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Sense or Non-Sense? The #WingTsun Chi-Sau sections.Which...

Sun, 2015-01-25 21:52

Sense or Non-Sense? The #WingTsun Chi-Sau sections.
  • Which WingTsun Version is better?
  • Four Stages of Technical Evolution
  • Bandwidth of Performance
  • Pitfalls and Four Groups of Mistakes 
  • The Power Scale
  • Four Training Methods & Categories of How-To of Chi-Sau
  • What do we really learn?

The following are combined excerpts from several chapters of my upcoming book “WingTsun-CoreConcepts, Beyond tradition and technique - training concepts for Wing Tsun Kung Fu students and instructors!”
Many have discussed over the years the sense and non-sense of Chi-Sau sections, Wing Tsun’s ‘two-men forms’. Many have obscured, misinterpreted, or simply not understood the ideas behind them; why Chi-Sau sections were created in the first place.
No musician becomes an artist by simply writing better or more notes, by copying other songs. I am not talking about commercial success here! Some people are good at playing a few cords on a guitar. Some can even perform a few songs. Some are very good studio backup musicians. And then there are the few who become more or less celebrated music talents, composing music, writing and performing music, being creative and even trend-setting, decade after decade.
Some gifted people can pick up crayons, chalk, markers, a pencil, oilpaint, watercolours and draw or paint on just about any canvas, while many of us still draw stick figures.
Chi-Sau sections are blueprints, giving you ideas on how to internalize movement pattern, how to respond eventually intuitive, how to be in the moment.
Example movements to understand concepts.
How inventive, creative, ever-searching are you as martial ARTIST? Do you break taboos? Do you inspire others? How innovative is your teaching style?
As so often in my posts, I stress the factor that a martial ART grows eventually beyond self-defense applications. But it also has to be self-defense. Initially everyone wants to feel safe, learn how to take care of themselves, become more confident, and learn to be mindful and aware.
Looking back, at one point in time, the number of (EWTO) Wing Tsun students was growing exponentially, compared to other Wing Chun or Ving Tsun styles.
Just like the forms, the masters were thinking about a way to standardize the programs, make skills and knowledge accessible to a large number of students, while minimizing the loss of information down the line from grandmaster to masters to instructors to assistant instructors to students.
Why? Remember nicknames like ‘King of Siu-Nim-Tau’, ‘King of the talking hands’, etc.? Instructors are human beings who develop preferences for some programs while neglecting others, which lead to the next generation of students missing components of the system. Some interpret techniques, forms, training programs, applications differently than their own teacher.
Some even argue which Wing Tsun is better:- the European version,- the ‘tough’ first generation European version,- the latest European version- the Eastern European version,- the Hong Kong version,- the North American Hong Kong influenced version,- the North American European influenced version,  …
I wanted to add a few versions, also to show the absurdity, but you get the point. For me personally it is important that my Si-Fu inspires, researches, changes, adapts. That is what my Si-Fu Keith Kernspecht has been doing for decades. And no, I am not on his pay-roll. I am not even a member of any Wing Tsun organization. Until the year 2000, I learned and trained for 16 years in the EWTO, IWTA, AWTO.
For me personally it is also important, imperative you might say, that my delivery of learning, training and teaching methods fit the needs of us average people. I know that most people don’t want to be called average. I am talking about us average not being over 6 feet tall, not 120 kg heavy, not previously having been knock-out champions, not bench pressing 300 pounds for a warm-up, … well us average people, who are willing to learn and train hard.
One-man or in this case two-men forms preserve fundamental ideas which should be the core of one’s training and learning.
In Wing Tsun it eventually leads to seven sections, showcasing ideas (concepts) as displayed in the ‘tool-boxes’ of the first two forms, the Siu-Nim-Tau and the Cham-Kiu form. Followed today by four Biu-Dje Chi-Sau sections. Plus eight sections of Wooden Dummy Chi-Sau.
The sections are guides that show us most common usages of the techniques, movement ideas, applications. Examples of most often occurring types of (fight) interactions between two human beings.
Some despise techniques as being too limiting. But one has to start somewhere. One can’t jump from nothing to formless.Example: Take a Tan-Sau in the first form or a Lan-Sau / Cham-Sau response in the first Wing Tsun Chi-Sau section and consider the following four stages.
Four Stages of Technical Evolution
1. idea2. technique3. movement4. whole body motion
1. Any drill, exercise is in the beginning an idea. The student knows what he/she is supposed to do, is practicing movements that may feel uncomfortable, that may appear for example to be too slow, not strong enough.
