Articles, Wing Chun Wednesday

WING CHUN WEDNESDAY; LOOKING FOR EASY.

I JUST LOVE THIS SINGLE CHI SAU DRILL.

One obvious attraction of Wing Chun to new students is that there is no requirement to use strength, in fact it is frowned upon, softness and relaxation are the sought after conditioning. Observing a typical class you would be hard pressed to see anyone breaking a sweat or moving dynamically, no one applying effort.

I know there will be people reading this thinking  “He should come and train with us” but I assure you no matter what you think your Wing Chun class is doing it is nothing compared to Boxing Gym, a Judo Dojo or a Ju Jitsu Club, all of which I have been involved with at one time or another in my more than 55 years in the Martial Arts so I am talking from experience.

When was the last time someone left your class to go to the emergency ward  to get stitches inside their cheek, to get an arm relocated or to have a sprained wrist strapped up, over the years all of these things and many more have happened to me in the course of an ordinary evenings training.       In 25 years of Wing Chun training I have never seen anyone cop even a half serious injury, I have however seen a few people get a bit of a tap leave early never to return.

Not getting beaten up at training is in no way a negative thing, however training that brings no real test of a persons mettle is of dubious value in self protection, it is after all violence, fighting, we anticipate.

I consider myself to be a Martial Artist that now focuses on Wing Chun as opposed to an out and out Wing Chun practitioner, as a result I do not feel any obligation to uphold the opinion that Wing Chun is flawless and superior, because it quite simply is not, like all other Martial Art styles it has holes in it big enough to drive a fist through, often just being aware of the holes is all that is needed to avoid them, pretending they are not there just increases the chance of falling in one, any way at the end of the day it is not the style that gets us out of harms way, it is intention and effort.

There is a well respected and oft proven maxim in combat sport that states “Train hard so that you can fight easy” how does this relate to training that is soft and effortless?

As a fighting art Wing Chun becomes so much more effective if you have other skill sets that you can then apply Wing Chun thinking and strategy to, this is where Wing Chun really starts to shine, understanding that to win you really do have to go “Hard” and if we choose Wing Chun thinking we need to develop how to do this with minimum effort, not softness, the thing is that if you have no personal experience of what it means to go “Hard”, to go “Beast Mode” how can you ever do it without effort?

This is the disconnect that plagues Wing Chun, you cannot learn to be “Hard” through “Softness”.

On a more positive and encouraging note by using Wing Chun thinking and application it is more than possible to soften up something considered too hard without loosing all of the associated benefits of that said hardness.

There is no “HARD” training in Wing Chun so if you are training to develop an effective skill set some needs to be brought in from outside, we need to bring in training that hurts, training that is physical and will leave us with overuse soreness, we need exercises that break every rule that Wing Chun stands for we need to feel the issues that come with difficult to resolve conflict.

Kung Fu translates to something on the lines of achievement through time and effort, not softness, not looking for easy.

The majority of Wing Chun students join schools because of self defence issues, most are not looking to develop a lasting skill set, just some quick easy solutions to potential problems, but they get sucked in by the fairy stories that get told, that they can develop into serious and dangerous martial artists by standing around and doing very little, they get told tales of famous masters that stood around doing little for hours on end and eventually became the best in the world, this appeals to the inherent laziness deep inside all of us, and of course plays into every schoolboy Kung Fu Fantasy.

In life, every single aspect of life, sport, work and play you get nowhere without hard work and effort.

The really big worry with the schools and students that are “Looking for Easy”  is that not only do they buy into the IDEA that you can win a brawl without training hard, but that they could be literally staking their lives on it if they expect wishy washy Mothership thinking to get them out of deep and serious “You are here” doo doo.

so that is what they mean by Internal!

GO HARD OR GO HOME.

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Articles, Wing Chun Wednesday

CAN SOFTNESS STOP A HARD PUNCH?

IS THERE SUCH A THING AS SOFT FORCE?

Eventually this is the most important consideration in many of the Martial Arts, and especially the Traditional Chinese Martial Arts, and by extension Wing Chun.

It is my firmest belief that as students we must present ourselves open and empty to be truly honest and capable of moving forward, our answer to the idea of softness and where it resides in our own training will define our understanding or highlight our  ignorance of the dynamics involved in personal violence.

Softness is not a FORCE.

Softness is the antithesis of FORCE.

Soft Force is an Oxymoron, something that contradicts itself, so we should stop thinking of soft force and try to develop a wider understanding of softness as a condition in relationship to a Martial Art.

