Saturday, July 19, 2014

Wing Chun Do and You - Making Your Art Your Own

Wing Chun Do and You

Recently, I tested a student (let’s call him Fred) into his brown sash. During the test, he repeatedly voiced uncertainty about his ability to perform, at a master level, every drill on his requirement list. I chose this time to discuss his Tool Pouch submission.  

It is important, at this point, to talk about the history of Wing Chun Do. Ever since I’ve known Sijo DeMile, he has been conflicted regarding the nature of the system – that being a Martial Art vs. a Self-defense system. On the one hand, there is the science, logic and orderly method of the Wing Chun Do martial art. It contains a large body of drills and exercises designed to inspire and develop self-mastery. Many are intended not for practical application but as attribute builders. On the other hand is the indisputable effectiveness of the core self-defense techniques which, by themselves, provide the individual with solid personal protection.

Back to the test – Fred’s tool pouch sheet was sparse. It seemed to me to be lacking many of the techniques and concepts that I knew were integral to making Fred the great fighter I know him to be. I queried, “What about biu jee?” “What about sole kick?” What about the dark side?” etc. He replied, “I’m already good at those things. They’re part of me. I didn’t think I had to put them down on the list. I thought I’d put down the things I’m working toward perfecting.”

Here we must revisit the intended purpose of the tool pouch. The tool pouch is designed to produce maximum results from your valuable training time. The concept is to establish a minimal number of techniques which, when mastered, will be sufficient to handle 99% of the possible self-defense situations in which you may find yourself. Success does not rely merely on the number of techniques in your arsenal. After all, mastering a large number could take a lifetime.  Rather, it is the number of techniques mastered which will save your life on the street. Plus, the more techniques to choose from, the more decisions to be made. On the street this is dangerous. If you have to choose between technique A or B by the time you get to the word or you’re too late.

Back to Fred – with this reminder, together, we reformulated his tool pouch form until we were both satisfied.  I explained that there was a difference between Wing Chun Do and the student. I pointed to the green sash requirement list and said, “This is Wing Chun Do. This is a list of drills, exercises and attribute builders, many of which are not necessarily designed for practical application. Rather, they are designed to enhance one’s ability to defend oneself.” I then pointed to his tool pouch and said, “This is Fred. This is Fred’s personal expression of self-defense. It reflects Fred’s natural abilities.” I explained further that Wing Chun Do doesn’t win the fight. Being proficient at the drills and exercises on the page doesn’t win the fight, though they are definitely instrumental in refining and fine tuning the practitioner. What will win the fight, however, is the ability of the individual to perform, with mastery, the elements contained in his/her tool pouch. Holding up the curriculum I said, “This is Wing Chun Do. This is desirable. Fred is pretty good at this. Then, holding up his Tool Pouch, I said, “This is Fred. This is essential. Fred is excellent at this.”

Fred went on to test admirably and performed masterfully on the applied self-defense portion of his test. He said that our interaction that day significantly changed his paradigm. I believe that it relieved the pressure that many students feel to be perfect at everything. So to all students I say, “Don’t let perfection stand in the way of excellence!”

Friday, May 2, 2014

Wing Chun Do - The Secondary is of Primary Importance

The Secondary is of Primary Importance

In the Wing Chun Do gung fu system we employ a primary – secondary training method.  This means that each participant in the drill has a distinct role to play and that the success of the learning process is dependent upon each one understanding his role and performing his function correctly. The role of the primary is self explanatory – to learn to apply technique correctly in the shortest time possible. The role of the secondary is a bit more complicated, as essentially, he/she takes on the role of personal trainer.

First, the secondary must understand the technique being trained. This means understanding every aspect of the technique, including all of the physical elements as well as the concepts that facilitate effective application. Without this knowledge, the secondary cannot provide the correct physical stimulus or give quality feed regarding the primary’s performance.

Next, the secondary must be fully attentive to the performance of the primary in order to give consistent feedback during the learning/training process. This is essential to the goal of minimizing mistakes during the learning process. The point to practice is to perform perfect repetitions, creating the correct neuro-muscular pathways in the brain, so that the subconscious mind can assume responsibility for performance of technique.  To facilitate this, an effective secondary is dedicated to insuring that the primary performs the fewest incorrect repetitions during training.

The third guideline for a good secondary is to perform at the speed and dynamic appropriate for the primary. In other words, if he/she is working with a white sash student, the secondary should work at a speed and power level which allows the primary to think through the performance of technique so that he may be conscious of the correctness of his application. When working with a more advanced student, his responsibility is to be more challenging.

