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"Wing Chun Gung Fu" is a martial art founded primarily on strategic principles, which then govern the systems techniques which are a versatile blend of both soft and hard (internal and external) energies. A cornerstone of the Wing Chun system is "Chi Sau" or clinging arm exercise, used to develop the principles (sensitivity, awareness, distance, timing, positioning, power, etc.) and techniques to a high degree of efficiency and effectiveness. By keeping in contact with the opponents arms we can instantly read the force and direction of his motion and deflect his attacks. Honing the ability to deflect a stronger opponent, not by fighting against his superior strength, but by blending with his movement, so as to alter the outcome of his intentions to suit your own purpose.
The objective is acquiring the skill to deliver the right technique at the right time negating the opponents attacks and using his incoming momentum against him. Then, following through with a blitz to keep him off balance. Another vital component in controlling an adversary is mastery of the "Wing Chun Centerline Theory". The centerline being the shortest route between the vertical core of my body (my motherline) and the opponent's motherline. This is the path of the quickest attacks so we seek to control this line.
We train to rely on softer attributes such as timing, angle structure, natural power and sensitivity to maintain advantageous positioning, or what we call control of the center line. We then counter-attack using strategies to trap our opponent, limiting his maneuverability and mitigating his power. Do not, however, mistake soft for weak. It is the softness of the whip that allows it to snap with such explosive power. A Wing Chun technique may appear simple on the surface but an awareness of the logic and application of the system's principles, often hidden within the technique, will reveal multi-layered components unified to produce the most effective mechanics.
Just in practicing the punch, for example, the aware practitioner is developing eight or ten different components concurrently. Once you discover that the punch is something which can be so highly refined and perfected and realize that this refinement process can be applied to each technique, then you are aware that the art can evolve to a level which the beginner or observer is not likely to be cognizant of. Awareness of this refinement process is also carried over into daily life, to develop efficiency and effectiveness spiritually as well. A softer more harmonious approach to life, less confrontational, yet more in control, is achieved.So, when prospective students come to view a Wing Chun class to ascertain whether or not they are interested in enrolling, much of the essence of the training will escape their observation. The student must begin with a degree of faith in the Wing Chun system as well the teacher. Only as they invest time and effort (the meaning of Kung Fu) will they begin to have the true depth of the art revealed to them.
Based on refined principles of physics, sensitivity, and awareness...
Wing Chun Gung Fu was developed by Shaolin monks, then further developed by female martial artists in Southern China about 300 years ago. The art is now world renown due to it's effectiveness. However, even in a city the size of Chicago, instruction in the unique art of Wing Chun is very rare.
It is a very advantageous, adaptive approach to self-defense. The art is based on an economy of motion and energy. Wing Chun is designed to allow one to achieve the most effect for the least effort through efficient use of timing, power and proper use of angles. The art relies more on the development of internal skills rather than external, gross muscle power. The dedicated student will reap rewards beyond the realm of self-defense, including self-confidence, spiritual development and harmony.
Wing Chun is very elusive, relying more on the development of internal skills rather than external gross muscle power. An untrained observer is likely to miss the meaning of apparently simple motions because he or she is more acquainted with seeing the use of more force in the martial arts.
The flowing and softness of Wing Chun may appear weak and ineffective, but ht dedicated students of Wing Chun will be taught the true meanings of the art as a reward for their faith and willingness to learn. One will learn how 'softness' overcomes hard power. One does not try to overcome force with force, or try to play karate with Wing Chun techniques. This is not the intention of the art.
Slowly laying a good foundation in the theories, principles and structure affords one an exact bearing on the most efficient responses based on economy of motion and energy. Wing Chun is designed to achieve the most effect for the least effort due to the use of timing, power and proper use of angles.
Wing Chun students do not immediately begin sparring, as someone seeking a self-defense system may expect. However, through proper training and development, one will eventually be armed with a high level of useful skills, as opposed to a self defense approach which relies only on strength, which has its limitations. The 'sticky hands' training and other drills used to develop Wing Chun skills are actually fun to do, and it's rewarding to feel the skills developing. More and more appreciation for the theories and application of the art arises through time.
The internal and external training develops body, mind, and spirit together.
CWC - I have dropped in to observe one of your class sessions and what you are doing is so very interesting. As I was watching I got the idea of asking you if I could do a short impromptu interview with you and just ask a few of the obvious questions.
KH - Sure that's fine. However if you want to ask me questions which require in-depth answers then I should inform you that my answers will no doubt conflict with many of the popular conceptions [or misconceptions] of Wing Chun, but then, all for very good reasons.
The currently popular politically correct platform is to be conciliatory and accept all of the different branches of Wing Chun. But, say there's five different ways of doing the art. Logic would dictate that one path would be more true and correct that the others. If you are taught what is correct and why, you'll see the right path. If you were never taught the correct path then you'd still insist that it was open for debate. Not having reached the vantage point to see clearly, students would be left to follow their own concepts rather than the microscopically refined, harmonized and perfected path of the true insight and wisdom.
