by William Kwok
A Tribute to My Father’s Legacy
As I reflect on my father’s legacy on the first anniversary of his passing, I remember his passion for physical education and his role in developing Hong Kong’s sports industry. My father, Mr KWOK Yuen Wah, was a remarkable Chinese calligraphy artist and a retired physical education professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. His perspective on diligent practice has helped me stay at the forefront of Practical Wing Chun and inspire and elevate the training of those under my guidance.
Throughout his teaching career, my father inspired countless students with his knowledge and enthusiasm for physical education. During the 1980s and 1990s, he led Hong Kong’s university student-athletes to participate in international competitions worldwide, including the highly prestigious World University Games. These events not only allowed Hong Kong’s student-athletes to compete against some of the world’s best but also helped to promote the city’s sports industry and academic exchange. His leadership and guidance played a vital role in developing and promoting Hong Kong’s student sports industry.
My father believed physical activity was essential for maintaining good health and developing discipline, self-confidence, and mental fortitude. He encouraged his students to pursue their passions, push their limits, and never give up on their dreams. Without my father’s support and encouragement, I would not have become the Wing Chun teacher I am today.
My Journey to Practical Wing Chun
When I was 13, my father introduced me to the art of Wing Chun through a summer program he taught at the university. With his guidance, I later found my Sifu, Grandmaster WAN Kam Leung, who developed the Practical Wing Chun system. In this modern interpretation of Wing Chun, the focus is on practicality and self-defence in real-world situations. This approach blends the traditional principles and values of Wing Chun with insights into movement science and body mechanics. It aligns with my father’s educational philosophy.
My father’s educational philosophy emphasized integrating “Chinese traditional education as the foundation and Western education as its application.” This education should ground students in Chinese traditional culture and values, which serve as the core of their martial arts education. Students can better navigate and engage with modern society by understanding these cultures and values. They must also acquire practical knowledge of Western science and technology to meet the demands and challenges of the contemporary world. This philosophy is why my father held my Sifu’s Practical Wing Chun approach in high regard.
Ever since I became a full-time martial arts educator, my father often challenged me with cutting-edge movement science theories, always encouraging me to remain open to new ideas and techniques to improve my practice. His philosophy of unwavering commitment to excellence has played a pivotal role in driving numerous breakthroughs in Hong Kong’s sports world. His influence also led me to devote myself to Practical Wing Chun practice.
In addition to seeking guidance from my Sifu, I regularly consulted my father for advice on my Wing Chun practice. No matter what aspect of the training I asked about, he consistently emphasized the importance of three fundamental elements: position, timing, and speed. These seem like basic concepts but are the foundation of all physical practices and sports. The first element, position, refers to the optimal placement of one’s body during a particular movement or technique. Generating maximum power and efficiency requires proper body alignment and balance. The second element, timing, refers to the ability to execute movements precisely and accurately and anticipate and respond promptly to an opponent’s moves. Finally, speed involves not only the quick execution of movements but also the ability to control and adjust the speed of one’s movements as needed. Based on this idea, I developed five stages of San Sau (practice drills), each increasingly reliant on these three concepts, that help my students improve their techniques, increase their power and efficiency, and ultimately achieve greater success in their practice.
Embracing Change and Self-Improvement
As a practitioner of Practical Wing Chun, I have come to appreciate the importance of cultivating an open mind — a lesson that was instilled in me by my father and my Sifu. Embracing change is a natural process, according to the Yin-Yang theory, which I deeply respect.
Tradition versus innovation is a fundamental question in the world of martial arts. Wing Chun should not remain static. I have witnessed my Sifu’s tireless efforts to evolve Wing Chun as a martial art, which attests to its potential for growth. Through Practical Wing Chun, I have honed my skills and gained insights into how open-minded individuals like my father and my Sifu approach their practice. I have learned that our practice always has room for improvement and new ideas to explore.
My father taught me that we must be truthful about our limitations and strengths, always working to improve ourselves based on that understanding. Under my father’s and my Sifu’s guidance, I became aware that many martial artists become trapped by the limitations of their styles or techniques or become too focused on winning or losing. Instead, we should embrace an open-minded approach to training, where one is willing to learn from any source and adapt their skills to the situation. Being truthful also means acknowledging our fears, weaknesses, and insecurities and working to overcome them through focused practice and discipline. By being honest about our strengths and limitations, we can develop a more comprehensive and effective approach to martial arts training. Rather than simply winning or losing, we can focus on personal growth and development.
The Intersection of Calligraphy and Martial Arts
My father’s calligraphy was a form of art and a reflection of his character. He believed every brushstroke should be executed with precision and intention, just like we should live with purpose and meaning. He taught me that calligraphy was not just about creating beautiful characters but also about cultivating a strong sense of discipline and focus.
After retiring from the university in 1993, my father channelled his energy into Chinese calligraphy. This art form holds a deep reverence in Chinese culture, as it embodies fundamental principles of philosophy such as balance, harmony, attention to detail, and self-cultivation. Through his passion for calligraphy, my father imparted a greater understanding of the philosophical aspects of martial arts. He stressed the importance of practising and teaching martial virtues, which emphasize courtesy and integrity, to cultivate self-discipline and self-improvement. While some people today view martial virtues as obsolete, they are an essential component of martial arts training and equally as important as technical training. Practising martial virtues aims to improve the cultivation and quality of martial artists while promoting the essence of traditional Chinese culture.
Of all of my father’s calligraphy works, “悟” (enlightenment) holds a special place in my heart. This Chinese character is more than just a combination of two radicals, “心” (heart) and “吾” (I); it carries a profound meaning that speaks to our pursuit of wisdom, truth, and the purpose of life. At its core, “悟” means “to comprehend”, but its deeper connotations encompass understanding the truth and gaining insight into the world around us. As a martial artist and a human being, this character inspires me to reflect continuously and improve my understanding, maturity, and wisdom.
Honouring My Father’s Legacy
As a martial arts educator, I strive to help my students comprehend (悟) the significance of change and my adaptations to the Wing Chun approach. By embracing change, we keep our practice fresh and continuously improve our skills. I strive to present this knowledge to my students in an informative and engaging way. I encourage them to cultivate their open-mindedness and appreciation for the evolving nature of Wing Chun.
I was fortunate to have my father as my mentor and role model. He instilled a love for physical activity and a deep appreciation for the arts. He taught me the value of hard work, perseverance, and humility. His teachings have profoundly impacted my life, both as a martial artist and as a person. Sadly, he passed away last year, but his legacy lives on through his family, students, and art. As I continue to teach and train in martial arts, I am reminded of my father’s teachings and inspired to carry on his legacy. Ω