I hava to include a warning at the start of this blog that the method I am setting out is my own approach to teaching wing chun. It is not specifically CST method, it is an amalgam of 19 years of wing chun, 4 years or working with educators in an Alexander Technique school, and this last 12 months (when possible) intense one-to-one teaching with a dedicated group of students. My students may find this useful to better understand what I am trying to do, but as important it may offer some guidance to senior students who work with me a lot like ‘schoolteacher’ Jon, Craig, Ziggi and Gav who I hope that one will teach themselves in the future. In a sense this is still a work in progress so will likely evolve as I do, but it is worth articulating now as it is very much a workable method which has brought good results over this last year.
1.. Meet the student where they are
This statement has a multiple of interpretations which are all relevant;
a. A new student is not likely to be seeking the same thing as an experienced teacher is working on themselves. There is no point in trying to impart advanced internal methods to someone who just wants to learn punching and kicking. Find out who the person is and the reasons behind starting wing chun. Try to find a common ground so they understand the beauty of wing chun. If you cannot find that then you are not a good fit and they should go elsewhere.
b. Don’t show off with skills which are well above the student’s level. They will end up trying to copy, or hero worship; neither is conducive to learning.
c. Remember what it was like when you were at their stage.
d. Train at the level the student has reached. Find where they can improve on that day and help them find it within themselves.
e. Don’t lecture, work in the present as learning comes though the in-the-moment relationship.
2. Help them to stop pulling their bodies down
CST talked about singing up the spine, in Alexander Technique there is a similarly vague concept of ‘going up’. I say vague as knowledge of either concept can only come from experience.
Instead of asking a new student to rise up, use hands on guidance and words to help them understand how they are pulling themselves down. Everyone has tense muscles which constrict their joints and act to clamp the bones in a downwards direction. This is generally not done on purpose unless they have practiced a martial art which teaches them to ‘sink’. As a concept I find the idea of sinking totally counterproductive as it is a removal of life from the body.
The release of muscles and absence of pulling down will allow the idea of going up to form and it will become automatic. It is not a doing, it is an idea. On a good day I might have such a state that I can communicate it to a student and they will follow the releases in my body without any words or encouragement, just by touching their body. At that stage if it is working well it’s likely that we have established a strong relationship and the student’s development will accelerate.
3. Shoulder girdle and arms
I am forever telling people that their arms are not restricted to the bones falling out the side of their body, they include the muscles which extend down to the lower back. All of this area has the potential of pulling down the spine and acting as a drag. Your arms should be flexible. Not so you can swing them around, but if they are not free then you have reduced your own freedom to move, also tightness will have a knock on effect on other interconnected parts of the body. Also, I am not talking about stretchiness either, many people who have studied yoga are very flexible but there is no life in their limbs. Arms which are devoid of life are of no use and will force other parts of the body to work harder.
4. Pelvis and legs
The pelvic girdle, although fixed, is similar in design to the shoulder girdle. Tension in the arms feeds to the lower back via the latissimus dorsi muscles and tension in the legs can grip the pelvis through the psoas (and probably other muscles as well). The majority of people are pushing their pelvises forward in daily life, this will increase in intensity with wing chun as they are trying to wrongly increase forward pressure. With hands on encouragement a teacher can encourage a student to release back their pelvis, let go of gripping in the groin and this will allow a widening in the lower back and release of the floating ribs.
5. Dealing with force
If you push a person they will probably push back. Newton’s third law will mean that if they are smaller than you they might end up pushing themselves backwards and become unbalance as they try to defend themselves due to being precariously balanced on two feet.
Most internal arts usually talk about grounding force so that a push is redirected to the floor. This is a very useful method for demonstrations but can put a lot of pressure on the body and leave it immobile. My personal preference is to use the antigravitational muscular system of the human body in order to manipulate the incoming force of an opponent, so they are forced to carry your body weight seemingly at the point of contact. This is easier to teach than describe in words. It involves a teaching providing pressure to a student in a certain manner so that their body learns the most efficient route to disperse the force through the muscles, tendons and joints. At this time it is done in a compliant nature the teacher demonstrating and then helping the student replicate it. It’s not about position.
At this stage there is a lot to learn about the body. The best way to do this is break down your habits of use, collapse and tension, and learn to change them to something more useful. We cannot do this at once so we take the subconscious habits and bring them into the conscious. Once there we can examine them, repair them and return them to the subconscious. That has two benefits; if it is a good habit we can do it without thinking, just intent; and secondly not only have we changed our habits we have understood a method with we can use in everyday life to identify and improve unhelpful thoughts and habits when we meet them. If you develop this skill you will have less need for a teacher.
