Archive for Wing Chun

10 Questions with Nasser Butt

Posted in 10 Questions, Internal Arts, Taijiquan with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 15, 2018 by Combative Corner

What got you interested in the martial arts?

This is going to sound like a cliché but I got involved in Martial Arts after getting a good beating from a group of kids in my neighborhood!

The 70’s had ended and we were at the beginning of the 80’s. – racial incidents were very high. We were the only ‘mix’ family (Asian/Irish) of any colour living in my street at the time and I remember going to the park which was at the bottom of our road. As I entered the park to go play, I was attacked by a mob of white kids. I would’ve been around 12 or 13 years old at the time. Most of the kids were older teens and they made a mess of me and told me that the park wasn’t for my kind! I literally crawled back home as I couldn’t walk.

An Irish musician friend of my father’s took me under his wing after the incident and started to teach me Wing Chun above his music shop. That was my first foray into the martial arts world, until then I had no compulsion to have wanted to study them!

A few months later I returned to the park and took out one of the biggest kids who had attacked me, as per my instructions – no one ever chased me out of the park again!

What is the most important thing (you can think of) that you’ve learned from the study of martial arts?

Martial arts for myself, at least, have always been a study of the self – all the components lead inwards and are eventually expressed outwards! The real foe to conquer is the self – this requires a lifetime’s study and hard work, it’s not easy but then it was never meant to be!

However, I will point out one other thing – all martial arts are only as good as the practitioner!

There is no ‘super’ martial art which makes you invincible – no magical technique! When I see people comparing martial arts I often smile at the folly of such folk. All martial arts kick, punch, strike, throw etc., and are therefore made up of essentially the same components. Equally, all martial artists have two arms, two legs, a torso and head etc., so again, we have the same tools with which to work with (of course strength, size and speed etc. will vary, but I am speaking in general terms).

So, when I see a MMA practitioner take on a Taiji practitioner and win – I don’t see that as MMA being better then Taiji as most people will state. YouTube is full of such tripe as are the various martial arts forums!

No, that simply means that in that specific instant – the MMA practitioner understands and knows his art better then the Taiji practitioner, or any other arts you wish to ‘compare’!

So, any martial art is only as good as the understanding of the practitioner and his time and effort of study – period!

How did you come to teach martial arts and what made you drift towards your particular discipline?

I had stuck with Wing Chun since my childhood. It had worked for me and got me out of many scrapes. I stopped formally training with a school when I left for university. Although I continued to train alone, I couldn’t find a school that I wished to join. They were all commercial and I was used to training with only 3 other guys in the room!

I eventually found another Wing Chun instructor a few years after leaving university, he introduced me to Erle’s work whilst I was training Wing Chun with him… it began with the small San-sau. It made sense and the more I began reading and looking into Erle’s work and the internal arts, the more sense they made. It was an act, ultimately, by Erle, himself, as a person and teacher which made me finally switch towards the internal arts! (See Question 6).

I never had any plans of teaching martial arts full-time!

My background is in the sciences… it is what I had studied at college and university, and went onto work as a research scientist in Israel. However, I first started teaching one night a week after I began training with Erle Montaigue – whom I regard as my main teacher, though I have had others!

Erle always told us that if you teach, then teach for selfish reasons! At first when I heard this, I found it shocking and asked Erle to elaborate. He did.

He simply stated that the only real reason to teach is because you wish to learn and reinforce your learning, and teaching is the best way to do that. Students will ask you questions that you, yourself, may not even have thought about yet and teaching others will make you creative and think outside the box. It will make you innovate because no two persons understand and learn in the same way!

So, I began teaching for purely ‘selfish’ reasons. It was never about earning a living for me – I had other means for that!

I began teaching full-time in 2006 upon Erle’s request. At the end of 2005 Erle was in Leicestershire giving a workshop and we sat talking during the lunch break, as most of the folk had wandered off to eat. At the time I was working for one of the major international banks in Leicester. Erle simply turned around and said to me, “It’s time!”

I looked at him quizzically and he said, “I think you should teach full-time.”

I was in a state of shock!

