The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~


Friday, August 11, 2017

The Internal Path of Wing Chun

Today we have a guest post by Jonathan Bluestein. Enjoy.


The Internal Path of the Wing Chun Master

By Jonathan Bluestein


Karma and Fate have an interesting thing about them – they lend themselves in various ways based on a person’s choices and inclinations. That is to say, that Karma and Fate are seldom blind. More often than not, our thoughts and actions lead us to experience them in a given way. We usually cannot explain how this happened, so we call it ‘luck’. But life is about more than simple luck. I guarantee you that by indulging and immersing yourself to an immense degree in whatever you like and are good at, your life will head in very unusual and expected directions. This article is about one such occurrence, and its most extraordinary consequences.

Some years ago I have made a decision to advertise my best-seller, Research of Martial Arts, in a rather novel way, which shall not be detailed here. Thousands of miles away on a different continent, this manner of advertising caught the attention of one Keith R. Kernspecht. He decided to purchase my book, and thoroughly enjoyed it. He then reached out to me via email, and we began a correspondence which lasted two years. I seemed to recall I have heard of this man before, and indeed two quotes by him appeared in my book. It struck me then after the first email, that this is no ordinary individual, but in fact the head of the European Wing Tsun Organization (EWTO) – the largest martial arts organization on Earth, which by this time has grown into an empire of over 1000 schools and roughly 60,000 students. It could in fact be argued that master Kernspecht is the most commercially successful martial arts teacher to have ever lived; and, he was eager to befriend me.


In the pictures:  master Keith R. Kernspecht with the author of this article, shifu Jonathan Bluestein.
One thing led to another, and by Fall of 2016 I received an invitation from him to spend a week by his side in Italy, at a location which I prefer not to disclose. Then the first week of the month of August of the year 2017, we indeed spent together, also with his daughter Natalie, conversing and training some 6-10 hours a day. Why was it then, that dear master Kernspecht chose to have me around for that period of time? It had to do with his unique journey in the martial arts.

Sifu Kernspecht has been in the arts since the late 1950s. He has studied with so many teachers, I doubt he even remembers all of them. He was found among the first groups of Jujutsu and Karate practitioners in Europe. Then he became one of the first Europeans to have ever practiced Wing Chun, since 1970 (originally under sifu Joseph Cheng). He was also a student of Jesse Glover, one of Bruce Lee’s closest and best students. Eventually in 1976 he became a student of sifu Leung Ting, with whom he stayed for decades, and the rest is history. Keith and Leung Ting built a grand martial arts school empire, with the majority of the work having been done by Keith on the European continent.  

Throughout the years Keith was always a great researcher and innovator. He met up and befriended most of the long-term students of his late sigung Yip Man, who was the teacher of both Leung Ting (to whom he was close and taught many years) and of Bruce Lee (whom Yip Man actually taught for less than 3 years while Lee was a teenager). By training and questioning his many brothers and uncles in the system, Keith was able to understand it and also its history better than most.          
He was additionally quite keen on developing training programs which were meant to appeal to all sorts of crowds. Although he always kept his Wing Tsun ‘pure’ at its essence, his organization infused ideas and some techniques from Greco-Roman Wrestling, American Wrestling, Escrima and more. He brought in famous masters such as Escrima teachers Rene Latosa and Bill Newman to teach their curriculum under the EWTO umbrella, but also people like the successor to Karate legend Masutatsu Oyama and pioneer of Mixed Martial Arts Jon Bluming sensei, MMA prodigy Gokor Chivichyan and grappling legend Gene Lebelle to be a part of his extended martial arts family. In addition to that, his organization has long been offering specialized classes for women, security forces and law-enforcement agencies which used his Wing Tsun in novel and interesting ways.    