I do feel that some things need to be said to get things back on track for Wing Chun. The art has slipped far enough down the slope already. If you want to learn then you've got to find the path. You've got to know who's on the path and who is off the path. Once you've really followed the path for a while then you will not be so easily fooled and mislead. But it's still easy to fall from the path if you don't have an instructor to guide you. The path is very important because of course you will want the art that you will invest time, money and effort into to work well for you and to mature to its fullest potential and magical beauty. If some elements are missing and some parts are wrong, then you just get a donkey for your efforts. Well, that said..., ask away.
CWC: To begin with what exactly is Wing Chun?
KH: Wing Chun is recognized as a Southern Chinese form of martial art. It goes back about 300 years. Early in its creation it was developed largely by a young woman named YIM WING CHUN, from whom it got its name. Its design heavily favors practicality in lieu of flashy motions, and how to use an opponents own force against him. You can read more fully about it on many internet sites, I won't drag you through the whole history. It's important to recognize that some very brilliant mind power went into the conception and design of Wing Chun. Its directness, efficiency and effectiveness are a work of beauty. It's really a departure from other approaches to fighting. The pieces work together like a fine Rolex watch. You can get this impression of it right away. Studying the art can make your head spin as you see the magnificence which is spawned from such simplicity. Like the infinitesimal matrix which the microscope has never been able to reach the full depths of. It's not about how strong you are. The bull is very powerful but it's the matador who will win, unless he makes a bad mistake. So it's a very good art for the meeker people or anyone who can learn to understand natural strengths and how to apply them to an opponent's inherent weakness. It's as though you learn to rob people's power, like the matador does to the bull. It's more something to be experienced rather than to be just explained. The head may believe that it understands but unless the body is trained along with the mind the art won't really materialize. As with many things the temptation is to rush right past it and to miss the essentials. So the proper path is to prepare your self for deeper comprehension by first emptying and distilling your self. You must study the nature of the art and your own nature. When you understand then the art will do the fighting for you. You must not get in the way. It's more like you direct it with intention and will power, like a dream. If someone attacks you they will encounter the art. You train the art to respond to them. You make them fight the art.And now you know exactly what it is, right?
CWC: Ah yes, now I see it as clearly as the face on my nose. What got you interested in it and what is your history in Wing Chun?
KH: Well, as Charles Darwin proclaimed, we are in large part as a product of our environment. I grew up during the British Invasion. No not that grey wig, red coat invasion. The longhaired rock and roll invasion. I was among that ripe bunch of teenagers that formed the vanguard of the longhaired movement. Initially it was specially tuned people, peaceful and freethinking who out grew their crew cuts. That early period was still full of insecure drone meatheads. All you had to do was to look different and you were bound to have trouble. I really got the sense for how shallow minded many people are. I was slight of build but fleet of foot. That got me out of the crosshairs a couple of times, but I saw martial art training as an appropriate option for myself.I was doing other martial arts for ten years before seriously taking up Wing Chun. I had second brown belts in two different arts: Okinawan Go Ju Ryu and Korean Hapkido. My studies expanded out to various arts, I attended seminars with many teachers.In appreciation of the intelligence and effectiveness of Wing Chun I decided that that would be the way to go. But the path, for me was very drawn out. I had four different teachers and each time I had to relearn everything. My first two teachers were here in Chicago but they didn't have the real art. At least it helped to prepare me a little. For me that old saying [when the student is ready the teacher will appear] came true. The teacher was very far away, but that was the state of things at the time, there was no one any where near-by that could teach the complete art in depth. So I had to commute long distanced across the country and out of the country to continue learning correctly. Now, my being here makes it possible for other people to learn the original root of Wing Chun without all the extensive travel and expense that I had to endure. That is providing that they know enough to seek me out. Master Ho, the most knowledgeable man in Wing Chun, made the comment "...anyone in Chicago who wants to learn Wing Chun, if they go someplace else [other than learn form Ken] then they are lost already. "Master Ho Kam Ming is in his 80's and he just retired now at the end of 2004. Master Ho, I believe has preserved the best of Wing Chun. He understood the theory and application of the art and would not accept any less form you as a disciple. He expected you to recognize and fix any mistakes or shortfalls.There are reasons why Grandmaster Yip Man was not up to preserving the art for the future. He did not appoint a successor. But this is another story. Today the art is currently eroding more that being preserved.I feel that I'm in an awkward position. I've been fortunate to receive proper instruction in Wing Chun but I wish that my Sifu, having the notoriety of being a direct student of Grandmaster Yip Man, had been the one to speak out publicly and let other practitioners know that they have not found the path. I know that he had the urge to but he only told us this privately.
CWC: Didn't Bruce Lee study this art?
