To Kung Fu or not Kung Fu! - Should I train with injuries?
As a Wing Tsun instructor, I have often been asked about the ramifications of working out while being injured. Interestingly enough, the full 100% of injuries students have suffered, always originated from non-WingTsun activities. Most of them happened while playing (dangerous sports like) tennis, soccer, volleyball, snowboarding, hockey, jogging and yes, injuries caused for example by office and garden work related accidents. Knock on wood; in my 25 years of learning and teaching Wing Tsun Kung Fu, all I have seen in my classes are bruises here and there, sore muscles, and the rare bloody lip or nose. Never anything serious.
Here we are talking about questions I have received from members after having suffered a dislocated shoulder, pulled muscles, or while experiencing problems arising from “tennis-” or “golf-elbow”, or carpel-tunnel syndrome. Before any physical activity, always ask a doctor first (disclaimer). I do not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment or prognosis.
My personal experiences are based on what I have done in the past and how martial arts colleagues, fellow Wing Tsun trainers worked around injuries in order to resume their training.
What I am talking about is what I have done, would do so again, not what I expect what someone else should do! I tell my students that it is important for them to know that I am OK with whatever they decide to do. What counts for me personally? Getting slightly older, past the age of 40, I just too often see people wasting their valuable lifetime with excuses in many areas of their lives: if it is business, personal, hobby ... or (martial arts, fitness, etc.) training.
So, you talked to a doctor, you are motivated, you have goals, you don’t want to waste time and you absolutely don’t want to face the dangers of slowly morphing into a lame couch potato. What are your options? Here a few ideas, pointers that may help you.
1. Enjoy a short limited break from weekly activities. Read a good book, or two, or more. A couple of weeks, a month or so of a break is OK, and often even needed. It gives a fresh new perspective, instils new motivation. Reload your batteries! In the past, after a couple of weeks off, I absolutely had to resume my training. I simply couldn't stay away any longer.
2. In “our case”, our Wing Tsun form training offers many opportunities, better than ever. An injury might just be the right means, to train more careful, to listen more closely to the body. Hey, it’s yours, study the manual! After all, in Wing Tsun as true as in any physical activity: "Use it, or lose it!" I often say that Kung Fu should not just destroy but also heal. To stop training does in most cases do more harm. Train with care and support the healing process.
Kung Fu is not just a form of martial arts, it's not just about the exercise, it's a lifestyle! If you cut out part of your lifestyle, how would that help your injury recovery?
Everyone I have seen so far, who stopped and didn't train at all for a long time, just masked the symptoms, resumed training eventually and suffered the same injury again. Use your body, learn to work around the problem. Create awareness and improve where muscles, ligaments, tendons didn't do their job. Figure out the reason, why the injury happened in the first place and how to train, so that it doesn't happen again.
3. In case of shoulder, elbow, wrist problems, there is a multitude of exercises that can be done with only one arm, which offers a focus that many miss out on, as long as they can use both arms equally. Being healthy, they rarely restrict themselves. Having an injury can actually be a blessing in disguise as even my Sifu often said. You do things, you train in ways you ordinarily wouldn't.
Yes, it is easy to get swept away in the moment while being in class, wanting to train harder and then in the end possibly realizing that it was too much. So, discipline is needed, to keep the group class workouts light and to maintain control.
4. It is OK to train light, as to not doing any more harm to the injured area. Training light does NOT in the slightest have anything to do with not training seriously. Most guys think that light training is not manly enough, an attitude for which I have quite a few words ... :-) Working out lightly, with little strength and also moving slowly, does not mean practicing a ineffective workout routine equal to wasted time and money. It is in effect one of the best workouts that many just do not do as long as they can work with strength. Following a light workout routine, one can continue classes without losing months of valuable training time and at the same time give the injury time and opportunity to heal. Even or especially when certain injuries take more time to heal.
You have to be in control of what happens and how it happens.
You have to give your training partner exact details of how you want to train.
Even if not injured, make yourself aware of which muscles move when and how.
Do not hesitate to ask your training partner to:
repeat a movement,
to slow down even more,
when to stop or to resume,
which direction and how to apply force.
