Monthly Archives: May 2011

Straight Lines & Circles – Part 2

How’s the grey matter going; are there some gears turning round in there, any sparks and smoke coming out of the dome yet? I’m sure that if you’ve given some thought to my last posting – some good, serious thought – and sprinkled it with a bit of logic (which often helps in Wing Chun, as it has a great deal of logic running through its training methods), you’ll have worked out an answer for the outside arm (the fook sao)’s counter, where we left off at the last post. At least I hope you’ve given things a bit of a stir in the ol’ pot and challenged yourself to do a bit of thinking. In any case, let’s pick up where we left off.

A (tan sao) had initiated a palm strike to B from the inside, aiming toward B’s face in a linear attack. B (fook sao) launched an attack to counter the strike, adding a bit more oomph to it by ‘squeezing’ the elbow in and down toward the centreline, forcing A’s strike to be deflected away from the centre. Sensing the energy of the redirection, A used a circle to borrow B’s linear energy, to rotate its shape into a bong sao, continuing forward and applying pressure to neutralise B’s attack. All the while, A remained true to the core principles of going forward with the force and applying pressure to defend by attacking. So where now, does this leave B?

Just as A had to feel B’s energy and ‘accept’ it in order to work out the path of least resistance and find the place where the change in the flow had to come, so too must B do the same. If B persists in trying to “win” and continues to try to force his bent-arm punch through, he/she is likely to stiffen up, allowing his/her structure to be disrupted by A. B ends up fighting force with force and locking up, or usually tries to extend the arm in a last ditch effort to hit A. If the latter happens, B’s made a huge mistake, giving away good structure for a bad one, trying to sneak the punch through despite all the signals to the contrary. By providing a long lever to A, B also provides a great opening for A to exploit on the inside line, which A can do by extending the bong sao arm into a thrust to B’s face, while also taking B’s centre of gravity. From there, A can pretty much have his/her way.

B must therefore find the ‘point of no return’, that place of change that will occur through the interactive flow between the arms and then must make a change that is appropriate to deal with the change of A’s intention from a palm strike to a bong sao. Instead to trying to force a round peg through the square hole as we’ve just discussed in the last paragraph, B must realise that A’s rotation to a bong sao has created a new line from which A can now pressure B. That line too, gets neutralised by a circle as B also learns to put a cog onto the arm.

As B starts to feel A’s arm rotating to the bong sao, B should then rotate his/her arm from a punch into a tan sao. That rotation now puts a different energy onto A’s structure, neutralising the bong sao and applying a downward-feeling pressure onto A’s arm, although B is continuing to apply a forward and threatening pressure without pushing A’s arm downward. B remains true to the basic concept of applying forward force to defend A’s counter with an attacking energy from proper use of his/her structure and understanding of core principles of the system. The counter is thus countered, and this is only one of an infinite number of changes that can/will occur through Wing Chun’s unique chi sao training; it is what gives us an edge because we learn through constant repetitions, to deal reflexively and unconsciously with changes in combat. OSF gets dramatically reduced and we learn to take obstructions and changes as just part of our training.

If you think of the single-arm chi sao drill, in the greater scheme of life, like the beginnings of your childhood education, carry the parallels through on your own.

Further variations that come from the single-arm drill are learned as you discover the pluses and minuses of being on the inside or the outside, of using your left arm instead of your right, of changing the drill here instead of there, and of general and infinite experimentation that will come from pressure changes, direction changes, timing changes, combination changes, etc, etc. You are limited only by your imagination and enthusiasm to expand your horizons. Think of these as your primary school days, mostly having fun and learning good and proper habits that will take you into adolescence.

Move on to double-arm drills, or seung chi sao, where everything gets a bit more complicated. We’re moving into high school now, where one supposedly is trying to narrow down options as to what to do with one’s life. Puberty, hormones, first loves and broken hearts, applying for and getting your first job, learning to drive, drinking to excess and all the ups and downs which come with such experiences. Parallel that with learning luk sao (rolling hands) and random gor sao (free fighting), coupled with all the variations that doing different things with two arms simultaneously will bring. We may as well add footwork in, and kicking, and anything else you want to toss in, and we’ve moved on to university studies and life careers, and even marriage if it’s in your cards.