6. Stimulus to go wrong
Once a student has done the above and has calmed themselves, it is time to introduce some none compliant force to test their ability. It might be pressure on the tan sau, a push to the body etc. The habitual reaction is to push back, but with training the student can accept the force into their body deal with it. This is really where the mind training starts. Up until now the students is provided a compliant force but now the force can come in different directions and intensity. The student learns not to change plan with each attack, but stick to their own plan. Go up, allow the force to enter their body and be free to move and adapt as necessary.
Once you have calmed you habitual reactions, released tension in your phasic muscles, your will start to sense a connection to your postural muscle set. These cannot be directly controlled in the same way as you can twiddle your little finger, They are access with the use of direction and intent. This takes time to sense and even longer to do on a consistent manner. Once you have access, you are unfettered from past habits (drills), you see a way of moving which is alive and in the moment. There are no separate arm movements, the whole of yourself supports all movements in a co-ordinated way.
From here the word ‘art’, becomes the more important aspect of the term martial art.
8. Wing Chun
Throughout this process the student has been learning wing chun movements as well, but once the student has a grasp of the above, wing chun as a martial art is not that difficult. There is limited movement available of the external body, and for a small fighting system like ours the range of external movement is quite restricted. However, the range of internal movements is unlimited in nature. The above method introduces a way to feel and express those movements when before they would be hidden by excessive muscular tension.
This is really a very limited explanation, but I am hoping that is might assist students to understand what can seem a haphazard method of learning. In a way it is a method of learning to learn (or unlearn), so we introduce more freedom and connection to a more natural way of movement.
My firm belief is that the body would naturally work like this is we had not developed unhelpful habits and thoughts which distort our use. By returning to more natural use, we can then hope to manipulate that as a method of martial arts, but first we have to understand the basic design principles and how we limit our own potential.
This could just change your life…
This blog may seem to have an exaggerated title but sometimes we come to realisation that the way we see the world and our ourselves is so out of kilter with reality, that a seismic shift occurs. Very rarely does it comes to us in a Matrix-like red pill/blue bill bolt from the blue; and even if the realisation may strike like that the effects and changes thereafter are usually a trickle of smaller epiphanies which bring about the greater change. For some it alters nothing because breaking habit is literally one of the hardest things to do as it involves changing who we are. The ego does not like to consider we are not perfect.
What am I on about?
You are walking about in a permanent startle reflect which has shorted your muscles and is jamming your bones into each other and affecting every aspect of your movement. Though constant misuse of the body it feels normal and therefore change feels wrong. We have evolved to be on the move, to face danger only on an occasional basis. Modern life generally involved not only these real threats, but constant perceived attacks on the ego, stimulus from gadgets, orders from the boss; as well as the having to physically constrict ourselves into small spaces usually in front of screens. There is primarily a mental attack on you as soon as you get out of bed, and a physical entanglement of the body as soon as we engage with the constructed environment.
Take a look at the models. The first one has an upright posture as we would had for thousands of years. Prior to the development of the prefrontal lobe there was no future or past to worry about, just the now to live in. Mindfulness was not a option as it was the only state to be in. Things have changed a lot. By the time you are about 5 years old the stress of life has started its gentle prod into startle posture, or as it is know fight, flight or freeze. The head is pulled down into the spine, the rib cage is pushed forward, the back arched and knees resultantly braced. Its not the same pattern for everyone and some people manage to avoid it, but it is a general constant in society.
Wing chunwise this really does make a difference. Take a look at Chu Shong Tin, even as a old man his body was in a totally different state than even his top students. His head was erect on his spine, his shoulders releasing away (unfathomable wide) and behind his eyes was a burning light.
To come back to the reason of the blog, a point that has been reinforced to me by years of teaching, is that the forward intention taught in the art has had the effect on many of further contorting the spine and pushing the rib case into a position it cannot sustain without undue muscular stress. The shoulder girdle for most has been fused into a forward pushing structure, elbows rammed forward which puts undue pressure on the lower spine. Humans did not evolve to lead with their elbows and chests, the ribcage should be pointed down, arm and shoulder structure rested on the back and releasing sideways before venturing forward. Anything else results in a constriction of the stature of a person.
