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I'm a Wing Chun student and my Sihing regularly tells me that i shouldn't be so tensed in all my movements.

A lot of techniques in WC required smooth arm and leg movements to react to our opponents strikes. I cannot achieve this when making tensed contact

Now i try my best to loosen up but it just doesn't come by itself. Is there any practices our routines i can do so my movements aren't just filled with power?

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I'm curious, what style/lineage (Leung Ting/Mai Gei Wong/Wong Shun Leung etc) are you studying? It may help in discerning what type of drills your Sihing might be familiar with, that you can ask them to teach you more of. –  evilcandybag Mar 14 '13 at 15:49
    
I'm studying LT Wing Chun under EWTO of GM Kernspecht. –  Jeroen Mar 14 '13 at 15:57
    
You can practice taichi.. for immidiate relaxation... it relax entire body and mind.. if u do it correctly. –  m nisar Nov 4 '13 at 1:42
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7 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Warm up with slow, high-precision, well-known moves

You should warm up thoroughly, ending with light, smooth, slow movements that you've already mastered. From Tom Kurz' article, A Well-Run Workout: The Warm-Up:

Warm-up regulates emotional states because the flow of impulses from working muscles (respective motor and sensory nerve centers, actually) calms down an overly excited nervous system... For overly excited athletes, warm-up should include slow exercises that require precision, of high complexity but well known.

This will be difficult since you probably do not determine the format of your warm-up in class. Warming up before class will help somewhat.

Reduce stress

Practice technique frequently, in low-stress situations. I find that many martial arts instructors--even good ones!--have the bedside manner of a sociopath. It's normal to feel small or clumsy when having trouble learning a new technique, and many forms of feedback exacerbate the issue:

  • "No" / "Nope"
  • "Not that arm!"
  • "You're doing it all wrong."
  • "Stop!" (exclaimed in the middle of the trainee executing a dynamic technique)
  • Overly rushed or vague corrections

...and so on. The pseudo-militaristic culture and lack of proper education for instructors in martial arts more often than not leads to sub-optimal teaching methods. These can make it hard to clear your mind and try the technique again in a relaxed manner. Instead of criticizing a student for failing to execute impeccable form, instructors should generally use clear, compassionate pointers to guide the student towards better technique.

The best way to work around a lack of positive, constructive feedback is to breathe, take your time, and ask the instructor for a second to collect yourself before trying again. Don't let poorly-structured feedback interrupt your learning process.

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Grand Master Hisataka of Shorinji Ryu and Koshiki came to train with us once at our Blue Mountains Dojo, a most amazing man. He gave us many techniques and processes that were diametrically opposite to the accepted norms of martial arts training. One great example was his amazing ability to deliver various hand and foot strikes while actually BREATHING IN !!!! His reasoning for this was that most practitioners were so focussed on always expelling their breath to exert maximum force and power that they were usually stunned and disrupted when someone effectively launched a strike upon them when they were just beginning to breath in. You MUST be ready at ALL times. Often the mistake is made by adhering obsessively to the concept of 'intention force' - this then may be also seen as 'IN TENSION - FORCE' when applied incorrectly. "to react to our opponents strikes" REACTION to an opponent's strike is unfortunate. As Sensei Chris Traish has stated many times "we need to act, not react". If you have the time to execute a block, why then would you bother? You would more logically avoid the strike, or execute a strike of your own would you not? Why waste valuable time and effort."Now i try my best to loosen up but it just doesn't come by itself". Bob Jones of Zen Do Kai gave valuable instruction and advice by way of 'NEMONIC TRIGGERS'. Small, easily assimilated and remembered memory triggers. I have picked up one from Arjuken karate, it is the 3 R's...learn them and utilise them whenever you are about to engage, or are engaging in training, sparring, or fighting. What are the 3 R's? simple...relax - relax - RELAX !!!! Create your own system of 'anti tension' nemonic triggers. Intention force is not contained within the clenched fist. It is a cumulative melding of mind - body - and spirit (breath). If the 3 do not become one tension gains a foot hold in the missing section, causing imbalance and thus you may well'PUT YOURSELF IN A POSITION READY TO BE BEATEN' as the classic song goes. The most effective way, as a martial artist I have found, to eradicate tension is to learn, and thus understand the concept of pushing air through water, or the interplay of the 3 spheres - yin - yang - you. Young Bruce Lee put the arrows on the Tai Chi so that it could be released from the imprisonment of so called traditional ways, and become re activated!!!! As Master T.T. Liang stated in his wonderful book 'Tai Chi For Health and Self Defence' - He respects tradition, but asks the simple and profound question ...."Of what use is tradition if the first move was wrong?" In conclusion "so my movements aren't just filled with power?" WOW if all your movements are filled with power why then the need to hold onto tension. Relaxed power...now that's the way to rumble !!!! Try visualising the most delicate and precious thing you can think of being held inside your clenched fist while you train - perhaps a drop of pure water? Peace - Mad Merlin

