Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Compress and Expand

The following video clip was made from Sifu Ralph Haenel's MovementKeys seminar held on December 9th, 2017.

This exercise allows you to train the awareness of your movements in Wing Tsun Kung Fu.

The tips summarized below:
  1. Train slow and listen
  2. Find your spinal movements
  3. Play with gravity
  4. Slide and ride the wave
  5. Compress and expand
  6. Wiggle and find the point
  7. Be present
  8. Experiment
  9. Be the wave
  10. Flow from under or over
Happy Training!

Friday, October 13, 2017

Wing Chun Illustrated

Wing Chun Illustrated "gives a voice to all lineages."

I was fortunate to be able to interview my Si-Fu, Ralph Hänel, for the 38th issue of this magazine.  Check out my Si-Fu's website here.  Thanks to Sifu Eric Lilleør for the opportunity!

Read it here.

Order your print-on-demand copy of Issue #38 here.

Happy training!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Awareness of balance in Wing Tsun

If you study and train Wing Tsun Kung Fu, you may have been told about the Centerline theory (centREline for us Canadians).  Or, you may have heard about following the opponent's center.  Alternatively, you may have had experience with an opponent's elusive center, yet yours is quite apparent to them.

This video is based upon the seminar held on August 19th, 2017 in Vancouver, BC, Canada, by Master Ralph Hänel, of Wing Tsun Kung Fu Vancouver.

Wing Tsun Kung Fu Vancouver

During this seminar, through all of the exercises (be it opening, hollowing, pushing, etc.), we trained our spherical shield or ballistic armour.

My own personal training points were:

1. Feeling the partner's center
2. Affecting the partner on first contact, at any contact point
3. Constant awareness of maintaining one's own balance and affecting the partner's balance

Happy Training!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Rene Latosa Escrima Seminar

On June 16th, 2017, I had the opportunity to attend a Latosa Escrima seminar by none other than the master himself, GM Rene Latosa!  This was organized by Behzad Karim of Back to Basics Self Defense, and held at the Academie Duello (this was a great environment with medieval sparring occuring in the background).  Apparently, as per Sebastian Molnar of Salsa Kapow, they also hold salsa classes at this venue.

Several others from the Wing Tsun Kung Fu Vancouver class also came.  Si-Fu Ralph Haenel told us that Rene Latosa is very friendly.  He was absolutely correct!  


Prior to this seminar, my first and only exposure to Latosa Escrima was in Toronto, while I was also learning Wing Tsun from Si-Hing Asad Mir.  He had held some Latosa-Escrima classes at one point.  I recently found my content sheet with the Level 1 program.  I had not even finished level 1 yet.  This was 12 years ago!  I hardly remembered the form.

The one thing that impressed me about the seminar was that GM Rene Latosa initially asked us to just move as we would naturally during a strike, while he observed our motions. I was very glad that he did not teach any specific techniques.  Had he done so, I am confident that my body would have been restricted, and I would not have learned as much as I did.

I also liked the learning point that in a self-defence situation, we were not expected to be accurate with our first strike.  In fact, we should almost be expected to miss, and be ready for more strikes. In the heat of the moment, when trying to defend oneself or others from harm, there will be increased stress and limited time to react, so I can certainly see this occurring.

I’m not going to go through all the drills that we did.  Rather, like most of my previous Wing Tsun seminar reviews, I will outline 3 main ideas that I gained from the seminar.

Whole-body movements

The practice of whole-body movements in Wing Tsun have already activated many connections in my body.  The drills that we were shown did not feel foreign to me.  While the movement patterns were not identical, the concepts of prerequisites for good powerful striking was, including such things as a sinking stance, relaxed posture, activation of our spine, weight-shifting, the use of large and small circles, etc.

Keep moving and learning about your own body's movements!

