sheep or wolf?


We win a violent encounter with someone that intends to hurt us by being better at violence and hurting them more.


It is the beginning of a new training year and as usual for this time I engage my students to find out if last year delivered and what they expect from the coming year.

To facilitate this enquiry I ask them what is it we do and why do you want to keep on doing it?

At first, the answers are pretty much the same old stock answers, but that does not cut it for me so I push them to be more definitive in what they say, and more deliberate in what they think.

Eventually, the consensus is Self Defence because they think there is a chance that they will need it somewhere down the line.

While this is still well and truly in the realm of same old stock answers it does allow me to make them dig into this answer and see where that takes us.

Q. Why would you need ‘Self Defence’

A. Because someone is attacking me.

Q. How do you stop them from attacking you?

A. Blank Look.

When I push them on this there is a variety of IDEAS about techniques and strategies put forwards as everyone dances around the Elephant.

Q. How do we stop someone that has total intent on what he wants and zero regards for our well being from attacking us, in fact from hurting us?

Blank stares all around.

I answer my own question.

A. There is only one answer and that answer is so simple.  We hurt them first and we hurt them more.

Blank stares all around.

This is a common blindspot with many Martial Artists, the one place we should look but have great difficulty doing so.

My school is not a Fight Club and I am most definitely not training people to be thugs but we must face reality.

Or fail in the face of our fantasies.

I must add that I am not deluded enough to think that I am training warriors or that I am a warrior.

Warriors go to WAR.  Warriors are soldiers, the military.

We are not them, but we can learn from them, learn from the people that teach them.

One of the very best educators is U.S. Army LTC. Dave Grossman [retired].

His book ‘On Killing’ is a must-read for any serious Martial Artist that hopes to come close to understanding themselves and by extension the Bad Guy.

It is not the book that the title may make you think off.

Although his topic is at the extreme end of person to person violence if we exchange the word ‘hurting’ for ‘killing’ it is the same story.

We win a violent encounter with someone that intends to hurt us by being better at violence and hurting them more.

Are you training for that?

This type of training is not done by punching partners or kicking pads or dare I say by doing Forms or Chi Sau.

It is worked on by talking and thinking honestly.

Mostly we need to change the paradigms we think we follow.

We are ‘Good People’ are we not?

How do we justify hurting other people, even bad people?

Right there, that is the real work, without this, we are only learning how to dance.

An example of Dave Grossman’s thinking was used in the movie American Sniper, it may help to give you a position to start this work.


“There are three types of people in this world: sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs.

Some people prefer to believe that evil doesn’t exist in the world, and if it ever darkened their doorstep, they wouldn’t know how to protect themselves.

Those are the sheep.

Then you’ve got predators who use violence to prey on the weak.

They’re the wolves.

And then there are those blessed with the gift of aggression, an overpowering need to protect the flock. These men are the rare breed who live to confront the wolf.

They are the sheepdog”.


As people that chose freely to become Martial Artists, we are in that same world.

We may not like to think about it but we are one of the three types of people, our choice puts it in our own hands.

Train to be a sheep, train to be a wolf or train to be a sheepdog.

We are all training to be one of them, we just don’t realise it.

If we are training “just in case it happens”  what will we do when the wolf appears?

If we are not at some level training to be brutal is there any hope of us being brutal when we absolutely need it?

Or like Jim Kelly in “Enter The Dragon” will it be… “I don’t waste my time with it, when it comes, I won’t even notice; I’ll be too busy looking good”.










If you start correctly and finish correctly it is just not possible to go wrong in the middle.


After my Spinal Fusion surgery in 1996, I decided to try a new career path so I studied to be a Ceramic Artist, part of the three-year course was reading up on the history of Ceramics and Ceramic Artists from all around the globe.

It should be no surprise that the approach of many of the Japanese Potters was very closely connected to Zen Buddhism, it was impossible to read about a period or pottery area without deviating into Ikebana, Rock Gardens, the Tea Ceremony and even the Martial Arts.