By 2000, when he was 55 years of age, Keith was awarded the final degree in Leung Ting’s Wing Tsun – the 10th master’s degree, and in this became the only person to hold the same grade as his sifu, closing a circle which began some 35 years earlier.    
It was about that time that master Kernspecht felt he should delve even deeper into his practice, and begin a process of transforming it. This was partly of course as old age was creeping on him, and he could no longer rely on his physical prowess and sharp reflexes (which, I should note, were still quite formidable when I met him at the age of 72!). Now Keith sought to take a second, more objective look at his Wing Tsun, and consider how ought it best be improved.
Granted, Keith had some doubts above various aspects in the practices of all Wing Chun lineages for years, but was patient and respectful enough to wait until he became quite mature in his style and understanding of art before taking dramatic action. After all, there was no reason to rush as the system he taught was already quite effective in most respects, easy to learn and proven in real-life situations, before any internal modifications were made to it.


Then at around 2010 his thoughts and concerns began to materialize into a more coherent picture. What Keith saw, was something which he had hints of for decades. He saw that he had a martial art in his hands which spoke of many principles shared with the internal martial arts of China, but in fact did not have the physical means and methods for putting it all into practice fully. He sensed and strongly felt that his Wing Tsun ought to somehow become ‘more internal’, and had made a decision to go on one final quest and adventure, with the goal of leaving the world with a new Internal Wing Tsun, before he himself could no longer practice.            




The guidelines for Keith on this quest to remake his Wing Tsun were as follows:

-          Looking for methods which did not teach ‘dead’ movements that were to be memorized well by heart but not really put into application in real fighting.             

-          Avoiding an approach which offered many applications in the format for ‘an answer for every questions’; rather, seeking principle-based systems.            

-          Doing without any methods which relied upon brute physical force, endurance, an ability to take punishment, fitness, reaction speed, instincts, misunderstood spontaneity & creativity and blind aggression.             

It is a brave thing to do, taking a fresh new path and journey during the seventh decade of one’s life, but then again, Keith is no coward. Having met countless challenges in his lifetime and having passed through the hell of them all, nothing could stop him from succeeding also with this one.         
For the sake of attaining his goal, Keith sought out people with knowledge or mastery of the internal arts in order that he could learn from them. The first person to have led him in that direction was his dear friend, the late Prof. Horst Tiwald, who is unknown in the English-speaking world of martial arts but was quite famous in German academic circles. Professor Tiwald, although not a martial artist himself, was capable of explaining to Keith the principles and concepts behind that internal arts even better than teachers he had met and all books he had read (Keith has a library with over 1000 martial arts books). Professor Tiwald acquainted Keith with various masters of the internal arts, and he started questioning and training with many of them

An early friend and colleague of Keith who helped him out with this is master Jan Silberstorff, who is the top Western disciple of Chen Taiji Quan master Chen Xiaowang. Later Keith also became friends with master Yang Linsheng. I was surprised when Keith showed me some videos of master Yang Linsheng, as his existence somehow evaded me up to that point. Likely, as he primarily taught in Mongolia and Italy. Once I saw the videos, which are available on Youtube by the way, I could immediately tell this was a master of a high level. He also practices and teaches some 9 different styles, including Xing Yi Quan, Taiji Quan, Bagua Zhang and Tongbei Quan. Indeed, Keith testified that master Yang was one of two or three people in his lifetime to who he could do little to if they really wanted to hurt him. You may ask – who is that ‘other person’? Well, it is he who is now Keith’s teachers of the internal arts, but his identity I have sworn to keep a secret until he is publicly revealed by the end of this year (2017).

Without getting into too much detail, in order not to reveal the teacher’s identity, I can simply tell you the following:        
Keith met this teacher some years ago, and that teacher impressed him tremendously. The teacher had a special method for instruction, which Keith felt could significantly better his Wing Tsun and eventually truly make it into a ‘fully internal’ system. Since then, Keith and his daughter had together spent over 2000 hours learning from that master and some of his top students. Keith in turn later met with his own top students and taught them much of what he had learned, so they could gradually transmit small bits and pieces of this knowledge to their students and the many EWTO schools worldwide. Eventually, Keith hopes to have a scenario in which his Wing Tsun is internalized, and the EWTO students could, if they want, gradually undergo a long process of learning which will take them step by step and year by year from the external to the internal.