2. At one point during one’s training it progresses into a technique that often works, yet may still fall victim to a fake-out, or for example may start too early or too late.
3. On the next level one understands the importance of working with the attacker, rather than against him (resisting, ‘wrestling’, breaking …). The basic idea, which evolved into a technique, becomes a movement, which covers more outcomes of any given scenario, but may still lack the ever so important coordination of hand- and footwork.
4. This is the stage we desire to achieve. Our action has turned into a whole body motion, intuitively adapting to the opponents actions, using speed, strength and direction at a moment’s notice without waiting passively.If one would take a scene apart like a movie strip, you could in still-frames spot a Man-Sau, Bong-Sau, Lap-Sau, Fak-Sau. But trying to repeat the scenario by “doing” the techniques one after another would hopelessly fail.
It’s about how you move, not which techniques you try to apply!
Bandwidth of Performance
Often I get asked as to how I improve my own training. This goes hand in hand with what I call the training of the bandwidth of performance. Say, for example in the training of a Chi-Sau section.1. Space – I work on responding within the smallest space available to me without getting hit, while employing horizontal, vertical, diagonal, round, straight, spiral whole-body movements.2. Time – I work on responding in the very last moment possible without getting hit.3. Strength - I work on responding with the least amount of strength necessary to deal with an attack while having just enough to shock the attacker.
Pitfalls and Four Groups of Mistakes 
The first seven Chi-Sau sections contain almost all techniques of the Siu-Nim-Tau and Cham-Kiu forms, eventually extracting the concepts behind these forms. What could be the pitfalls?
Many points can make or break our Chi Sau performance and more so the skills this training is designed to produce.
- advanced instructors ‘mix’ in their Biu-Dje and Wooden Dummy training induced skills or interpretations- instructors who ‘must’ always win and thus force their students, future instructors, into a victim role, a role in which they eventually turn into ‘fear-biters’- taller instructor enforce their personalized solutions onto shorter students- shorter instructor impose their personalized solutions onto taller students- stronger instructor force their personalized solutions onto weaker students- relatively weak instructor enforce their personalized solutions onto stronger students …
Even a somewhat good reflex-like (Chi-Sau) response might end up somewhere on the scale of performance between being:- too early or too late,- too little or too much,- too slow or too fast,- too weak or too strong.
It’s not the number of techniques in a Chi-Sau section, but the completeness of concepts behind the forms. As a Wing Tsun instructor can you show and demonstrate the logical structure throughout the Chi-Sau sections? The carrying of the theme through the sections or what the Germans mean by the term: “Roter Faden”.
The sections do not follow the forms on a 1:1 basis; some sections may contain technical ideas from other forms. The seventh Wing Tsun Chi-Sau section will be performed differently by someone who is actively working on the wooden dummy form.
Few are early on already interpretative martial artists. We average fast, average strong, average (martial) artistic, average imaginative, we need guiding ideas. The forms are catalogues of techniques and concepts behind them. The Chi-Sau sections are catalogues of movements and concepts behind the motions.
Yes, some schools and instructors and students have turned these sections into meaningless partner dances. Some have turned the learning of the concepts into piles of techniques, far removed from reality. Some have begun to think and act only within the framework of Wing Tsun against Wing Tsun, completely ignoring that our tools, our skills need to work against someone who doesn’t know WT. Someone who doesn’t care about a style, someone who is OK with getting hit, someone who starts right from the beginning with animal like aggression and enjoys violence.
Other instructors have turned Chi-Sau sections into their own instruments of show-off exercises, very far from the original idea of teaching, helping the student.
Most important for an instructor is to recognize what guidance the student needs. Bring talent to the surface; don’t get lost in endless technique A against technique B combative exercises.
Remember the first training days? While considering the law, we learn how to become over time confident, how not to get into trouble in the first place, learn to verbally defuse a situation, or remove ourselves (yes, even running away).
While considering the law we would rather attack the attacker than "running behind" by hastily defending against single attacks.This means our first attack against the attacker should:- interfere with or stop his first attack,- make a second and third attack difficult or impossible,- force the attacker into non-attacking / defensive mode.
With our actions we learn to take away his:- time to attack us successfully,- the space he needs to attack us,- and the opportunity to do so.
If we are just like two fighters in the ring, checking each other out, we may give the attacker too much time as well as too many options. By attacking we greatly minimize his options thus force him into an immediate decision. We learn to set him up!
