Articles, Wing Chun Wednesday



Words are a vehicle for painting pictures of IDEAs.

This post in a similar vein to last weeks post where I mentioned how some Wing Chun explanations are at best just not what is happening.  Over the years I have been accused of trying to re-invent the wheel,  re-invent Wing Chun, I am not and never have been, for one thing you cannot re-invent a concept, and we are all at great pains to tell the general Martial Arts Community that Wing Chun is a concept and not a method.

I am not even trying to re-interpret Wing Chun, I am simply trying to use more accurate descriptions, to update it, we still operate to a very large extent on Chan Wah Shuns explanations as passed on to Ip Man and then whoever happens to be our lineages head.

Words are a vehicle for painting pictures of IDEAs.

Am I changing the words? … Yes.

Am I changing the IDEA? …No.

In Wing Chun practice it is quite common to hear people say “open your joints”, in fact having the ability to open the joints is held as integral to understanding Wing Chun, but how do we open our joints?

We do not, in fact we cannot, unless someone is abnormally formed or has developed something akin to Arthritis the skeleton is always exactly how it is meant to be, if you are able to deliberately change the way a joint works you would need to put it in an unnatural position, put it in an incorrect place, dis – locate it.

So why is it such a big thing, and not just in Wing Chun, yoga is full of it, pilates, most body methods talk of opening the joints.

Joints just do what they were designed to do, elbows and knees and wrists flex, shoulders and hips rotate, and they do this through a range of movements that is completely natural, forcing a joint to exceed this range of movement is a dislocation, preventing a joint of moving is a seizure, early in our training it is most often a case of us force closing the joints, or rather to put them under sufficient pressure to prevent them moving correctly and naturally.

When anyone talks of opening the joints what they should really do is ask their students to stop forcing them to seize up, or at least desist in putting them under excessive pressure.

Fang Song as a natural Chinese speaker knows it, does not translate into anything like what relax means to a natural English speaker, and it is more to do with the English usage of relax, to be more accurate and I believe more helpful we could ask them to release the tension instead of the usual mantra of relax.  We all know how to release tension even if we think we do not, simply make a fist as hard as you can and then let it go, Voilà tension released.

If we think of the shoulder for instance, what is the rotator cuff and what is its purpose?

Our rotator cuff is made up of muscles and tendons that keep the ball (head) of our upper-arm bone (humerus) in our shoulder socket. It also helps us raise and rotate our arm.

Each one of these muscles is part of the rotator cuff and plays an important role:

• Supraspinatus. This holds your humerus in place and keeps your upper arm stable. And helps lift your arm.

• Infraspinatus. This is the main muscle that lets you rotate and extend your shoulder.

• Teres Minor. This is the smallest rotator cuff muscle. Its main job is to assist with rotation of the arm away from the body.

• Subscapularis. This holds your upper arm bone to your shoulder blade and helps you rotate your arm, hold it straight out and lower it.       source

Keeping it simple the Rotator Cuff holds our arm in place in the shoulder and allows it to raise and rotate,  As an ex tennis player and ex Judoka I have had my fair share of R.C. injuries, most of them caused by enforced opening of the shoulder joint that results in a tear of even a dislocation,  Preventing the opening of the shoulder joint is one of the primary functions of the R.C. The burn sometimes felt when playing Chi Sau is the R.C. complaining that we are placing it under unwanted strain.

If we think of the action of Tarn Sau from the perspective of the R.C. if we do not allow our shoulder to extend as the elbow rotates to centre we place it under strain, this is one reason the the Sun Punch as done in the first Form is not a practicable punch just an expression of the theory.

Understanding what movements work against our joints operating normally, and removing them from our practice is a much easier and far more fruitful endeavour than trying to “open the joints”, something our bodies where never intended to do.  Telling people to relax is often not the correct approach, we need to tell them what to stop tensing and why.

Although the words are thought of as being synonymous, relaxing and releasing tension are not the same thing.  Opening the joints, and not creating the problems that close them in the first place are not the same thing. As the next generation of Wing Chun Masters, for our students benefit, who will in time be the Masters that follow us we should try to be more correct with our language, and not a translation of something we can never know was spoken. is as good a place to start understanding how the body works as any other, but always cross reference.