Keith Had summarized the changes and additions he made to his Wing Tsun via the following general points:

 Having multi-dimensionality and circularity in every part of the art. Every movement has a forward and back, a left and right, an up and down, an expanding and contracting.

 Emphasizing balance, and therefore also relaxation (A Confucian idea – the balanced person can also become relaxed).

  Having a clear separation of Yin & Yang -  very simple energy management that acts upon a powerful movement motor and takes its effect with the help of a clear structure.

 Natural opening & closing of the joints; utilizing the power of the joints & fascia through horizontal rotation and the a lot of shifting of one’s bodyweight from one side to the other.

 The use of indirect rather than direct forces. Multi-vectored attacks.

 Specific use of convex & concave body mechanics.

 Sticking to the physical contact point, including the use of suction. Compelling the opponent to remain in contact by creating and offering a sphere with corresponding pressure.

  No resistance, but not the opposite either – giving way or running away from the point!

  No automatic, blind reactions. Rather, acting in the Zen-Buddhist sense described by his friend Prof. Tiwald; of being mindful and fully conscious in action for as much as one's own skill level allows.             
What is actually occurring here and that I have had the honour of witnessing, is master Kernspecht making a choice and acting in a manner which shall change all of martial arts, forever. The implications of an organization numbering 60,000 individuals merging its curriculum and joining its path with a different martial art shall impact the course of martial arts history for centuries to come. There is absolutely no historical precedent for a transmission on the population scale which master Keith R. Kernspecht has attained, and neither is there a precedent for someone of such influence acting in this manner.

In the midst of this incredible turn of events, here I was – a 29 year old man in the beginning of his journey, being greeted by a big, smiling grandpa figure and his incredibly cheerful daughter, who is about my age, at an Italian airport. I could not believe these guys. From the moment they saw me, they treated me like I was a family member they had not seen in years. I had never experienced such a warm welcome in my life from someone who was not my romantic partner. Then throughout our week together, Keith and Natalie maintained this attitude consistently, catering for my every need, and looking after me like their own keen. I will never forget their kindness.       
I
t is funny how people like Keith are often at the center of silly political arguments, and are attacked left and right by various individuals who seek to undermine them and steal some of their knowledge or power. But meeting Keith, it was perhaps the third time in my life in which I have realized that actually, the great teacher was truly a sweet and lovely guy, while many of those who attempt to belittle or curse him are in fact bitter and envious. Having spent more than 40 hours with the man, one on one, I could say with certainty that nothing in the world could convince me that he is not an honorable and worthy human being. Alas, when you have to deal with big organizations, handle big sums of money and lead large groups of people, you will always have enemies.  



The reason Keith had me hop over to his favourite Italian spot was mere curiosity. He saw in my work that I had good understanding and insights into the internal arts, and wanted me to explain to him my take on them and my traditions as I teach them. We therefore spent most of our time together with me making an effort to demonstrate and tell Keith and Natalie of everything I knew. The focus had been on the curriculum of the Xing Yi Quan system which I teach, and also that of the Southern Mantis which I practice (of the Jook Lum lineage), which I have not begun teaching yet (as of the year 2017). Both of these are very deep internal martial arts, and it takes a while to describe and demonstrate all of their methods. Despite the dozens of hours we spent together, I still was not able to show Keith and Natalie everything, though I likely managed to get across at least 70% of the material. These arts are quite deep, and apparently it takes over a week of whole-day exposure just to demonstrate and discuss everything. Then again, if I was told in advance I had two weeks, I am not even sure whether they would have been sufficient.       
Thankfully sitting with two master-level teachers, the job which was given to me was simpler. I could not have discussed even a fifth of what I did with most other people. Being good Germans, the two were patient listeners and always asked the best questions one could hope for. I felt that through this week of showing them what I know and teach and answering their questions, I also learned quite a lot about my martial arts as well. This was partly by all of us discussing and comparing the many similarities and differences between the arts we have been exposed to.       




