Sifu Ralph Haenel, learning and teaching Wing Tsun Kung Fu since 1984
Changing lives, one punch at a time.
Book "The Reality of Self-Defense!" by Ralph Haenel
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Siu-Nim-Tau, a Wing Tsun Kung Fu form for WingTsun (Wing Chun, Ving Tsun) practitioners and fitness enthusiasts.
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Wing Tsun Kung Fu Vancouver Blog
Sunday, 18 September 2011
Heavy Metal and Kung Fu
Believe in your dreams ... and work bloody hard for it!
Today I was looking for a particular post and ended up scrolling down my Facebook wall all the way through 2011, 2010, then 2009, went through 2008, to the very point when I joined Facebook in November of 2007. Have you ever done that?
Among the many posts, notes and mentions, the "Heavy Metal and Kung Fu" mini-story stuck with me. Initially I posted the following lines at some point in 2010 on my Facebook wall:
It was the early 80's, maybe even 1980. We listened to AC/DC still with Bon Scott, the album "Made in Japan" by Deep Purple on a real record player, but top favourites were also "Room Service" by the British band Fischer-Z und the unforgotten "Lights in the Night" by Flash and the Pan. The latter worked best back then at night after a couple of beers. Grauper, the front man of the band I am about to mention may not remember how he put my stereo boom boxes on the windowsill of my apartment to bring via maximum volume happiness to the surrounding apartment buildings, ... at 3am. Soon there were truly lights in the night, one after another, in kitchen and bedroom windows of the neighbourhood. Luckily, we couldn’t understand the yelling of neighbours hanging out of their windows, possibly due to the fact that the music was so loud.
Still 1980. Three guys 16, 17 years old. Around midnight at the East Berlin airport of Schoenefeld, we started with a bet about who can drink the most double espressos. I vaguely remember that we stopped at about ten. Throughout the night, we tried to recover from the various caffeine-induced symptoms.
Then it happened in the golden city of Prague. This very moment when a dream is born. We stayed at someone's apartment. Michael (Grauper) took for the first time a guitar in his hands and started to fiddle around until we almost lost it on him. But hey, he wanted to become a hard rock god, or maybe it wasn't quite so clear yet in that very night. Of course, he was later told that it's impossible. For so many reasons it was very difficult, to start a band in East Germany.
I on the other hand was already heavy into martial arts; only a few years later I was told that it would never ever, ever happen that I would become a Wing Tsun instructor, let alone see the WingTsun castle in West Germany. Remember, it was still the time of the Cold War; the Wall between East and West Germany was still up.
Well, guess what? I made it. From 1990 to 1994 I studied in Langenzell near Heidelberg at the famous Kung Fu castle.
What happened to my friend Grauper's heavy metal wish? Guess which one is him? Meet the Tricky Lobsters from Rostock, Germany.
Long story short: Don't let anyone ever tell you: "It's impossible!"
Are the Tricky Lobsters on Facebook? Yes, of course! Go to https://www.facebook.com/trickylobsters.rostock
P.S.: Just think about it. Today, thirty-one years ago, I didn't know yet about WingTsun and he couldn't play the guitar. You really never know.
Sunday, 28 August 2011
Bridge over Troubled Water – About storytelling and details of training
I like stories. Stories help me remember important details. They generate meaningful connections between seeing an exercise, getting a feel for it, and listening to instructions. I enjoy teaching using stories.
My second WingTsun instructor, Sifu Peter Vilimek, used a lot of mini stories to reinforce the understanding of his teachings. The stories support the journey from training mere techniques towards forming reliable movement pattern within one’s Wing Tsun performance.
One of his stories I like to call today “Bridge over Troubled Water.” No, it’s not a mystical Chinese Kung Fu inspired metaphor. And no, it has nothing to do with Simon & Garfunkel’s classic hit from 1970.
For most Wing Tsun (Wing Chun, Ving Tsun) practitioners the term Fook-Sau stands for Bridge-Arm or bridging arm. Yet in application, I myself have seen many very different interpretations. But I don’t want to join in, nor do I care about the “battle” of some about the traditional, original, modern, authentic or modified “Kung Fu truth.”
Techniques have to follow the laws of physics. Our structure, the angles of temporary positions, the connectivity of all muscle groups, development of power, all of it has to work for the underdog. Who is the underdog? The by the attacker chosen victim, finding himself in a confrontation, which is about to turn physical.
My teacher then, in 1986, told me to look at the function of Fook-Sau. The arm builds a temporary bridge to transport an army, your punch “across the river” into the opponent’s territory (his structure). Think of the use of Fook-Sau in combination with a simultaneous punch in the second form of Wing Tsun Kung Fu.