KH: Well yes, because of Bruce Lee's movie celebrity, when he mentioned that he had studied Wing Chun in Hong Kong some people wanted to know what the style was. Bruce only did it one or two years as a teenager. He didn't get very far and he never attained much understanding of the art.At that time the western world was pretty infantile in regard to the martial arts. We only had access to basic Judo and Karate. So any spry young fellow such as Bruce who'd come here with a little Wing Chun would have an advantage over the limited primitive martial arts enthusiasts here in the West. He seemed to be full of fresh ideas but really he never created anything, these ideas were already centuries old. And they extended much deeper that Bruce was ever aware of.Wing Chun would have eventually found its own way out into recognition, on its own merits, without The Bruce.When he told one of his associates back in Hong Kong that he was teaching some students in America, he later revealed that his first thought was: "I feel sorry for his students, he doesn't have much to teach them. "It must have been an amusing laugh privately for Yip Man to see the West so infatuated by the yearling neophyte Bruce Lee.After his movie notoriety he had a sense that he had not learned enough so he went back and asked to train with Yip Man and although he offered Yip Man a large sum of money, Yip Man said no thank you, better you go someplace else. Another martial art master also refused to teach him.Bruce complained about martial arts being a "classical mess" but he led people in the wrong direction and now it's just an even bigger non-classical mess.Bruce had energy and determination but he still lacked a good training attitude. This made him hard to teach. Any good scientist, philosopher or teacher should be able to be lifted up to stand on the shoulders of his teacher. Bruce was too cocky; as a result he was left to teach himself. He tried, I'll grant him that. But I wouldn't follow his path. I'd follow the teachers who are well schooled on the path of wisdom.Now maybe you prefer the magazine version. They have articles proclaiming Bruce as the greatest fighter ever. Well, see that's great for selling magazines. But I know better and I have lost respect for the magazines. I have lived and learned for many more years than Bruce, so I know that he is not the path.Rather ironically Bruce is the "Finger pointing to the moon" [follow the movie star and you will miss the heavenly glory] Try to figure out what if anything his students really learned from him other than philosophic rhetoric or to go to other arts to garner their base of techniques. Bruce insisted that martial artists need not learn any forms. Practice fighting instead, he told them. Well I can assure you that in Wing Chun if you don't learn the forms you will miss out on astounding wisdom. It doesn't come right away you must be patient and receive instruction. Bruce didn't get it. So he was left to try to create the wheel for himself. A tremendous waste of time, the wheel already existed, but no one could give it to him.But people eat it up, I know. Well, I can only help the ones who come to learn.
CWC: What was Yip Man all about, He seemed kind of frail, was he good at kung fu?
KH: My teacher, Ho Kam Ming, who had received private instruction daily from Yip Man for years told me that yes, his sifu did have "very beautiful skill." It is said that he didn't need muscles. That's what Wing Chun is about. If someone is stronger you can learn to use position and timing to defeat them.Most of the pictures that are out there of him are from his older years. I'm told that in his youth he was more robust.Yip Man was a bit of an enigma. You have to do your homework to understand his approach to teaching. It was all business for him. He had special skills but he wasn't going to give you much unless you could pay him a fortune to train privately with him and you'd have to be up to the task of understanding his instruction. This is what my sifu did. It really shed a lot of light on the reasons that the art seems so scattered and incomplete today, when Sifu Ho explained to me that "in Yip Mans class, that was not the real art." Meaning that Yip Man was not taking the time and making the effort to teach the finer points and details of the art. It was just a general business representation. Any questions asked of him were simply answered "yes, that's right." So the students couldn't receive adequate instruction. They were only taught a surface version of the art. Seeing only this side of the art some of them later assumed they had learned enough to go out and teach. So began the decline of the art. Now there were the first half dozen students with whom Master Yip Man did spend more time instructing. But I gather that much was lost even there, between Master Yip's attempts to explain things and the ability of the students to comprehend. After all it takes great effort by both parties, teacher and student, to get it. The number of people that learned an even partially complete rendition of the art you could count on one hand. So Master Yip was the one who had the art but he was not a great springboard to preserve the full art for future generations.Now Yip Man's two sons have come out to teach, claiming grandmastership as if it was something that you could inherit. They didn't learn for their father they learned from friends later. When Master Yip moved to Hong Kong his sons remained back in China. They eventually came later after Master Yip had already done most of his teaching. The sons then went off to college, and like many sons, they were not very interested in their fathers line of work. Their interest peaked when they realized that they could make a lot of money teaching seminars and privately to people who don't know the situation. They did a seminar her in Chicago, maybe 1995. I wasn't interested in going to it.
It's because of the incomplete versions of the art that people feel the need to combine other arts and techniques with their Wing Chun. If they had more understanding of the complete art they would have no such need.I know to some people it must sound like I'm just p'd off at everybody. But I'm willing to risk appearing as such for the chance to guide those few people who are ready to seek out the truth and save them from a wasted journey.
CWC: Why is it that there are so many grandmasters and different branches of Wing Chun?
KH: Hmm in order to give you a full answer I'll answer your question in a round-about way. Starting way back in antiquity there were different approaches to creating and practicing combative skills. No one can bare witness to exactly what transpired centuries ago but my analytical mind pieces together the available information along these lines. The further back in time you go the fewer professions and trades there were. You'd likely be a farmer, warrior, trader, clergy or teacher. It would be mainly the warrior class that was interested in advancing the combative skills. The mainstream followed along this obvious line of development. But there came a juncture where place, time and events prompted an evolutionary departure. When tumultuous times and events presented themselves on the doorstep of spiritually inclined monks they realized that they must balance their spiritual pursuits along with defensive skills as a matter of survival and preservation of their way of life. History tells us of the influx of political refugees who had come to stay at the Shaolin Temple of Southern China as the Ming Dynasty began to suffer defeat by the Manchurian invaders. Some generals and possibly royal family members retreated to the temples.
