Interview with Sifu Alan Orr

Sifu Alan Orr

Sifu Orr, you have a new book out called “Structure of Wing Chun Kuen (B&W): Awakening Force Flow”. What led you to write this book?

The book really came about for a few reasons. I am always asked how I came to learn Wing Chun and what are the key differences to what I teach. So the start was kind of a bio and a record of my learning. Then the basic structure of what I teach and why I teach it. But it soon became a lot more.

I started to reflect on the things I had learnt and the impact others had had on me,as well as the achievements my students have had from the path we have taken together. I could see clearly that the old saying that “it’s the journey not the destination”, was really true to my story. I was aware that many people start martial arts to overcome problems and issues.

So I decided to share how it helped me overcome many of my own problems and issues. The book became an insight into my learning curve with the story of my student’s development as well as a study of the structure of Wing Chun and its many layers via the 6 Core Elements we use.

The feedback has been amazing and I am very happy to see the book helping so many people.

Can you explain what the term “Force Flow” is? Is it related to what some people call “Mind Force” in Wing Chun circles?

Force Flow is part of the 6 Core Elements. My teacher Robert Chu really introduced the term ‘Body Structure’ to the Wing Chun world over 20 years ago. It was a term his teacher Hawkins Cheung used.

My teacher really focused on what it really meant to Wing Chun and as he developed his system by researching all the branches of Wing Chun to cross check, ​compare and contrast styles and teachings. He looked at all the Ip Man branches plus many older incarnations of the style, such as YKS Wing Chun.

He has been close friends over the years with Hendrik Santo who has himself researched Yik Kam Wing Chun from the 1700’s. Hendrik introduced the Six Core Elements which explained the layers of Wing Chun Body Structure in a very logical way and allowed us to breakdown the Key elements that build the art into a system.

My teacher brought the principle of structure into vogue many years ago, with his articles on Body Structure testing. The term structure is now really misused and misunderstood greatly. So using the 6 Core Elements to break down the different components of each layer allows us to explain that Body Structure is not just the body position, as many seem to think.

Force Flow has many layers but the basic understanding is about learning the correct reaction force and the timing of its use within the vector structure of the Wing Chun frame.

But that is just the start and it is only part of a bigger whole. Once you have that foundation you are then not ruled by elbow position or vectors. The sequencing of the 7 bows of the body, allow a deeper level of control and frees one from just fixed structures.

Mind Force is not the same as force flow. Force Flow is a physical skill which requires the mind but has nothing to do with Mind force. We have the Mind Element as part of the 6 Core Elements, but again, it’s not the same as Mind Force.

Sifu Alan Orr

In terms of Qi (energy), some people talk about Qi as if it’s magic. But when you look at what they are showing, it’s just demos in slow motion – if he does this I could do that and press here and I can control you etc. It just will not hold up under real live pressure. Everything we do is pressure tested live; otherwise it doesn’t fit into the model of martial arts being martial. The art is the understanding of momentum handling.

If one can do things under pressure then it is real skill. Qi is energy, so it is real. It is not magic as some think. The error most make is that internal training is all mind and Qi movement. Look at all the monks that train and you will see they do a lot of physical exercise, strength and conditioning work.

They engage in hours of stance training and lifting weights to develop grip and tendon strength. They also train breathing to strengthen the diaphragm, which is an important part of iron shirt training. So internal is as much strength work as it is breathing. But that’s for development of the body. The mind element is about the sequencing and momentum handling skills.

When these 6 core elements are mastered then you can say it’s internal. Otherwise you have Strength only and it’s just using muscle. You have mind only and it’s just an idea, you have movement only and it’s just light weight, you have Qi development but no vehicle to use it. So all these elements balanced and developed, work together. Roll with a black belt in BJJ or a good wrestler – they feel stronger than normal, they feel soft and can move like a snake, they can deal with pain and pressure, they can roll without getting tired, they have great timing and balance, they are hard to control – sounds like internal skills to me

You often talk about the Key 6 Core Elements of Body Structure. Can you explain what these are?

Chu Sai Lei Wing Chun Kuen has always been a classical system, from layers within our forms to focus on Qi Gong, structural positioning and dynamics. So when Hendrik Santo started introducing us to the 6 Core Elements of Yik Kam Wing Chun, we had a fuller description of the key practices we used under the one term ‘Body Structure’.

YIK KAM TRANSFORM Six Elements or Six Layers

1. Physical body

2. Mind

3. Breathing

4. Qi 5 Strength (Force Flow)

6.  Momentum     

The problems with the Body Structure term was that many people started adding the term ‘Structure or Body Alignment” but what they were really showing was just Static Structure.

Static structure is simply whatever position you use. It does not mean it’s correct. If you just use static structure, even if the vectors and positions are correct, it will still fail under pressure as structure is never static. Static structure when used becomes stiff or tense. So static structure is purely a position and is just the starting point, nothing else.

In your “Body Structure Blueprint Set” you talk about CoG projection. Can you give us a brief explanation of how this is achieved?