I can give one example of what this may feel like. Get on all fours and slowly crawl forward. Allow your head to lead the movement and allow your shoulders to release across you back. Do you sag your stomach and rib cage? Let your head lengthen away from your tailbone as if pulled by a string. Do you get a sense of length and width? All it makes is the idea of a nod of the head to release into movement instead of pushing your knees and feet.
Now, stand up and move with the same idea of head leading. Can you do it or do you move by pulling your hips forward? If you do that, sense how that is drawing your head down onto your spine and pressuring your knees. Maybe do something non habitual like walk backwards. You will see that your head leads and body follows.
If you could follow these ideas, and allow the body to unravel, you would get a sense that your shoulders could be in an entirely different place which is unfathomable. Not contorting the back forward but placed as nature intended. The clavical is the only bone structure attaching the shoulders to the rib cage, the arms are not just the bones hanging down they are the muscle systems which start in the lower back. Need proof? Have another look at CST, are you ‘built’ the same? He struggled to pass on his ability as the wrong use was so endemic in most students he would have not known where to start. Clearly a released pelvis and erect spine where a good point (tai gong and sing). Relaxation would also help with the startle pattern.
If you are wondering where to start the change, then standing practice and SLT is a good start. Every time you attempt a movement, be aware that you will be drawn forward and instead focus on how your interaction with gravity is more important. Do not flare the ribs or brace the lower back, the support comes from your only point of connection with the world so use that (your feet). The secret likes with the support of the earth and the antigravitational muscles evolved to deal with the relationship. That relationship is more important than other forces or stimulation you will meet (which will trigger your startle reflex), so learn to be comfortable with it. Your feet should be alive, so do not collapse into then. There is more to do (or not do) than that, but it’s a start.
I recently watched a video of CST setting up a senior student to do a pivoting side slash. CST set up the student several times, gave explanation for why it was difficult for the student, and then demonstrated the movement (effortlessly) himself. In some ways the video was no different than any other of him, or what happened every night in a typical class. What was interesting was afterwards I saw and heard explanations from at least 4 very experienced wing chun teachers who each disagreed with the other about what had happened, and essentially how CST did the movement. You might be surprised to hear that I did not agree with any of them. I would not be surprised to hear than none of them would agree with me! Buy why the differences?
The teaching methodology of CST was that he would allow a student to do a movement in their own way (they usually did it incorrect), he would show them what they did, show them what it should feel like, then set them up to do it in the way he felt it should be done. That method was repeated time and again until hopefully the student was re-educated. If all of the students got a similar education why would they not only feel very different, but also explain the methodology they learnt so differently later on?
Here is the problem. When a student first copies a movement they are confident that it is correct, It feels correct. CST would then set them up to do it differently and obviously the feeling was very different (it felt wrong). When they try to recreate the movement they rely of feeling, but if we go to the start of the paragraph then we already have established that their feelings are incorrect. Their kinaesthetic sense was proven unreliable (like a set of broken scales)
Last year I went on a race track day; I drove a Ferrari and an Aston Martin for 3 laps each. As I drove into tight corners the instructor said to me to keep accelerating until I reached the relevant marker on the side of the track. Although I heard him I found myself braking heavily way too early. Each time we went around I got a bit braver, but although I wanted to keep accelerating my brain said no and put the brakes on (the exact opposite to what I was told). I felt that I would crash as my belief (backed up with my feelings) told me it was not possible for a car to move in that way. Afterwards I was taken around the track as a passenger or a touring car race driver, even in a slower car I was astounded by the speed and control, it was on another level that I thought existed.
Even if I had got a second chance to drive, I would not have been much quicker. The fact is my sense of feeling needed to be re-educated totally as they were unreliable. I was inspired but really that is only the start. The only way to learn to drive like that would be go around thousands of times with an instructor, follow the instructions of when to turn, break, accelerate etc until I knew what was possible. After that point, I would be able to start experimenting as to whether a change in my own instruction would make me quicker. However, my feeling would not be the arbiter of speed, the evidence would have to be the clock.
So, to get back to wing chun. When someone was set up by CST they usually commented that although incredibly powerful, they felt nothing. However, with more experience a student starts to develop an awareness of the connectivity of the body and the inter-relation of joints and muscles etc. The process that you are trying to understand is how the various parts of the body inter-relate (and are co-ordinated by thought) and for a long time in the process feeling is really counter-productive to doing this. I am not entirely sure many people have grasped this difference, but I say now that if you rely on feelings instead of an educated system of habits of use, your wing chun will not be of an internal nature. You will be trying to use wing chun techniques to make up deficiencies in your body use.