Taking up the common cause, they colluded to prepare for their defense. The monks and disciples began learning about fighting from their visitors. To this point the soldiers main approach to combat was to apply as much power and force as they could to his techniques. The higher monks observed this for a while. This is where the evolutionary leap likely occurred. This crude use of force would feel foreign and awkward to higher monks who had some understanding of the power of harmony. Somebody had eventually recognized the benefit of starting over from the ground up and totally redesigning a fighting art that utilized the natural powers of balance, leverages and control, greatly improving the usability of combative efforts. They knew that it would prove to be more effective to control a force by knowing how to harmonize with it rather that resisting and combating it. The founders didn't get the chance to complete their formulation at this time. For it was now time to run for your life and escape. As the temple was destroyed, most of the monks and disciples were killed.
Probably not more than a few people who were inculcated on the beginnings of this promising new system escaped.For the next two hundred years or so any training of the art was in secret and only with family or the closest of friends. There were governmental edicts at certain times prohibiting the teaching or training of martial arts, in effort to keep the people weak. There may have been a common ancestor before the temples destruction who learned the principle of using harmony and soft, timely deflection that went on to create Tai Chi. But Tai Chi, in my estimation has continually lost sight of complete combat effectiveness in it's motions. They became more focused on the benefit of just learning to balance energies within themselves.
But someone went on to create what was soon to be called Wing Chun, and remained true to the more effective use of the details. The art first made its appearance to the public when Chan Wah Sun taught about 16 students in Fat Shan China, in the very early 1900s. This is where Yip Man began learning the art.Master Yip later met Leung Bik, who was the son of his teacher's teacher [Leung Jan]. This presented an opportunity for Yip Man to receive deeper instruction in the finer points of the art. This is what made Master Yip's skills something rare and special. He now had something different, more complete that his former classmates. Leung Bik explained to Yip that Chan Wah Sun had not learned the exact details of Wing Chun that were needed to utilize the full impact of the art.My sifu told me that Leung Jan had only taught three persons. His two sons [Leung Bik, Leung Chun] and Chan Wah Sun. Chan Wah Sun was discovered spying in through the fence as Leung Jan was teaching his sons. Chan was accepted as a student. I wonder if this was meant to keep him from retaliating by exposing Leung for teaching martial art. Early accounts have mentioned Chan Wah Sun as rather large, crude and not a well educated man, who applied too much muscle force in his techniques.Note; I've read an article on the internet which claims that Leung Jan had taught others. I brought this up to my sifu, [Ho Kam Ming]. He adamantly denies this saying " they can SAY anything." But what Sifu Ho learned from Grandmaster Yip is that Leung Jan taught only three persons. It is no stretch of the imagination that Yip Man would know this, all he'd have to do was ask his teacher, and he was known for asking questions. This coupled with the fact that despite the plethora of information, examples, films and photos available I see little remaining trace of the genuine art, leads me to believe it most likely that Leung Jan did indeed teach only those three persons.
CWC - What is the state of Wing Chun today?
KH - Wing Chun is not as popular and as highly thought of as it was just a while back. There's been an explosion of various martial arts for people to choose from that are more appealing to their initial expectations. There have been a multitude of con men to come out and teach Wing Chun without true knowledge or proficiency. People can be fooled because they are clueless as to what the art is supposed to be. I'm sorry for sounding so unkind and condescending but I believe it best to say it as it is. Most of those con men don't intend to be. They don't realize that they too have been conned and in many cases their teachers as well. This is the explanation for the different approaches to Wing Chun. The variations have not come about from innovations or advancements but are the result of incomplete knowledge of the system. So it has been watered down. My sifu describes it as "second graders teaching first graders..., the original art is dying."It's true, from what I've seen, except for a few small pockets in the world, the real art is vanishing. You have supposed masters and grandmasters teaching a lot of rhetoric but the true essence and full understanding of the art is absent.This is not meant to insist that it should all look exactly alike. In fact each student would be a little different and still be natural. But what must be exact is the foundation and theory of the art. You would want to build upon the best design.I appear to sound like an elitist. It's not to suggest that I'm something special but what is special is that I eventually went to the most knowledgeable teacher. Spending a lot of time with someone who really has it is the only way to get it.I'm not stupid but I was fooled, for the first four years, with my first and second teachers. I was not aware of how much was missing. I had to relearn Wing Chun four times with four different teachers.
With luck I found the root of the art. Once you learn that and then you look around and see that no one else is doing it. But now you won't be fooled any longer by imitations. The public has not been given the opportunity to witness the true capabilities of Wing Chun.I find that most people do not know how to shop for martial art instruction. They eat up the fast-food variety because they don't know any better. This also factors into the deterioration of the deeper arts. If people don't support the better teachers they will move on.I had to fly 3000 miles round trip to train with my third teacher and drive over 1000 miles to train with my fourth teacher. If I had waited I would have missed the boat. I've been lucky to train with Master Ho for nine years before his recent retirement. So I have little empathy for people who call to make inquiries about my classes but they cannot make it across town to come and train.Occasionally I do some internet surfing and visit some Wing Chun web sites. I find it rather amusing to see people posting questions on chat forums regarding Wing Chun. They then receive answers from Joe blow-look what I know, who feels inclined to insert his two cents of wisdom.They receive false information, yet people will do this rather that seek out an authentic master. This would be the first consideration for any serious student, unless you want to waste your time.In this current age we have he largest exchange of data ever. Yet with all this dissemination of info, wisdom is disappearing. People are learning from incomplete shallow mediums. They acquire extensive info but they're bereft of wisdom. Technology is expanding but it is watering down the essence [the soul] of things.