Articles, Weekend Wonderland


analogies are at best only similar, they are never the same

I have mentioned in a previous article how I see Chum Kiu as an expansive set of movements and that I see Biu Gee as a compressive set of movements, this is a product of the type of rotation used in each Form, the most common type of rotation in Wing Chun is Eccentric Rotation, rotating on an axis that is not in the centre. Very few Wing Chun Instructors, myself included, have any real medical understanding of how the body works,  as a result we take some liberty with our explanations, we all mean well but often miss the mark.

In Wing Chun everything is powered by rotation, from the outset every time we connect with a partner / opponent the contact point, our wrist / bridge, is on the outer edge of a rotating spherical shape, hence the analogy of the Ball that gets used.  What takes some time to become fully aware of is that the vast majority of the rotations are coming from an axis point that is not in the centre of the sphere, the rotation is eccentric rotation, all of our arm movements are eccentric rotation due to the fact that our arm connects to our shoulder on part of the circumference of the imaginary ball not somewhere inside it, we do not rotate around our shoulder but from our shoulder, this point is important to be comfortable with.

When we engage in Chum Kiu we refer to moving from the hips, the hips are on the outside of the body, the rotation is anchored to the supporting leg that is also on the outside edge of the body, pivoting is moving in an arc from one supporting leg to another, the weight shift and lateral movement inherent in this type of action is one of our power generators, this is sometimes referred to as shifting our axis, I prefer to see this as moving to a new axis, either way it is not a fixed central axis, rotating on a fixed centre is spinning and does not increase power.  There is no need to over think this it is what our body does naturally, it is how we walk for one thing.

Biu Gee upper body movement {and it is only upper body movement that we study in Biu Gee, the waist is always Chum Kiu and the arms are always the first Form} is the only concentric rotation in Wing Chun, our complete shoulder girdle rotates around our central axis, our spine, which is firmly anchored on top of our pelvis which allows for rotation that is independent of the pelvis even though it is usually used in conjunction it is two actions working independently side by side and not two becoming one.

As I mentioned in the last post each Form has its own associated set of IDEAs that we ultimately need to resolve into the unified Form that is the Siu Lim Tao proper, this is why my reference of choice is the first Form most of the time instead of Siu Lim Tao Form.

words are just vehicles for painting pictures of IDEAs.

The most difficult part of teaching anything is in finding the correct way to describe the event we are involved in, Wing Chun is full of descriptions designed to create an image in our minds eye, we create analogies to aid understanding, balls, triangles and centre lines for example, analogies are at best only similar, they are never the same, when something is not the same we are to a very large extent talking about something that is not what we are involved in, it becomes misinformation to a degree, some of the analogies I use in my own teaching method are “Inflatable Skeleton and Overcoat Body”, very useful to create an image feeling but completely false when faced with the reality of what is happening.

Most of the standard explanations for Wing Chun rotation that I have heard are in the same vein, useful in painting mental pictures but completely false when faced with the reality of what is happening.

Something we all know instinctively but have difficulty understanding is that bones are not something that  move of their own accord, they need to be moved, and it is whatever is moving our bones that brings about rotation, not our hips, or shoulders and definitely not our spine. As someone that has undergone 6 spinal operations including spinal fusion and pinning I know intimately that vertebrae are not intended to move individually, at my Sifu’s school it was referred to in this way during Biu Gee instruction, the IDEA that you can rotate the vertebrae one at a time in an ascending order may help draw a picture but it is not how the spine works, when anything twists or winds it compresses becomes smaller and more dense, think of wringing a face cloth.

Unwinding has a very real and important part to play as well, although it is an integral part of Biu Gee it is often overlooked, to a certain extent all Chum Kiu rotation is unwinding, hence my describing it as expansive.  Another of my own analogies is that Chum Kiu opens the cupboard doors and Biu Gee closes them, a useful mental image that has nothing to do with what is occurring.

