Archive for the Wing Chun Category

Radio Free Asia Interview with Master Kwok : Part 2

Posted in Kungfu, Martial Arts, Styles, Wing Chun with tags , , , , , on January 31, 2017 by wingchunamerica

CombativeCorner contributing author Master William Kwok was interviewed over the holidays (Dec.11th & 18th, of 2016) on Radio Free Asia (a sister radio station to Voice of America).  Since the interview was in Cantonese, Sifu Kwok enlisted the help of his student, Ji Chen so that we may benefit as well.  The topic of the interview is on martial virtue and  martial arts education.  

To return to Part One, click here!

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[Presenter] But your footwork differs from the kicks of kickboxing or Muay Thai, doesn’t it? It’s a different type of kicking techniques, isn’t it? I have never seen it, or perhaps I haven’t noticed it. Of course I don’t know the first thing about martial arts, especially Wing Chun, so I’m not in a position to pass any comment. Judging by what I have seen, I haven’t noticed Wing Chun’s kicking techniques, at least it’s not like how a boxer moves even if you do have kicks. Am I right?

[Master Kwok] Obviously our kicking techniques are different from that of boxing. If you have been following the movie franchise of Ip Man, you may have noticed a lot of Wing Chun kicking techniques in Ip Man 3.

[Presenter] You mean there’s authentic Wing Chun kicking techniques, the real stuff, in that movie?

[Master Kwok] Yes indeed. Both Donnie Yen and Zhang Jin are good with their legs. That’s why they were able to put on display some good footwork and kicks in the movie. The Wing Chun kicking techniques, unlike the aggressive, offensive type you see with the likes of Muay Thai, involves a lot of clever, even cunning moves.

[Presenter] You said there’s a fixed set of techniques, but the Wing Chun system… how shall I put it… you know I am an outsider when it comes to Wing Chun, so you have to excuse me if I use the wrong terminology. I want to know how things come together, how the whole system works. When the student progresses from one level to the next, does he learn a few more techniques? Is it like when you teach the multiplication table, you ask the students to learn more and practice more, going from three times three to nine times nine, for example?

[Master Kwok] Earlier I was talking about combinations, like combinations of letters in the alphabet. At the end of the first form, you may not have mastered, as it were, all the 26 letters in the alphabet. You’ve covered part of it. But by mastering a partial alphabet, you can spell some of the words in the English vocabulary, can’t you? You then move on to the second form, Chum Kiu. When you’ve done that, you have more letters in your bag, which you can mix and match into more interesting combinations. When you’ve completed the third form, Biu Tze, you can say you’ve learned all the 26 letters in the English alphabet. After you have mastered all three forms, you must go on to learn change, that is, combinations to form different words and phrases. That takes accumulation through repeated practice over time. Another analogy we can draw between Wing Chun practice and English learning is that you can’t complete the learning process in one giant leap. It’s an incremental process whereby you stay engaged in it every day, with dedicated time slots. That’s how you slowly build up your knowledge and skills.

[Presenter] Master Kwok, what are the milestones in Wing Chun practice? How do you assess the readiness of a student to progress to the next level after he’s completed a certain level? Are there examinations? You know Taekwondo has colored belts to rank different levels. Does Wing Chun have similar incentives?

[Master Kwok] My school does have a system of progression. Take Siu Lim Tao for example. The first part of this form has a clearly defined program. A student who has completed this part is eligible to progress to the second part of the same form, called Level 2, which has another clearly defined program. Westerners are used to stepped learning…

[Presenter] Step by step, that’s true.

[Master Kwok] Yes, progressing step by step, so they know exactly what they are doing and what to expect at the next level. Westerners are not used to an unstructured system. This is one of the first things I learned after I started teaching in America, namely, I must have a very clear, well crafted curriculum to offer them, so they know roughly how much time they need to invest before they can reach a certain level.

[Presenter] In the real world, one person against 10 people – is there such kung fu at all? It doesn’t exist, does it?

[Master Kwok] One against 10… It depends on who those 10 people are and who this one person is.

[Presenter] (Giggles) Okay, I see.

[Master Kwok] (Laughs) I think we can treat it as a fun topic to talk about and laugh off. What is truly important is that the Ip Man movies at least introduce people…

[Presenter] They offer a chance, yes.

[Master Kwok] Yes, a chance. Also they convey some traditional martial arts ideology. There’s a pedagogical element in them. When people see a movie, they tend to focus on the action. Some movies carry a message and try to communicate that message to the audience, a positive message about martial arts. You were asking earlier about the truthfulness of the story in this movie franchise. But these are movies designed to entertain, not documentaries.

[Presenter] Yes, true.

[Master Kwok] So you don’t go, ‘But that’s not true. Ip Man did not do this at this time. This does not stand up to the facts.’ But I don’t think it’s reasonable to criticize a movie like this. What matters is what you take home after you’ve watched the movie. Other than being entertained by its visual impact, has the audience taken onboard the messages about martial arts that the movie is trying to convey? This is quite crucial. There are movies which flaunt gratuitous violence, there are also ones that promote chivalrous righteousness, like the Once Upon a Time in China series and Jet Li’s 2006 Fearless. The latter category not only tells martial arts stories, but also communicates messages and philosophy about the essence of martial arts. These movies are more welcome and also perform better at the box office. I believe many people subscribe to such moral imperatives deep down in their hearts. They feel inspired by those who step forward in the name of justice or those who may have erred in the past, but decide to mend their ways after practicing martial arts and enhancing their physical integrity and moral character. To me, these movies are commendable exactly for this reason.

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[Presenter] You are saying that apart from the external stuff, the combat techniques, there is also a spiritual dimension that needs nurturing. Regarding the latter, in today’s society of fast food culture, fast-tracking and quick results, how should one go about it?

[Master Kwok] Each martial arts school has its own modus operandi. Mine is blessed with a group of great students. A pervasive atmosphere of traditional culture prevails in my school and sets boundaries with new students. For example, you may wonder why we greet each other with a hand salute? Why do my students address their teacher as sifu,sifu<’s wife as simo, their seniors as sihing or sije and their juniors as sidai or simui. There is a lot of respect for one another in my school. No one goes around and curtly picks a partner that they think is good to practice with. We are family and you don’t do that in a family. So this culture has this effect on them. Secondly, when I teach – nowadays, as you said, we are in an age of fast-food culture – I would explain why the punch is thrown this way and how a certain technique is executed, but I say to them, ‘You must practice.’ I ask them to practice. But coming from the culture that places a premium on quick results, students tend to assume that once they’ve learned something, they’ve mastered it, they’ve got it, just like that.

[Presenter] That’s true.

[Master Kwok] I ask them, ‘You got it?’ They say, ‘Yes, I got it.’ Then they move on to something new. ‘You want fast food? Here’s more. Tell me when you’ve had enough.’ Wing Chun does have a lot of different food to offer.

[Presenter] Master Kwok, if you keep feeding them new stuff, can they keep up? Do they ask you, ‘Why are you doing this? I’m full.’

[Master Kwok] That’s exactly my point. ‘Are you full up now? You wanted fast food, so I fed you till you had had enough.’ I let them experience it and realize that they have bitten off more than they can chew. They can’t keep up at all. Or they may come to see the light: ‘Oh my God, more is not necessarily better.’ My teacher has a mantra that he keeps repeating: ‘If your moves are good, you don’t need a large repertoire of them.’ You don’t need a glut of good stuff. A simple example is boxing. Once you’ve learned the footwork, you practice straights, hooks and uppercuts – three techniques. You practice the three techniques over and over again. Wing Chun gives you so many options. What do you do with them? If you have too much of it, if you can’t eat any more, you would stop and think, ‘Man, I do need to slow down, instead of asking for more and more.’

[Presenter] That’s why it’s called fast-food culture.

[Master Kwok] They want fast food, and fast food they will have. Having too much is as good as having nothing. If you want the essence, you don’t stuff yourself to the gills. If you only master one or two techniques, know how they work, and can apply them, you actually have a greater sense of achievement. This is an educational process. There’s a proverb in English: ‘Jack of all trades, master of none.’ You don’t have to dabble in too many things all at once. Develop one or two techniques to the expert level first. Through these two techniques, you can have a thorough understanding of the principles underlying the broader system, which would make it easier for you to pick up other techniques, because you have an in-depth knowledge of the culture.