Improving empty hand striking

In the Wing Tsun system as taught by Si-Fu Ralph Haenel, training with the Luk Dim Boon Kwun (long pole) and Bart Cham Dao (knives) improves our empty hand skills.  In Latosa Escrima, I found that this was a common theme as well.  Yes, we train with weapons, but it does not only translate to being better with the Escrima sticks, or the staff.  It accelerates our empty-hand skills.

The crucial point, however, was to be able to self-analyze and critically think about the drills you are doing.  Can you honestly say, that when you go through a drill, that you don’t get stuck in a repeated predictable rehearsal with your partner?  Do you fall into the trap of a monotonous dance?  Or, are you in the moment, feeling your body movements, accessing all the options?  Is there intent at every second?

What is the drill's impact on your function?

Radius of striking zone

This is where you picture a half-circle of striking zone in front of you.  I can see the link between this idea, and the practice of the Weapons Chambers as taught by Si-Fu Ralph Haenel.  Although we have the direct lines of attack in Wing Tsun, we also have a variety of options, and should also have the ability to generate power in many directions. We must not be stuck on a classical A -> B chain punch.  There are many different punches in Wing Tsun, and many different ways of using a strike from our Weapons Chambers.

To extend this even further, perhaps we should picture an entire circle of striking zone, with a circumferential sphere of powerful options.  


In the weeks leading up to the seminar, I was asking myself various questions, thinking about all the differences between Latosa-Escrima and Wing Tsun. 

“What was the Latosa-Escrima form again?”
“What were the 7 strikes?  Were there 7?"
“Would I be able to remember the 2-track stance?”
“Was not the weight more so on the front leg, not the back leg when initially training Wing Tsun?”

In the end, it did not matter.  Why?  Because, as I said before, we did not learn specific techniques.  We went through numerous drills and  creative ideas that allowed us to activate our bodies, in order to improve our skills.  

This was just a snippet of what can be gained from attending a Latosa-Escrima seminar by Rene Latosa.  I am glad to have had the opportunity to meet and listen to such a modest legend.

Happy Training!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Si-Fu, Sifu, what's in a name?

I just had the pleasure of reading Sifu (師傅) Alex Richter's article in Wing Chun Illustrated. It can be found here.

I also call my barber Sifu (師傅), so I wholeheartedly agree with the article.

From what I understand, my WingTsun Sifu is Si-Fu (師父) Ralph Haenel, who is also Sifu (師傅) to others.  Si-Fu (師父) is a family term with the word father (父) in it. I'm just not sure of the history of putting the hyphen and capital to differentiate, for the English translation.

If we stick with family terms, I guess Dai Si-Fu (大師父) could mean your first Si-Fu. Just as we have first older brother (大哥), second older brother (二哥), etc. We could have more than one Si-Fu. However there shouldn't technically be a Dai Sifu (大師傅), I believe, as this is now not a family term.

Your Si-Dai, or Si-Hing, maybe even Si-Sok

See this video for even more confusion, about Family Trees.

Sifu Alex Richter on Twitter, states that "Dai Sifu can't be compared to Dai Si-Hing as Chinese Tradition doesn't allow more than one si-fu.  大師傅 exclusively means 'great master'" See tweet here.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Wing Tsun Gran Canaria

While on vacation to the Canary Islands, I had the pleasure and privilege of visiting Sifu Peter Grustad of Wing Tsun Academy Canarias on October 16th.

Just prior to the trip to the Canary Islands, a YouTube video from Wing Tsun Gran Canaria showed up on my feed.  Was this fate or just plain data collection by Google?  

So, what else to do but to search for "Wing Tsun Gran Canaria" and finding the website http://wtacademycanarias.com?  Asking Si-Fu Ralph Haenel of WT Vancouver about Sifu Grustad reveals the fact that they had trained together at previous European seminars.  I had a friendly e-mail correspondence with one of Sifu Grustad's students, Tobi, to arrange a visit in between all the sightseeing. 

Following a short morning hike in Tejeda, it was about a 1 hour and 20 minute drive with narrow roads and hairpin loops down the mountain.