Imagine Fook-Sau as a pontoon bridge build by the engineer company of your army. It has to be build straight from one side of the river to the other. Also due to its temporary transport function, it wouldn’t make sense to build it diagonal to reach the opposite bank (Fook-Sau position). What would you think if the bridge is in the middle of the operation being destroyed (retracted) so that your troops fall into the water? Why building a bridge in the first place, when your soldiers anyway swim across and may not succeed while encountering strong currents (separation of Fook-Sau and Punch). Also, imagine your bridge drifting off the bank while you are still in mid transport (no forward pressure). These examples might help you to understand how the Fook-Sau/Punch exercise should be performed and executed in application.
Think again of the idea behind combining Fook-Sau and Punch in the Cham-Kiu form and now read this quote about the design of a pontoon bridge: “The roadway across the pontoons must .. be able to support the load, yet be light enough not to limit their carrying capacity.”
Stories make vital details more memorable, give us examples we can easily understand. However, we must be able to attend to all the details necessary to improve.
When did you the last time pay attention to ALL details of a training exercise?
Recently I held a bonus class featuring a particular topic. I didn’t reveal it at first. I wanted everyone to form their own conclusions, by analysing how we trained that evening. I’ll get back to this class at the end of this post.
Take the portrayed situation in this post’s photo as example. Naturally, you can’t see movement in a photo, but hey you have to get the work done for yourself anyway. Theory is one thing, bringing it to life, training hard, another. Limiting the length of this post I won’t mention all, but some details to be checked while you train. Some details mentioned may be unique to the Wing Tsun system.
- are you moving your body behind your punch, bringing your bodyweight into the punch?
- is your foot work moving you only forward, or do your leg/s control the attacker’s stance, or even better is your footwork attacking the opponents stance?
- are you using your arms as a shield which also attacks?
- are you making contact without chasing arms?
- do you punch full power without getting tense? Remember: Kung Fu is Eastern boxing!
- meeting greater force, could you instantly yield without losing your structure, without getting weak, without having your positions destroyed?
- are you holding your breath while going in, or have you learned to breath somewhat regular under stress?
- are you toes cramping or do you have a solid contact to the ground, being able to use your fluent footwork?
- are your knees bend or do your legs freeze up, erect your body, ending up resisting and wrestling the other guy?
- are your hips and shoulders supporting your movement and direction as well as being supportive of your defenses and attacks?
- can you generate power out of your spine? (Think of horizontal movements in Cham-Kiu and vertical movements in Biu-Tze.)
- are you aware of using shoulder, elbow and wrist as chain-linked or even independent power sources for your flexible strikes?
- are you aware in your exercises how muscles, ligaments, tendons, your fascia operate?
- can you make yourself feel what I call the “four hinges” for your punch: (simplified) chest muscles, upper back muscles, lats, shoulders?
- can you utilize the lower back muscles and your stomach muscles to build a strong yet mobile connection between your lower and upper body?
- what happens to your neck, head position when you go in?
- do your fingers turn into the “deadly tiger claw” or can you switch from open to closed hand applications without getting your fingers broken in a fast and aggressive exchange?
Ehmmm, and now do all of the above at the same time!! Well, here are a few of the not so magic ways to get it done: Find a supportive, skilled and knowledgeable instructor, meet up with like-minded training partners who keep pushing each other forward, maintain your passion, and .. film your hard training and analyze relentless.
Remember, I wrote earlier that I would come back to the special topic bonus class at Wing Tsun Kung Fu Vancouver? One of the participants was asked to e-mail me his conclusion as to the class topic that evening.
Kevin did a great job. He wrote: “The topic was to pay attention to details. This topic is important because it means to break down the techniques/movements into parts in order to carefully analyze the positions, strikes, and timing.”
So ... Are you still repeating or already working on the details?
Friday, 3 June 2011
I know what you did last Kung Fu class!
Typically, when I enter the Wing Tsun school, ready to start one of the evening classes, I have the structure of our programs in mind. In the same way as I use specific teaching methods, instil learning methods; I also see the program structure of Wing Tsun as an overlaying blueprint to improve self-defense skills.
At times, I plan on dealing with a particular issue resulting out of questions and feedback I received during prior classes.
Other evenings I separate the class into different groups, depending on their skill levels.
I do enjoy changes in any planned exercises, caused by questions that come up and lead us over the course of the evening into a different direction. Alternatively, when unexpected physical responses of students or trainers who I demonstrate with, require me to address a seemingly different aspect of Wing Tsun.