CWC - Would you share some insights from your studies and training and tell me a little about your teaching methods?
KH - Animals and other living things are in tune with their nature. Wisdom will just come to them naturally they don't have to go to college. We humans, our brains are in a deeper transitory state of evolution. As we busy our selves with the things that call our attention some inner feelings fall into the background. This is why we lose touch with our nature. We think we're so far above the animals but in some ways they're smarter. Take a good clear look around and see whose heads are more full of foolish ideas.We humans need a study such as martial art training to help us to re-link with our nature.As a student begins to learn I explain to them that they are like a sorcerer's apprentice. They have marvelous natural powers but they never learned how to focus and utilize them. Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, throughout her ordeal she had the power at her feet [the ruby slippers] to go home any time she willed. But without the knowledge of how to use them they were of no use to her. Natural knowledge or wisdom is something that many people are unaccustomed to. It is necessary to empty their selves first and start anew. If they cannot do this then everything else will be a struggle for them. They will keep getting in their own way unless they let their nature take over. They don't want to trust it at first. Very much like the Star Wars theme "let the force be with you," the Jedi Knight training.I see some people struggle much harder that they need to because if they cannot make this first step correctly then they have fallen from the path already.
My job as teacher is to keep on saying "the path is not over there, it's over here." I can only point out the path they have to walk it in their own shoes. Like walking the tightrope, one wrong step and you fall from the path.For this reason the beginning of Wing Chun training is very simple and cautious. But it must be correct. This is why the first form; Siu Lim Tao does not trust you yet to take a single step. They know that you would lose structure power right away. In the second form Chum Kiu they will teach you how to move the body correctly. People are fooled by this level of simplicity, they are expecting more action and force after all this is supposed to be martial art. They'll try to use their newly learned motions to fight with but it's too soon. They need only use these new motions to help them discover their inner balance, feeling and control at first. They will translate into the highest fighting skills later.It's an elusive challenge. Bruce Lee didn't get it either. He needed something that he could use for fighting right away, so the core had already eluded him. He caught a wisp of it and that was enough to help his career.But it's about allowing you to discover that inner harmony. This is where you begin to build your skills and learn to combine power and usability.I find it interesting to see how different people are more adept at certain aspects of the art and have difficulties with other aspects. Each student's skills will begin to plateau at a different level. This plateau is reflective of an inner roadblock in the student. The training becomes very therapeutic because the difficulties that you'll encounter in your training arise from something that is missing in your self. At this point you will be called upon to concentrate more fully to get past this point. Many people give up at this juncture. You can fix what is lacking in your skill but to do so you must fix that gap that was in you. So you see the real enemy that you need to conquer is of course your self. Some religions try this too. But in martial art training, with a good teacher, he can make it clearer as to the exact element that you must deal with. He can let you know the exact blow that you must use to conquer your dilemma. Of course you discover that it's easier said than done. But that's what it's about on the higher levels. Travel this path and fighting won't be such a difficult thing for you. You'll also find that you conquer things or people by out-harmonizing them.
CWC: That's interesting, any closing thoughts?
KH - Just that I hope that people are smart enough to find the right path. That's what makes it all worth it.
I welcome you to your Kung fu/martial art training. I hope that you will learn to open the various doors that appear before you. Some of these doors will open up to expand your knowledge. Other doors open inwards to distill your center, balance and awareness.
You will be taught some simple things. Bear in mind that there is more to them than first appears. You must observe the small details, they are of key importance. Your objective should not be to learn a little bit about a lot of things, you will want to learn a lot of things about the small details. This sounds like a little twist but it will make a world of difference in knowing how to use the art.
I offer you a true path to the root of the art of Wing Chun. You must tread this path cautiously, like a tightrope. One wrong step could lead you a mile off course. I will try to teach you to see little things, of which you are initially unaware. Once you learn to recognize and develop these things they will lead you to acquire new powers.
These powers are already there but they are not yours until you know them. It will take only short time to show you the foundation. But how long will it take you to understand exactly what it means? Each student will assimilate things at their own pace. There is no short-cut. You must work slowly but surely to understand and develop the principles, theory, concepts and performance of the art. To develop the wondrous use of the art you must assimilate it in depth. There is much self preparation involved. I can only teach you that which you are ready to receive and understand. At some point you may think that I should be teaching you more, in truth I must wait for you to bring yourself to the depth of what I have shown you.
In the beginning you must empty yourself and start from zero. Finding zero may be more difficult that you'd imagine. Your first opponent to conquer is yourself. Each little correct step advances your skills. The art reveals itself to you a grain of sand at a time. You must learn to stabilize your base and purify your motions harmonizing them to an opponents force. Learning to control an assortment of little dynamics can amount to a very persuasive advantage. Once you develop the keys to utilizing soft power you can control little forces very quickly, before they can become large forces. The more sensitive and natural you are the better you can perform. You must not rely on your muscle strength, it would be far too limiting and actually interfere with your reactions and control.
