• WT - The Taoistic allround-concept • "Softness conquers hardness": TAOISM


WingTsun: Practiable combat training or Taoistic wisdom for a healthy way of life?

When we, WT-students, are asked about the virtues of WingTsun as a self defence and single combat system we are able to, without hesitation, name numerous unique advantages of our system:
We are convinced that we are learning the best and most universal system that human intelligence and experience has ever produced.
But are we also aware of other advantages that have to do with the the vital aspects of human life?

They are also influenced by the Taoistic way of living and the knowledge gained by generations of experience from Chinese martial artists which we now profit from.
Have we ever thought about the fact that, while learning how to defend ourselves, we are automaticly confronted by seemingly simple wisdoms that can be traced back to long-gone eras of a foreign culture?
The decision to learn and use WingTsun as the "ultimate method" to re-aquire one's natural self-defence abilities is, in fact, only the first step.

In the beginning we practise the form-training without thinking twice about the sum and substance of these exercises.
Advanced WT-programs enables the students to see the direct and indirect associations to the application and the techniques that are used in single combat.
That the whole system is somehow supposed to be healthy as well is often used as a parole, but a sensible explanation as to the "why" and "from what" can often only be given by an experienced technician.

Even though the old Chinese concept was an all-round "school of living" meant for warriors and, later on, also for "civilians", it was not seen as disgraceful to "do things the right way" just because it was taught that way or was taken over as a tradition without really knowing why and for what - quite unimaginable for the modern, civilized world we live in.

In the world of martial arts as a technical-strategic concept, we are used to being up front:
Why else is the book "On Single Combat" from Dai-Sifu Kernspecht seen as a matchless contribution to the (weaponless) art of single combat, even though it was written under the aspect of consciously adopting tradational knowledge, despite the western world's fixation on explainations and reasons?

The WT teaching concept, which is mainly based upon the perceptions and conclusions voiced in "On Single Combat", has proved for thousands of WT-students that Taoistic principles can very well be useful for "western" people. But the Taoistic principles also teach you not to rest upon your achievements; they advise you to consequently follow the path you have chosen.
Let's start with ourselves and our "automaticly correct" daily exercises:
In our modern teaching program, even the slightest progress and improvement of our physical flexibility, which is adchieved through intensive training of the Si-Nim-Tao-form, can be detected even in the lowest Lat-Sao-sections.
It seems as though we suddenly make progress, that a change in our technical quality simply "happens".

This is the turning point in our training, when our movements begin to "flow", and when the impact of our training partner hurtling against us is suddenly not as painful as it used to be.
On the other hand, it may also be the beginning of many aches and pains for an insecure or tense student. So it may seem as if the "healing guarantee", despite the proven "automatic correctness" of the WT training system, is a myth.

Sadly, many WT-students quit training at a much too early stage.
This way, they do not „hang in there" long enough in order to experience the "rebirth" of their natural abilities, due to the "conflict" between the "healing expectation" towards the WT-techniques, which are based on "Chinese wisdom", and the rough reality of everyday life in our civilized world. The combination of both often drives us straight into resignation.
The exercises that were expected to quickly improve the overall state of health react so strongly agianst the often misdeveloped biomechanical behaviour of new students that the only noticable effect seems to be a sudden eruption of various ailments that, in fact, were potentially present beforehand. Now they surface and are experienced in their complete extent of unpleasantness.

Unknowing doctors often know only one remedy: to stop training at once, as this seems to be the cause of our discomfort. But which enthusiastic WT-student wants to stop training at this point?
So they don't give up, clench their teeth and continue training, while waiting for a "automatic" change for the better.
Others try to find additional exercises as a "repair program" for the consequences of WT - which is, in fact, absurd!
WT contains the fundamental elements for everything the body and mind needs in order to be kept in „working order" without suffering lasting damage by very extreme and high-stress situations.