After all Wing Tsun is a living martial ART! In addition, as I put it: “Wing Tsun Kung Fu is the ability to adapt to chaos!”
Although everyone receives the same basics, I cannot expect people from different backgrounds, of ages between 17 and 70, novices and experienced martial artists, strong and not so strong practitioners, all to perform the same way. We are not robots. A martial art should be capable of adapting over the years to the person who is training and applying it.
Now, having the programs I teach in mind, while focusing on achieving a particular goal at the end of the evening, watching the different groups, divided by various student or instructor grades, I every now and then just stand back and don’t interfere at all.
Why? Just this past week I was standing there, looking from group to group. And I was astounded! Regardless if someone was student grade 6 or 8 or even 12. Everyone was working with a beginner, or with someone who just recently started their training with us.
One student was explaining the ideas behind the WingTsun footwork, the next one gave important pointers regarding our WT stance, yet someone else talked about the connection between the Wing Tsun forms and the Kung Fu exercise everyone was working on.
There it was. Wing Tsun alive! Learning and helping others in progress! Talking while training without making chit-chat. I saw serious but relaxed faces, willing and eager to answer questions, happy to share knowledge and skill. Proudly supporting newcomers to join in!
That evening I was watching Sifu German (visiting from WingTsun Calgary), Sihings Rob and Philip, Henry, Todd, Loic, Tristan, Adrian, Patrick, Chung and George, Darrin and Kevin, just to name a few.
What’s the downside to above list of names? It is limited to only one evening. Every given Monday or Wednesday, other members are helping new trainees. Without enthusiastic and involved members no martial arts school would survive.
Let me mention Loic for example. He doesn’t even have a student grade yet. However, what he has learned during the past couple of months, he was patiently telling and showing to a first-time visitor.
Someone told me today: “When I come to class I don’t view it as a club, it’s a family.”
Thanks everyone for sharing what I am learning and teaching since 1984.
Changing lives, one punch at a time.
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Sunday, 22 May 2011
Wing Tsun Bong-Sau: sweet & sour or with hot peppers?
Just recently we had a fabulous intensive seminar in Vancouver. I have already started writing a blog post, which turned into a write-up a bit too long. I either have to shorten it or will split it into two parts. Once it’s done, you will find the link here.
Saturday, May 21st 2011 was the date of our Victoria Day weekend open-air class. Bonus classes are one of the perks for members at Wing Tsun Kung Fu Vancouver. Friday was still a beautiful spring day. Saturday morning greeted us gray, cloudy and with light rain. Just how the weather in Vancouver surprises you often. Once again our members surprised me, which is a good thing. Instead of staying home due to the uninviting weather conditions, eighteen participants showed up for our outdoor class.
All my bonus or special classes, seminars as well as small group classes, feature a particular topic. This outdoor class stood under the topic of ‘how-to-translate’ exercises into the ability to perform against an uncooperative attacker.
Now, what does that mean? In our Wing Tsun Chi-Sau training we have a saying:
- you TRAIN Chi-Sau WITH your partner
- you LEARN Chi-Sau FROM your instructor
- you TEACH Chi-Sau TO your student
With everyone else, you need to be able to apply the results of this training. You cannot insert a martial arts system “outsider” into a specific set of exercises. He doesn’t speak the ‘language’ yet, or doesn’t want to. Wing Tsun trainees speak their own language. Attacks and defenses, the whole interaction follows the system’s technical specs.
This can lead into dangerous territory; the feeling-good, thinking-one-is-ready-for-anything state.
The attacker doesn’t care about your Bong-Sau. While visiting another school, I was once privy to a moment during which a enthusiastic well meaning WT instructor tried to explain to a newcomer the ideas behind Wing Tsun’s Bong-Sau. The ignorant newcomer somewhat rudely replied: “What the heck is Bong-Sau? Some Chinese stuff? Food? Sweet & sour, or what?”
I very much hope that the person didn’t get accepted to join the training at that school. However, the point is, you better are capable of delivering your Bong-Sau with hot peppers! That you have a spicy performance. Hard to digest for the attacker.
Naturally, I don’t see Bong-Sau as a special technique. It was only a simple example, a metaphor. Also refer to my extensive blog posts “The Tan-Sau of death.”
- Click the following links:
Don’t get stuck in exercises!
Make it work against an uncooperative training partner!
Train emergency scenarios! What if something goes wrong? Can you seamlessly continue your actions?
Sometimes I am asked: "Can you quickly explain Wing Tsun?"
My reply: "Sure! Three words. Adaptation to chaos!"