5. It is OK and extremely helpful to stand or even sit down at the sidelines. Watch your usual training partners work with each other. Finally realize the instructions you have heard so often, but never really "got it" until viewing the class mates working out. Get literally a different viewpoint. It is a fabulous opportunity to sit down, watch, listen, and take notes. However, I have to admit; almost no one ever does it. Well, only the very few who get really good, become successful because of using times of injury for sessions to analyze their own and the training of others. Enjoy being one of the few who will be successful. Or admit to yourself that you are lazy. If you have a long drive to your school, counting in the cost for gas, it might not be economical, to come to classes just to take notes and watch training scenarios. This is one and only one of the many ways to work through a time period of injury recovery, instead of not training for many months.
Same procedure as last year ... I know, some would expect me, to now talk about how to start the new year with some serious training, or to finish on this last day of 2009 with 5.000 non-stop chain punches, so that even the last one is as strong as the first. Sure, you can do that. Knock yourself out!
But sometimes it's good, just to have some fun, to be silly. Many people in Germany, whole families, circles of friends have a new year's tradition. It's all about a old TV Show recorded in July of 1963. It's best known, also in many other European countries as Dinner for One. People have Dinner for One parties, either just watching this funny almost 18 minute long show, or even to reenact it, have a whole theme party around it. Some have been watching this show for decades, every single New Year's Eve.
You should try it out. But don't you dare, to pause it, to answer the phone. Sit back, have a good drink and simply have a good time. Feel for the butler! :-)
Dinner for One, starring British comedian Freddie Frinton is a cult classic in Germany and across various European countries, shown every New Year's Eve. Yet still remains almost completely unknown to North American audiences. A lonely upper-class Englishwoman, Miss Sophie (May Warden), hosts a dinner every New Year's Eve for her long-dead admirers: Mr Pommeroy, Mr Winterbottom, Sir Toby and Admiral von Schneider. Her butler, James (Freddie Frinton), makes his way around the table playing each of the guests in turn. As he does so, he drinks each guest's share of the wine, becoming more inebriated and familiar and repeatedly trips over a tiger skin on the floor.
The vital exchange is: "The same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?" "The same procedure as every year, James!"
The Tan-Sau of death and other secret techniques of Wing Tsun Kung Fu - part 2 of 2 or The 14-hour Chi-Sau marathon, thoughts on a Wing Tsun training method
In various martial arts, you can find sayings to the effect: “If you want to master martial art ABC, you have to train basics, basics and the basics!” Why is it then so hard for many to do just that?
Wing Tsun works under the idea that the attacker is looking for a victim, ergo usually for at least an apparently weaker person. Furthermore, we learn to use this temporary victim status and turn it all around by exploding unexpectedly into the face of the attacker. This sounds all very nice, but doesn’t work without ‘firepower’ and also the experience of what adrenalin does to you. Having more punching power, even or especially if the attacker is physically stronger, is one of the (strong) points in our Wing Tsun training. Some days I train up to 6, 8 hours or more. Wing Tsun Chi-Sau is an excellent, yet at times somewhat overlooked training method for building a flexible structure, good footwork in coordination with your arm-techniques, and an extreme focus on various striking methods in a very close range.
Update: In the previous paragraph, I wrote: “and also the experience of what adrenalin does to you.” It couldn’t be more timely; Please read the following in Sifu Brian Yam’s blog. Click here.
Earlier I asked: “Why is it then so hard for many to do just that (train the basics)?” I talk often in my classes about one particular experience. The setting is in the early 90’s, the beginning of a big seminar at the Langenzell castle in Germany, the Wing Tsun castle. Many of us were warming up for parts of our Technician Grade testing. More and more began to watch two guys who were just flying through their Chi-Sau routines. Everything looked amazing, appeared well-timed. The right responses popped up like gunshots. Everything looked super precise. Power and speed and techniques melted into a Wing Tsun wonderland. Many started to let their heads hang, sure about not being able to match this kind of supermen performance. Sifu Kernspecht arrived and opened “the games.” You know, his personal mix of Chi-Sau and Lat-Sau, <cartoon mode on>you still slowly nodding and answering that you do know what a Wu-Sau is, while simultaneously looking at the wall you are flying towards to<cartoon mode off>. He soon started to work with the WT super dudes. Easily destroying rhythm, responding unexpectedly, moving seemingly out of sync, suddenly nothing seemed to work for either one of the two guys. They were easily hit, their attempted strikes merged into nothingness, just like shooting blanks. Moral of the story: It doesn’t matter how well you perform WITH your training partner, especially with someone you are very comfortable with; it all has to translate into striking power, structure and the ability to handle stress, and also not to fold when getting hit. No student, instructor, trainer, sifu, master or grandmaster is unbeatable.
