3 problems3 solutions3 (whole) body motions2 strategies
Your Kung Fu Coach 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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Book #1 - coming 2013
The practical strength training guide for Wing Tsun Kung Fu (Wing Chun, Ving Tsun) practitioners and fitness enthusiasts.
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Book #2 - coming 2013
Kung Fu - The Workout; an easy to follow result driven guide for beginners and fitness enthusiasts. INFO
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WingTsun-CoreConcepts, Beyond tradition and technique - training concepts for Wing Tsun Kung Fu students and instructors! INFO
Wing Tsun Kung Fu Vancouver Blog
Monday, 16 April 2012
Train detailed, fight simple!
The workout is secondary to building the skill!* The Wing Tsun “secrets” are hidden in the bandwidth of one’s performance!
The latest Wing Tsun Kung Fu Vancouver event was hosted by Sihing Philip Lee of the Golden Monkey Martial Arts Studio in Burnaby, BC. Saturday, April 7th 2012 was the date for the very exciting first 2012 Wing Tsun Program review seminar in a series of three for the members of the trainer team. Five of our Sifus showed up, altogether advanced members and trainers of the Wing Tsun teams from Victoria, Sidney, Burnaby, Calgary and Vancouver. It's always again very motivational for me as well, to see how for six hours like-minded practitioners work very concentrated with each other.
The workout is secondary to building the skill!*
* Sometimes you see a quote, read a sentence which perfectly fits what you are working on. So did the first part of my sub headline. On different social media platforms I am connected to inspirational people in WingTsun, martial arts in general, fitness, kettlebells and other areas of expertise. One of those experts is Dr. Mark Cheng. He again was responding to a post by yet another expert, Franz Snideman. You truly never know how far your actions and words reach!
Above quote is what our Saturday review seminar was about. Because working out hard, punching to the limit, getting strong and quick is all great! But first we must build the skill, take time for all the fine details which will lead to those qualities. Once stress, panic, aggression hits in a self-defense scenario, then it’s too late for any details. Also, I encourage going to the tiniest level of detail in one’s training, so that under pressure, when the adrenalin rush explodes, at least a somewhat high percentage of your fine-tuning literally survives. I have shared stories about experiences with many colleagues and it was often mentioned that of 100% of skills maybe 30 to 40% is left under extreme conditions.
Last point in this paragraph; Talking about far reaching actions and words. The day I started writing this blog post I received on Facebook unsolicited and unexpected feedback from a former student. Commenting on a 2006 seminar photo he wrote: “Thanks to my Sifu Ralph Haenel I actually made many realizations about music instrument techniques through studying Kung Fu!” I responded: “Sensory awareness, fluid whole body motion, co-ordination between hand- and foot movements, judgment of distance, feeling for timing, positioning of techniques and more is a big part of the Wing Tsun training and has often influenced the performance of our members in sports and arts. Even the martial art'istic side of Wing Tsun has often lead to a better 'Kung Fu' in many areas of life! :-)”
The (Wing Tsun) Click!
What’s that? A new training program? No! One participant of Saturday’s seminar wrote to his training partner, thanking him for the shared workout, having reached an important conclusion. That's also something I always want to encourage, advanced members working with each other. I have seen it so often, that one explains something 20 times, shows it in x different ways, encourages questions about it, yet one particular training scenario seemingly all of a sudden makes it click! You never know when and how this "click" of understanding happens. Share your experience! Lean from one another!
The Program Review Seminar!
As so often, I broke down the contents of the day into several segments with each one focusing on a particular problem zone. The beginning of this year’s review seminar series put a spotlight on certain setbacks we suffer regardless of how advanced the programs are that we train or how advanced we consider ourselves. Here I simply must repeat the highest praise I got at rare occasions from my second Wing Tsun teacher, Sifu Peter Vilimek, accompanied by a smirk: “Well, it wasn’t quite as horrible today!”
Never ever consider yourself “done”, finished, advanced enough. That’s what I am trying to express with my personal tagline: “learning and teaching Wing Tsun Kung Fu since 1984”. This would be truly horrible for me, to assume or think of having finished learning!
I will now begin to list only the “skeleton” structure of the first 2012 Wing Tsun trainer seminar.
1. Balance of stance / Structure of body
We started off with bringing our training partner out of balance through pushing and pulling. Three problems popped up: One is either to resistant (stiff), too weak (trying to be relaxed), or shows a lack of sensory response (attacks just ‘slipped’ through).
We continued working on three solutions:
1. Stance - Recognizing the importance of absorbing pushing and pulling by way of using our upright, yet deeply rooted flexible stance.
2. Arms - Pointing out the importance of our shoulder as powerful and mobile connection between sending and receiving impact (shock absorber!) from our arms into stance and vice versa. Distinguishing the exercises, for example in our Siu-Nim-Tau form, which are responsible for powering the ‘four hinges’, very simplified the chest muscles, shoulder, upper back and lats. Realizing the value of being able to use the three powerful ‘engines’ or power-sources in our arm in sequence as well as also independent (shoulder, elbow, wrist).