So, how do you deal with a chaotic outcome? Do your exercises translate into being able to adapt to chaos?
How do you perform under pressure?
Stress resistant behaviour?
Some of the questions you should ask yourself from time to time.
Have fun and train hard!
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Saturday, 30 April 2011
Six great ways to enjoy your Wing Tsun Kung Fu training
Plus ideas for three corporate Kung Fu classes
Well, there are seminar classes, small group classes, private classes, special course classes, open-air classes and beach classes. We did it all during these past two weeks. Only the Kitsilano beach class is coming up in July. Please keep reading!
This time I won’t even mention instructors classes, special review classes, form classes, Chi-Sau classes, WingTsun-ChiKung classes and the list goes on.
In my last blog post I wrote about the Wing Tsun seminar in Victoria, BC on Saturday, April 16th 2011. The headline “Seven overlooked points to improve your Wing Tsun (martial arts) training.”
During the Victoria seminar Sihing Anselm’s students Jess, Erica and Owen tested and successfully passed their 3rd student grade exam. Congratulations!
Early next morning on Sunday we resumed in Sidney with a fabulous small group class, followed by private lessons well into the afternoon. Anselm and Cody worked very hard in their double lessons. Erica made once again great progress. Well done!
After Victoria and Sidney, my next destination was Parksville up the coast on Vancouver Island. Instead of a relaxing evening of watching hockey, Gary Kaiser took the time to drive me. Thank you! What else can you do, but talk for 2+ hours about Wing Tsun! :-) Thanks Tony Yu for use of the car!
Thursday was time for a special self-defense course at the Burnaby Mountain Secondary School.
Back in Vancouver we met on Saturday, April 23rd time for our Easter weekend open air bonus class. We got lucky and enjoyed beautiful sunshine. Our open-air class location is right next to two playgrounds. It was very nice to see spouses and children come along.
Preview! Kung Fu fighting on the beach!
Our 11th annual Kitsilano beach class is scheduled for Saturday, July 16th 2011, starting at 10am. All current and former members, guests and friends of Wing Tsun Kung Fu Vancouver are invited to our beach class, followed by a potluck picnic! Bring your families. Enjoy the beach! There are also large shaded areas, bring chairs and blankets.
More classes? More ways to enjoy Wing Tsun Kung Fu!
Discover the extended application of ancient Kung Fu techniques in a corporate environment. Follow the links below and read more!
Thursday, 28 April 2011
Seven overlooked points to improve your Wing Tsun (martial arts) training
How is your Impact Capability? Three scenarios will show!
Once again, it was time to pack up and visit Vancouver Island at the invitation of Sihing Anselm Meyer, the local instructor at Wing Tsun Victoria. This time I was accompanied by Sihing Philip Lee of the Wing Tsun Kung Fu Vancouver trainer team. Helpful as always, Sifu Gary Kaiser picked us up on the other side. The seminar host, Ray Van Raamsdonk greeted us at the new location of his Wing Chun Victoria school. A very friendly man with decades of experience, always curious about different interpretations of the art of Wing Tsun / Wing Chun / Ving Tsun. Sifu German Ferrer of Wing Tsun Calgary maintains his unbroken record of flying out to attend each seminar here in BC. The Wing Tsun Victoria seminar also received guests of other Kung Fu and Eskrima schools.
I enjoy focusing every seminar under the umbrella of a specific topic. What I care about is generating ideas to positively change one’s training, regardless of the style. Instilling ideas of how to review and improve your performance.
A fight can be visualized like a car crash. Now, who will survive the head-on collision? The driver of a car is typically protected by many safety features like bumper, crumble zone, collapsible steering wheel, an army of airbags, seat belt, the car body itself, OnStar system and possibly more.
So, how are we now protected through our martial arts training? How many safety features do have in place? What is out Impact Capability? How do we prevent or ‘soften’ the impact of a vicious attack? How do deal with the variables?
Questions over questions (Questions often bring more questions). The following is just a quick recap of the seminar, the theoretical backbone. I will try to keep it brief. The points mentioned, do not form an exhaustive list. The topic itself could be extended into many directions. We had, after all, only four hours time.
Many examples, which I demonstrated, can’t be fully explained in this limited medium. I try to keep my blog posts under three (Word file) pages. ;-)
Some points may only become truly understood if you attended the seminar.