[Presenter] Have you had students who really can’t get it? Those who find Wing Chun elusive no matter how they try? If so, they are free to go, are they not?

[Master Kwok] To begin with, you may come up to check it out and have a trial session. The trial session gives us an opportunity to get to know each other. I don’t rush them to sign up with us. I invite them to check it out and try it out first. I explain to them that learning kung fu is comparable to making friends. To become friends, people have to gel with each other. You take up something only when you are convinced that it’s the right thing for you. Let’s leave aside other styles of kung fu for the time being and take Wing Chun for example: You check out a few Wing Chun schools and decide to come to ours only if you think it suits you the best. I prefer not to have a student for a month only and then lose him because he doesn’t think it’s the right thing for him, which would have wasted me a month’s time as his teacher. I’d much rather teach a student who wants to invest six months or a longer time here. That would be better than having a student who practices for a month, then loses interest and leaves. That’s why the trial session is a good opportunity for both me and the prospective student, because he can find out, through first-hand experience, what it’s like to learn Wing Chun at this school.

[Presenter] When I first contacted you, I did tell you that I was also interested in learning Wing Chun, but the very first question you threw at me was ‘Why do you want to learn Wing Chun?’ I was very honest with you. I said, ‘As a lady, I don’t have too much of an ambition. I certainly don’t aim to become a kung fu actress. Through this, I want to renew my connection with the Chinese cultural heritage, in addition to keeping myself fit. If I had told you that I wanted to become a kung fu actress, to kick ass or to show off how awesome I am, would you have said to me point-blank, ‘Forget Wing Chun, don’t even bother – Wing Chun is not for you’?

[Master Kwok] I would not have told you Wing Chun is not for you. I would have said you are not cut out for martial arts, period. Every style of kung fu has its strengths. As we see it, kung fu is the art of hurting people, pure and simple. It’s different from swimming or playing basketball. Those sports are not designed to hurt people. But by learning kung fu, you can protect yourself. There are many ways of protecting yourself. You don’t have to resort to punches and kicks. This is the first thing I tell my students in my teaching. When the need does arise for you to protect yourself with punches and kicks, you should apply moral principles and assess the situation accordingly. You ask yourself if fighting it out is the only solution to the imminent confrontation. Is there an alternative? These are the questions you should ask yourself. In the process of training, especially in the context of Wing Chun, there are plenty of opportunities for sparring or paired practice. If you don’t know how to control your moves during such training, it’s very easy for you to hurt your partners. I teach my students not to focus on their striking skills only. The first thing they learn is respect for others. Then and only then do they earn the licence to access and acquire the quintessential part of kung fu. Some students come to my school with the dream to become the next Ip Man, taking on 10 opponents all at the same time. It all comes down to attitude at the end of the day. Some people strike me as having a propensity for violence.

[Presenter] I want to take us back to the fast-food culture. 2016 seems to have been a year of violence and volatility. In the absence of self-control, self-restraint or spiritual awareness, kung fu, from the perspective of testosterone-surging youth, is just something they can use to kick ass, to overpower others, is it not? Working on their inner self, the spiritual discipline that comes with kung fu is relegated to the backburner as far as they are concerned. Is that not the case?

[Master Kwok] It’s the duty of a master to teach that to the students. You need to build something into your teaching process to influence your students. People need educating. They may want to learn to hit people, but it’s up to you to educate them. That’s why as I said just now, you should observe them and establish if they do have a violent streak in them or it’s just a case of hot-blooded young men…

[Presenter] Trying to show off…

[Master Kwok] Yes, showing off. Having these impulses is not the problem. The question is if you know how to control yourself. Do you go up to people and provoke a fight? These are two different things. Typically, those who are into kung fu are prone to fighting. You encourage them to consider the consequences. Through training, they will develop this awareness over time. In my school, I ask them to consider if fighting is the only way out, so they learn to stop and think first. Otherwise they just turn into mindless brutes for whom the only solution to problems is violence. But that’s not true. The challenge here is to impart this culture to different people using different approaches.

[Presenter] Does it mean it’s very important to restore the traditional Chinese way of martial arts training guided by ethical principles?

[Master Kwok] Yes, indeed. Education in martial ethics is very important. As I said earlier, it’s a very slippery road if you teach kung fu without teaching martial ethics. Kung fu is an art of hurting people, as I said. You need judgment and ethical awareness to balance it. In a fight, you either hurt or get hurt. You can’t call that a good thing, whichever way you look at it. Consider the world we live in today, there are large stockpiles of nuclear weapons. Let’s say you have them and you tell others: ‘I have more nukes than you. It only takes a push of a button to annihilate you.’ Only crazy people would do that. You arm yourself with a weapon, but do you have to use it? There are other ways to defuse the situation, like diplomatic means. People can talk. They can work together.

[Presenter] That’s right. You don’t get into a fight at the slightest provocation.

[Master Kwok] Correct. But does it mean it’s not necessary for countries to do R&D on armaments? No, the research can continue, but do you feel compelled to use these armaments just because you have them?

[Presenter] Is there a complete self-defense system for petite ladies? Is Wing Chun a good system for this purpose?

[Master Kwok] Yes it is. It is very suitable for people of small build, especially petite ladies. A lot of the training involves short-range drills, because Wing Chun is at its most effective in close combat. It at least trains you to react faster. Say you stand there and someone comes to attack you. If you react only when he’s already in the process of attacking you, it would be too late. Wing Chun is particularly suitable for petite ladies because you don’t just use your muscular power. Instead, you mobilise the power from your entire body structure. I have already said that structure matters the most.

[Presenter] Let’s picture this scenario: When I turn a corner, someone appears all of a sudden and grab me by the wrist. If I’ve learned Wing Chun, I wouldn’t try to wrest my hand from his hold clumsily with all my might. I would know a more clever way to free my hand, wouldn’t I?

[Master Kwok] Yes, that’s how it works.

[Presenter] No need to use brute force to free my hand and get away, I guess?

[Master Kwok] Yes, you may be able to get away before that person tightens his grip. When I teach my female disciples, I put a special emphasis on early reaction. You don’t wait for your attacker to get to you. I teach the ladies to become more vigilant. As you know, people tend to walk with a cellphone in hand…

[Presenter] And with their head down… yes.

[Master Kwok] Exactly, head down, punching away on their cellphone, oblivious to the goings-on around them. It is critical to be more vigilant. When you become aware that someone wants to mug you, assault you or otherwise take advantage of you, how do you deal with it? Do you go up to them and ask, ‘Why are you following me?’ There may be other ways, like walking into a crowd and shaking off whoever is on to you. This is the awareness that I ask my students to develop, so that they don’t go away and proclaim, ‘I am a Wing Chun master now. I can fight 10 people alone.’

[Presenter] Master Kwok, thank you for your time. It has been a great interview. My last question to you is: Having talked so much about the theory and how to apply it in real situation, what’s your take on the prospects of Chinese martial arts, Wing Chun in particular, and the practice and education of martial arts as a whole in North America?

[Master Kwok] My students liked my teaching methodology so much they encouraged me to create a non-profit association, Martial Arts Studies International. It was founded last year. It is through this vehicle that I introduce my educational approach to the public. Teaching kung fu and practicing or learning kung fu are two different skill sets. We need to find a good modernized approach to promote traditional Chinese culture using modern Western pedagogical models. This is where I am headed in the coming time.

[Presenter] Thank you, once again, Master Kwok.

[Master Kwok] You are welcome.

[Presenter] Goodbye.

[Music resumes]

[End of main interview]

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[Follow-up]

[Presenter] Dear audience, thank you for tuning in to the Sunday program of RFA. As a follow-up to our exclusive interview, aired last Sunday, with New York-based martial arts expert, Master Kwok, you’ll be hearing the final part of the interview, in which Master Kwok talks about the benefits of martial arts in terms of self-improvement, health, and character building for children. Does Wing Chun bring about significant health benefits?

