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.
Keeping you up to date with what is happening in class