A Useful Relaxation technique

The following was initially published by Health Promotion England in their “The Health Guide”:

Learn to recognise when your muscles are tensed – this is a sign of stress. This simple breathing exercise may help you to combat stressful moments in your life:

  1. Sit with your feet flat on the floor, or lie in a comfortable and supported position. Rest your hands lightly on your thighs
  2. Breathe slowly and deeply in through your nose and out through your mouth. If you are breathing correctly your stomach, not your chest, should rise and at the start of each breath.
  3. As you breathe, gradually drop your shoulders and relax your hands. Make sure your teeth are not tightly clenched.

Calm, controlled breathing helps to release muscular tension and relieve stress.

Adopt this breathing technique when training and this will allow your body to stay calm and relaxed. Training your forms is ideal for practicing this but in time you should be able to quickly bring your focus back to breathing whenever you are feeling any pressure.

Breathing is a fundamental part of living, impaired breathing doesn’t allow us to function at our optimum and without it, we cease to function at all.

However, how often do you think about breathing?

In the majority of cases, the answer to this question is, not very often!

But, this should not be the case, and adopting different breathing techniques is a way of bringing focus to this important function.

There are many techniques that can be used to achieve different results, the above being just one. At the very least allow yourself time to bring focus to your breathing, if only for a few moments.

Warming Up

Before training or exercising, it’s important to warm up the body.

Specifically, warming up entails exercising the large muscle groups. Doing this will increase the body’s temperature and heart rate. The warm-up should be intensive enough to perhaps cause perspiration but not to cause fatigue.

Warming up will increase the blood flow to the working muscles, which can raise the flow of oxygen to the muscle cells and help remove waste products such as lactic acid; it will also increase the speed and force of muscular contractions because nerve impulses travel faster at higher body temperatures and muscles will become less stiff (or ‘viscous’). It will also protect the major joints because it takes time to increase the supply of synovial fluid and thicken the articular cartilages – the body’s shock absorbers.

The aim of a warm-up is to prepare the body (and mind) for the more energetic demands to come and be appropriate for the activity planned. Mobilising the joints should always be included as part of a warm-up to help release any stiffness that may have been built up during the day- for example, tension in the neck and back muscles resulting from sitting for long periods at a desk. By freeing up the major joints a greater range of movement can be achieved during the main activity. Joints to be mobilised are the ones that will be used during the exercise and all movement should be small and then increased.


By stretching gently our body become’s more pliable and less prone to injury. Stretching develops flexibility but it also helps to reduce muscle tension, making the body feel more relaxed, it increases the range of motion of a joint, promotes circulation, reduces muscle soreness, prepares the body for strenuous exercise and prevents muscle strains. A strong pre-stretched muscle resists stress better than a strong un-stretched muscle.

Whenever a muscle is stretched, the immediate effect is for the stretch reflex to be activated. The stretch reflex is a function of the nervous system; it helps to keep muscle in good tone and prevent injury. Stretching a muscle changes its shape by lengthening the fibres and the muscle being stretched contracts. Because stretching causes muscle contraction, you should avoid ‘bouncing’ or ballistic stretches. Performing ballistic stretches increase the tension in the muscle resulting in an attempt to stretch a tense muscle thus resulting in injury.

Please Note: there are several forms of advanced stretching that require tension to be focussed in the targeted muscle but this is beyond the scope of this article and may be discussed in future articles.

For general stretching to be at its most effective, the muscles targeted for the stretch should be completely relaxed and stretched slowly and smoothly. It is advisable to warm up before stretching and focus on the muscle being stretched. Stretch muscles in their natural position, maintain a good body posture and breathe normally and freely. As you move deeper into the stretch emphasise your exhalation and focus your breath into any muscles that feel tight. As a rule inhale to prepare and exhale to stretch. Stretching may result in mild discomfort but if you feel pain, stop, slowly release and rest the stretch.

