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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Wing Tsun is Chinese Boxing

Wing Tsun is Chinese Boxing

As my Si-Fu always reminds us, “..afterall, wing tsun is Chinese boxing.” I think many of us forget that this is the case. It’s the Chinese method of exchanging fists. It is not an exchange of flowery arm positions, accompanied with a high crane stance or low horse stance. Could it be that we’ve been brain-washed into thinking that the ideal display of kung fu is that of a choreographed two-man wushu set? Or maybe that in Jet Li’s epic “Once Upon a Time in China”?

Wing Tsun is kung fu and kung fu is Chinese boxing. That is where I will have to go with regards to my own training. It’s time to move on from “wing tsun movements” and step into the realm of “boxing with wing tsun concept and structure”. I can already picture the difficulties of this – my body will be so used to the idea of bong sao, of pak sao, of chain punching. It’s time to let all of this go and bring boxing to the forefront. Bong sao, pak sao, tan sao, etc will simply be a momentary reactive fallback and nothing more. But that’s hard to do.

Tan sao seems to want to be more than a tan sao – it wants to be a tan sao and that, in itself is too much. What is enough, would have to be defined by its function, not by its appearance or perception.

Shadow boxing, repeated drills in front of the mirror, full exertion beyond the limited scope of the chain punch, hook punch and lifting punch…the realm of Chinese boxing covers all punches and angles in between. Those three punches can be seen as only extremes along a continuum of punching methods.

Can’t wait – this perspective of “wing tsun is Chinese boxing” refreshes the mind and frees the warrior. There is no limitation, no boundaries. Why should there be? On the street, who says I gotta square my shoulders?

Until then.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Why Chi Sao Part 2

So as per my last post - Let's take a look at why one would Chi Sao:

Beyond the typical things such as stance training, tactile reflexes, relaxation, etc, chi-sao provides benefits that any competent fighter would want to be able to do.

First, (and simply) chi-sao teaches you to hit. It should teach you not to stick to your opponent and simply to hit the intended target.

Second, chi-sao provides a controlled method to maximize kinetic linking. The upright internal rotation adduction stance (IRAS), does not make for much stability at first and without that foundation, it’s hard to throw a good punch. The constant practice of dealing with absorbing pressure and delivering force from such a stance requires the development of kinetic linking – the ability to link the individual body parts in the most efficient and sufficient way to transfer force. The idea here is that if you can absorb pressure from an upright stance or deliver a good punch from one, then just imagine what you can do with a more conventional right-foot-forward type of stance.

Third, chi-sao, when trained properly, creates an intercepting-effect into every move performed. This is probably one of the most difficult things to achieve and only achieved by a few. I wish there was a better word for this “intercepting-effect”, but in essence, it’s the ability to neutralize the attacker’s forward momentum – it’s analogous to being jammed at every instance when crossing hands with someone of this skill level. Every move, whether defensive or offensive, feels like it’s cutting into your attacking limbs or the spine itself.

This third point is what separates those that have skill vs. those that can apply their skill. Without this ability, much of wing chun is simply theory. It is not something you can learn from a video. This is damn difficult to do and, funnily enough, will require hours upon hours of chi-sao! And not just any chi-sao, but chi-sao with the intent of building this characteristic. This means, one could train chi-sao for years and never come close to this “intercepting-effect” unless such intent was made and the appropriate training methods utilized.

Until then.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Why Chi-Sao Part 1

Why chi-sao? I think this is a great question. The answers vary depending on your perspective, experience and time spent in your art. For some, chi-sao is the essence of fighting because of the tactile reflexes it builds and allows for spontaneous attacks and defense in which the intensity can be increased considerably without “killing” your partner. For others, chi-sao give you the reflexes to trap the opponent so that you can then follow up with successive blows when a path is cleared. For some, chi-sao is really a waste of time as it doesn’t reflect a real-fight scenario (you do not chi-sao your enemy).