Yes, many people talk about Wing Chun triangle structure and so on. But that does not mean anything without an understanding of momentum and gravity. Controlling you weight and the effect of gravity can lead to great power. So we must understand that once momentum is generated, we must then harness it.

If you project your weight forward you are basally falling – which is the forward point of the triangle. The you must engage the lower bows and muscles of the legs and hips to take control of the drive.

Some have accused you of not doing “pure” Wing Chun. What are your thoughts on this?

My team has hundreds of fights in MMA, Boxing and K1. Some with no grappling training and some with high level BJJ skills. We started comps over 15 years ago with limited grappling knowledge. We did it purely to test CSL Wing Chun under pressure. We had great success winning many fights and many Championship Belts. The power of our punches and control of the stand up game was clear to see.

As time progressed the levels of competition increased. As the team excelled I then traveled to learn Catch Wrestling and BJJ. ​ We increased our ground game knowledge which of course helps in MMA fights. But to answer the question clearly – Our stand up is 100% CSL Wing Chun Kuen.

I teach a lot of fighters for boxing matches and our style of Wing Chun leads to pressure control and is a method of short cutting ones learning curve. I’m now a black belt in BJJ so I have continued to develop my whole game. But my entire stand up is Wing Chun. Even my grappling has improved from my Wing Chun.

I have just released a new course on grappling survival for Wing Chun Practitioners as it is clear to me that many Wing Chun practitioners do not understand grappling. So my goal was to remove the guess work so other Wing Chun practitioners can be more successful.

Many Wing Chun Teachers are reluctant to spar and believe their techniques are too “deadly”. Do you see this as a genuine reason not to spar?

Every time I hear a ‘teacher’ say they cannot spar because they are too deadly, I notice they are normally not able to do much under pressure anyway. Of course, depending on age and health the intensity of sparring will vary.

Sparring does not need to be hard. It is about timing and momentum handling. You build timing and awareness when sparring. Sparring limits a few applications but it adds much more that it can ever take away.

Do you believe that reluctance to spar can lead to deterioration of the art?

Yes. If you never test anything, you start to develop ideas that may not work when pressured. Of course, on the street you have more tools, but you have to have confidence to deal with stress and chaos. Sparring is a controlled environment which helps a student deal with a certain level of pain and conditioning.

It helps build an awareness of what is needed for street survival. Many students have never had a fight. One of the reasons some of my guys started competitions was that unlike me, they didn’t grow up fighting. So it was a safe environment to step up and test further.

Without confidence in sparring they would have never have been able to do that and would still not know if they could handle the pressure of a fight.

Do you believe that there is a certain “look” a Wing Chun fighter should have, or are all good fighters likely to move in the same way (as dictated by body mechanics)?

Yes our CSL Wing Chun fighters show the Wing Chun body style in two ways. One with their posture, fist alignment, elbow control and positioning. Two with strong stance and body control, good infighting skills, power of strikes in close and sticking control of bridges.

Do you think that a move away from “forms” and into a sports (principles based) model like the one found in boxing, would be beneficial for Wing Chun? Are forms overrated in this modern age?

No, I think the forms are very important for development. Some people think CSL is a combat style with a modern approach. But we follow the 1700s WC understanding of the Wing Chun engine and development. The forms are important in order to master yourself, which you must do before you can apply these skills and control another person. We have taken in the old and the new to be more complete. Our training is very classical; we train our forms with many layers, drills, chi sao and sparring.

Will we ever see Wing Chun breakthrough into mainstream MMA, the way Boxing and Brazilian Jui-Jitsu have? Are the principles of the art suitable for such a task?

It already has. My “Iron Wolves” have won hundreds of MMA fights and more than 10 professional MMA titles. Some of my students have trained their own fighters and have had big success.

Peter Irving, one of my students, has had good success as a fighter and has also trained many UFC fighters. Duane Harper, one of my senior students, has also had very good success with his own fighters. One of my guys Josh is 4-0 Pro MMA. Another Jo is 2-2 and been on UFC fight pass events. Wing Chun is great for MMA and many fighters have taking elements of Wing Chun on board.

Fighters like Anderson Silva punch with a vertical fist and a low elbow position at times, and has had some Wing Chun training. Most fighters are looking for quick development as they have so many areas to train for MMA. I think the more Wing Chun schools develop well rounded students, the more we will see a rise of Wing Chun fighters.

As a Mixed Martial Artist, what benefits do you derive from Wing Chun that you do not from your other arts? Why do you keep training in Wing Chun?

I love Wing Chun. I think it teaches you so much about yourself. The Chi Sao training is a great way to develop skill and can be done forever. The timing and flow of Wing Chun is so cool.

Learning to relax under pressure is such a key part of developing martial arts skills. Wing Chun really helps with this when trained as a sound tested system. I think you gain many of these skills in Wrestling and BJJ as well, which is why they are so popular. If we can keep Wing Chun more alive in its training, you then gain a sense of flow and movement which is such a cool buzz.

Then Wing Chun will continue to grow and we can introduce more people to this beautiful art.

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