Welcome to the 2nd edition of our Wing Chun community newsletter.
I write straight off the back of a most successful & enjoyable AWCF Conference in the beautiful Adelaide Hills town of Piccadilly. Enjoyed by over 50 participants our WC family really feels as though it's re-connecting again; keeping the focus on the art of Wing Chun, friendship and mutual support. Though our Instructor presenters did not collaborate prior to conference on subject material, it was interesting to note the strong 'shoulder' theme (rotation/activation/relaxation) throughout. In the forefront of highlights from the weekend is the solid workshop material from all Instructors. Other notable mentions are the WC Quiz Night, random 'Ropes Challenge' ventures, entertainment provided by the Viking and The Horn (aka Craig) and the Duffel Bag Escape technique demonstrated by none other than Candice!
- check out some more conference photos at the end of the newsletter -
Congratulations to the newly appointed AWCF committee members in their new roles & thankyou to past members for all the hard work in pioneering the association. During the Conference a workshop was conducted which presented a standardised approach to acknowledge both Wing Chun Practitioners' level of skill achievement and the gradings of students. This info can be viewed at our website here.
As a committee, the AWCF has decided to revitalise our commitment to a regular quarterly newsletter 'little ideas', but we need your input to make it happen! We envisage publications on the 1st of December, March, June and September. Please forward any material you would like considered for publication 6 weeks prior to the publication date. All work will be reviewed by the AWCF committee prior to publication. That means the next Summer edition material is required now in time for publication prior to Christmas!
Yours in Wing Chun,
Melissa and Corey Slade
Word from the AWCF Chair
by Lindy Scott
Hi - I'm pleased to be the new chair of the organisation, which was initiated at just the right time by Seth & Gary. It was such a great idea and after much discussion by them it became a reality after Gary returned from a trip to Hong Kong and re-ignited the idea again. I thought that it was a very innovative way to bring the Wing Chun family together in Australia.
I will fill you in on a little of the background about my beginnings and time following the fabulous art of Wing Chun. Tony Blencowe and I started together in 1983 with a WEA course at Sifu Jim Fung’s Wing Chun Academy on Gouger St in Adelaide. We then spent a year overseas practising the Sil Lim Tao form as we travelled around India. On returning we started training with a vengeance. The school was gaining in popularity all the time under the tutelage of Sifu Jim Fung and instructors. In 1986 Sigung Choi Shong Tin came out for the Martial Arts Masters Conference and to conduct seminars. It was his first trip overseas and as we had travelled extensively throughout Asia we felt quite comfortable, albeit extremely respectful, in his presence. It was a time of a lot of lights turning on in some students’ brains. Sigung was very open to address everyone’s questions even though they were very naive. In 1989 we were the first Australian students to train in Hong Kong independently and were warmly welcomed.
In 2002 we felt we would like to follow the path of teaching and training as we have observed in Hong Kong and started our own group, Adelaide Wing Chun Kuen, at Fullarton. This has gone very well over the years and we have continued to have contact with Sigung Choi.
When Seth and Gary started up the federation it was very timely for us, as we were feeling a bit isolated. Since then there have been a proliferation of groups and clubs all training in the fashion of Sigung Choi’s lineage.
Tony and I thoroughly enjoyed a weekend of teaching, training and socialising at the AWCF Conference 2013. We met a lot of new people and caught up with some old faces. I would like to thank Seth for doing a fantastic job as Chairman and for organising such a successful conference. We can look forward to the conference next year being held in Sydney!
I feel the federation is about groups of fellow practitioners supporting each other, sharing ideas and above all enjoying their learning experience!
Dan Chi Sau
Uncovering the depth of the basics
by Seth Piszczuk
Dan Chi Sau (Single Sticking Hands) is a training tool that almost every Wing Chun exponent will have practiced. For most, the exercise is treated as merely a transition to move into the more exciting double sticking hands exercises, rarely revisited once achieving that higher level in training. This is a great loss, as within this simple exercise are some of Wing Chun’s most valuable lessons.
For the beginner student, the following ideas are perhaps too much to worry about at first. Learning how each of the basic structures work within the pattern of Dan Chi Sau is more than enough. But when you have the benefit of some more experience, going back and rethinking your approach to Dan Chi Sau can uncover some new ideas that will help lift your whole game. What follows is just a few ideas to get you started.
