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ralph haenel, hänelwingtsun, wing tsun kung fu instructor, author, publisher, self-defense expert Sifu Ralph Haenel, learning and teaching Wing Tsun Kung Fu since 1984
Changing lives, one punch at a time.
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Wing Tsun Kung Fu Vancouver Blog
Sunday, 6 August 2017

Improving Wing Tsun training results - It’s the little things

1. “No”; the invisible enemy.
2. Embrace the weird, strange and odd!
3. Movement vs. speed and power.

1. “No”; the invisible enemy.
This is an enemy that creeps up very often. Many times, with the best intentions of improving one’s training. Both training partners know the steps 1, 2 and 3 for their next exercise. Partner A throws a punch, partner B is supposed to respond in a particular way, which allows partner A to finish the example drill. But instead, partner B combats partner A’s finish and makes it impossible for either one to train the components successfully.
a) Let each training partner ‘win’ their part of an exercise.
b) Understand the idea behind each step.
c) Work with each other, instead of against each other, before even any new skill has been achieved. Support each other’s training.
d) Make mistakes, on purpose.
e) The more you know what can go wrong and when and how, the better will be the ‘right’ response.
f) If you always oppose, you will only find resistance. Learn to say YES! Yin and Yang, baby! 

2. Embrace the weird, strange and odd!
I remember seminars with my Si-Fu. He showed an exercise, variations and possible outcomes. It seemed all very clear. The moment he walked away, everybody looked at each other. Two groups; one side saying: “What the heck again, are we supposed to do?”, the other group: “That was weird what Si-Fu showed. I think we are better off doing what we know, it works better anyway.”
When an exercise seems weird, move and find out why. If a drill appears very strange; move and find out what it is about. If an instruction looks kind of odd, move and try to feel where this odd coaching moment leads you to.
Don’t fear or straight away ignore or foil an attempt to bring your skill and knowledge to the next level. It feels weird, strange and odd for a reason. You can’t do it.
If your technique aka movement feels weak, train it.
Another technique aka movement feels much better? Great. Train rather your weak spots.
Don’t believe a drill or technique or movement is good? Well, duh. It’s not yours, yet. Once you have mastered a set of ideas, then is the time to choose what suits you better.
Embrace the weird, strange and odd!

3. Movement vs. speed and power.
You are in the middle of an exercise. To make it work, it is quite normal that an individual uses their speed and strength to succeed. But, yes there is a big BUT, it doesn’t make you better.
Why not? If your skill hasn’t been perfected, a faster and or stronger training partner will beat you at your game.
Take away strength when you train. Feel, recognize what the exercise is about.
Take away speed when you train. Experience, understand what the exercise is supposed to improve.
This does at no time mean, be weak. That never means, stay weak. If in doubt, always get stronger.
A sprinter cannot simply wish to run the faster.
A weightlifter cannot just wish to bench-press 40 more pounds.
A lot of hard work, maybe months go into that achievement.
Why would you attempt to perform an exercise faster?
Why would you overwhelm your weaker training partner with your strength?
Improve your movement! Better movement is the key!

You train with each other until you own the skill, the movement. Once it works at various speeds, under many conditions; then comes the time to add your strength, your speed. Now test the skill in an uncooperative environment. Now hinder each others’ efforts, make it difficult. Now test if different skill sets begin to interact, begin to connect and allow you to defend yourself under increasing stress in a chaotic scenario.

Better movement doesn’t make you faster or stronger, but it can support making your current level of strength and speed work. Better movement can help you to combat greater speed and strength.
Improvement is found in the little things. Learn to say YES! Yin and Yang, baby!

Posted by ralph haenel at 2:43 PM PDT
Updated: Sunday, 6 August 2017 2:52 PM PDT
Sunday, 25 June 2017

Wing Tsun movement chains

Just a week ahead of the 150th Canada Day, we held on June 24th the latest open-air bonus class for members and friends of Wing Tsun Kung Fu Vancouver, the first Canadian WT branch (est. 1994).

The frame was set by an exercise during which our training partner pushes us with both hands and we enter into this attack. Now the interpretations reached from Pak-Sau & Man-Sau, Pak-Sau & Biu-Tze-Sau, Pak-Sau & Fak-Sau. How come? The names or terms are only describing the isolated temporary function of our arm-technique. This of course changes every fraction of a moment, also depending on the input by our training partner.

1. Awareness
2. Mindfulness
3. Expressive delivery aka bandwidth of performance

1. We initially worked on the importance of your awareness while defending yourself / attacking the attacker. This extends to your awareness of how and when to talk your way out of an confrontation, to get away, or to instantly respond the moment the scenario turns physical. All leading to a general awareness of your surroundings, preventing any conflict before it happens.

2. Be mindful of your training exercises. Ask yourself if you know what you are doing, when, why and how. Be alert as to what you want to achieve. How does your progress manifest? Be mindful of the main factors, distance, timing, hand- and foot-work coordination, power generation and delivery, balance, fluid whole-body motion and more.

3. I often talk about over-acting your delivery. Become aware of the muscle-chains involved. How does it feel? What should you feel in regard to power generation. Not unlike a workout in the gym, feel your muscles, feel how to connect from one muscle group to the next.
Start BIG, then perform step by step smaller movements. Until it looks like you are barely doing anything.

Attention to details of movement chain:
- ankles
- knees
- hips
- spine
- shoulders
- elbows
- wrists

When you defend yourself by attacking the attacker;
how mobile are your ankles or do you lose balance?
Can you more or less bend your knees, to lower your center of gravity?
Do you hips generate rotational forces?
Is your spine compressing or elongating? Are you aware of the movement of your rib cage?
Do your shoulders lock up, or are they an elastic part of your movement chains?
Can you deflect attacks or generate attacking force by using your shoulders, elbows and wrists in sequence?
We are, of course, not just talking about the joints, rather the muscles, ligaments, tendons and fascia tissue.