In the picture: master Keith R. Kernspecht and his Italian student and representative Dai Sifu Filippo Cuciuffo, together with shifu Jonathan Bluestein. This was a smiling competition and Filippo won it with ease. He can also beat us at cooking and soccer. 
             
Then in-between, I have also had the opportunity and great privilege to practice a bit with Keith and Natalie. It has been a while since I was fortunate enough to touch a person far more skilled than I am who was not my teacher, let alone someone with some 6 decades of experience. I fondly remember that moment. I was showing something to Natalie on the first day, and at least with her I could contend. Then Keith jumped out the sofa and said: “Now show us how you would do this on me!”. I knew this moment was coming, of course. I touched his hands, and… oh, damn. I did not like that feeling… the feeling of being a beginner again. The granpda would not bulge, and I could not move. He got me. I was not sure what happened. Then we had a long push-hands session of sorts, which Keith used to test me. I was hit quite a lot during that session, though always with moderation and in good spirits. Something was not right. I could somewhat make my position and control my angles, but then every time I thought I had an opening, his hands were striking me before mine could reach him. Often, his hands would reach just a fraction of a second before mine, but they were ahead of me every single time. This, I learned later, was due to special methods which were taught to him by his newest internal arts mentor, who was apparently far more skilled than he in using these annoying skills.         
Over the course of the week, especially after Keith showed me how he was controlling me, I was finally able to move him around a bit sometimes. But this was of no use, because within moments he could always strike me or make my structure stuck as before. I should not think too much of myself, though. Firstly, he likely was not giving me even 50% of his power. Secondly, I am a 29 year old fellow who was training with a 72 year old man with joint problems who could not even do strength training anymore, and was still stronger and faster than me, with better reaction time, and could likely have killed me if he wanted to. I could only hope to have half of his ability at his age, as he is still capable of physically dominating people 10-50 years younger than him, some of whom he himself had taught for decades. Keith jokes happily and says: “Yes, now with my new internal skills, I can be slower and lazier and still win. Isn’t it great?!”.




Keith therefore did not of course invite me so I could be his teacher, but rather as a friend and colleague. From the height of his knowledge and achievements he was modest enough to recognize that I likely knew many things that he did not, and wanted my aid with his fantastic research and project. As a matter of fact, Keith has got a whole lot more to teach me than I have for him, but this first trip together focused on exposing what I knew, as it relates to what Keith is up to at this period of time. Beyond his teachings, he is also engaged in the writing of three new books, one of which will be detailing his long and unique journey into the internal arts. I hope that in the future I shall have the opportunity to spend more time with Keith, Natalie and their teachers, in order that I too could educate myself further. In the meanwhile, I felt that I had done my best under the circumstances. Keith and Natalie were pleased that I did not hold any information from them whatsoever, apart from a few specific practices which my Southern Mantis sifu forbade me from teaching and explaining. But then again, this is my general approach to the martial arts – I never keep secrets from those who genuinely want to learn, can understand them and whom I can trust; especially not from people who have shown me great kindness.

Though my personal contribution to the tremendous historical undertaking Keith is involved in is perhaps minor, compared with the influence of others more skilled than me, I was very happy to have been able to take part. I feel that perhaps, our long discussions have aided Keith and Nahi grasp a little bit better what their other, more influential and knowledgeable teachers had taught them, and through this I may have done a great service to many people whom I will never even meet. This historical crossroad with two special individuals shall forever be in my heart, and more adventures are sure to come…              

To read more about the EWTO organization of master Kernspecht and find a school near you, please visit their official website:




 



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Shifu Jonathan Bluestein is the head of the Tianjin Martial Arts Academy, and teaches Xing Yi Quan and Pigua Zhang in Israel. He is also a martial arts author and researcher. If you liked this article, please ‘like’ the page of shifu Bluestein’s book on Facebook:

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5 comments:

evZENy said...