Don’t forget too, that all the while, your repeated and consistent training of such drills not only forms good physical reflexes, coordination and skills but it also lessens the effects of the OSF‘s that come with changes in the routines and drills. The progressive and modular design of Wing Chun’s training methods allows for a gradual progression of stress inoculation to occur in the mind as well. This aids immensely in one’s abilities to remain calm and in control mentally and emotionally when change disrupts one’s routines, be they physical or emotional ones. Handling changes and the stresses that come with them becomes easier to accept and to deal with in all facets of your life.

In Wing Chun, we really do have an ideal system of martial arts and self-defence, but scratch it a little deeper and you can also find, through its thorough and logical training methods, an excellent framework from which one can live and enjoy a full and enriched life as well. 

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Musings by Sifu Dana P Wong is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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New Zealand Workshop – May 2011

Our Kiwi counterparts on the Kapiti Coast, just outside of Wellington, are doing well and are training hard. The enthusiasm and thirst for Wing Chun knowledge continued on from where I left off with our New Zealand brothers and sisters last November.

Dai Sihing Stu Dunn and Sihing Dean Baines have been working the guys here well since our last get-together, and there were some new faces to go along with quite a few of the early staunch supporters this trip and we all had a fantastic time.

Tweaked some areas here and there, and introduced some new concepts to keep both new and old students happy (and probably confused… at least for a little while). Since my last visit across the Tasman, the Kapiti Krew has added another night of training to their schedule and that’s always a good sign.

We worked on energy development for the newbies, and tried to adjust structures to make both single and double-arm chi sao more efficient and fluid.

Also enjoyed a meeting and dinner with long-time NZ Wing Chun exponent and NZ Chin Woo Association Chairman,  Sifu Peter Yu, which rounded out a fantastic weekend in Wellington.  Click here to catch some of the highlights.

Great job, to all our Kiwi brothers and sisters; keep up the fine efforts!

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Straight Lines & Circles – Part 1

Need some more ideas to think about, to get your head around the philosophy of the Tao, of Yin and Yang and all those other spiritual goodies that can make your life more unified and complete? Would you like some more ways to see how opposing elements actually can and do make up a unified One? Let’s make some more connections, then.

We can’t get any more polar opposites than straight lines and circles, can we? Often, Wing Chun is described as a linear system, because we emphasise protecting the centreline, because we use a straight vertical punch as our main weapon, because we always tell people one of the advantages we have against the opponent is that we want to keep the straight path between the opponent and us for ourselves, thereby forcing the opponent to take a curved, or longer, path to reach us. Straight lines abound in Wing Chun theory, with plenty of drills and exercises for us to understand and explore them through our training in the kwoon.

Yet, for as many places we drill and practice straight lines and linear expressions there are just as many circular concepts that we use for counters, deflections and redirections. It is often heard in Wing Chun circles (no pun intended here), “there is a counter for everything”. We’ll train a drill where A learns how to do something to B, after which B learns how to counter A’s intent, delivering a counter to the attack. A then learns how to counter B’s counter, and so on and on. When two well-trained Wing Chun exponents “play” Chi Sao (sticking hands) it’s a joy to watch as one move flows right into the next, time and time again as attacks are countered, counters are redirected and new attacks begun, that are then again countered and on it goes.

The objective here is not one of winning and losing, rather than of finding the balance between an opponent’s energies and forces and your own, from which openings and opportunities will present themselves to those who tune into the flow. We “play” Chi Sao to learn to keep flowing, to become like water, like the Tao, so that any opportunities that come from the flow can present themselves, but also so that we learn to understand the follies of trying to stop the flow. Stopping the flow here is meant when we have an OSF* (for those new to this discussion, please refer to Parallels, my blog entry on 28 April), and freeze up for even a millisecond, causing our muscles and our mind to lock up, allowing our training partner/opponent to set the trap. The “rewards” of such actions are usually a punch in the nose or a fat lip and sometimes a black eye.