To start it off, via several exercises we began to explore how difficult it is, to make mistakes. Yes, you read it right! We are often too busy doing things right, as opposed to exploring the wrongs. We oppose even the training partner, we try get it right, to copy the perfect execution of a technique, a drill. We want to rush to the "end product." I always reenforce the point that the attacker is the only one, who knows what’s going on. So, let us be a part of it, work “with him”. Encountering the true meaning of yin and yang. Blocking, stopping, opposing, saying NO is easy. It’s quite difficult having to learn to say YES! To let the attacker seemingly succeed, only to turn it around by using his force, technique, the direction and speed of his attack.
Point 1 – Trademark
What separates a talented martial artist from a good technician, his trademark so to say, is the instant and continuous coordination of hand and footwork. Including, the ideas behind the falling and rising step.
We also touched upon the difference between arm movement in front of the body, and body movement behind the arm.
Point 2 - Rhythm
Have your own rhythm, destroy the other person’s rhythm. Ensure that they can’t enforce their rhythm on you. You must determine the rhythm (like a good drummer carries the foundation of a band’s performance) .
Point 3 - Structure
Anything we do must affect the structure of the other person! If he is temporarily busy maintaining balance, attempting to fend you off, trying not to get hit, then there is your chance.
During any Open House event, I typically describe the ideal scenario. We want to take away from the opponent:
- time during which the attacker can act, and the
- space in which he can operate, and the
- opportunity to do anything.
1. We need to launch aggressively into the onset of the first attack,
2. disable time, space, opportunity for a successful second attack
3. drive the opponent into temporary defensive actions.
Point 4 – Power / Power Scale
Naturally, none of it really matters unless we have striking power. If we can’t deliver knockout power, it should at least be enough to shock the attacker for the moment.
Remember; attackers choose victims, not opponents.
I introduced the idea of the Power Scale, which in itself will be part of an upcoming blog post. Our aggressive attacks should perform according to the following guidelines:
- don’t just strike against the arms (and get stuck, start ‘wrestling’),
- don’t just try to push past the arms (forgetting to punch),
- no lifting above or under the arms (no exchange of punches),
- our intend is to go with our actions towards and past the axis, while possibly making contact with the arms.
Reading this particular point again, I can see, how easily the written word can be misunderstood or misinterpreted. Practical demonstration and hands-on training is paramount.
Point 5 - Angles
The attacks towards the assailant have to cover the angles of the majority of possible incoming attacks.
Over time, we learn to employ the ideas of the horizontal and vertical wedge, deriving from the concepts of the second and third Wing Tsun form.
As example, I was using the Bong-Sau and Tan-Sau techniques and their progression throughout Siu-Nim-Tau, Cham-Kiu to Biu-Tze. This can be shown in Chi-Sau and (Wing Tsun) Lat-Sau.
The Dan-Chi-Sau and Chi-Sau exercises are featuring ideal contact constellations for developing positions, angles and eventually movement pattern.
Point 6 – Fluidity & Flexibility
We worked on ideas like ‘Folding’, for example the movement of the elbow past the wrist position, inside and outside. Something my Sifu, Keith Kernspecht, is doing for a long time.
Imagine your arm joints as three weights or cannonballs (wrist, elbow, shoulder). If any part is stopped or blocked, the rest is still moving and even accelerating.
Every Wing Tsun movement has to be continuous and multi-directional, for which Bong-Sau, Tan-Sau, Jum-Sau, Jut-Sau and so on are only (important) fragments of your movements. Just like the single frames of a high speed car chase in a movie. The frames are important, but in the end, the single frames make up the movie. Pay attention to your technique, but don’t get stuck in “single frames.”
As examples I typically use free applications out of the forms, also to showcase the wonderful blueprint the Wing Tsun forms present.
1, response with elements of Siu-Nim-Tau
2. response with elements of Cham-Kiu
3. response with elements of Biu-Tze
Point 7 - Footwork
Coming from point 1 once more back to the extreme importance of our Footwork. Our steps should move us
- not just closer to the attacker,
- not just establish contact (leg against leg, shin to shin), but
- attack the opponents stance, attack his balance, shift his attention from upper to lower body, while you coordinate your attacks on both levels.
In the end, there are only three scenarios that make your successful defense in a real-life scenario count:
1. Can you with your counter shock the attacker, thus temporarily stop his attacks, and now have the chance to run away?
2. Can you attack the attacker so drastically, that he is losing his balance, stopped his attack and is forced into defensive actions? Now get away before it escalates again!
3. Can you knock him out?
Anything else, … forget about it. The mugger is not afraid of seriously injuring you, he is not afraid of getting hurt. He may not care about his defense. He is violent. He is enjoying the fight. There is no fairness. Nobody cares if what you did is authentic, original, traditional, modified, from the right lineage, … you get idea.