All rotation is the result of specific engagement of the core muscles, the pelvic floor muscles, transversus abdominis, multifidus, internal and external obliques, rectus abdominis, erector spinae (sacrospinalis) especially the longissimus thoracis, and the diaphragm. Minor core muscles include the latissimus dorsi, gluteus maximus, and trapezius.

Is it any wonder Wing Chun Instructors just say move your hips.

As understandable as it may be are we any better off taking this approach?

I think not, from a personal standpoint I can easily and readily feel my muscles even when relaxed, but though I live with constant back pain I am relatively unaware of my spine, and I am not even sure I have a shoulder girdle.

All rotation is muscular, all rotation is core winding, Chum Kiu rotates  a flat plate and Biu Gee a vertical pole, both rotate horizontally, Big Gee may traverse a helix but any chosen set point is rotating horizontally.

Chum Kiu rotation is a very complex arrangement of all of the deep abdominals, the engagement of which will vary at different positions in the weight shift, luckily for us our brain will take care of the details.

Biu Gee is controlled mainly by the Sacrospinalis and oblique abdominals, but is of course anchored and assisted by the deep abs and diaphragm.

Becoming consciously aware of and then actively using our core muscles may be a challenge at first, especially if we have spent years convincing ourselves that we are moving our bones, but the difference in stability and power are worth the effort. Never forget that deep down we all know we cannot move bones and as such we also know that we are pretending to do something that is not humanly possible.

In my teaching method I use a great many exercises that are not directly related to Wing Chun, exercises that derive from ballet, from sword play and of course ice hockey, these exercises greatly improve effective movement that in turn improves all Wing Chun practices, I no longer teach pivoting in any way my Sifu taught me, instead I have everyone focus on identifying and engaging all of the core muscles relative to the action, as a result my students pivot much better, much sooner with far less struggle, it helps that I do not teach anyone under 18 years of age, most are in their late 20’s to 40’s, so most students already have body skills associated with their work that engage the core on a regular basis, one of my guys is a Brick layer, he spends 8 hours a day engaged in what is essentially Biu Gee rotation laying bricks, I have plumbers and landscapers that use shovels for many hundreds of hours a year, once we tapped into this they took to pivoting like Traffic Cops take to Sunglasses.

This is too big a subject to do any credit to in a blog post, hopefully it will encourage you to do some independent study outside of the Wing Chun method, once you understand what your body needs to do to rotate effectively you can call it anything you want, describe it anyway you want, words only make true sense to the person that speaks or writes them, words are just vehicles for painting pictures of IDEAs.






As a direct consequence of this blog I get a number of casual students that come by for 1,2 or even 3 private lessons just to work on Chum Kiu.

The first thing I ask any new Chum Kiu student is “What do you think Chum Kiu is about”?

One thing that seems to pop up all of the time is the idea that Chum Kiu is how we move Siu Lim Tao.

As an answer this appears to tick all the right boxes but is it actually correct?

Or is it just a blanket to hide our ignorance?

This depends on wether or not you realise what the Sil Lim Tao is, one thing the Sil Lim Tao is not, is the first Form, the first Form is simply an easily accessible vehicle for us to become introduced to the Sil Lim Tao.

It is an easy place to begin.

Sil Lim Tao is the Way of the Little Idea, it is a thought and not physical in its own right, so if the Chum Kiu is moving the Sil Lim Tao then what exactly is being moved?

Only a thought, only an IDEA.

Each of the 6 forms has a slightly different IDEA associated with it, our original task is to recognise the IDEA associated with the first Form {this IDEA will change continuously as our knowledge deepens}, in moving forward practicing the movements of the second Form we are developing an understanding of the associated IDEA behind the Chum Kiu, it is a fundamental necessity that we can see and train the IDEA associated with Chum Kiu in isolation from the IDEA associated with the first Form, then we seek resolution of the two separate IDEAs, this is the only way forward.  Without this approach what chances are there of ever understanding Biu Gee or beyond?

We cannot understand the next chapter of a book if we keep returning to and only read the previous chapter.

Information is not linear, THE LITTLE IDEA lives outside of time and space, it is not just that the first Form influences the second Form, this does not bring about real growth, it is also important to see that the second Form also and equally influences the first.

Often when reading a book chapter one does not make sense until we have finished chapter two, sometimes as late as chapter six.