Everything was interrelated, positions for fighting were used in flower arranging, advice for throwing clay was used in fighting.

One particular thing from pottery that has had a deep influence on my training and teaching of Kung Fu is that when making a vase or teacup only the footring and lip are of importance, and these must be correct and as near perfect as possible.

The IDEA is that when the footring and lip are perfect, nothing in between can be wrong.


When my students get to Chum Kiu this is when I introduce them to this thinking, start perfect, end perfect ignore the middle.

When I have a guest or casual students from other schools I notice that they tend to put most if not all of their attention on the movement in the middle, as a result, they struggle to perform or properly understand Chum Kiu.

So many students think that it is about the moving of the body that they ignore the simplicity of knowing what shape we are in now, and what shape we wish to be next.

If you start correctly and finish correctly it is just not possible to go wrong in the middle.

If the Footring and Lip are in the correct alignment and relationship to each other the pot pretty much shapes itself and does so perfectly. if they are out of synch the pot will throw itself from the wheel.

Our eyes may not see it but our senses feel that when the footring and lip are in harmony the pot breathes, it comes alive and we can feel its practicality.

When the foot ring and lip are out of synch the pot may well be very beautiful, but we see it in a sculptural way, solid but stationary and ever so slightly dead.

This is true of any movement set.

If we start correctly and finish correctly by default with no effort on our part the middle becomes perfect.

If the middle was not perfect we would struggle to finish at all let alone finish correctly.




Bringing this into line with my posts on conditioning I would like to offer a quote from a book I am reading…

“Correct human movement is not open to debate. Technique is not some theoretical idea about the best way to move; it provides the means to fully express movement potential in the most stable positions possible’.

 “Becoming a Supple Leopard”.  Kelly Starrett.

We should work hard to keep this attitude, things either work because they are correct or they fail because they are not, the result is usually injury and not just failure to fire, this is not a critique of your Sifu or Lineage.






Force summation of a rower. (source: sportsmedbiotech, 2009)


Up goes the cry ‘Wing Chun does not use strength”.

Guess what? Conditioning and fitness are not just about strength!


I want to spend a few weeks looking at various types of and approaches to conditioning to make the most of our training, this may sound off-key but there is a great deal more to being effective at Wing Chun than just learning Wing Chun.

Fighting is a physical experience, so surely there needs to be a physical element to the training.

It makes no difference what so ever if we do ‘Internal’ or ‘External’ Wing Chun.  If we depend on ‘Thought Force’ or ‘Physical Force’

If our body is not up to the task of performing as the blunt instrument needed to deliver our force of choice we could be in serious trouble the day we need to use it.

Hands break when they hit faces, this is the real reason Boxers wear gloves.

Talking to certain sections of the Wing Chun community about the need to introduce strength and fitness is as difficult and fruitless as talking to an Australian Liberal politician about the need to phase out coal.

Up goes the cry ‘Wing Chun does not use strength”.

Guess what? Conditioning and fitness are not just about strength!

It is just as much about building mobility to get out of the way, improving our VO2 Max so we do not gas out in 5 seconds or developing the resilience to not fall in a heap if we fail to get out of the way and get hit in the head.

Wing Chun very strangely does not have specialised training regimes such as Chi Kung of other T.C.M.A.

I have no idea why this is, it makes no sense.

But perhaps it does, perhaps we have just stopped identifying them as such, upgraded them to something else, helped of course by the post-war Hong Kong entertainment industry.

If we had not all fallen the romanticised exploitation of Chi Kung and Kung Fu that was perpetrated by the Shaw Brothers beginning in the early 1950s perhaps we would have realised that Chi Kung was a precursor of today’s sports science and maybe, just maybe Kung Fu would not have slipped into obscurity and disregard compared to Modern Combat Sports.

