WingTsun's lat-sau training with Sifu Stefan Fischer

Written by Stefan Fischer

The WingTsun/Wing Chun lat-sau programs come in many different variations depending on from whom you learnt the art. There is the traditional Hong Kong lat-sau, which is not a continuous exercise but rather several combination attacks and defences that traditionally deal more with WingTsun against WingTsun.

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Stefan Fisher gets up close and 'practical'

The European lat-sau programs developed by Grandmaster Keith Kernspecht over 20 years ago in Germany were developed at the time to enable a beginner to learn to defend himself against what we regarded as the most dangerous attacks from other styles, without the use of refined contact-reflexes (which are later developed using the more advanced chi-sao drills).

The European lat-sau training involves a constant exchange between a WingTsun practitioner and a practitioner of a different style like muay Thai, boxing, wrestling, karate and many others. Lat-sau also teaches the student to understand physically how the WingTsun fighting posture, structure and footwork work together effectively.

In this article, I will concentrate on how I teach lat-sau here in Australia according to my experience, learning and interpretation. The foundation is based on the European lat-sau, which I learned from Grandmaster Kernspecht directly, as well as many other masters I learned from before moving to Australia, such as Emin Boztepe, Salih Avci, HP Edel and Thomas Schroen, to name a few. The lat-sau as I teach it today has evolved quite a bit over the years but is still as relevant as it was 20 years ago.

Why train Lat-Sau?
Lat-sau teaches the beginner to defend himself against what are considered the most common and dangerous attacks from non-WT trainees and street fighters — initially without the need for reflexes, although in the advanced lat-sau programs the reflex skills are introduced and become a vital part.

The novice, who may not have had any exposure to martial arts, will learn to deal with constant punches coming towards him; to stay calm and in control, and develop a sense of confidence under fire. He will realise how the WT ‘wedge’, positioning and centreline theory will protect him in most cases and that going forward is better then retreating (generally).

Lat-sau will develop general reflexes, hand-eye coordination, timing, the feel for distance and many of the basic WingTsun techniques like pak-sau (a palm parry), chain-punches, the advancing step, drop-step and much more.

Lat-sau is one of several integral parts of the WingTsun system that bridges the gap between contact and no-contact (distance-wise). It also teaches many of the fundamental WingTsun principles and techniques like the wedge, protecting the centreline, and the other fighting principles and mottos in a very practical way, whereby mistakes are immediately exposed,  providing a great learning experience for the student.
Lat-sau provides another complementary way to train the techniques and strategies the student learns in WT’s Blitz Defence (self-defence scenario training) programs in a repetitive but still changeable and dynamic way, and in a slightly different context, which further helps to implant the movements in the student’s muscle memory.

While lat-sau can be trained with many different levels of intensity, depending on the level of the student, the beginner drill is practised with not too much impact and allows for a safe but still reasonably practical training environment. For more advanced students, lat-sau can be done full-contact and very high intensity, which increases the stress levels and is a great tool to increase the individual’s fighting capabilities.
One of my ‘fundamental truths’ for rating lat-sau effectiveness is that every technique has to work individually and in real combat, and not only as part of the lat-sau routine.

The centreline and Lat-Sau
The centreline plays a vital part in the WingTsun system but often has quite a different meaning in other Wing Chun lineages, which regards the vertical middle line (a straight line going down through the middle of the body) as their centreline. To put it simply, our central line is an imaginary line coming out of the centre of our chest, at the level of the chest bone, and connecting with the centre of our opponent’s chest (see image on page 74).

The centreline is the shortest connection between our opponent and us, and the only movement of the centreline is up and down, to adjust to the opponent’s height. Any other directional change needs to be accomplished by a movement of our body. One part of the centreline is usually occupied by part of our arms. As long as we occupy the centreline and have forward movement (this constitutes the wedge — -see left), anything crossing the centreline will be intercepted by our wedge, which then in most cases acts as a defence and offence at the same time. Any attack coming around and avoiding the centreline altogether will naturally have to travel a curve, and hence a longer distance.

As our hands are moving forward on the centreline — which represents the shortest path between ourselves and our opponent — they will in most cases beat the circular punch by simply reaching our target much faster.

Ideally, we position our centreline outside of our opponent’s centreline because this provides us with a more favourable attacking angle and it also greatly reduces the effectiveness of the opponent’s opposite hand and foot.

During the basic lat-sau pak-punch routine, both parties occupy the centreline and hence the continuous flow of pak-punch does occur. If one party then leaves the centreline, we immediately fill the gap created with our forward movement and corresponding chain-punches.

Common mistakes
Some of the things most often done wrong in WingTsun lat-sau practice are:

No forward pressure – It’s important that the lat-sau drill does not become a mindless routine and the true goal of flowing forward and hitting the opponent (according to the first fighting principle of WT: ‘If the way is free, go forward’) is not forgotten. One of the first basic exercises to practise this principle for a beginner is that one of the drill participants suddenly just drops their hands and the partner should, without stopping or hesitating, convert his pak-punch into continuous, forward-flowing chain-punches. This often catches out the beginner, who finds himself stopping his pak-sau where he expected the opponent’s fist to be, and hence defeats the purpose of the exercise: to establish constant, relaxed, forward pressure.

Blocking sideways – Another common mistake is to apply sidewards pressure with the pak-sau, similar to a karate or boxing block/parry. First of all, this will push the opponent’s hand off the centreline, which would enable his second hand to go straight through, but even if that is not possible it will create a sidewards pressure, which can be exploited by letting the force pass with a lap-sau while delivering a simultaneous forearm-strike to the neck.

Fists in front of face – A beginner often has his fists too high up, similar to how a boxer would protect his face; however, this causes a few problems. Firstly, in a real fight on the street you would not wear gloves, so unless your hands have a firm connection with your head  — as in the elbow-triangle — you are at risk of getting knocked out with your own fists if the opponent hits them. Secondly, if your fists are already too high, you cannot punch correctly as your punch will come in a half-arc, slightly downwards, while it should be coming in a straight, inclining line so that all force is directed forward and slightly up, right through your opponent’s face.

Thirdly, your wedge will not work downwards or in an arc, but needs to move upwards on an inclined line toward your opponent’s face.
This is not an exhaustive list of all the traps you can fall into, but it gives an idea of what to look out for.

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