It is desirable to stretch on a daily basis and people without pre existing health conditions are perfectly safe to do so. Stretching can be done almost anywhere and at any time as no specific equipment is required. Evening is a good time to stretch and the relaxation induced may serve to help you sleep. Many of us sit and watch the TV in the evening so why not sit on the floor instead of in the armchair and stretch while you are watching. There really is no excuse for saying “I do not have the time!”.

In conclusion; stretching is a natural thing to do and has a great feel good factor to it with many associated health benefits. It will make you feel better and will be of great benefit to you, your Wing Chun or indeed any other physical activity that you undertake!

Investigating muscle types

Muscle types

There are three general categories of muscle within the body:

  • Cardiac – (involuntary) forms the walls of the heart and pumps blood around the circulatory system
  • Smooth (involuntary) – found in the walls of hollow structures e.g. blood vessels
  • Skeletal (voluntary) – attached to bone

This article is concerned with muscle that we have conscious control over (voluntary) known as skeletal muscle. Skeletal muscle helps us create movement and support our skeletal structure. Having finite control over skeletal muscle will greatly enhance many aspects of our Wing Chun and our life.

Human skeletal muscles are made up of many bundles of muscle fibres separated by Myofascia, encapsulated by an outer fascia called the Epimyseum. Skeletal muscle is connected to bone by tendons and the beginning is at the Origin and the end is the Insertion. Through contraction (shortening) they create movement around joints. Muscles can only pull and as a result to have two opposing movements i.e. to flex or extend, there must be a muscle on each side of a joint, one to flex and one to extend. An example of this is the Biceps and Triceps in the upper arm, the Biceps flex and the Triceps extend the arm at the elbow joint.

Muscle Types

Muscle fibre can be categorised into two main types:

  1. Slow twitch (Type I) muscle fibres
  2. Fast twitch (Type II) muscle fibres. Fast twitch fibres can be further categorised into:
    • Type IIa fibres
    • Type IIb fibres

The above distinctions influence how muscles respond to training and physical activity, and each fibre type is unique in its ability to contract in a certain way. Each person has a predetermined mixture of both slow and fast twitch muscle fibres which is determined by genetics and, on average, we have about 50 percent slow twitch and 50 percent fast twitch fibres within the majority of skeletal muscle.

Slow Twitch (Type I / Slow Oxidative)

Slow twitch muscle fibres fire more slowly than fast twitch and are able to work longer before fatigue sets in. This is down the their ability to more effectively use oxygen from the blood to generate Adenosine Tri-Phosphate (ATP), the bodies fuel, enabling muscle contractions to continue over a long period of time.

An example of this is the way that you would use the muscles of the legs and postural muscles in the back to support your Yee Gee Kim Yueng Ma (basic stance) while completing Siu Nim Tao, the first form of Wing Chun.

Fast Twitch (Type II / Fast Glycolytic)

Fast twitch fibres are much better at generating short bursts of strength or speed and contract about twice as fast as slow muscles. They use anaerobic metabolism to create fuel and tire more quickly than their slower counterpart.

Fast twitch fibres in the Triceps and Biceps are essential for a Wing Chun practitioner in order to be able to quickly protract and retract the punch thus allowing the generation of great force using kinetic energy and the principles of energy production. The quick retraction, executed by the biceps, ensures that the spent punch is quickly returned to its ready position in preparation for its next movement.

Type IIa Fibres

Type IIa muscle fibres are also known as intermediate fast-twitch fibres and are able to use both aerobic (with oxygen) and anaerobic (without oxygen) metabolism almost equally to create energy. Also know as Fast Oxidative Glycolytic (FOG) fibres they are a combination of Type I and Type II muscle fibres.

Type IIb Fibres

Type IIb fibres generate ATP using anaerobic metabolism to create energy and has the highest rate of contraction of the muscle fibre types. This however comes at a cost and the result is that they have a much faster rate of fatigue and cannot operate for too long before needing rest.

What type do you have?

As noted the amount of each muscle type that an individual has is determined by genetics. This explains why some people excel in some activities and not in others.