The idea of a genteel scholar defeating thugs was such a breadwinner for the Shaw Studios it was pretty much the theme of every movie, perhaps unintentionally it allowed weak unfit people to think they could compete if they just played Kung Fu.

Many still do.

Many are still wrong.

What conditioning do I think we need?

This is a very difficult question to answer, it all depends on what type of trouble we think we will get into.

I am sure we all think different things.

Do we need to be steady, stable and strong?

Do we need to be mobile, quick and adaptive?

Can we be both?

If we can begin to see all of the Forms as being conditioning exercises, at least at a base level, we are at least starting from a sound base.

By all means, keep seeing them as ways to circulate Chi if that is your approach but first let them be simply physical.

In my last post, I mentioned the ‘Stretch Reflex’ and how in some situations it can have a negative impact on our actions.

That does not mean that the ‘Stretch Reflex’ is always negative, there are many situations where it can be used to our advantage.

Understanding the ‘Stretch Reflex’ and how we condition our body and our thinking to work with it, and of great importance understanding that we cannot influence it in any way.

No matter what some people may say or even claim, we cannot train a reflex. Training is a conscious action, reflexes are unconscious actions.

To think otherwise is to pursue a fantasy.

But once we identify, understand and can predict the effect of a Stretch Reflex we can adapt our training so that it has less of a chance of working against us.

So that we have less of a chance of working against ourselves.




There are a lot of people that say Wing Chun does not work on account of some very sad YouTube fights, the simple truth is that a hobbyist, a weekend warrior, no matter how skilled or capable will always loose to a full-time combat athlete.

Survival of the fittest is not a cliche, neither in the ring or on the street.

If we wish to do better we must become more athletic, more dynamic, more physical, the whole IDEA behind the do not use strength argument is a misrepresentation, it should be “do not depend on strength”, which really is just another way of saying trust your skill first, however, if your attacker is smaller and weaker there is nothing wrong with using strength, it will work.

The popular sales pitch representation that doing Wing Chun will “level the playing field” against a stronger, bigger, faster, fitter opponent only works if the opponent has no skill, only brute strength.

Being faster, fitter, stronger does not guarantee a win, but it helps.

Get fitter, get stronger, get faster, get conditioned, and of course, keep improving your skill.

Learn how to walk and chew gum.







To move forwards in our training we must look backwards at what we did not achieve, and not just hope that going forward will somehow be better this year.


A new year, a new beginning perhaps even a new IDEA, a moon hidden by a fingertip.

In all sports and all fighting arts it is the basics that paint the clearest picture of what we are hoping to do.

These basics can be loosely thought of as maintaining a good shape and moving smoothly.

What are the Basics of Wing Chun?

The style is described by 6 Forms that are best viewed as two sets of three.

Set #1.  S.L.T. Chum Kiu and Biu Gee.

Set #2. Wooden Dummy, Butterfly Knives and Long Pole.

The first three Forms introduce the movements of #1 the Arms, #2 the lower body and #3 the torso.

The second set of three introduces IDEAs on how to use the 3 Forms as a single unit.

Then, of course, there is Chi Sau, a dynamic method of exploring and understanding the different characteristics of the first 3 forms in an active feedback loop.

To be of the greatest value Chi Sau should be performed from the individual perspective of each Form set.

S.L.T. which is only the arms doing the work from a still body.

Chum Kiu where the arms are almost passive and all of the work comes from the lower body.

And Biu Gee where the arms and lower body are passive and the work is performed by the torso.

Before we commence any of the Forms or we engage in Chi Sau there should be a few moments of quietude where we turn off as much physical involvement as possible.

We just stand and observe what our body is doing when it is doing as little as possible, observe what our body feels like before it does anything active.

In a sports situation, this could be the pre-start position awaiting the call of Ready.

The obvious progression is … then set.. then go.

But we remain at the READY stage.

When our body is doing nothing it is not doing anything incorrectly.

