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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
Sunday, 15 November 2009
Freedom, commitment, bruises and anniversary cake
Ralph Haenel and Moenchtor Luwzanseren 1993 during WingTsun seminar in DenmarkRamblings about Freedom, Commitment, Bruises and Anniversary Cake

Personally, there are several important dates for me to remember this year, anniversaries to celebrate. Just last weekend, many were reminded of the end of the cold war, the fall of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago on November 9th of 1989.
Two German newspapers approached me and published the interviews in their special editions, commemorating the peaceful revolution back then in East Germany, which lead to the demise of the Iron Curtain. Interviews at
Kieler Nachrichten and Holsteinischer Courier.
My personal anniversary relating to this event is almost a week later on November 15th. On this very day in 1989 at 4am the creaking gates of the Cottbus prison opened for me, known as the “forgotten prison.” Cottbus was one of the secret service controlled prisons in East Germany, in which political prisoners were mixed in with murderers and other criminals. That morning I saw last the faces of prison guards with descriptive nicknames like Arafat and RT = Red Terror. I saw last RT’s “socialist measuring stick”, his baton, which he used besides his keys to imprint communist ideals on many. In the reunited Germany, I was cleared of all charges and rehabilitated. However, what does this mean after those experiences? The detention center of the secret service is today a museum for human rights. School classes visit, to learn about history, they look into the cell where I once was, then training my Siu-Nim-Tau form, to stay sane. Somewhat ironic, how things can change ...

Just lately, I went through newspaper and magazine interviews with me, published from 1990 on. I remembered many people who shared a part along the way in my Wing Tsun career.
Last night I wrote to our members in Vancouver about recent Wing Tsun Kung Fu seminars. Each seminar I learn as well, often also about commitment and loyalty. Here four examples from the last seminar in Calgary:
1. One student, a tough puncher, yet friendly, quiet and helpful training partner, injured himself during soccer practice and Thai box training. The result: a torn shoulder, broken sternum and several cracked ribs. What do you think did he do? For him absolutely normal, ... he came and attended the whole Calgary Wing Tsun anniversary seminar!
2. One of the ladies, married with four children, couldn't make it. What did she do? She baked a great cake for the anniversary seminar, got a babysitter and showed up for the big dinner! Find a photo of the cake and more about the Calgary seminar here:
3. Sifu German Ferrer, the local instructor in Calgary, told his very first martial arts training partner from some 30+ years ago about the anniversary seminar. The guy got in the car, drove for over seven hours to Calgary and attended the whole seminar!
4. German's very first Wing Tsun student from five years ago showed up for the dinner. He could have said: “Hey, I moved away” or “I wasn't there for a couple of years.” But no, he came and had a great time! Click here for more photos from the recent Calgary seminar.
This is what I like about many people, who I have met over the past 25 years in Wing Tsun. Commitment, passion, reliability, ... no excuses! Team spirit and respect for their class mates and their Wing Tsun school!

Initially I talked about going through old newspaper interviews. I read again about my first student from Ulan Bator. Moenchtor Luwzanseren later became the first WT instructor in Mongolia! See top photo, taken during a WingTsun seminar I gave in 1993 in Denmark.

But, back to Berlin. When Moenchtor was sick, he came to group class anyway, sat down, watched me explaining, analyzed how training partners worked together, and made notes, lots of notes. You cannot stress the importance of getting a different view point on physical excises and observing training methods.

When he, for example, hurt his hand in another sport; yes, he came to class and concentrated on working with his other arm.

Besides undeniable commitment, I also call this having a vision of future success. Making sure that time, money and effort spent on training in previous years, does not fade into nothingness ...

I met many people over the past years who realized, that a few bruises during training is better than a smashed scull on the street. Some play soccer and break a toe, of well it’s soccer. Some play tennis and suffer for decades from tennis elbow. Play hockey, lose some teeth, of well it’s just a game. Yet in martial arts, there are at times different views. Many years ago, I was asked in a martial arts school to demonstrate the famous inch-punch. Well, I asked the big muscular volunteer to relax and not to tense his huge chest muscles. Yes, you guessed right, he did it anyway. Next day, the instructor called me and said something about having to be more careful. Ehm, hello!! It seems, that some believe you can fight off a violent attacker, defend your life under enormous stress, beat up drug fuelled thugs, train all that without ever suffering a bruise. Mixed martial arts have brought some reality to the table, compared to some (not all) traditional martial arts.

Myself, having learned from many expert WingTsun masters, whose previous careers spanned from professional boxing to full contact champions to military combat instructors, I can talk about a bruise or two ... or more.
My best memory is the second seminar with my first Wing Tsun teacher, Sifu Leo Czech, a former boxer. It was the Spring of 1985. I had a infected tooth, could barely talk, had tears in my eyes when my upper and lower teeth just lightly touched. There was no time to go to a dentist. Hey, the seminar was on. There was no way to show up late. Of course not. What was the first thing that happened? A WT punching demo, yeah, a powerful lifting punch to the jawbone. I saw stars, I really did. There were many colours. The whole day resumed with friendly contact. In the evening I had problems breathing, my upper body displayed a beautiful colour palette. But, I could click my teeth together, I didn’t feel anything anymore. I was in happy land. Besides, I had just passed my exams for the first and second student grade of Wing Tsun Kung Fu.

So, besides bruises and memories, looking back at 25 years of learning and teaching Wing Tsun Kung Fu, having met great students, training partners and instructors along the way, working with a fabulous team of enthusiastic and committed people in Vancouver, Calgary and Victoria, I am looking forward to our 15th anniversary seminar at Wing Tsun Kung Fu Vancouver. Yes, it is 15 years ago that I founded in Vancouver (BC) the very first Canadian Wing Tsun branch.
Let’s have a good time on Saturday, November 21st 2009, starting at 10am! And ... let’s have some anniversary cake!

Questions about the Vancouver seminar? Contact me!

BTW - Our Vancouver Year-End & 15th Anniversary Dinner for ALL members and instructors (former and current) and your families is scheduled for Friday, December 4th 2009!

