Friday, November 9, 2018

Don't Practice In The Dark! (Learning Wing Chun Do)

“What should I practice at home?”

“Aw Geez,” I guess it’s inevitable. This question comes up with nearly every new student but, honoring the Wing Chun Do concept of “Learning How to Learn”, my answer has to be, “Nothing.” I used to feel conflicted about the answer to this question. After all, it is commendable – even desirable – for every student to be excited about practicing at home. I certainly don’t want to discourage such zeal and commitment. So, I used to feel the need to come up with some kind of suggestion to give these eager new students. But, over time I came to realize that honesty is the best policy – and honestly, beginners are not yet well enough informed to begin home practice. Without proper understanding, home practice may, quite probably, reinforce misconceptions and ingrain bad habits which will require great time and effort to correct.  The plain truth is, until qualified, a student should only practice under the scrutiny of a qualified, knowledgeable mentor.

Remember, the first step in the learning process is to Understand the Technique Intellectually. In other words, you must first learn conceptually everything you can about the technique. For example, if you want to accurately practice a Taun Sao, you must first have a thorough understanding of such concepts as:
  • ·         Perimeter Control
  • ·         The Centerline Concept
  • ·         The Bridge
  • ·         Natural Energy Flow
  • ·         Blocking vs. Clearing the Centerline
  • ·         Startle
  • ·         Whipping Energy (recoil)

Lacking knowledge of any of these elements means that practice of the physical motion of the Taun Sao is, at best, a guess – an assumption of accomplishment. Only when a student is in possession of all these essential concepts, as well as the precise details of the physical application, is she/he qualified to move on to the second step in the learning process – Teach the Technique to the Body (requiring slow, precise repetition). Only now, armed with sufficient knowledge are you qualified to begin practicing at home. Now you are on the way to becoming an accomplished White Sash.

“So, here’s the thing…”
Even more advanced students are subject to the practice pitfall. Many believe that rank and experience qualify them to short-cut the learning process. However, when learning a new technique, an advanced student is as a white belt. He/she still must first: #1. Learn the Technique Intellectually, then: #2. Teach it to the Body. Only then may one begin practicing in earnest to: #3. Make the Technique Reflex.

Now, fast-forward to your Blue Sash. It is easy to have become jaded, thinking your understanding is somehow automatic. But, once again the first step to learning dictates that you have a complete understanding of, not only the conceptual information, but also the logistics – in other words, the “Where?”, “When?”, “How?” and “Why?” of the technique. In addition, you need to understand all desired results, PLUS, the “What ifs?” and CYA (cover your a… butt) contingencies. Lacking knowledge of any of these elements, you’re merely practicing in the dark. The surest way to avoid such pitfalls is to ask your instructor to scrutinize your practice in class so that you can receive instruction, correction and clarification. This is the quickest way to gain thorough understanding and qualify to begin step #3 – performing the reps necessary to make the technique reflex. Comprehending and honoring the “Learning How to Learn” process is a true mark of advancement.

As the old adage says, “The first step to learning is admitting that you know nothing.” During every step of the learning process, the greatest tool we posses is the question: “Is this correct?” This simple question is the key to unlocking true knowledge and skill.

Now, “Go home and practice!”

Saturday, September 1, 2018

A Little Wing Chun Do History

I joined Wing Chun Do in late 1981, under the instruction of Sifu James Clark – one of Sijo James DeMile’s very early instructors. Sifu Clark was not the purest representative of WCD. He had limited Wing Chun Do training and a longer previous martial art experience. (He said he was a black belt in Chinese Kempo.) He was very strong, very aggressive and often very kinetic – traits that are best suited to young, large, athletic individuals. Sifu Clark was basically a hammer and as they say, “To a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” His attitude was, “If it didn’t work, you didn’t do it hard enough!” But here’s the thing – Sijo DeMile always said that Wing Chun Do could be used by everyone regardless of age, size, gender or physical condition. Unfortunately, Sifu Clark passed those traits on to us and it stunted our growth within the program as some were unable to rewrite this early programming. Three years into my training, I finally got to meet the founder of Wing Chun Do, Sijo James W. DeMile and a universe of information opened before me. His skill, knowledge and presentation were so impressive that within a year, a group of us students petitioned Sijo DeMile to create a formal Instructor Training Program. 