[Master Kwok] Wing Chun’s health benefits are definitely there. When you are learning the first form, Siu Lim Tao, you start off by going into a horse stand. This position alone can strengthen your legs. Let’s leave kung fu aside for the time being and just look at something very basic – the ability to balance. This ability deteriorates when one gets older. Standing still in this sit-down position as part of your kung fu practice can improve that ability. Many of our drills, including San Sau – standalone techniques – and Chi Sau – sticky hands, force you to move about. You do that on a daily basis. Dancing is different, though. There’s a rhythmic pattern to any dance. But when you practice San Sau, Chi Sau or Gwo Sau with your partner, you are in constant motion, balancing and rebalancing yourself all the time. This improves your balance, very good for elderly people. In terms of health in a broader sense, again using Siu Lim Tao as an example, the form contains a lot of breathing exercises. I therefore think Wing Chun is suitable for all age groups. My eldest student is 80 years old.

[Presenter] Master Kwok, you said your eldest student is 80 years old, but how young is the youngest?

[Master Kwok] Recently, a six and a half year-old signed up. Normally, I prefer that my students are at least eight years old, when they are more receptive to discipline and knowledge, therefore easier to teach. The six and a half year-old is an exception, because he’s very smart, or so he thinks, and has a natural aptitude. He is likely to be a fast and more patient learner. There are no rigid rules regarding age. It’s up to the teacher to assess the student’s aptitude and knowledge to see if he’s ready.

[Presenter] If I look around today’s society, especially in Hong Kong, life is comfortable, people are affluent. Many children are used to being taken care of by their elder siblings and are not good at looking after themselves. Also, they are quite poor when it comes to emotional and behavioral management. Does learning kung fu help? Does it contribute to their self-improvement, at least in terms of discipline and self-restraint? I think it’s quite good for children, isn’t it?

[Master Kwok] There is no doubt about that. As I described earlier, within our school, there’s an atmosphere of mutual respect. There’s a saying in Chinese: When you enter someone’s house, you greet the host; when you enter a temple, you show your respect for the gods. When you come into our school, you should at least greet the teacher and the seniors. This is the most basic protocol for us. What you said is true. Some kids don’t greet people. They just sit down by themselves and play with their phones. In my school, I repeatedly remind my students that you lose nothing by greeting other people. You are showing them that you are a polite person. It’s no skin off my nose if you don’t greet me, but I would see you as a bit rude. I explain to them why they should greet each other in my school. It starts with self-respect. This is not the hardest part, though. The crux of the matter is parental support. If parents have not educated their children to behave with courtesy, their children are unlikely to show respect. They may do it only because I’ve told them to, but they remain unchanged deep down. I ask them if they would greet their friend’s parents when they visit their friend. They reply, ‘No, I don’t.’ I then ask them how they would feel on the receiving end. They say they would feel a lack of respect toward them. I say, ‘Exactly. Just think about it.’ I encourage them to put themselves in other people’s shoes. What really matter is parental support for our effort.

[Presenter] You do spend a lot of time giving your students individual attention, don’t you? You at least know their background, what motivates them to learn kung fu, and take it from there. You don’t teach hordes of students en masse and call it a day when they leave school. You really put your heart and soul into your teaching.

[Master Kwok] You do need to get to know them. Those who are genuinely interested would come to school as often as they can. I naturally have more communication with these students. With more communication…

[Presenter] It’s a two-way process, I see.

[Master Kwok] Yes, two-way. With more communication, I know more about them, about their personalities, which in turn allows me to fine-tune my teaching to cater to their character traits.

[Presenter] Master Kwok, when a student is accepted by a teacher as his closed-door disciple, the student calls the teacher sifu. But there’s another title, sifoo. What’s the difference?

[Master Kwok] The foo in Sifoo is a different character. Someone with that designation is someone who is highly skilled in a given craft. You call a good plumber sifoo, for example, or a chef who prepares food to a high standard. But sifu, with the second character meaning father, is different. When new student comes to the school, he calls the teacher sifoo, a kung fu expert. But the baisi (induction) ceremony, where the teacher formally takes him under his wings, changes the relationship. The teacher is now a father figure to the student, within the context of martial arts. But out there, these two terms are often mixed up.

[Presenter] Master Kwok, one last question: Do you teach your closed-door disciples certain special things that you don’t share with the rest of your following?

[Master Kwok] I can’t speak for other teachers. I only speak for myself. Why do people get the impression that closed-door disciples learn more stuff? When you take on closed-door disciples, they must have been with you for quite a long time, during which they have built up a foundation through their practice. That’s point one. Secondly, you only take someone under your wings as a closed-door disciple if you have a good relationship with that person. For example, you would have heart-to-heart chats when you see each other. Through such communication, verbal or otherwise, it’s only natural that they can find out more about Wing Chun. There are techniques that you get exposed to only after a long period of practice. Becoming a closed-door disciple is a commitment. They are with you for so long, they are in close contact with you so often, so it stands to reason that they will learn more. Or, shall I say, they have a better chance of learning more than other students. When my students asked me why I hadn’t taught them certain things, I would ask them how much time they had invested in it. It doesn’t mean I taught others, but not you. It’s because when I was teaching that, you were absent. But that’s a minority of students, who question why I am being selective. Why? Because you don’t come to school often enough!

[Presenter] Yup, as simple as that.

[Master Kwok] Exactly, can’t be simpler. Why do some students go through the levels so fast? Because they are committed! They come for training five times a week, but you only come once a week. And you want to compare? I encourage them not to benchmark against others, but to measure their own progress. Some students say to me, ‘I keep feeling that I’m not doing so well.’ I ask them, ‘Do you think you’ve progressed since six months ago?’ ‘Yes, I have.’ ‘Could you do this move six months ago?’ ‘No, I couldn’t.’ ‘There you have it: you have made progress.’ I tell them that every day is different for kung fu practitioners. Sometimes you feel you are having a good day. Come tomorrow and you are crestfallen, because you can’t pull off certain techniques. I explain to them, ‘As long as you stay with one style of kung fu and keep working at it with commitment, and provided that your teacher is willing to continue teaching you, you’ll definitely make progress in the long run. You may feel down now and again while you practice kung fu, because of certain unhappy eventualities, like being laid off or something, but don’t just give up. As long as you practice with focus and with great interest, progress is guaranteed.

[Presenter] Master Kwok, it’s been such a pleasure. Thank you for agreeing to this interview with RFA. Thank you very much.

[Master Kwok] Thank you.

[The end]

[RETURN TO PART ONE]

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Radio Free Asia Interview with Master William Kwok

Posted in Kungfu, Martial Arts, Philosophy, Teaching Topic, Wing Chun with tags , , , , , , on January 28, 2017 by wingchunamerica

Happy Chinese New Year Everyone!

rooster-2017CombativeCorner contributing author Master William Kwok was interviewed over the holidays (Dec.11th & 18th, of 2016) on Radio Free Asia (a sister radio station to Voice of America).  Since the interview was in Cantonese, Sifu Kwok enlisted the help of his student, Ji Chen so that we may benefit as well.  The topic of the interview is on martial virtue and  martial arts education.  Enjoy!  

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[Presenter] Dear audience, welcome to Radio Free Asia’s Sunday Special. Today’s topic is a little unusual. Those of you from the southern country, the Cantonese speaking region in particular, should have heard of Wing Chun. Today, we are delighted to have with us a Wing Chun Master William Kwok Wai Yin, who will share with us his experience in the United States, of promoting the traditional Chinese martial arts culture in general and teaching Wing Chun in particular, and the challenges he has had to grapple with in the process.

[Chirpy music plays]

[Presenter] Master Kwok, thank you very much for accepting our interview today.

[Master Kwok] The pleasure is mine.

[Presenter] I have noticed that you have quite a unique background. Nowadays you are devoted, on a full-time basis, to the promotion of Wing Chun, both the techniques and the philosophy of it, mainly in the United States. But you have a much broader background. In your past incarnations, you were a university lecturer and a corporate manager, among other things. What is it that triggered this decision you made, as if out of the blue, to pack up your career in the business world and start pursuing your dream in the martial arts universe?

