As I promised, here is the translation. I’m proud to feature a guest post by Sifu Klaus Brand. In it, he identifies common traits of many “wing chun” styles and explains why they are liabilities. Due to novel research on Self-Defense efficacy, the IAW WingChun system has adopted an adapted approach. This makes us different in many ways to more traditional practices.
If you’ve read my commentary on our YouTube videos, you’ve noticed the often emotional, and occasionally antagonistic, response to our presentation. For instance, our technical expression of power and violation of occupation on the centerline is scrutinized. Such cognitive incongruence is more than understandable. Stepping outside of the orthodox box of “wing chun” exposes us to critique. The following points make our unique — perhaps heretical or even revolutionary — application of WingChun somewhat clearer.
Inevitably, words and images are inadequate conduits of reality. If you aren’t already an actively training member of the IAW, I’d encourage you to keep an open mind while reading. Better yet, if you have the opportunity, I invite you to attend one of our classes or events. Furthermore, I’m personally available to groups in the Americas for seminars in your area. Feel free to contact me for details.
The 8 Most Dangerous Mistakes of “Wing Chun” Systems
1. The Arms (Man/Wu) too low
Every able and intelligent attacker would initiate a fight by attacking an opponent’s upper body. He would use his arms to strike and never give up the flexibility provided by his stance for a kick. The skill and knowledge of an experienced fighter would indeed never permit such a vulnerable attack. One who uses his leg to attack hopes for a sporty defense and has thus long bid farewell to self-defense capability.
For the protection position, which is actually the preparation position, the wrists should start at the same height as the upper sternum bone. A reasonable defense from a lower position is just as impossible as an attack from such a height. Good positioning saves time. And time is truly one of the most significant factors in the art of war. Anyone who wants to achieve his objective should utilize, and not conceal, his arms (weapons) at the outset while using his legs for standing and stepping. I will not assert that one cannot also deploy his legs for fighting. However, to instigate a fight as such is a farce.
2. Stance (Zi Ng Ma)
The weight must never be shifted to the back leg in a combat stance. When the body is not tensed and pushed anteriorly, there is no potential to advance quickly. One who stands completely on the rear leg pushes his body upwards physically and therefore cannot defend himself from the front because his own power, or that of his opponent, would throw him backwards. This tension and urge to go forward are fundamental not only for the physical, but even for the mental preparation. The stance is a preparation to step. One who knows which step leads to which stance and which stance follows which step has recognized the function of his legs. One who comprehends what stance fits a suitable step in combination with a proper arm technique has understood the meaning of stances.
3. Waiting for contact
The greatest flaw in the evolution of the art of war is the heresy that one could respond appropriately after contact with the opponent’s arms during an attack. Evolution will ensure that this absurd thesis will soon perish. This error defies all logic and is typical of the myriad of dreamers and fantasists of the scene. Anyone ensnared in that faith cannot possibly know what an attack or a defense situation looks like and especially not how it feels. It is imperative to survive the first collision. The start is the most violent moment of confrontation.
4. Too many punches (Tsong Kuen)
In a self-defense situation, you can only execute one powerful punch in one second. There can only be one useful punch per second. If your first punch hits you do not need a second. One who needs two punches in self-defense should practice until he masters the first and no longer needs a second. A functional punch is the basis and target of every martial art. One should be careful in training to perform a maximum of no more than one single punch in one second and never seek to hit again in the same second as the first strike. The highest priority has to be given to this in self-defense instruction. One who trains exercises with two punches per second is interested in quantity and therefore guaranteed incompetence in self-defense. With two punches a second one can certainly not scare or stop someone.
A self-defense instructor who teaches drills with more than one punch per second cannot be taken seriously. More is not necessarily better. One who does more than two punches per second cannot possibly be interested in self-defense and would rather be an asset to any massage studio.