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Posted by ralph haenel at 10:52 PM PST
Updated: Monday, 16 November 2009 4:50 PM PST
Sunday, 20 September 2009
How much art is in your martial art?

Wing Tsun instruction by WT Sifu Leo Czech, 1985 in Rostock Germany, first WingTsun school in East Germany, founded in 1984 by Ralph HaenelHow much art is in your martial art? 

Ramblings about martial ART, seminar feedback, exercise variety, Wing Tsun Chi-Sau, teaching skills and learning methods.

This year I had once again the pleasure to work with many of our instructors and students during very intensive and exciting seminars and special topic classes. The questions and the feedback though, reminded me at times of my years of training in Europe. During any given seminar it happened, that my Sifu gave an explanation, showed a drill, demonstrated a exercise followed by one typical result. Afterwards four Wing Tsun practitioners seemed to have six opinions about what they should do! :-) Apparently following the clear guidelines: "I know you believe what you think I said, but I'm not sure that what you heard is what I really meant, compared to what I showed you and you think you saw!"
Exercise #1 - repeat the previous sentence 10 times ... really fast!

OK, seriously. This year now, some of the feedback that came months later, showed me how paramount it is to ask questions immediately. If you worry that a instructor might be offended by your question, then you are in the wrong place. Yes, a martial arts school cannot be a democratic discussion circle. Nevertheless, any good instructor invites his students to ask questions.
What follows, what I am writing about here, derives from personal conversations and students who then expressively allowed me to use the material in an open forum.
My answers in the following dialogue may seem to be a bit harsh. However, those who have worked with me, know how often during otherwise serious training we end up laughing with each other. After all, a hobby or profession like Wing Tsun should be fun and yes, at times even entertaining.

1. After a seminar headlining the importance of knockout punches, the need for striking power I was told:
"You appeared to demonstrate much more power today than usual. It was quite rough for me."
Anybody who knows me is aware of the fact, that our training goes both ways. I always invite people to hit me as hard as they can to the upper body, stomach, even side of the neck. Then I show them what I mean by talking about a deeply rooted yet upright and flexible stance, the difference of a stiff punch that makes you bounce off your training partner and the relaxed (whiplash-like) punching power, which causes you (almost!) to drop on the spot. Nobody has ever been injured in my classes, or takes away lasting pain. You can show the desired effect and everybody is still having fun. But yes, every now and then it has to be a bit rough.
Why you ask?
HOW could you otherwise ever expect to learn to defend yourself against a violent attack, more so from a person who may not fear getting hurt? I prefer to be the person who gives you a hard time, show you that you still have to train hard as compared to an attacker laughing into your face and then striking you down.
2. After another seminar: "We spent a lot of time on beginners’ exercises. Emmh, maybe too long?"
OK, this is human, happened to me too when joining seminars. Although there is a difference between a truly boring seminar and the one where you need to realize, you have to train bloody hard, you have to find out that your skills are not good enough yet. While on the other side, if I would show you all kinds of fancy exercises, it might give you the impression of having advanced extraordinarily.
The topic of misjudging the difference between “beginners exercise” and just not having enough basic skills, is relevant in many areas, I often talk to some of my colleagues, to Steve about fitness or to Sebastian about Salsa. In fitness, some clients want to do advanced exercises, yet can't perform the very basics clean and safe. In Salsa some dancers want to show-off, yet can't do basic spins or steps, and end up being out of sync and stepping their dance partner on the toes. Hey, way to go! ... NOT!
3. Insert your favourite here: "We didn't do any Lat-Sau!" "There was no Chi-Sau!" "We didn't do any kicks today!" "We didn't do any punches!" "There was no form training!"
Every one of my seminars features a special topic, usually presented in a different way than in our regular group classes. After all, a seminar should be a special event. So, some seminars feature a specific Chi-Sau topic but no Lat-Sau, another seminar is about kicks and counter kicks but no Chi-Sau. As you can imagine, the list could go on. Very clear advice here: Join more seminars and you will eventually get everything. I absolutely dislike seminars that are being directed at pleasing everyone, in a manner of doing a bit of everything, but nothing intense enough, ergo no lasting skill is being created.
4. "I am training Wing Tsun for many years! Why did I have to do so many chain punches tonight? My arms fell off!"
Well, there you have your answer already. Experience and years of training do not necessarily translate into punching power. My standard response here: "When did you train the last time and ended being on the floor on your knees and arms, sweat dripping on the floor, your wet shirt stuck to your body, sweat running down your legs inside your pants, almost unable to get up????" Sorry, one question mark doesn't do it here. Don’t tell me; Answer yourself and we'll talk again about too many punches (or kicks, or Chi-Sau, or Lat-Sau).

Wise quote:
It’s not about when you started your training, it isn't the number of years you have practiced, not even the number of hours you have put into those years; it is solely the intensity and passion you have put into those hours!
4. "We did this Blitz-Defense "stuff" today. Wasn't this more for beginners and kind of against many concepts I know in Wing Tsun?"
Counter question: Are you a advanced instructor who has been training Wing Tsun an average of 20 to 40 hours a week(!) for the past years? If not, you may not know everything yet about Wing Tsun. I don't want to get into details of, or the history behind Sifu Kernspecht's Blitz-Defense. But it contains very advanced techniques and concepts, for example from the (WingTsun) Biu-Tze form, the wooden dummy form. Unless you have received a lot of lessons in those topics, listen observe and train!
Especially in those programs other questions come up:
5. "Why should I withdraw my fist to have more power?"
You just punched me and nothing happened. Until the punches can be executed "technically right", you need every help to get at least something out of your punching. Picture reality; Nothing is worse than defending yourself, punching the attacker, but nothing happens; he only gets angry and rips your head off! Sorry, sometimes I have to paint a bloody picture, to get my message across.
5.a "I would rather do a finger strike or a palm strike, why are we supposed to do a hammer fist?"
What do you want to do? Tickle the opponent to death with weak finger pokes, or for now withdraw your arm a little bit and achieve at least some impact with a hammer fist?!

Where do those questions come from? Well, first of all, I welcome all questions. Those kind of questions are extremely helpful to clarify misunderstandings. But, YOU have to ask them!!