So, how is your Impact Capability? Make sure that your defensive “shields” hold! Learn to fire while defending? Don’t get shot down while firing!
Have fun and train hard!
Monday, 11 April 2011
The Yip Man effect: Wing Tsun / Wing Chun flying around the world!
We have watched Nicolas Cage ‘teaching’ Wing Chun in the movie “Bangkok Dangerous.” The “Iron Man” Robert Downey Jr. got to sit on the couch and talked to Oprah about Wing Chun. He also told David Letterman on the Late Show about how deeply he is committed to his Wing Chun training. Eventually Robert Downey Jr. incorporated his Wing Chun lessons in the 2009 remake of "Sherlock Holmes."
The highpoint of cinematic exposure was reached by several movies about the life of Bruce Lee’s teacher, Ip (Yip) Man.
Now Rose Chan is the face of the Hongkong Airlines commercial. She also played the part of Lee Mei-Wai in the movie "The Legend Is Born - Ip Man."
Since I first posted the clip on March 17th 2001 on our Facebook site, questions came in as to who she is. Rose is the student of Wing Chun Sifu Sin Kwok Lam (also the producer of the Yip Man - Legend is Born). Sin Kwok Lam is a student of Yip Chun (Yip Man's eldest son).
According to a recent article in the Sing Tao Daily News, Rose Chan indeed trained 10 cabin crew members of Hongkong Airlines.
(Thanks to Tony Leung for the info.)
Tired of your instructor’s old mug? Click here to watch Rose Chan teaching a bit of the first form of Wing Chun Kung Fu, the Siu-Nim-Tau form*.
* Not an actual recommendation. Consult your local qualified Wing Tsun / Wing Chun / Ving Tsun instructor!
Saturday, 9 April 2011
"Craft, Cooking, and Kung Fu" by Adrian Law
There is nothing mystical about the art of Wing Tsun Kung Fu. There is no hidden, secret knowledge or special, unseen, mysterious powers. It simply is what it is: Kung Fu – a craft or skill where anyone can learn the basic, improve slowly over time, and with enough effort, practice, and a little personality, learn to master it one day.
I personally compare it to cooking but I’m sure everyone has their own comparison. I heard someone once describe the four phases of learning a craft; one goes through:
1. Unconscious incompetence – one starts out not knowing that they don’t know
2. Conscious incompetence – slowly they learn the basics but make
valuable mistakes—mistakes that you want to make so that you know not to make them
3. Conscious competence – one has to work hard and focus to avoid mistakes and start getting good
4. Unconscious competence – mastery, one can perform their craft effortlessly
I guess most people drop out at the first phase when they learn that whatever “it” is, is going to take a long time to learn. In the cooking world, this is where newcomers would say: “Arrgh, cooking is too hard. Time to get some take out…” Phase 2 and 3 are probably the most frustrating, probably because it takes the most time, effort, and real dedication to understand the basics, practice them again and again, and then work on the details to get good. Once again, in the cooking world, an apprentice learns to cut an onion and starts slowly with the basic knife cuts. Then as he or she gets used to the motions, they learn more details: why it’s important to make uniform and even cuts, the names of the different cuts, the importance of trimming the root, peeling, ways to cut faster, cleaner, more efficiently, etc.
The cooking world (and the Wing Tsun world I’m learning) is all about repetition. Hours upon hours are spent doing the same menial tasks again and again and again. Hours spent peeling potatoes, making sauces, or breaking down a whole duck. I’ve learnt from cooking, that the key is actually doing the task physically. Sounds obvious but knowing how to do something intellectually is not enough, one has to actually do it! This is easier said then done because most people think: “I already know how to make a soup, let’s move on.” I’ve seen lots of chefs who claim that they know to fillet a whole salmon, but when you give them the nicest looking fish and watch them do it, they fail immediately or have the most horrible technique. I’ve learnt it’s better to say: “I don’t know, please show me” than have an epic fail.
Even extremely talented master chefs will shut up and watch someone else show them how to fillet a fish, because they know there’s always a better way to do something. I’ve always thought that humility and craftsmanship going hand in hand; that good craftsmanship fosters humility and humility fosters good craftsmanship. Phase 4 is obviously the most satisfying, one I’d like to experience one day. I envision this is where one can incorporate their own personal touch in addition to the fundamentals of their craft to take it to a new level, improve it, and be part of the living art. I’ve seen some chefs juggle multiple tasks while making multiple dishes: cooking vegetables, making a stew, braising veal, simmering a stock, stirring a sauce, with the phone on one ear, and talking to the Maitre’d at the same time, all without breaking a sweat and everything tastes amazing!
