Better is the enemy of good

Having had a number of angry e-mails buzzing around my ears as reactions to my recent article “ChiKung strengthens WingTsun“, I would like to pursue the matter a little further.

First of all, many thanks to all those who took the trouble to write me an e-mail, and especially to those who did not pull their punches. We need openness to make progress.

Yes, of course you are right: there is no such thing as strength training in traditional WingTsun. At least officially, but behind the scenes we know that Great Grandmaster Leung Ting has certainly practiced strength training, and at times very intensively. Moreover, the fact that our own Grandmaster, my Si-Fu, breaks into a sweat with weights and recently also specific strengthening exercises has no doubt become generally known throughout Europe over the last 30 years. It is hard to say what happened in this regard before their time, and this reduces the assertions of the traditionalists down to the fact that no official strength training programme has been handed down to us, probably for good reasons.

How did this natural enmity arise between strength training and tactile training, the very heart of our WingTsun? I already referred to this last month: the apparent conflict of aims between muscles that are made stronger, but at the same time also more inflexible and tense. I have already announced that this problem has been resolved, and at the Lübeck seminar I will be giving the first large-scale presentation of this method to those who are interested. I must stress, however, that the solution is not the conventional one, i.e. restoring the strengthened but now inflexible muscles to the supple condition achieved by laborious Chi-Sao training by means of an involved programme of stretching exercises.
On the contrary, this happens during the strength training itself. And as a bonus, this strength training is far more effective in increasing explosive strength than previous programmes.

I think the second reason quite simply arises from a misunderstanding. So often we hear that WingTsun works without the use of strength, that strength is not required and that strength training is therefore unnecessary. Many then refer to the first strength principle: Free yourself from your own … When I ask them what this means, I usually hear that we simply don’t use strength, that we should leave our strength in the changing-room, or even that we should avoid using strength whenever possible. This is not true of course, as it would mean being incapable of defending ourselves against an attacker, flopping around on the ground like a flounder.

The strength we are to free ourselves from is the antagonistic strength of muscles that should give way. And the strength we are not supposed to use is that exerted when we are in contact with the opponent’s arms: If you encounter superior strength, give way …

What do we use to strike an opponent, or to deliver a Fak-Sao or kick? Strength of course. The strength of the muscles that power the punch or other technique we are using. If we were to use no strength, the attacker would feel no pain, and would certainly not fall down. But since that is precisely what we seek to achieve, WE MUST USE AS MUCH STRENGTH AS POSSIBLE when attacking a target! The purpose of strength as striking power is after all to make it as hard as possible for an opponent to attack us. Often we hear the objection that we WingTsun people do not need much strength, as we attack targets which are so vulnerable that only very little force and small muscles are required to injure or hurt an opponent. Which is why the major targets are the throat, eyes and genitalia. This is true, of course. But does it mean that we should simply neglect the means at our disposal of increasing our striking power? Does it not hurt the throat, eyes and genitalia more if they are given harder punishment? And what about female WingTsun students, and male students who are naturally very slightly built? Would it not be better to enable them to obtain the maximum striking power they can individually achieve? And what about the fact that more striking power gives us a wider choice of targets, i.e. we do not necessarily need to strike to the throat when defending ourselves?

Let me repeat: in the past there were good reasons for a negative attitude towards “normal“ strength training. I am sure that most people would agree with my own experiences in this regard: the problem is that such training makes us inflexible and slower. So a balance was struck. Flexibility with less striking power versus more striking power hampered by rigidity. I well remember a seminar I attended in Kiel. A 3rd TG stood helplessly in front of Si-Fu, who repeatedly showed him that his Jum-Sao was useless. At some point the 3rd TG, who packed a visually impressive set of muscles, said to Si-Fu in an almost accusatory tone: But somebody who is as strong as I am can’t take his elbow in as far as he should …

For precisely this reason, most people make a clear choice: to remain as flexible and supple as possible by means of exclusively technique-related strength training, as the gradual muscle-shortening process that results is not so obvious because the focus is on the relevant technique. This is another topic that goes beyond the scope of this article, however.

But if it is now possible to increase our explosive punching and kicking power while avoiding all the negative effects (tense, shortened muscles, inflexibility), but on the contrary to achieve additional, beneficial effects (“long muscles“, more flexibility), would it not be irresponsible not to do so?

The final criterion is a quite different one, namely the limits to training time. This is not such a problem for full-time or part-time school owners whose commitment to WingTsun makes them prepared to invest every spare minute they have: anybody who is keen enough to make use of every possibility will found a way. Things are different for “normal“ students who just about manage to attend WT classes once or twice per week. They can only benefit from this combined flexibility/strength training if it becomes a fixed part of their usual training. Naturally this means being prepared to change an existing tradition if it can be improved upon. As WingTsun people, are we not eminently suited to scrapping what is outdated and adopting something new and beneficial without harking back to the past? Should physical flexibility not also produce mental flexibility? What do I care about my previously held opinion if I now have convincing information that compels me to say something different?

All that remains is to optimise things. How do I structure my classes so that exactly the ”right“ mix of individual components produces the best possible results for my male and female students? I am currently working on one (of many possible) solutions. This will build on and expand the “Frankfurt teaching concept“ which I developed 22 years ago, and which has proved so successful that it is used in many EWTO schools, and is therefore also an established part of Sifu Oliver König’s marketing concept.

By the way, do not expect to put on mountains of muscle – which the practiced eye immediately recognises as not optimally usable anyway - as a result of this form of strength training. Instead take your lead from our Grandmaster, my Si-Fu. He has just the kind of muscles I am always talking about, with all the positive attributes required.

Dai-Sifu Roland Liebscher-Bracht
Chief Instructor ChiKung IWTO/EWTO
5th PG WingTsun