The April 2018 Gathering was only meant to be a small affair where our local students and a few who travel further could meet up and train in a relaxed environment for a long weekend. Due to demand it did rather grow; it was limited to no more than 40 each day but we still had people from England, Scotland, Wales, The Netherlands, Czech Republic, Poland and Australia! Not so much a European gathering but an international one.
For me it was a nervous time just before kick off as I am a bit of a control freak; I wanted the conditions to be right so that people with a similar goal could train, share and relax (including me) . I do not how but I got it right, the weather, facilities and food was perfect. But most importantly the people were all great. There must have been 300 years of combined experience there over the weekend and it really showed. Particular thanks has to be given to Mark Allanson for coming and helping, including giving two kicking seminars. He is a fantastic instructor and a great person.
One of my previous blogs was called the ‘Oh Moment’ – I think a few people had such an experience over the weekend.
We had a picture of Sigung Chu Shong Tin watching us the entire weekend; it is because of him we were there, because of him I practice wing chun and because of him I have such great friends in Mark and John. I am not religious but I consider these are all blessings which have enriched my life greatly. The weekend was to honour his legacy and pass it on as well as we can (which is the whole reason for Sung Wing Chun).
My promise is that we will do it again next year. I do not want it to be much bigger (if it is not broke do not fix it), ideally we will get the gang back together and maybe have more mini seminars, breakouts and chances to explore this great art.
You know intuitively that you can produce a lot of power by pushing and pulling. If you have practiced this type of martial art before you also know that by relaxing and being a bit clever with subtlety, position and timing, you can make that pushing and pulling be very effective. In fact this is the basis of most martial arts whether they claim internal or external.
There is another way which does not involve pushing or pulling, but it is so different it is hard to see. The brain tricks us because we can hardly perceive our own effort so we think we are totally relaxed. We are still tricking ourselves. If you really commit to giving up, then your mind will perceive great risk. With no pushing or pulling what is left? Your mind will believe you will be hit or knocked over and tension will kick in. If you can just hold out for a bit longer the muscles have a chance to elongate, to balance and a structure can take shape which is innate within you, the same structure that stopped you falling over when you learned to walk. Our wing chun takes place at that point where you neither push or pull, you just set up your structure and allow movement to happen. Any force acting on you is dealt with by the bodies balancing mechanism. It takes a strong will not to react with habit, fear, compliance or anger; it is hard to hang onto an idea when faced with force and risk. But the whole point of training is to introduce these ideas in a safe environment and develop them. If you do not try it in class, how can you expect it to work anywhere else?
This is not a lecture, I am talking to myself.
When you reach for your cup of tea, you can just use your arm to support the movement but as you accept the weight of the cup it will cause you to tense your forearm and shoulder. This is because the effect of gravity on the cup is slightly overbalancing you. No big deal with a small object, but if you are then reaching further, say grabbling a 2 litre milk carton across the table, the strain will have more on an effect on your balance and your lower back. Try thinking about this differently. Once in contact with an object it becomes one with you in respect of how gravity effects you. Instead of allowing it to pull you forward. relax and let the weight drop into your elbow, down your back and into the floor. Let your centre take the weight and allow your body to organise how it deals with gravity acting upon it. Gravity is the one constant in life your body is born to deal with.
Several people have said to me that I chi sau differently from everyone else; they cannot work out what I am doing. That is because (good or bad) my movement is an expression of who I am and how I deal with gravity, it is not about contrived movement, position or technique. I do not want to conform to anyone else’s’ idea of what chi sau is, I want to make a connection so as to join you to my body’s own sense of gravity. I do not want to connect a tan sau or fook sau with your arms, I do not want to stick; if I seek your centre it is for you to try to stop me and in a sense your force decides what arm movement becomes appropriate. By joining for a brief moment gravity has an effect on both people and by accepting and aknowledging that bigger picture the choice then is to control and hit, or extend the practice for longer and engage in chi sau. You can take the force of the other person and allow the floor to support it, or allow your body to organise itself so the other person has to deal with your entire weight (without pushing). The true skill is then to maintain that control of how gravity effects both people throughout chi sau, so you cannot be hit but can choose to hit from as many positions as possible.