As none of us ever truly posses the whole LITTLE IDEA there is no specific amount of knowledge needed to move forward, if we have only the faintest glimpse of the associated IDEA related to the first Form then we can move forward to the Chum Kiu, once we develop an inkling of the IDEA associated with the second Form the real work is resolving these two IDEAs so that they can work together.

We do not benefit by combining the two separate IDEAs into one bigger IDEA,  there is a real and present danger of this occurring if you think that Chum Kiu is just how we move Sil Lim Tao, resolution of the two IDEAs will take away duplicates, remove unwanted fill, and begin the development of a unified IDEA.

The opening moves of the first and second Forms are identical, although this could be viewed as an indication that they are in all respects the same Form, I believe Wing Chun to be much more intelligent than that, where is the SIMPLICITY in having to learn two Forms if they are the same Form?

The two Forms open the same and then diverge, into very different beasts, to me it is an indication that the real work is in resolving the two Forms.

It has nothing to do with shapes, and very little to do with movement.


What do you think you are doing when you do the S.L.T. Form?

What ever that is can you move it?

If you can how does Tarn Sau relate to your feet?

Think about it.




Articles, Weekend Wonderland




What language is Wing Chun best described by?

What I mean by this is what language is needed to fully understand Wing Chun?

Cantonese?       No.

Is it English?     No.

Is it German?    No.

The language  of Wing Chun is Mathematics.

Whichever tongue you speak it is still about circles and triangles, straight lines and helices, the natural Wing Chun language is maths, leaning towards the dialect of geometry.  Mostly two dimensional Plane Geometry, this is why we talk about the centreline when we are in fact referring to a plane {a clear understanding of this blows a great deal of what is put forward about the Wing Chun centerline theory clean out of the water}.

Our first challenge is to truly understand what a circle is, we all think we know but I sometimes wonder if we do,  even the briefest observation of early Chi Sau can have us doubting this.

What is a circle?

The most important thing to keep in front of us at all times is that a circle is a shape, big circles, little circles and other circles are all the same, a “A CIRCLE IS A SHAPE AND NOT A SIZE” is somewhat of a mantra at my school.

Circles can also function as a centreline, dividing space into an inside and an outside, without this IDEA to help us navigate by Chi Sau can become very one dimensional. If you find the idea of a circle being a centreline a bit odd then you do not understand the function of a centreline, I will expand on this in an upcoming post.

Another interesting speculation is, how do we think that circles rotate? Many people, without missing a beat, will say clockwise or counter clockwise, but what direction did circles rotate before the invention of clocks?

What direction did they rotate before the creation of language, before the appearance of mankind?

Think about this for a second or ten, where do they rotate from?

A very large part of what we do in Wing Chun utilises eccentric rotation, are we aware of this?   Do we even understand the difference between concentric and eccentric rotation?

In Wing Chun forms Chum Kiu utilises eccentric rotation and Biu Gee utilises concentric rotation, Siu Nim Tau is stationary so uses neither, but it also uses both as we will see in a later post on the nature of rotation in Wing Chun.

I have mentioned before that for some years now I see Wing Chun as having only one movement, many years ago my Sifu advised me to try and think smaller, to make Wing Chun smaller, and to try to see that all moves are the same move, this is not as hard as it sounds, the only difficulty is understanding what the words mean, once you “Grock” it you cannot understand how you did not see it from day one.

For starters compare Huen Sau and Garn Sau, you can of course start anywhere compare anything, because they are all the same move. If we remove unnecessary values such as in / out, up / down, big / small, left / right or any other values you may use what are we left with?

As my Wing Chun began to become smaller and smaller the concept of the IDEA started to emerge more and more, eventually it became as clear as day that there are no moves in Wing Chun, only the IDEA, only a point.

But what is the IDEA? What is the point.


If we think of potential from the point of view of mathematics another door opens, in physics potential is the ability to do work, chemical energy from a battery is a potential form of energy, elastic energy in a stretched rubber band is a form of potential energy, the most commonly referred to form of potential energy in physics is that of gravitational potential energy. This is energy that is stored due to an object’s position.  This is where our puching power comes from.