The changes are basically some of the tenants of Tai Chi as listed in Tai Chi Classics.
End of 2017 is nearing so we will patiently wait :-).
And practice our Tai Chi with those same ancient principles :-)

As a member of Leung Ting's IWTA I always wonder about this claims on the size (1,000,000+ for IWTA and 60,000 for EWTO).
Practicing 2 summers in a row with EWTO-Bulgaria I can tell that the closest to my house Taekwondo school has 3 times more members than the whole EWTO-Bulgaria.
Great article.

Jonathan Bluestein said...

Concerning the last comment...

I have a picture of master Kernspecht standing aside several hundred EWTO instructors (not regular students) in one seminar alone. So I believe the numbers. As for Leung Ting's organization - I cannot tell you how many students and schools he has, but less than in Kernspecht's for sure in my opinion. 1 million is a silly exaggeration. If I am not mistaken, Bulgaria belongs with Leung Ting's organization and not with Kernspecht's, but I am not certain about that.

As for which teacher, art and lineage are master Kernspecht's inspiration in recent years... There will be interesting surprises for sure.

evZENy said...

Starting from the back - yes, http://wingtsun-bg.com/ is a EWTO organization and often invites its senior instructors to Bulgaria. Listed at http://www.wingtsunwelt.com/

Leung Ting organization is still listed as the umbrella combining 4 sister organizations - EWTO among them - https://www.leungting.com/branches-in-other-countries
(BTW, on the first photo of GGM Leung Ting in his book "Wing Tsun Kuen", p. 12 there is an interesting detail and link to Bulgaria, which helped the EWTO connection for the country).

But I agree with you, that even if EWTO reaches the number you quoted, the rest can hardly add up to 1 million. Even if it counts past members?
And whether EWTO reaches this numbers... Of course I also follow all the events, including the anniversary celebration. The most recent one from July shows about 250-300 people attending. If we assume they all come from different schools, that would average 200 students per school to reach 60,000.

Not that it matters, really.

I am more interested in the rest of your article. Since I consider myself primarily follower of the Taiji way, specifically the Internal path of its Taoist form. So it has been great pleasure for me to see the incorporation of its inner concepts into Wing Tsun.
Will be meeting GGM Leung Ting soon and will be interested to see his approach to it.
He talked quite extensively on it when we visited him last year and may have new insights.

Thank you for finding the time to write back.
I am humbled and honored.
And thanks once again for your contributions to the arts!

Jonathan Bluestein said...

Thank you for your kind words :-)

It is actually possible that over 5 decades of teaching, there were indeed some 1 million people overall who attended classes under Leung Ting's and Kernspecht's organizations. But then again, if I count everyone who ever participated in a trial class at my school or stayed for a short while, I would have had quite a lot of students myself ;-)

What I learned over the years is that 'Internal' can refer to a very wide array of systems, methods and techniques. Although usually based on similar or identical principles, there are many ways to do it. I suspect that currently, master Kernspecht's path and that of his former teacher have diverged considerably in that respect. I predict that in 20 years' time, if not less, they would not even be practicing and teaching the 'same martial art', although both versions will likely still be called 'Wing Tsun'.

I will in fact make an even bolder prediction - I think that in 50 years' time, what we think of today as 'Wing Chun' will be a minority within the greater Wing Chun community. What is very likely to happen is, that after Kernspecht's EWTO makes its up and coming evolution, countless other schools and lineages will seek to imitate and follow. This new 'market demand' will also likely affect all practitioners of the internal arts to a degree.

evZENy said...

Good points.
The only unknown for me is if this evolution isn't actually a coming back to the original spirit of Wing Chun. Will be curious to hear GGM Leung Ting's view on it soon. Maybe he is moving in the same direction after all? תודה