Chi sau without this idea, without this concept is just chasing hands. It is virtually worthless unless any opponent you meet in life is smaller and less aggressive than you, otherwise they will overpower your arms and hit you. You have to see the bigger picture of how you set up your body to deal with gravity (through standing practice), of how you move your limbs and body whilst connected to your centre (SLT, Chum Kui) and how you apply your body mass to someone else (chi sau). Without that it is mostly grown men playing patter cake patter cake.
Wow, what a great week it has been for the club. Our friend Mark Allanson returned for his second visit to share his vast knowledge and experience of Chu Shong Tin wing chun. Mark taught wing chun for 20 years in Australia as one of Jim Fung’s senior instructors before moving to Hong Kong to train with CST for about 3 years. He has massive knowledge of the structural, internal and fighting aspects of the art and he was kind enough to share some of that with us during both classes and well as spending the whole of Wednesday with Mark, Jon and myself. We were all buzzing by the end of the class on Thursday as Mark went around to every student to chi sau and offer guidance. I was not just impressed by his skill, but also his humility and kindness. The kind of teacher we should all aspire to be.
For those who missed this week, Mark will be there for the gathering in April. He will be an honorary Sung Wing Chun instructor and has even offered to teach a kicking seminar. My name is at the top of the list for that one.
Mark now lives in the Netherlands, if you are in Europe and serious about wing chun I suggest you seek him out for lessons. He is hard to find but most things good are. You can contact me for his details.
Starting a martial arts club was a risk, not so much financial but there was an element of burning bridges with our old training partners by rejecting their training methodology. Probably the biggest risk was to the ego; not attracting new students would feel like a rejection of not only the art but a thing which absorbs a large part of my/our lives. Also we did not want in any way to damage the name and legacy of Chu Shong Tin.
Three years on and it is a relief to say that Sung has actually have had some success, we have infected the lives of at least two dozen people enough that they regularly leave the comfort of their couches to come and train with us Maybe they do not go to bed with wing chun on their minds and wake up with it still there (like me), but I have a suspicion that for some it may have moved from interest to obsession. I wish people could train more, come both nights of the week, but as students become part of the family you realise that everyone has their own lives and problems, work and kids etc, so I do really appreciate it when they come to class.
The club has changed this year, Mark, Jon and I are very comfortable to teach what we believe without any nod to what will commercially attract students. We are probably the only club in the UK that has students undertake standing practice for 40 mins+ at the start of lesson, in fact probably one of the few in the world. As I say to every new starter, we do not do drills; CST wing chun does not have drills! We are all about learning to reconnect to our mind/bodies and utilise our mass in a manner which will not work if you drill it to fix it in habitual routine movement.
Things I am proud of this year are seeing a couple of students make fundamentally important internal connections, moving a large group of students on to Chum Kui; making connections with Mike Arnold in Wales so his large club can become involved in CST methodology; Rini has started to teach Sung principles in the Netherlands and Mark & I have taught successful seminars in Prague. Our family is growing. Also personally I have invested a lot of my time and money to improve my body awareness by training in the Alexander Technique; most Wednesdays I have got up at 6.30am to visit Manchester to be part of an Alexander Technique training school. I think that the 120 hours of hand on training I have had this year has improved my teaching so this is something I will continue to do.
A club takes a long time to establish, entering our 4th year will mean that we have students with many levels of ability who can now pass on their knowledge to new starters. I am hoping that a handful of students will start the Bil Jee form. The most exciting event is likely to be the gathering in April 18. There will be 40 of us training over an entire weekend; we could probably get 50 or 60 people but I am actively turning people away or putting them on a waiting list. There will be an exciting group of people coming from the UK and Europe who have been and training with the likes of Sisuk Ma Kee Fai, Nima King, Alex Man, John Kaufman, Tony Psaila and of course Chu Shong Tin, so a fantastic chance to share and practice with our extended family.
The only sad thing I take from this year is losing students. People need to move home to find work, they have children or illness strikes but it is hard to see someone who you have shared the investment in time and effort with leave us. The one thing I do hope is that they take with them some of the improved body awareness that they learned and it continues to help them in their lives, even if their wing chun never reached a level that they could use it in a martial way.
I am pretty sure that we will have some other exciting events this year. Our friend Mark Allanson is visiting next month and so I am hoping he will share some of his vast experience of our lineage with us and our students. Also we have been asked about more seminars in the UK and Europe which we are keen to do. Ideally I would also like to think about either inviting one of CST’s students to give seminars here or alternatively organise a group to visit Hong Kong. Onwards and upwards!