Finally, in order to prepare the primary for the reality of the street, the secondary needs to understand and develop a level of proficiency at techniques other than those taught within his style, even though they are not specifically applied within the curriculum of his particular martial art. This is especially true if one’s art specializes in a narrow body of technique. In other words, if one is a boxer, specializing in hand technique and never training for the possibility of defending against a kicker, he is apt to have trouble with a proficient kicker. If one trains only in grappling, he may have difficulty against a proficient striker. In other words, one should train to deal with the common/customary techniques of the day. At this time, the common mode of fighting is heavily influenced by MMA, consisting primarily in boxing, muay thai, and shooting to the takedown.

In conclusion, the reality of the situation is, due to their depth of understanding, the best secondaries are the best primaries and by extension, the most popular training partners. Good secondaries strengthen the school and make Sigung very happy.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Loosen Up! Base Mobility in Wing Chun Do

Loosen Up!

“You’re too stiff. If your base was better you wouldn’t be so stiff.” That was Sijo’s response when I asked in frustration, “Why can’t I stop them from hitting me?” Confused, I thought to myself, “What does my base have to do with the fact that I am so stiff?” Now I know what a silly question that was.

It was years ago (around 1987). And I was in Seattle working with my IIT brothers (Instructors In Training). I was getting really frustrated. Every time I engaged my opponent/partner, especially in chi sao, I was getting rocked and knocked off balance. It seemed that everyone around me was bigger and stronger than I was and that it seemed that I just couldn’t compete. Part of the problem was a misconception about ‘natural closed positions’. I thought that a firm enough bridge combined with superior position should be sufficient to shut out any and all strikes. You see, we all (IITs) were still in the process of divesting ourselves of the legacy of Jim Clark, our original instructor. Sifu Clark was a real tool, a hammer to be exact. And you know what they say, “To a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” He was the kind of guy that could just pound an opponent into the ground by sheer will, power and aggression. His answer to every problem was, “Hit him harder! You’re too weak! You eat too much red meat!” and of course, “Didn’t your mother have any kid’s that lived?” All I gleaned from this was that if a technique wasn’t working, you must not be doing it hard enough. But now I must try to understand Sijo’s approach to the problem. Maybe there was hope for me yet.

The problem was that my stance, while being a great closed bi jong, it was just that – a stance – and standing still is never a good idea. I was attempting to stand toe-to-toe with people more powerful than myself and compete, using force against force. As my base was getting rocked I would panic, becoming kinetic, trying not to get hit. But my rigidity only gave my opponent more access to my base. The worse the base – the more kinetic, the more kinetic – the worse the base, it’s the very definition of a vicious cycle. The end result – I was getting clobbered.

Then in desperation I began to use my brain. After a good deal of reflection and analysis, I had an epiphany. If I wasn’t in the wrong place at the wrong time I couldn’t be hit. I reasoned that if I could sufficiently develop my intuitive response, I could anticipate the opponent’s attack and just move out of the way. This was the moment I began to develop my concept of “listening” spring load. I determined to make my arms sensitive to the point that I could sense the opponent’s intention to strike, not as the strike began, but rather, at the moment that he made the conscious determination that he was ready to attack. What a concept – if you’re not there, you can’t be hit! With this new sense of mobility added to my tool pouch, the old vicious cycle was broken. As I perceived my opponent’s “readiness”, I simply took a negative close and, voi la, I didn’t get hit. I wasn’t capable of countering but at least I didn’t get hit. “Whew!” I guess counter-attack would have to wait for another day.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Sijo James DeMile Coming to Michigan - Celebrating Sibok's 25th Anniversary

My mentor and dear friend is coming to Michigan to help me celebrate a momentous milestone in my life professional and personally.  He does this even though his back is not 100 percent and the trip will be arduous one for someone in his condition.  He honors me.  I feel so grateful that he has chosen to make the trip here.  I am celebrating 25 years in business and as a certified instructor in Wing Chun Do.

Liz and I wanted to celebrate our anniversary and show our thanks to all our students, family, friends that supported us throughout the years. We planned events throughout the month of November as part of the celebrations. We asked Sijo for a letter or video that we could play for our students. Instead of a letter or video, Sijo decided to come in person. The fact that Sijo is coming to celebrate this event makes it so much more special and an exciting turn of events.  I cannot express my gratitude to him enough, knowing that  his last visit to Michigan was supposed to be his last.

He also will honor us by conducting two seminars, although the seminars will be shorten to accommodate his back condition and that he is in Michigan for such a short time. (flying in Friday, flying out Sunday).

Developmental Meditation on Friday night - start time will be 6:30 or 7:00 pm (not yet finalize the start time - stay tuned.) Cost $30.