5. Hitting from the center of the body
Since the esoteric cuddly-wave of the 80’s, hitting from the middle of the body has been touted as a universal solution. And since that time, there has been no sensible justification for it. Strikes from the center of the body are the weakest of all and applicable only in a few situations. Of course, they must also be trained, even if their applications are extremely rare. It was simply forgotten or ignored that outside strikes are not only the strongest but also very easily displace strikes which come from the center of the body. Outside strikes cannot be displaced and require an extremely strong defense. Thus, in self-defense, avoid striking from the center of the body as much as possible. One of the most important aspects of our system is learning to repel straight and curved strikes from the outside. Therefore, not even one Section contains a punch from the center.
As far as I can remember, hitting from the middle of the body came from the same jesters who tried to defend themselves by training blindfolded (see my essay “Sapere Aude“). For this group it is okay. They can stay nice and soft so that nothing happens in order to maintain their comradely feel-good sessions 😉
6. Maintaining contact
A worse mistake is to maintain contact with the opponent’s arms after an attack or defense. This error is caused by incompetence in the implementation of techniques, but can be quickly corrected with even the simplest of exercises and some dedication. Our first 5 Programs of the Basic Levels already contain the most important applications of all the Forms, including the Wooden Dummy (Mok Yan Jang). We therefore like to call these Basic Level Programs “The Best Of”. They are a cross-section of the most essential and connectable techniques in the system. One who masters understanding of the Basic Levels has committed to the path.
An adept combatant never gives up. Due to physical or technical weakness, the inexperienced tend to destroy their positions by yielding. Yielding results in the loss of control. In fact, many of these people advocate voluntary loss of control and have subsequently invented an effective exercise for a passive touch art. Of course, this saves one from the tough and realistic version of training. But in order to spare yourself you could also stay at home. The effect would be the same.
You should never confuse flexibility with yielding. One who yields definitely gives up his flexibility because he only allows for one option. Yielding is a synonym for resignation and capitulation and is the opposite of flexibility. Flexibility is the freedom to remain open to all possibilities.
8. Not using power
Not using your full power in a dangerous situation is not only reckless but also rather idiotic. Via the release of adrenaline in a stressful situation (in the first phase) heart rate and breathing are stimulated. Adrenaline, among other things, releases glucose from energy stores in the muscles. Even if one trains for years to not use this energy, the training will never work. Anyone who does not develop his muscles to exert their full power cannot defend themselves against strong opponents. One needs to strengthen oneself. Good self-defense training not only fortifies the muscles, ligaments and bones but also, ultimately, the technique and spirit. Anyone who feels strong, feels well and healthy.
To be weak, soft and passive is not the goal. That was in the beginning when we drank milk from a feeding bottle and our mother wiped our posteriors.
The mistakes described above might confuse a stranger to the scene. My essays serve as general elucidation and to help people avoid worthless training offers. In my time from instructor to master to grandmaster, I met many teachers of other styles who began with these very errors and finished in a dead-end of helplessness. Some of them commenced under my direction straight away, others unfortunately resigned after numerous years of training in the wrong direction. Actually, resignation — in other words, yielding — was precisely what they had learned. In our scene, almost everyone in his younger years failed because of the misconception that he could defend himself without power. In retrospect I’m not quite sure why it happened, but we searched for softness, yielding and other nonsense that the world did not need. Today I can heartily laugh about those years. Nothing works without power. Power is the foundation of our existence. But these silly sins of one’s youth are forgiven. The healthy human mind sees very quickly if something is incorrect, but sometimes does not allow us to admit it. Especially when one has devoted oneself to a cause for many years, it is hard to throw one’s convictions overboard immediately even if the specified (specious) target is absolutely unattainable. Such a mistake costs us our most valuable years. However, those who realize it do not lose these years.
If you want to learn to defend yourself, you should be prepared to delve deeply into the art of war. You must be ready to discern all facets of combat and study their consequent risks. In order to master others, you have to master yourself. You will need to acquire particular and even extraordinary skills, then learn to apply them in the right moment. To accomplish this requires a strong will. A qualified instructor leads you step by step on your path through the Programs of our system.