The first stage (and for most the only stage they reach) relates to holding and moving positions; tan sau, bong sau etc. The development point from here is by learning to release associated areas of tension the movements it results in power improvements, enabled by letting go of the shoulder, scapulae, the hips etc. For most experienced wing chun students this is the peak of their internal journey.
If you relax one muscle (or set of them) it will just move the tension somewhere else. It was tense for a reason (a misguided idea that it will protect you) and your body will lock somewhere else to do the same job. You have to learn the relationship between each of the muscles and how they can create a virtuous circle of shared ‘tone’. You have to accept force into your body, it is how you accept it in and deal with it which is the key to internal arts.
I do not think that you can do this work on your own, maybe one in a million can. Through body contact I can give you a feeling of how I deal with force, where I direct it and how I can give it back. I can then talk you through the process once you get an idea. It takes time but I can pass on that process and you can develop your own way. Doing SLT on its own without this guidance will not do this and relaxation without a guiding purpose will lead to collapse. This cannot work in a McDojo, your teacher has had to have followed a similar path or they are just reciting someone else’s words. It is very rare in wing chun, how many do you see teach like CST? How many can put a hand on you and affect changes beyond the contact point? Judge a teacher on how they feel and what changes they can elicit in you.
I have recently read discussions on forums of how the chum kui form works. Do you move from your centre of mass? Do you move your centre of mass around an external point? Where is your centre of mass? Can you create a false centre? How does your centre change when in contact with someone else?
You can happily do the chum kui form until you have worn a hole through the floor all the way to Australia, but muscle memory and theory will not help you deal with force. As soon as you are contact with someone you have entered a relationship. If you have not in someway mastered the basics of the relationships mentioned above you will tense up and you will push back. If you are not able to accept force and deal with it there can only ever be one direction of force affecting your opponent. Although it can be effective pushing in a diagonal is not multi-directional force.
Chi sau is you forum to learn how to deal with force, if you know how to deal with it there is no need for a contrived plan about how to pivot, no thought of heels or toes or barber’s poles, this is just stuff for beginners to notice what they are doing and allow change to happen.
Your own mind/body is in a constant flux and just trying to teach it a drill, or isolating a muscle in your arm or learning to hold your temper will not have much effect on how you hang together as a person. A more powerful method is observation, subtle direction (intention) and for WC students the indirect processes passed to us by CST which can elicit much bigger change to how to move and interact under pressure. If I have to punch you in the face, I do not want you to feel my hand but my unimpeded body mass going through you, and if I focus on localised body distractions this will make that impossible to achieve. Once contact has been made, a relationship has established and I need to ensure my system takes on control to my benefit and not the other way around.
Perhaps it would be easier to get people to punch and kick pads for two hours!
The term multi-directional force is a very popular but generally misunderstood concept in CST wing chun. The explanation you will hear is that on contact with an opponent you are able to relax, keep your joints open and move different parts of your body independently. An example of this is being able to pivot the stance, rotate the shoulder and open the forearm at the same time. All of this works very well in a demo when the student holds a fixed arm out and you are able to accelerate towards it, but in reality the situation is different. What happens when they truly resist?
It does not matter if you intend to have joints moving independently if when you ultimately get blocked your force then focuses on the contact point. You may be sending several forces there in one direction, but the opponent will feel it as one force and resist. The outcome will be that your sophisticated method has the same result as a push and you are left having to deal with your own force turned back on yourself. It does not matter if the contact point is an arm or someone's face, it is how you deal with the impact force coming back through your arm.
To understand the principle you have to turn it on its head. It is not that you are trying to apply multi directional force on someone, it is that you are accepting their force and dissipating it across your own body in all directions whilst delivering your mass. Relaxed limbs and open joints allow you to accept the force without resisting, but even then you need to know how to disperse it through your body, be it up down or to your centre. Noodle relaxation will not be enough, you have to understand the force path and send it somewhere to your advantage. I have seen people who say they are doing this and their hands are going all over the place before they can strike. Actually the more refined the skill the more direct it appears. Joints open and free allow force to pass through with minimal external movement. If you get a sense of this you realise that the body has to be erect and freely balanced to work properly; a braced stance is brittle and will break. Hence the importance of standing practice. Once you understand this you realise there is no ‘forcing’ in multi directional force, the power comes from an unimpeded acceleration of the body mass. You have to train your state of body awareness to utilise this as active ‘feeling’ is a hindrance (you end up chasing your tail). When it is done well the opponent feels like a wall is coming towards them, with no one place to resist.