An unfortunate reality is that a fair amount of modern Wing Chun is getting confused and hybridised with Tai Chi, Tai Chi pushes the opponents body mass, case in point Peng, the ward off, which is a very large aspect of Push Hands, Wing Chun chooses to not take this path,  Wing Chun chooses redirection, redirection is to go somewhere else or to send incoming force somewhere else, we shift, we pivot we step away.  A great deal of what is being taught as Chi Sau is closer to push hands than it is to Chi Sau. Many  Wing Chun practitioners think PAK SAU………….  but perform PENG.

Hardness and Softness are values, measures, delineations of types of contact, not of application, for instance it is well within my own skill set to make soft contact with an attacker using a steel pipe, which is, as everyone knows, as hard as steel.

Don’t say that!!!!

Being in a relaxed state has very little to do with softness, when drunks fall over they hit the ground just as hard as anyone else, being relaxed does not make someone any lighter.

If someone throws a punch at us there is no way we can affect the amount of force they use, or wether or not their striking arm is tense or relaxed, we have very limited control over the conditions of contact, contact is an aggregation of many factors such as stability, speed of movement, direction of movement and relative weight of the two respective points of contact.

The best we can do is affect how heavy the contact is. Softness is a contact issue.

What we refer to as soft contact can be achieved by various means such as redistributing the contact force along a greater contact area {shearing}, accepting the force and allowing it to pass through us {absorbing}, or by accepting the force and allowing it to settle into our centre and physically move us {following} or similarly reside in our centre and then purposefully take it somewhere else{leading}, in all likelihood in application it will be a combination of some or all of the previously mentioned.

I also feel that we would all benefit from changing the rhetoric, even if soft force existed why on earth would we want to stop anything? Stopping something requires a minimum of equal force and usually greater force.

 

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Articles, Wing Chun Wednesday

WING CHUN WEDNESDAY. STRUCTURE, CAUSE AND EFFECT.

 

Sometimes the habit we have of analysing everything to the finest degree prevents us from seeing just how natural Wing Chun is, how it borrows from natural movement, and does not, as is sometimes claimed, create its own methodology.

This is not a slight at Wing Chun, this is why it so brilliant.

There are literally hundreds of footwork patterns in the Martial Arts, dozens of different ways to rise, drop, shift, step, twist, wind or unwind but at their heart they are all the same, they are different ideas about moving a single part of a unified body to a specific place for a deliberate reason.

Creating a stable frame and learning how to manipulate that frame without compromising its viability is what is usually referred to as structure, some students allow the word structure to become a monster that outgrows the simple girders, cross-members and strapping that holds us together, structure becomes a metaphor for everything, in doing this they miss the simplicity and beauty of being human and transform into to some new sub species, a divergent genus, Homo Chunner.

Structure is nothing more than the frame that holds us up, mostly bones.

Once the frame is established we develop ways to move it, this is done by maintaining the shape of the frame and moving the heaviest bit, the heaviest bit is of course our centre of gravity  , when that moves everything moves, but if we move only the C o G then we leave some of the frame behind, we break our balance and potentially fall over, when we move we move everything. Consciously.

Because we use the outside world as a frame of reference, even if we are not aware of it, moving inside of ourselves is often not seen as moving at all so it gets called sinking or dropping, this movement is a major part of all Martial Arts, even when moving linearly or laterally we benefit from sinking, from dropping our weight as we move.

To be effective Martial Artists we must be able to move vertically, as naturally as we move horizontally, there tends to be an over reliance on standard, horizontal, movement in many Martial Arts, the obvious exception being Sumo which works relentlessly on rising and dropping, even their forwards movement into contact is an exercise in rising and dropping.

Why do we sink into our stances, why do we drop our weight at all?

Saying something along the lines of Stability – Mobility is only a tiny part of the reason and one that can blind us to what is really happening.

If we can assume the attitude of an engineer and look at everything from a Cause and Effect perspective we are a lot closer to the function of  Wing Chun and further away from the fantasy.

Why do we drop our weight? What is the Effect we are looking for?

If you think it is Stability why do we wish to be stable? Is that the desired end result, the effect. If we are in a dynamic environment Stability should be seen as a cause not an effect.

So much of what we spend time labouring over is just the transition from Cause to Effect, obviously things will work better if the transition is smooth and correct but it is not the transition we are after, this thinking leads to people getting obsessed doing Forms and then beaten up in car parks.

This is compounded by a pet bugbear of mine, Instructors not using good explanations in ordinary language, for instance telling someone to move their centre is just plain wrong and does not help them separate cause from effect, although it is a minor thing we should say move from your centre, simply adding the word from automatically introduces the idea of how to move it, where to move it and the reason for moving it in the first place.

If I am dropping my weight what is it I actually want to drop?

If I am attacking it is my fist, if I am defending it is my bridge.

Only when my fist or my bridge are connected to my centre of gravity will dropping my weight be of any value.  Of course this is equally the case when moving in any direction.