I won’t go into too much of the detail here as much of the conversation we had that day is private but, Erle asked this of me on the Saturday and that night I went home and spoke to my wife. We had just had our third child and I was the only one working. My wife asked me if I thought I could do it? I replied that Erle believes I can! My wife simply said, if you believe that then you have my support. On the Sunday, when I returned to train with Erle, I simply looked at him and smiled and he gave me a big hug. I have a photograph which was taken a few seconds after that moment – Erle leaning over my shoulder and both of us grinning like the Cheshire cat!

I quit work at the start of 2006 and later received my Third Degree from Erle. I had also, already, been given the right to grade by Erle himself and he started referring some of his oversees students to me!

As a teacher, what is one piece of advice that you hope really sinks in with your students?

Do not be afraid of making mistakes! If you fear making mistakes then you’ll never be free to explore and if you do not explore then how will you ever discover, and if you do not discover then how will you ever learn and advance, and grow?

Mistakes are also tools of learning and can often teach us far greater lessons then those we get right! Once we stop being afraid of making mistakes and looking foolish, we are ready to learn freely. However, this is far easier said then done. The most difficult component is recognizing mistakes in one’s own practice and having the honesty and integrity to deal with them!

What advice do you have for teachers?

Like the student, do not be afraid to admit that you do not have all the answers! Do not BS your student if you don’t know – that is the sign of a bad teacher and practitioner and you will eventually be found out!

No one has all the answers and if you are asked a question that you do not know the answer too, then tell your student that you do not have the answer BUT you will go and find out! Then go and search for the answer – that way you will both learn and your student shall respect you even more!

You’ve been a long-time student and friend of the late Erle Montaigue. How did you first meet him?

I first met Erle in 1999, in Folkestone, England! I had already been studying his system for around a couple of years earlier with a local instructor.

I had emailed the WTBA sometime in 1997, enquiring about Erle’s videos which he had made for Paladin in the USA. Financially, times were difficult and I had figured that Sterling was far stronger against the US dollar and would therefore make my money go further. As much as I wanted to take more weekly lessons, it just wasn’t financially viable, so I had decided to buy some videos, which I hoped would help with my training.

I wasn’t really expecting much of a reply, at best I thought that some secretary would contact me and was therefore, surprised when Erle contacted me himself!

He asked about my training and who I was training with and why I wanted information on his US videos?

I explained my reasons and he simply replied, “Send me your address.”

I did as I was asked. A few days later, I had a knock on my apartment door. It was the postman with a package in his hand for me from Australia. When he told me that it was from Australia, I immediately replied that a mistake had been made since I didn’t know anyone in Australia and nor had I ordered anything from there!

The postie simply said, it’s your name and address on the package and handed it over. I took the package and it had a stamp from a place I couldn’t even pronounce! Anyhow, I opened it up and inside were a bunch of Erle’s videos with a small note:

“I hope these help. Kind regards E”

I panicked thinking that Erle had misunderstood, thinking I wanted to buy these videos (which I could not afford. I immediately emailed him saying he had misunderstood and that I could not pay him for the videos! The reply that came back floored me – in a good way!

I apologize here for the language… but this was Erle – he had simply replied:

“Who the f*ck has asked you for money? I am rich enough and if these videos help you grow then I’ll be richer still!”

I sat staring at my screen, for several minutes, dumbfounded! What kind of Master was this? Not only did he reply to his correspondence in person but carried no airs about him and wanted to help me learn at his own expense! What kind of man would do such a thing for a complete stranger thousands of miles away on another continent?

That was my first encounter with Erle Montaigue. An encounter that would change my life forever. I decided there and then that I would, one day, meet this man – if only just to say thank you in person. Whilst waiting for that time, I consumed every article he had written on his website!

In 1999, after several years absence, Erle finally decided to tour the UK again. I saved up my pennies and registered for the workshop.
I remember the day… the hall was full of people. Erle was surrounded by his instructors and students from around Europe and elsewhere. I waited and when the crowd thinned out a bit, I went up and tapped him on his shoulder as he was standing with his back to me. He turned around, looked at me and cocked his head slightly, smiled and said:

“You must be Nasser! Good to meet you mate…”

I stood there, mouth agape – How did he know?

“I was thinking about you on the flight across, wondering if you would make it?” He continued as if in response to the surprised look on my face.
This was one of Erle’s magic moments. Don’t ask me how he did it but I’d see him do it to others in the years to come!

