I grew up in Hong Kong in the 80’s, which was a great era for Hong Kong action movies. Every kid I knew wanted to be an action hero. There were no smart phones or social media back then. Our entertainment was movies on the big screen and Kungfu dramas on television.
My neighbourhood and High School were not the best around. As a new kid travelling from a different suburb each day, I got picked on and bullied constantly by the local teenagers. This happened both inside and outside school, and often it ended up in fights. Sometimes I was lucky and won, but most of the time I lost. And even if I won the fight, I still had toface the aftermath.
These high school gangs came back for revenge attacks. These little gangs at the school were made up of local kids who hadflunked their grade and so had to repeat their semester. This meant they were usually older, bigger in size and stronger.
Now imagine you have to go against more than one of these kids! Even though they are only what I call “high school gangs”, they were connected to the local triads. There was always a big boss looking for revenge.
Life can be tough when you are young. I wanted to be stronger than all of them. That was my goal when I joined my first official martialarts club. Now that I am older, my goals have changed.
Fast forward 5 years. At that time I was training in Goju-Ryu Karate. I was pretty good in my weight category and club and competed in tournaments in Hong Kong. One of my best friends, Simon, had migrated to Australia and had started training Tong Long, (Preying Mantis), a southern style of kung fu. Whenever he came back to Hong Kong to visit, we would meet up and spar. I got beat up pretty bad by him! I was amazed at how effective kung fu was in the short distance trapping zone.
I ended up searching for a Tong Long school in my neighbourhood and trained Jook Lum Tong Long for over 18 months, while still training karate. One day on my way back to school after lunch, I walked past the Ving Tsun Athletic Association. I decided to check it out. I still remember it was a Wednesday afternoon. Sifu Wan Kam Leung opened the door and greeted me.
At that time he was a full-time minibus driver and teaching part- time at the Ving Tsun Association on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons. I personally, thought it wasn’t the ideal time to teach, because most people have to work or study during those hours. But it was perfect for me because I went to night school!
He showed me the differences between his Wing Chun and other Wing Chun styles. I was only a teenager, but he took time to explain his Wing Chun concepts to me in detail. That was very special for me as a young boy. After that, I started training under Sifu Wan. Fate had put us together.
Why did you decide to devote yourself exclusively to Wing Chun?
There are pros and cons in every well-established system. There is the art side and the combative side. I respect athletes who dedicate their time and training to Wu- shu forms at the Asian games. I love watching Japanese Karate when they perform their Kata in synchronized groups. I also enjoy training in Muay Thai.
But I believe people should look at what suits them rather than focusing on which style is better. After all, It comes down to the individual rather than the style. For me, I devote myself to Wing Chun because I enjoy the concept of not pitting force against force.
I’ve gone from an aggressive young man wanting to be the strongest and fastest, to a mellow father with a new born child. My goal now is to look after my family and spend as much time with them as possible. Longevity in training means choosing a system that helps me when I’m older.
Wing Chun is that system. My Sifu, Wan Kam Leung, whom I greatly admire, is 73 years old and still fit, fast & capable of looking after himself with his Kungfu. Lately, I have been seeing a trend in instructors trying to look good by criticizing other clubs and styles in their marketing. To me this is negative energy. My recommendation is to do what you love and enjoy what you do. Ignore what others are doing, and people who have the same mindset will follow you.
Bong Sau in Practical Wing Chun is performed with a lower elbow than in most lineages. Can you please explain why this is?
Different lineages do things differently. I will just explain how we see it and my personal experience with the Bong Sau. At Practical Wing Chun, we do not perform the bong sau with elbow higher than wrist. In the past when I first started training, the bong sau was performed with elbow and wrist in a horizontal line. As the system evolved, my Sifu sank his elbow down to provide more structure for defence, while spinning and diverting energy.
Another reason, for those who are familiar with locking systems like Akido, Jiujitsu, or even Chinese Chin-Na, is to avoid the “chicken wing lock”. Sinking the elbow down will help avoid giving your opponent these opportunities.
Grandmaster Wan Kam Leung is known for practicing Qigong. Is this part of the Practical Wing Chun curriculum?
Qigong is not part of the basic Practical Wing Chun curriculum. But those who are interested can further their training (after they finish the basic Wing Chun system) through private lessons with Sifu Wan Kam Leung.
What are the benefits of practicing Qigong, from a Martial Arts perspective?
There are 2 types of Qigong. One prolongs the well being. It is a practice of cultivating vital life forcethrough breathing techniques & meditation. The 2nd type of Qigong is Martial Arts Qigong. This type of Qigong focuses on physical power. It acts as a protecting shield for the vulnerable body parts, so they can better withstand strikes.
It is a secondary defence for when your primary defence fails. Those who have been in fights will know that you are certain to get hit, unless your skills are far superior to those of your opponent.
In a multiple –opponent situation this is even worse. This does not mean one can take any strike at anytime. It is just a set of traditional training exercises that will help conditioning the body and mind to prepare for a fight.
Did Grandmaster Wan Kam Leung ever share with you any interesting stories regarding Wong Shun Leung and Bruce Lee?
Yes. Sifu Wan told me once, him and Wong Shun Leung were invited to the set of “Enter the Dragon”. He performed bong – lap chi sau in a video.
This video can now be seen on YouTube. He said they both were very good at what they did. Bruce Lee was extremely good with his kicks. He could kick 3 continuous kicks in the air before landing back on the floor.
These days, this is not as uncommon, but back in those days, it was unheard of. Bruce was a pioneer in martial arts. Master Wan always speaks very highly of Bruce Lee.
You are currently running 7 branches of Practical Wing Chun in Queensland, Australia. Why do you think Wing Chun is so popular in Australia?
I personally do not think Wing Chun is that popular in Australia. Social Media & technology changed how we live our lives. Martial arts classes were huge before, but not anymore. There are more things to do now in our spare time. Generally speaking, people are busier now, but ironically less things are achieved.
MMA training and arts like BJJ are very popular in Australia these days. Fitness Kickboxing is also huge. I am blessed with the support of my students, so I get to do what I enjoy and share this art to the people around me. I am blessed in a way. With positive thinking, I get to meet a lot of like minded martial artists and share ideas.
You are well known in Wing Chun circles as a creative and original content creator on Social Media. What do you think is the role of the internet and Social Media in the future of Wing Chun?
Social Media is like a double edge sword. It can help market Wing Chun but it can also do harm to it. Take a look at most Wing Chun videos online. Many of these are done poorly, by low skill practitioners.
If you lose a fight, admit it and learn from it. Giving excuses like “I had no food before the fight“ or “my shoes were slippery” sounds silly.
The positive side is that it exposes Wing Chun’s weaknesses online. If one is a positive thinker, one can learn from these mistakes
Our next generation of Wing Chun will be stronger than previous generations. This will help keep Wing Chun alive.
You have self-defense situational videos on your YouTube Channel, such as self-defense on a bus or on a plane. Brilliant stuff, by the way. How much time does your school spend on this type of training, and how important do you think it is?
I think it is important to connect our Kungfu to the real world. Some Wing Chun practitioners stick to past traditions and only train Chi-Sau. Others ditch traditional training and combine it with boxing. Others still, ditch the empty hand, wooden dummy and weapon forms. They only do sparring with a boxing approach.
There is nothing wrong with this if that is purely what they are after. However, I like to teach my Wing Chun with a modern approach. We have done workshops on buses and airplanes.
You don’t really need to hire anything. Every now and then, we put some chairs together at our school and act like we are on public transport.
We have 1 class a week dedicated to reality based training. Students enjoy these classes because it helps connect them back to real life threats. The techniques shown are the same traditional methods, in a modern environment.
Where do you see the future of Wing Chun? Will it continue to evolve?
Ten years ago, I would not have considered online training. Over the past couple of years, my views have changed. Online training has become a norm.
I do not believe though, that it can replace normal training, but rather, it should be treated as supplementary training. At the time of writing this article, we have 3D videos with Virtual Reality Goggles. Imagine 5 to 10 years from now! We might soon have our own personal Wing Chun training ‘Matrix’ 3D world.
The military and game industries are already taking advantage of such technologies. Will it continue to evolve ? Time will tell. Ω
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