Let's look at only one exercise in the Wing Tsun system of self-defense: Chi-Sau (or Chi-Sao), often considered the "soul of Wing Tsun" (Wing Chun, Ving Tsun), translated as "sticky hands", or better "sticky arms" or what I prefer "clinging arms". Is it just me? The term "sticky hands" always sounds as if day's training doesn't include the occasional shower.
Most interpretations for Chi-Sau go towards sensitivity drill or tactile sensory exercise. In simpler terms: Our arms learn while establishing contact with (the arms) of the opponent, to feel the direction, speed and even strength of an attack. Well, this should of course not mean, that we go arm hunting, chasing after the other guys arms.
But right now I don't want to go further into what Chi-Sau is or isn't.

How do we train Chi-Sau? Let’s not look at specific techniques, or the various Chi-Sau sections in Wing Tsun. Let's look at very "simple" Poon-Sau. For the brief description of the following exercises I assume that the insider, our students, know what I am writing about.

Chi-Sau exercise block 1: dealing with variations of Distance
- training partners train as far apart as possible
- Chi-Sau positions in 'regular' distance
- as close as possible, while punching out of 2 or 3 inch distance, for example almost collapsed Tan-Sau still protects, etc.

Chi-Sau exercise block 2: dealing with variations of Speed
- train as slow as possible, feeling all the muscle connections, improve your posture, work on your core, become aware of joint positions and movements (from toes to fingertips!)
- 'regular' speed as practiced most of the time in training
- fast, until neither partner has the time to consciously chose their next action

Chi-Sau exercise block 3: dealing with variations of Strength
- use barely any strength, employ the lightest touch possible
- train with ‘regular’ strength
- give each other every ounce of power you can deliver (Bruce Lee’s “bull Chi-sau”)

Why only three examples in each exercises block? Well, they stand for minimum, optimum and maximum setting for the sake of explaining the particular exercise. You can of course vary your speed, the strength and distance in many different ways, also according to size, weight, strength, skill of your training partner.
Want to improve? Help and support each other. Talk to each other. Point out problems.

Is all that, the previous exercise recommendations, now traditional or modern, original or ultimate Wing Tsun (Wing Chun, Ving Tsun)? Is it following the right lineage? Is it European or Eastern? Authentic? Dynamic? Advanced?

Who cares!

Not your Tan-Sau of death, nor your Bong-Sau of disaster will help you. Unless your timing is good and you can maintain your balance. Unless your hand and footwork coordination goes along with a good sense for distance. Unless you can combine mobility and fluidity of your actions and you are capable of delivering striking power. Unless you can also take some action! Every martial artist is human. Martial arts are human-made and so open to interpretation, the good and the bad, the excellent and unique and the horrible. It's a martial ART!

Warning! Long sentence!
The average talented, medium training time investing, can't go to the office with a black eye, also having other hobbies, Wing Tsun student faces the following situation: He or she would like to be able to shock the opponent out of an element of surprise, having just prior been perceived as a victim, and now strike the attacker into momentary defensive action, only to get as the end-result a chance to run away.
How to achieve that? Train under increasing stress. Improve towards a healthy level of confidence. Become aware of your surroundings ... And you will be less likely chosen as a victim. That is a big thing. Now we are getting somewhere.

Wing Tsun instruction by WT Sifu Leo Czech, 1985 in Rostock Germany, first WingTsun school in East Germany, founded in 1984 by Ralph HaenelWing Tsun Kung Fu is Eastern boxing at its finest and features a variety of training methods, to greatly improve the development of punching technique and striking power.

I have always liked Jack Dempsey's quote from 1950: "To protect yourself with your fists you MUST become a knockout puncher.”

In the end, what is the solution? Dare I say it's simple?! Go to as many classes, seminars, lessons as possible and you will eventually get all facets of this beautiful art, pardon me, Martial Art. Otherwise, you may always get stuck with only parts of a whole.

During a large seminar in the early 90's I saw two Wing Tsun practitioners preparing, warming up for their test by going through several Wing Tsun Chi-Sau sections. Arms were flying, punches found their way into every hole in the defenses of the other side, a firework of Fak-Sau's, palm strikes, turning stances, smooth footwork. It looked great, fast and powerful. Many were watching and whispering, nodding their heads in admiration of the skills demonstrated. Soon the grandmaster started to work with the first of those guys. Now it didn't look so good anymore, balance was lost, feet were dragging, stiff arms were trying to hold on to him. What the heck happened? Yes, a skilful instructor who stays on top of his own training can make even a skilled student look bad. However, this wasn't the case. Those two guys had choreographed their actions so wonderfully, that while with each other everything worked. As soon as outside stimulation was not cooperative, their “skills” fell apart; sudden pulling and pushing action broke their balance. There was no real life in their actions, no passion, there was no ART in their martial art.
My short definition for Wing Tsun? - Adaptation to Chaos!
Have fun and train hard :-)

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Posted by ralph haenel at 6:49 PM PDT
Updated: Tuesday, 22 September 2009 3:14 PM PDT
Monday, 7 September 2009
How much fitness and prior martial arts skills are needed to learn Wing Tsun Kung Fu?