Moving now from a valuable lesson of the past, back into this year; earlier in 2009, just for fun, I did a 10-hour Chi-Sau marathon. Recently on Saturday, December 19th, everything came together, and I turned my private lesson schedule into a 14-hour Chi-Sau marathon. Friday was a “warm-up”, six hours with six participants. The line-up for Saturday showed a name list of 12 participants for 14 hours altogether. Two had decided to go for a double session.
Before I get to the Chi-Sau Saturday; Related to the topic “Back to Basics?” I posted a brief note on Facebook. Funny enough someone, who I don’t know, sent me an e-mail: “Fitness doesn't play an important role in the process of learning wing chun.” Hmmh ... Yes, fitness can also be a relative factor. I have seen very fit people collapse within moments under the pressure of a stressful fight exercise. My point has always been to do your strength and fitness training alongside your martial arts training, not one after the other. Why? Life is too short. It’s that simple. However, purposely staying weak or neglecting fitness? Well, the next violent drunk who isn’t afraid of getting hurt will punch you right out of your martial arts dreams into reality. Or as Evan just wrote in a related blog entry: “What if you're too tired to even run away!” Click here to read Evan's blog entry.
Now back to the 14-hour Wing Tsun Chi-Sau marathon, back to Saturday, December 19th. Typically, I start at 10am, but for some reason I had scheduled the first session for 8am. It was 7am, time to get up, OK ... one hit on the snooze button, shower and I was ready for the day. At 7:30am I was out on The Drive, Commercial Drive that is, which has at that time a very different feel than at midnight or 1am on Friday, Saturday nights when there is live music at so many different places. I got a macchiato at Continental Coffee, my favourite coffee shop out of some 30+ coffee shops on The Drive. A macchiato is a double espresso with milk foam, nothing else. Dangerously convenient, we have a 24-hour grocery store around the corner, where I got some juice. I had to run after an old man who forgot his umbrella. A day earlier, he forgot his cane. Right before a 14-hour workout, I really didn’t want to think about what might be in store for us when one gets old.
Friday had already been a great day. I worked with Mike, Chung, Sifu Steve RKC, Wayne, Bojan and Doug. Now Sebastian, Wing Tsun trainer and Salsa instructor started the Saturday marathon on the spot at 8am, followed by Dave, Edmond, Sia, Philip, Anselm for a double session (Wing Tsun Victoria), Vasile, Sifu Chris, Tanya, Jennifer, Marcel and as the last one, Sifu Gary K. for another double session.
Certain basic ideas popped up repeatedly throughout this long day. Here in no particular order some of the points.
There are many different ways to practice Chi-Sau to extract different benefits. Some have been mentioned in Part 1 of “The Tan-Sau of death.”
Speed of striking techniques and responses in general, is in the end for many a factor. Well, if you want to get really fast, train really, really slow to make yourself aware of all the components that make you eventually fast. There are different stages to slow detailed Chi-Sau training:
1. arms or shoulder or neck or biceps start to hurt, 2. many experience the wonderful feeling of arms or the whole body shaking, 3. you move slow, your Chi-Sau appears to the onlooker boring. 4. arms, shoulder and various other parts of you are now severely burning, 5. you just heard a noise and wonder if was the impact of your arms falling off, 6. you experience cramps, sudden feeling of weakness, instinct to run away ... and then we start the real training!
Important while going through above scenarios:
1. Do NOT break contact! 2. Do NOT stop for a moment and shake your arms out. 3. Do NOT follow the instinct of answering your phone, even though you know you switched it off. 4. Do NOT pretend you suddenly have to go to the bathroom. 5. Do NOT attempt to bribe your Sifu by saying that you paid already for the session and that there is really no need to finish it.