There were eleven in our instructor training group. Nine graduated. In addition to the
Bill and me at Ambrose Academy ca. 1997
eleven, we had an additional "honorary" member  a vital source for logic and wisdom – a gentleman named Bill Buckley.  He had been a student of Sifu Clark for some time before I joined the school and I quickly came to respect his skill and advice.  Bill was around 15 years older than I and though we encouraged him to join us, he said he was “too old” to join the Instructor Training Program. But, he regularly trained with us and even sponsored one young man into the program, securing a bank loan for him!  Bill was a true role-model. He was invaluable as a training partner because he was no-nonsense and questioned the validity of every concept and technique, constantly challenging us to discover the proof. He was instrumental in helping establish my personal understanding of the difference between martial arts and the reality of the street. For the next four years, our group worked, in earnest, to discover the true nature of Wing Chun Do (a soft style) but we were all products Sifu Clark and truth be told, I believe that because of this early programming, few of my contemporaries came to fully realize and appreciate the true nature of the art. 

Over the years, as I developed as an instructor, I received acknowledgement for my efforts and contributions -  Sifu (teacher), Sibok (teacher of teachers), Sigung (master) and now Sitaigung (grandmaster/inheritor). With each new accolade, Bill Buckley, ever supportive, was present to help me celebrate.

Recently, Wing Chun Do lost this icon – Bill Buckley. As I sat bedside at his end of days, we talked about a great many things, finally getting around to the great honor that had been recently bestowed upon me by Sijo DeMile – that of being “Grandmaster”. Bill chuckled and said, “You were always kind of a wild card. I didn’t see that coming…” (This is because, while most of the other Instructors-In-Training lived in the Monroe area (as did Bill), I lived in Dearborn – 45 minutes away. Also, most of them were quite young. I was older, working two jobs and married with a kid on the way. I didn’t have time to socialize with the guys after training sessions, so Bill never got to know me outside of the context of Wing Chun Do.) Then my friend and mentor said, “I hear you’re changing Wing Chun Do!” My response: “No, but I have been developing the soft elements of the system. I’m just proving that it is what Sijo (DeMile) has always said it is – accessible to everyone regardless of age, size, gender, or physical condition...” Finally, Bill said, “Good. I’m glad it was you.” (Thanks, my friend.) Then, he said his meds were kicking in and he was going to sleep. I shook his hand, said goodbye and took my leave. That was the last time I saw this great man. 

From the very beginning, I believed in Wing Chun Do and I was determined to discover its true nature and master all of its aspects.  Over the last 30 years, I’ve done an exhaustive study of the relationship between Wing Chun Do and human bio-mechanics. I’ve passed this knowledge on to thousands of regular folks – men and women of all ages, sizes, shapes and walks of life – confirming that Wing Chun Do is self-defense for the common man. 

Thank you to all those who have supported me along the way.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Hello Wing Chun Do - I'm Back!

Hello Wing Chun Do - I'm Back!