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In Wing Chun especially being tense or hard is a problem common in most beginners and even some seniors. There are many ways to work on this, I prefer using pushing hands from Tai Chi and doing rolling hands (Poon Sau) from Wing Chun as a way to assist juniors on working on this issue.

When you arms become tense/hard then opponent will use it against you and effectively strike at you. Obviously as you do these drills your arms will also get tired from being tense all the time so you will relax because you are tired.

But it is about training and working on the issue, and making gradual progress. When we try to do things quickly we tend to loose the plot.

Your SiHing and other seniors are the best for training this as they can point out when you are hard/rigid. And this will help you to focus on the issue at hand.

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Tension in traditional arts is present and in modern systems as well the cause is common in some aspects but different in others.

The nature of human is that if you are subjected to stress, adrenaline, unknown, you will tense up. This is a survival mechanism. Frankly the survival mechanism that animals use now is "freezing" in hopes that the predator will not spot us, the situation will pass, and the email will be unaffected.

This is a bad system that is not doing good for us but is unfortunately present. That part my be rectified by exposure to that stress. The body will get used to that. If you go on the training and you learn new thing your body will struggle to make it work with relax it will take a while to do it. If the instructor is giving you a hard time when you are learning that technique is not helping.

The instructor should give you maximum stress when you are practicing fight but not when you studying a new thing. That does not mean that the training should be a nursery.

So all people are tense. In traditional systems, there are lots of techniques that are not really natural movements that is causing additional tension where modern system are more natural in motion. Seeing that taichi is verry natural system and mastering it takes less time. Nowadays you can go on the week course and become taich fitness instructor.

Going back to the question what to do to be less rigid. The answer was already given in previous posts:

  • practice
  • understand the technique
  • do not try to hit it hard but gently not even fast but gently. If you want to hit it hard and fast you stressing yourself.
  • do the technique in half speed or even slower focusing on keeping your muscles relaxed like taichi
  • and finally practice
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Practice when you are exhausted. When you are just too tiered to have tension, you will have none. After a while, your body will remember how to do it without tension -- since that is how you trained it. Note that this will not help you learn the movement and might be in fact counter productive to learning. However, once you know the move, it might be a good training method.

But above all, start slow. Most people try to get movement done at the same speed as the teacher or the senior students. Well, you need to learn how to stand up, then how to walk, then you can run. Tension can come from trying to do things too fast. So, slow everything down to a crawling pace.

In addition, everyone tends to carry tension/stress from the day. It is important that you get rid of as much of that as possible before learning new things. It is hard and there is no easy way. What I do is to concentrate on the warm up and let my brain run on neutral. Most of the time, that works ^_~.

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Excellent summary. +1 –  Lex Mar 14 '13 at 12:12
    
I see this "train while exhausted" advice all the time in martial arts; but sport science has shown it to be counterproductive for learning proper technique in many manner of sport. –  Dave Liepmann Mar 14 '13 at 13:14
    
@DaveLiepmann: can you give me a source? Answer edited. –  Sardathrion Mar 14 '13 at 13:19
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There's better in this book, but Tom Kurz' Science of Sports Training page 267 (under Technical Exercises in a Workout) notes, "If, at the initial stages of learning a technique, athletes are allowed to get tired, their fatigue will alter the technique and incorrect technique will be learned, perhaps permanently." On the next page he notes "One [technical] workout can be done at the end of the microcycle, when the athlete is tired [from previous workouts in the week], to learn how to use the technique in adverse conditions. In this workout only well-mastered techniques should be practiced." –  Dave Liepmann Mar 14 '13 at 13:33
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@DaveLiepmann: Since this a trope, might we have a question on it? –  Sardathrion Mar 14 '13 at 13:44
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I've been practising both Wong Shun Leung and Mai Gei Wong Wing Chun, and I had the same problems as you in the beginning. In both of these styles, early training was focused on getting the bare basics right.