I am really not a tool man, I can get a nail into the wall; most likely at least. Therefore, if someone would surprise me with a brand-new 299-piece toolbox from the latest Sears catalogue, I wouldn’t really know what to do with it. Many ‘know’ a lot of "tools", meaning techniques and attack/defense/counter scenarios, which under pressure become worthless and cannot be used. Work on structure, coordination of hand and footwork and knock-out power, rather than on a trazillion of secret techniques.
If working with a fifth student grade or an advanced technician grade, the core concepts of how to train, how to learn and how to teach remain the same. Let’s look at only one example, one single punch, and one possible problem you may face ... among many.
Distance – Punch in or out of the wrong distance and one action is wasted. Timing – If your timing is off, you might get hit at the same time you punch. Coordination – One of the few “real secrets” of Wing Tsun is the coordination, the connection of hand and foot work. Involve as many musclegroups; put your weight behind your punch. Remember the ‘falling step’ idea by Jack Dempsey and Bruce Lee? Balance – Punch too tensely and your own punch on impact may throw you off balance. Power – Physical strength is not necessarily the same as punching power. Release Power (ability to deliver power) – Having punching power and being able to deliver it in the right place at the right time is a tricky business. Mobility – Remember Muhammad Ali’s footwork, which puzzled many boxers? Review you Wing Tsun Kung Fu footwork. How mobile are you? Positioning – Deliver your punch, have your Wu-Sau too low and get hit. Centerline – Have your punch also protect you, for example your ribs, while punching. Fluidity – Can you deliver a whiplash like punch that employs the whole body while moving in on the opponent?
Click on above graphic to view the large file version of the WingTsun-CoreConcepts.
By now, it was 9.20am. I was working with Dave, a hardcore hiker and camper who doesn’t believe in tents. Yeah, a little bit of sunshine was peaking through the window. Each lesson I was repeating above mentioned points, explained the WingTsun-CoreConcepts, corrected mistakes.
What else came up throughout the day? Think of the following thoughts, visualisations as ideas of how to check your training process differently. Perhaps it might support the notion of how exciting it can be to discover the ART behind the martial ART.
- John Wayne and Wing Tsun Don’t “reach” with your punch across the distance. Remember the WingTsun-CoreConcepts? Do it like John Wayne and shoot from the hip. In addition, try to look cool and merciless! Kidding aside, use your punch like a shield and move your arms following the cone-idea. See the graphic by Gary Hughes.
- Can you find the white spots on your map of muscles? Explore the four hinges! When you train, feel which muscles are involved. Which muscles feel relaxed? Where can you produce power? Where do you feel too much tension? Which muscles feel like white spots on the map, meaning they don’t respond. Explore your toolbox, your Wing Tsun forms. Which part of the Siu-Nim-Tau or Cham-Kiu can “wake up” the muscles you need to improve? I often talk about the ‘four hinges.’ This refers to the usage of your chest, lats, shoulder and upper back while punching. How long is your whip? No laughing here. We are talking about the connection of muscles from your toes to fingertips. How many muscles in your body can produce a fluid and whiplash-like punch?
- Impact and reflection Can your arms deflect an incoming punch and lead the force through a connection via upper body into the stance? Can you use your footwork, even the lifting of your heel, bending of your knee, to generate a more powerful punch?
- Power of the seven joints Yes, we know that the joints are powered by muscles, ligaments and tendons. The late Sifu Yip Man supposedly said: “The more joints are involved in a technique, the more powerful it will be.” If we look in a simplified way at the first three Wing Tsun forms, we find out that 1. the Siu-Nim-Tau develops the power of shoulders, elbows and wrists, 2. the Cham-Kiu develops the power of hips, knees and ankles, and 3. the Biu-Tze connects through the usage of the spine the “lower” and the “upper” three joints. Hence the talk about the power of the seven joints, looking at the spine as “one joint.” (wrist, elbow, shoulder, spine, hip, knee, ankle = seven joints)
Can you independent position and move your shoulder, elbow and wrist, ... and do that on both sides? In a fight, your muscles have to constantly reposition six joints, both shoulders, elbows and wrists. Does this now translate for you into more powered punches, fluid movement, flexible actions?