Google maps led the car to an area just east of the Maspolamas sand dunes, on the south side of the island.  An unusual cloudy day for the island. While driving into Camping Pasito Blanco, I saw a yellow banner with a familiar logo bearing the letters, WT. 

Now, on foot, I was drawn by another nearby WT sign, pointing to the left. I had seen pictures of the WT studio on the website, so I had a little idea (hey look at that, my first WT pun) about what it looked like. 

Sifu Peter Grustad introduced himself, along with his equally friendly dog, some type of a cross with a Daschund. My immediate impressions of Sifu Grustad:  a strong and confident build with a friendly presence.  Thinking about it now, this was the second time I had met someone after I first saw them on a YouTube video (see this posting for the first). A seemingly familiar encounter, yet still a completely new experience. 

Firstly, I was amazed by the training facility.  After a short bow, I was led into a large outdoor shaded training area. A small punching bag, half-tires, equipment for some agility and strength building.  Sometimes distinct smells are part of one's experience, but all my nose sensed was the fresh air of the island.  After all, this entire martial arts studio overlook the ocean. 

Walking indoors revealed a vast area for training.  The WT wooden dummy was recognized across from the entrance. A large training mat sat below swords and weapons hung on the wall, with a photo of Yip Man above.  Kettlebells and other weights also lay on the ground.  My eyes were also drawn to a large painting of Yip Man with a long pole, where a heavy punching bag also hung.  Walking to the left several steps, I couldn't help but notice a German copy of GM Kernspecht's "On Single Combat" on the coffee table. 

A brief look at a wall of photos revealed the close influence on Sifu Grustad's WT from Sifu Emin Boztepe and Sifu Heinrich Pfaff, and of course GM Kernspecht.  Behind there was a weight-training gym. 

After some further chatting, it was time for a private lesson. The generator was started up... and cue some training music - This Aint The End Of Me (White Comic). 

Sifu Peter Grustad asked me what I wanted to work on, and I asked him whatever student's usually lack.  We could've gone through some Chi Sao sections, but he said that there are always different variations, something Si-Fu Ralph Haenel frequently reminds us about. 

Then, as we started with Chi Sao training, he diagnosed the gaps in my structure and provided advice on improving the WT deformations. 

WT Vancouver students will be familiar with the first several seconds of a PT with Si-Fu Haenel, where an "engine check" of all of our deformations reveals inadequacies.  I felt the same here!  

Do you remember how we are told that the first Chi Sao section is important, if not the most important?  I can only say we tried to start with that!  Then it was time to tune up the structure.     

What are you training?

I felt that I knew little WT once again. It wasn't the few pounds I had gained from eating all the Sepia and Pulpo a la plancha, and Patatas con mojo. I don't think I was nervous either, even though I remember feeling flabbergasted that it is pretty fortunate not only meeting but also learning from someone of the same WT generation as Si-Fu Haenel!  

I remember thinking in my mind,  a first technician grade should have more structure than this. What's going on with my body mechanics today, and where was my forward springy pressure?  Have I been trying to practice too much of the minimizing pressure and signalling, and now I have shifted into a weak withdrawing phase again?  Was I not just the other day in Vancouver the opposite, stiffly holding my positions too much and being uprooted?

The lesson made me realize a couple of points in my own training. We are taught that throughout our WT journey there is a bandwidth of performance, how we may fluctuate being in the strong/rooted phase vs. the soft/mobile phase, in order to find that right fluid elastic powerful balance.  

But, in reality, we end up actually being in a stiff/holding vs. weaker/collapsing phase.  I think recently I have been in the latter phase, as evidenced by the diagnoses of my deficiencies by Sifu Peter Grustad.  On first contact and working ever so slowly and slightly, he felt where  my imbalances were situated. Do you remember the feeling of imbalance when Si-Fu Haenel just lays one or two hands on your arms?  It was the same experience.