[Master Kwok] I have been very fond of martial arts, of exploring them, since I was a kid, and was fortunate enough to be exposed to a great variety of kung fu back then. However, when I got to the age of 35, give or take, by which time I had been a teacher and worked in a corporate environment, I started feeling, well, especially in the context of American society, that the headroom I could grow into was rather limited. That was how I was feeling from a personal perspective. At the same time, I wished there were a goal I could strive towards in my life and I began wondering what I could do. Initially, kung fu was my part-time occupation, something I did in my spare time. That was only a short stint. Eventually, I asked myself, ‘Why don’t I just take the plunge and make it my bread-and-butter job?’ First of all, the job I had at the time was respectable, desirable in the eyes of the world. It was a personal thing. I felt unfulfilled. What really made me tick was martial arts. So, in 2007, I decided to become a full-time kung fu instructor. Me being a Chinese, teaching kung fu as a Chinese and contributing to the promotion of the Chinese culture was for me an honour. There were a lot of benefits to be had by teaching martial arts, be it physical, spiritual or otherwise. Many students found that studying martial arts at our school helped them improve their performance at work. It was such a joy to know that I was able to help people by teaching Wing Chun, which I enjoyed practising myself in the first place.

[Presenter] Speaking of Wing Chun, I actually came with a bag of questions. Could you please share with us the history of Wing Chun? I myself have watched a great many kung fu films from Hong Kong. In fact, it’s known to many that Wing Chun was created by a woman?

[Master Kwok] Let me explain. According to the books I have read since childhood and what my sifu told me, the legend has it that Wing Chun was indeed created by a lady – a Buddhist nun called Ng Mui. Ng Mui passed it on to a female disciple Yim Wing Chun. Yim’s husband, Leung Bok Chau, subsequently named this style of martial arts after his wife.  This story is controversial, as a lot of people say this is not the real history. As far as I know, the history of Wing Chun became a little clearer when Grandmaster Leung Jan of Foshan came onto the scene. It was widely known that Foshan Jan’s kung fu was formidable and he made a name with his Wing Chun skills. Grandmaster Ip Man received instruction from Leung Jan’s disciple and took Wing Chun to Hong Kong, which was then a British colony, a more liberal and multicultural destination. From there, Wing Chun spread to the rest of the world. The fact of the matter is, a lot of people are spending a lot of time researching the history of Wing Chun to investigate its genesis, to find out whether Wing Chun was indeed invented by female practitioners.

[Presenter] Compared to other styles of Chinese martial arts, is Wing Chun one of the younger systems?

[Master Kwok] In fact, Wing Chun goes back two to three centuries. I don’t think it’s that young per se. What defines Wing Chun is its emphasis on scientific principles and logic. Since it’s said to have been invented by women, it’s unlikely to be one that requires such physical strength as is necessary to engage male opponents in a contest of brute force. Rather, it explores an efficient approach to the art of combat based on the center-line theory, on principles of physics, whereby a physically weaker person has a chance to take on a stronger opponent. So we have the paradox of the less powerful overpowering the more powerful – that’s the approach of Wing Chun.

[Presenter] Your teacher is Grandmaster Wan Kam Leung of Hong Kong, founder of Practical Wing Chun. Why does the word ‘practical’ feature so prominently in his style of Wing Chun?

[Master Kwok] Being practical is the aim of our lineage. Grandmaster Ip Man took Wing Chun to Hong Kong and a great many outstanding disciples emerged under his instruction. Bruce Lee was one of them and so was Grandmaster Wong Shun Leung, aka King of Talking Hands. Grandmaster Wong was a very dynamic, highly motivated martial artist, very keen to hone his techniques on an ongoing basis. He earned the nickname King of Talking Hands after he pondered over what he had learned from Ip Man and then applied it in contests against other styles, the purpose of which was to improve his Wing Chun skills. My teacher was among the early students of Wong Shun Leung and, as such, was influenced by Wong’s idea that continuous progress and enhancement was key to martial arts. So he started making incremental improvements to the kung fu skills he had acquired. He observed other styles of martial arts and analyzed Wing Chun through the prism of physics. By and by, he developed a more practical system. As a result, in the 1990s, Grandmaster Wong Shun Leung baptized my teacher’s style as ‘Practical Wing Chun’.

[Presenter] Master Kwok, most of your students are non-Chinese, am I right? Is it very different from teaching Wing Chun in Hong Kong? When non-Chinese students came to you, did they already have some rudimentary knowledge of the Chinese culture? Did they at least know what Chinese martial arts are and what Wing Chun is, which motivated them to seek your instruction in the first place? Or did the Ip Man movie franchise bring them to you, like ‘Wow, Wing Chun looks awesome, let me find out more.’

[Master Kwok] My students come from a diverse range of ethnicities. Over 70 percent of them are non-Chinese. They cited different reasons when they first came to me. Some had practiced other styles of kung fu, but were very interested in Wing Chun. Or maybe they wanted to find out more about Wing Chun, Practical Wing Chun in particular, after reading about it. That’s one category of students. There are others who had watched Ip Man the movie or some other martial arts flicks – of which we have no shortage in the cinema these days – and were motivated or intrigued by them, so they wanted to know more about it. That’s another category.

[Presenter] Back in the olden days, there were times when challenging one’s rivals by gatecrashing their schools was considered cool, to shame the rivals and destroy their reputation. Are there such things going on nowadays, like beimo (duels) or challenge matches?

[Master Kwok] In this day and age, exchanging knowledge and skills, comparing notes, taking part in some form of competition, getting to know each other – that’s something we still do. But the culture of gatecrashing challenge is an undesirable, anachronistic legacy from the past, in our opinion. I once analyzed the phenomenon of gatecrashing challenge and the motivation behind it. In some sense, what the challenger wanted was to find out what your style of kung fu was all about. This is less common nowadays, because you can access some information, like video clips, about whatever you want to investigate: ‘Ah, I see, so this is how that style of Wing Chun or Karate works.’ You get to have a basic knowledge of these things through the media, so there is no need to challenge someone just to find out about what he practices. The next question is: Does this happen to my school? Some people tell me that they want to see what I teach. I say to them, ‘You want to find out? By all means. Just come for a trial session.’

[Presenter] You were saying earlier that Practical Wing Chun places a premium on scientific principles and incorporates scientific elements into the system. What do you mean by scientific principles? Are they the same as those expounded by Bruce Lee? Does it mean you apply the notions of sport science and explain to your students how each punch should be controlled and delivered based on such principles?

[Master Kwok] Let me give you an example. It is said that power should be generated from the ground. What exactly does that mean? It’s open to interpretation, depending on your perspective. I have my own reading of it: Okay, power is generated from the ground. Let’s just look at the stance that serves as our starting position and how a punch is executed. I’ll let the student experience, first-hand, the force of his own punch, how his foothold on the ground supports the transmission of the force through his body structure. My teacher has evolved Wing Chun to what we have today, the system of Practical Wing Chun, through continuous improvements. My job, which is simpler than what he’s done, is to explain to my students how it works using the concepts of physics and body mechanics. For instance, when you are in this stance position, your body structure is straightened. That’s just an example…

[Presenter] This is how you explain it…

[Master Kwok] Indeed, I can explain it using sport science. It works because the student can feel and experience it for himself. I can’t lie about it.

[Presenter] You were saying that modern-day martial artists tend to be more inquisitive, asking teachers all the whys and wherefores. But in the olden days, when your teacher told you to stay in a stance position or to punch in a certain way, you would just do it, no questions asked. You would just do as instructed. Am I right?

[Master Kwok] Yes.

master-william-kwok-and-his-teacher-grandmaster-wan-kam-leung-in-2006

[Presenter] So today’s methodology is totally different and so is today’s mental approach.