Connecting the two major contact points:
A Feet on the ground
B Arms contact to training partner

When defending yourself or attacking the attacker; either way, you have two major contact points that need to adjust to and with each other.

Example: When a defensive contact happens somewhere on your arms, often all the attention is on the upper-body. Suddenly the stance becomes rigid or fragile.
Toes come up, losing balance backwards. I call that the “questioning toes”.
Or the heels come up, losing balance forward, I call that the “inquisitive heels”.
You give a problem a name; now you become aware, notice sooner and can often improve faster.
Example: Some grind their stance into the ground so that the attacks or defenses shatter, since this time all the attention is on the lower body.

As with everything in life, so in your training, there is a yin and yang.
Balance, baby! ;-) 

Yin and yang.
Mindful training.
Situational awareness.
Bandwidth of performance (expressive delivery).

Posted by ralph haenel at 2:14 PM PDT
Monday, 9 January 2017

Wing Tsun Kung Fu - Chi-Sau sections

Please find the video for the following blog post here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tv3Vzhd9n5Q
In the video I am showing one example out of each one of the 19 Wing Tsun Chi-Sau sections.

During last Wednesday’s class, we once again reviewed the 1st section of Wing Tsun Chi-Sau. I never get tired of it. For me it's a key section that lays the foundation for any other Chi-Sau training.

Even the most advanced techniques or drills, applications don't really matter ...
- if your structure is not connected,
- if you lose too quickly your balance,
- if you resist too long and/or too much,
- if your timing is off,
- if you misjudge the distance,
- if you generate power too early or too late,
- if your foot- and hand-techniques do not connect,
- if your actions are not fluid enough,
- if you are not mobile enough, even in the smallest space,
- if you yield too early and/or too much (and into the wrong direction!),
- if the purpose behind the design of your positions doesn't come to life,
- if the often misunderstood and misinterpreted idea of the WT centerline is not present,
For now, we keep this list short! :-)

Using the number 3 as an optimum example we also touched upon ...
- the three Pak-Sau/Punch attacks of the first section
- distance of the attacks (far apart, medium, close)
- technical positions while connecting with the concepts behind SNT and CK, even BT
- height of attacks delivered (low, middle, high)
- direction of the attack, inside and outside ... and fake(-out)
- inside and outside responses
- stance training of SNT (Siu-Nim-Tau)
- horizontal movement of CK (Cham-Kiu)
- vertical movement of BT (Biu-Tze)

Once we went through above points, about ten minutes had already passed!

Posted by ralph haenel at 3:49 PM PST
Saturday, 7 January 2017

The Push-Button Toy and a Wing Tsun training method

This is simply a visualization of one of our training methods. The desired result is a continuous whole-body motion, maintaining a for us favourable mobile and elastic structure whilst setting up the training partner, forcing him into pushing or pulling actions. Either one leads due to our setup to the training partner’s attempt to close or open our structure.

Many of us remember the push button toy version of, for example, a giraffe or a donkey. They are also called floppy toys, thumb toys, collapsing toys, dancing toys or bendy toys. The hollow base contains the pushbutton and a spring. The strings, often fishing line, attach to the pushbutton and are fed up through the figure which sits on top of the base.

Now imagine the point of contact established with our training partner is this push-button. May it be on our forearm, elbow, upper arm, front or side of the shoulder, even the chest.

Two typical training scenarios of many, assuming contact via forearm to forearm.
1. The Wing Tsun response Tan-Sau has been initiated, yet the elbow locks in a certain angle. The whole arm ends up being tense and is being used like a handle by the training partner to instantly push us out of balance.
2. The partner’s action causes the Wing Tsun response Bong-Sau. The elbow angle between upper and forearm gets smaller leading to an collapsing position, one gets hit.

The right training will enable you to maintain a chain-linked structure. The angles of the wrist, elbow and shoulder in relation to the attack and each other are floating, neither one in this chain is resisting nor collapsing. Any impact or pushing is being sent like a wave through the contact point into our structure, often via wrist, elbow, shoulder, spine, hips, knees, ankles.
The visualized push-button toy effect.

To achieve even better results, I make it for myself more difficult by training Chi-Sau while under any circumstances remaining on my toes. Or I stand on my heels. Might feel or look initially a bit weird. But it dramatically increases your ability to adjust to attacks, pulling and pushing, grappling. You will greatly improve your balance.

It also works the other way around. Almost like pushing yourself off the ground, the chain works through your ankles, knees, hips, spine, shoulders, elbows and wrists into the stance of your training partner, often surprisingly easy pushing him out of balance or effortlessly crushing his positions.
To clarify the “pushing yourself off the ground” part. You initially learn in (Wing Tsun) Chi-Sau to feel and interpret your partner’s actions via your arms. Now imagine your feet having a similar awareness of the ground. It’s OK if it sounds a bit silly. Your whole body is a shock absorber or a whip between the floor and the contact point with your training partner.

Don’t cheat with speed or strength. Always train slow first. And I mean really slow. Somebody who for a moment looks at your training, will think that you are not moving at all. Yes, that slow.
Paraphrasing what my Si-Fu said a long time ago: “To train in slow motion is the best training method in the world, that fails more than 99% of the time.” Of course, we asked him as to the why. His answer: “Because most guys find it boring, don’t have the patience. They rather wrestle, compare their strength. They try to speed up, test who is the fastest.”
All that is OK, if you compare the final achievement of your training. It is not suitable to build, let alone finetune one’s skills. And it only favours the stronger and faster student.
Remember, we are talking about a training method. I am not saying that one should fight juiceless, without speed or strength.
I am often being asked about the type of contact pressure during this type of training. I typically demonstrate three versions:
1. I make contact. Partner pushes or punches and collapses my positions.
2. I make contact. Partner pushes or punches and due to my tension, I get pushed back.
3. I make contact. Partner pushes or punches and I minimally respond and have already hit back.