Will, attitude, technique, power and speed are the foundation of success in the art of self-defense. All you need to bring is “will”. Will is the ability of self-determination, the responsibility for one’s own actions and the conscious decision to want something. It is the engine that propels you.
© Sifu Klaus Brand
Grandmaster of WingChun
Ayron, I’m glad you enjoyed the article and translation!
I started some Wing Chun 10 years ago… Paternalism was the main trick in Europe… Kind of cult (idiotic)
Nathan, I appreciate your statement. Though difficult to endure, negative experiences have helped me appreciate their opposite. Fortunately, Sifu has also seen the dark side and chooses to define the IAW in another way. I’m doing my best to uphold the integrity of what we represent. We need leaders to take roles of greater responsibility, but I am aware and wary of their potential abuse of power.
To me, WingChun is meant to reinforce individual autonomy, not personality worship. In short, I enjoy being in a community of sovereigns. Hope all is well in Penang, greetings from Berkeley.
Paul, how long did you study Leung Ting Wing Tsun before you joined Sifu Klaus? What made you change from WT to WC?
Hi Christian, I’m curious, have we met? Thanks for the question.
First of all, I want to acknowledge the decades of tireless promotion by Sifu Leung Ting, Grandmaster of WingTsun. I spent personal time with him during his seminar visits to San Francisco. After dedicating six years as an active member, it was a challenge to leave his organization. I remember receiving contacts from him during that transition period. Ultimately, I left for two main reasons.
The relationships didn’t feel authentic and I had doubts about the training efficacy. My connection with Sifu Klaus Brand was based on real respect and his teachings were clearly functional. When he founded the IAW in 2003 to establish an innovative system, I joined. As Grandmaster of WingChun, he began a new lineage of which I am a first generation representative.
There are many styles, teachers, schools. I suggest each seeker take action to make his or her own comparisons with an open mind. Then, you must evaluate both the practice and practitioners to determine what fits your needs the best. In the IAW, I resonate with my instructor, colleagues and students, not to mention our particular way of WingChun.
you probably think we met because I ask you of your WT history. Well, it´s quite obvious that most WC/WT styles that someone can see nowadays started with Leung Ting Wing Tsun – and especially the more advanced students in your community, like yourself, did it as well.
Thank you for your frank response. I can totally relate to you when it comes to genuine relationships. I did that as well and I´m happy I have also found a Sifu with whom I share the feelings as you do with your Sifu.
I was only wondering when I watched your videos on youtube if you do not miss anything from your previous Wing Tsun? Especially the flow and the tactile movements?
You’re welcome, Christian. Do you mind me asking who your teacher is? I’m glad you have a good relationship with him. Even within “WingTsun” are vast personal interpretations. If you’re in Germany, and have the interest, I’d encourage you to visit an IAW class or event. It was useful for me over the years to witness different approaches. They have collectively informed my perspective.
Thanks for mentioning “tactile” and “flow”. Here is my current experience with them. Tactile is a feeling of physical stability. Flow is a state of mental flexibility. Individual techniques are stable. Changes between them are flexible. I coined the word “stablexity” to connote this integrative sense of tactile flow.
Sure. It is Sifu Cengiz. Do you know him?
I´ve participated already in a few IAW classes. It was quite interesting to see the different approach your system is making. Especially when it comes to the blocks and the strong strikes against the arms.
No I haven’t but thanks for sharing, Christian. I appreciate your open mind. Glad you were able to visit an IAW class and consider our approach. That says a lot, much more than those who never research things for themselves in person. Which Academy did you go to?
It was in the Stuttgart area.
I´m only wondering about these “8 mistakes”. At least when I look at my Sifu and his Sifu (Sifu Emin Boztepe) most of it does work perfectly fine. E.g. they believe in the center line and they also believe in maintaining contact.