Facing One’s Shadow. Wing Chun advocates aligning our body to face towards the opponents centre, maintaining the ability to use all of our weapons at will. In double sticking hands exercises this happens almost automatically, as both halves of the body are active and involved. However in single hands where resistance is only placed on one side of the body it is easy to forget that you should be mentally pointing your whole body at your partner. It is common to see people gradually leaning or shifting towards the working arm, even worse allowing themselves to be led into poor positions by the opposing handwork. A simple point to remember is to use your stationary arm as a reference point for focus, shoulder position and relaxation. This practice will help you to not be distracted by force attacking one side of your body more than the other and allow you to maintain optimum position in combat.
Receive What Comes. This first line of the popular Wing Chun maxim is a difficult concept for practitioners to take on board. How to resist the natural flinch response to oppose incoming force with a jerky muscular action? The straight palm strike redirected by your guarding hand lays the foundation of this concept. Beginners violently jerk the palm strike down and out of the way, even pushing forwards and down with their Fook Sau in anticipation of the strike. What we should be training is how to relax and accept the force, resting on and sticking to the palm strike as it moves towards us will allow the circular structure of the Fook Sau/Wu Sau to redirect the force naturally. Applying this concept creates the ability to softly redirect incoming strikes, which by its subtle nature encourages over commitment from the opponent.
Circle Theory. This is a method of understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each individual structure. Dan Chi Sau is all about exploring the circular structures of each movement; however this is often overlooked in favour of just following the simple pattern. Rather than automatically shifting from one movement to the next, slow down, pause and analyse. Is each movement achieving its maximum potential? You should be aiming to always have the edge/rim of your circle attacking the flat/face of the opponents circle. Transitioning to Tan Sau from Bong Sau is a good example of this in action. Rather than just dropping the elbow and resetting the exercise, think of the rotation of shifting your arm from a horizontal plane towards vertical. Imagine holding a hoop (a rattan ring works well if you have one) filling the space created by your Bong Sau and think of tipping your partners Fook Sau off the edge as you rotate it. Performed correctly it should make your partner feel the urge to slide down your arm, losing the centre and giving you control. Applying this theory gives a simple universal method for self analysis.
Simultaneous Attack and Defence. Often students think this refers to one arm performing a redirection/defence whilst the other strikes, however it should be thought there are no purely defensive moves at all. Merely strikes which due to their rotation and application of the circular theory remove all external force. The very idea of defence changes the application of the movement. The mentality shifts from ‘how can I disrupt and control the opponent?’ to a flinching and detrimental reaction of fear. The Fook Sau/Wu Sau, whilst preventing the opponent’s straight palm gives the ability to attack by drawing in and uprooting. Bong Sau to Tan Sau attacks by exposing the centre. Fook Sau attacks by resting weight against the circular face of each structure it contacts. Bong Sau despite being commonly thought of as a defensive tool is also an attack. When your palm strike is successfully redirected, rather than just flopping down and waiting to ‘catch’ the punch with your Bong Sau, think about this idea: When striking forwards it is not your palm that is initiating the strike, it is the rotation of the shoulder that moves the elbow and then palm forwards. When the palm strike is redirected, the elbow can still continue in its attack. In a combat application, if your punch was parried, you could flow through into an elbow strike, utilising the same momentum. In Dan Chi Sau, we do not follow through to the elbow strike; however the intent and force of the elbow should still be focused in attack. This sets up an assertive posture that will force the redirection of the incoming strike and maintain a dominate position for yourself. Attacking the opponent is not just about striking, it is about holding the potential to strike.
They say Hindsight is always 20-20. While it may be a bit much to expect that we can make our beginner steps perfect just by looking back, we can certainly make them better. Rather than only looking for what comes next in the Wing Chun puzzle, take another look at the pieces you already have. You may find a better way to make them fit.
Looking At The Little Things
by Gary King
In our study of the forms we often overlook the smaller movements in favour of the larger or wider range movements. Likewise we often also overlook the static parts of the body, those parts that remain relatively motionless while another part of the body is moving. One such part often neglected in the Siu Nim Tao form is the very first part, the pulling back of the hands.