The physical-mechanical side of this system appears to us as though it could only be mastered by intense and constant exercising, but on the other hand, does our physical structure in any way even silghtly resemble that of the generations who invented WT?
For the Chinese culture, under the conditions that WingTsun once emerged, many basic principles of the Taoistic lifestyle were simply a fact of life, they did not have to be explained in length in order to yield a plausible connection.
Correct nourishment, physical exercise, meditation and taking time for arts and sciences on a level which could be made understandable and applicable for almost all social layers; the Chinese did not have to be talked into this way of living.

For us, the situation is fundamentally different:
Not only is the Taoistic way of teaching and presenting knowledge new ground for us, all other requirements of our lifestyle have also moved us far from entireness-oriented conclusions.
When do we ever deliberatly orient ourselves, in the course of decision-making, to the ruling powers and influences - and the balance that can be found between both - in a way that the "ancient Chinese wisdom" would see as it's uppermost commandment?

No wonder that, in every respect, we tend to lose balance; everything we do seems to be one-sided: our job, mental orientation, and consequently, the whole disposition of our body - even though the human body is nearly perfect, with a large extent of abilities for survival under a wide range of conditions:
We are able to run, jump, swim and climb trees, but instead we prefer to spend the largest part of our adult life behind a desk or in a car, and in order to compensate for so much sitting, we spend the rest of our time sitting in front of the television or in a bar or ..... .
That a muscular system which, after millions of years of survivial due to versatility, can only regenerate and function through versatility, is obvious.
But our idea of versatile activities are often enough so one-sided that we end up doing even more damage to our state of health.

How can we reach the "other power" in our system -our mind- in order to be more like our Chinese WT-ancestors by conciously finding a balance between -and making progress with- all powers involved with our physical, mental and combative health?
Surely not by following Western "tradition" and sending our students to a psychiatrist so they can learn more about their mental state of health.
An experienced WT-teacher is able to, with a trained eye for body language in which the emotional conflicts a person may have are reflected, recognize emotional disbalances.
He then will, without making a fuss about it, do his best to help the student regain balance.

If he or she should succeed in devloping a consistent rapport between what we should be learning from our training programs and the aspects of our everyday life that end up making us ill, then our training programs will no longer be seen as a burden; at this point they will gradually show us the way to physical and mental improvment and balance.
Life experience is needed in order to recongnize the essence of these connections; tracking down "false conduct" and requesting betterment would only lead to even more pressure and stunt improvement down to the point of resignation.

But when we experience the WT-forms beyond the point of fundamental exercises for movements used in single combat, get familiar with every part of our civilisation-spoiled bodys, conciously gain control over seemingly extreme stances and also considerably improve our physical flexibility, then we have good chances to regain our "best abilitys" - not only physically!

The "western world" has also aquired some concrete knowledge about the connection between a disturbed mental balance and it's direct affect to the body language, which is reflected in common sayings such as "keep your chin up". Our entire motor system, whose muscles and nerves are not only instruction recipients of the brain, are not only able to recieve information; it can also act in accordance to the 'commands' it gets from it's 'source of information'.

Which must mean that the motor system is also able to learn the same thing - the other way around: Constantly repeated, systematic movements of our muscles would send systematic orientation impulses to the brain via the nervous system. Our brain would not be able to completly ignore these impulses over a longer period of time.

For years, one of the most productive (only in the sense of the maximization of a company's profit) fields of the western pharmacy has been the treatment of ailments having to do with the disturbed balance of vital body functions as well as the entire movement and perception system.
Both are supposed to be cured by the intake of medicine (drugs!). And they are in such a way that the symptoms actually do - superficially - disappear, despite the unsatisfactory function of substantial aspects that make our body work (these people are often not even able to breathe "properly" since the motoric stimulation, which comes through an appropriate amount of exercise, is nonexistent).

This is, in fact, (when not artificially enhanced by medication) a natural and automatic part of our body: the effects on a person who is sufficiently exposed to a balanced amount of movement and exercise does not only have a positive effect on his physical stamina; it also results in a well-developed and organized brain capacity: the brain has a better "working flow".
So now you might object that this is a long-known fact - a healthy mind in a healthy body.