The more familiar we are with this feeling or condition, the more comfortable we are with it, the easier our progress.

This feeling or condition will remain at the heart of everything we do, no matter how dynamically we move this stillness or at least the thought of this stillness must remain.

For the stillness to remain it must not get disturbed by our movement, early on this can be difficult to grasp, everything moves around this point and not from it.

In the First Form {S.L.T.} the arm movements must not disturb the torso.

In the Chum Kiu, the lower body must not disturb the torso.

In the Biu Gee, the torso must not disturb the arms or the lower body.

When the three body parts work independently without disturbance they use a natural unity that cannot be broken as they are not in any real way connected.

We all do this every day when we walk without thinking, like shopping.


THE CONDITION from WC INCa’s on Vimeo.



Depending on how an individual relates to Wing Chun, especially from the hard/soft, external/internal perspective, this is where the thinking and the teaching takes a different choice at a fork in the road.

The external follow Shaolin Buddhist philosophies, the internal follow Wudang Mountain Daoist philosophies.

The finger-pointing at the moon, or the uncarved block.

I do not follow the path of Internal Wing Chun, the difference is massive yet unimportant, we all reach the same destination but the journey is very different, for some there is Chi, my way is physical.

In true Shaolin Buddhist, finger pointing at the moon way, what we work on is not what we are trying to learn, it is a path to the work, if we spend our time staring at the finger we will never see the moon.

The good news, however, is that the basics and the original condition are the same for both approaches.

Something we must never lose sight of is that if we do get into trouble, violent trouble, soft/hard, internal/external is just so unimportant, we will not use Wing Chun, we will just fight and hopefully, our training will inform and influence the decisions we make.

To move forwards in our training we must look backwards at what we did not achieve, and not just hope that going forward will somehow be better this year.










Can learning how to meditate make you a better fighter?



This post is intended as a provocation and conversation starter, please feel free to rip into me.


As something for us all to think about over the festive break I want to share some thoughts on the condition known as ‘Sung’, and whether it has any role or benefit in the Martial Arts.

There is no doubt about its value for health and has not been in doubt since the 5th century when Da mo introduced it to the Shaolin monks.

I believe that it is a great aid to training, but for the real world, I am not so sure any of us could create the environment needed to make it active.

I first came across the IDEA of Sung in the 1970s, I had been getting into meditation and discovered a Daoist Martial Art I had never heard of called Bagua Zhang.

Something that confused me was the Master telling me Bagua Zhang was a martial art that did not fight, he went on to say that no Daoist Martial Styles were intended for fighting.

They could be used in that way if the need for a physical response was required but it was primarily Daoist Alchemy, self-improvement.

I only trained in this style for around 2 years and only ever with this one teacher, I am sure there are other views out there.

The work consisted mainly of walking circles doing different Form sets the sole purpose was to develop ‘Sung ‘ while moving through evolving steps and shapes.

Sung means to ‘let go’.

Of everything.

“Sung” had three elements to it

First, we develop ‘Sung’ of the Physical Body, this frees up our energy channels from obstructions and allows our energetic body to wake up and our internal energy to flow freely and naturally.

Secondly, once awoken we mobilise our internal energy {Sung of the Energetic Body} and use it to feed different parts of our real physical body, our organs, our tendons and ligaments, our bone marrow and finally our brain.

Thirdly, with a healthy body and well-fed brain, we clear our mind of everyday thoughts.

I am paraphrasing my teacher’s words here b the intention but the I got was that the final goal was to be able to separate ourselves from the world {and confussions} of men.

Feet on the ground, head in heaven.

Wing Chun appropriates some of the aspects of Sung of the Physical Body, although there is no talk of trying to use Sung to correct any errors or illness in the body, to cleanse the organs, muscles, even the bone marrow.

Tendon/Muscle changing and Bone Marrow Washing is the original exercise set passed on by Bodhidarma to the monks of the Shaolin Monastery to improve their condition to meditate.

