Grandmaster of the International Academy of WingChun, Sifu Klaus Brand, shares the story of why and how he innovated a new system of WingChun.
The History of IAW WingChun
How It All Began
45 years ago I started with martial arts and over 25 years ago with one of the styles of ‘wing-chun’. During all this time I could not avert the confrontation between myths and facts. The gap between wishful thinking and reality was quite vast in this area towards the end of the 80s. You were more able to defend yourself by not training it, because you simply remained realistic. That was why I eventually suggested a new way to finally make this art functional and interesting again. It was clear that this former ‘wing-chun’ could never be what the film world of the 80s and their followers made of it.
They dreamed of being able to win a fight without use of power and instead hoped to be able to use the power of the attacker. The majority of styles changed so dramatically, that from a formerly wonderful combat art arose artistic fighting beyond reality. This altered and became a totally futile version of ‘wing-chun’, which was nevertheless modern. It was popular because the theories fit very well to the reveries of the time. Whether it was initially or ultimately functional was uninteresting. It was not until the mid-90s that a change came.
I remember that doubt always dominated and 20 years ago none of us really believed the functionality of what we practiced. The former ‘wing-chun’ Grandmasters tried to create their own world. There was a lot of mental power wasted to ignore physical strength. The predominant belief was that you could use the power of the enemy and thus fantasies continued further in this direction. This progressed to such an extent that it was thought the more powerful the enemy was, the less one had to do oneself. We trained reacting after contact to the opponent’s arms. This unreal condition was called sensitivity training.
Although actually everyone knows that an attack ends with contact and certainly never starts after it, this training method remained in these styles, which is still practiced today. You have to suppress two response levels (thus not reacting twice) to achieve a contact with the arms of the opponent. Of course, this never works for real attacks. Through the so-called sensitivity training there was actually no more real attacking. There was just this feeling of customized training against safe attacks or one simply started after contact had already been made. It’s objective was not functionality, but rather softness and relaxation as the highest goals. How such a variety of unrealistic training methods and views could survive to date remains a mystery. So far this paradox has led to a high degree of confusion. It was about time things had to change.
Back then I looked in vain for an art that could fulfill my desire for functionality. Unfortunately, there was no style that could provide realism and applicability. I had no choice but to take matters into my own hands. A long journey stood ahead of me when I decided in the late 1990s to resolve all these mysterious philosophies by reinterpreting the art back to the way our ancestors could have used it in their wars: ‘wing-chun’ had to be functional, honest, powerful and applicable immediately at all times.
The fun of training is primarily ‘in change’, to meet your personal limits and then exceed them. It’s silly to believe you would need no force and could remain relaxed during a defensive situation. But this is only believable, of course, by those who had the good fortune of never encountering reality.
In stressful situations, there will be a release of the hormone adrenaline in the human body. The heart rate and blood pressure increase, blood flow is regulated and the muscles are more efficient with a high tension state. The person is immediately ready for ‘fight or flight’. In evolutionary terms, the human species exists thanks to adrenaline, which provides quick energy reserves to enable us to survive in dangerous situations. Why should we not utilize these functions rather than seek relaxation? In a real stress situation, there is no relaxation. Not as long as we are human.
To avoid the regression of martial arts there had to arise an entirely new system and so, some years later, the International Academy of WingChun (IAW) was born. I embarked on a hitherto unknown or long-forgotten way. As a traditionalist, I was compelled to leave no aspect overlooked. For me, it was to answer an important question: How was this martial art foreseen to develop long ago and what should it become today? After all these centuries and with our current knowledge of physics, anatomy and strategy, the answer was obvious.
I utilized what in the other styles was kept until the end of their unarmed training, the two highly praised weapons forms (Double Knives and Long Pole) or respectively their application, in the entirety of my WingChun system. The results were amazing and exceeded my expectations. Over 25 years ago, when I was still at the beginning, it was once explained to us that these weapons applications would improve the art. But this was never the case in any of the styles. The styles did not even remain what they were. They became more vague and out of touch with reality. Their principles were far removed from the logic of weapons application. There was no trace of positive change. However, the name ‘wing-chun’, or something written like that, remains. Thus, a continuously degenerating art has been offered under similar names (with slight differences in the spelling) from the 80s. This is very annoying and confuses many.
In my IAW system the dynamics of weapons techniques play a fundamental role. Every single technique, from the First Student Level, is based on these dynamics. Hence the applicant need not carry a weapon, he himself becomes a weapon. Our students need not wait until they are masters because they immediately begin with relevant movements. Every single Program, from the very first exercise to the Sections of a Technician Grade, including the footwork, are based on the applications of the Double Knives and Long Pole. The transformation of all knowledge into a single unarmed art was, in my opinion, probably the original and so-called traditional idea. When I developed the IAW in the 90s, I immediately felt that I was right in my conjecture. I integrated the two weapons forms into the entire system and its four unarmed forms, which were characteristically subject to considerable reformation. Thus, WingChun originated. The questions of the past regarding functionality and applicability were clarified.
But how does a real Self-Defense art work? Power is neither an indication that someone is a good attacker nor that one can defend oneself well. If this were the case, we would not need a Self-Defense art. The same is true for other factors that play an essential role in attack and in defense. These are speed and technical skill. Speed without technique is just as pointless as a technique without power or power without speed. Technique, power and speed provide the unity of the art WingChun. None of these three pillars can be used effectively without the other. Thus, power is only one aspect and ultimately cannot be used without technical quality and corresponding speed.
And yet, for all the activities of everyday life, we need strength. Whether we load a suitcase into the car or bring our shopping home, we need the necessary power and motor skills to do this specific work. If we walk or stand, lift or throw something, our muscles move our bones on command. We call this coordination. And it is this coordination, namely the exact performance of a movement, that we call ‘technique’ in WingChun. In everyday life we rarely need 100% of our power to do things. In Self-Defense that is completely different. For attack and defense, it is a risk if you do not fully use your power or express it 100%. The same is true with speed and technique. Ultimately, the best is a perfect synergy of these factors. Each individual factor is improved by repetition over the courseof time. By constant training we improve our power, our technique and our speed in diverse rhythms. This means that one follows the other or rather one builds and expands the other. The result is true, unimagined capabilities.
When we exercise regularly, we become skillful, faster and stronger, not just physically powerful, but strong in the implementation of a correct and rapid movement. This is precisely what makes WingChun and is also the reason why we are superior to our attackers. Even if we are not anatomically stronger we are technically strong enough to defend any attack and launch a powerful counterattack. We also learn to control our body based on what we see. The eye responds to familiar patterns to answer any position and every attack with an appropriate defense. We become the attacker and recognize within fractions of a second gaps and weaknesses of our counterparts. All this is enhanced with a sophisticated training program from graduation to graduation until we are defensible — ready to survive in dangerous situations.
Technical skill to gain proper control over our own bodies, supported by power and speed and altogether adapted to the particular situation, is the art of WingChun.
To train WingChun you do not need an ideal weight or a special fitness level. All you need is the will. Every person in principle has the same preconditions. The power of the will is the only thing that really differentiates people from each other. Without will there is no way.
I invite you to a trial class in one of our training centers. Sharpen your self-awareness. Feel for yourself what you are capable of once you become conscious of your abilities and latent powers.
The Instructors of the International Academy of WingChun are personally trained and graduated by me. With us you are in good hands. We look forward to meeting you.
Sifu Klaus Brand
Grandmaster of the International Academy of WingChun