I thanked him for the kindness he had shown me and he just gave me a big hug and an even bigger smile. The rest is history, as they say – maybe for another time. Suffice to say, I never looked back… Erle was the teacher and guide I had been looking for!

Are there any good stories you’d like to tell of you and Erle?

Oh, there are many stories I could tell but question 6 is my favourite… it’s the one that brought us together. The other time is far too emotional to go into detail – it was the time when I told him that I saw him as a ‘father’ – it ended with both of us in tears!

Erle was a practical joker. One summer camp as we all met up on the field, early in the morning, he began teaching a qigong and as he started he looked at me and winked. I immediately stopped… he had folk doing crazy things and stood back with a smirk on his face! There was no such qigong – he was just in one of his playful moods! However, it turned into an important lesson – far too often folk believe something just because a ‘master’ had said so. This was one of Erle’s ways of telling folk not to believe everything and to always question!

On another occasion, Erle demonstrated a kick to the groin on myself in Germany one year. Of course for those who do not know it – it is a trick! I pretended to do some Iron shirt qigong and then Erle kicked me several times in the ‘groin’. I stood there smiling – not even a flinch! A couple of years later we were in America and one of the local instructors gave me the wide berth. I couldn’t understand his behaviour. I asked my host if I had offended him in some manner and he simply replied: “He’s in awe of you – he’s seen you take kicks from Erle in the groin online!” I burst out laughing and explained it was a trick but we never told the person concerned – I was a ‘man of steel’!!!

What are your favorite things to train (ie. barehand forms, tui shou, applications, weapons, etc) and why?

I no longer make distinction between the various training methods!

For myself, the most important components of Taijiquan are ‘The Thirteen Dynamics’ commonly referred to as The Thirteen Postures. This, however, is a misnomer and I no longer use the term ‘posture’ as this, I believe, leads many people down the wrong path in their training!

The Thirteen Dynamics are the foundations of Taijiquan. The Masters of old have continually warned us to pay attention to them in songs and other texts:

“A mere thirteen dynamics is not a lot.
But however many there might be, if their standard is not maintained
and if the position of your waist and head top is misplaced, you will end up sighing with woe.”

Taiji is an art based upon movement. However, it is not simply moving for the sake of moving but, rather, ‘Moving With Awareness’ according to no less an authority than Yang Ban-hou – the only other Yang to inherit the title ‘Invincible’ after Yang Lu-ch’an himself!

These Dynamics are innate within us but difficult to recognize and achieve. Collectively, they teach us how to ‘move with awareness’ based upon the four terms: Perception, Realization, Activation and Action. Where moving = the activation of movement plus the act of moving, and awareness = the perception that something is plus the realization of what it is – moving with awareness.

Without understanding these terms we cannot move with awareness. In other words, we must be able to recognize the ‘source of movement’ and the ‘basis of awareness’ within ourselves before we can identify energies in others.

According to Yang Ban-hou:

“If there is activation and perception, there will be action and realization. If there is no activation or perception, there will be no action or realization. When activation is at its height, action is initiated. When perception is fully lucid, there is realization. Action and realization are the easy part. Activation and perception are tricky.

First, strive to move with awareness for yourself, grasping it within your own body, then naturally you will be able to spot it in the opponent. If on the other hand you try to find it in opponents first, you will probably never find it in yourself. You have to be able to understand this concept in order to be able to identify energies.”

Most people who do not train or study the Thirteen Dynamics with diligence will ultimately fail or have a poor understanding of their Taiji! It is usually these practitioners who will try to change the Taiji Form due to their own lack of ability and understanding! To put it simply – they are the ‘alphabet’ of Taijiquan, without which we cannot produce words, sentences or develop the skills with which to ‘read’ the art!

The concept of ‘No Mind’ boxing arises from a thorough understanding of these principles. For example, if we do not understand why P’eng is considered a Yin defence and Lu is considered a Yin attack, then we have no way of understanding how to connect to our opponent’s energy, on a subconscious level, thereby producing a ‘No Mind’ response.

So, regardless of what I’m training – Form, Empty Hands, Weapons, Tui Shou or any other martial drill – I’m always looking to identify the Dynamics, for that is all what these various methods are, a variation or combination of The Thirteen Dynamics.