Then I ask about the difference in how the contact was felt in all three scenarios and the answer is always, that all three felt the same. So, it’s not about the amount of pressure but its quality and that of the movement.

A last example. Have you ever in an elevator closed your eyes and touched the braille, trying to guess what floor it announces? Most of us feel the raised dots but can’t read it at all. But with training it can be read. A blind person can read an embossed braille newspaper very fast, that doesn’t mean he would push holes into the paper.

Meaning, you can have sufficient pressure that the partner can barely feel or not at all. Important though is the fluid mobility and maintenance of an elastic structure, which should neither collapse nor resist.

Once you move well and have achieved above qualities, now you add during training your speed and your functional strength.

In the end, in your Wing Tsun, your elasticity, mobility, fluidity and power, all come together.

Posted by ralph haenel at 1:26 PM PST
Monday, 14 November 2016

To be a beginner again. Discover the Kung Fu Secret.

Thinking of it, currently in November of 2016. It happened almost 40 years ago. I stepped for the first time into the University Judo Club in Rostock (HSG Südstadt). Somebody helped me in the locker room to figure out how to tie up that brand-new white belt. Loud noises came from the mats. We were about to be introduced to the first falling exercises (Ukemi-Waza). Just making that loud noise, slapping the mat while falling seemed very manly. Very exciting. The instructor with his washed out brown belt was preparing for his upcoming black-belt test. Judo throws, breaking balance, bleeding elbows, getting the wind knocked out of you, gasping for air, eying up what comes next, yellow belt, manly sweat in the air, orange belt, feeling almost motion sick from the sheer amount of falling exercises.

About a year later, I switched to Jiu-Jitsu. The oldest members, around 17, 18, were juggling with strange round weights (kettlebells). I was 14 years old. The about 70-year-old Sensei, Johannes Trybull, appeared on the mats, doing several falling exercises. I remember thinking how somebody that ancient, could still move this powerful. A handshake turned into a painful fingerlock, throwing me on the ground. It really hurt, but damn did I want to be able to do that to someone else. More falling exercises, now on concrete floors. Even the kettlebell dropped on toes, wasn’t really that bad. You want to learn to defend yourself? You get every now and then hurt. It was that simple. It was exciting.

1980, the first karate katas in the backyard. Long evening walks, checking the neighbourhood buildings for roof repairs, grabbing quickly a stack of roof shingles. I remember one breaking test in particular. Some fifteen roof shingles piled up, gasoline poured over it, match, fire, lights off. Guests said, that the flames went for a moment up my arm while breaking the tiles. How much cooler can you be as an 18 year old.

In 1984 I started training the Siu-Nim-Tau, chain-punches, partner exercises, exchanged letters and postcards with my future Si-Fu, Keith Kernspecht. Soon I faced my first WT instructor, a mighty 1st Technician Grade. WT people might chuckle now. It was the mid 80’s. First level TG’s were the kings. One hand still in his pants pocket, he knocked three of us young guys down. I wanted that skill.

Now it is 2016. I still enjoy showing every beginner the very basics.
To be a beginner again. 

What do you do?
Ask yourself what single point you want to achieve in tonight’s class?
Help a training partner.
Show up! Get involved. Don’t wait at the sidelines.
Communicate with your training partner.
Remember the magic of the first hours of training.
Remember your goals. Did you lose sight of them?
Is the grass greener on the other side?
I see so many, even instructors jump from one martial art to another. Everywhere seeking the “thing”.
Challenge yourself. Set goals. Write them down. Ask your instructor for help.
Don’t wait to be entertained.
Find something new, even in what seems the most basic exercise.

To be a beginner again. That is the Kung Fu secret. Train hard. Ask. Make others better. Analyze yourself. Only you can make yourself good. Don’t wait for something to happen. Don’t just jump on the next bandwagon, the next trend. Kung Fu is hard work.

To be a beginner again.

Posted by ralph haenel at 4:03 PM PST
Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Enter the Attack

Here is to the first moment when trying to defend against the attacker, trying to counter-attack him, trying to bridge the gap.

Let’s look at the three major options in case a situation is about to escalate into a full scale physical confrontation.
1. Try to dissolve it through verbal communication. Assume a non-threatening position that will protect you, yet also enables you to be ready to instantly fight the attacker.
2. Always try to walk away. Even run away. It doesn’t make you a wussie.
3. Most important: Through a combination of healthy confidence and natural awareness as the result of intense training, you learn not to be tagged as a victim in the first place, or to recognize potentially dangerous situations before they happen.

Unfortunately, in many scenarios one or more of the following four problems occur.
1. The defender, the good guy is trying to just stop the attack, still in disbelief about what’s about to unfold, holding the arms of the attacker, holding the attacker at arms length, ending up being overrun by sudden attacks.
2. The attempt to traditionally defend without major continuous counter-attacks, thus not stopping the attacker. Same result as in the first point.
3. The good guy is attacking the assailant without sufficient defenses, for example chain punches only, ending up seriously hurt or worse.
4. The attempt of applying a trained drill from beginning to end, not responding in the moment, not adapting to changes. Chaos erupts.

