacles “on the street”) 2. watch your borders (be aware of the intentions of people around you) 3. defend your borders (be ready to respond to threats in an instant)
Is Wing Tsun really that frustrating? Why does any progress appear to be so slow? (part 3 of 3)
Concluding this 3-part series is another set of comments, which I received after publishing the article (read part 1) for the first time. It is important to communicate with training partners, not just about the current exercises, but also about perceived success or failure, about conception or misconception of how a exercise “feels”. Finding out that even the strongest, tallest, most experienced member in class is being ‘challenged’ in each and every private lesson to give everything he/she can give, often to the point of exhaustion, gives you the idea, that you are not alone. We want to achieve the ability to withstand attacks, deal with physical confrontation, even if the shoulders are burning, the arms are shaking, and the legs almost give. Many of you have quickly realized that what you thought is your boundary, until here and no further, is actually just a line you learn to cross and achieve better results you ever imagined you could. There is no “quick fix”, there is no instant gratification. You learn real skills that last. The journey itself teaches you your true potential. It feels wonderful to get past your estimate of your potential. We want to achieve the ability to function under an enormous amount of stress, cascading attacks that appear to leave you vulnerable, incapable of coping with a wild out of control attacker. Interesting enough, when you feel the most frustrated, as if “it” will never happen, you begin to function; you do not try to oppose the stress anymore. Remember the strength principles? Get rid of your own tensions; learn to use the strength of the attacker, just to name two out of four.
Well, here now more comments:
I agree with the points made in your article. I do feel a bit better, confident about myself ever since I have started taken the Wing Tsun classes. I think that one of the major reasons for my "feeling better" attitude is that I think my own personal fitness has improved because of the training. The main motivation for me to sign up for the Wing Tsun Kung Fu class in the first place, is to improve my personal fitness. I did not exercise regularly before I joined your class. Months before I joined your class, I thought long and hard about what sort of sports activity that I wanted to do.
My choices quickly narrowed down to martial arts because I always had an interest. Since I had learned Judo before at a community center I knew, I did not want to have instructors who were "part timers" and/or emphasized competitions. I feel too old to be trying to win trophies and medals and learning to do high spinning kicks. Of all Chinese fighting arts, I heard of Wing Tsun and Tai Chi the most. Actually, I had a few lessons in Tai Chi before when I was a student in China. I easily chose Wing Tsun because it would be useful to know how to defend oneself and it was supposedly the simplest of all Chinese fighting styles (and most nasty Kung Fu according to some people). I was very happy to find your school on the web because I have a dislike for traditional Chinese schools. So, far I have not regretted my choice!
At this point in time, I certainly do not yet feel "confident" enough about my skills. I do not mean to suggest that your instruction has been poor; rather, I feel it is foolish for anyone to assume that skills could be mastered so soon. I've only been with the school for 8 months. However, I do feel somewhat frustrated sometimes when practicing/learning new techniques because the movements are easy, yet seem so "complex". But I remind myself that nothing comes easy. If it does, then it is "too good to be true" (like a lot of things /situations in life). So this frustration does not deter me from continuing with my study of Wing Tsun. One of my workout partners and me had a discussion not long ago, and we both agreed we intend to keep learning Wing Tsun as far as we can go.
In retrospect, I certainly feel that you have progressively challenged all of us. During the last testing seminar, it dawned on me that you had already "tested" us during a rigorous workout about two weeks before that day.
Honestly, after my first three months of class, I did not yet see how everything taught to us and the order in which it was taught built up into the "big picture". It was only around the sixth month that had passed did I begin to see how the pieces fall into place. I see now why Wing Tsun does not teach the wooden dummy form and the Biu-Tze form until later, unlike the other Wing Chun styles. I find it has also been quite helpful to talk to other students, who have been most helpful in pointing out/ explaining details to me, that I did not understand /misunderstood weeks and months ago. I actually feel/notice improvements when we revisit subjects that we had covered weeks/months before. I feel I can execute the moves a little better every time, as compared to my first lessons on the subject.
Above comment was written more than three years ago. Now he is one of the most advanced members of our school.Persistence, Perseverance and Patience become the most important virtues. More important than speed, strength, size, weight, even more important than talent.