This state of having the hands pulled back is the start and finish of all movements. And it is held during the form when the hands are not in motion. Yet not many people actually seem to study it or even ask ‘What is the purpose of this?’
A few years ago I started analysing what I was doing with this part of the form and what could its purpose be. I came to the conclusion that this part of the form can be a very useful tool in helping us find and improve our structure and help release tension and energy. How?
Many of you would have experimented opening up the chest and back with exercises such as placing your hands in the ‘surrender’ position, perhaps with a push hands type exercise. Another similar exercise is placing your hands as a waiter would when holding a dish in each hand. Both of these exercises can help open up the chest, shoulders, and back, into a better naturally tall structure.
I believe the Siu Nim Tao part of pulling the hands back also does exactly this. It can be used in exactly the same way, though at the end of range of movement. This is where it can get tricky though, if you pull the hands back to much you create tension, too little and you may not be searching your full range of awareness, or worse still having no thought or structure in this hand position.
So ideally the hands should be pulled back as far as comfortable while maintaining a lack of tension, and being aware of an opening up of the chest, shoulders, and back. If you experiment and practice this, you should find a better connection to your centre or spine, and then your whole body.
With a better and freer connection with your whole body you can generate or release much more force, even from this hand-pulled-back position. A training partner can have great difficulty to stop you releasing a punch from here.
Good luck and remember practice is the key, reading this article is not enough…
Wing Chun Crisis
by Daniel Pitman
What is this dorky pigeon-toed stance? Why does my form look like an interpretive rendition of ‘I’m a Little Teapot’? How in all hell does this make me a bad-ass fighter?
The Wing Chun Crisis seems a common and infectious ailment amongst my peers. The internet flows with a flatulent and torrid stream of Wing Chun hating commenters, obsessed with their MMAs and their what-if-he-had-a-knife scenarios. As a Wing Chun beginner, one finds himself in a strange and quiet room, practising strange feats of passive pushes and a never ending torrent of being told to relax the shoulders, while Karate and Muay-Thai friends laugh and point to their favourite MMA heroes. Across the room, the senior students and masters stand in constipated poses, imitating ducks, and occasionally sparring in a way that surely resembles two traumatised bus-drivers discovering ballroom dancing for the first time.
The student might be wondering, where is the Kung Fu? Where are the miraculous kicks, all powerful punches, and lightening reflexes I signed up for? Wing Chun claims so much, but appears so little.
Further, if you are suffering some doubt as to the legitimacy of this not so ancient system, no one can really blame you. There are relatively few Wing Chun instructors out there who can truly back up their claims. Many of them make money through misconception, and hand down only a stunted and superficial set of movements to their students. In the various sporting competitions around the world, Wing Chun finds it hard to receive much credit. Two well-known competitive fighters come to mind who clearly use Wing Chun, but don’t openly claim to have trained in the art. A bad record is a bad record, and Wing Chun is most often represented badly.
Arguments rage as those who kick and grapple with conscious power take a fleeting glance at the seemingly awkward forms and still lifeless pose of the Wing Chun practitioners and dismiss it almost immediately. It is too easy for those who haven’t truly understood Wing Chun to assume the worst. Even Ip Man’s stories of the origins of Wing Chun don’t check out. Most scholars agree there was no southern Shaolin temple. In fact the whole Ng Mei – Yim Wing Chun story is utterly unaccounted for in any historic documents.
Superficially at least, the evidence suggests that Wing Chun is at worst a hoax, a scam, a succulent bait of superhuman feats and shaolin secrets, designed to take money from eager young people in the growth of booming Hong Kong.
True Wing Chun seniors and teachers must understand this, and hopefully can forgive the public or even their own students for any negativity. Thankfully, Wing Chun, like any of the internal martial arts, is quite simply not what it looks like. If you are suffering from any of these doubts, having your own Wing Chun crisis, or even experiencing Kung Fu amnesia as a result of all the abstract internal notions, (well I’m sure you have been told to relax already, but seriously) relax.
