Full of skill or stuffed with knowledge? – Sifu Stephan Bollen

Sifu Stephan Bollen, 2. TG WT, 3. TG E, on the debate initiated by Grandmaster Kernspecht concerningn the value of Chi-Sao in WingTsun ...

How does the phrase go? Less is more

Dear Si-Fu,
I am fortunate enough not to have a direct teacher close to hand who can help me with questions and problems. I regard this as fortunate because it means I am obliged to examine and analyse the techniques and training methods myself. If I were always to receive a prepared answer from my teacher, I would only devote little or no thought to things. I am also very fortunate in having a good training partner with whom to discuss techniques, sequences etc., as he is just as critical. Naturally this does not mean that I can do without tuition from you or other highly graded teachers during seminars, small group classes or private lessons. These always give me important new impulses and ideas.

I would like to describe how your current new impulses about understanding Chi-Sao are changing my own Chi-Sao and how I use it with students. First let me say that reducing the movements and returning to what is essential is very welcome to me. Naturally I could carry out the movement more rapidly and dynamically to achieve training progress, though in my view this tends to shift the training emphasis over to techniques. After all, one of the goals should be free oneself from the dictates of technique and learn to implement the concepts. The point is not WHAT I do, but rather HOW or WHY I do it. If I am bound up in the techniques, I am unable to respond adequately to changes in the combat situation and adapt to what is happening. This way of seeing things is also due to my Escrima training, where one first learns techniques and forms (I also see the Chi-Sao sections as forms), though during the course of training development one frees oneself from these rigid forms to act freely in combat. This begs the question whether accumulating sections and their different variations really leads to the success one wants to achieve. I think not. How does the phrase go? Less is more.

In my opinion these variations to the sections lead to increasing confusion among students. The student is so preoccupied with the sequences that he is no longer able to recognise the actual reason for a movement. And then the section has changed again when he attends the next seminar. The reasons given for these variations are statements such as "that is the old section", but students are often not told why a movement is now carried out in this way. Usually the pressure of the attack is only a little different, which means that the movement sequence must be adapted to it. The student now thinks that the old movement is wrong, and only practices the new one. He deprives himself of the option presented by both possibilities, depending on the attacker’s pressure. 

Another aspect of Chi-Sao that I always observe in you in your use of the body. In my view, and please correct me if I am wrong, it is not the arms but the body that gives way to pressure in Chi-Sao. The arms merely change their form. In the spring, during the postponed Easter seminar, and also in Bulgaria, I noticed that your arms always provide you with cover and that you position your body safely behind them. This ability to move the body in combination with coordinated movement sequences by the arms is definitely a goal I am currently aiming at. Here too, my understanding of Escrima is of help. In Escrima the whole body is moved as a unit during an action, so that maximum power is achieved over a short distance and defensive cover is maintained. At the beginning, WT training greatly emphasises the arms. It is therefore difficult for students to create a link between the body and the arms.

These two areas of emphasis (early, correct reactions and overall body coordination) have improved my Chi-Sao greatly in the last few months. At the beginning of this year I was still dissatisfied with my Chi-Sao and my control over advanced students. This is getting better all the time. I am very hopeful for the future and am looking forward to the insights still to come.

Best wishes

Your To-Dai

Stephan Bollen, 2. TG WT, 3. TG E