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ralph haenel, hänelwingtsun, wing tsun kung fu instructor, author, publisher, self-defense expert Sifu Ralph Haenel, learning and teaching Wing Tsun Kung Fu since 1984
Changing lives, one punch at a time.
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Wing Tsun Kung Fu Vancouver Blog
Monday, 31 October 2011

The best training method in the world; that fails (in martial arts) 99.9% of the time.

Controversy over whether the terms martial art and soft belong in the same sentence?
Plus, a story about storytelling.

An old videoclip by a then wing chun school in Germany sparked once again the conversation about how much of the element of ‘soft’ could be connected to one’s martial art performance. Of course, the very word ‘soft’ might lead you to think something along the lines of a rather cuddly martial arts performance. Well, we wouldn’t want that, right? 

I show, demonstrate and explain the very idea of soft in my classes by comparing it to a steel spring-like performance. Visualize it as seamlessly connected whiplash-like actions. I know, words can sometimes be incredibly inadequate. 

See the term ‘soft’ or better yet ‘smooth’ as a perfect fusion of fluidity + elasticity + mobility + timing. 

I have met self-proclaimed soft, relaxed practitioners who ended up just being plain weak, once the action accelerated and adrenalin came into the game. 

I have met other soft, relaxed practitioners who at the first sign of stress instantly fell into a very tense, resisting performance. 

But the more common occurrence is to talk about being relaxed and yielding to greater force, but not knowing when and how to realize what exactly greater force is and what to do.
Sifu Keith R. Kernspecht with his Si-Fu Leung Ting in front of the Langenzell castle, mid 1980's

Some of my instructors have shown me in the past, how amazingly fast their elastic and powerful actions can be, even or especially under stress. Who? My Si-Fu, Keith R. Kernspecht. My then main instructor at the German Langenzell castle, Sifu Heinrich Pfaff.
Other instructors I learned from, for example Sifu Emin Boztepe and Sifu Salih Avci, are known as extremely strong hardcore Wing Tsun practitioners. Not everyone appreciates, or could see how extremely sensitive their performance can be under stress.
‘Sensitive,’ yet another word, that does not seem to mix well with ‘martial art.’ Really, who wants to be known as a sensitive fighter? Sandor the Sensitive? Not a good ring name. I don’t think so. BTW – Sandor means ‘defender of human kind,’ and is a form of Alexander.
photo: One of the photos Si-Fu Kernspecht mailed me in 1986 or 87 accross the "Iron Curtain" to East Germany.

What does ‘sensitive’ mean for us?  Chi-Sau training in Wing Tsun among many other benefits is designed to train tactile sensitivity to recognise on contact the speed, strength and direction of an attack. The tactile guidance system deriving from one’s WingTsun Chi-Sau training naturally has to be combined with the regular visual guidance system. Meaning, by ‘feeling & seeing’ you use double-sure technology. Attention, slight humour. We are talking about ideal scenarios for regular people here! Not the what-if a Mike Tyson infused 200kg Godzilla size MMA monster is in the process of quartering you. The desired training outcome is that one can even under stress maintain and use a high percentage of this combination of visual AND tactile input. As opposed to what? Instead of freezing up, resisting, “wrestling” against the opponent. On a side note, read Sifu Brian Yam’s related blog post: “Gary Lam Challenge Video - The Takeaway Lesson.” 

It all reminds me of a story as told by my Si-Fu. First of all: What do stories do? They entertain us. Stories carry information, knowledge, even skill. Stories help us remember the contents and context of lessons we received. 

Can’t help it, before I get to it, a quick story about stories ... My Si-Fu often started introducing an exercise, reciting a metaphor, explaining theoretical background by saying: “My Sifu did this, ... taught me that, ... advised me to do ..., had the idea ...”
In one instance, a participant in a WT instructors class responded by saying: “But Si-Fu, I know for sure that you developed this drill. Why don’t you take the credit? Why do you say it was your Sifu’s idea?” The reply? “Very simple. When I say it was my Sifu’s idea, nobody questions it. I can go on and teach. When I say it was my idea, people ask: Why? How? When? Where? ... You get the idea. It cuts down on non-training related explanation time, as it happens right now!!!” 