That’s mastery—when their body has change, when their fingers can feel the difference in quality; when the details of their craft are fused directly into all their senses, they’ve gotten used to the repetitions of the fundamentals so well that they can execute without even thinking and without effort. This is where I want to be—to have good kung fu.
Monday, 21 March 2011
Setting foot for the first time into a martial arts school?
Tough time, trying to make it back to classes after a break?
Tips and lessons learned from Grumpy George and others!
Time and again trainers eventually hear the following from interested people who are thinking of coming to an open house:
- I was intimidated coming into the school.
- I had this picture of a bunch of sweaty tough guys looking down on me.
- I came, had a quick look from the outside and kept walking.
- I didn't know what to expect.
Also from former members, who had to pause their training and after a break were trying to restart their training:
- The break I took was too long. I thought it's too late to start training again.
- I thought everybody will look at me and ask where I have been.
- I thought people will talk about why I have been absent.
- I thought it's too late to catch up with my class mates.
All those thoughts are more than common. It is normal! You are not alone. Just read what a few of our members went through.
Motivating oneself to coming to the open house.
I too came to the open house in 2003 and walked past, almost turning around to go home! I hadn't taken any martial arts before and was intimidated. But without knowing it at the time, I had followed the first WT principle: go forward! I didn't like the idea of shying away from something unknown because I was always a timid youth growing up and had resolved to turn my behaviour around.
The lesson I learnt and would advise others: it’s almost always better to do something you're thinking about than not doing it, even if its the wrong decision. At the very worst outcome, you will have wasted some time and effort but at least found out that WT (or what ever the thing is) is not for you.
But the very best outcome is that you will gained something valuable for the rest of your life and can be proud that you've overcome an uncertain obstacle (meeting new people/strange environment).
As for restarting one's training, motivation is crucial again because its so easy to think: "I've been out of it so long, what's the point" or "I can train at home" or "I will go next week". I think what motivated me is just making the effort to show up for just one class.
The energy from class is intoxicating (thanks to you Sifu) and you know you cannot recreate it at home. Furthermore, seeing you--Sifu and others like Tony, Edmund, Sebastian, Philip, Sia, Rob and the rest of the trainer team move with such fluid power really makes me want to be part of it. Essentially, the environment of my WT "family" motivated me to come back, because everyone is working towards being really good. And knowing that you have the "seed" of skill planted, however small and long ago, that can be developed into something great is better that knowing that it will die and goes to waste. So, that's my motivation for coming back--seeing a potential come to fruition. That and the jealousy that Tony is so good now :) Hope my ideas are helpful, Adrian
First I did not know what to expect. I knew only a little about Wing Tsun. The experience of 15 years in Olympic wrestling in Europe, some years in boxing, plus Aikido in North America shaped my approach to martial arts. When I started Wing Tsun Kung Fu classes under Sifu Ralph, that changed everything. So, here I am, changing for the better, enjoying myself, working hard, having a good time with a group of nice guys. That is all folks.
In my opinion - if somebody wants to come, he doesn't look for reasons as to why not, but for reasons as to why yes. Of course, everybody needs sometimes somebody who pushes him to make the right decision. I say it this way - WT is a very intelligent and effective martial art for every man or woman. I advise it for everyone.
Having experienced walking into Wing Tsun for the first time with no previous formal martial arts training I can tell you it is a bit of an uneasy feeling.....
One of the things that really made the difference for me very quickly in deciding if Wing Tsun, or this particular class was the one for me was being engaged by some of Sifu Ralph's students right away.
I think If I would have walked into a class where people were beating each other into a pulp and had a bunch of tough guy jerks I would have turned around and left right away....
It was the other students that had come before me that took the time and energy to make me feel at home ... like I could be a part of this and all I had to do was show up......
Having experienced walking away from my training for a little while I have also experienced the regret of missing out.
I personally had other commitments that I needed to attend to for a period of time but when I returned....
There was Sifu Ralph with a big hand shake and then slapping a hug on me as if to say welcome home brother....
I can live in regret for stopping, I can live in regret for not starting this wonderful art years earlier but I choose to bring humility and an open mind to learn From EVERYONE in our classes because the energy we co-create is the heart of Martial Arts for me.....
For anyone looking to try it out or anyone feeling poorly because they stopped practicing....
The door is always open to all comers and there is a place for you because there was a place for me and those who came before me....
