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No Excuses

Attitude Toward Training, Part I:  Pitfalls of Rationalization


Bradley Temple, Lo Man Kam,  Nick Vietch and John Kang, 1996.
Bradley Temple, Sifu Lo Man Kam, Nick Vietch and John Kang in 1996

When I was training under Sifu Lo Man Kam in Taiwan, one of my best friends was Bradley Temple.  He was my senior by about one month, and now runs a great LMK Federation school in Las Vegas.  His Chi Sao Sticking Hands was always better than mine, which always motivated me to improve myself. 

I remember that when he reached about the mid-point of his Wooden Dummy training, I felt that his hands had become stiff, and I had an even harder time working against him in Chi Sao.  I told myself, “he’s too stiff, he’s doing it wrong!”  However, in retrospect, this misplaced critique of his hands did not make me any better.  In fact, what had happened was that the Dummy training, as it often does, had made his hands stickier and firmer (stiff is bad, but firm is good—it like pushing up against a springy young bamboo stalk as opposed to a rigid pine 2 x 4).  I would only realize this once I had practiced on the Dummy a lot myself.


In my 15 years of doing Wing Chun as a student and teacher, I have seen similar stories played over and over again.  When rolling hands with a student from another school, he grumbled that my hands had no structure—yet I landed several hits on him and he was dead tired from unsuccessfully trying to hit me.  My students have complained that another student was too stiff, and he wouldn’t listen when they told him to relax.  One student was getting hit by another and criticized him for moving too fast and too sloppily.  However, telling a person his shortcomings after they have just schooled you probably just makes them look down on your as an insecure sore loser.  Even if they were using bad technique, they probably would not realize it anyway, and your comment would only reinforce in their mind that they were doing it right.


Even if your partner is using bad form, you still got hit.
Even if your partner is using bad form, you still got hit.
In addition to not helping your partner improve, another problem is that none of these judgments about them makes us any better at Wing Chun.  The complaints are our own rationalizations as to why we did not perform the way we thought we should, and a means of soothing our own bruised ego.  Furthermore, it prevents us from learning a valuable lesson:  if we did poorly, even if our partner was not using good Wing Chun, how can we train so that we can do better?  After all, if someone really wants to fight you, telling them that they are too stiff or too sloppy will not help you win!


So what is the right mindset for dealing with these types of situations?  Step back, reflect, and try again.  It doesn’t matter if your partner was using poor technique (or really good technique that your experience leads you to believe it is poor).  The key is to find the solution in yourself.  Whining about it does not make you any better.





( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 17th, 2009 03:52 pm (UTC)
Overcoming stiffness in chi sao
My question then is, what strategies are there for defending against a stiff person? More often than not, I feel moving and changing angles seriously affects their ability to respond. But I'm not "at that point" yet. So when standing still, how does one confront unbending force without meeting it with unbending force?
Aug. 17th, 2009 04:34 pm (UTC)
Re: Overcoming stiffness in chi sao
This particular question strays from the issue of rationalizing, but I think it shows that you are NOT making excuses and are looking for ways to improve yourself.

In my opinion, there are three things to consider.

First, is the person you are working with more senior? If that is the case, there realistically isn't a lot you can do except keep a cool head and try not to get too frustrated. However, they should "dumb-down" their level-- depending on the partner, you might ask them directly; but if they are a particularly stubborn type, it might be better to ask your teacher to say something. For seniors who are particularly stiff, this actually becomes a good opportunity to work on relaxing! (This will be a future topic!)

On the other hand, if you are senior, you need to tell your partner how they should break bad habits and improve. However, you need to speak from a position of strength-- that is, if they can hit you regularly, then they probably won't care. But if you can handle their stiffness, then they are more likely to listen.

Which comes to the final situation: if you are about the same level, this is when you should be exploring ways of overcoming your partner's stiffness. Without a doubt, angling is one way of handing it. But if you have not reached that level (which, from your original question appears to be the case), then here are some ways to look at it.

You have probably noticed that some people are stiff, like a 2" x 4". No give, just persistent forwardness that does not respond to pressure. Against these types of partners, you might try either lifting or sinking motions. Because their energy is so forward and they are linked to their center of gravity, you can affect their balance through their arms. Sudden pulls can work. If you are shorter or not as strong, then lifting motions might work better. You definitely need to have a good stance in these cases.

Other people have a staccato stiffness. They are stiff, and when you put pressure on their arms, they tend to overreact. In these instances, try quick changes in arm directions. For example, put pressure on the outside of their arm; when they compensate by jerking in the opposite direction of your pressure, "run around" their energy and take the center.

Hope this helps!
Aug. 18th, 2009 12:11 am (UTC)
Re: Overcoming stiffness in chi sao
One strategy of dealing with stiffness is using pushing or pulling techniques to unbalance your chi sao partner. But you are probably looking for ways to defend against a forceful attack before trying to use someone's stiffness against them.

Think about getting better angles and structure on your defensive moves, tan sao angles an attack to the left or right of its target but some forward force is required and structure is important. Bong sao uses a corkscrew motion to help bleed off the force while also including some forward force.

If you feel like you are using the correct techniques and executing them correctly, look to your partner for suggestions if they are more senior. If you are doing something wrong, or could be doing something better, they should be able to feel it.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )