Exchanging the „Double Knife Form“ with Chi-Sao

Does a talented 2nd Technician who practices the 5th Practician programme for a good 40 hours become a Master as a result? Does a 6th PG who has learned the sequence for an obscure double broadsword form thereby become a Grandmaster?

Let me confess to an open secret: when I was a 4th Technician at the end of the 70s I too "learned" the long pole and double broadsword forms, partly from students of the late Grandmaster Yip Man. But did that make me feel like a Grandmaster? Did it make me feel that I was therefore technically the equal of my Si-Fu Leung Ting? Even now I do not feel this, despite twenty years of practice with the long pole and double knives under the regular instruction and supervision of my Master.

I must admit that for a few days, after I had roughly learned the positions and sequences, I had a very overinflated ego and showed all the signs of overconfidence. But when I proudly demonstrated my "form" to GGM Leung Ting on the lawn at Langenzell some time later, he laughed uproariously and forced me to recognise my lack of skill. Only then did the work begin, and only then was I mature enough to be corrected, to understand and absorb. When I had satisfied my initial curiosity, and ensured that I was seen and photographed everywhere with double broadswords, I turned my attention to the Siu-Nim-Tau form again ...

I can "show" but not "teach" a talented student who does not know any WingTsun the rough sequence of the long pole form (but not its applications) in two or three double lessons. The long pole techniques only share the fighting principles with weaponless WingTsun, the movements themselves being so alien even to a 5th PG that he might as well be learning Kendo or Ikebana. In other words, mastery of weaponless WingTsun does not make it easier to learn the pure movements in the form.

The double broadsword form bears a "striking" resemblance to the movements in the 3rd form, however one must not be fooled by this as the concept behind it is completely different. I can "show" a talented WT Technician the double broadsword form (but not the applications!) in a week. But only the general positions and movement sequences, which is enough for him to impress himself and the uninitiated.

But is inflating the ego and asserting one's own importance the aim of WingTsun? Is posing with the WT weapons and exhibiting "prestige symbols" the deeper meaning behind our constant practice? I have numerous students, e.g. in England, who learned weapon forms from a member of GGM Yip Man's family no less than ten years ago, but are now working on their Chi-Sao student programmes with us because they have recognised that only quality counts. The decisive thing is to do what you do correctly and give it your full attention. Then even a Siu-Nim-Tau movement becomes a mystery and develops a wonderful power, and I am not merely talking about the external, visible effect.

A 4th Technician who had learned some obscure "double broadsword" form somewhere or other seems to have understood this, for prior to being expelled for that reason, and despite being warned, he telephoned several of the Practicians in the EWTO and offered to teach them "his" double broadsword form – ironically enough in exchange for Chi-Sao lessons! Somehow this man had got the message: it is better to master your own programme than fail to master the future programme. The Bhagavad-Gita also says that one should fulfil one's role, but not that of another! GGM Leung Ting calls such people "future movement learners", students who want to learn movements that will only be part of their programme in the future. People like this are always in the future, never in the present. They are people who lay claim to capabilities before they have them. Which means that they no longer make the effort to achieve real skill.

Recently a German 6th Practician excluded from the EWTO for disloyalty learned a double broadsword form from a 2nd Technician , which the latter had in turn learned from a 6th PG excluded from the Hong Kong association who has appointed himself a 10th Level Grandmaster ...

The former "6th Practician EWTO" publicly recognised the "7th Practician" of the 2nd Technician (in emails to colleagues, e.g. Frank Schäfer in Holland, though only conceding to him the skills of a 5th Practician), after being shown "his" double broadsword form by the 2nd TG in a short lesson. Accordingly the 2nd Technician has now confirmed that the former "6th Practician EWTO" possesses the same knowledge as he himself ... that's how easy it can be. Why spend a long time learning and preparing?

The eastern martial arts differ from styles such as boxing and wrestling in that they seek to develop the whole person, the new person. Acting without intentions, seeing the way as the goal, all these familiar concepts indicate that achieving an objective is only of superficial significance.

Anybody who practices WT to be able to say "I know the wooden dummy, long pole and double knives forms" is confusing the means with the end.

And anybody who believes that dancing around in front of a mirror with two knives makes him a Master shows by precisely this attitude that he is very far indeed from "real" mastery.

WingTsun is only superficially about physical combat with another person. At the highest level, the Master's level, WingTsun is about the battle with yourself.

This profound knowledge is part of the substance and truth of all peoples, however each individual must make the effort, constantly remind himself of it and finally try to realise it on a daily basis. WingTsun helps you do this. WingTsun is a vehicle which takes you on a journey leading to yourself. An upward journey to higher levels of understanding, whereby "higher" always means "inner".

As many people have already completed this journey successfully, there is a well-proven route map which ensures a safe arrival – sooner for some, later for others. It has proved expedient to take the Siu Nim Tau, Chum-Kiu, Bil-Tze, wooden dummy, long pole and double broadswords route. Some may well have arrived by choosing the double knives first, then the long pole as the final destination.

There are experienced guides for this journey, who have been there and can prescribe the exact route and the average time spent at each stop, so that as much as possible is learned and absorbed.

It is perfectly possible to travel around the world in one week, however this is of limited benefit unless you only want to show off souvenirs, send picture postcards and be able to say you were there. However the object is not to sit around at the station and wait for the next train to the next stop, to spend your time waiting passively, but rather to spend the time actively learning and experiencing, also taking the time to discover what lies outside the station, occasionally getting lost in the dark and yet finding your way back.

What must be avoided is to take directions from people who have not yet reached the end of the journey themselves. This would be the blind leading the blind, as the saying goes. How can both of them ever find the right way? How can they avoid the pitfalls along the route?

The route taken by the Leung Ting school is well-tried and sensible.

1. We begin simply, with pure arm movements (Siu-Nim-Tau), but even – or particularly – this form has key movements and attitudes which alter our consciousness. No wonder that the Master keeps returning to this station, for his journey describes a circle.

2. The Chum-Kiu already requires a great deal more, as the whole body moves. It would be impossible to try beginning with the 2nd form, the Chum-Kiu.

3. The Bil-Tze is even more demanding and the power is also very different, with a different quality and energy. It takes a very long time for somebody to develop this snake-like way of moving.

4. The Muk-Yan-Chong-Fut partly operates according to new principles, making it necessary to go against previously learned movement patterns.

5. Beginning the Look-Dim-Poon-Kwun is like learning a completely alien style. Accordingly it takes a commensurate amount of time. Are five years enough for a new style? Would five years be enough to master e.g. Kendo? Or do we only want to know it superficially, without really mastering it? We practice a martial art, and this not only has something to do with creativity, but also with "skill".

6. Hardly anybody has finished learning the Bat-Chum-Do correctly, as it is our final programme. GGM Leung Ting has shown it to perhaps a small handful of students, but to most of them only once and only the rough sequence. Mastering this form with its applications is the Grandmaster's field of study. Here too, it is not so much a matter of artistically dissecting opponents, but of killing your own ego. Owing to its final and irreversible results an encounter with double knives has no exchange of blows and forgives no weakness or error. In terms of the necessary mental attitude it is therefore comparable to other Asiatic disciplines such as Kendo or Iai-Do etc., and requires a completely different consciousness from weaponless or even long pole combat.

I have mainly sketched only the visible stations on the WingTsun journey, but not the inner battle which is finally the real point. WingTsun is higher, inner Kung Fu! Let us not make the mistake of confusing the stations with the destination, or seeing the finger that points at the goal as the goal itself. It is not the point to tick off the individual stages as quickly as possible. We must not make things easy for ourselves, but rather difficult, for difficulties make us grow.

To help the individual to concentrate (in the Buddhist sense) on what he is doing at present, we have made certain time periods for which the student stays in the different stages obligatory in WingTsun. These are average values based on experience. Concessions are only grudgingly made to exceptional persons such as the super-talented and professionals. For even if the body is talented, the spirit still needs the time to grow alongside it ...

Nonetheless a school system such as WingTsun must always be seen in the context of its time. WT must change if times change. It must adapt to the needs of the present.

But if it turns out that in the age of zapping, of instant this and instant that, of immediate gratification where everybody wants everything at once, and if possible all of it, a growing number of people cannot take the well-proven route, does this mean that – although we know better – the route must change? This is the burning question. Must, can and may the right path be prepared to make concessions? Is the individual there for the path, or the path for the individual? Is it better to take a detour that leads forwards and then backwards just so that the impatient and curious can also travel on it? Is it not patience and perseverance that we are actually trying to inculcate?

Is WingTsun to develop into a martial sport without "secrets" like Judo or Karate, where a 2nd Dan can see and practice the programmes of a 6th Dan if and when he feels like it? Is secretiveness indispensable to compel us to concentrate on and limit ourselves to our own programme?

Would more transparent programmes and access to all programmes by everybody benefit WingTsun or call everything built up so far into question? Must or can we be more Catholic than the Pope on this question, especially as our own rules are obviously (no longer) interpreted so strictly in the mother country.

Would a WingTsun without secrets perhaps even lead to greater honesty and remove their importance as status symbols from the advanced techniques, so that there were fewer references to them in whispers and they were practiced more instead. Would this perhaps even result in a more serious attitude to training?

If a 2nd TG were allowed to see and learn the programmes of a 5th PG, would this help him or only satisfy his curiosity? Or after briefly satisfying his curiosity, would he be even more content to occupy himself with his own programme, the Chi-Sao for the 3rd form?

If everybody runs around naked and there are no sexual taboos, will pornography still exist?

If a variety of programmes from the Siu-Nim-Tau to the double knives form are all taking place in a single training hall, how long will it take before everybody has finished looking around everywhere and returns to the programme in which they are to be examined?

We all agree that the journey consists of stages which build up on each other, of which none can be omitted, but can and may we assume this self-discipline on the part of the average student?

Would WingTsun students purchase dubious techniques from false prophets with a guilty conscience, thereby entering into an uncertain, dependent relationship, if they were legitimately able to satisfy their curiosity within our own family?

Question after question, and I would like to know the answers.

I am certain there are as many answers as there are WT-people.

With my best regards,

Your Si-Gung/Si-Fu

Keith R. Kernspecht


Ref. "WingTsun and Secrets"


I have passed on WingTsun as it was taught to me by GGM Leung Ting.

In the 70s it was GGM Leung Ting's wish that students practice the different sets of the Siu-Nim-Tau with their backs to each other, so that nobody was distracted by a "higher" programme. Those who had arrived at set 3 were not supposed to see set 6 etc.. This was for their own protection, as curiosity causes great temptation. Siu Nim Tau means "little idea", concentrate on now, on this small movement, do this ONE thing as well as possible.

Then everybody was allowed to see the SNT, but the Chum-Kiu was done behind a curtain. In the 70s a group of students from southern Germany bribed my assistants in Kiel to "steal" the 2nd half of the Chum-Kiu. Today we have a laugh about this together.

There is a well-known Chinese saying: "The Bil-Tze must not leave the house", i.e. only one's own family learned it, behind closed doors.

Nowadays, with a little luck, a beginner attending one of the larger seminars is able to watch instructors practicing the Wooden Dummy form and its applications in Chi-Sao. For the last sets of the Wooden Dummy form I still go and hide with the participants.

During seminars in Italy we used to do our long pole training in the open air, which meant that students just starting on their Siu-Nim-Tau form were able to watch us. Why them in particular? Because beginners are less interested in status symbols like the long pole, and tend to resume their OWN programme with full commitment after watching uncomprehendingly for a while.

Being aware of human nature and its curiosity, taking into account that people live in the future and would rather learn the next movement than the present one they have not yet mastered, traditional Chinese teachers give instruction in portions which the average student is able to digest.

It is true that exceptional, extremely talented students and e.g. those who train under close supervision for 6 hours each day are able to absorb the physical aspects of the programmes more quickly and accelerate the process, and this should be taken more into account in future.

Nonetheless, this physical development must also be accompanied by mental, inner development. Otherwise there is a lack of balance, and isn't that the point of all WingTsun? Using the vehicle of "WingTsun", physical movements, the accompanying emotions (fear, friction between training partners etc.) and problems which must be solved intellectually we seek to create the harmonious, well-balanced individual.

Can we allow the student – and we are all students – to determine his programme for himself? How far does our duty of care as teachers go?

The learning stages in WingTsun are sensible as they are, and cannot be improved upon. They should be regarded as steps on a staircase leading to mastery. Taking short-cuts and skipping stages leads nowhere in the long run, as each programme builds logically on the previous ones. ONCE ONE HAS MASTERED THEM some programmes are replaced with almost contradictory ideas. One passes from large movements to medium ones, then to small movements, and finally one only "thinks" these movements inwardly, but with the same effect. One begins with a form and ends formless. One might begin by being defensive, become aggressive, and in the end one simply "is".

Over the course of time form and movements are replaced by pure energy. At this stage there is no such thing as a "Bong-Sao" or "Tan-Sao" for the user any more. He has overcome the "techniques", and therefore also the so-called "secret techniques", and left them behind.

Other styles teach defence and WingTsun begins with "attack", but as soon as we have mastered the attack we realise that the correct reaction is much more effective and faster than the attack (the action). And once we have reached this stage – which requires not only the ability to sense (tactile awareness) but also a great deal of feeling in the sense of mental contact with the opponent – a fight will no longer be necessary.

But let me return to the WT student or young Technician:

How can a junior grade begin to understand theories such as the "reborn force" or GGM Yip Man's ingenious "point theory" if he has not yet mastered his OWN programmes? Won't these tend to distract him, temporarily deceiving him into thinking that he knows more, and eventually give way to shallowness and loss of interest once the motivation of the next so-called "secret" is lacking?

Should the student not be appalled and rather respond with: "No, don't show me that! It will only distract me!" Or "Stop, don't load my plate with new things. Let me finish what's on it first, I want to enjoy it all to the full!"

In fact the so-called "secrets" are always merely the techniques you have not learned yet. Or as GGM Leung Ting expresses it so masterfully: "The techniques you don't practice, for they will always remain a secret to you".

So if we were to make all "secrets" readily available, if every student is able to practice a programme that is not intended for him, can we be sure that his own programme, i.e. what is essential to him for his own gradual development, will not become a "secret technique".