If we just allow things to happen, they happen.

In Wing Chun the work we develop the ability to do, is of course Wing Chun, and in understanding this, the point, the IDEA itself begins to get bigger and bigger, everything is same one move but it is everywhere.

Wing Chun becomes fractal.

Still Mathematics though.



All martial arts have a problem keeping students, Wing Chun is the same, 50% of new students do not stay 6 months, a farther 25% do not make 12 months, after 5 years you are lucky if you still have 5% of a particular batch of students, when I reached what in my Sifu’s school was classed as Level 3, Biu Gee level I was told “welcome to the 1% Derek”,  all because of student migration.

While this is just a statistic and of no real value to serious students it does shine a light on why there is such a varied impression of Wing Chun out in the Martial Arts community in general, the majority of people that claim to have knowledge of Wing Chun are forming their opinions on very, very thin information.

Take striking as a point in case, the overwhelming perception is that Wing Chun only uses a straight machine gun punch that goes hey diddle diddle, straight down the middle.

The Sun Punch.

If you have only trained for 6 – 12 months then yes that is all you would of worked on, and for good reason, and that reason has nothing at all to do with the merits of this this particular punch itself.  The reason we work on the Sun Punch so much is that the mechanics for this punch and the theory behind it are consistent through all of our strikes, in truth if you are trying to use the Sun Punch from the typical square position and striking hey diddle diddle on a line from your sternum you are not developing a very good punch at all, it is extremely difficult to create genuine power in the Sun Punch from a square position.

But it is not meant to be used in this way, the training method is to ingrain the theory of all Wing Chun striking, and that theory is …

The hand travels in a straight line from where it is to where it is going, it is not chambered and contact is made inside our shoulder line as close as possible to a target that would be on the end of a line from our centre of mass.  If punching the fist is formed as late as possible and the mechanics use joint extension with no excessive muscular force.

In my experience this explanation is always given to beginners but no one remembers the fine details, there is just too much information in the first few months.

In a fight we will never be square on to the opponent, either our own nervous system will blade us or our opponent will try to move to flank us, because of this Wing Chun striking is designed to be delivered from a bladed position squaring up on contact.

Chum Kiu is the first Form that makes contact with the enemy, delivery is what Chum Kiu teaches. What we teach students at the early stages of training is how the strike lands, not how it is delivered, this is the only important factor in any strike. Unknown to the multitude of past students, or even those that train on their own without decent supervision is that Wing Chun has dozens of strikes, in fact every single move in the Form sets can be used as a defencive posture or a strike.

There is a pattern in the first form known as The Plum Flower Palms, this is a set of 5 Palm Strikes, 1 central just like the sun Punch, 2 from the Shoulder { L& R} and 2 from the Hip, change the Palm to a fist and we have 5 different punches. If we only focus on landing the correct fist, as in lower three knuckles Bong Sau becomes an over hook punch, Tai Sau becomes an upper cut. Then there is the double  arms from “B” section that can be a knife hand, a back hand slap, a forearm or even a punch, a quick note here, one thing to be very aware of, this is not is a side slash, think about it, if we strike out from our own body how can we go sideways?

Exploring the first Form with a view to using everything as an attack can be a real eye opener.

Below is some footage from the Workshop at Bargo, we are a group of guys that think you cannot learn if you are not having fun, it is light hearted but very serious.



In my school we frequently practice forearm strikes that are in reality just Chum Sau, we slap, forehand and backhand, we use hammer fists, inside and out, we use downward Palm Heel strikes, and each and every one of these actions is found in the first Form if you just spend the time to look for them. Where students get sidetracked is when they do not realise that all delivery is Chum Kiu, all contact is Chum Kiu, we are “Bridging”, the S.L.T. is an introduction to the IDEA, not the IDEA itself.

I often tell my Guys that Wing Chun is not really a Martial; Art and that we do ourselves no favours thinking that it is. It is a Body Method that allows us to make our whole body a weapon that can strike from anywhere to anywhere, once you get what Chum Kiu is about the Sternum line becomes a bicycle wheel that allows you to “Poke with a Spoke”.