So why do we need Asian "wisdom" in order to realize this?
Perhaps we should ponder the aspect concerning "orientation development by motoric impulse" (muscle memory) in detail: What makes our method of combat so superior?
Well, we have our simultaneous counter-attacks on several levels, the ability to instantly locate which direction an attack is coming from and to "measure" the strength and force of an attack on a part of our body, only to react correctly without having to give the situation any thought whatsoever - and to a large extent without needing other forms of perception!
Which means that the way we learn and practice WingTsun must aim at the decentralization of the perception and action levels, leading to a "self-sufficiency" of individual body functions.

You could probably call it practical use of the chaos theory - but for us it is nothing less than the application of Taoism. A body, which can recall a fixed pattern of reactions only by using the brain in order to respond to complex impulses, will end up being the sore loser against the chaotic reality of single combat.
The human mind experiences the same thing when we are forced to face the reality of orientating ourselves in a high-speed socitiy, far away from fairy tales and comic books.
That is, unless it can rely on a wide range of experience with the seemingly "chaotic" way of dealing with situations that can not be mastered by making one central decision.

Or it could rely on extensive practice.
For example, in being self-confident enough to simply "go with" any given situation without triggering an "alarm state" of the body and mind in order to prevent falling victim to any form of force around us - this must be practiced, especially for health's sake, which brings us back to our main topic.
A state of constant alarm and the effects that it has on our muscles, and the effects of tense nerves combined with little or no exercise are often to blame for most civilization-born illnesses.

The daily battle to survive, regardless of how civilized and non-violent it has become, often mobilizes uncontrolled physical reactions due to our often helpless mental reaction to a situation - and the result often backfires.
Stress hormones have a life-protecting function when someone is faced with a threatining or high-stress situation.
But they will end up doing more harm than good to a person who is constantly exposed to situations that, on one side, puts a person into a state of mental stress, but on the other, where nothing actually happens.
In order to avoid negative effects to our health, we must learn to have an attitude towards life that allows us to take things as they come instead of trying to strive against a situation.

Once again, we will find that the Taoistic principles offer guidelines for a calm and composed attitude.
If the physical reactions to constant stress can be resolved by an appropiate training program, then the state of "complete" relaxation is able to set in.
The WT-forms, Siu-Nim-Tao in particular, can be the base of this training. A body that is not supple is unfit for WT or any other physical or mental form of Taoism.
The process of freeing ourselves from obstructing antagonistic resistance and reducing exaggerated muscluar tensness not only helps us make progress in perfecting the application of our WT-techniques, it also enables us to permantly improve our physical and mental self-awareness.

The "ABC's" of our "combat tools", and the way they are acquired through the WT-forms, have concrete parallels to the "exercise pictures" used in Chi Kung (Qui gong), the traditional Taoistic "medical forms" for daily exercise:
Instead of lengthy anatomical-physiological manuals, Chi Kung has easy-to-comprehend instructions for each exercise.
The forms from the traditional Chinese medicine achieves a directly experiencable physical improvement as well as indirect influence on the brain and internal organs.
The Chinese are completely satisfied with the obvious effects of the exercises. Personal experiences and the experiences of other people known to them are completely sufficient in order to understand that the excercises really work. They do not need "scientific" research to trust a self-experienced reality.
Perhaps we WT-students now hope that, through the "taoistic relation" between WT and Chi Kung, to achieve a similar influence on our health and a long life simply by having the same positive attituide to WT as the Chinese have to Chi Kung?
Taoism is not only a question of the correct attituide towards life as if it were a religion!
It is a lifelong guide on how to live and act - it's goal is to achieve all-round perfection.

This practically-oriented striving for perfection, including the method of "acquiring", learning and practicing with the goal of self-confidence and the capability to act adequately is seen as ART by the Chinese.
Which explains why the term MARTIAL ART, which we use so naturally, is not so easily transferred into the western "art comes from ability" term.