Back to the story about ‘martial art’ and ‘soft.’ I’ll try to keep it short, so that you have more time to train. 

‘The best training method in the world, that fails (in martial arts) 99.9% of the time.’ 

In the 70’s, Wing Tsun teaching and training was surrounded by extreme secrecy. A teacher would hand down knowledge and exercises only in tiny bite-size pieces. So, with whom should my Si-Fu train the techniques he just learned from his master?
As he told the story back then: “The only person I kind of trusted was my wife.” Now if you are tall, very strong and very aggressive ... hmm how do you do that? His only choice was to train very slow, very detailed and very patiently with his wife. He had to yield to the lightest contact, had to pretend that someone with enormous speed and strength attacked. He was forced into moving with his whole body, employing horizontal movement pattern from the Cham-Kiu, vertical movement pattern from the Biu-Tze, and all angles in between. He ‘folded’ around his wife’s attacks, utilizing elasticity from fingertips to toes. Wave-like, springy whole body motions emerged.
My Si-Fu basically had to pretend, that his wife in a martial artistic way was super-woman, who could throw him around at will. Which produced one important aspect of the ‘perfect’ WingTsun training, under the assumption of being attacked by a stronger person.

It’s probably safe to say that nobody talked in the 70’s about fascia and its function. Only one aspect here; directly under the skin is the surface-fascia instantly responding with millions of nerve endings to the slightest touch, directly sending signals to the spinal cord and brain.
How it all works? Come back to my blog, to read soon the next part of this post. These receptors can feel even a light wind gust, an insect crawling over your skin, the light touch of a fingertip. Now, most practitioners respond only to pressure once they are almost thrown out of balance, or once the struggling has already started. Which means that most people, measured in fractions of seconds, respond way too late. Now hectic movements try to save the day, but the damage is already done. The opponent is already imposing his rhythm onto you and destroying yours. You have become the hunted. 

Back to my Sifu’s training with his wife. He talked about the fact that he was often ready to explode. Yet in order to stay married, he needed (in comparison to his exceptional strength) to respond to only a light touch. He needed to train the technical sequences in extended slow motion and so somewhat accidentally, he began to discover nuances in motion. He experienced continuous movement as opposed to a ‘hard’ Bong-Sau that starts at A and ends at B.

Imagine, you are operating a software application via a touch screen. Any touch causes a response. Envision yourself having to hammer against your I-Pad to move a window, open a video. This wouldn’t go over well. 

Now one random training example:

Read the following steps slowly. Visualize that you do some steps at times simultaneous and that for a prolonged period of time. Now you may understand why this training method fails for so many. You really need infinite patience. Many athletes train elements of their performance in slow motion. Go through the steps of feeling, using every muscle, muscle connection, coordination of muscle groups. I have talked for example to ice skaters, gymnasts of a National Olympic team, even boxers, who have been using this training method successfully.