For some it is helpful if we look at some aspects of our Chi-Sau training as partner supported isometric exercise. Why not?!
Some fire a single arm technique, then a step, then a turning stance or yielding, followed by another technique. In order to make the connection between punches and steps, defenses and attacks, I use yet another visualisation. Imagine you have short bungee jump cables connect your knees, elbows, from your left elbow to your left knee, diagonal, and so on. Now see those imaginary connections as flexible powerlines that support your structure and prevent it from being ripped apart. Latest during the training, it begins to make sense.
- Don’t run out of bullets too early Stamina, power management and power generation under pressure, under stress show what’s real and what’s beautiful but useless theory. There is so much more that can be said.
What matters! – The Real Secret of Kung Fu – Wing Tsun that is ...
It doesn’t matter how traditional or classical your punch is, of if it’s a “bad, bad modified” punch.
It doesn’t matter how killer-like the Fak-Sau of your instructor is.
It doesn’t matter how your lineage performs the Tan-Sau.
All that matters is angles, positions, movement; all that matters is physics!
Enjoy your version of Wing Chun, Ving Tsun or Wing Tsun. Train hard. Have fun with your class mates. Check your progress. And don’t let plateaus and setbacks discourage you. Have a vision of what you want to achieve, define your goals, dream a little bit and your martial art will be an exciting martial art!
SifuMania – or who or what is a Kung Fu Sifu anyway?
When I started my Wing Tsun training in 1984, in Rostock Germany, I really didn’t have a clue as to how direct and also how serious Kung Fu will over the decades influence my life. Would I do it again? With all the good and the not so good choices? Knowing, how it will steer the course of my life? You bet I would! There is nothing more exhilarating than following a seemingly impossible to reach goal. It feels so good to work on achieving something, everyone else tells you to be impossible. It is satisfying and motivating, to follow a vision and work on being patient, learning to show persistence, trying to reap top notes in perseverance.
photo (from left to right): Wing Tsun Team Vancouver & Calgary - Sifu Brian Yam, Sifu German Ferrer, Si-Fu Ralph Haenel, Sifu Gary Kaiser, Sifu Ciprian Constantinescu
How many people tell you every week about how much they hate their job? Caught yourself doing it? Well, do something about it! Is it easy? Absolutely not. Will you regret it at times? Yes! No motivational coach can cover it up with positive thinking and yeah-yippy-attitude. There will be tough moments. But there is something really, really, did I say really(?) important in there. You can take action, you can change things. Bla bla, what a rare statement, right? It just takes many people their whole lives, to realize that this simple declaration is ... true. It is as they often say in martial arts: “It’s the path to get there, not the destination.” Aren’t those martial artists smart? Well, don’t worry, every Master or Sifu is also just a human being and makes mistakes.
Back to Kung Fu. During the first WingTsun seminar in 1985 in Rostock (Mecklenburg-Vorpommern), my Sihing Leo Czech was discussing for a moment, if he should sit or stand for the group photo. Back then, typically only Sifu’s were allowed to sit in a traditional Kung Fu class photo. Protocol was serious stuff. Well, the photo shows the outcome. Back then, Wing Tsun Sifu’s were rare, there were only two in Germany in the EWTO.
The first WT Sifu in Germany was Keith Kernspecht, followed in August of 1983 by (Junior-) Sifu Michael Fries. On a side note, also mentioned in the Wing Tsun World magazine Number 4 is a 12th student grade, which should later outperform many of his instructors, Emin Boztepe. My first WT instructor eventually followed his Sihing, Sifu Fries, to Italy and was by the end of 1989 known in Livorno as Sifu Leonardo Czech.
My second WingTsun teacher, Peter Vilimek, was in 1987 announced as Sifu of Wing Tsun alongside with Christoph Gefeke, Peter Maull, Thomas Mannes and Thomas Roggenkamp †, soon followed by Emin Boztepe, Frank Ringeisen and others. I had the pleasure to learn on different occasions from all of them.
Traditionally, anyone who opens a Chinese Kung Fu school and teaches is a Sifu. I have met people who as teenagers learned some Kung Fu style for a few years in China or Hong Kong, then they came for example to Canada or the US, opened during the Bruce Lee wave a Kung Fu school and called themselves anything from Sifu to Grandmaster. So, there are not really any guidelines, let alone any quality control.