The most important part of visiting another WT/WC school?  Listening.  Boy was it worth it. 

I received very valuable ideas and concepts to help my training, again much more important over just learning any techniques.


Another impression was the familiarity of teaching styles. I felt the angles and structure from Si-Hing Asad Mir of WT Toronto, fluidity and fine control from Sifu Ralph Haenel of WT Kung Fu Vancouver, and the useful mechanical metaphors from Sifu German Ferrer of Calgary Wing Tsun. I'm a thinker when it comes to learning, and the tips that were given to me really helped me activate my muscle chains.

Sifu Grustad was patient and taught slowly with ideas on how to improve my structure.  For example, literally millimetres of adjustments to my bong sao allowed less pain in the shoulder, and in return a better connection for absorption/redirection, but still allowing mobility in the shoulder girdle.

Throughout the lesson, using such weapons as spears, fencing epee, and Escrima sticks, analogies were made whereby emerging connections occurred in my brain.  

Analysis of training drills

Another important point is taking any training drill and asking "why?" and "what is the point of this drill?"  Si-Fu Haenel always tells us to make sure we analyze ourselves and our training. When asked by Sifu Grustad about certain drills, I do not recall giving a clear concise answer. I remember even giving him a very long-winded complicated answer once.  

One example is the Pak-Sao drill from Chi Sao Section 1 that I realized I haven't done since my IWTA days.  Do you also remember how Si-Fu Haenel reminds us often about (not exactly his words) "how the arms move in front of the body but also the body moving behind the arms"?  Sometimes it takes a different drill to make that neural connection, and Sifu Peter Grustad's explanation of this drill helped me with this concept.

I have been trying to formulate a model to explain the redirection and counters in WT, with a stick attached to a sphere, and some of what Sifu Grustad mentioned helped me with another step in this direction.  Thank you!

It was quite a privilege to train with a Sifu of the same generation as Si-Fu Haenel. Actually, many things about Sifu Grustad remind me of Si-Fu Haenel:  strong, but fluid, and timely controlled power. And a great sense of humour. 

What did I learn?  Back to the basics again. Analyzing and asking why, cataloguing the drills to build certain skills. 

Unfortunately, I did not have time to visit for longer, nor attend the group class held the next evening. As I left the studio though, I ran into two WT students Tobi and Martin. Just a few words of exchange, and I could feel the friendly but serious training environment at the school. 

I also didn't ask for good WT stories from the largely attended European seminars back in the 1990s. Perhaps another day, when I take a 16-hour journey to Spain again. 

If you are going to the Canary Islands (which is highly recommended), then you must contact Wing Tsun Gran Canaria and find Sifu Peter Grustad.  You won't be disappointed. 

Happy Training!

Monday, October 3, 2016

What is Biu-Tze and how do we train it?


Early on in my Wing Tsun (WT) training, I used to focus learning the techniques.  I don’t think this was an issue though.  When we first start out learning a skill, the mindset isn’t necessarily there for concepts and ideas yet.  When it came to Biu-Tze, I had thought that it was, as it was described by some, a secret “closed-curtain” technique.  But, again the emphasis was on Biu-Tze being a “technique”.  Even so, it was supposedly an emergency-response technique that could counter all.

Later on, with Wing Tsun being a passion, I had looked at books, posters, and later found videos about Biu-Tze.  Eventually, after officially learning the Biu-Tze form and subsequently Chi Sau sections from Si-Fu Ralph Haenel of Wing Tsun Kung Fu Vancouver (and still continuously learning in fact), I thought briefly wow, now I am at the next level…  I now had this secret “finger-darting” technique!  How formidable!

By then, however, I realized that Biu-Tze was an entirely different movement pattern, requiring certain body mechanics I was missing.  I had much work to do, even the basics of stretching and gaining even more mobility in my spine and shoulder girdle, for example.