What ought to be our goals? Let’s call them the good guy action ideals!
1. Bridging the distance safely without getting hit.
2. Timing one’s actions well, causing us to be a step ahead. Instead of speeding up and losing control.
3. Maintaining balance throughout via well-coordinated hand- and footwork.
4. Delivering powerful strikes born out of functional strength and fluid motion while controlling the opponent to disable further attacks.
5. Being able to combat violence without getting caught in a jittery, shaky state of quickly losing control.
Conclusion: It’s not really much we want to succeed at, or? Yes, it is difficult, but not impossible.

It is part of all of our beginners’ classes, to point out that the attacker is likely taller, stronger, faster, more skilled, plus violent and pumped up, not afraid of getting hurt, most definitely without hesitation ready to hurt and injure you. Want me to top that? He might even enjoy hurting you, dragging it out, playing with his prey. By the way, that’s you.

It is always better to prepare for the worst, assume the worst, paint the most drastic picture of what could happen, imagining the adrenalin monster type of attacker.

Now a few often occurring technical problems.
1. “Reaching” across the distance, ending up being grabbed, pulled or pushed.
2. Delivering only a few techniques or a combination, not enough to control or break the rhythm of the attacker.
3. Not having enough functional strength, ergo lacking striking power to stop the mugger.
4. “Holding” static defenses for that moment too long, ended up being flooded with attacks.
5. With neither defensive nor offensive actions or a mix of them affecting he structure of the opponent. Nothing left to stop the bout.
6. The preference of using the upper-hand, “lifting’ counters over the arms of the aggressor, disconnecting the imperative coordination of hand- and footwork, the engine of our desired whole-body mobility.

We also say during beginner’s classes that in the ideal world scenario our first action should
1. stop the first attack against us dead in its track,
2. take away space to carry out a second attack,
3. not allow the time to further attack us,
4. stealing the opportunity by driving the attacker instantly into defensive mode. That lack of defenses on the part of the assailant should lead to his knock-out.

While possibly never loving it, we learn to train in a constantly elevating stressful scenario, advancing into what I call “the eye of the storm”. Survival under pressure.

Against vs. With – The Yin and Yang of entering the attack
The biggest problem is often the fight against the attacker, that we are in fact saying “NO” to the attacks. What does that mean?

In our Wing Tsun we strive for a training of becoming one with the attacker, using the strength of his attacks, the speed of his attacks, the direction of his attacks. With him against him.

1. Fluidity turns into smoothness, becomes speed.
2. Connecting all muscle groups, toes to fingertips, creates whiplash-like delivery of power.
3. Sliding along the arms, typically learned in the wooden dummy form, pulling and pushing with concave and convex ‘yielding’, tactile sensitivity turns into elasticity.

Speed and power and elasticity morphing into being alert in the moment, delivering instant and complete response, which can be of a defensive or offensive nature, also at the same time.
Yin and Yang.
Yes, instead of No. Working ‘with’ the attacker, not merely against him.

Paper, or in this case your screen, is patient and allows for the coolest and most powerful descriptions of the skill we are striving for. Some may even sound like platitudes. It’s up to the right training and learning methods to turn empty words into reliable skills.

Let this be a reminder that perfection is only an ideal. Let’s enjoy the daily challenges of our training. Creative training with demanding yet supportive training partners.

Feel where you can go. Enter the attack.

Posted by ralph haenel at 9:47 PM PDT
Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Old programs or new programs, where do I miss out?

The other day I was having a conversation with a student. He pointed out: “Some days I don't feel like learning new material, but would prefer to practice the earlier student programs. Despite that, on those days, I have remained on the advanced side of the class to learn the new material because I fear that if I miss out, then I won't be keeping up to date with the advanced programs.”

When you are not just showing up for classes, but analyze your progress, when you initiate connecting the dots and start to see the “big picture”, many of us begin to question how much time and effort we spend on which part of our training.

In January I wrote a related blog post titled “Five forms of training that enable you to achieve your goals”.

Whichever program we work on, we are sometimes frustrated that thus far "it" doesn't work, that it even feels complicated. We may not yet see its importance within the framework of the martial art. It might not make much sense to us. Any program takes time to show its effects in our performance. Many parts of the curriculum are amazing functional strength building and movement potential building workout routines. But just like going to the gym to build muscles, to get fit, to lose weight, to gain muscle mass, it all takes time and patience plus the right training tools. And of course a knowledgeable, skilled trainer, instructor, … Sifu.

You also have to take into account that you might not realize the interaction between the building blocks of the syllabus. Either way, you need an instructor who knows what he/she is doing. Someone who is actively keeping the program outline alive. Someone who understands how you learn, guides you as to what to train and is a good teacher.

Here are a few ideas to help you train a wider bandwidth of programs. What have members of our school been doing?

1. During group-meets of like-minded training partners outside of regular classes, many of the varying participants over the past years requested to work on very specific, often earlier programs. Typically, one member is in charge of the little group.
2. Quite a few also meet outside of group classes with one selected training partner at a time, to work on different programs.
3. In regular group classes I put advanced practitioners in charge, 20 minutes or longer at a time, to work with beginners or intermediate students in their programs. Learning through teaching. Plus, one doesn’t miss the advanced programs, when training and teaching only selected and time-limited class segments.
4. I often recommend enthusiastic trainees to start their own meet-up on days and times selected by them. Then they can determine the program they want the small group to work on.
5. Whatever programs I teach, train in, work on, I often include variations of earlier programs, to make myself see and continue to test, even question the evolving connections between the programs.
The extremely helpful point I discovered eventually in my own teaching career is, that by working on advanced programs, we begin to understand earlier programs sooner better, even if we don't train them for a while. This of course requires the continuous analysis of one’s training and progress. It also entails a critical approach to begin to visualize the connections between learning, training and teaching methodology of the technical programs.