It is not possible to change one type of muscle into another however it is possible to improve the abilities of each fibre with the use of specific training. In this way Type IIa muscles can be trained and adapted to get close to the ability of Type I or Type IIb fibres.

Aerobic activity for example will increase the number of mitochondria within a muscle cell resulting in a better ability to meet the demands for energy supply through the aerobic system.

Research is still looking at an ability of one type of fibre to switch to another type as some evidence exists to support this but to date the study is inconclusive.


Wing Chun Poem – written by Master Ip Chun

In July 1999 Master Ip Chun visited the UK to give a series of seminars for his most senior western student Sifu Shaun Rawcliffe. As part of the Midlands Wing Chun Kuen the Cheltenham branch were once again privileged to be able to host one of these seminars. In actual fact this was the 5th time that Master Ip Chun had visited and conducted a seminar in Cheltenham for Cheltenham Wing Chun Kuen.

In addition to the privilege of being visited by Master Ip Chun we were also presented with a Chinese poem written by the Master himself.

The poem speaks of an old tree that is flourishing and blossoming, representing Master Ip Chun’s own teachings that he has spread throughout the world. The beautiful flowers and fruits that he speaks of are the skills that he sees ripening and being cultivated throughout the world.

Below is the poem and beneath it translation of the characters:

Poem written by Master Ip Chun himself
Poem written by Master Ip Chun

The above couplet of Chinese poetry should be read down and from right to left. The first line starts with the character WING and the second line CHUN.

Singing a song

The old tree whirling (dancing) in the wind.

The leaves flourishing, the branches lush

and the flowers in full blossom

Spring Breeze

The peaches and the plums resplendent

Beautiful flowers brilliant reds and purples

and the fruits sparkling greens

The Mai Jiang principle

Mai Jiang is best explained by using the first section of Siu Nim Tao (little idea form).

The first section of Wing Chun’s form, Siu Nim Tao, contains movements that essentially require the pressing forward of Fuk Sao (controlling/ bridging hand). These three movements as a whole are termed Saam Pai Fut (three/bow/Buddha), meaning “praying three times to Buddha”. In each occurrence of the movement the emphasis should be placed into the elbow, and not the wrist, using the Mai Jiang principle literally meaning pressing the elbow inwards and forwards. This results in the hand/ wrist moving forward in a straight line from the central position with a gentle rising action to the finishing position with the wrist just below throat height and the elbow on the centre line roughly about a fist, to a fist and a thumb, distance from your chest.

Repetition of this movement enables the end position, and the path to and from the end position, to be impressed on the body for future reference using muscle memory. While the retraction is important, for the purpose of this article, it is suffice to say that the elbow returns to a resting position alongside the chest with the hand/ wrist returning to a position approximately a fist, to a fist and a thumb, distance front of the chest, on the centre line, in Wu Sau (protective hand). Practice of the Mai Jiang principle is then repeated a minimum of three times for the form but can be executed as many times as you want in your personal training.

The purpose of this first section of Siu Nim Tao is to impress upon the practitioner the importance of pressing inward as well as forward and vice versa while improving our Gung Lik (energy that hard work produces). Pressing only forward may result in your elbow being off the centre line leaving space for an incoming attack. Pressing only inward may result in a lack of focus toward your opponent, resulting in impaired ability to execute a strike quickly when the opportunity arises. Muscle memory gained in this movement will also raise your awareness of when the elbow is not in the correct position and give an early warning to adjust or change techniques.

The principle of Mai Jiang is very important and you must know how to use it to your best advantage. This is, however, only one of the principles of Wing Chun that must be practiced to increase our skill level and allow us to tap in to the power of our art. Ultimately we have to balance all of the Wing Chun principles according to our specific needs to create a style that works for us as individuals.

Lai See (Red Packet)

With Chinese New Year approaching on the 19th February 2015, you may see small red packets being passed from one person to another, or see them hanging over shop doors in Chinese quarters of major cities, and wonder what they are.