In this way all training methods simply become one!

What’s one of the biggest martial arts myth(s) that you wish more people knew the truth of?

Whilst there are many obvious ones that will come to most peoples mind like, for example, no touch knockouts, I’m going to be a little controversial here and say the myth of lineages!

Whenever, I come across a discussion I see folk instantly bring lineage into the conversation and the authenticity of their line and as if this somehow places their knowledge and skill above others. Authenticity of the skill and knowledge of the master does not necessarily translate to knowledge skill, full-transmission and understanding to their students or off-spring!

A teacher should be looked upon with merit according to their own skill and understanding of the subject matter – Yes, of course their pedigree will and should matter – but one should not take their pedigree/lineage alone as a confirmation of their knowledge and skill or that they have received full-transmissions. The Yangs of old taught tens of thousands in their lifetimes, yet we only have a handful of their students who rose to the challenge to continue their art and in most cases these students were not necessarily their natural off-spring! Majority of their students fell by the wayside, or trained slackly, or left too soon to set themselves up as ‘masters’ – this is something which is confirmed in the historical documents which have survived.

Sadly, we also have ample examples in history where lineages have been bought or sold and do not necessarily represent skill or knowledge. Equally, after the cultural revolution, once the ‘bamboo curtain’ went up, many martial artists set themselves up in Taiwan, Hong Kong and in the West claiming ‘masterships’ or lineages of renowned families in China, when this simply wasn’t true. Some had only trained with them for a few months or even weeks and later claimed they had been disciples for a number of years!

Self-appointed masterships continue to this day and lineages can be bought with martial arts having become a multi-billion pound industry and business.

So, beware the myth of a lineage!

Besides teaching and practicing the martial arts, what does Nasser like to do in his spare time?

I love reading and watching movies, as well as writing! I love music and am a huge Pink Floyd fan!

I’m a comic book geek and have been since I was a kid. I’ve been editing my own martial arts magazine for almost two years now and it has been highly successful, picking up several awards to date. I’m a history geek too, and love to travel when I can, and the research scientist has never left me… I use the skills I learned and developed in that field to further my own training and understanding in other subject matters as well as life itself.

Bonus Question:
If you were a superhero and had one ability, what would it be and why?

Like the Batman – Deductive Reasoning!

I have always believed in logical reasoning and this has served me well throughout my life in solving problems, including Taiji. As the great Sherlock Holmes once stated: “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth!”

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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.

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[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?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

[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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Roundtable Discussion 004: Next Best Style

Posted in Roundtable Discussion, Styles with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 31, 2010 by Combative Corner

Six martial art instructors were asked,

“If you were given only one style/system of martial art to study (besides your primary discipline), what would it be and why?”

Sensei Robert Lara – For me it would be Wing Chun Kung Fu.  I already train Wing Chun and that is why I picked it. Because it works! No messing around. A very solid and sound fighting art.  It is very much like the Japanese Aiki arts. To control your attackers mind and take away there intent to do harm to you or others.  To stick to an attack once launched is a very sound way to apply control. Be it deflecting blocks, Punches, Elbows, Chops, Low kicks. Sweeps, Throws.  I Love Wing Chun!  I have great love for all the arts but there are those systems that you know are for you.

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Sensei Brad Vaughn – If I could study one martial arts style it would be Kung Fu. It really doesn’t matter what style(though I think Southern Shaolin would fit me nicely) because I find any and all forms of Kung Fu both beautiful and dangerously effective at the same time. I’ve had the opportunity to study a couple of different styles, first in college and now recently and I never cease to be amazed by it. It is my “holy grail” of martial arts. I train hard in the martial arts hoping that one day I will be worthy to become a black belt in Kung Fu as well. I would love to just take off to China for a couple of years and just immerse myself in the culture and study Kung Fu up close and personal and then return to the states a true Kung Fu Masters but I don’t think my wife would go along with that.

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Sifu Freddie Lee – Jeet Kune Do. Because there are no limitations. It is not a style or a system, it gives you the realization to go beyond.