"I need to get fit first." or "I need to build up my endurance."
This is the first of two very common misconceptions. The second one I have also experienced many times over the years: "I first want to get my black belt in ******** and then I want to learn Wing Tsun for self-defense, or because of the trapping techniques, etc."
Wing Tsun Kung Fu in action, www.wingtsunkungfu.comWhat's wrong with the first point (fitness, endurance)?
I do encourage everyone to get or stay fit. I am all for strength training, for doing weights, training with kettlebells especially. Shadowboxing? Working the wall bag? Great! Want to improve your cardio? Want to go jogging? Wonderful!
Yet, Wing Tsun requires a different usage of our muscles. Wing Tsun Chi-Sau for example, as practiced in my schools, creates a workout you absolutely can't get in any gym. Many guys (much stronger than me) have broken down in mere minutes, while we were training interestingly enough very slow and relaxed.
I often talk about having students who are physically much stronger, yet when they punch me, nothing happens. When I, in this case the physically weaker person, punch them only lightly, they fly against the wall or across the room.
That's when the head scratching starts. How can there be such a difference between physical strength and what I call Wing Tsun power?! Where does it come from?
And yes, I am also aware of the point that I am teaching and training Wing Tsun professionally 5, 6 days a week, which is besides the point, since it doesn't change the stronger-weaker situation.
The difference between being physically strong or having striking power, which can only be achieved through specific Wing Tsun training, makes it senseless to wait with the start of one's Wing Tsun training. It would only be a waste of our time, to wait longer.
Our life time is valuable, is something I often hear from people past the age of 40 or even 50, who start training with me. As long as one is around 20'ish, it doesn't seem so bad. Just wait ... :-)
At times people have come back after a period of heavy weight training. Yes, they were stronger, but usually also much stiffer, more tense than ever before.
Now they simply had to struggle with a different set of problems. The ones of this group, who actually started their Wing Tsun training sooner or later admitted, that they had missed crucial time and should have started Wing Tsun alongside their fitness training.
Regardless at which fitness or strength level, I use as explanation a particular example.
Imagine, visualize a scale. At one end of the scale we work on being strong, yet often end up being stiff and tense.
At the other end of this scale we try to relax, yet mostly end up being (relatively) weak or brittle.
Now, we want to take the strength, leaving "stiff" and "tense" behind. From the other end we take relaxation, leaving "weak" and "brittle" behind.
The right Wing Tsun training will enable us at our individual center of the scale, to meld strength and relaxation and learn to form Wing Tsun power!
Wing Tsun power is the result of using all muscle groups from fingers to toes in a fluid and elastic application, sometimes also described as whiplash-like power.
Does this example make sense to you?
Now, what about the second point: "I first want to get my black belt in ******** and then I want to learn Wing Tsun for self-defense, or because of the trapping techniques, etc."
Wing Tsun Kung Fu in action, www.wingtsunkungfu.comThe ideas behind Wing Tsun, the goals of a usable self-defense system are so different, yet often get mixed up through false perception due to movies, false marketing of martial arts schools etc., so that I wrote a whole book on that topic: "The Reality of Self-Defense! What martial arts schools won't tell you." Click here for reviews!
Many people have come back after having learned another martial art, only to realize that it was now even more difficult to learn Wing Tsun. Their responses had been pre-set, their thinking had changed. It would have been easier to start as beginner, as opposed to now first having to "empty the cup" and starting over.
If somebody has enough time and resources to train more than one martial art, OK, why not. But to learn Wing Tsun it is absolutely counter productive, to learn another martial art first. Wing Tsun is not a add-on.


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Posted by ralph haenel at 5:03 PM PDT
Updated: Monday, 7 September 2009 7:32 PM PDT
Wednesday, 24 June 2009
The Wing Tsun Kung Fu Vancouver 2009 Summer Seminar!

"To protect yourself with your fists you MUST become a knockout puncher.”

Our 2009 Summer Seminar is ahead of us. A full day (6-hour) special topic seminar hosted at the Golden Monkey Martial Arts Club in Burnaby, BC.

He was called the "Manassa Mauler". On Wikipedia you can read: "Dempsey's aggressive style and punching power made him one of the most popular boxers in history." Here is a quote from Jack Dempsey's 1950 book "Championship FIGHTING - Explosive Punching and Aggressive Defense":

"It's strange but true that certain FUNDAMENTAL MOVEMENTS SEEM UNNATURAL to the beginner in nearly every activity requiring close coordination between body and mind. Fist-fighting is no exception. Some of the fundamentals moves seem awkwardly unnatural when first tried. That's particularly true of the movements in explosive long range straight punching, the basic weapon in fist-fighting or boxing.

"In fighting, as many other activities, it is "natural" for beginners to do the wrong thing. It's natural for him to swing rather than punch straight. It is natural for him to hit with the wrong knuckles of his fist. It's natural for him to use leg-tangling footwork, etc. Let's examine again that you will feel very awkward when you first try the moves in long-ranging punching. I stress that awkwardness for two reasons: 1) so that you don’t figure you're a hopeless palooka. and  2) so that you won't pay attention to wisecracks of friends or sideline experts who watch your early flounderings. Remember: He who laughs last hits hardest.

Sounds all too familiar? Let's have a great seminar and improve our Eastern boxing, Wing Tsun Kung Fu.

Persist in your training and the rewards will come!

Posted by ralph haenel at 6:19 PM PDT
Updated: Thursday, 25 June 2009 5:07 PM PDT
Tuesday, 9 June 2009
The first 2009 Wing Tsun Seminar in Calgary - by Tony Leung

2009 Wing Tsun Kung Fu seminar in Calgary with Sifu Ralph Haenel, Sifu German Ferrer and as guest Sifu Tony TamFrom May 28 to May 30, Edmond, Philip and I accompanied Sifu Ralph Haenel to visit our brothers and sisters of Calgary Wing Tsun, the school of Sifu German Ferrer.  This trip was my first experience of visiting a fellow Wing Tsun School.  Philip almost could not make this trip as he injured his right knee a week before our departure while playing ice hockey.  It must be mentioned that Philip incurred his injury while scoring a goal for his hockey team.  True to his Wing Tsun warrior spirit Philip ignored the pain of his injury and showed up for the flight as scheduled (a thank you to Gordon Lee, who is Philip’s younger brother for driving the three of us to the airport).