Posted by ralph haenel at 10:17 PM PDT
Monday, 15 August 2016

Testing, a few experiences in Wing Tsun Kung Fu and Life

I have already written extensive papers on the how and why and when and what of testing. Today I want to simply reminisce about a few experiences, which might help you to review your own goals and expectations. Four experiences. Four questions. How would you answer? How would you deal with it?

May 1985
Coming from West Germany, my first WT instructor, Sifu Leo Czech visited his family near East Berlin. I was invited for the day, to attempt to pass my first two grading tests. Shortly after arriving I was told to start with the Siu-Nim-Tau form, to “warm up”. My Si-Hing was a bit exhausted from his trip and wanted to stretch out for a little. I ended up doing the form slowly, uninterrupted and concentrated for over two and a half hours. Sweating all-over and with shaking legs, the testing started. Unfortunately for me, one of my Si-Hing’s East German relatives was a high school boxing coach. For all who don’t know the back story, I have to mention that Leo Czech was earlier in his life a professional boxer (264 fights) in the camp of Gustav „Bubi“ Scholz. So, what does a former professional boxer turned Kung Fu instructor show his relative who is a boxing coach? He demonstrates how powerful Chinese boxing is. With what? Better ask with whom! I had to attack him for hours, so that he could show it all. Did I mention, I had an infected tooth in the morning, could barely get my teeth together. No way that I would have missed that day. The first punch under my jaw, I saw stars and almost fainted in pain. By the end of the day, I had received my first and second student grade in Wing Tsun Kung Fu, my upper body was blue, black, green, red and all colours in between. I could hardly breath, shallow painful breaths, and my chest and my rib cage were so sore, but no problem with my teeth.
Would you train that hard?

Summer 1987
My second WT instructor, Sifu Peter Vilimek, had crossed the border from West into East Berlin, disguised as tourist. That day was my test for my sixth student grade. Quite a big affair in the 80’s. I had to get into my stance, left arm in Fok-Sau, low elbow with continuous forward pressure and bent wrist, right arm in Tan-Sau with continuous forward pressure, stretching the hand and fingers. Now switching Tan-Sau to Bong-Sau and back. And repeat, for the next hour or so. He sat down, started reading an East German newspaper, looked over to me every now and then, complaining that my Fok lacked pressure, that my stance wasn’t grounded enough, not sufficient knee pressure, that my Bong-Sau was too sloppy. Imagine how you feel after over an hour. Sweat running, shoulders burning, arms shaking, forearm muscles cramping, feet aching.
Do you have the patience?

Summer 1991
It was my second visit to Italy, ready for the annual EWTO summer seminar in Livorno. Second morning, languages spoken Italian, Danish, Swedish, German, English and more. My Si-Fu asked me if I had taught before. Naturally I answered, yes, mentioning proudly that ever since I started to learn WT in 1984, I also had to teach from day one. He said, second question, do you want to become a more advanced instructor? Sure. Of course. Next he said, OK, good luck, teach this group. Tell me in the afternoon what you did.
I had no idea what grade any of the guys had. Or even who they were. Didn’t know what to do. So, I thought I might as well pretend. Greeted everyone, made up a topic on the spot, started to split the group into teams and got going.
Can you respond in the moment? Can you make a decision and go with it?

Fall 1993
A large school gym in Eckernfoerde in the heart of Schleswig-Holstein near the Baltic Sea coastline. The local instructor, Sifu Peter “Piet” Thietje. Some 120 students had arrived. Everybody was waiting for Si-Fu Kernspecht. Quick phone call from Si-Fu that due to an urgent family matter he had to turn around. Quick decision on his side, you guys do the seminar in my name. Piet gave clear instructions, we started the seminar as if it is the most normal thing in the world. Back then, there were no other grandmasters in the EWTO and Si-Fu did teach just about all seminars himself. It was a great experience.
At the castle Si-Fu once talked about this being a great way to test current and future instructors. Can they display authority? Do they know how to teach, let along a big crowd? Can they speak in front of many dozens or even hundreds of students? Can they employ the right program tools? Can they make a seminar a great experience for all attendees? Are they a bit of an entertainer as well?
Can you leave your comfort zone?

P.S.: Other instructors at other occasions failed. They began to scratch their head, mumbling that SiFu probably wants them to do this or that, not providing a clear topic for the seminar, second-guessing exercises when being asked, leaving groups of people stand around, contradicting themselves while attempting to teach.

Wing Tsun supports you in developing a reliable self-confidence. You gain a better posture through improved awareness and training of new movement pattern. You don’t easily become a victim once you have learned to be mindful and observant.

Wing Tsun Kung Fu, the adventure is in you.
Train Wing Tsun to its full potential.
Discover your movement potential.

Have fun and train hard.

Posted by ralph haenel at 8:48 PM PDT
Sunday, 14 August 2016

Learning the Biu-Tze form was a big disappointment – … and Thanks to the late Sifu Thomas Roggenkamp

Well, many of you know my blog posts and training notes. Stay with me until I reveal the real meaning behind this headline.

In the early 90’s I did a lot of Wing Tsun related traveling. I followed my Si-Fu from the North to the South, West to the East throughout Germany. One week I learned from him in Italy, a couple of weeks earlier I joined his seminar in Copenhagen, Denmark. A few months later I visited the beautiful WT school in Kuesnacht, Switzerland. A month after the Langenzell Castle I was on the way to Salzburg in Austria. It was fun and hard work at the same time. And yes, it cost busloads of money. I was a WingTsun fanatic. Here, I admit it.