Most people interested in CST method wing chun do not need to learn more wing chun, they need to relearn to use their bodies without using feeling and sensitivity as a guide as what they are currently using is inherently unreliable under pressure. You need to understand how the body co-operates with gravity, how the release of joint in one direction creates a counter stretch in the next muscle group and that affects the whole. Wing chun then becomes a method of manipulating your own body structure which is instigated with a thought. I am going to be honest and say that although everyone needs to relax more, as an instruction it is generally useless in most contexts. Sometimes you need to relax a muscle, but that is usually to get a counter response from another part of the body so the whole is in balance. It is the balance of the whole which you are seeking, with no direct thought about relaxing of individual parts.
This idea of training is a real challenge for most people, to ask someone who has developed a sensitivity of feeling and alignment to reject that system, to rely on over-aching instructions relating to how the body works optimally; its really tough. Even when you see and experience the truth it is hard to accept.
The question then is how can you learn something which is specifically about kinaesthetic sense at the same time as rejecting bodily feeling. Well, in the same way as you would need to sit with an experienced race driver and do as you are told to learn to drive professionally, you need a lot of time with someone who can do it it better than you who can guide you. Someone who has walked the path and made the same mistakes which you will have to make time and time again until your successes outweigh your failures. Even if they are not a teacher, they may be able to provide a more subjective view than you have yourself. The first step for myself was over a decade ago when training with Mark and Jon, we consciously chose not to complete with each other but to assist and provide feedback. That opened a door to understanding which continues to fascinate me.
A common analogy used in martial arts and any other potentially complex endeavour, is that ‘its like riding a bike’. The inference being that once you physically understand the process it becomes second nature.
There a few important areas where I think there is commonality. The first is the control of the balance required by riding a bike is too difficult for the conscious brain, so we have to use the part which controls our balance. In CST wing chun you hear the term Nim Tao, rear brain or subconscious; for me the part of the brain which controls natural balance is where I want to activate. Most martial artists are not in balance, they hold stances, postures or alignments (all good for static lifting work), but the body is designed for subtle poised movement, so better to think of a dancer or a young child playing if you want to be in better touch with your body.
If you have taught a child to ride a bike you will recognise that the hardest part is not the pedalling, it is the starting off. I am sure that there are lots of parents out there that can remember running behind your child holding onto the back of your kid’s bike with the child yelling ‘don’t let go’. Its back breaking work. Eventually you do let go, they are delighted, but when they try to do it again the fear sets in, they tense up and you have to go through the process again and again until they recognise that they will not fall over. The actual cycling part thereafter is pretty easy and soon they shoot off and leave you running behind looking like an overprotective fool.
This reveals the whole crux of the issue of why CST found it difficult to pass on his ability for so many years. He would put his hands on a student to show them how to let go of tension, how to gain their balance, and they would be able to release into balance just as a child cycling away. However, every student thereafter became obsessed with the releasing away bit and missed the most important part. The part which starts off the whole process. I believe that as children we were all told to try harder, to put more effort into what ever we did, and as a consequence the whole movement pattern of the body for the majority of people has been strangled. There is a choice… you can subtly brace your ankles, lower back and neck and then push, or release into you full length and width before you move. It’s not a conscious choice for most as they have done it as habit their whole life, but it sits on the border of the conscious and subconscious mind and its somewhere you can find if you train in the right way.
If you take the analogy back to being on a bike, think about how you start off, my guess is pushing down hard on a pedal, lock the neck and shoulders and put in some effort. Why not freewheel instead? Have you tried instead of pushing down on the pedal thinking about how the other leg comes up instead?
The way I teach at the moment is that we often get to a red pill/blue pill situation. I will set a student up several times to let them have a feel of what they are looking for, and then I apply pressure and ask them to make a choice, find a way to release into the movement or recognise that they are pushing. Once you see enough times that it is a conscious choice, one which can lead you to either habitual bracing or subconsciously controlled balance, then it becomes easier to realise that the hand shapes and movement of the art are not that important; the body tends to sort itself out. I honestly think that the obsession with forms is really missing the point of them. All movement is fundamentally easy the more we understand the primacy of initial choice we make and the consequences if we make the wrong one. Without that its like trying to ride whilst still holding the brake on.