Due to the nature of Wing Tsun our type of attack shall be a setup, forcing the attacker into very specific and limited response pattern.
The Power Scale
In Chi-Sau as in any exercise or application of ones skills, the question of the right amount of functional strength comes up. How much is perfect? What is the right amount? Should we just be as strong as we can?
Scenario 1 – While trying to be relaxed, loose if you want, we often end up being weak, brittle. Our Chi-Sau positions collapse.Scenario 2 – While trying to be strong, we often end up being stiff, tense. Through our resisting Chi-Sau positions we get pushed back, out of balance. We might end in an attempt to wrestle the stronger opponent.
Now visualize a large scale. On one end of the scale we want to move the value “relaxed” to the ideal center of the scale, while leaving the attributes weak and brittle behind.From the opposite end of this scale we move the value “strength” towards the ideal center, leaving the characteristic stiff and tense behind.Once the values “relaxed” and “strength” meet at the ideal center of the scale, which is of course from person to person different, these values combined form a new quality: “power”.
A very important factor for our Wing Tsun, the difference between functional and physical strength will be explained in detail in my upcoming book “The practical strength training guide for Wing Tsun Kung Fu (Wing Chun, Ving Tsun) practitioners and fitness enthusiasts.”
Four Training Methods & Categories of How-To of Chi-Sau
We train every element of Chi-Sau in four scenarios:1. speed – slow motion, regular, fast, 2. distance – far apart, regular, close ,3. power – barely any strength, regular, full power ("Bull" Chi-Sau),4. training variations – supportive, 50/50, going through
That all four scenarios come in three variations is simply for explanatory reasons. You could of course train five variables of the component distance. Three variations can stand for minimum, optimum and maximum of the chosen scenario.
There are four categories as to the how-to of training Chi-Sau:1. You learn Chi-Sau FROM your instructor.2. You train Chi-Sau WITH your training partner.3. You teach Chi-Sau TO your student.4. With everyone else, who doesn’t fit into the first three categories, you would have to apply what the ‘training method” Chi-Sau has taught you, … if you then must prove your skills.
In his November 11th 2014 blog post “If you build it … Chi-Sau sections” Evan asks: “If we don't know that we don't know, how do we practice potentially useful skills we don't know?”Post:
On January 23rd 2015 he followed up with the post “How sticky is your Wing Tsun Wooden Dummy?” You find it here:
The WingTsun Chi-Sau sections. What is it now? Sense or Non-Sense?What do we really learn?
At the Langenzell castle, for many years the German WingTsun castle, the international trainer academy, I was once with others waiting for a test to begin. A couple of guys were eager, still training; they seemed to be flying through the sections. Everything looked so great, smooth. They appeared to know so many details and combinations. All of us staring at these guys, our jaws dropped. We were in awe. Then Si-Fu Kernspecht came in, friendly as always, his eyes spotting instantly the team keen to perform, to get tested.To make a long story short. Poor bastards. They tried to show off their routine, but their timing was always off, they tried to finish techniques even if they didn’t fit, they were easily set up, fell over their own feet.It was a catastrophe. Even though their training performance looked so amazing.
My Si-Hing at the castle, Sifu Heinrich Pfaff, told me already back then that I must use two tools:1. “Watch and analyze yourself!” (constantly and consistent)2. “watch and analyze your teacher/s!”The tools of the master.
It took me many years to realize and consciously learn, train and teach that the forms and sections are the guitar, the piano of the musician, they are the brush and the paints of the painter.
The Chi-Sau sections teach us through technical recommendations how to:- work in the right distance- to maintain balance, especially when pushed, pulled, attacked, grabbed- to develop a feel for timing- to get to know the space we are working in, initially through positions and techniques- how to develop power- how to be able to deliver that power- to perfect our coordination skills- how to become mobile at all times- how to develop fluidity of all motions (from fingertips to toes)
The two guys at the castle had a perfectly choreographed performance, but not yet the skills Chi-Sau is producing over time.
During a recent seminar I asked: “What should a samurai, a roman soldier, a medieval knight ,,, and a Wing Tsun practitioner have in common?”