[Master Kwok] Indeed, totally different. My teacher leaves no question unanswered. But those who are a little older than him – normally, the students wouldn’t have the guts to ask questions. This is true of other styles of kung fu. This would result in some students going off the course in their understanding of the moves their teacher had taught. ‘As our teacher taught, so we learned, period. When I have students of my own, if they ask me why this why that, I’d say: This is how it is! This is how it always has been!’ But what used to work may not necessarily work now. Take 100-meter sprint for example. I compared how sprinters ran in 1956 to how they ran in 2016, six decades apart. In the past, the sprinters leaned forward slightly, but nowadays, the world’s best sprinters keep their torsos straight without exception. This is a result of research over the years. This applies to swimming as it does sprinting. That’s how records are broken. As martial artists, we should also keep on exploring, to find out how we can perform better. This is where we are going. But the older-generation practitioners did it differently. Maybe it’s to do with their level of education or the culture of ‘shut up and just do it’ or the scarcity of resources that was holding back the development of knowledge. Martial arts follow the same trajectory of development as sport science.

[Presenter] Master Kwok, you brought up the issue of Oriental people versus Western people, saying that alongside the trend of Chinese people adopting Western values, a lot of Westerners have come to embrace the quintessential Chineseness. I know nothing about martial arts, but am interested to dabble in them and learn some techniques. Mine is not a common case in Hong Kong. But in America, most of the instructors of Chinese kung fu, including but not limited to Wing Chun, are Westerners. I stand corrected, but I, being Chinese, consider Chinese martial arts inherently linked to the Chinese culture. It follows that maybe one is better off going to a Chinese master if one is to learn Chinese kung fu. What do you think of this? Am I wrong?

[Master Kwok] In fact, many of the non-Chinese teachers of kung fu are excellent. There is now a whole legion of Westerners teaching Chinese martial arts. In my opinion, qualities do vary among them as they do among Chinese instructors of kung fu. It all comes down to the individuals, how good they are. We consider lineage quite important, too. Lineage, or the ‘family tree’, was very much emphasized by the older generations.

[Presenter] You are a Chinese living in America. What I wanted to find out through this interview is: What challenges have you encountered and what opportunities have you seen in promoting the Chinese martial arts culture there? Given the broader educational context of America and that of Hong Kong, how do you do it there? How do you run your school there? The experiences must be quite different. Could you please share with us the challenges you face?

[Master Kwok] I don’t think the difference is that big. As I said earlier, we are living in a globalized world. The difficulties one encounters in Hong Kong are similar to those in America. I say that because many places in the world are Westernized now and the Western-style competitive sports are put on a pedestal in places like Hong Kong. The traditional martial arts from the East are more focused on self-improvement. It doesn’t mean the competitive aspect falls by the wayside, but relatively speaking, there’s a predilection for self-improvement at both physical and spiritual levels. Given the prevailing trend that glorifies competition, winning, and medals and trophies, I have the difficult job of having to explain that the main aim of kung fu is not competition or winning a trophy in an open contest. We are not going that way. I need to explain to them the difference.

[Presenter] I read an interesting news story earlier today that I’d like to share with you. You tell me what you think.

[Master Kwok] Go ahead.

[Presenter] This is pretty new, came out today. It happened in the America. After an MMA match, one of the fighters, feeling good about the rounds he had fought, was confident he had won the match. But the judges named his opponent as the winner. He suddenly got very agitated, turned around and punched the ring girl. He is supposed to be a martial artist – fighting in the ring is also a form of martial arts – but how could he fly off the handle so easily and hurt someone in the process? Does he serve as an example of what martial artists shouldn’t do?

[Master Kwok] The biggest problem facing the development of martial arts is the absence of martial ethics in the martial arts curriculum. You’ve heard of Yin Yang, haven’t you?

[Presenter] Yes I have.

[Master Kwok] The unity of the opposites. Balance between Yin and Yang has to be manifested in everything. Martial arts, being martial, are arts that have the potential to hurt people. So the techniques are there to cause damage. That’s the antagonistic part. You need to balance it with ethics, to control the damage you may cause. The problem now is overemphasis on the technical part. MMA is all the rage right now. It started in the Western world. The Western ideology does place a premium on competitiveness: I must triumph, I must win, I must come first. Stories like this really upset me. When the general public hear about such an incident, they would lament the violent tendencies of ‘kung fu men’, that they show no sportsmanship, lashing out when they lose. This guy does not represent all martial artists, but such behaviour tarnishes the image of other martial artists and gives the public the impression that martial arts are violent and there is something wrong with them. These people only make a display of their technical competence, but such competence is not balanced with ethical values. Take for example a country that has a large arsenal of nuclear weapons. If they press the button at the slightest provocation, like what happens in the world of martial arts, the whole planet would go up in flames. Without balance, it’s dangerous.

[Presenter] Thank you for your analogy with nuclear weapons. Come to think of it, physical power is exalted in the American culture, in the broader global context. It finds expression in the arms race, in how military might is glorified in the likes of G.I. Joe, in the slogans of winning and being the tough guy. This is very hard to reverse. It is entrenched in the collective psyche. When you teach kung fu in America, how do you inculcate your American students with notions of martial ethics?

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[Master Kwok] In class, my students pair up to spar. I teach them to respect their opponents or training partners during the spar. This is crucial. In a drill, for instance, one student throws a punch and the other student practices his countering techniques. Through this process of exchange, they come to realize that my aim is not to hurt the other person and I need to consciously exercise self control. This is how they develop the ability to control their power. I would say, ‘When you throw a punch, you do it in earnest, but you don’t want to hurt your training partner. He’s the only partner you have. If he gets hurt, he would have to stay at home resting and you would have no one to practice with.’ That’s how I explain to them sometimes, by cracking jokes like this, to remind them that they should be more careful because there’s an element of danger here. That’s how I work on them, hoping they would get it eventually. I do my best to explain. If I see a good movie that has a good message, I would encourage them to see it so they can be positively influenced. But, at the end of the day, it comes down to the receptiveness and mental attitude of individual students. Why do I stress martial ethics? Because whether or not you have martial ethics affects more than just you. As I have said, while learning martial arts, you learn to respect your training partner, respect other people, by putting yourself in their shoes, by considering the consequences of hitting and hurting them. There are many things at stake. But it’s up to the practitioner to search their heart and find out if they have a natural urge to uphold such ethics. They need to know they do have a choice. They might not be aware that they had a choice. They may have thought that when they were cornered, there was only one way out. But I want them to know this may not be the case.

[Presenter] You currently have three closed-door disciples, don’t you?

[Master Kwok] Yes I do.

[Presenter] Are they all non-Chinese, are they all Westerners?

[Master Kwok] That’s not the case. They are from a variety of ethnicities.

[Presenter] Is it because you suddenly realized that you had admitted so many Western students, so you wanted to balance the mix with a few Oriental people? Or did you go purely by their abilities and their eagerness to learn?

[Master Kwok] Balancing ethnicities doesn’t come into the equation at all, because the American society is open to all racial and ethnic backgrounds. My decision to admit a student depends on his interest, on whether his heart is in it, and on the level of rapport or emotional bond I have with him. Take for example the disciples I have right now. They include Chinese kids who grew up here, Hispanics, African Americans and white people.

[Presenter] They are all male?

[Master Kwok] Males, yes. In fact, there will be four more joining the ranks of closed-door disciples in the coming year.

[Presenter] Plus one… that would be me, if you don’t mind me recommending myself. (Giggles)

[Master Kwok] (Chuckles)

[Presenter] Rest assured that if I went to New York, I’d definitely seek an audience with you, Master Kwok.

[Master Kwok] Thank you. So this ethnicity factor is of little significance, because I have no trouble communicating with them – everybody speaks English. What really matters is the rapport we have and that the disciple is keen to learn, to carry the torch and pass on the culture. I see this as of paramount importance. We have to be compatible, on the same page; there is rapport and loyalty between us. More than a decade ago, thanks to some serendipitous circumstances, I had the pleasure of meeting one of Bruce Lee’s foremost disciples, Dan Inosanto, who is now in Los Angeles. I had a nice chat with him once and he told me something that turned a light on in my head. He said, ‘Teaching is the highest form of learning.’ I could very much relate to that myself. I once taught in a university. When I was preparing my lessons, I had to figure out ways and means to let my students understand what I wanted to impart to them. This process required a thorough grasp of the subject matter on my part in the first place. For me, Mr. Inosanto’s message was loud and clear and made so much sense. In my own martial arts school, I encourage more experienced students, senior students, to mentor and advise their junior peers, through which they can learn a lot of things as well.