I wouldn’t agree whole heartedly with the last statement, but my perspective is rooted in it. I do not feel that chi-sao is reflective of the free-fight scenario. The concept of trapping would not be easy to do against an unwilling attacker and many of the pak-sao/lap-sao punch drills will not translate as such. However, this is not to say that chi-sao is not important to wing chun fighter. Much like the heavy bag is crucial for the boxer or repeated falling drills for the judoka – chi-sao is an essential element in its own right, but does not make a fighter in itself.

It’s unfortunate, in my opinion, that chi-sao has taken center stage as a representation of fight experience. You see challenge matches on YouTube or on a school’s website and it’s not really a challenge match but a chi-sao challege match. The two are not the same. Why would anyone chi-sao their opponent? It’s almost akin to how kung fu skill is now reflective of their ability to perform wushu forms…and what has that done? Pretty much made kung fu a laughing stock in the martial world. Chi-sao is rather addicting and can be well controlled. It’s also something that is done for much of the class, so it’s ridiculously easy to get caught up in it. Wing chun classes foster the idea that chi-sao skill = good fighter, as can be demonstrated night in and night out as the instructor successfully easily lands hits.

But really, chi-sao does not make a fighter. So why chi-sao? I suppose you don’t need to. If that’s the case, you can go sign up for some kick boxing class or something. But for those that feel wing chun is the method you seek to become a fighter then chi-sao certainly has a purpose.

Stay tuned for the next post.

Until then.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Wing Chun is Limited!

It seems that there are some WC camps out there that feel that, ultimately, wing chun/tsun is a close range fighting art that trades powerful blows for lighter rapid punches. And because this is the case, it is not good for short and small people, since well, you need to maximize knockout power and you want to be able to reach the target. So in essence, wing chun is close range fighting (have to keep the shoulders square) and utilizes rapid light punches (chain punches). On the surface this is true.

So unless you’re tall and strong, don’t learn wing chun. But if you’re tall and strong, why are you learning wing chun when you can maximize your attributes and learn something else like muay thai, or MMA. In fact, why are do you even bother learning a martial art. Who’s gonna be picking on the big strong guy? It’s us little/average guys that need the training!

That said, it seems that there is another piece of the puzzle that is missing in their training. The above points are misconceptions. If you had the opportunity to throw a right hook in order to hit the opponent, would you take it? if you had the opportunity to land a straight punch into the neck and give it all you got by rotating the torso, would you do it? I SURE HOPE YOU WOULD!

In addition, the idea of short-range and long range distance is also blurred. Many feel that boxers, taking the “forward stance” is a long range fighter as they can rotate their shoulder for extra reach, while the wing tsun practitioner must square his shoulders at all times (so that he can use his amazing trapping skills). Well, what if you’re 6’5 and your boxing opponent is 5’5. Your short range is now his long range and his long range is now your short range. Does it matter? Nope. What if he’s a foot taller than you? Do you think that just because you can rotate your shoulder a bit that you have extra reach? Probably not. Distinguishing between different distances is one thing but letting that determine your game plan is another.

Wing Tsun shouldn’t be bothered with distances or shoulder twisting or not. In the end, all is fair game. A lot of these restrictions are for the sole purpose of building the appropriate foundation and for training. But these restrictions are not meant for the street fight. Just fight.

And if your punches are weak..well you aren’t training them hard enough. Chain punches or any punch delivered by the WT practitioner should be heavy and have knock out ummph. Of course, this is ridiculously hard to do, but hard work is what it’s all about.

Until then.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sucker Punch

The street fighter lives and dies by the surprise attack – the sucker punch, the unexpected hay-maker, the wild rush. This element of surprise makes all the difference between your street fight and your full-contact, no holds barred sparring matches. There really is no defense against a surprise attack – our nervous system cannot react fast enough (processing the threat, determining an action plan and following through). For most of us, the only defense against a surprise attack is a thick skull – something that can absorb that first attack and hopefully you can orient yourself and engage the opponent.