The red packets are called Lai See and are traditionally passed from elder to junior and contain a new single note, no coins. The new note signifies that the giver was thinking of the receiver but a used note is believed to signify that the person was forgotten. The actual value of the note will depend on who is giving and who is receiving but the total should always be an even number, not an odd one, as odd numbers are for funerals. Another consideration is that the Cantonese word for four is similar to the word for death, so it is a good idea to steer clear of values that have a four in them e.g. 40, 44, 400, etc. !   The giving and receiving of the red and gold packets is to bring good luck and prosperity to both giver and receiver.

Lai See hanging over the entrance of a shop during the Chinese New Year street celebrations are positioned to be in the path of the Lion who dance’s in the street, symbolically devouring the money filled red packets bringing good luck and prosperity to the business in the coming year.

The same Lai See have been used to submit honour payments for other services, such as for Wing Chun training. The desire for a person to learn Wing Chun usually came from a need rather than a want and it was normally those who needed it more that had less money to pay for training. This being the case using Lai See meant that each could pay an anonymous amount that was relative to what they could afford. This meant that Wing Chun was available to all and not only restricted to those who could afford it.  It also removed any stigma from payment as one student did not know what the other was paying.

At Cheltenham Wing Chun Kuen charges are standard no matter what your background or wealth, however you may still see Lai See being used when training privately with your Sifu.  When arriving for a private session pick up an empty Lai See and replace it with one containing the private session fee. This removes any ambiguity related to how or when you pay for the session.

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Proprioception – The Sixth Sense

Sifu Shaun Rawcliffe - Palm strike

Most people are familiar with the 5 senses: Hearing, Sight, Smell, Taste and Touch and their importance to us on a daily basis. It is not impossible to live without one or two of these but it does make life a little more difficult.

During the middle of the last Century Neurophysiologists added a ‘Sixth Sense’ to the list called Proprioception, which is the sense of balance, position and movement in space. Proprioception means ‘to feel within’ and is sometimes referred to as the ‘eyes of the body’.

The sense is reliant upon receptors in the joints, muscles and the organs of balance in the inner ear. Using these you are able to judge your position and mass in space and be aware of the amount of muscular tension that you use in order to keep you there.

Most of the movements that you execute throughout the day are automatic and are not, under normal circumstances, dependant upon great thought by yourself. Reaching this state, ordinarily, is good and it allows you to deal with, and respond to, everyday tasks that life throws up. However, this situation can also lead to the suppression of feedback that you are getting from your body telling you when you are over contracting your muscles. As a result of this you will learn to disregard the messages that are telling you that your muscles are getting tight and fatigued. The inherent danger here is that if it is not checked your tensions and erroneous positions will start to feel normal and become embedded within the programming of your body.

Tuning in to this sixth sense is a good way to awaken the feelings and become more aware of your balance, position and movement in space. As practitioners of Wing Chun we have a lot to gain by using our 6th sense to enhance the control and precision with which we use our bodies.

In 1890 a Tasmanian called Frederick Matthias Alexander devised a technique to help himself overcome vocal difficulties that doctors were unable to diagnose. With the use of mirrors and a personal study he concluded that his problems were due to misuse of the postural mechanism and that this was probably the culprit of many of mans ills.

Frederick progressed his technique and in 1932 described, in ‘The use of the Self’, his process of self-discovery and the technique that he had devised. Today the ‘Alexander Technique’ is widely recognised in many circles as a reliable and effective form of self-help, which achieves success by enabling you to ‘tune in’ to your sixth sense.


Wing Chun is renowned for its accomplishment of effective, REAL self-defence but it also runs a bit deeper than that. The mechanical and physical principles that are taught also use proprioception and as you ‘tune in’ to your sixth sense you will gain other advantages from your Wing Chun and not just the obvious ones. Integrating these principles in your daily life will mean that there is every chance you will greatly increase your quality and length of life. You only have to look at Master Ip Chun to see proof of that.