On Thursday May 28, the three of us boarded an 11:30 am late morning Westjet flight to Calgary.  The flight was about an hour long and it was very smooth without any turbulence.  Sifu Ralph had already flown to Calgary earlier in the day and so we were going to meet up with him at the Calgary school later that evening.   Our flight arrived at Calgary airport around 1:30 pm in the afternoon.  Our first order of business on arrival was to rent a car and check into our hotel.   We booked a hotel very close to the airport; however, I don’t think we would have found our hotel very quickly without the aid of a portable GPS device that Edmond had brought along.  The GPS was very useful, but not infallible.  We still got sort of “lost” while following the GPS because the hotel was hidden behind a taller building and the device itself does not seem to adjust quickly enough to our driving patterns.  If I had been driving under Vancouver traffic conditions, it would have been more difficult as I found Calgary drivers to be less aggressive and more courteous than our drivers back home.  So, it was rather easy to make lane changes.   Calgary drivers really do seem to follow the posted speed limits no matter which part of town.   After we checked into the Calgary Super 8 Airport Hotel, we headed over to Chili’s restaurant for a late lunch, followed by a short trip to the local Real Canadian Superstore for bottled water, fruit and snack bars.  We met up with Sifu Ralph and the members of the Calgary school around 7 pm at the Trail Squash and Racquetball Center which was a short 10 minutes drive away from the hotel.  The ball courts were of a older design, unlike the current ones with the glass walls and doors.  As I never played those sports before, I did not know what to make of the small doors leading to each court.  Each door was just over 4 feet high. So, anyone with second thoughts wasn’t going to be able to easily bale out of the room.  (Philip standing next to the door of the torture chamber)Philip Lee standing next to door of the torture chamber

Plus the fact that we were the very first arrivals, the facility was very quiet and the high ceilings of each court produced a lot of echoes from our foot steps.   The words “Torture Chamber” flashed through our minds when we walked in.  Thursday night was the Calgary school’s regular evening class.  One by one, the Calgary students arrived after us.   The first person we met was Lloyd Skelly from Edmonton.   Lloyd was a former member of our own Vancouver school from way back in the days when Sifu Ralph was teaching in a Burnaby Church.  I think the only person from our current student roster who would remember Lloyd Skelly is our own Dai Sihing Chris Chinfen.   After the class ended at 9 pm, we met with some of the students at Nixx’s pub down the road from the Squash Court for beer and food before we retired for the night.

On Friday morning, the three of us woke up at 8am and had breakfast at A & W’s.   Yes.  A nice hearty greasy breakfast for we had expected to be a very long day.  We drove to German’s house on the other side of town and arrived about 10:15 in the morning.  We chatted with German while we waited for Sifu Ralph to finish his private lesson with Aura Pon, who is one of the Calgary students. About an hour later, we commenced lessons on the biu-tze form applications in German’s back yard.

I think it was shortly after 1 pm in the afternoon that lessons ended and we all just lounged under the shade in German’s back yard and observed the birds, the “foxes” and the maybe the odd “cougar” that flew and ran past the little trail at the back of German’s house.  Philip wanted to go chase the foxes but his leg was not fully healed yet and Edmond did not look like was in any shape to chase them as he took over the role of stunt man from Philip.  Poor Edmond took quite a few of Sifu’s fak sau’s in the backyard.  Yes. This was all captured on film by the way by me, the camera man / driver.

The five of us had lunch at the Vietnamese Village Restaurant.  The previous restaurant at the site must have previously been “the Italian Village” at one time in the past. You’d know what I mean if you saw the remnants of the previous décor.

After the late lunch, Philip, Edmond and I headed straight to the Trail Squash and Racquetball Center to just chill out before the beginning of the first part of the main event.   Friday was a very hot day.  It did not help that Calgary’s climate was particularly much drier than Vancouver’s.   I remember just drinking a lot of water while we waited for the others to arrive.    The main event started at 5 pm.  Philip, Edmond, German and I continued on our exercises with the biu-tze forms applications while the Calgary students were taught the parts from the Blitz Defense program by Sifu Ralph.

After a tough workout Evan is trying to manage his 'heavy' water bottle.Sifu Ralph put the Calgary students to quite a work out.  A true testament to intensity of the work out was difficulty that Evan Kwong experienced from trying to hold a water bottle with two hands to drink from.  Evan’s hands shook so badly that you’d wonder if he would drop the bottle (that was also captured on film by the way). I should mention that there was a twenty three minute intermission where Tony Tam of the Pan Nam Wing Chun style gave us a brief lecture and demonstration.  German had invited Tony Tam to the seminar.  Not only was it a treat to personally witness a different Wing Chun style but it was pretty amazing to watch an old guy in his late seventies move so smoothly. You can see that Tony had structure behind his moves.  The evening ended at 9 pm. After four hours, we were pretty exhausted.    The three of us skipped the pub and headed straight back to our hotel to clean up and have dinner at Chili’s as we expected Saturday’s seminar to be just as grueling.

The last day of the seminar began at 11 am on Saturday.   Of course, prior to that the three of us loaded up on coffee and a greasy Denny’s breakfast.   The Vancouver students did not have an opportunity to work with the Calgary students, but we could easily see and hear them at the other end of the squash court.  We could see the smile of “love” that Sifu always points out when everyone does the group chain punches for 20 minutes.   Of course, we weren’t slacking off at our end either.  I think Edmond put it best, “ I don’t think I ‘ve been wacked as often as in regular class”.   So, “yes, Calgary colleagues…….we felt your pain, just as much if not more”.   Seriously, I got the impression that the Calgary school is a very enthusiastic group. They are a good group of people. I found their enthusiasm inspiring.    The seminar ended at 3pm.   We all met later that evening in Chinatown at the Regency Palace Seafood Restaurant and Lounge for a $20 all you can eat buffet.  At the restaurant we met Simo Wanda (German’s wife).  Oh yes… Brian, we were “interviewed” by Simo Wanda as well and she was asking why you were missing. So you are going to have to come along next time to explain your absence.   Near the end of the meal, Sifu Ralph presented all the participants with certificates for their participation in this seminar.  A wonderful surprise for us three Vancouver WT guys was the presentation of two cloth patches and an engraved metal badge adorned with Wing Tsun symbols and wording by Sifu German.  As Sifu said, this now makes us “Full patch members”, I guess.  Thanks again German for the patches.

I really enjoyed my first outside Wing Tsun seminar.   If the opportunity came along, I would do it again.  For others who are contemplating in going to the next Calgary outing, the overall costs for the airfare, hotel stay, food, seminar fee, car rental and drinks/snacks was just under $700 per person.  Sure, Las Vegas maybe cheaper, but where would you get the opportunity to go on a trip and still partake in your favorite hobby?  But on the next trip, I think we’ll probably spend a little more on a better hotel because the one we stayed in had a really noise air conditioner.   Maybe on the next trip we’ll try to visit the dinosaur museum in Drumheller too (a 2-3 hour drive away from Calgary).