They all should know their ‘weapons chambers’. Train with all of their weapons. As a Wing Tsun instructor, can you point out in our forms all the palmstrikes, various punches, Fak and Lan-Sau strikes? Can you cross-reference where they are in our forms and how they are being trained in our Chi-Sau sections? How they come to life in our Lat-Sau programs?Do you train and teach everything in horizontal motions, vertical, diagonal, spiral, straight, curved? Can you vary your approach for example vertically from underneath, from above, until everything is truly happening in the moment? Until you mindfully move?!
In the 90’s some said that my Si-Fu appears to be bored when attacked by students. He gave the impression of acting ‘lazy’.Today I read comments under his videos “One (Gyaku) Tsuki on the 12, and the old man is down. He is doing so little. Everyone is just making him look good, playing along.”
Ehm … Then and now a lot of people misjudge what he is doing. It is probably the hardest to unlearn all the many things one could do, and eventually as a master or grandmaster end up doing only what is absolutely necessary, not an ounce more. It looks effortless, even ‘lazy’, when one is only doing what is needed, and only for the time frame necessary. Not a fraction of a second earlier, not a moment too long, or a movement too much. On a side-note; one of my Sihings wrote to me last year, saying: “Si-Fu hits now at 69 more powerful than 20 years ago, when he was younger and stronger.” Think about that one, grasshopper.
In short, the Chi-Sau sections can be an extremely helpful tool to develop:Fluid motionFunctional strengthMobile structure
Functional strength is paramount. I can’t say it any better as one of my favourite quotes below.
"To protect yourself with your fists you MUST become a knockout puncher.” ~ Jack Dempsey (1950)
In my schools the transformation from physical to functional strength is one of the most important points of the desired allover performance.
A last word … for today. Someone asked me; you are talking here about the power scale, (WT) technical evolution, bandwidth of performance and more, isn’t Chi-Sau really about ‘sticky hands’, is it not an ‘clinging arms’ exercise?
My answer: Watch a boxing fight, any fight. Now look at the winning combo of punches, how one champion took out the other. Learn it. Let’s say it’s jab-jab-cross. Will you now be able to knock down a champion?Certainly not. You discover that the real ingredients are power, the ability to deliver that power, timing, balance, positioning, distance, mobility, elasticity and coordination. Remember? Kung Fu is Eastern Boxing.
Since Chi-Sau is supposed to add the level of a tactile (recognition) guidance system to back-up our visual guidance system, it is important to provide these weapons upgrades. Sticking or clinging might end up being the smallest part of Chi-Sau if the delivery, the application doesn’t work.
Fluid motionFunctional strengthMobile structure
In conclusion: Packaging the typical most often occurring Chi-Sau actions and reactions, the different internal and external elements of our forms into Chi-Sau sections (forms), makes a lot of sense.
It’s up to your teacher to fill it with life, to build and encourage the measurable growth of your skills and knowledge. To ensure that Chi-Sau sections, just like one-man forms, do not deteriorate into useless piles of techniques.
Thought that you might read here about the secrets of the fourth Chi-Sau section? The variations of the third Biu-Dje Chi-Sau section? The differences between the first and second Wooden Dummy Chi-Sau sections?Sorry. This post is about the blueprint of the how-to of training, learning and teaching. Producing knock-out self-defense skills.

Donna – My Martial Arts Journey to...

Wed, 2015-01-14 15:18

Donna – My Martial Arts Journey to Wing Tsun... the Thinking Woman's Martial Art
I first began martial arts in 1985 after moving to a large UK city and felt that a bit of self-defence would be a good idea.My first style was Shukokai Karate, and I achieved a “Blue Belt”, which is five gradings over an 18 month period.Although I enjoyed the stretching exercises, punching and high kicks, I was not so keen on the walking across the dojo with someone on your back or “wheelbarrow races” on your knuckles, and the dreaded breaking of blocks! Although females were not forced into partaking in these latter elements, I felt, by not taking part, I wasn’t a full participant and was not fully competing with the males within the group.It was a great feeling to know you were more able to fight, read a situation and definitely would have an element of surprise if anyone tried anything. I felt more confident when out, but often wondered how the high kicks would really stand up in a fight. 
I left this group due to moving cities and was unable to find the same style, or the same great atmosphere and camaraderie in my new city.
It always rankled that I had not achieved a black belt in Karate or at the very least a brown belt, so martial arts was always something I wanted to return to.
Unfortunately my break from martial arts lead into two pregnancies and hence child care so it wasn’t until 2005 that I felt I had enough regular spare time to devote to an ongoing commitment.