Because the state of being "finished" does not fit into the Taoistic way of thinking: such a state might a goal that a person will try to adchieve through a great amount of practise. The task of practising and the progress of your abilities are up to yourself.
The Chinese are very careful when speaking about a "gifted" person. Even if a person is quicker and better at learning something - it still has nothing to say about to say about his progress regarding other aspects of his personality.
In order to constantly check our stage of development in WT, we are the only martial art system that has Chi-Sao.
Chi-Sao gives us the opportunity to measure the progress we have made with our tactile techniques and to learn how to face any kind of attack with the necessary amount of sovereignty and composure.

Some of us might suspect a link between physical "full employment" through daily practise of Chi-Sao or Siu-Nim-Tao and the phenomenon of a man such as Dai-Sifu Kernspecht - he spends over 300 days a year travelling to seminars and also manages to write or translate numerous books per year, and supervises over 1000 WT-instructors, and also, God knows when, takes care of administrative matters and prepares major WT-political decisions - in short a person who never has the amount of rest and relaxation that any western doctor would recommend - his energy is seemingly endless, he is always in a good mood and practically never ill.
Now we could simply decide to achieve at least a fraction of of Dai-Sifu Kernspecht's training experience in order to automatically have a similar constitution.

But first of all, we should try to completly comprehend the wisdom of our masters (remember: COGITO ERGO)!
If we, WT-instructors, offer students -who know nothing about the virtues of Chinese medicine- concrete methods and exercises for health-enhancement, we can hardly refer to the "automatic correctness" of our training programs.
We must spend more time pondering the Taoistic exercises - which have no explaination about the effect between tactile and muscular stimulation- and it's effect on the internal organs, in order to to have a better understanding about what our training programs really have to offer - even if the Chinese-Taoistic "theories" sound unusual to us.

We must be able to accept our exercises not only as valued combat techniques, but also as the starting point to health-orientated exercise in order to utterly comprehend their medical meaning.
Instead of searching foreign grounds for answers, we would be better off recognizing the innermost truth of our own art! Grandmaster Leung Ting made it clear to us by re-establishing the "new" old ('ancient') health-Siu-Nim-Tao that learning, even things believed long-gone, never stands still or ends.
No one should ever think that practising forms is just for beginners - the past few seminars with Grandmaster Leung Ting and Dai-Sifu Kernspecht have shown us just how much we all need to practise - and things have just started!

Source: WTWelt 16
Translation: Jennifer Winkler
Revisor & Publisher: Frank Schäfer Sifu

"Softness conquers hardness":

Hardly any other martial art existing makes such consequent use of the taoistic philosophy as WingTsun.
But just what does "Taoism" mean?

The idea of Tao is reflected in the beauty of Chinese script. Because the ink consists mainly of water, Chinese calligraphy demands that one "must go with the current". It can easily be seen if the writer lingered, was too hasty or tried to correct.
The Chinese way of thinking and feeling finds it's roots in the principles of polarity, not to be confused with contrast and conflict.

Yin and Yang, woman and man, plus and minus, in- and exhaling, black and white, they all express the same logic: one could not live without the other.
The american China expert Alan Watts writes: "Yin and yang's philosophy is both serene and cynic". This conception is the fundamental principle of Taoism.

"Nothing on this planet is softer than water - but water is incomparable when it comes to conquering hardness"

Taoism is not a Chinese religion, it is an ancient philosiphy. No one knows who conceived Taoism , or exactly when the idea of Taoism was born; it is simply an element of Chinese wisdom.
In the original form of Taoism, there are no rituals or exercises, but the principles can be found in the revised, more complicated forms of other Asian religions such as Zen-Buddism.

A classical book about Taoism is the book from "Tao and Te" (also called "Dao and De" in modern transcriptions). "De" is often translated as "virtue". The "Tao Te King" is attributed to the wise teacher Lao Tse.
It is not known when or by whom it was written. It was seen as a holy script, not the work of a single author. Until 1973, it's contents were only known from the transcripts of Wang Bi, a philosopher who brought the word-of mouth transcription to paper, including some of his own comments, in the year 3 A.D..
Recently, an even older script was found, the so-called the "Silk Scripts of Mawangdui".