The organization in which I learned for about 16 years had at some point approximate guidelines that stated that the Wing Tsun teacher has to have the second instructor level and guided at least one of his students to the first instructor level. Approximate? Yes, because the guidelines where used at the convenience of the head person. It’s tough, a large organization needs procedures to lead hundreds or even thousands of instructors. The problem lies in the fact if the major part of the control is in the hands of one person.
Over the years, I’ve experienced in various Wing Tsun organizations, that the Sifu title was given or withheld depending on favours rendered. Some chief-instructors charged as much as US$1000 for the Sifu certificate. It turned into a mere business.
I have met Sifus who were amazing instructors. Others were just beating up their students and elevating themselves, using the title as if it were a doctor title added to the personal information in their passport.
Think back to high school, even elementary school, college or university. How many teachers do you remember? How many have made a difference in your life, helped you significantly, or gave you this one push that helped you to improve, this experience you still remember even after decades? Most of us remember one or two names out of an army of teachers we have seen in our lives.
photo (from left to right): Wing Tsun Trainer Team Vancouver, Calgary, Victoria - Edmond Chow, Tony Leung, Sifu Brian Yam, Sifu German Ferrer, Sifu Gary Kaiser, Si-Fu Ralph Haenel, Sifu Ciprian Constantinescu, Sebastian Molnar, Philip Lee, Anselm Meyer, Siavash Panahandeh
If a martial arts instructor is now a Sensei or a Sifu, it doesn’t mean that the person suddenly inherits superb teaching abilities. Some are just good martial artists. No more, no less. You may have heard the martial arts saying: “The best teacher is not the best fighter, and the best fighter is not the best teacher.” Since most of us don’t face every single week fights, it is really important that the Sifu helps us grow, develop a better posture, that he helps us to improve our confidence to a healthy level, creates awareness for our surroundings, sharpens our senses through the self-defense training.
I know of many martial arts schools who use media coverage to show, how dangerous life is and that you can get attacked any day. Even if it would bring in more business, I personally don’t like this panic mode.
The term ‘Sifu’ is often interpreted or translated as ‘teacher’, ‘master’ or ‘tutor’, or as ‘father – teacher’ of a new generation of Kung Fu students. Being a Sifu means for me: - taking responsibility to spread the martial art, - working on improving the system by either advancement of exercises, forms, etc. - or the development of better learning and teaching methods.
It should require the commitment to be passionate and teach even that one evening that you absolutely want to stay home, yet ending up making a positive difference in somebody’s life.
Some Sifus disappear over the years, never to be heard of again. Others become known through teaching a few or a lot of people, helping even other teachers by making helpful contributions through various publications.
What now changes if one of your class mates becomes a Sifu? For example Brian is your Sihing, your older Kung Fu brother. Now he became a Sifu (Kung Fu father teacher), but is still your Sihing (older Kung Fu brother). The moment he accepts a new student, this student calls him Sifu. For this new student I will be the Sigung, the Kung Fu Grandfather. Oh brother, eh? In other family terms, if he is your older brother and he has, usually with someone else, a baby and becomes a father, he will still be your older brother. OK? And Brian, ... one father title might be enough for the time being. No rush!
In short, being a Sifu is not a title to rest upon, but rather a new, a bigger responsibility. Now it’s up to each person to live up to it, to fill the title with life.
It doesn’t matter if you teach 3 people in your lifetime or 30,000.
Be a teacher, who will be one day positively remembered!
Freedom, commitment, bruises and anniversary cake Ramblings 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!
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!
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?
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 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.
Epilogue 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!
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."
What'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."
The 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.
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!
The first 2009 Wing Tsun Seminar in Calgary - by Tony Leung
From 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)
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.
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.
2. Edmond all ready to go in fighting form.
3. 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.
5. After group class, instructor class & 2-day seminar; Edmond passed out on the airplane.
The Tan-Sau of death and other secret techniques of Wing Tsun Kung Fu - part 1 of 2 or The 10-hour Chi-Sau marathon, thoughts on a Wing Tsun training method
The 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.