A picture is worth a thousand words they say. Well, here are a series of photos of one of our team members that best illustrated the progression of the events.

1. Happy Edmond. Happy Edmond

2. Edmond all ready to go in fighting form. Edmond all ready to go in fighting form

3. Edmond after taking a few fak sau’s to the neck. Edmond after taking a few fak sau’s to the neck

4. Edmond after even more fak sau’s to the neck and with possible double vision. Edmond after even more fak sau’s to the neck and with possible double vision

5. After group class, instructor class & 2-day seminar; Edmond passed out on the airplane. Edmond passed out on the airplane

Posted by ralph haenel at 5:39 PM PDT
Updated: Wednesday, 10 June 2009 4:14 PM PDT
Wednesday, 13 May 2009

The Tan-Sau of death and other secret techniques of Wing Tsun Kung Fu - part 1 of 2
The 10-hour Chi-Sau marathon, thoughts on a Wing Tsun training method

Wing Tsun Kung Fu Vancouver, 10-hour Chi-Sau marathon with Evan, Edmond, Sia, Philip, Atta, Ciprian, Tony, Glenn, Vasile and EricThe main headline is obviously an exaggeration, but its purpose will become apparent in this text. Sorry, no secret death blows here. The following thoughts are primarily for my students, yet I have added a few necessary explanations for other readers, who are not familiar with the topic.

Just last week, I had the pleasure to train on a Saturday with ten members of our  Wing Tsun school for ten hours straight. Ten hours back to back with almost each practitioner experiencing sweat dripping into their eyes, shaking arms, burning shoulders, failing muscles, more or less moaning and groaning, regardless of the skill level. Summarizing it all, a very gratifying workout for every student, as they felt afterwards that they truly gave everything. A 10-hour Chi-Sau marathon!

The term Chi-Sau is often translated as “sticky hands” or “sticky arms”. I prefer the expression ‘clinging arms’.
To onlookers, the arms of two Wing Tsun trainees appear to be glued together throughout a series of attacks and defenses, counter attacks and counter defenses. Chi-Sau is a special training method unique to Wing Tsun Kung Fu. Although there are a few similarities, it should not be mistaken with push-hands (or pushing-hands) exercises in Tai Chi or seemingly similar methods such as flow drills in other martial arts as Jiu-Jitsu or several Filipino weapons styles.

I have to briefly mention, that some mixed martial arts have developed the partial use of Wing Tsun methods. One example is a German karate master, a friend of my Sifu, who has implemented Wing Tsun ideas, including elements of Chi-Sau into his Karate repertoire.

Furthermore I want to say that I am well aware of the fact, that the training method of Chi-Sau (Chi-Sao) has diverse meanings as to its value and purpose in different  Wing Chun, Ving Tsun and even in the various Wing Tsun (WT) styles.
I wouldn’t want to have it any other way. Come on, if there are tens if not hundreds of thousands of WT practitioners out there, there’s bound to be a multitude of interpretations. As I often say, it’s a martial ART! So, allow each other different opinions!

For readers not familiar with the scene, there is more politics in martial arts than in politics. One example only: Two small Wing Chun organizations, both originating from the same student of the late Grandmaster Yip Man.

The first Wing Chun organization claims that only their Chi-Sau is the right one, because it looks now the same as it was practised 10, 15 years ago. Whatever that means! Two years ago, I met a well-known leading representative of the second Wing Chun organization, originating from the same Yip Man student, who doesn’t think much of the first mentioned organization of the same style. Much to my surprise, especially since both claim: “No politics, just plain good old Wing Chun.” Latest here we should remember that different opinions & views are OK!

Over the years, one learns that the “wise und understanding master” image as portrayed in many movies is just a utopian idea. Even martial arts masters are just people!

The question for us is now. Why does ‘our’ Wing Tsun Chi-Sau look, feel, train different ...
1. than most other ‘wing chun’ Chi-Sau methods and
2. and differs even from different Wing Tsun variations.

Chi-Sau is often explained as an exercise to develop reflex-like responses. It is said that one learns to feel on contact the direction, speed and power of an attack. Where your eyes could be tricked, invoking wrong responses, your arms cannot be. Without chasing the arms of the other person, our arms thrust forward, shield us and attack the attacker at the same time.

Here right away is an important point! The attacker most likely doesn’t know Chi-Sau, doesn’t know what you are doing next, doesn’t care. This means that your responses, arising as a result of your Chi-Sau training, must work against a fast and strong (stiff, tense) opponent. Stiff and tense compared to your cooperative training partner.

In Wing Tsun we have a way of training Chi-Sau in sections. Similar to basic techniques of the Wing Tsun system being catalogued in forms, so does each Chi-Sau section ‘catalogue’ a specific set of attacks and defenses, followed by counter attacks and counter defenses. You could also explain a Chi-Sau section as a two-man form, which increasingly leads to spontaneous responses.
Specific Chi-Sau sections cover the usage of specific techniques from the Wing Tsun forms. Every section also stands for one particular scenario that happens more frequently when two human beings fight.

Why are there Chi-Sau sections in Wing Tsun and not in most  Wing Chun, Ving Tsun styles? Wing Tsun (WT) became very popular in the early 90’s in Europe, especially in Germany. It’s hard to get exact numbers, but at one point there were some one hundred to two hundred thousand practitioners. Teaching much larger schools requires new thinking, new training methods. That’s the reason. As forms allow “portioned” teaching, so do Chi-Sau sections. There are not that many, but some top WT schools boasted between 2,000 to 5,000 students. The feedback of hundreds, if not thousands of instructors supports the ability of teaching programs to stay connected to the reality of self-defense.

Seven Chi-Sau sections cover in Wing Tsun the majority of applications of the first and second form (Siu-Nim-Tau and Cham-Kiu). Due to size, experience, talent and many other factors, not everyone may need in the end all components that have been trained. The instructor’s job is to give you ALL building blocks (sections). Once you are experienced enough, you can choose, mould Wing Tsun to fit your personality.

Even though many favour the idea of sensitivity training, and focus solely on the development of reflexes, I sometimes tell my students to forget about that.