"Eternally the same"

Translating the Tao Te King into another language is not a simple task. Chinese characters have many meanings, and some phrases require extensive interpretions in order to be understood by the non- Chinese. Just how difficult this is becomes obvious when you attempt to translate the first sentence of the Tao Te King: "The Tao that can be spoken of is not the absolute Tao", or "The river that can be followed is not the eternal river", or "The Tao that can be Taoised will not be the same Tao forever".

The editor of the "Silk Scripts", Hans-Georg Moeller, quite rightfully percieves this in a rather negligent way.
In his introduction he writes: "The Daodejing is an ancient Chinese book that will never be completly understood in these regions, no matter how often it may be translated".

The Tao Te King was written as a textbook for statesmen and the monarch. Most of the wisdoms were meant as suggestions on the best way to rule a country. However, these wisdoms can also be used for one's personal development; it is very easy to interpret the Script in such a way.

The theory of Taoism is not dedicated to it's usefullness, prehaps the reason why it is still relativly unknown, compared to Buddisim, which is finding more and more non-Asian followers.

A Taoist does not try to convince others of his opinion, and he does not try to convert people to Taoism. Ideally, his compulsive function is that of a role model; one will notice his composure, his high-spiritedness as well as the peacefullness he radiates. If someone should be interested in the source of such vitality, the Taoist will not keep his knowledge of the Taoistic wisdom a secret, for he is not a friend of mystery-mongering.

"Acculturation of the body"

Taoists acquire their perception through the contemplation of nature. They see human thoughts as a natural process: thoughts grow in the brain in the same way that grass grows in a meadow.
The older form of Taoism teaches that the body must be "cultivated". A monarch who wishes to have the world in unison must, first of all, look after the needs of his body.
Harmful developments should be recognized as such from the start. A illness can only be cured when treated in the beginning stages.
In this way, the Taoist uses the smallest amount of energy and his way of proceeding is also the most effective. The practice of Taoism is also a form of physical exercise.
By letting the "Chi-energy" flow (through breathing), unexpected sources of strength are set free.
In this way, Chi-Gung and Siu Nim Tao are forms of meditation.

"Create without owning; take action without dependence; allow growth, and do not command".
This means: "Hidden strength"

Translated into a modern version, Tao is the consistent conception of "wholeness": everything in this universe somehow belongs together, nothing stands apart.
This idea is, of course, not found only in Chinese philosiphers, it also finds itself in new physics (Holismus), music, modern management - and - WingTsun.

"Life without tranquilizers"

So just what is "Tao"?

Theo Fischer writes: "Tao is a dimension of yourself and myself. It can not be accessed by thought, but it can very well be established and become a way of life for each and every one of us".
It is true that you won't get far if you attempt to grasp the idea of Tao through intellect. Our form of intellect thrives on security, but security is a deceptive form of hope, a kind of permanent tranquilizer.
And sometimes you just have to admit that you were building on sand. Everyone who has gone through a life crises knows this phenomenon: the turning point is reached just when you are exhausted and ready to resign.
In this moment the "Tao" comes to life, a form of strength that lies beyond our control. In the Taoistic way of thinking, softness dominates over hardness, and depth over height. Because all rivers flow into deeper seas, it is more powerful to be soft, indefinite and restrained; this is seen as the highest ideal.

This would lead to being propitious when misunderstood, one would try to master a situation by remaining favorable at all times. Exactly when a situation reaches the boiling point is something that each individual must - and should - determin for himself.
To follow your personal "Tao" means that you must free yourself from apparent binding ties - and from the fear of being judged in a negativ way by others. A Taoist does not fight against his own weak points, he accepts them. He is successful because he doesn't force success.
This "non-enforcement" means "Wu Wie" [-also called "Wu Wai"-] - and can be translated in many different ways. "Wu Wie" tells you not to take action, but at the same time , not to be undecided, foolish or lazy.
Ideally, living in the sense of "Tao" requires no energy.
No one has to learn anything for something they already have. With this effortlessness it is possible to release an amazing amout of energy.