The balance of the flow was interrupted, causing a disruption of harmony and guess what? One got overpowered and defeated by the other. Too many circles and not enough straight lines, or an over-reliance on linear responses and not enough circular energy; ‘good’ Chi Sao where things seem to flow, comes from achieving that balance between the straight lines and the circles. Let’s take an example from our training to see how this works.

A perfect place to start is with our ‘basic’ Daan Chi Sao (single-arm) drill. By its nature, this drill encapsulates the essence of balance, of Yin and Yang working together and many dismiss the great value that this ‘basic’ drill instils in us, emotionally, mentally and physically, underrating this exercise in favour of its more highly touted cousin, Seung Chi Sao (double-arm) and the games that come with it.

All that we need is truly in this wonderful training tool; much like the Wing Chun system itself, the single-arm drill is so subtly simple, yet truly complex in its scope and meaning. Its essence comes from some of the “young ideas” that took root when we learned the Siu Lim Tao/Siu Nim Tao form, Wing Chun’s foundational first set. One of the translations of this set (of which there are many, and could be the topic for another post down the track) is said to be “the way of young ideas, or little thoughts”, by which the young or little referred to in translation might be interpreted more as new – maybe new not only in the sense of unfamiliar to you (you are learning physically to do things very different, and therefore new, to your body), but also in the sense of how you think upon your encounter with an opponent – is it you against him/her; is it about winning and losing. So many of us look at fighting and physical encounters through such perspectives, and maybe our first training set offers us some young and new ideas from which to gain some differing and maybe better ways to handle an encounter, an opponent, or an obstruction.

Let’s begin with the basic set-up of the single-arm Chi Sao drill. For those who have little or no Wing Chun background, the following terminologies may confuse you as I will not really go into detailed explanations in this post, wanting rather for readers to get the general gist of what can be found within the training of this essential drill. If you want to understand better, please come in for a trial lesson or find a good Wing Chun school in your area (nudge, nudge, wink, wink).

Moving on, we have one with arm outstretched in the tan sao position, palm facing up and fingers flat and together; the other, on the outside of the first one’s arm in the fook sao position, fingers curled and relaxed. Inside and outside, on top and underneath, left arm to right arm – what better ways to introduce the aspects of Yin and Yang to a novice practitioner; that the one has no value without the other?

Some of the ‘benefits’ of the single-arm drill are: to develop sensitivity in one’s arm, so as to become relaxed and yet aware when pressure and force is applied to the limb so that one can blend with such energy and find weaknesses and openings by interaction; to develop spring force, or forward energy intention, so that one can take advantage of  such openings and weaknesses; to stress test parts of one’s structure so as to understand their value and give one reason to re-train the way one moves the body. There are more we can bring up, but these will suffice for the moment.

Wing Chun is known as a practical, efficient and economical martial art, famed for its close-range fighting skill. One of its core principles that embody those qualities is that of simultaneous attack and defense. On a quick aside, yet another great example of the Yin and Yang concept, and of the oneness of the Tao is demonstrated here. One has to think of attacking to defend, of defending by attacking; can you see that little spot of light in the dark half of the Yin Yang symbol, that little spot of dark in the light half? Other core principles are to protect the centreline and take the shortest path to the target.

We get to practice these core principles while developing our bodies to move more efficiently and reflexively through the single-arm drill. We can first see how the system makes it ‘easy’ for us to understand that very basic concept of using an attack as our first and primary means of defence by the initial set up of the partners’arms. Whether the opponent’s arm is on the inside of your arm, or on the outside of your arm, your first and best option if he/she tries to strike you, is to strike as your defence. Before we get into the interactions the drill can create using more force and energy, if both parties begin by moving their elbows toward the centre of the other’s mass, and with no or very little force and intention, both partners can see the potential that their punch has the capability to defend the other’s attack. To train this way, we must first let go and get a new perspective, a young idea from which we can find other ways to solve a problem.

At this point, theoretically we have two straight lines bisecting each other, with the one outside being on top of the other, which is on the inside. Now to add more meaning and a new stimulus to the energy here, the outside arm starts to ‘squeeze’ the elbow, sinking toward the centreline while striking forward, and if the other does nothing to resist and only travels forward, then the inside arm will get deflected away from the centre, heading toward the opposite shoulder. The outside arm is beginning to train the fook sao and also the jum sao concepts by squeezing and sinking the elbow.

