Thursday, January 31, 2008

Why Wing Tsun?

Anyone watching two wing chun students train and must think, "What the heck are they doing?" or "That's self-defense???" Many people I've run into ask me why I decided to choose Wing Tsun - with the hardcore-ness of thai boxing, or brazilian jiu jitsu, or kyokushin karate, why go with an art that was (supposedly) created by a woman?

Well, my path started out with Shito-Ryu karate. This lineage is pretty popular out in Vancouver - with many schools around the lower mainland. I loved the traditional karate aspect of things (the culture, mannerisms, the teaching philospophy, as well as the fellow students and the senior students that gave me that guidance and encouragement I needed. But as I progressed two things bothered me:

1) Point sparring was the primary mode of "fighting"
2) Tournament training was heavily emphasized

There was no focus on realistic self-defense. I felt a plateauing effect - I realized that as long as I pay my fees, learn my katas and perform satisfactorily during sparring matches, there's nothing stopping me from obtaining my black belt. More importantly, I asked myself how would point sparring help me in street combat (beyond the adrenaline rush and stress) - all i had was a reverse punch in my arsenal.

So I moved on to kung fu - thought i'd take a stab at my roots and go for some Shaolin kung fu at a school in the local Chinatown. The class completely lacked leadership, nor any real skill in terms of sparring (which by the way was kickboxing). Yes, the forms training was intense - the movements were hard for me to adjust to (smooth and fluid vs. stiff and rigid) but eventually I got it. The lack of structure in the class, as well as class attendance was a huge turn off.

Moved on to Choy Lay Fat kung fu. Wanted to stay away from the fancier forms where lots of kicking and jumping were involved (I hate jumping and too much kicking as I've always been a hefty guy growing up). Wow, I have to say props to those studying this art. The amount of horse stance was insane and the power of the attacks can be tremendous. I gave myself 3 months to get into it before I decide to leave. The classes were huge, and very well structured, very traditional. The workouts and stretching regiment was incredibly intense. Once sparring came about, I was so excited to see what this would be like for CLF. Well, to my displeasure, it was kickboxing. And not even that good because my karate skills were able to hold its own incredibly well against senior CLF students - LAME. Why the hell am I learning tiger claw if I don't get to use it? and instead have to resort to some sloppy right hooks and jabs - I met as well go to a good kickboxing school!

So, during all this time, in the back of my head, I always wanted to learn wing chun. I know there was a guy by the name of Fred Kwok in town but never heard good things and his class schedule didn't line up with mine. Luckily, Wing Tsun as taught by Sifu Ralph Haenel did line up with mine. Walked into the open house and was just blown away. Everything made sense to me - the kung fu learned in the forms was applied in the self-defense situation on the spot. No pre-determined attacks, no holding back on my end - and I pretty much got my ass whooped. I noticed the actions of Wing Tsun are re-actions to the attack (whether they're long range kicks, grapples, or punches), stance was upright but incredibly rooted, and the best part - no jumps and very few kicks! I only had one thing to say at that point:

"Where do I sign-up?"

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Boztepe vs. Cheung

We are all familiar with this one - the Cheung and Boztepe fight. My oh my.

First of all, let me say that I'm not questioning anyone's skill in terms of their mother art (both of Yip Man wing chun origins), nor am I saying I would fair any better. But, I have to say, as a Wing Tsun student, that this fight is absolutely ridiculous. Am I the only one, with a WT background, that thinks so??

I don't know how this could help market WT, but somehow it worked. But if you watch the fight, can you truly determine where WT principles (with the exception of go forward - but isn't this a given?) are utilized?? I mean, I've seen school yard fights that had cleaner attacks, or at bare minimum, less scrambling. Given the level that these guys are at and given that countless demos of "what COULD be," I'm still scratching my head on this one. Throw me a freaking chain punch some where. With all those years of training, at least 1% of all those hours would shine. Is this what we all have to look forward too?

And with all the excuses - actions ALWAYS speak louder than words. Bottom line - it wasn't an impressive fight at all. Yes, Boztepe had the upper hand and control...but is this impressive enough considering the growth and dominance of Mixed Martial Arts? The scrambling and rabbit punches would make anyone studying karate chuckle.

I understand why the brazilian jiu-jitsu guys point and laugh. Sad but true. 99% of the fights end up on the ground. Is this adding to that stat?
Gosh...I don't know..hard to argue the math though. These two are kung fu masters and, to add, market themselves as such. Again, I'm not here to say that they aren't good at what they do or that I can fight better but if it walks like a duck...