This is very clearly Qi Gung {health/meditation} and not Kung Fu {fighting skills}.

The reason I gave this away was that I trusted my teacher, he told me that it is not possible to progress to the second stage of Sung of the Energetic Body until I had mastered the first stage of Sung of the Physical Body, and that would take many years.

I can truly understand how the complete ‘Sung” would be of great benefit to a Martial Artist, in a Kippling kind of way…

If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs…

but I am unsure what use just the Sung of the Physical Body would be if we have become one of the others and lost our head.

The extended Wing Chun that I am a part of borrows a number of Meditation techniques, Dai Gung,  is a version of the Indian Buddhist practise of Mula Bandha, which is essential when attempting to awaken and raise Kundalini.

And as I have mentioned Sung is Daoist Meditation.

I am very aware that many people do Wing Chun with absolutely no intention to fight, but the style sells itself as a genuine fighting style.

Can learning how to meditate make you a better fighter?

If the person learning to meditate is already a decent fighter then yes, I believe it can.

However, learning meditation practises can only help in meditation, that should be a no brainer.

In my very first Wing Chun lesson, I was informed that we must cultivate Sung because we cannot absorb force if we have any tension in the body.

I thought ‘is this a practical fighting method or a self-improvement method’?

I have asked many senior Wing Chun people ‘what is Sung and how does it relate to fighting’?

On one occasion one senior told me that although he could not explain it he knew what it was and that I had it and used it.

If we cannot explain something how can we recognise it in others?

At the end of the day always the same answer ‘you cannot absorb force if you have tension in the body’.

The thing is that this is incorrect.

This incorrect information is a very real problem that has the potential to create doubt in other aspects of Wing Chun.

Doubt erodes confidence, lack of confidence allows fear to take hold, fear prevents Sung of the Mind”.

Do I have any answers?

Not really this is just a conversation starter, where do we go from here and why?

I do think we should stop using the term RELAX.

Relaxed is an adjective, it describes a condition that is brought about by stopping doing something, it is passive, inactive and our brain recognises this at a very deep level.

Letting go is a verb, we do it, it is active, dynamic and our brain recognises this.

Do we genuinely think that stopping activity {relaxing} is a winning tactic in a fight?

As always I find better information in sport, and especially in my personal experiences, as a young Ice Hockey player, my coaches would say ‘do not hold yourself so tightly, loosen up’ they never said relax.


Happy Festivus everyone.

Bring on the Aluminium Pole and begin the airing of grievances.





An important consideration is that the body does not truly absorb force

When we discuss force/energy we tend to use words such as flow, kinetic linking, even going so far as to say that force/energy flows along the Kinetic Chain, for instance from foot, through knee to hip, to spine, to shoulder, to arm to hand.

As convenient and often used, even by yours truly, as this approach is it is full of holes.

The idea/concept of the kinetic {or kinematic} chain is a great place to start but our body is not a chain and force/energy does not flow like water through a hose.

It would be more accurate and easier to understand if we see it as a “Chain Reaction”, an impulse that passes from one link/location to another sequentially along an obvious path.

If we use light as an analogy instead of seeing force as a solid beam of light similar to a flashlight we would do better to see it as an ultra-rapid series of pulses, like a quasar, that we perceive as continuous.

I am by no way an expert in this type of thinking, I did not go to Uni’ or ‘Med’ school, I am a moderately researched layman that approaches the work with a specific and personal agenda, Martial Art.

If we think ‘Chain Reaction’ as opposed to ‘Chain’ it opens up the possibility that sections of the body, such as the lower section that contains our foot, our calf, our thigh, the hip, the pelvis can be an individual chain that is self-contained.

This body section could now operate as a link and cause a ‘Chain Reaction’ with another body section such as our torso which itself can be seen as a self-contained chain.

The torso could now react with our arm, another self-contained chain.