Standing practice in CST is very important but it can be a bit of a swiss army knife which gets misused. It’s a chance to let go of habitual holding of muscles, to let go of the racing mind and also calm the emotions. But if you approach it in the same habitual manner of the everyday life you might see it as standing statically and waiting for some divine intervention. Standing practice for me is just moving in micro form; am I in process of standing up to full height or about to sit down?… well both. I am being alive. Not practicing being alive, but being alive. Not lost in some part of a meditative state, but in the room ready to interact. Not easy for an introvert like me but something which with practice that becomes easier.
So to get back to the analogy, riding a bike is easy once you are going, but its hard to get going if you have both feet on the floor for stability and are holding the breaks down. So the thing you need to practice is finding that place of decision, to observe the thought in the mind when the point comes, and see if by waiting and following the process then potentially there is something else in you. There is, I know that there is, but trusting a process is difficult when habit is easier to rely on. That is all I really practice at the moment, and mostly what I teach, so it must be working a bit or I would be a very lonely wing chun teacher.
CAN WE, WILL WE, WHEN WILL WE REOPEN?
I hope that everyone is well and has been able to continue training over the last few months. The online classes have been a really pleasant surprise for us, they have allowed to devise a method of group teaching which supplements our usual one-to-one coaching approach. If you have not been able to join, we have maintained the core group of the club very well with regular classes reaching 20 attendees.
In the same way as when we entered the lockdown, government advice is changing quickly and there is potential that we could open the doors to a class in July. If that becomes possible, the question for us is what will that look like, who will come and what will we do. I am going to some ideas here for students to think about, and ideally you can text, email or FM message me with what your preferences are so we can get back to training in a way that benefits us all.
My thoughts are:
The big question I have to ask students is will they come to class if and when the regulations allow it? I appreciate that some have health and financial issues and that they may have to wait. Financially I do not want to pay £30 to rent a room which will be empty, so I need to know who is interested? If there were only a few students would you pay £10 a session? My preference is to charge £8 drop in if the group is a good size, but would students be willing to pay say £30 a month instead (some months you would get 5 sessions, others you might miss one).
So lots to think about. I need to hear from you to get an idea of where we are at now. I have been teaching privately over the last month and I am very encouraged by the development of our senior students who will be able to assist us with teaching as they have a good grounding in Sung methodology. Exciting times ahead.
I get knocked down, but I get up again...
Its very easy to feel sorry for ourselves at this time and let it get us
down. I am already missing seeing and training with two of my best
friends Mark and Jon, something which we done without fail every week
for about 15 years. I miss the club, a group of great students we have
nurtured over the last 5 years. And I miss my Alexander Technique
training; I was meant to start training three times a week from April
but the has been postponed until the crisis is over. But, if we have
our health, and our friends and families, then we will get through this
and come out stronger on the other side.
I've decided that I will not lay down and let this beat me, it is an
opportunity to go deeper into our own training and not be diverted by
the distractions. So my plan it to keep the Sung ethos going by running
online training twice a week just as we have always done. I've bought a
webcam (its not great but it does the job), I've resurrected an old laptop, I've put a big
monitor in the garage; I am ready to get started. You cannot learn CST
wing chun online, but if your are already a wing chun student you can
use an online forum to train with others, to discuss and to delve deeper.
So how will it work?
I am not entirely sure to be honest, it might be rough and ready but so am I and so is Sung. Here my ideas for starters:
1. Instead of standing practice at home, a chance to do it together and
feel part of a group.
2. Guided form practice.
3. Q&As, a lot of people email asking me questions which I cannot
answer well by typing, this will give the opportunity for people far
away to use our group as a sounding board for ideas. Share our
collective knowledge. In my view there are no secrets.
4. Homework - There are tons of videos online which we can discuss and
disect, Also I have a large archive of unseen footage of CST. I can
share this before class so we can discuss. Maybe Mark can provide
5. Have you read one of my blogs and thought 'what is he on about'. Here is a chance to ask.
6. Guest teachers - we have friends everywhere, Nima, John Kaufman, Eddie Chan, Ada, perhaps they want to join us and offer some ideas. I am sure I can twist some arms...
I plan to either do this over Skype or Zoom. Skype has the advantage of
not needing to join the platform, I can just provide a link for
participants for each class. I have started a private Facebook group
where I will provide the link to each class, it will be a place where
students can post questions which we can discuss later and I will put
unseen footage. You could even post videos there of your own practice
which we can discuss in the class.
