San-Sau Finally Complete
By Eli Montaigue March 2017
This is a form of great controversy, there are so many differing ways that different schools practice it. Some perform it like a dance, with no aggression, no hitting each other at all, just a timed dance, where you are learning to flow with the other person.
Then some perform it in a way that looks like a fight, you can see a hear the power of the strikes on the arms of each person, but in fact the two people are still obliging each other, by aiming at each other’s arms, i.e. if someone did a wrong move they would not get hit by their partner, because the partner was never truly throwing a real punch.
Then there is the way we and possibly other more martial
schools do it.
This is where it is still a set of choreographed movements from both partners, linked together to make one long fighting drill, however the difference is that once you have learnt the form to a high level with your partner, there is no holding back, yes it is a set drill, but when I throw the punch you had better get your move in good and fast, or you will be hit!
This is how I use to train it with my father Erle, he started teaching me this form when I was 15, I always remember after I had learnt the sequence, when I got it wrong I got hit.
This is not a real fight, because you are still doing a set sequence, even if you put the moves out of sequence you’re still using set movements with your partner, some of which I would never advocate using in a real fight.
What this form does for you when doing it in this way, is it gets your body use to dealing with force, both receiving it and issuing it.
In a real fight you can never know where the power might come from, or from what position you might have to throw a punch from, so with this form, using some seemingly sometimes silly applications, it gets you out of your comfort zone.
When you’re sparing you are much more likely to use things you’re comfortable with, because in sparing you don’t know what is coming at you, and you don’t want to get hit! So you use what you’re best at, well I do anyway.
So by training the Large San Sau you are training your body in all sorts of angles that you might have never thought to use before.
Now even though you will probably never actually use any of the techniques in sparing or a real fight, from the training your body now has a larger reservoir of movements to pick from, so you will find your body doing things it wasn’t doing before, as it will be taking not the full applications of the form, but parts of them, principals from them.
There is also the other area of doing something more difficult than you need to.
It’s like doing push ups, you can doing push ups for a year, and pump out 100 in a row, but then you can’t get any stronger, so you start doing one handed push ups, then when you go back to the normal ones they seem so much easier than before.
Well it’s the same with anything, if I give you a very simple block and strike as a self defence technique, and you train it for weeks, it’s when you do the more difficult one that the first one becomes so much more natural for you.
So you’re doing the San Sau, you’ve got a fast heavy strike coming at you, but you’re only allowed to use this very difficult move! Do that through the whole form, particularly with a larger partner, and it makes you feel so strong when you go back to using what you want to use, kind of like if you had to fight a guy with one hand, then someone gives you back you’re other hand, now you feel invisible.
Of course there are so many more things this form does for
you, a lot of which are obvious, like muscular work out, amazing cardio work
out, timing, balance, structure and the list goes on.
The form can also be done as a solo form, and it’s very important for your own training to do this, it makes sure that you are training to put the strike in full power, as when you do it in the two person form a lot of your strikes get stopped almost before they start, so without the solo form people can sometime forget some strikes, also it’s a great way to keep the form up when you don’t have a partner.
After my father learnt this form from Chu King Hung in London, he didn’t like it much, he found it not to be very martial. He then learnt a much better version from Chang Yiu Chung in Sydney, basically the same set of moves, but done with a very different intent, more like the way we do it today.
But even after learning this much more martial form, Erle still felt it was not finished, like as if some moves just didn’t work as well as they should.
So he began to make some small changes to the form, these can be seen right back in his first video on the form MTG3, from the late 80’s.
Through out Erle’s life he made many changes to the form, while being very careful to not lose anything the form is meant to teach you, so he always did a move over and over for sometimes many years till he decided to change it to something better, this is the same for me now any time I feel something needs a change, I first train it intensively, to make sure it’s not my own skill that is causing the move to fail, then I will figure out a change, but before teaching it to anyone, I will run it by several other senior instructors to get their opinion as well.
So after Erle’s fist video on the form, he then did the
Advanced Large San Sau series in the mid 90’s This was a much better form,
focusing on the two person form, the changes that Erle made to the form made it
feel so much closer to real fighting, everything came in a bit closer and
smaller, much tighter than before.
But there were still some areas, maybe just 10% of the form, where the technique required your partner to allow you to do the move, or you could just use brute force to get it done, but this is not the Taiji way. There were also some areas in the form that went against other Taiji principals, like doing a defensive movement then waiting for your partner to throw another attack, rather than putting in an attack yourself. There were also some movements that were simply too dangerous!
I don’t mean dangerous as in too deadly, but dangerous to yourself when you do it.