So, then what’s the point of training? Especially if one wanted to train for the purpose of fending off attackers.

Well, a few things to note – not all street fights start off with a surprise rush. Some are just instant face-offs or scraps between two people. Sometimes, the training we go thought does sharpen our reflexes enough to react in time, especially against one who is not skilled in delivering a good punch.

But, back to the idea of the surprise attack. There are things we can do to minimize the effect of a sucker punch.

1) Keep your eyes on the attacker at all times and be ready for an attack either to the groin or, more commonly a right or left swing..especially during the conversational engagement (when a guy is up in your face swearing at you or egging you on, for example).

2) React as to how you prefer to remain “ready”. Some like to turn up the aggressiveness back to the attacker right before attacking (eg. calling the attacker names or yelling back). Some, like myself, just shut the hell up and get into “ready” mode, trying to process as much info as possible (where are his hands, feet? Is this a safe distance? Does he have friends? how much space do I have). I do this while he’s yapping away. Who cares about whether you have a witty response or not?

3) Start thinking of potential targets – throat, solar plexus, groin, knee? It creates an offensive mindset, rather than thinking of how to block, you think of where to hit.

4) Doing steps 1-3 means keeping your head up and aware at all times. The sucker punch is best served when your attention is off-site for a mere fraction of a second.

5) FINALLY, remember the reaction loop? Process the threat, determine action plan, follow through – well, luckily for those of us who have trained enough, we can limit this loop to simply “process the threat”. Because we are taught in WT to simply go forward, we only have to process the threat and shoot our arms/hands out. Assuming our sensitivity training is ok, we can figure out the action plan and follow through during the encounter rather than before it. This is not something I would encourage one to rely on because, well, the whole ordeal is a bad one and incredibly stressful and will most likely fail for the majority of us.

But of course, after all this, the guy’s friends bash you on the side of the head with a bottle – there’s really no defense against that. And anyone who tells you different is either lying, stupid or trying to scam you.

Until then.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Be Flexible, My Friend...

When it comes to martial arts, there is an enormous emphasis on stretching. My karate days and shaolin kung fu days packed in at least 30-40 minutes devoted to stretching and warm ups, in particular stretching of the legs, hips and waist. Very little attention was paid to the upper extremeties....

Until I started Wing Tsun. Stretching is incredibly important, and more important is stretching of the limbs used for hitting - the arms (wrists, elbows, shoulders, spine). Funnily enough, not as much emphasis is given on the lower body. But this is not the point I want to focus on today.

There is so much attention (at least in our class) to stretch those tendons, ligaments and muscles with the idea of being able to create a "flexible force" and to loosen up those joints so that you can "freely' throw out your punches in much like a ball and chain propelling at its target.

But there's a different type of flexibility that I'd like to bring attention to. Flexibility of the mind - the idea that the mind restricts us from letting us punch the way we know we should punch. Over the years of training, you end up "knowing what you need to do" but your body just doesn't let you. Really, it's your mind that's hindering you - whatever subconcious forces are in play are holding you back. Punching a target and knowing that you have to punch a target automatically enact different feelings of inhibition doesn't it? Your mind knows the target exists and that, in itself, hinders your body's freedom to hit...because, before you even launch your attack, you may feel that your body's freedom is restricted by the target itself.

The idea now is to exercise flexibility of the mind - to slowly and gradually remove those mental restrictions and to let yourself utilize your physical flexibility. Definitely an exercise in itself.

Until then.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

FQ part 2

Some of you may remember my post regarding the episode of Wing Tsun on Fight Quest. If not, you can find it here. I have some update news for you pertaining to the episode. I was recently informed by a fellow reader of my blog that could explain why the quality of WT may not have been to a certain standard that we are normally accustomed to.