For example, we'd do a drill where we'd apply pressure to our partner's technique (say wu sau for example), just to train being relaxed in that particular posture. First, the pressure would be extremely light (as in barely touching), but over the weeks we'd increase it successively. The important thing at this stage is to never apply more pressure than you could handle in a relaxed state, as that would force you into tensing, but never too little as that would defeat the whole drill.

When comfortable with applying some pressure to your techniques, we'd start practising transition between them, in the same manner.

This approach was applied in all our training. We'd always start out with the lightest pressure conceivable and work upwards from there. Within just a few months of training like this I'd gotten rid of most of the tension in my movements.

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Excellent Question, @Jeroen. I have had the same problem for a long time. I am not a Wing Chun practitioner, but this has haunted me all my life throughout my Martial Arts study on all stand-up Martial Arts styles, but specially Aikido and BJJ. The interesting thing is that it was via Aikido and BJJ (and by that I mean, non-striking Martial Art) that I found a way to relax and use the same concept onto striking-based Martial Arts.

I spent some time thinking about it and started realising and experiencing some new improvements that I would love to share.

From the point of view more of a stand-up/striking Martial Art - Wing Chun - as far as I can see, I noticed three basic components associated with that (the third one below is variable; it will become clear in a minute):

Confidence, Breathing, ‘Chain Strike’

Confidence, is the ever-present element. By having more confidence on your skills and technique, you will be definitely more relaxed. In turn, the more relaxed you become, the more are you able to absorb, learn and more confident you become. In other words, you need confidence to relax and gain more confidence; and the more confident you become, the more relaxed you become. It is as if Confidence were the universe encapsulating the moment of a fight, or sparring, or training. It floats in the air like a thin cloud.

Breathing,. Deepening into the concept, breathing is the fuel, the drive behind your physical and mental preparation. It is quite difficult for me to put this into words, but when you are, say, throwing a punch, if your breathing is tense, your punch will lack speed, flexibility and more importantly, control and accuracy. If you were to practice in slow motion, for example, get to the stance or position you are training, pull all the air you can into your lungs and hold your breath for 5 or 7 seconds (important - Don’t hold your breath, as in shutting your throat, but simply stop breathing: there is a big difference between them. If you ‘lock’ your breath, you are creating tension, which goes against the whole point here). When you simply stop breathing for a few seconds, you will feel your brain oxygenated. This should bring a slight feeling of peace, then relax, by releasing the air again and as you release the air, focusing on trying to feel if your muscles are relaxing. I often imagine myself melting on a hot pavement as I relax. Once you do this for say 10 times, start adding a punch while you are releasing the air. This brings me to my ‘chain strike’.

‘Chain Strike’ - You know when someone uses a chain to launch it against a wall as if it were a whip? Noticed how relaxed and fluid the chain is while it is travelling? It goes in this liquid, fluid and relaxed motion until it hits the wall, but when it hits, it does so pretty hard. Well, I base my striking on this concept. How? By adding this third element to the aforementioned ones. I keep in mind the importance of developing confidence; I use the breathing-relaxation technique and attach it to the delivery of the ‘Chain Strike’. So again, I breath in, simply hold my breath without locking it, release trying to ‘melt’, but now, as I am releasing the air and relaxing my muscles, I also throw a very slow punch: I try to synchronise the duration of the punch with the duration of the air being released; so my aim is to hit the target right at the time when I have exhaled all the air left in my lungs. (Do it in slow motion; it is a lot harder to keep control when you do things slower). Why do I insist on this peculiarity? Because, when you are doing this at high power/speed, it this explosion of air that adds all the other benefits of a punch, such as speed, control and accuracy.

If Confidence was the ever-present atmosphere around your training/fighting environment, breathing was the fuel to help you deliver your actual attack. So you have the environment, the drive or fuel and the actual action, i.e., run, jump, punch, kick, defend, etc. In this case I used an attack, the ‘Chain Strike’ analogy which is why this third element has a variable nature: being relaxed is present on all elements of your game.

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