If you concentrate on what is happening beyond your elbow (techniques) you will miss the art of wing chun. Ideally the techniques become a consequence of how the opponent inadvertently decided to suffer your body mass.
This blog is dedicated to Rini, Dan, Keiran, Martin, Steve, Craig, Ken, Jon, Haroon and Darren
For the past 2 1/2 years I have spent most of the class time rushing around trying to pass on what I know to as many students as I can. In fact for a two hour class Mark, Jon and I squeeze in almost a full 6 hours of teaching between us without much down time. It has occurred to me over the last week that actually we are getting some success. A good number of students have taken what we have given and have started to make wing chun their own. I am not saying that they have Nim lik, or that they are great fighters or chi sau kings, what I am saying is that the way they move and accept force into their bodies has changed and now they have the potential to be as good as they choose. Once the ideas of this type of wing chun infuses into your body, you have the tools to self analysis and improve by being honest with yourself.
There is no great secret to learning wing chun, it takes dedication and time spent practicing. Many people start training, come occasionally and give up see they see no progress. You have to work to find the skill for yourself and there is only so much spoon feeding that is good for you.
For the students above (and all of the rest) I say take the confidence to test and push yourself. Don't try to win all off the time, do less and let your ego slide. Pass on what you know as explaining to other helps clarify your own thoughts. If you do want to be good and you truely enjoy it, invest your time in training and it will really pay off. Wing chun has changed my life and it may have already changed yours. My hope is that Sung is a place we can all develop together as a community with a shared goal.
Some creatures are born fully developed and ready to function in the world; no need to learn how to move, no parents around to teach them survival strategies. Humans have a very long development period before we are independent which you would think would give us time to reach optimum capacity of use. No such luck.
We are the ultimate hackers. Nature may gave us a way to act optimally in our enviroment and yet we still use our brain capacity to cheat. Why fit into your environment when you can change it instead? Computer and machines mean we can sit hunched over our computers and everything is done for us, keeping us fresh to enjoy our leisure time. The problem is by avoiding using our bodies they become so messed up, unfit and tense that they cannot enjoy much physical activity when they get free time. Also our environment is so overdeveloped it is difficult to find natural open space. An under-used or misused body starts to feel a liability to disconnected brain.
You only have to witness the popularity of films like The Matrix and Terminator to show that in the back of our minds there is a fear that machines will one day take over. Once they obtain conciousness they will bypass their basic programming and destroy the environment which brought them into being. It is obvious that we are projecting our own subconcious knowledge of our development and behaviour onto them.
With our eyes at the front of our bodies we are always orientated in one direction, but this should not be a problem as nature designed us this way with a delicate balancing mechanism to keep us upright. However with computers, screens and tools we are constantly pulled forward and down, which strains our backs, necks and shoulders. From which part of your body do you hold the weight of your arms? Most of us pull them over the front of our bodies so we literally carry their weight all day long. If you look at a skeleton you can see that the entire mechanism of the arms and shoulders should be hung from the back of the body. There is natural support there to keep you up with no need to tense your neck and shoulders to hold onto your arms. The hacks we have developed to avoid work (computers, tools, phones etc) have contributed to a distortion of our muscular system and therefore natural movement. By using the wrong muscle groups at the front of our body we are disconnected from our natural power. What if you can reconnect to what is optimal, to remove all the tension in your arms, chest and lower back which is trying to hold you up for no reason? You might not be such a knuckledragger then.
The forms and standing practice of wing chun are a window into a different way of movement. But you really need someone experienced in teaching this method otherwise it is just another hack which will have further unintended consequences. You simply cannot do an effortless bong sau if you are expending considerable energy holding up your arm before you have even made contact with someone else. Even when they do a tan sau most people cannot unclasp their fingers enough to open their hand; that tension is going right up the arm into the neck. You really need to go back to basics first. The work we do at Sung is about how to reconnect back to optimal movement. Chi sau is our method to test this; if it creates power with little effort we know it is working.
Good Wing Chun is not about arm movement, that is the tip of the iceberg. The power is much further back, connected to the whole frame of the body and directed by the subconcious brain. No need for complicated techniques or talk of chi. Just reconnecting to your birthright is difficult enough.
Keeping you up to date with what is happening in class