After being away from Wing Tsun class for two years, I wasn't sure how much my skills would have deteriorated. I remembered sometimes missing classes for just a few weeks and finding that I definitely felt 'rusty' when I finally got back -- what would it be like to start again after two years? I knew my those who were at my level when I left had been training hard every week for that whole time. It even crossed my mind to ask my Si-Fu if I should start from the beginning again (level zero) and earn my way anew through all the student levels. I didn't ask, though; I figured I would see how it went against my old training partners first.
When I did, there were definitely layers of rust to clear away. My reactions were slow, stiff and lacked all power. But the miracle was, beneath the rust there was still a fully functioning 'machine' (set of reactions); what's more, the rust was gone within just a few weeks. It seems the muscle memory was there all along. It was a great endorsement of Wing Tsun training's focus on details and body mechanics -- in short, real motor skill development as opposed to 'techniques.' While my brain had forgotten volumes of detail, my body remembered.
Did you read the first part of this series of two posts? Please go to Are you a “dream ranger”? Or do you at times submit to the dark side? Watch the video and also read tips from Helen about starting your martial arts training and from Mike about returning to classes.
Wednesday, 16 March 2011
Lightning fast, the secrets of Kung Fu! What did Carl Douglas and George Harrison have in common?
As you can possibly imagine; today’s post is a bit on the lighter side of martial arts life. The eBay explanation to the cover of an old German music magazine told me: “Carl Douglas – Everything about Kung Fu!” Naturally, I had to have it.
By the way - At the end of the post, I will describe a totally deadly Kung Fu technique!
So, Carl was quite the one-hit wonder in 1974 with “Kung Fu fighting.” In the German charts #1, ahead of Sweet (#3 and #17), David Cassidy, Suzi Quatro, George McCrae, Slade and others. John Lennon made it in December of 1974 from #19 only to spot #7, Neil Diamond #20. The British charts featured David Essex on top. Number one in America was Billy Swan.
Sorry I can’t help it, it’s so cheesy; for the Germans here the #2 after Carl Douglas, Michael Holm.
So much for a tidbit of music history. Back to Kung Fu fighting.
There it is, finally on page 44 of the magazine: “Everything about Kung Fu” I knew it, finally I will know it all. But first a lot of “Kung Fu”, hard work, training my iron grip by having to go through the previous 43 pages in search for the ultimate Kung Fu secrets. Carl makes it difficult. Many probably gave up somewhere between the pages 20 to 30. Not me!
Now, the all-revealing text begins! Carl Douglas in 1974:
“My song ‘Kung Fu fighting’ is on millions of turntables. Since then do I, the founder of ‘Karate-Rock,’ live a life of danger. I didn’t know, but in the eyes of many traditional Chinese have I committed a dangerous sin: I have made the secret art of Kung Fu public and by doing so became a traitor on Chinese tradition. Until recently Kung Fu, the weaponless art of self-defense, was completely unknown, compared to Japanese Karate and Korean Taekwondo. No wonder that a martial art like Kung Fu, which is the perfect blend of mind and body and on top also develops character, was only shown to family clan members. ... Kung Fu consists of six different styles, based on the movements of animals. That’s the reason for the names of the techniques: Tiger, Praying Mantis, Snake, Horse, Monkey and Crane style. Each style features 4000 to 5000 stances, out of which you defend yourself against attacks. All movements are designed to work very quickly with the least amount of strength, targeting nerves and other sensitive areas of the human body. Many parts of the body can turn into absolutely deadly weapons, but of course only in an emergency. Your Kung Fu should follow ancient guidelines like:
1. Avoid an attack instead of hurting the opponent.
2. Hurt the opponent instead of injuring him.
3. Injure the attacker instead of killing him.
4. Kill only if you otherwise would get killed.“
And it continues. Carl Douglas: “Now you want to know if since the record has been released, I live in fear of revenge from Kung Fu fanatics? No, I don’t! Years ago, George Harrison disgraced East Indian heritage by using the holy sitar in his and the music of The Beatles. The prophecies predicted dark setbacks, but George is still alive (1974).”
So, Carl was the original traitor. Now we finally know. Wasn’t there somebody else? Bruce ... something? Oh well, can’t remember. Whoever this Bruce guy was, he might have had nothing to do with real Kung Fu, unlike Carl.
Tonight we will train in class the secret Kung Fu, as shown on page 45 of the magazine. The attacker kicks, you quickly duck to the ground, completely naturally jump up under the kick in progress, and simply throw the attacker to the ground. Then you are absolutely safe while standing between the legs of the former kicker, now able to hit him where the sun doesn’t shine.
Any last words?
Everybody was kung-fu fighting
Those cats were fast as lightning
In fact it was a little bit frightening
But they fought with expert timing
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