Often at this stage, the inside arm realises that it is getting deflected and will “lose” if it doesn’t do something and the common error here is to attempt a linear ‘correction’ to push back against the sideward deflection to keep focused on the target of the opponent’s centre of mass. To do so is to fight a greater force with force, a definite no-no for a Wing Chun practitioner, and the problem is compounded by changing the direction of the force from forward to the opponent and the target to sideways and across. If the outside arm let the inside arm go at this stage, the inside arm’s energy would fly sideways, not striking the other but more grazing the target with a sweeping motion. The outward energy would also move the arm away from the centre, also exposing the inside arm’s torso unnecessarily.

To continue thinking only of winning and losing here usually means that one can get stuck here for awhile, fighting and wrestling with his/her partner, trying to regain the centreline. How long one works in this inefficient and incorrect response depends on how long he/she tries to freeze this point and try to make it such that his/her fist/palm stayed aimed at the other’s centre. Instead of thinking of one’s elbow aiming at the centre as well as of feeling what the energy of the flow between the two arms is ‘saying’, one can sometimes get frustrated and stuck here for sometime.

By letting go, and going with the flow, one learns where the point of no return will come, that place after which one’s arm does get redirected and the attack neutralised. One can begin to see where a change must occur if one is to continue to apply pressure (or be offensive) while maintaining a forward force toward the opponent (partner) and still be able to defend the deflection of the other’s attack. By letting go, one gets a new perspective (young idea) on the problem at hand.

Here, if one accepts the information of the interaction of arms and the direction of the energy flow, one can see that to push back, or to use a linear response to a linear attack, is certainly a futile gesture and one that requires a force-against-force response. If the person whose arm is on the inside here, understands what the chi sao is ‘telling’ him/her, the answer becomes quite evident. The answer must come from a circle.

If the inside arm imagined it had a cog, a toothed gear on its forearm, it might make it easier for you, the reader, to understand.  Now, when the outside arm starts its forward travel along with the squeezing deflection to take the centreline, the inside arm’s forward travel causes that cog to rotate the forearm section, borrowing the opponent’s energy (another core Wing Chun principle) and returning it to him/her as the shape of the inside arm becomes the bong sao, with the elbow still moving only in a forward direction (not a lifting one), and still aimed at the opponent’s centre of mass. Although the shape of the inside arm changed here, its intention to defend by attacking to the centre of the mass never changed. Note that it also took a circle to harmonise with a straight line – two supposed opposites- smoothing out a change instead of needlessly and inefficiently fighting against a probably greater force.

When done properly, the inside arm’s response here of rotating forward from the palm strike to the bong sao takes so much less effort on the practitioner’s part than of trying to push back against the inward deflection of the outer arm’s travel. Too often the practitioner thinks something must be wrong – no pain, no gain, right? WRONG!

Still at this early part of the single-arm drill, another important concept is trained here; one learns one of the core principles of maintaining proper structure under greater duress. The Wing Chun practitioner learns here that if one’s structure (the palm strike from the tan sao) is under threat of collapse due to forces stronger than the structure, then the structure must change (from palm strike to bong sao) to retain the benefits of the structure.

The outside arm’s deflection/punch is now neutralised, being redirected away from one’s centre and now the inside arm has a barrier from which to apply pressure to the other’s centre of gravity and balance.

We have seen in just this first part of one of the first and basic partner drills in Wing Chun, that one must harmonise with one’s opponent in order to achieve a correct outcome, and we’ve seen that opposites are the reason for this harmony occurring. All parts of the Tao… Yin and Yang?

What parallels in your home life, your work life, your love life, your academic life can you make from this post? I’ll leave that up to you. And while you’re at it, the outside arm is upset now because it didn’t get to “win”. How does he/she counter the counter? The answer may already have been written. Think about it and we’ll see in my next post.

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What’s in a Word?