Sorry I haven’t written in a while, but I have been struggling with a dilemma – that being, “With everyone and his brother pontificating on the web, why should anyone care what I think or say?” The answer, I guess: “You’re old; you’ve seen things.” This prompted me to reflect on how fortunate I am. Of all of the people  I could have found and studied with in the wide world of martial arts, I found Sijo James W. DeMile the creator of Wing Chun Do and the most analytical martial artist of our time.  Thanks to him, I was exposed to people and places I could never have gone or otherwise interacted with. Through him, I was introduced to martial art celebrities from around the world. These experiences broadened my understanding of martial arts, real combat, and more importantly, the learning/teaching process. Everything I am in martial arts I owe to him. (Well, maybe I deserve a little credit. After all, I’m also very analytical, I worked hard and as Sijo pointed out, I recognized the potential of Wing Chun Do and had the good sense to walk through that door and dedicate myself to it – for 36 years!)
Presently, I have a new dilemma. You see, as grandmaster/inheritor, I now have the privilege of offering people the opportunity to enjoy the lifestyle. (Please check out So... I don’t understand why more people wouldn’t want to be (like) me! I live a pretty cool life. I’ve created a thriving business. I’ve had the opportunity to teach thousands of quality people and along the way, helped many to improve their lives. I’ve acquired life-long friends, made quality contacts in all fields and raised a strong family – all in this wonderful laboratory called the kwoon (school). All this occurred, pretty much, because I met a man named James DeMile. Decade after decade, I followed him, emulating him until I found my own creative voice. No matter what tangential directions my fellow Instructors-In-Training took, I determined to discover the Wing Chun Do that is James DeMile’s legacy. At first, he inspired me to learn, then to teach, and now, to create instructors for the future and in the process – to discover myself. Most importantly, he provided me with a vehicle and process to accomplish all these tasks. Now, people look to me for inspiration. How good does that feel?   In the end, through hard work, patience and dedication, I guess I “stalked” Sijo until he realized that I love the art as much as he does.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Wing Chun Do - Martial Art for the Common Man

Champions - every one!

Wing Chun Do – Martial Art for the Common Man

“You have to get yourself a champion.” This is what a friend told me during a discussion about the secret of success as owner of a martial art school. “That’s how I did it.” His contention was that creating a successful tournament competitor, visible to all, is the key to popularizing a martial art school. This is expressly true if your particular martial art is most clearly expressed through tournament, a venue governed by rules and safeguards, where failure is a survivable option. However, in terms of self-defense on the street, where no rules are observed, the proof is found only in survival of those who have been victimized. In this context, failure is tragic and not an option. This interaction caused me to reflect on the meaning of success, winning and champions.

So,  from a martial art standpoint, what is a champion? ...a winner, of course! More accurately, it is an individual who puts him/herself in simulated “harm’s way” in order to test and confirm his athleticism, skill and courage. This is a goal; a choice; a chosen commitment of time and lifestyle. This is the purview of an elite few – those who possess all the attributes necessary to make this very conscious decision. They choose when and where they will test their metal and how he will prepare for the contest.

But, how does this relate to the average person, suddenly and violently forced to defend his/her life and more importantly, that of her/his family? On the street, the opponent is not a competitor but a predator – a determined attacker with no conscience, mercy or remorse – bent on the destruction of its victim. In this situation, there is no choice, no warning and no time to prepare. For the object of such an attack, failure is not an option. In this context, championship means survival.

In point of fact, by this criterion, Wing Chun Do can boast many “champions”. But their victories are not high profile. There is no glory. They receive no trophy or championship belt. They are merely ordinary people, quietly going about their lives in the confidence that they are “champions,” “winners” or more accurately, survivors. Wing Chun Do is specifically suited to the task of creating survivors. As Wing Chun Do Instructors, we offer people the tools necessary for survival. In the final analysis, we help every individual who comes through our doors become a champion. How good does that feel?

Saturday, November 26, 2016

If It Looks Like A Martial Art…

Reviewing Instructor Training materials recently caused me to reflect on the nature of Wing Chun Do, so excuse me for mixing metaphors but, ‘If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, be it Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Ju Jitsu, Krav Maga, Jeet Kune Do, etc., it must be a Martial Art.’ But the term martial art cannot adequately describe Wing Chun Do. Wing Chun Do is not martial art. It is martial science – a purely scientific study of self-defense. What’s the difference? Art is the personal expression of the creator’s perception of reality. It can be  analogy, allegory, embellishment, entertainment, interpretation, symbolism, etc. Science, on the other hand, is the quest to correctly identify the facts of reality – period! And, the method must be provable and repeatable. This requires ongoing, unbiased research and development. This is the method applied by Wing Chun Do.