The good news is that when my waist drops 15 centimetres so do my shoulders, unless of course I am not aware that I drop my waist for the purpose of pulling my shoulders down and forget to keep them connected.  When my shoulders drop down my arms drop with them, my bridges or my fist come with the arms, unless of course I am not aware that I drop my shoulders to pull my arms down and forget to keep them connected.

This is a common error with many students, they leave bits behind, this is a real danger for people that mainly work with Forms instead of dynamic exercises, they overlook why they are doing it.

There are literally hundreds of footwork patterns in the Martial Arts, dozens of different ways to rise, drop, shift, step, twist, wind or unwind but at their heart they are all the same, they are different ideas about moving a single part of a unified body to a specific place for a deliberate reason.

Cause and Effect.

 

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Wing Chun Wednesday

WING CHUN WEDNESDAY: RELEASING TENSION

RELAX WHAT?

I wish I had $1.00 for every time I was told to relax my arm during early training, I would be even happier with $0.50c for every time I was told to relax my shoulders in Chi Sau, I would be a wealthy man.

Relax, relax, relax it used to drive me mad, as a result I very rarely use the “R word” in my own teaching, instead I ask my students to identify and remove unneeded tension.

It is the identification of the tension that sets the greatest challenge because we are usually unaware that we are carrying tension and even less aware that we are creating tension, we are just the us that does everything everyday, which to ourselves is quite normal.

When you consider the claim that Wing Chun is based on normal human body movement it is easy to see how we let this one go through to the keeper.

But there is a method, and it is really simple, if someone says release the tension from your shoulder and you are not aware that your shoulder is tense, add some tension, in fact add as much as tension you can, you will be in no doubt about shoulder tension when you do this, after all it is you doing it, now just stop whatever it is you did to create the tension.

Tension released.

This may or may not solve your current dilemma but that is not the purpose. The purpose is to learn how to identify tension.  When we observe what is going on in this newly and deliberately tensed shoulder we will find that it is not just the shoulder that is tensing, muscles work in groups, none of them work alone, perhaps the shoulder is not to blame.

When we tense our shoulder often our Pectoral Muscle also tenses equally, through playing about with this idea of tension / release we can find that sometimes all it takes to release tension from the shoulder is to release the tension from the Pec.  Sometimes all it takes is a calming thought, after all the root cause of physical tension is mental tension.

We are all different so unfortunately there is no magic bullet.

Using a mental approach to releasing tension is not a “Mothership Activity”, it is not mumbo jumbo, simply stop trying so hard, do not be invested in doing things to a certain standard, throw away the need for a “Result”.  Removing EGO is essential for this, the mental approach requires personality change, attitude change, surrender to now without any hope of reward, I am only half joking when I say that this can be achieved quicker and often cheaper by seeing a shrink and sorting out all that stuff that stops you sleeping. Happily reducing physical tension will also help reduce mental tension, the physical approach must be approached absolutely and completely physically, no “Mother Ship” hybrids.

We do ourselves a solid if we divorce this practice from our Wing Chun training, the benefits will flow through to our Wing Chun effortlessly once we see the big picture.

1.Sit in a comfortable position, in a chair, on the floor whatever is natural and easy.

2. Crunch up your toes as hard as possible. Observe on a feeling level what is going on. Stop Crunching your toes {Release the tension}. Observe on a feeling level what is going on.

3. Crunch up your calves as hard as possible. Observe on a feeling level what is going on. Stop Crunching your calves {Release the tension}. Observe on a feeling level what is going on.

4. Crunch up your thighs as hard as possible. Observe on a feeling level what is going on. Stop Crunching your thighs {Release the tension}. Observe on a feeling level what is going on.

Continue up your body, buttocks, as a group genitals – anus – perineum { Mullah Bandah}, tummy, back, pecs, shoulders, chests, biceps, triceps, forearms, hands, fingers, neck, throat, cheeks, lips, eyes, ears, scalp. The more of the muscles and genuine moving bits that are not bones you can include the more complete a picture you create.

When the set is complete tense everything at once, the totality of your being, observe and release.

If time is short and a full program cannot be completed do a truncated set of something like feet, buttocks, arms, hands, neck, resist the temptation to only do things relevant to Wing Chun training, this is a recipe for failure, use Wing Chun specific tension / release only when you are training, otherwise keep it vague, let it exist in its own right as a tension / release exercise.

Do not look for any specific outcome, this will just invite in the EGO and begin mental tensing, remain connected by feeling image alone, in time you will simply KNOW what it means to be tense and how to release it.

 

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Articles, Wing Chun Wednesday

WING CHUN WEDNESDAY. OPENING THE JOINTS.

 

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 webmd.com.

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.

 webmd.com. is as good a place to start understanding how the body works as any other, but always cross reference.

 

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