Yes, you heard right. What is the reason behind that? OK, imagine the following scenario. You are being attacked, respond swiftly, control the attacker, punch him, he even bleeds, you give him a couple of Fak-Saus to the necks, he appears to almost fall over. ... Slowly is he standing up, wiping the blood off his face, and this evil grin begins to form. All you will remember is him screaming and starting to rip off your head.
Scenario too gruelling? Just think about. What if you hit repeatedly and nothing happens? Yes, this is a horror scenario. Punching is one thing, punching with knockout power is something entirely different.

Now you may understand the first headline of this article: “The Tan-Sau of death and other secret techniques.” Nobody will at your first technique start screeching: “Oh my gosh, he knows the Tan-Sau of death!” You can’t Bong-Sau somebody to the ground. Wing Tsun is after all Kung Fu. Chinese Kung Fu = Chinese Boxing. Strategies and tactics are different. The technical execution is different. But a Western and a Eastern boxer alike must possess knock-out power.

This is one of the reasons why we train any 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.
I understand that the description of the four scenarios might sound confusing. Hence, the article is primarily for my students, who go through these training scenarios almost every week.

My own Chi-Sau experience has changed over the years and has been heavily influenced by many different WingTsun (WT) instructors. In order to teach systematically and enable a continuous learning process I developed the ten core concepts as a blueprint for all training methods. Please see the graphic in part 2 of this article.


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Posted by ralph haenel at 2:00 PM PDT
Updated: Saturday, 21 May 2011 1:51 PM PDT
Tuesday, 5 May 2009
Alfred's story or the 3 P.'s - Martial arts training, a way of life.
Werner Acker, Ralph Haenel, Alfred Ueck in Spring of 1986 in Rostock after WingTsun training in der Borwinstr. 35, Borwin Strasse, BorwinstrasseJust a few days ago I heard from an old student. We first got together in 1986, some 23 years ago. At the time in East Germany, martial arts schools didn't officially exist. Only state sanctioned and government organized wrestling, judo and boxing clubs, all geared towards a Olympic future.

Wochenpost Anzeige Ralph Haenel, 2500 Rostock, Borwinstr. 35, Borwin Strasse, Borwinstrasse Internet? YouTube? DVD's? Videos? Literature? Nothing! Starting at some point in the early 80's, I had the idea to publish little wanted ads in newspapers, initially searching for books about Judo and Jiu-Jitsu. Mostly older people wrote me about books and booklets they had found in the attic, which had survived world war 2. Over time the ads also worked as a means to find students. And Alfred from Neustadt-Glewe was one of the early Wing Tsun students.

Above you can see two of the newspaper ads out of East-German newspapers (Wochenpost) from 1986. 
What did one do back then, almost no one having a phone at home. Little story on the side: In 1980 I applied for a phone installation and still remember how in 1988 I got a postcard that currently my order cannot yet be fulfilled. So, no home phone, of course no cell phone, no e-mail or even fax. Now what? Alfred got in his old car, or did he even come by train? I have to ask. He drove from his town at least 1 to 2 hours to my place. Sometimes I had to work longer and wasn't home yet. Unsuccessful, he drove home again, another two hours ... and came back the next week. This was persistence. To do this for a couple of years, this is perseverance. To drive for hours, train for a couple of hours, and drive back home for hours, all that working full time, this was patience. The three P's!
And today I hear at times from prospective students that it is too far to drive from North Vancouver across the bridge into Vancouver.
How did we train? Again, books and videos or posters didn't exist. Whatever I had learned during the annual one or two meetings with instructors from the West, I started teaching the very next day. If you don't know, if and when you will see your instructor again due to political circumstances, if you have no way of receiving information or correction, other than training yourself, you develop a very different attitude. You learn to analyze your own training deep into the tiniest details.
We trained footwork for hours until the soles of our shoes had holes. We did chain punches on the heavy bag until the skin opened up, you heard the blood squishing between your fingers. Made for great conversation while meeting people in the city. They took one look at your face, clean and OK and then at your knuckles, and took at least one step back while talking to you.
Werner Acker, Ralph Haenel, Alfred Ueck in Spring of 1994 after WingTsun seminar I remember training sessions with Alfred. One day he "didn't want to leave". He sat outside the apartment on the stairs, but only because his legs were shaking that much, that he couldn't even take seven, eight stairs down to the house door. Another time he was so brave to order soup in a restaurant, after a tough training. After many unsuccessful tries he put the spoon down. The waitress came and asked if he doesn't like the soup. Oh, he was hungry alright. I never forget the look of the waitress after he told her that he temporarily could not master the spoon. I don't want to know what she thought of us.
Alfred probably still remembers my wardrobe?! In Germany you don't have wall closets for your clothes. I had one of those big old wooden wardrobes with big doors. It was hidden behind a curtain which hung all the way from the ceiling to the floor. Almost like an initiation, every new student got the inch-punch, flew back into the wardrobe, with a giant loud crash pushing the doors inside and often the curtain being ripped off the ceiling and burying the happy new Wing Tsun member on the floor in the wardrobe. Just picture that for a moment. Ah, good old times!
After changes in my life, living in Switzerland, West Germany and West Berlin, I again connected with Alfred. We trained for a couple of years, I did seminars in his school until I moved to Canada.
Alfred never gave up, although it took him ten solid years to advance from 12th student grade to his first instructor level.
Persistence. Perseverance. Patience.
This is how martial arts can shape your life, become a way of living.

P.S.: The two photos are exactly eight years apart. The black & white photo taken in the spring of 1986, still behind the "Iron Curtain". The second one in the spring of 1994 after a WingTsun seminar.
from left to right: Werner Acker, Ralph Haenel, Alfred Ueck

Posted by ralph haenel at 5:44 PM PDT
Updated: Monday, 23 August 2010 5:24 PM PDT
Sunday, 3 May 2009
A Facebook story that?s hard to believe ...

one of the six photos from the Bonus Chi-Sau Class at Wing Tsun Kung Fu Vancouver At the end of March after a bonus class for the trainer team of Wing Tsun Kung Fu Vancouver I transferred all photos taken during the class from the memory stick of my wife’s camera (which I had used instead of mine) to the computer and uploaded the better shots to FaceBook. I deleted most of the photos, but for some reason left six photos from our Chi-Sau bonus class on the memory stick.