The ‘four hinges’ is only one of the many visualizations, visual examples I use when teaching and describing technical scenarios. The terms ‘Funneling’ and the ‘wet blanket’ is coming up.
3. ‘Freeing’ ourselves from the contact and going forward. - …
Stay tuned and join us for part 2 of the seminar review. Thanks!
Monday, 23 January 2012
The Kungfukologist speaks out about Wing Tsun Kung Fu
Well, it doesn’t happen just every day that a widely known expert scientist talks about you on his show. Prof. Hans Von Puppet, who is indeed a web'lebrity, mentions me in his 116th show with the title “You and your punch!” The studio was nice enough to forward the recording to me. Enjoy!
P.S.: If you seem to discover that I think that some martial artists take themselves a bit too serious, you might be on the right path.
- About numbers in the script of the video:
The numbers 116 and 6.5 are familiar to the Wing Tsun practitioner. Possibly also the importance of the number 8 in Chinese numerology.
- Quote mentioned in the script:
The (slightly changed) quote: "You can get a lot farther with a kind word and a tough punch than a kind word alone!" is attributed to whom?
Other than that, I can only Thank Prof. Hans Von Puppet for his gracious endorsement!
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Monday, 9 January 2012
Piotr and the dangers of a confrontation. Plus the dark side of a fight won.
Who is Piotr? He was a security guard in the North of Germany. He was a father. He did his job protecting people.
Two of the favourite quotations on his Facebook site read:
“Trust is good, control is better.” Lenin
“Trust is the feeling to believe another person, even if you know you would lie in his place.” Henry Louis Mencken
While reading about him, just before the holidays, I had to think about the advertising of so many martial arts schools. The reoccurring implication of how dangerous the streets are. That it is so important, to learn how to defend yourself. While this seems right, in my personal opinion it often leads to the wrong conclusions. What’s wrong with defending yourself if you have the skills?
You really want to know? It can go horribly wrong. Period.
I teach Wing Tsun Kung Fu, self-defense for the underdog. I also teach what you could call a mantra in just about every class, whichever exercise I demonstrate, regardless of the drill I explain, the scenario I describe.
1. Learn to be confident, so that you don’t get picked on as a victim in the first place.
Only if it’s impossible:
Many martial arts teachers, masters, grandmasters want to make their students believe that they are (almost) untouchable. To make a long story short, you can have a bad day, plain bad luck, a moment of surprise after all, there isn’t a person who cannot be brought down.
I had very good, very tough WingTsun instructors. Some of them have been in many fights. They have been challenged and they won. But in quiet moments they also talked about having been very lucky. Lucky not having been killed or having ended up in jail. Besides the possibility of losing, there is also ...
The dark side of Self-Defense!
Uuuhhh, the dark side it is, eh? So, what does that mean? Some people could have walked away from an unpleasant situation. Some could have talked and withdrawn. They didn’t. Imagine how your life would change if you successfully defend yourself, yet it goes too far, the attacker falls, hits his head and succumbs to his injuries. You are being sued by the family, end up in a lengthy court battle, have to pay restitution, end up in jail.
Piotr on the other hand didn’t have a choice. He was doing his job, helping and protecting others. He was young, well trained, very aware, yet it went wrong. He was stabbed and even a emergency operation couldn’t save his life.
It was the 20th of December. A few days later, his daughter Michelle spent Christmas without her dad, “Pitt” Piotr T.
Feeling fit, strong, ready to strike? Think you should take someone on? Someone needs to be taught a lesson?
Never ever easily engage in a fight.
Think of Piotr. He was one of the good guys.
Sunday, 1 January 2012
What's in a logo? My way of teaching Wing Tsun Kung Fu!
A lot goes into a logo. Everything; and by the same token as little as possible. For years now, I have had my ideas of what I would like to see in an ideal logo.
After almost 28 years, it was time to brand my way of teaching Wing Tsun Kung Fu, the CoreConcepts-WingTsun teaching method. It all started in 1984 in Rostock (East Germany), at the coast of the Baltic sea, back then inside the German Democratic Republic. Symbolized by the griffin head is the beginning in Rostock behind the ‘Iron Curtain’. The griffin is a dominant part of Rostock’s centuries old crest.
A big Thanks for all the detailed feedback regarding the logo from you, the members of Wing Tsun Kung Fu Vancouver, the first Canadian Wing Tsun branch, established in early 1994. Also Thank You to many WT friends in Germany and England, who sent me their valuable feedback.
P.S.: January 1st 2012 - It has been 20 years exactly since I jumped into the adventure of teaching Wing Tsun Kung Fu full time.
Saturday, 31 December 2011
Time for a New Year's Tradition - Have some fun!
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 2011 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.
The vital exchange is: "The same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?"
Happy New Year!
Watch Dinner for One or The 90th Birthday - A New Year's Tradition
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.
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."
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 ...
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 http://www.facebook.com/pages/TRICKY-LOBSTERS/132039581570
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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