Your arm intercepts a punch, begins to form into a Bong-Sau motion. Now, does our wrist move back (withdraw) or does the punch slide off and your elbow moves forward? Did your shoulder lift? Is your chest ‘open’? Or, is your breathing already strained? Did you involve your upper back muscles or do your arms resist in ‘one piece’? Do you feel that shoulders, lats, chest and upper back, I call it the ‘four hinges’, that all four of them are involved in your arm positioning and movement? Are you aware what your other arm is doing? The other shoulder? What are your fingers doing, forming the dragon claw of death? Is your neck getting tense? Head leaning forward? Did you hips shift? Are your legs responding like steel springs, maintaining contact to the ground or are you jumping? “Reaching” across the distance? Are your toes cramped, “clawing” the floor, or are your feet relaxed, heel to toes? Do your stomach muscles brace for impact or do they form with your lower back muscles a flexible and powerful connection between lower and upper body? Are you yielding away from the attacker, eventually coming out of balance or do you yield/fold by flowing forward into the opponent, taking away his space, opportunity and time to attack you? Can you move on several levels? Your arm is yielding, the body shifting, your feet sliding, all at the same time and to various degrees? And all that over and over!!
Are you prepared to continue moving smooth, relaxed, in slow motion, and that for 20, 40 minutes? For an hour? Feel each motion, in what order should you move? Can you feel tiniest level of resistance, not involved muscles? Can you feel unnatural order of partial elements of your movements? Example: Resistance with your arm, just to maintain balance, then letting go, allowing for a weak gap to form, just to move your foot? 

Attempting to train this slow and detailed, I have seen people jump back from it, almost hyper-ventilating, getting all nervous and fidgety, not being able to resume this relaxed and conscious multilevel motion. 

It looks awkward. Merely watching it, many guys would instantly label it “wussy”-training. Ego, misunderstood manliness typically gets in the way.
It requires a serious amount of patience, a sound idea why you train that way, and what for you train, and a vision of what you will achieve. 

Train slow to get really fast.

Train completely relaxed to become really powerful. 

Now you may understand, why my Sifu said: “It’s the best training method in the world, that fails 99.9% of the time.” Due to circumstances, he was forced into this training method he otherwise would not have touched with a 10-foot pole, not even with a six-and-a-half point WingTsun long pole (Luk Dim Boon Gwun). 

As it so happened, I read today a quote on Facebook (via Dr. Mark Cheng). I could have slightly changed it, made it mine. No, it wouldn't feel right. If I may borrow the quote, which hits the nail on the head. 

"The definition of functional
exercise is what it produces,
NOT what it looks like."
Gray Cook, MSPT, OCS, CSCS, RKC, stopchasingpain.com

Posted by ralph haenel at 4:22 PM PDT
Updated: Wednesday, 2 November 2011 5:09 PM PDT
Monday, 26 September 2011

Do you have to be 1/8th Samurai to improve your Wing Tsun Kung Fu?

While the number 1/8th has been arbitrarily chosen, the contents of our last WingTsun group class was not. Every instructor (trainer, sihing, sifu, ...) builds his ability to teach and the contents of his teachings on the collective foundation of his experiences over the years. Or so one should. In my news e-mails and print newsletters to our members, I often mention training methods from other arts just as this videoclip showing fantastic Judo training from the 60’s. Thanks Patrick for reminding me!

Even though I started my martial arts studies in 1977 with Judo, it only lasted a year. My first notable martial arts teacher was my Jiu-Jitsu instructor, Sensei Johannes Trybull in Rostock in East Germany.
For your reference – You can find a listing of all of my instructors by clicking here.

Sensei Trybull arrived at some point in the early 1920’s via ship in Yokohama, Japan. The ship’s engine needed repairs. To the best of my recollection, he stayed for about two years in the port of Yokohama.
This is where he started to train on a daily basis with workers and members of the city’s police force. The training took place on the bare concrete of the docks. Some police officials traced their roots back to samurai families.

Source Wikipedia “Emperor Meiji abolished the samurai's right to be the only armed force in favour of a more modern, western-style, conscripted army in 1873. .... The last samurai conflict was arguably in 1877, during the Satsuma Rebellion in the Battle of Shiroyama.”

The story continues; the Jiu-Jitsu training consisted among many other elements of an old arm/wrist-lock kata (=form) dating back to one of the Samurai families. From a historical viewpoint, it would be amazing to go back in time and discover the connections, to watch some of the training back then.

During recent group sessions, Sihing Sebastian, one of the members of the trainer team here in Vancouver, taught two classes on the details of the Cham-Kiu, the second form of the Wing Tsun system.