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Coach Johnny Kuo There are so many choices of martial arts that it’s difficult to answer this question. Almost any art would be a viable choice given access to a talented instructor. If I had to choose an art besides I-Liq Chuan, I would pick Arnis. Arnis has several characteristics I find appealing: it emphasizes partner practice, blends offense and defense, doesn’t require a lot of equipment, has a no-nonsense approach, and most importantly, it just looks fun.

I also like the fact the Arnis is not dependent on physical prowess; skill is a much more important factor for proficiency than size and strength. Swinging two sticks to beat the daylights out of your opponent seems so primal and basic, yet there is subtlety and beauty in the art. To me, it seems like Arnis would develop practical martial skills, enhance the mental ability to read the conditions of offense and defense, and have good skill carry over to other arts.

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Coach Michael Joyce – Silat.  But I’m actually going to be very specific with this one.  Over the last few months, I’ve glimpsed numerous martial art video posts (as I enjoy seeing forms progress, applications worked, and maybe pick up on some new training exercises/methods).  One channel really impressed me, as my main draw to the martial arts is the science behind efficient and effective self-defense.  The channel that I came across was Maul565 and the style is Silat Suffian Bela Diri.  Maul Mornie is the instructor and came from Seria, a small town in Brunei Darussalam.  He is currently based in the United Kingdom and does workshops across the country, stressing “Minimum Effort, Maximum Effect.”  My kinda guy!  Can’t wait to learn more about this style through his videos, and perhaps, one day, by him personally.  Check his website out HERE.

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Everybody Wing Chun Tonight

Posted in Kungfu, Martial Arts, Styles with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 16, 2010 by Combative Corner

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a huge admiration for Bruce Lee.  And, like most of you reading this, Bruce Lee (either directly or indirectly) influenced your decision to take up the martial arts.

My interest (some might call it an obsession) to learn and understand the history, teachers and science behind the the numerous and varied martial disciplines helped to create the teacher/sifu I am today (and why I, with the help of my colleagues, put together The Combative Corner).  Now on Twitter: [click]

The Fighter without Wing Chun

I have not formally trained with a Sifu, but have been very fortunate to train and be taught by teachers (not all however) that understood the importance of stance, positioning, attack-as-defense, trapping, and (perhaps the most important concept) the protection of the centerline.  Before I go into this article, I want to make one thing absolutely clear:

  • I have no personal devotion to Wing Chun and I am not trying to “sell” you on any particular system of martial art.  I am, however, very interested in opening people’s mind and ideas to a system that, in my opinion, has tremendous merit.

I’ve walked into many classes and dojos over the years, and what I’ve observed is almost laughable.  Beginner’s classes aside, the emphasis in most classes I’ve seen involve either the tireless (and tiresome) movements of solo form, or the partner drills of pad work and “compliant” application of technique.  While it’s certainly easier for owners/instructors to fill a class’ time-frame with endless drills, room should be made to incorporate the “deeper” aspects of the artform.  How do we learn to deal with pressure?  How are we able to evolve as a martial artist if our training falls around kick paddles and re-breakable boards?

It has been my experience that the martial artists whom excel to greater heights in the arena of self-protection are those that either have or have had training in Wing Chun (sometimes seen spelled, Ving Tsun).  This is because the proper Wing Chun Sifu will teach the student to overcome force with positioning & body rotation, rather than meeting it head-on.

Many classes will employ a training exercise known as “Chi Sau” (or Chi Sao) that teaches the student to develop a responsive reflex, along with proper position/angle/body mechanics, how to take advantage of short/medium/long distance, correct use of speed/strength/energy between you and your opponent and helps to develop a higher level of sensitivity.  It is the last concept that, through the course of one’s personal martial trek, is oft-times the most neglected.  Science has proven that the hand is quicker than the eye.  The martial artist must therefore, learn, through diligent practice, to reach a point where the body, not the eyes, sees.

There are many systems of martial arts to study, and it is a joy to see so many people experimenting and searching for the one (or several) that appeals to them.  The serious martial artist, the one concerned with their effectiveness in a life-or-death situation should examine and re-examine those methods (whatever they may be) that will produce results.  The fighter with Wing Chun (in my opinion), the foundation of Lee’s Jeet Kune Do, is one easily feared.  Test yourself against one of their skilled practitioners and you will see why.

-Coach Michael Joyce, ChenCenter

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