One of the very exciting parts of the four years long experience between 1990 and 1993 was to meet the majority of SiFu Kernspecht’s first generation students. To get to know the WT variations from Sifu Edel to Sifu Roggenkamp, from Sifu Dingeldein to Sifu Avci, from Sifu Ringeisen to Sifu Ataseven, Sifu Mannes, Sifu Sabri, Sifu Reimers, Sifu Boztepe, Sifu Gefeke, Sifu Schembri, Sifu Koenig. All that alongside learning from my main instructors, Sifu Vilimek in Berlin and Sifu Pfaff at the castle.
Also standing out in my memories, the meet-ups, quiet talks and big hugs from the late Sifu Alexander Fenz.

Some of my training partners in those years were Juergen Kestner, Gilbert Boutoumou, Gernot Redondo, Peter Grusdat, Michele Stellato and many others.

There was the one or other occasion during those travels, when my SiFu asked me jokingly if I am stalking him.

Very early on Sunday morning, August 15th in 1993, I was with a friend on the Autobahn from Berlin to Hamburg. It was pretty warm. I had started with WT in 1984, so after nine years I was very much looking forward to learn that day the complete Biu-Tze form from my SiFu, the last part of the second Technician Grade program.

When arriving in Hamburg, everybody in a very narrow room was about to start the Siu-Nim-Tau form until SiFu arrived, who was stuck on another stretch of the Autobahn. No time to get changed. I started in my jeans and a white T-shirt. Which leads to the funny part of the day. A tenth student grade saw my white T-shirt and came to correct my Wu-Sau, later a Gam-Sau, then my chain punches a little bit. My friend who knew that I was here to learn the last part of the second TG, he almost peed his pants trying not to laugh out loud and could barely contain himself. We had a little break. I changed into my official TG uniform. The 10th student grade turned white in the face, came to me and wanted to apologize. So, I told him there is nothing to be apologetic about. He just wanted to help and was nice about.

The seminar was five hours long, with a one-hour break in between. I happened to be the only one that day for this (at the time) advanced program. Sifu Roggenkamp suggested to SiFu that there is single room downstairs. If I remember right, a part of the building was under construction. The room I was lead to, so that nobody could watch the instruction of the third form, seemed to be former kitchen space. It had several doors and pass-throughs, service windows, as one can find between a kitchen and a lunch room. Why am I describing that? My SiFu could suddenly sneak up on me through any of the doors, or look through any of the windows from other rooms. When he made his rounds at seminars, from group to group of trainees, he spotted who was taking it easy, who was talking, who wasn’t training what they were supposed to, snuck up and “apologized” for interrupting, saying that he would be back, when they weren’t talking o taking a break. This happened to you once and never again.

SiFu had shown me the first two parts of the Biu-Tze form, he walked away and I started practicing. Nonstop. Sweat was running down my face, legs, arms. The shirt was sticking to my skin. But I was training the third from!

SiFu and Sifu Thomas Roggenkamp can speak Low German (Plattdeutsch). As people from the coast, both had a bit of different, better connection. Thomas was also a very funny guy. Later that day, during the break, he was standing outside having a smoke. Students walked up and very politely asked about how smoking and practicing a sport go together. Sifu Thomas answered that first of all Wing Tsun is not a sport and then told two of them to attack him. He inhaled the smoke, held his breath, struck and threw them down within a couple of seconds, exhaled the smoke and continued to answer: “You see, it’s not a problem!” In his dry, North German attitude and in Plattdütsch. Only Germans might understand that.

Back to the Biu-Tze instruction. SiFu Kernspecht and Sifu Roggenkamp were talking in great detail about the Biu-Tze form, what and how SiGung Leung Ting has been teaching the form in different time periods, how he applied the technical solutions, what observable skill other masters did not display. They talked about how my SiFu had tricked his SiFu, SiGung Leung Ting, into revealing details of the form and its applications. Sifu Thomas had the uncanny ability via a bit of “Klönsnak op Platt”, speaking low German that means, to get busloads of information out of our SiFu Kernspecht. Whenever both left, I hastily wrote down every single detail, even the ones I didn’t get, didn’t understand at the time.

SiFu explained more to Sifu Thomas that (at that time at least) he trained all three elbow strikes three times, left right left and then right left right. Not just the first one. All three. He pointed out, that key exercises in the forms were done at least three times, underlining their value within the form. Just think about the changing form TanSau to HuenSau to WuSau to FokSau in the third part of the SiuNimTau form.

SiFu Kernspecht continued to talk about seeing the elbow strikes initially as stretching exercises, feeling all the connected muscles groups. Just like getting the pumped up feeling during weight training. How the first form trains the muscles, ligaments, tendons and fascia tissue of the shoulder, elbow and wrist. How the Cham-Kiu follows building functional strength via the mobility of the ankles, knees and hips. How eventually the third form connects the upper three ‘engines’ and the lower three ‘engines’ via the spine, the ‘seventh joint’.

Older Wing Tsun practitioners will remember how the work of Walter Packi (biokinematik.com) found its way into the training methodology in the EWTO via Dr. Osama Sabri. Later in Canada I found via clinical rehab specialists the confirmation as to how our WT Chi-Sau training and our form training effects the Fascia tissue and with that the building of Wing Tsun specific functional strength. Many people are strong, few have real power.

But back then in 1993. I only saw the techniques. I was only interested in the form. I didn’t get it yet, how the form will change my whole-body motion, mobility.

Later I remembered letters from Eberhard Schneider, the author of the German book “Strength training for Kung Fu and Karate”. Always checking out trends, he at one point compared the WT form training as motion specific strength training to body resistance strength training, a somewhat new trend at the time. Eberhard Schneider was very kind, sent me copies of his book, and many personal letters into East Germany.