The wonderful aspect of learning Wing Tsun from Si-Fu Ralph is that at one point, the whole WT spectrum from start to finish is shown, taught, and explained.  We need to be able to connect the dots, from the Wing Tsun Student Programs all the way to Bart Cham Dao.  These are the connections that allow our Wing Tsun mind to grow internally, and thus our Wing Tsun externally.

How do you get better in Biu-Tze?

Luckily, there are many different training partners in Vancouver, and we go through the spectrum of Wing Tsun not only in seminars, but also in group classes and private lessons.  If training Biu-Tze is supposed to change the way we move and improve our Wing Tsun, how are we supposed to train Biu-Tze?

When we first started out training Wing Tsun with Siu-Nim-Tau (SNT), we would do at least 500-1000 chain punches at a time during solo training.  We have been told to do the Biu-Tze form in a certain elastic fluid way, to exhaust ourselves with the various Biu-Tze strikes when doing solo training.  We also train the Biu-Tze Chi Sau sections with partners. 

However, there is still a step that I haven’t been able to see quite as easily.  When we are training Biu-Tze, is this a completely different movement pattern that negates all previous movements?  Or is it a logical transition from SNT and Cham-Kiu (CK)? 

-       When we are training SNT, I can see the relaxed yet solid flexible structure that we are to build.  I can also see other aspects such as forward intent, wedges, decompression, etc.
-       When transitioning from SNT to CK, I can see the addition of not only the horizontal plane to dissipate forces with the solid flexible structure, but also other skills for disrupting the opponent’s rooting.

However, when transitioning to Biu-Tze training, this step seems more challenging, as perhaps it should be.  The connection was not as easily seen in my mind, compared to the evolution from SNT to CK.  It seems more than simply adding the vertical dimension and all degrees of freedom in our movements and entries.  That would still be merely a change in technique.

I believe that one of the keys to improve Biu-Tze is to gain even further confidence in our SNT and CK abilities.  This seems like a typical straightforward and logical answer about training anything i.e. the basics first.  But, I don’t think it’s as simple as this training sequence.  In order to be better at Biu-Tze, we have to keep returning to CK, and in turn, back to SNT.  So, that if Biu-Tze fails, we have the built-in deformations from our previous training.

Remember the idea of Biu-Tze being the emergency-response techniques?  In actual fact, I think that the structure and deformations built from training Siu-Nim-Tau and Cham-Kiu are our actual emergency responses.

To confuse things further, there is a Biu-Tze engine in our movements that should permeate the SNT and CK “techniques” as well, in application. Biu-Tze contains an advanced internal engine for movement.  We still need the SNT and CK engines in place though.  If they are working well, then we will have a lot more confidence in allowing Biu-Tze to express itself.  One could say it is all just one engine, just improved sequentially, including beyond Biu-Tze with the Wooden Dummy and weapons forms.

If we train the Siu-Nim-Tau or Cham-Kiu forms with the Biu-Tze movement pattern, is this wrong? 

For the most part yes, it would be wrong to train the SNT form with Biu-Tze-like movements.  However, there is probably an intrinsic change in our movements developed from Biu-Tze that we cannot willingly change, at least easily.  What I mean, is that if we purposely use the flexion/extension movements of the spine during the SNT form, then that would be, for the most part, wrong.  At least wrong for the purpose of training the first form.  Yet, the Biu-Tze training should hard-wire a new fluid movement pattern.  While it will make all of the other aspects of our Wing Tsun better in application, it shouldn’t really change the fundamental core aspects of each of the forms when training.  Because, they are each training different ideas and concepts.

If we apply our Siu-Nim-Tau or Cham-Kiu techniques with the Biu-Tze movement pattern, is this wrong?

I don’t think it is wrong to “use” Biu-Tze in a SNT “technique”.  The fallacy in this question is again the speaking of techniques though.  In application, theoretically the training of Biu-Tze already fundamentally changes our Wing Tsun (for the better).  The training of Biu-Tze should improve a SNT or CK “technique”, just because of better movement patterns, angles, apparent pressure, position, directness, etc.  Have you not noticed, that after training Biu-Tze, our punches improved? 