I started these ‘musings’ to offer up my take on how kung fu training and the ‘deep’ esoteric philosophies surrounding them are just as valuable and relevant to one’s everyday life experiences and situations. I’ve touched lightly already on places where one might see the parallels between what is done within the kwoon (training hall) and what is done in the rest of our everyday, mundane and routine lives. I’m being slightly facetious here, of course, saying such only to poke some fun at how people can sometimes create an unnecessary difference in how they view ‘parts’ of their lives, making them separate, not allowing for the harmony of all the facets of their lifestyes to make them ‘whole’ and unified.

It was interesting to find, while I was thinking of adding some of the other martial arts terms for a ‘training hall’ to the sentence above to make it more universal and not just aimed at students of Chinese martial arts, a term that really hits the nail on the head. The Japanese term for a martial arts training hall is called a dojo, a term I’m sure many of you have heard before. Even my own students will refer to the classroom sometimes with the Japanese term, “dojo”, and not the “kwoon”, its use in common language is now so familiar.

When I Googled  “dojo” , I was taken to Wikipedia’s site where I found this definition: A dojo (道場 dōjō?) is a Japanese term which literally means “place of the way“. I never knew that before, and I’m sure a lot of people both within the martial arts and without would probably say the same.

But doesn’t that definition help us to understand that all of this mysticism and holistic references we often put forth in philosophic discussions of our training ‘leading us to higher places or levels of consciousness’ might just be getting in the way of us getting to those ‘higher places’?

The term “kung fu” (功夫) actually means “hard work” or “skill/achievement”; the inference being that one cannot attain any levels of proficiency in martial arts (or in anything else) without putting in the time and sweat  – “the hard yards”. By consistently putting in time and effort to learn things that are often difficult and challenging, we make ourselves more ‘complete’ through the process. As Han, the evil character in Bruce Lee’s epic film, Enter the Dragon, said, “We forge our bodies in the fire of our will…”

Our pursuit of physical skill and excellence has a by-product of producing mental, spiritual and emotional excellence as well, because the body will only do what the mind tells it. That is the reason so many come to a martial arts school like ours, or sign up with personal trainers, etc; it’s because the trainer or the sifu or sensei will make you do what you want to achieve. So many of us want to do more than we currently seem able, but can’t; yet put us into the capable hands of a good instructor, trainer or coach and the results often always astound both those around us and ourselves. Look at shows like The Biggest Loser, where contestants tell us how they lack self-esteem or fell into habits that lead me to give up, etc, etc. Three months later, miracles occur for even the contestants that don’t win the big prize, and virtually all have lost at least three people’s bodyweight in the process, and yet, for the last x number of years…”I just couldn’t get the weight off… I just couldn’t do it.”

How do these ‘miracles’ happen? They happen because that trainer, that coach, that sensei, that sifu was able to push the contestant/student/client mentally and emotionally to do more than the person was previously willing to do for him/herself. The body was always shown to be capable of making the change, but it only ever comes when it engages with the mind and spirit. The ‘hidden talent’ or ‘latent ability’ is only revealed when all the rowers are steering the boat in the same direction, the one direction… the Tao…

Whether or not the stimulus for the mind, body and spirit to combine together happens through an external source like a trainer or coach, or from within oneself doesn’t matter; what does matter is that it must happen, if one is to move to a ‘higher’ place.

Again, our kung fu training helps teach us that it IS within our powers and abilities to reach those goals we set for ourselves, whether they be self-defense skills, job advancement skills or being a better husband or wife. Struggling to work out how to neutralise that combination attack from your training partner can also help you work out how to get around the difficulties of an unfair boss or the struggles of trying to learn material for an upcoming economics exam for your uni degree. It’s all the same, when you boil it down. Struggles and obstacles are necessary for achievement and success; pain is necessary for happiness; Yin must be part of Yang… it’s all the same.

What we do in the classroom IS the same as what we do outside. Like Wing Chun, the art itself teaches us; make your training (=life) less complicated, less cluttered – more economical. Take the excess off, like the sculptor. The work of art that is Y-O-U will come from stripping away all the non-essentials and of getting to the core – the hidden talent (qian li 潜力) – that lies within.

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Musings by Sifu Dana P Wong is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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