Well, we kept taking family pictures. Easter Monday came. The family went out for a trip to Iona beach near the Vancouver airport, took the camera and took many good shots.

I planned an extra evening class for all members of Wing Tsun Kung Fu Vancouver.
The evening came, we searched all backpacks, the car, the kids’ stuff, the entire house. The camera was gone. Days went by. We checked craigslist. Nothing! It looked like we were going to have to come to terms with the fact that the camera was gone, more importantly hundreds of family photos and also personal videoclips the kids had recorded for Grandma’s birthday. This was the most upsetting part.

About two weeks had gone by since Easter Monday. A Facebook message is waiting for me. Hmm, I don’t know the person. So, he writes: “A camera came flying out of a car that was in front of me as I was driving home during Easter Monday. ... there were also some Wing Tsun photos on there and they are the exact same pictures as the last 6 photos that are in your "2009 Chi-Sau bonus classes" photo album on your Facebook. ... I am wondering if you can assist me in identifying the driver so that I may return the camera.”

Yes, we have to admit, we have no idea how the camera could be flying out of the car window. This might forever remain a mystery.
But, what are the odds, someone in traffic at a busy intersection notices a camera flying out of a car?
What are the odds that the person actually stops and picks up that camera?
What are the odds, that that person is interested in Kung Fu and has seen my photo albums on Facebook?
Why did I leave the six photos of the last Bonus Chi-Sau class on the memory stick and not delete them as I did with all the other pictures?
Few only would make an effort now to track down the person, whom the camera might belong to.
Furthermore, I saw that the finder is on Facebook connected with one of my wife’s co-workers, another lifeguard. What are the odds?

Everybody, who I have told the story, commented more less, that if they would read this kind of story in a book, they would respond” Yeah right, this doesn’t happen in real life!”

Not being “into it” as I am, my wife always said: “Facebook sucks.”  It doesn’t anymore. (she never understood how people could spend so much time telling other people every little thing during their day, she really doesn’t want to know when anyone else needs to go to the bathroom or if they have decided to brush their teeth for the 10th time).

A big Thanks to the honest and helpful finder of our camera. Maybe this will be an inspiration to others.

Posted by ralph haenel at 9:38 PM PDT
Thursday, 30 April 2009
Is experience overrated? What does a Wing Tsun trainer do?

German Ferrer from Wing Tsun Calgary and Brian Yam from Wing Tsun Vancouver working on details of the WingTsun wooden dummy formI must admit, that I borrowed the headline "Is Experience Overrated?" from Mike Mahler's latest online magazine issue of "Aggressive Strength". One of the many interesting resources you can find via Twitter! At one point he writes: "You might think it impossible to not get better at something after accumulating years of experience, yet proof of the opposite is abundant."
Let's look at the trainer team at Wing Tsun Kung Fu Vancouver. Everyone is living busy lives, often struggling to make the right choices of dividing time between family, the job or business, other hobbies and activities, and going to group classes as well as taking private lessons. Now between classes, lessons and attending seminars, you could think enough is enough, right?!
But many find it excitingly challenging, even or especially after many years of training, to explore the art within the martial ART of Wing Tsun Kung Fu. A great chemistry within a group, having lots of fun sweating and training hard, can produce its own driving force. Some members of our trainer team are still very young while others see already the silver lining of the big 60 on the horizon. It's never too late or too early to find passion in your hobby.
It can be a great motivator for your life in general, to experience the exhilarating success of mastering new levels of skill. For some it's very rewarding, to discover and preserve a century old Kung Fu system, once made famous by the late Bruce Lee, and just recently "re-discovered" by many through the Yip Man movie.
So, over the past months we scheduled three bonus classes for all trainers, reviewing some of the instructor level programs. We first got together on Saturday, February 28th, followed by March 14th and March 28th.
Each instructor level (Technician Grade or TG) can be seen as the "black belts" of Wing Tsun Kung Fu. Chi-Sau sections are in the beginning kind of "two-men forms" of the tactile response exercises in Wing Tsun. These sections are designed to help cultivate reflex-like reactions. Each Chi-Sau section combines several scenarios of attacks, defenses, counter-attacks and counter-defenses. Among many other benefits the (in our opinion right) Chi-Sau training creates a sound structure, feel for the right timing, maintenance of balance while being pushed, pulled, attacked; a good coordination of food and hand work, punching power at the right opportunity and more.

Yet another effect is often overlooked. While you teach, you are not just helping others. When you have to answer questions, you may have never asked yourself, you improve your ability to explain, to generate visual examples. Each time you improve your own performance. You find better ways to articulate your teachings, thus improving your confidence. Facing a multitude of attacks you also sharpen your technical skills. How could there ever be a final experience?

Over the years you slowly become an expert, you begin to master your martial art.

"An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field" - Niels Bohr

Posted by ralph haenel at 7:21 PM PDT
Updated: Thursday, 30 April 2009 7:35 PM PDT
Wednesday, 28 January 2009
Kung Fu Power: Kettlebell Workshop with discount for Wing Tsun Vancouver members

WT instructor and personal trainer Steve McMinn is having an Intro to Kettlebells Workshop on Saturday, March the 14th at 1.30pm @ Fitness World Kitsilano (Vancouver), 2150 W Broadway at Arbutus - 2nd Floor.
Steve would like to extend an invitation to all members of Wing Tsun Vancouver and offer a 1.5hr workshop.
This would be a good way for those interested in Steve's recent seminar demo, to get some hands-on experience. Missed the two seminar demos? Go to our two media channels at YouTube (10 min) and Veoh (45 min).
All of the workshop info can be found on his website at
There is a limit of 12 participants to ensure enough personal instruction. If interested, contact Steve ASAP to reserve a spot.

Steve McMinn - Trainer
778 898 4649

Posted by ralph haenel at 8:20 PM PST
Updated: Wednesday, 11 March 2009 1:07 PM PDT

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