1)At the end of the show, the hosts were assigned to fight two wing chun people. The way the show was portrayed, the two wing chun people were of Leung Ting lineage. Apparently, this isn’t true. Instead, they are actually of VT lineage. There was a designated fighter from the WT lineage that flew to Hong Kong for the show but was not scheduled to be part of the show.

2)Due to potential liability issues, the range of attacks was limited to chain punches. That explains why we only see chain punching.

3)Finally, the hosts refused to fight instructor level fighters.

Well there you have it – the other side of the story. Did this really happen? I don’t know. But what’s to say it didn’t, right?

Until then.

Sunday, June 7, 2009


When it comes to working out, the importance of efficiency is stressed quite often. Many of us, myself included, have limited time for a workout. The typical routine heavy weight lifting over a long period of time (eg. 5 sets of 5 reps at high weight) is neither realistic nor feasible. Instead, I’ve opted for a routine that can be completed in a 30 minute time frame and yet get the results I want (I’m aiming for a fit/lean look). There are two ingredients for this to happen:

1) Incorporate exercises that use various muscle groups all at the same time (eg. compound exercises)
2) Increase the INTESITY of the workout.

There is a guy who works out at the gym in my apartment – his routine consists of a set of exercise A followed with watching an entire segment of CNN or BETTER YET, an entire period of a hockey game. How annoying is that?

The concept of intensity is key here. It’s no problem to choose compound exercises but it’s another thing to keep the intensity high. Some ways to do this are to superset your exercises (do exercise A then IMMEDIATELY move onto exercise B without rest) or take short rests in between exercises (eg. 30 second breaks only). But the hardest part of maintaining intensity is the discipline and “work” that goes into it. When intensity is a priority, there is no slacking off.

The end result is an efficient and intense sweat compressed into a 25 minute workout. I’m serious. You should be winded, fatigued and lying in a pool of sweat when you’re done.

So then, why not extend this to your wing tsun training? Bring intensity into the game. That means, no time for chatting about the weekend. That means, no half-assed pak-sao’s. That means, no breaking eye contact off the target. That means, sweating and muscle fatigue.

It seems that such intensity is few and far between in some classes. Of course, this is normal considering the topics and details discussed in class but even then, you can always fine tune the intensity so that you get the most out of each opportunity. Si-Fu talks about this all the time but we cannot rely on him to remind us all the time. Can you talk to your partner? Of course. Just make sure that when it’s your time to perform the drill, you commit your attention to the drill. Also, take less breaks and increase the reps. Mind you, we don’t want to get into any bad habits, this is where your partner should monitor for that, should your intensity increase too much and your wing tsun becomes sloppy.

Folks, keep the intensity high. Keep the stress levels high. It will make for a way more efficient lesson.

Until then.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Open House!

Well Monday night, our school had an open house. These events are always fun. You get to see new faces, meet new people and always get to watch Si-Fu do his thing. The open house event is like an informational demo incorporated into the class setting. it provides an interactive experience for newcomes to watch and then try the moves. In most cases, new students are paired up with more experienced ones.

Si-Fu loves encouraging the audience to participate in the evening, either asking questions or providing feedback or presenting "what if" scenarios. I always love watching these as it reminds me of my first day of class. I remember how in awe I was of the whole system. It's one thing to watch it sitting down and it's COMPLETELY different world to touch hands with Si-Fu and really feel the power, structure and overall skill. It's something that goes beyond the typical "Sensei punches faster than anyone here"...the difference is you feel it but in a way that you don't really get hurt (besides he usually demonstrates on his students, rather than the newbies).

As for myself, I really get inspired and energized by the newcomers that are just uber-excited when they watch. I remember it too - getting hit in the chest and, as soon as the thought of "ow" goes away, you're submerged in this "I WANT TO BE ABLE TO DO THAT ONE DAY."

I have to admit, a punch like that won't come easy for me, but it's better than when i first started ;) Regardless, the desire is still there and that's what keeps you in it.

If you haven't already, check out the open house.

Until then.

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