I tell the students not to even think of fighting at first but just approach the art as though you were learning to dance. This way you will be more aware of controlling your balance, motion and leverages without your tense muscles pulling you out of alignment or distorting your timing.
Only practice what you have been taught. Don't get too ambitious and go off on your own, you'll get lost. Don't assume that you already know the correct way. It may appear simple but there's always something more to it. If you proceed too far on your own you'll miss it.
In a nutshell you will want to take these four steps:
What level do you wish to achieve? To become good at something requires some sacrifice. If you miss class when it's too cold out or too hot or too nice out or you're too tired or too busy then you will lack the momentum to carry you forward past the distractions. To master these skills you must be focused and committed enough to overcome the obstacles that will arise.
Only when you have learned the correct positions and motions may I teach you how to use the positions. If you are still struggling just to get the position then your use of the position will not be performed well.It's important to be patient and learn correctly in the beginning. It's difficult to have to go back and do it over.
If you only think of trying to fight in the beginning then you will develop bad habits and resistance rather than flowing with and controlling forces. Sensitivity, balances, distance, timing and precise control; by developing these elements you can creatively and skillfully defend or attack with the least amount of effort.
If you don't care much about your training then don't expect your sifu or classmates to either. If you want your sifu to be inspired to teach you then you must demonstrate focus, effort and dedication. Each student is expected to foster a respectful attitude towards fellow students and the training atmosphere. Everyone helps each other along the path. Do not be a hindrance to the teacher. Keep idle chatter to a minimum.
Keeping a good attitude is very helpful to the entire class. If your partner trains incorrectly because he doesn't understand something, don't let it disturb you. Every one is there to learn. Try to explain it to them. Just keep in mind that they can only understand up to a certain level corresponding to their level of achievement. Don't rush them and expect them to perform at a level beyond their capacity. Let them mature at their own pace. You'll find that you can only practice certain things with certain level students.You help the lower students to advance and you eventually have higher quality partners with which to train. You help each other.
The path is often confusing. When I made mistakes they were not always analyzed for me. I found that I was taught some conflicting things. I had to figure some important things out for myself. This is an aspect that makes each student AND each teacher differ in their in their comprehension and facility of the art.
Different things are true at various stages of your training. What was once true for you at a particular time of training becomes replaced by something else later as you progress. A simple approach is adhered to, to help lay the foundation. As you develop further the approach will change, applying different methods. All true, but useful at different stages, to help you to learn.
Much of the training is problem solving. Instantaneous problem solving! Each little detail of the forms and drills is offering you something that you will need if you wish to acquire full use of the high level skills in Wing Chun. The nature of the art requires much contact. If your name is Ed Norton and you work in the sewer, please take a bath before class. And don't forget to wash behind your ears. You've always been told to cover your mouth when you cough. Forget that. Do not cough or sneeze on your hands and then offer them to your partner for training. Turn around and cough toward the floor. Particularly in cold and flu season.
You may find it helpful to keep a notebook detailing your training, the material covered, the insights gained and any questions that you encounter. Sometimes you are not quite ready to assimilate a bit of information at the time but logging it down for future reference may help you to fit pieces of the puzzle together upon a subsequent reading over of your notes.
I can appreciate the considerable difficulty and confusion encountered by someone attempting to decipher their options as to choosing which style of martial art may be best for them. There are so many different styles to choose from. An unwise decision could mean a big waste of time, money, effort and being sentenced to mediocrity with no chance for parole.
Some people are attracted to the modern approach which is to practice a combination of disciplines concurrently. They refer to this as mixed martial arts [MMA]. In my earlier years of training I eagerly pursued this path for a while. Superficially you're under the impression that you are acquiring more useful knowledge. As I encountered more masterful instruction I realized the value of picking a really good system, a very good teacher, being a good student and reaching a high level of proficiency. It's the subtleties, the finer points of a good system, that account for its functionality and grants you genuine expertise. There may be a few people in the world with nothing to do but train all day every day, who are able to approach a mastery of more than one system. But overwhelmingly, players who try to tackle more that one system will never function optimally at any. I had a neighbor who boasted that he had many trade skills. He claimed that he was skilled at carpentry, plastering, plumbing, electrical, heating and air conditioning. He could plaster well, he was average at carpentry. I'd hire him for that. But as far as the other jobs, I believe that I'd rather pay him not to do them.
A good martial art will challenge you. Not just your muscle strength but mainly your finer senses of awareness of balance, timing, motion, angles, forces, distance and energy. Developing these internal aspects should improve all of your endeavors and efforts in anything that you do. But they are also top tools for controlling combat.
Having studied a few different arts myself I know full well that some arts have much more to offer you than others. People could and did concoct various styles however they though fit. But then as in any field, a genius comes along and out does everyone else with something astoundingly deep, beautiful and effective. This is where the word "ART" fits in, you see, although it is used far too generously these days.
So unless you know what you are looking for and how to recognize it you won't be well prepared to get your self into the best situation.People don't tend to see the whole picture, the full impact and ramifications of the different paths available to them.
