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.
I used to know a wing chun guy who prided himself on being immovable. He actually got to feel that way by being relatively relaxed, but over time he confused cause and effect. Over the years he actively tried to cultivate the feeling of heaviness, to the point he became stiff and rigid. This came to head when someone came along who was bigger than him, lifted him off his feet and put him on his backside. Later on others realised that attempting to hold a space was not a great tactic and his loss of flexibility meant they where able to move around and take advantage.
In wing chun we use our relaxation and awareness to listen to the opponent and from there we can adjust to force them to adapt to us. However, if we insist with our movements and 'try' to overpower, we regress to the method of a bully. If chi sau is seen as a conversation, we use it to test our own beliefs before we impose them on others. If you do not listen, you do not learn. Self knowledge reduces the risk of pride coming before a fall.
As Sung Wing Chun gently expands we have gathered students from around the UK and Europe who are interested in the Chu Shong Tin method and who come and stay in Sheffield for short periods of intensive tuition. We have decided that next year we will organise a whole weekend where students can live, sleep and breath wing chun with other like-minded people. The brief details are currently as follows:
This is an opportunity to link a community of practitioners of CST method wing chun. We may limit the number to at most 30 to ensure proper time to teach so let me know asap. I will ask for a deposit of £25 later in the year but early payment will secure a place, otherwise priority goes to our regular students.
Please message Dan if you have not already expressed an interest.
When do you become classed as a martial artist, is it after your first class, on receipt of a black belt or somewhere in between? The term artist is is a big one for me; if you are just copying your teacher surely you are not an artist? Also if you movement are derived purely from drills, where is the self expression in that? If there is art in there somewhere, it has to be an expression of something inside, not something derived wholly from someone else.
Why does this matter?
People tend to beat themselves up that they are not the same as their teacher or hero, that they cannot live up to an ideal. Even if you were the same you would be a fake, a knock off. There is true liberation in seeing that your training is an effort in releasing your true ability, to express yourself as you really are. During training to be the best or better than others is irrelevant, difference can be celebrated as opposed to something to feel bad about.
Am I an artist?
I have never really considered this question before, but maybe today I will say yes. Not because I think I am good, but because I have to some extent liberated my mind and body from fixed patterns of movement in wing chun. On a good day I literally do not know how my joints will move when I contact someone else and in some sense there is a joy in watching the movement unfold. Almost like a detached onlooker. I am not saying I am a good artist, but in a sense liberating oneself from self criticism allows something to develop and evolve which would overwise be constrained and held back.
None of this makes it an easy job to teach wing chun. So instead of drilling students and laying down rules, we can teach principles and ideas. There may be no right answers, but wrong ideas or false impressions can be examined and eliminated by proper consideration. When someone 'does it right', it is evident in their whole body movement, you can see it in their face. Generally suprised, but deep down it just seems so obvious, a bit like when you finally understand a punchline of a joke.
Although most lineages of wing chun mention relaxation, for many it is little more than by way of lip service. The explanation given is that relaxing certain muscles means you can move quicker and increase your touch sensitivity, but there is no depth of understanding as regard how this can increase power or any methodology to achieve it. Even though the CST lineage of wing chun emphasizes relaxation, for new comers there is still a mystery as to how this results in an increase in power generation.
I am not a big fan of the actual word 'relaxation', it is too coloured by most people's interpretation which I would describe as collapsing or worse pulling down. In my hands-on teaching I usually direct students to, 'release', 'let go' or 'free the muscle'. But it is only through sensory experience of this that you can understand the meaning.
So the BIG question, how can you increase your power? This is the real irony of wing chun (and life), is you are already much more powerful than you know but you are constantly retarding its release by acting against yourself. Watch how people brush their teeth, pick up a cup or even type; the effort used is generally disproportionate to the job at hand. The issue is that we see 'big' problems in life and try to deal with it by breaking them down into 'little' problems. Even with something like writing we learn by concentrating on what the hand is doing and ignoring the use of the whole body. This means that the hand and arm act antagonistically against the body, which in reality is designed as the support. To put it another way, at Sung we use the saying that 'you do not use your arm to support your body, you use your body to support you arm'.
Ask someone to do a tan sau and they will raise the arm and move it forward. Is that a tan sau? If you bear in mind that the arm muscles extends into the body, up to the neck and down to the lower back. This is in turn supported by the hips, pelvis and legs. Do you have an awareness of all of this when you do a wing chun movement? Do you have to? Well the truth is that all of that chain of muscle and bone etc are part of the movement; the arm of the tan sau is the tip of the iceberg.
So what it the answer then??? Your true source of power is your body mass and postural muscles which hold it up. Your brain is smart enough to send those muscles signals to keep the body upright, but you are interfering with those signals with a bunch of bad habits and using other muscles to pull you down. Each time that you are posed a potential problem, you interfere with your design and use too much localized strength, therefore putting your arms and body in opposition. Therefore you need to do less, use less effort and watch how your habits always try to get there first. If you use your bong sau to push a punch away (I bet you do), you are also pushing yourself backwards. Instead accept the force. Even further let it join with the upward energy of your postural muscles so the person instead is lifting your muscle chains and bones right up from your heals. They will feel a great weight whist you will feel free and light. If you push even slightly in one direction, you will lock your muscles and be dependent on your opponent for balance. I ask students that in every movement that they do are they free to move the other way, or up or down. Only if your movement is truly open to this freedom will you allow in the force past the shoulder joint and along a path more useful for yourself. I have touched hands with experienced people who could offer no defense in chi sau because they were so braced to deal with the force they perceived I might have, they effectively beat themselves before I started using wing chun. I remember for the first 5 years of wing chun I was unable to move my sifu, infact he would fix him tan sau repeat to me with a laugh how immovable he was as we practiced. One day it clicked in my mind that this was stupid, of course I could move him as I was bigger and was in a better position of leaverage. To both of our surprise I just let go of the idea that it woukd be difficult and I lifted him back with ease. Thereafter this was no longer a problem to me, but I saw others suffer the same issue of perception.
I think people mistakenly believe that Chu Shong Tin was an all powerful being, an immovable object. For me I believe that he was an unstoppable force. Because you could not stop his movement (which came from multiple rotation of his joints throughout his body) you either let him him hit you or you pushed yourself back and compressed your own joints to failure. A tornado does not push you away.
My tips them for increasing your own power are:
Keeping you up to date with what is happening in class