I am hoping it will not just be local Sung students who join us, we have
friends all over England, Wales, Czech, Netherlands, US, HK and Australia.
Imagine what we can share together to develop our wing chun at this time.
I think that it is fair to ask for a voluntary contribution of £3 to those who are able, that is less than half the price of a normal class. However if you cannot afford this because of the virus has affected your income
then it will be free of charge. Payment can be through Paypal or bank
transfer and I will out details in the group.
So, here is a link to the FB group, join it and I will provide the link
for the next class. We will keep the usual times of 8pm on Tuesdays and
The first 5 years
If you would have told us 5 years ago when we started Sung that we would be hosting a seminar for Ada, that we would run yearly seminars for 50 people who were training in CST methodology and that we would be taking students to help us run seminars in Prague, we probably would have laughed at you. We are just three highly obsessed guys who trained together (and still do) in garages, kitchen and cellars whenever the opportunity presents itself. We are not a big club, we are not in it to make lots of money and shouting to the world they all do it wrong, we just say it as we see it and teach what we believe. For me that is the first step to running a club under the lineage of CST and it needs to come first in what we do.
It’s a bit concerning to think that each year has been better than the last, because perhaps next year will not live up, but I am as ever a man with plans to move forward and showcase CST method as best as we can. There are lots of highlights during the year, so its worth saying them so we do not take it for granted (in no particular order):
Structural Wing Chun
A problem with using the term internal wing chun is that you quickly allow yourself to be judged by the language and definitions used by others arts. Those arts may have a lot to teach, but it can be hard to de-clutter the dogma and superstition of methods dating back to before sound scientific objective thinking. What I see as being important is not your words, but how your wing chun is structured. Is it done is such a way that your structure is aligned to support a strong contact point (wrist, fist, leg etc), or is it a structure designed to use the whole body to deal with force. With the first the emphasis is pointing outwards with the other it is inwards. I cannot emphasis enough how different those ideas are and how much they will effect your wing chun. CST is about the latter and if you are not yet ready to understand that then you will get derailed on your journey.
I am sure that Ip Man taught all of his diligent students good quality structural wing chun as you have to do for all new students. He gave them all the building blocks to make wing chun their own as is the job of any teacher. People like Chu Shong Tin and Wong Shun Leung ran with that, they analysed, thought and tested what they learned and made for themselves usable but different systems. Other contemporaries really just did nothing with it, they saw those blocks and thought that was it all. Unfortunately they passed on that shell of a system to their students and what we are left with large pockets of wing chun around the world without any substance. A wing chun which only works on other wing chun students. No wonder people want to supplement their training with additional arts.
This phenomenon is likely to exist in CST lineage as well. Sigung for the majority of his career passed on not just the structural wing chun he learned, but he tried to give the details of his refinements and understanding (people see this as internal alignment). But the truth is it is not just what the teacher has to give, it is the effort and tenacity of the student which will lead to the transition of ability through the generations. No one can quite have what CST had, it was his, the combination of billions of incidents, habits and ideas of a lifetime. Copying Picasso will not make you Picasso. What we are talking about here is art; you start with solid principles but art is alive and subject to reality and outside influences. Angles and weight distribution might give you the bare bones of information for learning a form, but to understand it do not just question angles and measurements but question WHY. What is the common denominator that makes the whole package work? Parroting CST words is not understanding. Words have the annoying habit of existing in context both in the situation and to who they were said at a point in time.
CST wing chun is a precious thing, it does not fit with standardised syllabuses and strict rules because it involves how our concious and subconcious minds interact with our bodies to deal with outside forces. If you start telling me you know all the secrets, that you have nim tao, I will tell you I already know enough about you. Imagination might help, as might meditation, yoga etc but they are different paths and if you follow a different path you will reach a different destination. That is fine, don't confuse yourself and others by saying it is the same place though.
So to move your wing chun on from a structural skeleton to a living organism, you need to make it your own. There are loads of other arts we can look at to help us understand and to think. Looking outside the box can help your understand what is in the box. But there is no substitute for doing the work yourself. If you want to do what CST did try doing what CST did. You need a solid idea of what the art is and how it might work, or it will fail. Failure is good, it is part of the journey. Saying the words relax and nim tao a million times will not change you, understanding what they mean and how they are usable ideas might. There is no good teacher of this who is also not an obsessive student. Humility comes from knowing how little you know but confidence comes from the understanding of what you have learned and it's current limitations. That gives you the ability to grow beyond externally aligned structure.