Wing Chun is elusive, but very real. It’s not about learning the movements or being hard. It is about being instantly formidable despite being calm, vicious and primal despite remaining composed. It’s never going to be a televised sport, unless short fights with throat jabs, dislocated shoulders, shattered eyeballs and jaws, broken ribs, and severe internal trauma somehow become ‘crowd pleasing’. True violence has no romance.
I personally remember the other student’s faces, filled with awe, as they finally executed their first successful attempt (fleeting though it was) at using the internal force of Wing Chun. It was silky, effortless, and for some time it we agreed amongst ourselves that for some reason the instructors were perhaps allowing us to move them, essentially faking it. But no, in practise the elusive internal force rears its slippery little head more and more often, usually when I’m not expecting it (such is its nature).
I recall a recent moment, as I was being used in demonstration of a pak sau, my attention wandered and my outstretched hand was left to hold itself there. The instructor attempted to pak sau my unconscious hand and exclaimed out loud. I turned to see what all the fuss was about, and behold!
The instructor was having to side step around my hand to execute his demonstration. In this instant, consciousness filled the hand, and it returned to its less-useful state of conscious effort, and it remained mediocre for the rest of the evening. Such moments are as frustrating as they are gratifying.
Sure the movements of the forms and their potential applications can be learnt and applied alone in fighting to some degree. Many less aware schools may claim a year to learn, but only at the most superficial level. By themselves, the movements are fast, efficient, with little telegraphing. Ultimately however the grand notion of Wing Chun is not the movements themselves, but how they feel inside.
I have recently realised just how much Wing Chun really does take its movement from animals. Not in a geometrical sense which would make it imitate animals but on a more internal mechanics & subconscious level dealing with primal instincts & feelings. You just can’t see it from the outside. When it works, it is enormous.
Perhaps this is where a lot of Wing Chun schools start to standout as rubbish failing to understand the deeper aspects of Wing Chun that evidentally will take more dedication & years in understanding the internal side of the forms.
In The Book of Wing Chun, Chu Shong Tin mentions that if learnt incorrectly, the forms can be almost impossible to unlearn and relearn properly.
I overheard a conversation between some very well established instructors, that our particular lineage of Kung Fu, as taught by Chu Shong Tin, had the greatest emphasis on the internal force, and that someone from another lineage likened our lineage to being “more like Tai Chi”. Chu Shong Tin himself studied Tai Chi for some years before meeting Ip Man, and this may have been a reason he could improve his internal force within the Wing Chun system, reputedly beyond that of even his teacher. He was bestowed the unofficial title of, the ‘King of Siu Nim Tau’.
Real Wing Chun is quite simply not what it looks like. The origins of the art remain a mystery, likely developed during the time when the Shaolin Monks were in hiding, aligned with Ming resistance against the current Qing government. The practise of martial arts had been banned throughout China, and Wing Chun was also hidden, its masters hiding behind misleading stories for their own survival, probably the myths and legends of today. Wing Chun’s history is littered with invincible challenge fighters, sordid relationships with gangs and triads, and a flow of unlikely heroes whose stories have inspired much literature, particularly films of late.
When I started, Wing Chun claimed to be a lot. I have been sceptical, had my doubts, and even wondered if I should give up, and go study a ‘real martial art’. But I made it through the crisis, and I currently experience an air of giddy rapture at the thought of progressing further into the system. I am taught by a genuine teacher and maintain dedication and an open mind. Wing Chun frequently redelivers a whole world of changes to my mind, my body, my social circle, and my lifestyle, far beyond the fighting experience I originally hoped for. I’m sure anyone in the AWCF will resonate with me when I say that Wing Chun is a joyous affair, from the most vicious and lightning fast of sparring, right through to the consoling meditation of long drawn out Siu Nim Tau.
Conference wrap up
by Shane Langham
This is the second camp I have attended as I was fortunate enough to attend the first camp even though I had only been training for just over a month at that point. That’s the thing - you’re not sure whether or not you should attend these events being so new or green to the amazing art of Wing Chun. Is it going to be worthwhile, will it all be over my head are questions that I asked myself before I attended the first camp. I then asked myself the question - when would I have all of these absolute top shelf instructors from all over Australia all in one place, all teaching and helping me to gain a better understanding of Wing Chun? I knew that I could not miss this opportunity. What was the worst that could happen? That I might actually learn something? I took the plunge and dived in head first not really knowing what to expect and not really knowing many people. It turned out to be one of the best things I have done.