Maybe it would be a good idea if you have a look at one of Sifu Cengiz´ academies as well to crosscheck these “8 mistakes” when you are coming to Germany on your next trip? He´s a very nice and open minded guy!
A fantastic article, really gives me quite a bit to think about. Grandmaster Klaus is very inspirational, I look foward to the main event in September.
Yes, thinking is good, doing is better! I heard the IAW-UK 5th Anniversary Event was lovely. Keep up your inspired progress.
Hi Sihing Paul,
Great article; thanks for translating and sharing. I had the pleasure of meeting Sisok Klaus at a seminar in Santa Cruz ca. 2000 — I think you were there too, actually, and I met you on several different occasions if you’re the same guy I remember. I used to train with Charlie and Jericho at the Louden Nelson center. I don’t train much in WT/WC anymore due to lack of opportunity in my current area; having switched to taijiquan as my main focus these days. But I still love and respect WT.
Anyway, I have an observation and a question:
Observation: It’s very interesting and disturbing that so many high-level WT people have eventually become frustrated with the system’s limitations and split off from Sitaigung Leung. It is curious that Leung’s system has this point where many people (everyone except Sigung Kernspecht, apparently) become frustrated with it and end up doing something different, often radically. Victor Gutierrez has “Wing Revolution,” Sisok Klaus has this, Sergio Iadarola has his own thing, Sifu Emin claims to teach traditional WT but it seems obvious from his freeform demos that his personal style looks nothing like the idealized WT of the forms. My last teacher, the fantastic Sihing Vernon Bevon, admitted that he has basically all but abandoned WT for his personal style in favor of Escrima concepts. So I think this illustrates that there’s something rotten in the heart of Denmark. Whether that’s a problem with the the system itself, or in Leung’s transmission of it to our generation and beyond, is outside my competence to comment on, but it certainly is not very reassuring to anyone who does independent research on the system.
Question: From reading this, as well as Sisok Klaus’ mottos and concepts, it seems that this has changed so radically that I wonder what the point is of calling it “WingChun.” Many of the mottos and concepts are not just different than e.g. Ip Man’s conceptualization, but seem often diametrically opposed. Especially when it comes to the defensive side — yielding, softness, sticking, linking attack and defense together, not opposing strength with strength, etc. Brand’s approach seems to be don’t yield, be hard not soft, don’t stick but blast through in another angle, defend first then attack, block or parry hard to disrupt structure, etc. Everything in there (to my understanding) completely contradicts WT/WC conceptually. Which is fine after all; Brand should do what works for him and not adhere to tradition for its own sake. But why call it by a traditional name if it’s something so divorced from tradition? “Klaus Brand Self Defense Systems” works just as well — is the adherence to WC terminology just for marketing?
Thanks for reading, best of luck training and in the future.
And if you get the school in Arcata open I might be able to pop in for a seminar or two!
Thanks for your kind and astute comments, Kevin. I appreciate that you apparently did your research before posting.
Much has unfolded in the last decade. Ultimately, you are right and as they say, each to his own. I cannot really speak for anyone else but myself, although Sifu Klaus Brand has given me the privilege and responsibility of representing his system in the US.
With all due respect to progenitors of the art in past centuries and recent decades, we observed “wing chun” of the 1990’s had lost its original cause of combat functionality. Theory began to restrict practicality. Fantasy started to replace reality. Evolution or revolution was necessary.
Even during my studies with Sifu Brand, I visited teachers of other styles. I raised questions, naturally from the vantage point of the IAW framework, and wasn’t satisfied with the internally referenced answers. Simply, I believe WingChun serves Self-Defense and not vice versa. What I witnessed was invocation of the same conventional principles whose relevance in confronting the brutality of asocial violence no longer convinced me. That is not to say these rules weren’t useful to preserve the status quo. I assert their efficacy in reinforcing a given paradigm.