Until then.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Concept 1: Chain Punching

Chain punching is probably the most recognized weapon of wing chun. For those of you not familiar, it is a way of punching in which the fists overlap in a cyclic motion where the fists are oriented vertically and provide the defender with a method of repeatedly pummeling the attacker. Here's a video for your reference. Although it may look very awkward from conventional karate reverse punches or boxing's over-hand-right, it's very effective in overwhelming the attacker with a blizzard of fists.

If we look beyond "punching" and peek into the concept of chain punching, we can see a bigger idea - the concept of multiple attacks, in which we overwhelm the attacker with a flurry of hits. As such, functional WingTsun brings this to life by seeing attacks beyond chain punching and instead, go into "chain hitting" - fists, elbows, knees, feet, headbutts, hips, forearms, etc. Sure punches may do the trick (and under stresses of a fight, it's likely what a WT practitioner would resort to) but why limit yourself to just punches? Why not pepper the punches with some knees and elbows and finish it off with a right hook? If the way is free to do so, I say go for it. This also allows for unorthodox-like hitting (such as a flurry of straight punches or low kicks) as long as it follows the concept of chain-hitting.

Face it people, conventional chain punching does have its limitations - why not open our minds to other forms of attacks? That is what functional WingTsun is all about.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

What is functional Wing Tsun?

Let's take a moment and introduce some of the differences of WT vs "Functional WT". More in depth analysis and explanations will be posted in the near future. But i think it is worth a moment or two to introduce some key factors of what distinguishes "Functional WT" from conventional "WT" or "wing chun/ving tsun" (as I understand it)

1) Distance
Conventional WTWC/VT - Close distance is the way to go.

Functional WT - Close distance is preferred to maximize damage and gain an advantage, but not restricted to go beyond this distance.

2) Stance
Conventional WTWC/VT - 100% weight on the back leg, 0% on the front (100/0), or 0/100, or 50/50 or 70/30..etc etc.

Functional WT -As long as we can kick when desired, bridge distance safely, and/or maximize striking force, weight of the stance can be anything from 100/0 to 0/100. .

3) Available Weapons
Conventional WT/WC/VT - 3 primary punches (chain punch, lifting punch, hooking punch), front kick, maybe a side kick (depending on lineage). More or less attacks than this depending on the lineage of Yip Man wing chun.

Functional WT - Infinite (although more does not mean better). It does not matter what the hits look like as long as they are delivered successfully and safely.

4) Centerline
Conventional WT/WC/VT - definition of the centerline differs depending on the lineage of wing chun. It is generally assumed that attacks also travel along this centerline.

Functional WT - More in depth definition will follow in another entry, however, generally speaking, it is an imaginary line drawn from the solar plexus of the defender to the solar plexus of the attacker. Attacks can travel along or beyond this centerline and provides the defender with a reference point for attack/defense.

I'm sure some may say that these are gross generalizations but, at the same time, many of these generalizations are 1) true and 2) perceived to be true by those that are not familiar with the intricacies of the art. Over the course of the blog, we will go in depth and further define, with examples, what these differences are and what that means to make your WT "functional" or as my Sifu calls it, "alive."

Until then.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Prelude to Functional WingTsun

Wing Tsun (WT) Kung Fu - for those of you who are not aware, it is a system of Chinese self-defense made famous by Bruce Lee (it was his foundation for Jeet Kune Do). I'm currently practicing at the Vancouver branch founded by Si-Fu Ralph Haenel. I've been at it since 1999, off and on, depending on my work schedule, schooling (I was at SFU for the majority of those years) and financial limitations. This is the art I'm committed to. The only other art I've focussed on prior to this was Shito-Ryu karate and dabbled in Shaolin kung fu, Choy Lee Fut and some kick boxing.

Back to the task at hand. I'm here to share with you my discoveries and challenges as I progress through this system. I would like to demonstrate (via pictures, video and text), over the life of this blog, the concept of "functional WT" - as taught to me by my Sifu combined with my own self realizations. To add, I'm sick of the "WT people can't fight but only give demos" argument, and tired of the "WT is sloppy wing chun based on a Youtube video I saw" opinion.

To each their own. But, honestly, I truly believe that there is a huge communication gap between WT and other martial art systems, as well as within the WT circle. Let me make it clear that I'm not here to convince anyone of anything, only to share with you my observations. Also, let me also make it clear that I'm not a fighter - let alone a good fighter. I'm of the perspective of self-defense - that is, I have no intentions of regularly entering a cage fight, but will do so if my life is in danger.

Let's get started shall we?

Until then.


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