This is a quick blog to carry on from my FB post the other week about the lat muscles and connection to the lower back. Extending away from the other part of your body are the deepest muscles which connect to your spine - the psoas muscles. They connect the spine to the legs and pretty much support us when we stand and move. When people talk about their core they are usually thinking about the superficial abs, but they do not provide much in the way of stability. The poas is where you should look; not to strengthen them but to release them.
The reason I am mentioning this is that you hear a lot about tai gong and people rote saying release your tail bone, but the reality is that if your poas is in a state of continual tension then trying to release your tail bone is only going to set your lower back into oppositional tension with it. The result will be that you grip your pelvis and the tailbone goes nowhere.
The image below is useful to look at as you can see the psoas is in front of the spine and spirals around the hip joints to the femur heads. If you want to let go of your pelvis and stop pulling your legs up into your body, you need let go of the grip in front first. If you do not know how to feel these muscles, ask someone to push you from the front and almost immediately you will feel them tense up. Think about that for a moment, really the reaction makes no sense, how could those muscles stop someone from pushing you backwards? In order to make use of the floor and your directed body mass you need to let them go as much as possible. If you can do that the spine release up from the front and you might have a better chance of letting go of lumber tension.
Tai gong is about unifying your upper and lower body, so of course the psoas has to be involved as it is the key muscle group connecting it together. No muscle works in isolation from the others and we do not need to know how they all function, but just be careful that you are not telling your body to let go of muscles in the wrong direction or in opposition to each other, or you just create more problems.
As ever this is all just words and cannot replace the feeling and sensation that a teacher can give you. But is always worth testing your ideas of how things work.
September, just like January, is usually a time when we get new students eager to try out wing chun, or alternately a few old faces reappear with the intention of starting again. Come October most of them have vanished. It is a cycle I have seen for almost 20 years of training in martial arts.
I am not sure how people reasonably expect to learn any martial art if they only want to commit to once a fortnight of training, and even that is usually if there is nothing else comes up that day. Even for some that do train with us for several months and start to grasp the depth of this wing chun, many still think that two hours a fortnight will make them a ninja. You can see the disappointment when after a year or so that things did not work out that way and other people progress much quickly.
There is always an excuse available to us not to train, feeling tired, bad weather, bad day, drinks after work, money; the comfort option is provided by our brain as a ready waiting friend. But just because we talk about relaxation does not mean there is not work to be done. I do understand the dilemma, I’ve had two kids since I started training, a busy job and loads of potential distractions. But you have to ask yourself the question if I am not willing to try now, to put in the work, when will you do it? Really, when? If your daily training routine is an exercise in avoiding discomfort, to pamper yourself after work every night, then it will only get harder for you. In fact ask yourself the question how busy are you really? How much time in front of the telly, computer etc, hanging around with people so not to feel awkward by saying you have something else important to do. Then ask yourself - what if? What if you actually put some time aside and tried standing practice every day, came to classes or even had a private lesson. If you have not really tried and do not intend to, then failure is guaranteed.
I am not writing this blog to have a go at anyone, just holding up a mirror to us all. Plenty of people have come to the club and in a short period seen a big improvement in their wing chun, in their physical, mental and emotional health because they have taken the decision to commit to themselves to a difficult endeavour. I train every day, I give my all for every minute of every class but I know I can be lazy sometimes. But what we do not want is to look back and say that maybe we could have been better, achieved our goals, if we actually put that extra bit of time in. Maybe turn off that telly or put the phone in the other room; don’t be half hearted. You only get a return if you make an investment.
So make a choice, if not coming to every class maybe one extra class a month. If you are one of the many people who have said to me you plan to visit Sheffield for private lesson, then do it. Why would you say it to yourself if you do not beleive it? There is only one person you will be letting down and failing if you not not try.
Motivation comes and goes, it is the drive to improve ourselves which we must cultivate if you want to achieve. There are days that you have drag yourself out, days when it hurts to stand for long period, days when the mind wont stop wandering, but if anything worthwhile was easy everyone would be a master. So stop putting it off, stop watching youtube as if that provides all the answers, and get training. Maybe you will not like it, maybe not see any improvement, but better to try and fail than never know what you are capable of.
Keeping you up to date with what is happening in class