I began by looking around a few clubs in my area, searching online and then visiting them for a session. Many clubs had only a few women or none, this didn’t bother me but I definitely didn’t want a macho club where I would feel an outsider just because I was a woman. I also wanted a style that I thought would offer good self-defence, whilst not relying fully on physical strength.
As soon as I entered the Wing Tsun School of Sifu Ron Butler I knew I had found something different, although a predominantly a male group I immediately felt at ease, the room was not filled with testosterone fueled muscle men, grunting up an and down the room, but regular guys talking and working one on one.  Ron was both welcoming and approachable, he explained how Wing Tsun (WT) was originally started by a woman in China to defend her honour from an unwanted marriage proposal and as such did not rely on strength alone but on fluidity of movement and by using the whole body to generate power. He also explained and demonstrated how a woman can train and compete with the men on an equal footing. I was fortunate enough that my early training partner was a woman and this definitely helped in the first few weeks, however we did get to work out with the guys which helped us to see that what we were doing was no different to them. I enjoyed the Siu-Nim-Tau at the beginning of every class, it reminded me of Tai Chi and helped focus the mind for the class ahead, I also enjoyed the ending of every lesson with a punching session, I am sure that most guys know how to punch and form a fist easily, but, as a woman, forming a fist is quite an alien concept, and gaining any strength in the wrist takes time and practice. I hadn’t really punched much for almost 20 years so I relished learning this over again, plus WT’s punching technique was quite different from Shukokai. It was good to see how the power of my punch, over time, was improving. Sifu Ron instructed us in self-defence and in being street wise, this was a great addition to traditional Karate because as opposed to defending yourself primarily against another Karate strike, WT taught you to defended against punches or attacks by people who may or may not have any experience of a martial art, also you learn how to get out of holds or “grabs”, which is particularly helpful for women. The WT BlitzDefence program, learnt in the early weeks of training - is the ultimate self-defence technique, I have yet to see any street attack get past this.
I gained my first four Student grades with Sifu Ron, who then unfortunately emigrated, but left his club in the capable hands of Sifus Jon and Nick Pepper. They were very different to Sifu Ron; they were younger and fresh out of the Langenzell Castle in Germany (then the location of the European headquarters of Wing Tsun) and introduced a new way of training which was more fluid and elastic in movement. This was even more appealing to me as a woman, instead of meeting force with force, you learnt to move around the direct strength of an attack….. Under the tuition of mainly Sifu Jon Pepper both in group class and private lessons, I progressed to 12th Student grade, by this time I was the only female in the club so was regularly training with men both above and below my own grade.
In February 2012 I immigrated to Vancouver. Prior to doing so, I was concerned that, yet again, I would need to drop my Martial Arts training. So, before moving to Vancouver, I researched online for a WT club locally, and came across The written explanations and video clips made it look very similar to the club I had just left. The Sifu, Ralph Haenel, was trained at the Castle and this gave me the confidence that I would receive a similar experience and excellent tuition.
On arriving in Canada I visited Sifu Ralph Haenel’s club and was blown away by the level of tuition and the strength of the club. Sifu Ralph was very welcoming and supportive, there were only a few women but the club was very friendly and the guys didn’t mind working with a woman, I felt I was accepted very quickly and became part of the Vancouver WT family.
As I have moved up through the grades of WT I have learnt to use the fist and punching less and to use elbow strikes, palm strikes and movement, this opened a whole new area and as a woman I felt these would be much more effective on a male than a “simple” punch.Over the past three years I have worked on neutralising an attack with a counter attack, fluidity of motion, working on movement to generate power through 'Folding', 'Sliding', 'Pushing and Pulling', and in the last year leading up to my 1st level Technician grade, I have had instruction in the Wooden dummy form, the Long Pole form and the Bart-Cham-Dao (double knife form). The level of tuition and training at the club is fantastic, Sifu Ralph has plenty of time for all levels of students and is so enthusiastic, but I also receive great advice and training from my WT training partners. I still have a long way to go, but week on week my knowledge and skills increase and it’s great to still have new techniques to learn and master. 


I would recommend Wing Tsun to women as a martial art of choice, because it’s much more than a martial art, it teaches self-defence, body awareness, fluidity of motion, litheness and also offers social interaction. Although Wing Tsun is predominantly a male martial art, there’s no reason why this should be, as it is not an aggressive, chauvinistic or a testosterone fuelled environment. It is often referred to as the thinking man’s martial art but I like to think of it as the Thinking Woman's Martial Art. There’s a whole lot more to it than punching.