Saturday Seminar - Wing Chun Do start time 11:30 am to 2:00 pm. Cost $60.
The first ten pre-paid registrations to both seminars are invited to the Potluck Anniversary celebration Saturday evening.  More information call 734-422-4420 or email:

I truly believe this will be the last time he will travel to Michigan.  If we ever want to train with him again it will be on his home turf. So here is an opportunity to say hello to a good friend and mentor, a person that has played a pivotal role in so many lives, for present and  former Ambrose Academy students or Wing Chun Do students to train with him in person one last time, for Bruce Lee enthusiasts to meet one of the originals from the Seattle period while he is here in the Midwest.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Trust Your Teacher

Recently, during a class, as the students were finishing their warm-up drills, (warm-ups always consists of closing drills, chung choie drills, and reading drills; all essential self-defense skills) one student remarked that he wanted to work on the requirements of his rank level instead of spending all this time on closing.  This remark reveals a lack of understanding common in newer students, especially those who have had previous martial art experience.

Interestingly, though this person has been a student for a while, he is only just now beginning to develop a working bi jong and still struggles to develop a reflexive sense of the powerline.  He has not yet come to appreciate the importance of the closed bi jong in developing real skill in Wing Chun Do. Further, development of the powerline punch is another essential skill if one is to become effective in self-defense.  Reading drills are necessary to develop intuitive speed and reactions, as well as desensitizing the student to the str
ess of having punches thrown at them.

This, clearly, is an instance where Sijo DeMile's oft-used phrase is appropriate.  "Logic should tell you..." that your instructor's regular repetition of a drill or exercise is an indication of its importance. And in my case, vigilant of the student's progress, when I observe that he/she has reached the necessary level of proficiency in a certain drill or exercise, then a new drill or variant is assigned.  Rest assured that, after teaching Wing Chun Do for over twenty-five years, you can trust my plan to help you develop genuine skill in the shortest time possible.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Where Else Would You Go?

 Recently I've had the pleasure of welcoming back to the school a few individuals who had studied at Ambrose Academy in the past. Returning after seven years are a father, daughter and son – now with the addition of the youngest son. One student trained as a child over twenty year ago and now has three children of his own. At that time, both he and his father attended classes. Another trained as an adult about nine years ago but, due to the demands of a busy life, had to take a hiatus. Yet another trained in the kid’s class during grammar school and informed me, during a recent visit, that she will join the adult class this summer after graduating high school. This is an uplifting phenomenon and it has happened many times in the past. It is gratifying to realize that Wing Chun Do, and more specifically Ambrose Academy, has made such an impression on them that they, as one put it, “always knew that, when I had the time, I would come back and train again.” Time and time again returning students remark, “Where else would I go?”

We also have many families who have been with us for eight, ten, fifteen, and even twenty years. When queried, the reasons given are many. Some mention the scientific nature of Wing Chun Do. Others are impressed with the well structured curriculum. All tend to credit the high quality of instruction characteristic of our school. But above all, I am told that it is the camaraderie – the warm family atmosphere – that touched them so deeply. Many students assert that Ambrose Academy is their escape; an oasis of positive energy in their hectic lives. Our school is a place where all can come to escape the stressful effects of their busy lives; a place where they can relax and regroup. In a way, this is what Sijo DeMile terms “indirect meditation” – a relaxing and therapeutic activity. When you walk in our door, you engage in activities that demand your complete attention, allowing you to detach from the worries, stress and distractions of the outside world. You are free to be yourself without being judged. Here you experience a feeling of personal growth and evolution. The only ego you have to contend with is your own and it is being nurtured to become strong, independent, confident and uniquely you. At Ambrose Academy we have four separate age-specific curricula, formulated to draw out and develop the best in each individual, regardless of age.

Over our twenty-five years of operation we have developed the ability to recognize the unique qualities and attributes in each student and help bring them to fruition. This is our mission and, what makes Ambrose Academy, as Ms. Liz puts it, a true “community” center. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Do You Spar?

This FAQ is difficult to answer. It first requires a clear definition of the term "to spar".

My Webster's Collegiate Dictionary copyright 1941 says: 1. "To fight or strike with the feet or spurs as cocks do. 2. To box with the fists, esp. scientifically - n. An offensive or defensive movement in sparring; a boxing match." My Random House Dictionary copyright 1967 adds: 1. "To make the motions of attack and defense with the arms or fists, esp. as part of training. 1. To box, esp. with light blows."

Under these general interpretations, I guess we do spar.  However, my perception of the term has always been one in which the combatants move about, feeling each other out - experimenting with techniques and concepts.  This implies the training of blows and allowing interplay.  Under this interpretation, we do not spar.  After all, in the reality of the street one cannot afford to "trade blows", as a well-landed blow from a larger individual might result in serious injury or even death.  This is why I have removed from the curriculum all references to sparring. I have replaced them with the term "applied self-defense". This term more accurately describes the Wing Chun Do approach to practical application of technique.  It reflects our concepts of "total attack theory" (from lin sil die dar), as well as "full attack mode" (third rule of the closed bi jong). In Wing Chun Do, our method is to shut the opponent down completely, controlling his offensive and defensive capabilities  and to strike - non-stop - until the threat is neutralized.  If this is your definition of sparring, then I guess the answer is, "Yes, we spar."


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