When I found out that the second camp was to be held I checked the dates right away and I booked the time off from work (it was not a long weekend for me) and organised the payment for the camp and airfares. I was locked and loaded as I didn’t want to miss out. It’s important to do this early so you are committed to being there, committed to your training and committed to Wing Chun. This commitment is also to yourself as a reward for all the hard work you have been putting in as it’s important not to sell yourself short. Finally the day came to jump on the plane for my first trip to South Australia and Adelaide. If you have never been it’s a really nice place and the hospitality that I experienced was just great. I was fortunate enough to fly down with my instructor, Richard Antonini, and once we arrived in Adelaide we met up with the other two students from the Gold Coast who had arrived earlier. We were in luck as one of the locals, Vinnie, offered to pick us all up in his van and take us out to the camp. Thanks again Vinnie. Arriving at the camp was like catching up with old friends as we were warmly greeted by those already there. Most I had met at the first camp and there were plenty of new faces and it was not long before the year had melted away and seemed like only a month or so. Dinner was soon served and it hit the spot nicely after all the travelling. Catching up with everyone over a drink or two lasted well into the early hours.
The accommodation was just outside the main training hall which worked a treat. It was as if we had the place to ourselves as there was so much space there. Over the whole long weekend I certainly had more than enough food and I almost felt like I just ate food the whole time. Thankfully there was plenty of time for training. It was great as we worked our way through all of the 6 forms. I have only really started learning Chum Kiu a couple of weeks before this camp so the other forms were still very new to me. Even with that being the case, all of us were participating in the different exercises for each of the 6 forms which was great as I was able to get a taste for what I still have to look forward to as my training progresses. The Wooden Dummy, the Butterfly Knives and the long Pole were something different but I can see how they bring the earlier forms all together. You just can’t beat getting back to basics.
This year I got to meet and train with a couple of new instructors that weren’t at the first camp, Tony Blencowe and Lindy Scott. People say that seeing is believing, and for some part it’s true, but for me it’s the feeling that is believing, especially when it comes to Wing Chun. The other instructors that took the different workshops were Gary King, Seth Piszcuk and Richard Antonini. We were fortunate enough for Tony Psaila to drop in for a couple of hours between family commitments and it was good to catch up with him. When you have all of these fantastic instructors in the one room you can feel the years of experience and the more importantly you can begin to feel real Wing Chun. The workshops covered key parts of all the different forms along with Chi Sau and application sessions focussed on ranging, timing and counter take down ideas. I loved every minute of it and enjoyed each area and the way that the different instructors were describing the same thing in their own way which certainly helped in giving me a better understanding of the principals of Wing Chun.
There was a Wing Chun trivia night that was good fun but I think we still need to do a recount as the team I was in lost by only one question in the tiebreaker. In the rush to get ready for the trip I forgot a towel and I would like to give a very special thanks to Anna and Gary who somehow found me a towel on a trip to town, and better than that it was on special. This was what made it great for me - the camaraderie of the people at the camp. Everyone was giving and happy to share with each other in an open and positive manner. I was able to see how far my training had come along over the year by catching up with and rolling (Chi Sau) with some of the guys and girls from the first camp. I could see how they have come along in their training as well.
In wrapping up, Wing Chun is a journey and the Australian Wing Chun Federation camp is part of that journey and certainly is an adventure. I can’t wait for the next camp that is to be held in Sydney. It’s going to be so much fun and I learn so much more each time I attend. Do yourself a favour and set the time and money aside for the next camp now. It doesn’t matter if you have just started, or have been doing Wing Chun for decades, you will learn and it’s good to share and help others grow and in the process you will also. Let’s make the next camp the biggest and best yet. I encourage you all to attend as I believe it’s helped me to grow and get better in many ways especially with my Wing Chun. I look forward to catching up with everyone I have met at the first two camps at the next one and I would like to thank everyone who put it together and helped out to make this camp another one to remember.
Australian Wing Chun Federation Conference - Oct 2013 - Adelaide Hills
photos courtesy of Jason Loi