For example using a block with your hand that requires 100% accuracy, as just a tiny bit off and you could break your hand, or throwing a kick up under your partners arm when his elbow would naturally drop down onto your shin.
So it was things like this that Erle was still not happy with.
Then in the late 90’s he put out a series called Pauchui to the max, this is a really great set, focusing on only the solo form, he developed a way of doing the solo form to get maximum benefit of the form, however this way of doing the form does not work as the two person form, as the moves do not link up. So if you plan on only practicing the form alone, then this would be the best way to do it, but if you have already many other solo forms to work with, then you should practice the San Sau the way that makes it work as a two person form, this is what I do.
He then made several more changes throughout the years, but without putting down anything on video.
At summer camp 2010 he started to film what would become his final change, he called it the small frame version.
What he had come to realize was that the basic form was fine for use as a solo form, but when you put it together as a partner set, there are a few moves in there which actually go against the principals of Taiji and the Erle Montaigue system.
So the two person form should therefore only be done in the advanced way, which is how it was originally intended, the form was never meant for beginners.
It is my belief that someone along the line wanted to simplify the form, so they took most of the punches, which should be thrown at all different angles, and made most of them all the same straight punch to the chest, like I said this is fine for a solo practice, but these punches simply do no correspond with the linking movement from your partner.
So the whole form was made simpler, taking out all the subtle differences in each strike.
But then without knowing these subtleties, they tried to put the two parts together, which worked when doing it in a nice slow manor with no power, but once you up the power the techniques would fail, but that’s just my idea on what might have happened.
So along with making the movements smaller to bring more
realism to the form, Erle went about fixing all the problems in the form that I
He and I went through the form, and when we found a move that felt a little off, we would look at it in greater detail, and figure out what was wrong.
Some of the changes were mine and some were his, but for the most part they were from us both working together.
We started to film this as I said at camp 2010, though we only got through the very first part of the form, and even the parts we did put down on video we made further enhancements to afterwards.
Unfortunately Dad died before we were 100% satisfied with the form.
So I have continued this with training partners from where Dad and I left off.
I worked most of these out with Lars-Erik Olsen.
We went through the form over and over with these 5 principals set out by Dad and I.
1. No force on force.
The technique should work from the use of good movements and angles; brute force should not be required.
2. No technique should put you at great risk of injuring yourself.
There should be room for error, if a technique needs 100% accuracy to keep you safe, then it’s not a good technique, because you will almost never have this even in a set drill let alone a real fight.
3. All techniques should work under full speed and force, with no obliging from your partner.
You must take every move and say to your partner that you’re going to throw this attack with no holding back!
4. All techniques should abide by the Taiji and Erle Montaigue System principals of fighting.
For example you shouldn’t do a major defensive movement and then wait for another attack from your partner.
5. Correct subconscious programming.
Your attack should be done in a way that causes the correct response from your partner.
For example if the A side has to do an inside block, the attack from side B should therefore be slightly curved to give reason to A sides block. Or if A side does a kick up under the arm of B, and the most natural and effective defence from B is to drop his elbow down, but the set move is to block down with the palm, then A has to do the kick in a way that causes B to need to use the palm.
6. While applying the first 5 remembering that some moves are not for you.
There are a few moves in the form where we know it’s not the most effective attack, but we do it for the training of our partners defence, not for the training of our attack.
When teaching this form over the last 6 years, people would
often ask me why I do something differently to how it is on the video, asking
if that was something I had changed or was it something Erle changed or just
didn’t explain on the video.
Most of the time I couldn’t actually remember if it was Dad who showed me or not.
I learnt this form directly from Dad, and he was my partner to train it, so I learnt not just through him explaining the moves, but also from just doing it over and over again over about 9 years.
So last time I was in Australia I met up and trained with Les Anwyl, Dad’s main training partner from approximately 1982 till 1990.
I showed him how I thought the movement should be done, and then how some other instructor who had learnt only from the videos thought it should be done, and although he couldn’t remember specifically how the move should be done, I would simply hit him with both versions, and every time he would agree that the way I was doing it was how he remembers it feeling when Dad hit him.
It was the Australians that I asked about this because they
are the only ones who trained this form with Erle. Some of the people in other
countries may have learnt the form from him at a workshop or camp, though most
from the videos, but even if they learnt the form from him directly and are
very good at it, they still didn’t actually practice it with him, apart from a
few times here and there.
So there was no one else in the UK and Europe that could answer my questions, because my questions were not to ask how did Dad teach it, but how did he do it when he wasn’t thinking about it.