[Presenter] Do they listen to you and subscribe to this idea of yours? Do they not question why they have to waste time practicing with the juniors when they have gone past their level? Don’t they see it as a waste of time and effort? Shouldn’t they be practicing with people who are at a higher level?

[Master Kwok] There may be some who think like that, but most people understand this. Because I say to them, ‘Yes, you want to learn from the seniors who are better than you, but why should they be interested to practice with you?’

[Presenter] Yes, I do realize it’s a paradox, what goes around comes around.

[Master Kwok] Exactly. In fact, most of my students are aware that you benefit as much from practicing with peers at the same level as you would from practicing with seniors or juniors. Every partner offers you something unique and you can learn something different. My job as a teacher is to remind them and to see which way each of them is going. Some of them misinterpret the word ‘teach’. I have noticed that oftentimes, when they teach new students, they tend to get very talkative, shooting off their mouth nonstop.

[Presenter] What do they talk about? Theorizing?

[Master Kwok] Theorizing, yes. They over-explain.

[Presenter] That’s what goes on in the real world, too, interestingly enough. Usually those who talk the talk can’t walk the walk. That’s true of what goes on in the real world. That’s so interesting. I wonder why.

[Master Kwok] There are many dimensions to teaching and learning. I try to set them an example to show why nonstop talking doesn’t work when you try to explain something. You must learn to listen. The person you are trying to help may already know what you are saying, but he doesn’t understand the underlying principles, so if you keep scratching the surface, he still can’t get the explanation he is looking for. Maybe you are not a good listener; maybe you try to impose a uniform approach, regardless of the fact that personal approaches may vary. On top of the learning chain is the master. Then there’s the senior students and junior students. The challenge here is to enable the students, especially those who have been with me only a short time, to understand their responsibilities when they interact with junior peers. The highest form of learning is knowing how to teach. In the case of some students, when they reach certain levels, I might say, ‘Okay, you, Level 5, pair up with this Level 2 student and practice away!’ Initially, some of them are baffled and wonder why they have to go back to Level 2 and practice the techniques associated with that level. ‘I am Level 5. If I practice with him, he stands to gain at my expense.’ What they don’t understand is that one can learn in a great many different ways. When a Level 5 student explains Level 2 techniques to a Level 2 student, he is actually recalling, marshalling and re-organizing what he remembers of the Level 2 techniques.

[Presenter] Could you share with our audience some basic moves of Wing Chun? I know nothing about Wing Chun, but I have heard of certain routines or forms, san sau, chi sau, etc. Could you tell us a little bit about its basic system?

[Master Kwok] There are three forms in Wing Chun, namely, Siu Lim Tao, Chum Kiu and Biu Tze. One starts with Siu Lim Tao. This first form contains a great many moves. One of the first hand forms is called Kau Cha Sau, crossed arms. The center-line principle is at the heart of Wing Chun and Kau Cha Sau helps locate the center-line. The other techniques that we learn subsequently are derivatives of this Kau Cha Sau. That’s why a beginner must practice the forms in earnest. After mastering the forms, you practice individual techniques taken from the forms, called san sau, standalone moves. When you become reasonably proficient with san sau, quite good at the techniques, we let you move on to chi sau practice. With chi sau, your hands and arms are  in contact with those of your opponent. You sense your opponent’s force by picking up tactile signals and adapt and change accordingly. Adapt and change with what? With the techniques that you acquired through san sau practice. Put simply, the techniques that we apply in chi sau come from san sau, which in turn is derived from the forms. Therefore, although we seem to be practicing different things, they all point to the same source. Only the methods differ. Chi sau is interesting because change comes into play. The forms give structure to the techniques, but it’s change that brings the techniques to life. There is a fixed range of techniques, but the nomenclature associated with their varied combinations is extensive. Why did I bring up the topic of chi sau? Because practicing chi sau shaped my own outlook on life. I came to realize that there might be more than one fixed, exclusive solution to any given problem. When I approach a problem in a certain way and it doesn’t work, I know I have to modify my approach. In life, when we come up against some difficulty or problem, there isn’t just one way out, there are many possible solutions. You need wisdom or experience to change tack and solve the problem via an alternative route. This is what makes chi sau interesting.

[Presenter] Wing Chun relies heavily on hands. The lower limbs are stationary, locked in a stance, no kicking. Is that right?

[Master Kwok] That’s a misunderstanding. (Presenter giggles.) Where does this misconception come from? Siu Lim Tao is a static form, in which motionless stance is maintained. But when you get to the second form, Chum Kiu, there’s a lot of footwork actually. But why do people get the impression that Wing Chun is a hand combat system? That’s because when you first start, you learn the first form, Siu Lim Tao, which predominantly involves hand moves. Many people learn the form and realize that hand techniques are an important part of Wing Chun. Some people may quit before they progress to the second form, before they learn the footwork. Hence the wrong impression that Wing Chun is all about hands. But Wing Chun’s footwork is very effective.

END OF PART 1

(For more info: newyorkwingchun.com)

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Ip Man 3 : Short Movie Review

Posted in Kungfu, Martial Arts, REVIEWS, Wing Chun with tags , , , , , , , , on January 5, 2016 by wingchunamerica

William Kwok Ip Man 3Over the holidays, I had the opportunity to watch Ip Man 3 the movie with my family, Sifu and students in Hong Kong. We enjoyed it!

OPENS IN THE U.S.  01.22.16

THE PLOT (courtesy of IMDB.com)

When a band of brutal gangsters led by a crooked property developer make a play to take over the city, Master Ip (played by Donnie Yen) is forced to take a stand.

THE IP MAN SAGA

Ip Man 1 is about surviving; Ip Man 2 is about living; Ip Man 3 is about love, passion and life. As a martial arts teacher, I am able to closely relate to the main character this time, from finding balance between martial arts and family to teacher/student relationships and accepting social responsibilities, etc. Students should know that their teachers are also human beings. They have emotions and problems like any other people.

CHOREOGRAPHY

The action choreography of Ip Man 3 is great!  It is as good as the first two if not better.  It demonstrates the main features of Wing Chun (forms, chi sau and weapons) to the mainstream audiences. The demonstrations of Wing Chun kicks in different scenes are unexpectedly good. Still, a movie is a movie. It is unfair to criticize the Wing Chun techniques as it is a not a documentary.

SPECIAL BONUS

Ip Man 3 Mike TysonIp Man features former heavyweight boxing champion “Iron” Mike Tyson in the role of “Frank.”

Bruce Lee and Ip ManKwok-Kwan Chan is CG-enhanced to play the role of Bruce Lee.  And as many of you know, Bruce Lee was once the student of the real Ip Man (pictured on the left).

THE MESSAGE
In addition to the action scenes, we can also pay attention to the messages in Ip Man 3. In addition to the unfairness in the society and the unfortunate events in the main character’s family, the fight between the Wing Chun masters is sad. We may say that it is just a plot of a movie that leads to the Wing Chun fight scenes, but it somewhat reflects the reality. A fight or argument due to one’s envy and pride is meaningless, especially among people in the same martial art family. Like the main character says at the end of the movie,

“Nothing is more important than the people close to us.”

As I said before, battles inside the family will become jokes to others. In our long martial arts journey, there is always someone better than us. As long as we can be better than our old selves, we are already a winner!

THE RATING

Overall, the crew of Ip Man 3 has done an excellent job although the story line is predictable. As a fan of martial arts movies, I rate this sequel

8 out of 10.

Enjoy the show!