I resumed a week later by going into applications of the form. Now a question arose out of a specific situation: “Can’t I apply an armlock here, or could I get into an armlock?”

I am not going into the pros or cons of certain technical elements in Wing Tsun, or the likelihood of variables in the outcome of a particular scenario.
In class I simply asked about who knows or has trained armlock or control scenarios. Most did not share my experience.

While we can’t and don’t want to spend time constantly training elements of other styles, it is paramount to at least know (in this example) how quickly and devastating a wrist or armlock can be applied.
One facebook comment after class read “Thanks jiujitsu for the broken wrist and dislocated shoulder.” Before you get the wrong idea, this quote is only referring to the prospective possibilities explained that evening.

To make a long story short; the whole class trained enthusiastically the whole evening the ancient armlock kata of the Yokohama police force.

Many gained new insight into the concepts of Wing Tsun Kung Fu.

Never just train Wing Tsun against Wing Tsun. I repeatedly say that Wing Tsun is in short 'adaptation to chaos'. Meaning, our skills must hold up to whatever we encounter in a physical confrontation.
Don't look down on or underestimate any martial art!

Sensei Johannes Trybull, a highly decorated World War 2 veteran, who used his skills in real combat behind enemy lines, died in 1986 at the age of 78 in Rostock. So far, I have not been able to contact any of the members of the Jiu-Jitsu school, which existed in the 70’s and 80’s in Rostock. As memories, I only have my certificates. Maybe I will manage one day to find someone from the old days who still has photos. For years I have been trying to find his grandson Olaf Trybull and another trainer I also learned from until 1982, Joachim Drechsler. For once even Goggle is powerless ...

Posted by ralph haenel at 5:49 PM PDT
Updated: Monday, 26 September 2011 11:22 PM PDT
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. 

Posted by ralph haenel at 5:36 PM PDT
Updated: Thursday, 19 June 2014 1:23 PM PDT
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.


Sihings Tony and Edmond of Wing Tsun Kung Fu VancouverTake 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?

Posted by ralph haenel at 8:34 PM PDT
Updated: Sunday, 28 August 2016 12:53 PM PDT
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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Posted by ralph haenel at 8:00 PM PDT
Updated: Saturday, 4 June 2011 7:55 AM PDT
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.

Wing Tsun Kung Fu bonus class with Sifu Ralph Haenel, Victoria Day weekend

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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Posted by ralph haenel at 10:33 PM PDT
Updated: Sunday, 22 May 2011 10:54 PM PDT
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.”

Wing Tsun Kung Fu Victoria, BC, Canada group

During the Victoria seminar Sihing Anselm’s students Jess, Erica and Owen tested and successfully passed their 3rd student grade exam. Congratulations!

small group training, Wing Tsun Kung Fu in Sidney, BC on Vancouver Island

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.

Wing Tsun Kung Fu Vancouver open air class with Sifu Ralph Haenel

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!
  • Kung Fu for Manager classes
  • Corporate Lunch & Learn classes
  • Lunch break self-defense classes
Discover the extended application of ancient Kung Fu techniques in a corporate environment. Follow the links below and read more!

Posted by ralph haenel at 12:06 AM PDT
Updated: Saturday, 30 April 2011 9:39 AM PDT
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.

Seminar at Ray Van Raamsdonk's Wing Chun Victoria school on Vancouver Island, BC


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.

Which means:
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!

Posted by ralph haenel at 1:20 PM PDT
Updated: Friday, 29 April 2011 11:55 PM PDT
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!

Posted by ralph haenel at 12:06 PM PDT
Updated: Monday, 11 April 2011 6:00 PM PDT
Saturday, 9 April 2011

"Craft, Cooking, and Kung Fu" by Adrian Law

Adrian in action at a Wing Tsun Kung Fu Vancouver, BC seminar - www.wingtsunkungfu.com
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.

Posted by ralph haenel at 8:57 AM PDT
Updated: Saturday, 9 April 2011 3:44 PM PDT

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