So if you have been practicing this form and always felt that that some of the moves don’t work, then chances are it is no fault of your own, but that you are seeing the inherent errors in about 10% of this form.
If you didn’t notice anything wrong with the form, then the most likely thing is that your partner was not really throwing full power, or there is the chance that you were both making little changes to the form without even knowing about it to make it work.
A lot of these “changes” are not actually changes at all, but just teaching it the way we do it.
For example, the second move on the B side is taught as a straight punch to the chest, this does not work at all, so dad changed it to a neck punch, this worked very well, the problem was that when teaching the solo form he still called it a straight punch, but when doing it in two person he would throw a slightly curved punch, making the strike aimed at ST9 on the side and not CV22 in the centre. These little subtleties are what make the form flow, and without them the form actually goes against the principals.
So when you are taught this, you’ll feel like there are lot’s of changes, but in fact they have been done like that all along, but just not explained properly, anyone who learnt from Erle knows that he had a bad habit of saying one thing and doing another.
It’s amazing how much we oblige our partners in this form, if we’re meant to hold onto their wrist, when they try to get out we just let them, but without realizing.
So often I do this form with people who have been doing it a long time, and I’ll do a grab but not let go, and they seem shocked, as if why are you still holding my hand? Because I am not obliging them.
When I was training this with Lars, I used him because he has been doing this form on a regular basis for over 10 years with his training partners in Norway, and we’ve done it a lot together as well.
Plus he is also much bigger and stronger than me, and from a fighting perspective he is probably the best the WTBA has ever seen, and not because of his size, he has probably the most sensitivity I’ve ever felt bar Dad.
And any others who might be as technically skilled as him, he still out does due to his size giving that upper hand.
I have trained with many people where in a fight I feel on par with, Lars is one of them, but although the skill is on par, he has size on me, so he is the only person I’ve felt like I might not be able to stop.
That’s just out of the people I’ve trained with though, I’m sure there’s loads of other fighters out there that would flatten me, I’m only a small 66kg when I don’t have a fat belly, some fighters weigh twice that, I’d give it my best shot but that’s a big size difference, and anyone who tells you size doesn’t matter in a fight is having a laugh!
So I chose some moves that I didn’t think work, he performed the defensive part very well, but then I said, OK now do it exactly as it should be done according to the video,
even with his extra size he was not able to stop my attack, to the point where I nearly broke his hand in one move.
Now of course you can’t teach every subtlety there is, because how you move will be different for every different person you do the form with, that’s the beauty of the form, but the basic standard we start with should work.
The most important part of these subtleties are in the attacks, if I am told to throw a straight punch, there is no reason for me to change that, as I am the attacker, so then the defender has to change something, so I would say that subtleties in your defence are not so important as they will happen naturally, but the subtleties in the attacks must be taught.
So in my new video series on this form, “Large San-Sau the Definitive” I will be teaching the solo form first, but I will teach it in the same way as you will when do it in the two person form.
It was Dad’s thoughts in his last year that this form should be taught straight up as a two person form, however I feel that learning the solo not only deepens your understanding and lets to do all the strikes to completion, but the main thing is that you don’t always have a partner with you, so you can learn A, and your partner can learn B, then when you meet up once a week you can put it together.
This is why I will teach the form as a solo form but with all the same timing and dynamics as how you will then do it in the two person form.
Along side the solo though I will show how it goes together, as it’s very important to know right from the start what the moves mean, so you get the right intent in the moves.
Then I will teach exactly how to put it together with your partner.
I will also explain where the changes are, and why they have been changed.
Putting this on video is my main project for 2017, I need someone who knows the form well to be able to film the two person parts, so this is what will make it take a long time, I will be seeing Frank Ranz in Austria in June, and then Lars-Erik in Norway in August, so I’m hoping I will be able to get all the solo parts done on my own, then use that time with them to film the two person parts.
So if you’re lucky you can hope to see this series coming out in Late 2017, maybe September.
Until then, you can take what I’ve told you here about how the form should be done, and work out how to make it work better yourself.
Dad’s work was not a finished product, many people think it was, but you can see clearly in his videos that he was always evolving new ways of teaching.
He always said that he has sifted through so much crap and figured out what works and what doesn’t, so that we don’t have to waste all that time, we can just get straight into the good stuff.
His hope was that people learning the way he taught will learn this stuff in half the time that it took him learning the way he had to, and that hope has become reality, the rate people learn now is so much better than is was in the 80's.
My Dad Erle Montaigue set the ground work, the walls and the roof, but thought he’d at least leave the trimmings to me :-)