Up until now the class schedule has consisted of time spent equally between sil lim tao form and exercises based on the form, with a little bit of chi sau for those who have previous experience. Now that we have a stable core group of about 10 students who have been with us for 5 months+, we will start spending more time working on the core of our practice, which is dan chi sau (single sticking hands).
When Mark, Jon and myself train together during the last 5 years we have almost exclusively worked on dan chi sau. Our view is that when most people use two hands they tend to cheat themselves by leaning, pushing, using speed, tricks etc. Basically if you try to use predetermined movement or move quicker than your sensory ability can assimilate, you are not training the awareness needed to reach a higher level of ability.
The dan chi sau we will now teach is not going to be the same as you have learned elsewhere. It will start as a co - operative exercise but as it develops there is no limitation in how you allow your joints to rotate and if you choose to hit or defend. Dan chi sau allows you to a chance to refine the structure and awareness you have developed in form practice whilst under pressure. It is hard to explain in writing the processes involved, but the key is finding a way to balance your partner's force without using tension, so you are free to rotate your limbs and affect their structure/balance. Ultimately you want to be able to strike your partner, but in a manner in which they are not free to strike back. The difficulty lies in the fact they are attempting the same thing.
None of this means that I do not believe using two hands is not fundamental to wing chun practice. It is just that two hand practice should be viewed as single hand done with both arm simultaneously. The objective should not be to roll your arms around in a dead movement, it is about obtaining the connection, finding the partners balance and releasing into it. I do not like the idea of training in order to build stamina to roll for hours, although it is enjoyable and addictive it misses the point of wing chun. You need to be able to deliver your mass into your partner quickly, brutally with minimum risk to yourself. That is the crystallisation of all you have been practicing.
So for the next six months those who have been attending regularly will work with one of us 3 during each class so we can pass on the key principles. Once you get it right two hands is a lot easier and that will allow you to work on what is the proper focus of the chum kui form; rotating your mass into your opponent.
Imagine the scene, Indian Jones scrabbling up a rockside. He seeks out hand and footholds which crumble in his fingers but eventually finds a foothold which can support and give equal and opposite force to what he exerts in order to advance up. With a great push he braces his pelvis, extends and connects a chain of muscles from his toes to the tip of his fingers which propels him to safety.
What's that got to do with wing chun? Imagine someone throws a punch at you. You raise a tan sau, make contact and using your structure are able to connect a muscular chain from you arm to your feet which create what feels like an impenetrable obstruction. The problem is that the other guy is not an inanimate rock face. If he is trained he will sense your strength, and quickly move around it. If he is stronger than you (attackers usually are) he might just smash straight through as he will have the advantage of momentum in his strike.
With most wing chun training you are dealing with the scenario of the skilled opponent looking to move around force. Both are trained to turn power on and off; where you find the opponent offers no resistance you power up and attack. The problem with this on/off method is that when you are 'on' you provide a platform for the opponent to feel your strength and where it comes from. It might be a flexing of the hip, push off from the toes or just a locked up shoulder. Show where you are strong and it only takes a big enough lever to have you lifted off your feet or at least have you arm moved out of the way. The thug on the street is not sensitive to minute flicks of the wrist, but they will throw big blows which will rock your alignment to its core.
A challenge in training our wing chun is that the type of alignment you are seeking is not what you think it is and you cannot use the signals which you would normally rely on. If you feel strong, it is because your muscles are giving feedback to achieve this sensation and all you are feeling is tension. It might be strong, but in only one direction based on a crude alignment. The alignment we are looking for has to come from using the cohesive mass of you body directed to the body of you opponent, which takes into account a lot more than pointing your wrist and elbow into the centre line.
This might sound difficult, but the process is relatively simple to demonstrate and to pass on by a patient instructor. However it can be frustrating for a learner as they do not receive the physical feedback of a tensed muscle which they expect and which they want to rely on. The usual comments when someone gets it are 'how did that happen, I did not feel anything' or 'I did not do anything'. The answer to that is it is exactly how it is supposed to be, by sharing the load through your body and the ground the impact is not taken by local joints and you hardly feel a thing (ideally). Once you get the hang of this, it becomes more a matter of awareness, which as ever takes us back the reason for practicing the sil lim tao form to get us in touch with our bodies. Don't believe anyone who tells you that you need to ignore the force, it is how you deal with force that matters.
As I said it is not that easy, there are no set positions and no perfect alignment. But.. there is one constant which you can rely on and that is the state of relaxation you have been seeking to achieve in practicing the forms and within the partner exercises. So in the end it is that one mental and physical state you have developed and can be depended on, which should provide support for all of the movements/techniques you use.
If any martial art claims to have internal aspirations they must share common characteristics with the three major internal arts of Tai Chi, Bagua and Hsing Yi. If your own wing chun actively promotes the methods detailed below, I would say it is following an external approach:
1. Actively clamping in your knees.
2. Gripping the floor with your feet.
3. Pulling your elbows into the centre line.
4. Using on/off tension during form practice.
5. Tensing on impact.
6. Drilling muscle memory in a hope of predicting the unpredictable (learning wing chun to beat wing chun).
7. Obsessing about weight distribution on your feet when moving.
8. Fixing your elbow into a locked position.
9. Locking your hips
10. Focusing on controlling the wrists of an opponent (chasing hands).
The above are not natural to your body, inhibit relaxation and the ability to utilise your body mass to affect your opponent. We all fall into these traps, but an internal approach involves inhibiting the desire to do these things and allowing the release of tension. Because of our build up of bad habits this can seen counterintuitive.
Note... I am NOT saying the above methods are ineffective, they work well for some individuals. I am saying that they are not consistent with an internal approach.
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