Is it possible to turn “on” and “off” different movement patterns? 

It may be possible to turn “on” and “off” Biu-Tze.  But, this is likely easier only if we are in the consciously competent phase of knowledge.  It would be more challenging to do, if we are in the unconsciously competent phase.  As a teacher, it would be important to be able to demonstrate different movements to a student, when showing the differences between SNT, CK, or Biu-Tze.  And the same could be said of the Wooden Dummy and the weapons forms.  The caveat is that the internal structure and movements that are already developed cannot be able to be changed at all, and what is demonstrated is externally different visually.

Well, that’s a glimpse into my thoughts so far about Biu-Tze.

Next up, when comparing Siu-Nim-Tau, Cham-Kiu, and Biu-Tze, what is the difference in contact time, absorption, redirection, access, and countering?

Happy training!

After reading the above, Si-Fu Ralph Haenel had some comments.  Thank you!
Drumroll for... Si-Fu Ralph’s Guest Post (check out his blog here)

All six forms of the Wing Tsun Kung Fu system FORM us, our skills, but also change, influence our perFORMance. Right now we are only looking at a few brief ideas of the first three forms, the Siu-Nim-Tau (SNT), the Cham-Kiu (CK) and the Biu-Tze (BT).

The following examples are divided into four categories and for the purpose of a quick overview, each category is kept short and simplified, cannot be complete. 

I have chosen Tan-Sau as a single technical tool, to show the evolutionary process through the forms.

I often explain the forms as different gyms to gain and form different layers of functional strength. The techniques, the movements are your "weights", to train the different muscle-groups and their ability to generate force.

For the regular student these different layers will form his skills as a martial artist.

In my opinion, a good instructor should be capable to show a layered performance, defending and controlling and attacking, based on the different forms, one at a time.

Each form also transports a different set of concepts, strategies and tactics. Often hidden in the technical drills of the various student and instructor levels.

First form, SNT
1. structure
- a upright, yet deeply rooted flexible structure
2. technical tools
- one defense, one control, one attack at a time; learning the building blocks
3. functional strength
- the short-range power, yet also what I call the impact-capability (leading to point 4.)
4. focus on Tan-Sau
- learning to use it as part of the crumble zone, working like a shock-absorber, leading a greater incoming force into our rooted stance

Second form, CK
1. structure
- the structure becomes mobile on a horizontal level
2. technical tools
- simultaneous action of defense, shifting / turning the body and counter-attack
3. functional strength
- the use of the hips, use of horizontal body rotations to generate force, power transfer from one arm into the other
4. focus on Tan-Sau
- learning distance and timing, while getting the body out of harm’s way

Third form, BT
1. structure
- the structure adds mobility on a vertical level, also diagonal and spiral
2. technical tools
- continuous whole-body motions for more consequential attacks, destroying the attackers structure
3. functional strength
-  a fluid, whiplash-like strength from toes to fingertips, involving all muscle-groups
4. focus on Tan-Sau
- turns into an attack (spade-hand), while still maintaining defensive and controlling properties

The student or aspiring instructor learns one layer at a time, yet should early on be introduced to the ideas of the programs ahead, to better understand the whole system of Wing Tsun.

We will also be guided by our own preferences, as well as our personalities. This, plus your own martial artistic ambitions, as well as the intensity of your training will determine, which Wing Tsun "layers" will be dominant.

Look for a moment at dancing. Is the dancer still counting steps and every now and then steps on the poor partners toes? Is the dance routine rather mechanical, somewhat uninspiring? Or is the dancer "hot-
blooded", has "rhythm in the blood", shows an exciting performance.

You can now hold your breath until you turn read in the face. Sorry, won't make you "hot-blooded".

So, ... In the words of the Bee Gees: Keep on dancing! Yeah!