Many people are not on the most beneficial path for them but, such is life. I just wanted to make you think about your direction. I see so many people 2-3-4 years of training but down the wrong road. The further they go the longer the way back to get back on the right road.
But if people don't come to see me then I can't help them.
I have a treasure trove of martial art skills to offer, in a truly remarkable art. You will need to work for them though. No one can just hand them to you. To achieve a worthwhile level will require your focus and dedication. You will get out of it what you put into it. You are responsible for the effort but the rewards are also yours.
The path upon which you will be led is simple and direct. As it turns out each simple aspect contains many layers. To advance along the correct path you will need an appreciation of the exactness involved.Adjusting to the precise balance and control will require you to more fully recognize your awareness, coordination and energy. Students undergo a measure of metamorphosis as they acquire skills. If a car or machine is to perform with power and control it must have the required mechanisms.
The simple blocking, striking and stepping maneuvers that you learn in the beginning are meant to later fit together with other more advanced components as part of the same puzzle, comprising a superbly conceived combat system. Understandably then these pieces will come together for you more easily if each element is well crafted or sculpted.
The tools or curriculum used to infuse these components into you are the three FORMS: SIU LIM TAO, CHUM KIU and BIU JI "THE WOODEN MAN" along with other DRILLS to develop energy, control, contact, position, timing and distance. Complete the natural skills and you may learn the two weapon forms, THE DOUBLE BUTTERFLY SWORDS and THE LONG POLE.
It's not about how fast you learn them. It takes time to interpret and understand the depth in these venues of training. But there-in lays the true value.
There are a number of training drills that are used as stepping stones to learning Wing Chun. Much of the content can only be deciphered by being taught how to read between the lines. The intricacies which reveal the depth of the art will only be discovered by studying from a line of masters in the art. Someone who has not studied devoutly with a true master will be lacking in many of the essential components. You just won't ever realize the intended abilities.
In essence what we strive to accomplish is to train the body to do all the necessary moves, no longer needing to consult the brain. The brain just observes, supervises. It has been slowly backed out as the body was taught step by step to fend for itself like a blind person learns to do without the sense of sight. Meanwhile all of our maneuvers are designed to help us to instantaneously gain control over an opponent. We make it very difficult for an opponent to gain an advantageous position over us. Similar to the bull fighter who can defeat the bull, never having to deal directly with the bull's power. The bull is controlled.
Ah but these are all mere words, not nearly as useful or as fun as doing it.
I began my study of the martial arts in the 1970's. It was mostly primitive stuff that was availible in the U.S. at the time. I trained for five years in an Okinawan style, three and a half years in a Korean style and a few years in exotic and eclectic styles. By the late 1980's after participating in more than half a dozen Wing Chun seminars by different instructors I enrolled in classes and began to study the art in earnest. There is a Chinese proverb saying "when the student is ready the teacher will appear"- this is how it had occurred for me. Within a period of six or seven years of training I had progressed to my forth Wing Chun teacher. As I had prepared myself to receive higher instruction I'd come into contact with a more knowledgeable instructor. It certainly makes all the difference to have a splendid highly qualified teacher. I have been very fortunate to receive very intimate and precise instruction under the tutelage of Master Ho Kam Ming. You may have heard that Wing Chun is based on simplicity. This is true but this does not mean that you can buy a few videos, attend a few seminars or study for two years and then teach yourself or others the real art. Much patience and perseverance is required of both teacher and student. Only by treading this meticulous path can you realize the trying exactness to detailed control, which one must master. What generally happens to a student studying Wing Chun is that they will believe that they have an understanding of what they are being taught. Further study would reveal to them that actually they have only come to know one dimension of a multi-layered art. If one does not receive proper instruction and training over a number of years with a sifu [teacher] who has an authentic knowledge of the art then they only acquire for themselves a deficient interpretation of the art. It gets watered down its beauty diluted until it becomes something ugly to the eye of one who has been taught the true subtle inner workings of the art. You can learn to see that the "art" is dying. There are only a few small enclaves in the world that maintain any vestige of the art and design of Wing Chun. The past Grandmaster of Wing Chun in Hong Kong possessed rare skills but for reasons of his own he was not very forthcoming in the training of his students. I could list more than a few reasons for you but mostly it was because it was more from being forced by circumstances that he came out to teach rather than from a heartfelt directive to be a kung fu sifu.
Additional factors that contribute to the point I make regarding the loss of knowledge and expertise in Wing Chun.
So many students consequently have inherited an incomplete understanding of the art. Because people who do not comprehend the true path have come out to teach, variations abound in the art. True there may be some inherent minor adjustments due to different body types and such but major variations cropped up due to a lack of knowledge of original Wing Chun design and use. This is not a matter of opinion. This knowledge can be taught and learned just like mathematics. You can show that one and one equals two regardless of another's opinion.You can also show that much of what people pass off as being Wing Chun is not of the true design of the art. If you learn to see the difference you can see that much of the Wing Chun being played today has disintegrated to people using roughly simulated Wing Chun positions for mere slap-boxing sessions actually devoid of real Wing Chun skills. In some cases they were taught by a supposed sifu, who beat their students to stroke their own egos.They believe that this will earn them respect but true respect is reserved for one who can teach the true art. You will also recognize that some travel around teaching mainly because they exploit a niche to make a lot of money from it.The uniqueness of the art as taught by Ho Kam Ming reveals the depth, completeness and beauty that can be accomplished in this exquisite art.It is said of Master Ho "that he has received all the best knowledge" [from the grandmaster].