"Chattering thoughts"

"Wu Wie" requires that the "chattering inner voices" fall silent. Our mind is an extremly talkitive companion. We are forever thinking about what we have experinced, how to handel what, and what may come next. It is very difficult for us to see the world around us in a neutral and unconcerned way.
A very practical Taoistic wisdom is: when you can't sleep because thousands of thoughts are buzzing around in your head, then try to see yourself and think: so here I am, musing and pondering about. Or, as Alan Watts puts it: "It's useless to compress the flood of thoughts that is almost always present in the head of an adult. If the thoughts will not stop, then let them flow; listen to them as if it were traffic noise or the cackling of chickens".
This can only work when you do not constantly rush about in a hurried way. You must learn how to let yourself go, how to take time and be attentive. Otherwise you may not notice the moments to be cherished.

Here is a little story:
A bus full of tourists is driving through a breathtaking landscape. Everyone grabs their camaras and video camaras. Except one person. He stays seated and quietly lets the tremendous scenery pass by unfilmed.
When asked by one of his companions why he wasen't taking pictures he answers: "No, I prefer to enjoy the landscape here and now".
"Everyone on this planet knows that water can defeat massive structures, that softness can defeat hardness - but no one that would make use of this knowledge".

"Firmness and hardness are the companions of death.
Flexibility, softness, smallness, and fineness are the companions of life.
If weapons are hard, they are not able to defeat".


If two fighters with Taoistic principles stand face to face, ready to fight, the fight would actually never take place. Both would wait and see what the other is going to do. This way, the fight would be decided without it ever have been fought. This is - seen in a philosophical way - wishful thinking.
But let's imagine that one of them would attack: just how and when are Taoistic principles used during a WingTsun related fight?

Now imagine that you, a WingTsun fighter and your opponent cross paths. Right from the start, you have the better chances when you act according to Taoistic principles, which means that you would probably never* attack (* don't forget that principle that advises you to take action against the harmful while the trouble is still small. Or: see the section "Acculturation of the body" from "Softness conquers hardness").
And while your opponent would be busy getting his attack together, you would be freed from any form of decision-making; you would "only" react. You have released yourself from any form of expectation.
You let everything that may come from your assaulter simply happen. Since you have not planned anything, you can't fall victim of a wrong guess. So you react without intention, but you are reacting!
Your assaulter will have quite a bit of trouble trying to predict your counterattack.

The characteristics of water comes closest to the idea of Tao:
your movements as a WT-fighter constantly "flow" in a forward direction. Due to your passivity, your opponent deforms your arms and legs, in exactly the way your body was taught to by practising Chi-Sao.
This way, your body will be able to find the "empty spaces" in your opponent's attack. Your conterattack is like a river flowing into a sea: if a boulder blocks it's path, it elegantly flows around it. Despite all obstacles in it's way, the water reaches it's destination.
Your attacker is like a boulder: should he be so strong that he cannot be pushed aside, first you let your body deform, then let your body divert itself, and after that continue going your way.

You take things as they come. Your reactions are based on what your body feels. This is where your strength lies: your body reacts to reflexes. You do not waste your energy - leave that up to your opponent!
The harder, more forceful and stiffer his attacks are, the more welcome he is to you.
Your movements are economical, almost lazy. You take the shortest way such as the straight punch or the straight kick. But your reaction isn't just absorbing your opponent's strength in a soft manner; you add your own strength to his, while still remaining able to yield.
You do not run against brick walls that are stronger than you will ever be. Only stupid people run agianst walls and injure themselves. The wise look for a hole in the wall - or - simply walk around it.
If you should realize that, after touching the wall, the seemingly strong wall is a cardboard dummy, then, without hesitation, knock it over.

Source: WTWelt 17
Translation: Jennifer Winkler
Revisor & Publisher: Frank Schäfer Sifu