It is not mere semantics that we apply flexibility but not yielding or softness, that we employ stability but not resistance or hardness. Mental flexibility and physical stability are twin pillars of our overall strategy, although it may seem intimidating or heretical to those long accustomed to the opposite approach.
That being said, we made an assumption, which is WingChun was first formulated to address the contingencies of personal warfare. Every single adaptation we made up to the present was in light of that. However, rather than coin another transliteration or an eponymous name, we wanted to acknowledge the primal intention albeit through new movements and novel concepts.
Hope this helps as much as mere words can. Thanks again, Kevin.
I like this article because it go along with my curiosity.I join a Wing Tsun class for like two months.I felt uncomfortable with stance although I understood why it was like that, I had came across an article stating that we should like clinch or toes into the ground.This after I stop going to the class due to financial reasons but any way like you say,all our weight shouldn’t be on the back becasue someone can push us back or whatever and I had always thought the same thing.I always see individuals striking to the top of the head.Most average people who do street fighting strike for the head so I had lift my hands up a little higher .I had an opportunity to be spar with a friend who don’t take any martial arts but grew up fighting.He swung and I guided his punch with away with with my left hand (pak sao)I threw so chain punches but i didn’t hit him although I could’ve .Really I could’ve hit him as i guided his punch away but we was just playing around.As I was advance stepping I felt funny doing it because I had my weight on the back .He was too busy patty blocking my punches away because he didn’t expect that type of fighting.But i was thinking that some one else who train could’ve handled me in a different way.So felt under uncomfortable with Wing Tsun and started looking for another style that I felt comfortable with.i like some of the techniques that i had learned and still train them until I start another style.I had my mind on Muy Thai.but i came across Silat and that look like something I like better. I just want a style that is practical and I can use in war if was ever happen to go.A lot schools are always talking about fitness and getting in shape .If I was focus on getting shape ,then I would join a gym .Although I am in shape and do work out.But I like and appreciate this blog it was informative and cleared all my curiosity that I had.I mean all.Thanks again.
You’re welcome, Wendell. Glad you found this article informative. I’m sorry you had some uncomfortable experiences with a different wing chun style. At least it gave you useful perspectives on what not to do in real situations. Conversely, the IAW WingChun system is solely focused on direct applicability to Self-Defense, so our students are not ingrained in the conventional way your were taught regarding “chain punches”, “toe clinching” or “back weightedness”. I wish you the best of luck and let me know if you have any questions.
Don’t listen to this guy. He knows nothing of real Wing Chun.
Thanks for sharing your opinion. I believe we can listen to all perspectives, including yours. However, the question of exactly what is “real” (true, authentic or traditional) wing chun is an interesting one indeed.
If you are interested in learning more about where IAW WingChun came from, feel free to read these recent posts:
Good read — though I’m a fair bit confused about point five. How exactly would you describe ‘striking from the middle of the body’? It’s probably common sense, but I like to be sure I’m getting the right interpretation.
Hi Ran, thanks for your comment. By hitting from the middle of the body we are referring to the tendency of conventional wing chun styles to prioritize centerline strikes. This usually means a punch trajectory with the fist (and often elbow) moving along the centerline. Biomechanically this is restrictive and strategically it is is risky as described in the article.
Nice ideas. Is my impression that you are overdoing it to make a point and get the reader reflects about it. “Good WC” lays in the middle of your biting statements and your (sadly true) “bad WC” examples. But is not black or white. For example, you say in point 4: “if you train 2 punches you’re an incompetent”, and that is exagerated. Not training a second punch is negligent. Furthermore, WSL for example had good experiences in real figthing, knocking with 2 fast consecutive punchs. Nevertheless, is true that if you need more, you should train your power. I would not be surprised if when you get old, if remain focused in defying ideas and continuous researching, you shift your WC to a “gray color” in some of your 8 points.