The following may appear as a bit of a sidestep but remember issuing force and accepting force happen at the same time instantaneously.

An important consideration is that the body does not truly absorb force, at least not in the way we often speak of it, as a global/whole-body occurrence taking force at the arm and transferring it to the floor.

Our body absorbs contact force by transferring that force to local muscles where contractions in the opposite direction neutralise the force.

It would be more accurate to say that we join with the force instead of absorbing it.

This joined force is transferred to the next body segment and the pattern is repeated, a series of local phenomenon, not a global/whole-body event.

This is, of course, a conceptual approach, but one that has very practical applications if we do our Forms with this consideration in mind, it opens up many new dynamic possibilities and a deeper understanding of how to make our Forms come alive.

The mental method I employ is that my body is made up of three independent segments.


Segment 1. The legs and Pelvis.

Segment 2. The torso, which sits inside the pelvis.

Segment 3. The Arms, that hang from the torso.


If we consider a step and punch from this perspective.

When the legs move the pelvis the torso goes along for the ride at the same velocity in the same, usually linear direction, this is a very important point to keep in mind.

The torso is not involved in the legs moving and as such is free to make its own movement, which is usually lateral rotation, the upper body pivots to face the target.

The arms are not involved in the rotation of the torso so they are free to make their own movement, which in the step and punch would be linear, straight to the target.





All movement creates power, and as we know acceleration increases power.

Acceleration it is not only going faster, this is an aspect of acceleration, positive acceleration, slowing down is also acceleration,  negative acceleration.

Acceleration is a change in velocity.

If we change the direction of the movement of our torso from the direction of the movement of our legs or change the direction of the movement of our arms from the direction of the movement of our torso we are changing the direction of the velocity and creating acceleration.

This is very much the model adopted by throwing sports.

It is known as sequential acceleration and results in successive force summation.

For force summation to be successful we also need sequential stabilization of body parts, which I find easier to understand with the three-segment method.

Force Summation is a big post waiting to be written.







There is no reason for us to doubt acting defensively, no reason to attack an incoming attack


Before digging into how to develop a method/system for setting our body up, setting the frame up, recognising the kinetic chain that we will employ for efficient and effective movement we would do well to remember the most basic things about force.

I am referring to Issac Newton here and not Yoda.

Here is a clip from Saturday mornings training with Costas and his son George, two of my senior students, if you are not at this level of understanding it might be difficult to see what is going on but I assure you the guys are not investing overt physical effort.

It is super important that our partner’s resistance is static, passive and not dynamic. If one partner’s force increases the resistance must stay the same as it initially was.

When our partner’s resistance is static he is not adding anything to the system/event, the only energy in this system/event is our energy, what we feel as resistance is, in fact, our energy/effort, returning to us per Newton’s third law of motion.

Understanding that there is always an equal and opposite reaction and that this exercise is about applied force and its return we can flip the exercise so that one partner has already extended his arm and the other partner is trying to push it back.

From a ‘Force’ perspective, everything is the same as the previous exercise only our perception of ‘who is doing what’ is different.

It is this aspect of our understanding of the force that will take us forward, a useful mental trick is to imagine that we engage our partner to push ourself away and not push him away, even with a fully extended arm.

Working with this idea of pushing ourselves and not our partner we find that we get different result from the same input.

If we push our partner, the return force pushes us, if however, we push ourself in this situation then the return force pushes our partner, the crazy thing here is that they are both the same physical actions.

Trusting in the science there is no reason for us to doubt acting defensively, no reason to attack an incoming attack, which is something we see everywhere, the return force that our opponent creates will attack his attack for us.

Think of a bike rider running into the back of a parked car.



Issuing force or accepting force are the same action, it is only our intention of what we want to occur that changes the outcome, depending on our ‘Intention’ our body will initiate different actions independent of our thinking.

This is the reference to ‘self splinting’ it is a bit too much to add this subject to this post so I will clear it up at a later time.