William Kwok

Gotham Martial Arts

ADDITIONAL MOVIE DETAILS (courtesy of IMDB.com)

Director:

Wilson Yip

Stars:

Donnie YenJin ZhangPatrick Tam, Mike Tyson, Lynn Hung

OFFICIAL TRAILER

10 Questions with William Wai-Yin Kwok

Posted in 10 Questions, Kungfu, Wing Chun with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 9, 2015 by Combative Corner

CombativeCorner William

Born and raised in Hong Kong, Master William Kwok has been studying martial arts since 1979. He is Practical Wing Chun Kung Fu founder Grandmaster WAN Kam Leung’s first Closed Door Disciple that has both completed the martial art system and taught professionally outside of Hong Kong. He is also the first Regional Director and official instructor of Wan Kam Leung Practical Wing Chun Kung Fu in America”

Master Kwok established his martial arts school, Gotham Martial Arts, in 2007. His goal is to develop better individuals to serve the New York community and provide precise and attainable instruction where more people would benefit from the mind and body integration for which martial arts training is well-respected. Master Kwok’s contributions to Wing Chun Kung Fu and the traditional martial arts culture have been well recognized and respected. He has been profiled in numerous newspapers, periodicals and television networks such as New York Daily News, Sing Tao Daily, Wing Chun Illustrated, Next Magazine, Sinovision, China Central Television, and etc. In September 2014, he was honored by the Martial Arts History Museum in Los Angeles as a recipient of the Museum Honor Award for his excellence in the martial arts and his contributions to the local community. In December 2014, Master Kwok was honored martial arts title “Grand Master in Wing Chun” and rank “7th Dan Menkyo/ Grand Master in Martial Arts” by World Personal Martial Arts Federation, a non-profit and voluntary organization. In January 2015, he received the Silver Lifetime Contribution Award at Action Martial Arts Magazine Hall of Honors in Atlantic City.

Outside of the Wing Chun Kung Fu world, Master Kwok’s experience was quite varied. He is a direct student of traditional Taekwon-Do Grandmaster KIM Suk Jun and has achieved the rank of Master Instructor. Master Kwok has also earned Post Graduate Degrees from Harvard University and St. John’s University. Prior to teaching martial arts professionally, he was an adjunct professor of Managerial Studies at The City University of New York and was a member of The Asian American/Research Institute. He also served as Market Manager for a major telecom provider.

What attracted you to Wing Chun (over other martial arts)?

Kwok WingChunI have been training in martial arts since 1979 when I was seven years old. My father was a Physical Education professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. As a young martial arts fan, my father sent me to the Aikido club at the university, where I trained with college students. When I was 14 years old, my father introduced Wing Chun to the university as an after-school extracurricular. This was my first exposure to Wing Chun. I liked the Wing Chun principles of not using force against force and maintaining good body structure, but I couldn’t get into it because I didn’t see the practicality in that particular system of Wing Chun.

I was a third degree blackbelt candidate in traditional Taekwon-Do in 2000. I remember sparring with a much larger classmate. During one sparring session, he kicked me square in the chest, lifting me into the air and sending me several feet backward. It was then that I realized that, no matter how much I trained, I would not be able to defeat someone bigger or stronger than me. I began to feel that I was missing something in my martial arts training, and I remembered my early introduction to Wing Chun.I tried studying Wing Chun again in many different schools, but was still not satisfied with what I learned.In 2005 I went back to my hometown of Hong Kong to do research for my Master’s thesis project. My research had nothing to do with martial arts, but I knew it was a perfect opportunity to search for answers in Wing Chun. After I met my Sifu, Grandmaster WAN Kam Leung – Founder of Practical Wing Chun, I finally felt I had found the answers that I was looking for in a style of Wing Chun that was more suited for today’s world.

Everyone should find the style that suits them the best. To me, I like Practical Wing Chun because I can do it well and it makes a lot of logical sense. I know I can practice Wing Chun even when I turn 70 because it is not taxing on the body. It is a very scientific and practical martial art that gives me a lot of room to develop and think. All techniques in the forms serve like different building blocks that can be combined in many different ways. It is interesting to find the most effective and efficient techniques in any given situation. Some people like Jujitsu and should focus on Jujitsu. Some people like Karate and should focus on Karate. It is not best to be jack of all trades but to be great at one style or system. I like most martial arts systems but I choose to focus on Practical Wing Chun because it gives me room to think and grow, as well as improve upon the current system based on original Wing Chun principles.


How did you come to start a school in New York City and why is it named Gotham Martial Arts and not something like “Kwok Wing Chun.”

Gotham MAI moved to New York City in 1991 for college education. Although I had a successful career path in the corporate world after I graduated from college, I found the most satisfaction from my martial arts training and teaching. Being a teacher is quite rewarding when you see students’ mind and body improve. With the encouragement from my teachers, I decided to dedicate myself to martial arts education. My goal is to develop better individuals to serve our community. To me, martial arts is education, not just an activity or hobby.

When I first established Gotham Martial Arts in 2007, there were two other master instructors involved. Therefore, it did not make sense to name the school after any individuals. We preferred a name that gave people a “traditional” feeling and represented New York City. That was the reason that we chose the name “Gotham”. Besides Practical Wing Chun, Gotham Martial Arts offers instruction in traditional Taekwon-Do. While the other master instructors are no longer with the school, I have decided to keep the name “Gotham Martial Arts” because the name is well established in New York City. Today, I see Gotham Martial Arts as a channel to introduce and promote excellent martial arts in New York City.


Did you, or do you feel the need to combine other martial arts to your arsenal? Why/why not?

No, I don’t feel the need to combine Practical Wing Chun with other martial arts. Even though I embrace most traditional martial arts, I don’t support the idea of mixing different martial arts styles. Even though my school offers both Practical Wing Chun and traditional Taekwon-Do, we teach them separately. Martial Arts practitioners should not focus on too many styles simultaneously. It will confuse their mind and body. It is very similar to choosing a major when we attend college. We cannot just take numerous introductory courses and claim to be an expert of all. Eventually, we need to choose a major and focus on it. Colleges and universities have such academic structure for a reason. Great doctors and scholars spend years focusing on a few aspects of their specialty. Once we achieve a higher level on one subject, we can then appreciate other subjects more profoundly.

I enjoy studying Wing Chun because it suits me well at this stage of my life. It offers me a lot of room to develop and think. Every practitioner should do a lot of research, find the martial art that suits them best, and stick with it. At a higher level in their martial art journey, they should also have a basic understanding of what other martial arts offer, which will improve their understanding of their own martial art style. All martial art styles have their strengths and weaknesses. No martial art style is perfect and so I encourage my advanced students to keep an open mind.


When you train with someone more experienced, what typically impresses you?

Kwok Chi SauTraining includes developing the body and mind. The theories supporting their training and techniques have to make logical sense. He/she has to be able to prove the effectiveness of the training/techniques by demonstrate it. We need to keep in mind that “more experienced” doesn’t mean “better”. Martial arts training include many techniques. We should view these skills and techniques like technology that is always changing and improving. If a person keeps on practicing the same way for many years without thinking about it, it limits the person’s improvement. To me, one’s attitude and approach toward training matters the most.

When I train with someone more skillful like my Wing Chun teacher, Grandmaster WAN Kam Leung, I am always impressed with his fluidity of movements. A person has to possess an excellent control of hardness and softness in order to move and respond the way he does. Despite his 50+ years of training, he is still learning and improving. I admire and respect that tremendously.


In a market heavy with Karate, Muay Thai and Jiu-jitsu gyms, what obstacles do you face opening a Wing Chun school?

In America, “Wing Chun” is not as popular as names like “Jiu-jitsu”, “Karate” and “Muay Thai”. When most American people think about martial arts, they probably associate the movements with Karate, Muay Thai and Jiu-jitsu, or what they have seen in movies. When my prospective students visit my school, they usually have prejudgments about Wing Chun and some certain expectations about martial arts training. Some of them may have watched the movies about Grandmaster Ip Man and expect to learn how Donnie Yen fights in those movies. Some of them see martial arts training as an alternative of their workout.

It is very important that my prospective students understand that Practical Wing Chun is primarily a self-defense system. It is a system evolved and developed by my teacher, Grandmaster Wan Kam Leung, based on the traditional Wing Chun he studied for many years and the many fights he had. I usually suggest prospective students take a trial lesson before they join the school. It is important for them to choose a martial arts system that suits them the best. After trial lessons, they usually feel surprised by what Practical Wing Chun offers. Most of them choose to commit to the training and others continue to search for the martial arts that satisfy their expectations and needs.

Gotham Class Pic


Growing up, what martial arts/martial artists did you look up to for inspiration?