SiFu Kernspecht showed Sifu Thomas how elements of the Biu-Tze Chi-Sau sections form elasticity, how it allows the whole body to deliver whiplash-like fluid power. Chi-Sau sections are Wing Tsun’s two-man forms that organize the strategies and tactics of the one-man forms into a cooperative training exercise which enables students to train via the technical solutions in each form the Wing Tsun concepts. If done right, a very valuable tool.

SiFu Kernspecht was hitting, elbowing, “cutting”, “slashing”, throwing, hook-punching Sifu Thomas. He showed how it starts with an upright, yet deeply rooted stance from the SiuNimTau, continues with horizontal mobility from the Cham-Kiu, vertical options from the Biu-Tze form. How we initially defend, control and counter-attack, then via the Biu-Tze tools attack the attacker directly.
While I stood somewhat invisible in the corner, watching, trying to get what was going on, SiFu left. Now even Sifu Thomas wrote something down, what apparently didn’t happen very often. Just to make small talk I remarked how cool all that demoing was. Now Thomas chuckled and said: “You see, now SiFu didn’t even notice how I got him going, to reveal that he is currently working on applying the ideas from the double knives form.” He was very pleased.
I was nodding as if I knew what was going on. But I made my notes, which later helped, once I had learned different double knives forms.

At the end of the day I was disappointed. As just about everybody else, I learned the Biu-Tze form in the late 80’s from SiGung Leung Ting’s video “Authentic Wing Tsun”. I had learned from the poster. That day, to me it seemed I had only learned what I knew already. So, really nothing new. Disappointment.

It took me years to realize, how all the stories SiFu Kernspecht told Sifu Thomas, all the tips he gave, all the demos, all the background ideas, mentioning of concepts, all that delivered for me an incredible wealth of information. I was truly lucky to have had that day. Big Thanks to the late Sifu Thomas Roggenkamp, it made a huge difference.

Posted by ralph haenel at 3:00 PM PDT
Updated: Sunday, 14 August 2016 5:29 PM PDT
Saturday, 13 August 2016

Movement potential - The evolution of Tan-Sau from the Siu-Nim-Tau form to the Double Knives

Sometimes we all get lost in exercises, trying to make sense of where it all leads. Why is the Siu-Nim-Tau the first form and not the third? What are the conceptual differences between the Cham-Kiu and the Wooden Dummy form? Hey, it’s not obvious to everybody. Even models of explanation can vary greatly from lineage to lineage.

How does the curriculum set our path in Wing Tsun? Others have it easier. Runners. When you run, you can check the time or the distance. Fitness enthusiasts. When you lift weights, you can count the reps and sets. Sport-oriented martial arts. You measure your success in wins and losses and trophies.

But a self-defense system like Wing Tsun? What do you do? How do you measure your progress? You really don’t want to get into the habit of counting bodies. Just to be on the safe side, I am joking.

You need a unique instructor, a real martial artist. Somebody who can explain and demonstrate the big picture. I learned for 16 years in the probably largest Kung Fu organization, in the EWTO under my instructor, Si-Fu Keith R. Kernspecht. I learned how to teach, how to analyze training methods, how to review progress. My Si-Fu is until this very day living the idea, to always question everything, to never stand still, to keep learning, to research.

The German-engineered Wing Tsun Kung Fu grew over the decades through the feedback of thousands of instructors, bringing in their feedback from teaching tens of thousands of people, feeding off their prior experiences, being black belts in other martial arts, having been instructors in other martial arts, having had the experience of competing in the ring or on the mats. Their feedback also shaped Wing Tsun’s learning, training and teaching methods.

At this point I am throwing in another blog. You might remember my post about the Wing Tsun Kung Fu reverse engineering theory? Find it at http://www.realisticselfdefense.net/blog/index.blog/2355123/the-wing/

I am using a certain imagery at various stages of teaching the respective student and advanced programs to accompany the technical instructions. For example, the following line-up:

idea -> technique -> movement -> whole-body motion -> concepts

In the beginning an exercise generates an idea of what should be done. The idea morphs eventually into a solid technique. The technique becomes a (still limited) movement, an application. More ideas are being generated. Comparative learning and training creates now more complex yet simple whole-body motions, delivering defense and offensive components. And yes, ‘complex yet simple’ is not an abstract term. Via movement and tactics and strategies, we begin to form concepts.

In the big picture, look at it this way. Wing Tsun teaches us initially techniques. The technical drills teach us ideas of how to defend ourselves. The ideas grow into reliable techniques, into movement, into whole-body motions and so the techniques begin to teach us concepts. The concepts teach us Wing Tsun, the martial ART.

Oh, the ART, the martial art! Is that now some weird abstract, pretentious babbling?

What is that, the ART? I for example continue to grow my martial artistic abilities through challenges like:
- performing in the smallest space, until failing.
- I perform, for my own progress, at the slowest speed possible, until failing.
- I train with the lowest amount of functional strength, until failing.

I limit myself to specific responses. For example:
- I respond only with defensive actions, until failing.
- I limit my response to all the punches the system offers. Nothing else, until failing.
- I solely employ palm-strikes.
- I answer with different Fak-Saus only.

I train Chi-Sau, standing only on my toes or my heels, until failing.
Never stand still. Make your training enjoyable. Challenge yourself.

Here is another example. I often demonstrate the Wing Tsun concepts by performing my ideas of the evolution of Tan-Sau and Bong-Sau throughout all six Wing Tsun forms. Which of course causes some to respond to me that I am still thinking too much in techniques. HELLO! Those are demonstrations and explanations of concepts. Of course you have to make them visible via easy to understand technical drills.
The following is not complete, not exclusive. I mention only some, limited ideas.