Upon careful study of natural human body-mechanics, one can discern, define and master a set of bio-mechanical principles which allows anyone (regardless of age, size or physical condition) to express their total, natural strength potential. This is accomplished by engaging one’s core to generate and express energy. (A skill commonly attributed to chi). No matter what task is at hand – whether lifting a box, pushing a car, splitting fire-wood or defending oneself – any two people searching for the most efficient way to perform the task must arrive at the same conclusion. Logically, there can be only one most efficient way to do anything. Then, there is second most efficient. In matters of self-defense, it doesn’t pay to be second most efficient.

Wing Chun Do is not secretive, mysterious, enigmatic, or ethereal. It is not complicated or difficult, and does not require great athleticism. On the contrary, Wing Chun Do is the simple, efficient and practical expression of the average human body for the purpose of self-protection. Taking a clear, scientific approach to self-defense, WCD is based on a set of conceptual and physical principles which can be demonstrated, clearly and indisputably, via a set of non-martial, physical strength demos. Anyone willing to take an unbiased look (be it the seasoned martial artist or the layman) will immediately recognize its validity.

Whether, to you, this declaration seems curious, puzzling, intriguing, dubious, or unintelligible, please visit a Wing Chun Do training center and we’ll be happy to clear things up. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

Teaching and Learning - A Wing Chun Do Teacher's Experience

Teaching and Learning - Wing Chun Do Teacher's Experience

Sijo DeMile, Sigung Rocco Ambrose, and Curt George

I've said it before. "A good teacher learns from his/her students." Recently, I was teaching a Monday night Wing Chun Do Basics class and it happened again. I received a gift of insight from one of my students. There were, this evening, a larger than usual number of advanced students attending. Upperclassmen often attend basic classes to mentor, as well as to reinforce and refresh their understanding of the basic levels.

I asked each of the upper ranks to take a new student and refine their Closed Bi Jong. I walked around the classroom and observed the progress. When I came around to one of the green sashes mentoring a third-night novice, in short order I realized that the senior was giving advance which was a bit too advanced for the new student. When I pointed this out, he acknowledged the point. He then said, "What do you think? I told him to put his elbows on his hips and make a triangle by touching his fingers together on the centerline." He then demonstrated that even the slightest misalignment of the centerline becomes immediately apparent. He asked, "Is that  alright?"

Is that alright? It's brilliant! It is an immediate graphic illustration of the correct mechanic. Thanks Jay for giving me a new tool for teaching stance work. I have integrated this demonstration to my presentation of the Closed Bi Jong with great success.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Good Teachers Learns from their Students - A Fresh Perspective

A good teacher learns from his/her students.

When I received my teaching certificate in 1988, I was a font of knowledge but, I was undeveloped as a disseminator of knowledge. Over time and several generations of students, I have evolved into a pretty good teacher. I’ve developed the ability to teach not just martial arts, but more importantly, people. The martial art is just the vehicle, but an instructor’s first goal must be to help people learn how to learn – not just the gifted athlete but the average person – in other words, everyone.

Every student provides the teacher with the opportunity to reinforce his/her mastery of the curriculum. Even more valuable, each individual provides a unique opportunity for the teacher to hone his true art – the art of teaching people – the art of reaching the individual. For the teacher, the goal is making his curriculum not just accessible, but personally important to each individual student. In return, each student provides a valuable opportunity to discover a new and unique approach to teaching.

Recently, this truth was renewed for me, refreshingly, by an insightful thirteen year old. I was working with a few young students to improve their stance. We talked about the length and width of each of their stances. We adjusted foot angles, weight distribution and body angle. When we got around to squaring the Centerline, one young lady said, “When I do that, it feels like my knees want to collapse into the center.”  I said “That’s it, exactly! That’s what sinks your center of gravity and it closes down the lower perimeter!” (!Light bulb moment!) I had never approached teaching this aspect of the stance from that standpoint. She (and I) now understood centerline and lowered center of gravity on a more personal level.

Adult class followed directly and I immediately began to integrate this additional approach into my presentation. As I presented it several times in the next few days, I came to additional realizations guaranteed to produce more effective students. What a gift!

Thank you. (You know who you are.) 


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