There were three people that really inspired me as a teenager growing up in Hong Kong. The first person was Bruce Lee. The first movie I ever watched was “Way of the Dragon”. The movie was rerun in 1983 in observance of the 10th anniversary of Bruce Lee’s passing. Bruce Lee’s on-screen martial arts skills were unlike anything I had ever seen. His movements were so fast and his kicking skills were incredible. He definitely inspired me to train harder perfecting my own kicking skills and to research more about his fundamental martial arts, Wing Chun.

The second person was Jackie Chan. Although I really enjoyed Jackie Chan’s movies as a youth, I didn’t consider him as a martial artist but an excellent stunt performer. I admire Jackie Chan not because of his physical abilities, but the vision and approach to making action movies. When everyone wanted to be the second Bruce Lee after Bruce Lee’s death in 1973, Jackie Chan had a very different approach. He didn’t want to be a copycat. He was almost a complete opposite of Bruce Lee. Jackie was one of the first to successfully combine great physical skills with comedic talent. He was such a great performer. Jackie Chan kept changing his approach and improving his style. That made him a pioneer of action movies in Asia for many years.

The last person was late Grandmaster WONG Shun Leung. When I was young, one of my father’s friends knew that I was into martial arts training. He liked to tell me stories about martial arts legends. There were many stories, but one story impressed me the most. He told me that there was a martial artist with amazing skills. He had won countless rooftop martial arts challenges in Hong Kong back in the 50s and 60s. I was very impressed and inspired by the stories. Many years later, I discovered that his name was Wong Shun Leung, a Wing Chun warrior. Therefore, when I later searched for a Wing Chun school, I narrowed down my search to only the WONG Shun Leung lineage.

What are some common misconceptions in the Wing Chun world?

Kwok teachingI find that many traditional Wing Chun schools are too focused on traditional teachings that were passed down to them, and are unwilling to adapt to modern times.  While I fully appreciate Chinese tradition, history, and culture, I also think that we live in a different world and environment these days and Wing Chun needs to adapt and evolve in order to remain a high form of martial arts while maintaining the core of the Wing Chun philosophies. We wouldn’t use cell phones from the 1980s the size of our heads to follow tradition, so why practice the obsolete techniques when we can modernize it? When we study martial arts, we should look forward instead of looking backwards. A common misconception is that traditional Wing Chun is still very effective in today’s world. What is wrong with that statement is that many people don’t realize martial arts techniques and teaching methods need evolved and can be improved without losing the core Wing Chun principals. When we watch Olympic events, we see new world records set every four years. It is because sports coaches and athletes always research and discover better ways to perform. Martial arts should be the same. The schools that follow a “traditional” Wing Chun approach stubbornly adhering to the martial art as passed down to them from their teachers. This is a great thing that the martial art system and culture can survive for centuries. However, even those that claim to be teaching traditional Wing Chun, you will find different ways of doing the same forms and techniques. It is natural for any instructor to interpret a detail-oriented and complicated martial art such as this with a different viewpoint from the next, and so the quality of instruction and training, as well as the techniques themselves, can be very different. Every lineage will have its own specific focus. Then there are some like my teacher that have attempted to evolve the art form based on practically and suitability for modern times but keeping the core discipline the same. I am not saying it is definitely better but just more logically in my opinion.

Another misconception is that when many practitioners focus on Chi Sau practice without fully completing Siu Lim Tao (the first Wing Chun form) and intensively practicing San Sau (techniques and partner drills) from the form. Chi Sau should be a partner drill practiced to learn how to change the San Sau techniques, not just to practice sensitivity which is the usual explanation. To me, it does not make sense for students to practice Chi Sau after studying Wing Chun for a short period of time because they have no techniques to practice and respond with. Some even think that the Wing Chun forms have not much to do with Chi Sau. I find it unacceptable. Every single technique in Wing Chun should have a practical application. In my school, students need to learn part one of Siu Lim Tao and then practice extensively before learning part two of the form, and so on. After they learn and practice San Sau, they then learn Chi Sau. Students should practice Siu Lim Tao and San Sau for a few months before they practice Chi Sau. In order to understand Chi Sau, the student must first understand San Sau; to understand San Sau, they must understand the form. When we practice Chi Sau, we should be able to demonstrate what we have learned in the forms and drills, not only about developing better sensitivity.

Speaking of Chi Sau, I would like to remind Wing Chun practitioners that it is NOT appropriate to visit a Wing Chun school,without any serious commitment or intend to learn that school’s system, and request to “touch hands” with someone. In traditional Chinese culture, this approach is considered rude and shows disrespect to the school.

Chi Sau 1


Is there a form, set of exercises, weapons etc, that you enjoy the most and why?

I enjoy practicing the basics. The basics are the core and foundation of any martial arts system. If our foundation is weak, the advanced techniques are less effective. Moreover, even after learning a technique, we should relearn it some point during our training because we will be able to analyze it from a different perspective. And when one graduates to become a teacher, he should relearn it again because again it is viewed from a different perspective. The more we practice the techniques, the more we may discover about them. In Practical Wing Chun, I practice my forms every day. The more I train and perform the form, the more I discover the insights about Practical Wing Chun.


Do you stress competition of any kind? If so, what kind? If not, why not?

Competition is good practice. I occasionally send my traditional Taekwon-Do students to competitions because the experience can benefit their training. Each martial art has its advantages and disadvantages and strengths and weaknesses. If a beginner wants to learn a martial art discipline mainly because he/she is into competition, I would not suggest Wing Chun.

Wing Chun is not meant for competition. It is a martial art created by a woman thus intended for a smaller person in size to finish a fight as quickly as possible. In competitions, there are always weight divisions and rules. Wing Chun does not observe those rules as there are no weight divisions when you are walking on the street and encounter a threatening situation. Therefore, the techniques we practice may not be suitable to use in competitions. In addition, Wing Chun specializes in short distance and is very effective in constrained environments such as elevators and on public transportation. It is extremely difficult to judge fairly in competitions. Although some Wing Chun organizations prefer to promote Wing Chun and create a sport version of it so that more people are interested in the style, I do not believe Wing Chun is well suited for this.

Many teachers find competition a good training experience for some of their students. Although my school does not participate in Wing Chun competitions, some Wing Chun practitioners may find occasionally participating in competition beneficial. Everyone learns differently. Competitions can provide a platform for schools and martial arts friends to exchange ideas and develop friendships. However, participating in competition should not be the primary training aspect for a Wing Chun practitioner.

What do you like to do in your spare time (when you are not teaching or practicing the martial arts)?

I enjoy spending time with my family and disciples. We go to movies, dinner gatherings, tea lunch with dim sum, etc. It is important that we communicate and share the joys and challenges in our lives. I also enjoy reading non-fiction books and thinking about different aspects of my life when I am alone. Like Confucius said, “Knowledge from reading without thinking is soon forgotten; thinking without reading will make you self-righteous.” Reading helps simulate my mind and think more clearly. I am also interested in researching and developing more efficient ways of conducting classes and teaching my students.

BONUS QUESTION

If you could meet one martial artist, alive or dead, who would it be and why?

Bonus Q Huo YuanjiaIt would be an honor if I could meet with Master Huo YuanJia, a famous martial art master and a co-founder of the Chin Woo Athletic Association in China. He passed away in 1910. Despite of his heroic status in China, Master Huo was one of pioneers that embraced and supported different styles of martial arts. He has been portrayed in many timeperiod martial arts movies include Jet Li’s Fearless. Chin Woo Athletic Association was one of the earliest associations that accepted different martial arts and physical activities other than those taught by the master. I respect Master Huo’s open mind and support towards other martial arts systems. Many people still cannot do it today, but Master Huo did 105 years ago in China.

Master Huo tragically died before he turned 43. I am turning 43 this year. It would be interesting to see how much he had achieved at my age. If I could meet him in person, I would probably ask him the challenges of founding his association and what he would do if he could live a long life.

For more information on Master William Wai-Yin Kwok visit his website at: GothamMA.Com

Gotham Martial Arts

328 East 61st Street, 3rd Floor

New York, NY 10065

(212) 326-9510

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