Master Ho tells me why he had learned so much from his teacher. Ho says "you can go to the store and buy a five dollar shirt, a twenty dollar shirt or a one hundred dollar shirt. I paid for the one hundred dollar shirt." Master Ho told me that for each of his daily private lessons with the grandmaster he would pay an amount of money equal to what the other general students would pay for a years worth of training. He says that he had paid the grandmaster enough to buy three houses in expensive Hong Kong.Master Ho's grandfather owned a concession stand on a military base in the orient. With 4,000 people stationed there it was a lucrative trade in the sale of coffee and pastries. The grandfather thought that he was providing for his grandsons future. He never realized that all the money went to Yip Man for his grandson's kung fu education.Master Ho sites another reason why he had been taught a lot by Master Yip. Since he was more mature he took his study more seriously and responsibly. He told me of a time when Master Yip was quite ill. The other students didn't bother to come to class, figuring oh well the teacher's sick no use to go. But Master Ho sill went to check on his teacher. Master Yip was too ill to bathe himself so Ho helped him to bathe. When he got worse instead of better Master Ho carried Master Yip on his back all the way to see the doctor. It was a bad neighborhood with no taxis to be found. Thereafter Master yip appreciated the friendship of Master Ho and was more helpful towards him also.Master Ho trained many years with his grandmaster to learn the proper foundation of the art. He says however that it was his subsequent 40 years of teaching the art that has enabled him to put it all into definite focus. That is, exactly "how to use" the art.
Once you are schooled in proper structure you can determine who has had high-level training and who has not. Otherwise you may be fooled. The art is deep. Encompassing levels that some do not even know to exist. So they are not even aware of what they are missing.Master Ho was asked by one of my students if he believed that Grandmaster Yip Man withheld any information from some his students. Master Ho laughed a bit saying that "in truth you could say that really Yip Man taught no one." Because all he would give you would be the basic foundation. That's all, if you wanted more you'd have to figure it out from there. He didn't care enough to take the time to lead you step by step through mastering the skills.Later on when visiting Ho at his school Yip Man commented that Ho had better teaching methods that he [Yip] did. When Master Yip retired he passed many of his private students on to Master Ho to continue their training.I once asked Master Ho if he had any objection to my releasing some of the insights that he had taught me in a Wing Chun book that I was writing. He said "even if you write the book people still won't really get it." There it is again, that elusiveness: why many who think that they've learned it have in actuality missed the boat.
Master Ho will be retiring from teaching before long. He is working hard at this point toward the preservation of the true art.He migrated to Canada Six years ago. I am the first non-Chinese to train with him. I train usually privately with him in his basement. Now he has a school up near Toronto. He makes many regular trips to Chicago endeavoring to develop my school into a place where people can come to learn "Original Wing Chun" as he calls it. I study from him not only the art but also importantly his time honored teaching methods. Not many have learned the complete art and not everyone who has can teach it well. Teaching the art is more difficult than just learning it. To learn it is to climb the mountain. To teach it is to carry someone else up the mountain.He believes that if he sits back and does nothing that the art will die. He and his knowledge are indeed unique. I have never encountered anything so in depth. Although he has taught for 40 years I believe that aside from myself there have only been four others to continue these teachings [one in Macao and three here in the U.S.]Coincidentally as I am writing this he is en route to Chicago along with 9 or 10 of his students for our first seminar of 2001 [last year he came in for three]. We will post some seminar photos soon.
The founders of Wing Chun Gung Fu drew upon deep spiritual insights and a brilliant culture of Chinese Martial Art and philosophy. Practicing Wing Chun not only requires knowing how to focus your strengths but also how to focus your softness, stillness, sensitivity, timing, reaction and more. Only the finely tuned balance of these yin/yang (soft/hard) aspects will culminate in the consumate world class martial art that Wing Chun was designed to be. Proper martial art instruction should not be without its complementary balance of spiritual training. Wing Chun is based on many principles of universal truth. This being so, it is natural to learn how these principles extrapolate into skills for everyday life and spiritual development as well. They are not just for fighting alone.
The simple yet profound principles of Wing Chun have more than one meaning, more than one application. To view Wing Chun as being just for fighting is taking a very narrow-minded approach to the vast wealth of possible development that the art offers. Learning to develop spiritual tranquillity, and having the ability to abstain from arguments and fights is just as valuable a skill to acquire as is learning to explode someone's head. People of worth would appreciate you more as a well developed person than just a good fighter. You of course bring more true richness into life through your internal development as well. However, like anything else in life, you have to be ready for it and be able to devote yourself to the slow and steady acquisition of these skills.
Chicago Wing Chun is, above all, a positive group interested in building friendships as we grow in understanding of a martial art we all love.
We value our relationship with Master Ho and his students, and take every opportunity to participate in seminars or take private lessons.
Teachers and classmates who write articles, published or otherwise, are welcome to have their thoughts posted here for public consumption.
Curt James has written some great articles, over the years, and many are available on his site, linked here.