I enjoyed the article and want to read more from you on the subject. I can relate to the line 'if it feels good, it ain't Wing Tsun'. Often in classes when doing an exercise, it may feel good initially, but after you point out my mistakes or point out specifically what I should be emphasizing (whether it be sinking deeper into my stance, or turning a little bit more) that is when it starts to feel not so good and awkward. That is usually when I realize that I should be paying more attention to minor details every time I do something, even if it appears to be simple.
I remember what you were saying to me during our last private lesson about constantly being tested and I agree it is a good thing to do. However it is one of those things that sometimes requires outside motivation, sometimes from a teacher or a fellow classmate.
I can somewhat relate this example to sports. In basketball or any team sport for that matter, you can run drills where there are no defenders and everything works out fine. Your team does what they are supposed to do; everything is functioning on all cylinders. But after you add the defense into the picture, even in a controlled ‘practice’ environment things start to mess up. Even if you get used to your teammates defense, you usually cannot replicate how your future opponents are going to react to your team. Just like in most martial arts schools, it works in practice but you usually cannot guarantee the same results in a competition fight, let along a real life scenario on the street.
I guess an analogy I might use is if you were on a constantly losing team. You lose the ‘real life fight’, but in practice everything works out just fine. I guess the only thing to do would be to continue to get better as individuals and as a team.
I usually get frustrated when I can’t do a certain type of movement in the required way, so I get hit. Its frustrating not being able to do something about it when you mentally know what to do, it’s just that your body cannot do it yet. I am still frustrated at times with Chi-Sau, not being able to hit, being hit, but sometimes it helps to just work by myself. Similar to the sports analogy, if constantly losing frustrates me, I can workout on my skills on my own without the team and competition atmosphere. So working on Wing Tsun skills at home usually makes me feel better if I get frustrated in class. Eric K.
Is Wing Tsun really that frustrating? Why does any progress appear to be so slow? (part 2 of 3)
Today now a few comments I have received in regard to yesterday's article "Is Wing Tsun really that frustrating? Why does any progress appear to be so slow?"
Your comments in the article “Wing Tsun Frustration” reminded me of my experience with karate and self-defense. One of the instructors – a highly-ranked black belt in the Goju Ryu style offered some self-defense classes to students in addition to the regular classes he taught. Now, that experience was truly frustrating! We spent the first couple of lessons learning – as a slow learner, I never did get it – to immobilize our attacker by pulling his thumb backwards or some such thing. It occurs to me now that while I was busy contemplating my attacker’s thumb – he had all the time in the world to employ his other weapons of destruction. I liked the fitness aspects of karate, but even that had its limitations.
With Karate, I recall getting sprains and muscle pulls whereas with Wing Tsun, my body seems to gain flexibility and strength without the damage. Trust me, one day your body will thank you for doing Wing Tsun Kung Fu!
Interesting, too, that the same virtues you say it takes to advance are the same that one needs in every other aspect of life whether career, or relationships. One can never rest on one’s laurels for long – everything changes inevitably, and the only way to survive, and thrive is by staying in the game; with focus, commitment, perseverance and determination. I actually find that the most appealing aspect of this self defense system – it is never boring, it is always challenging – there is always something new to learn. Ada T.
I read your article entitled "Wing Tsun Frustration" and found it very clear and to the point. One of the things I enjoy the most about the class is there is no attempt to make it a "quick fix" like our culture has become so accustomed to. Paul H.
I read the article, it was very well written and does address some of the issues that I encounter when training both at classes and outside. Sometimes it seems a little bit frustrating, especially when other martial arts seem to progress "faster" because they learn more techniques or ‘moves’. However, training in Wing Tsun with the more senior students and assistant instructors help me keep focused on my goal with Wing Tsun, which is to train it to a level in which I am confident of my abilities. It is a little bit disheartening at first when I try the techniques that I've trained for months and years on the senior disciples, because of course, they don't work; working with the more junior members however shows me that my basics are a lot better than they used to be, and that even though I still have a LOT to learn, I have come a long way from when I was back in Student Grade 1.
It is also a great motivating factor to see all of the disciples who are better than me being willing and able to help me in my progress with Wing Tsun, and also with your help Si-Fu, it is very inspiring. Without the close network of supportive senior students who are all focused on Wing Tsun as we have in our school, I don't think I would have stuck with it for so long. Like I said, it is a little bit demoralizing in the beginning, and there are times where I get lazy and/or don't feel like coming to class, but when I do, I feel like I've done something productive. David S.
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").