Tan-Sau is on the Siu-Nim-Tau level a defensive action, that can teach us about absorbing force, the training and use of functional strength, a well-balanced stance, positions and angles as guidelines for future movement.

Tan-Sau on the Cham-Kiu level allows us sliding, shifting, turning of our stance from the point of contact, while maintaining defensive positions as flexible shields that provide us with a certain ‘crumble zone’.

The Biu-Tze form forms a fluid whiplash-like Tan-Sau that turns into a powerful attack (Chan-Sau), past the attacks, attacking the attacker. Sorry, it’s much more fun in class when I say: “Now repeat that ten times!” What used to be a defensive Bong-Sau can turn now into a continuous folding elbow strike, turning Biu-Tze-Sau and it goes on.

In the Wooden Dummy form, the active Tan-Sau can turn into a tool that shocks the attacker on contact, sending his structure into tense resistance, lowering the number of options he thought he had, allowing us to move into and attack his blind spots.

The two weapons forms can wonderfully show the physics behind the positions and angles, showing horizontal, vertical, diagonal, spiral planes of motion in straight and round and curved pattern. You will find your Tan or Bong in your long pole or double knives training. Your performance has transformed into concepts with limitless options.

Our one-man forms have archived ideals of techniques to transport the knowledge of concepts, strategies and tactics.

In our two-man forms, aka Chi-Sau sections, we begin to train initially via technical drills. These ideal example scenarios further the development of concepts. The concepts guide our responses, rather than trying to make specific techniques fit.
What does that mean? Here I often jokingly ask someone to question me what day it is:
“What day is today?”
My answer: “I am cold and it is 8pm.”
Result of this mini conversation, confused faces. Then I am explaining what I mean. That we should not wait with pre-set answers (techniques) to answer questions (attacks) that we might not understand, or that change in the moment.

Remember, initially we train technical drills. Got to start somewhere. Then we begin to understand the concepts. Then the concepts will allow us to work in the moment. This of course is an ideal, for the master.

What are Chi-Sau sections? Two-man forms of the Wing Tsun system, where each section includes a set of attacks, defenses, counter-attacks, counter defenses. Most common reoccurring scenarios, happening between two fighters have been organized into sections, each section carrying concepts, strategies and tactics as derived from our one-man forms aka Siu-Nim-Tau, Cham-Kiu and so on.

There are seven Siu-Nim-Tau / Cham-Kiu Chi-Sau sections, four Biu-Tze Chi-Sau sections and eight Wooden Dummy Chi-Sau sections. In the international Wing Tsun organizations it became at one point necessary to teach a large number of students.

Some call it WingTsun nonsense. Well, at some point in the past some Wing Chun, Ving Tsun, Wing Tsun master formed and called a set of movements for the first time the Siu-Nim-Tau form a one-man form. Then you should call that nonsense as well. Like any tool, one-man or two-man forms alike, can be wrongly trained or interpreted.

Forms, one-man or two-man forms are tools, designed to archive knowledge and skill, to enable capable instructors to transport information to the next generation of students.

I often get questions, asking me if one should rather defend as the first two forms teach us, or if it’s better to attack with the Biu-Tze tools, or if one should employ the pre”formed” Wooden Dummy drills.
My answer: “NO!”

The point is, that especially under stress you cannot just choose one layer of your movement pattern.
You don’t want to waste time choosing. Period.

All the forms, Chi-Sau, Lat-Sau, FORM you into YOUR version of a martial artist.  You might have your personal preferences, how you perform. But that’s it. Just like weights in the gym, paired with the right training for you, they will make you fit, or strong, or build, whatever your goal is. But in the end, the weights are still only your tools. Same as your techniques. They are only tools on your journey. As the lifting of weights can make you strong, so the training of different movement pattern will make you move, well differently, offer more variety, better and more economical options.

If a runner is running on asphalt, does this mean he shouldn’t run in the forest, run an obstacle course, do some sprints?

Don’t limit yourself. Put some variety into your life.

Your instructor should be able to demonstrate, show examples of the different layers, the facets of Wing Tsun.

It is very fitting, so I would like to quote Perry Nickelston of StopChasingPain.com:
“You are only as strong as your brain let's you be. So let's unleash it.”
The different sets of Chi-Sau sections teach you movement pattern, the development of (WingTsun) functional strength, and the ability to deliver that power. If you haven’t trained these pattern, your brain is not likely to let you have the movement pattern.

Change your habits. Learn new movement pattern, as defined in our one-man and two-man forms (Chi-Sau sections). Find out the WHY behind these pattern.

I have to quote Perry one more time. I didn’t want to re-word that quote. Here it is:
“What's movement? Behaviour.
Pain (getting hit – I added that.) is a request for change. A change in your behaviour.
Change how you feel and you change behaviour.
Change behaviour and change movement.
Change movement and you change your life.”

Leave out the training on the Biu-Tze level. Miss the Wooden Dummy Chi-Sau. And you will limit yourself. It’s like saying that you train already on different machines in the gym and that is why you don’t need kettlebells or body resistance training.

Don’t get stuck in dead repetitions without meaning. Chi-Sau sections trained right, are not useless partner dances. Techniques are scenarios to transport concepts, strategies and tactics. The cycles of attacks and defenses or attacks and counter-attacks are molds that mold your very own (owned) movement pattern in a variety of similar scenarios.

Wing Tsun Kung Fu, the adventure is in you.
Train Wing Tsun to its full potential.
Discover your movement potential.

Have fun and train hard.

Posted by ralph haenel at 8:10 PM PDT
Updated: Saturday, 13 August 2016 9:41 PM PDT

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