Odyssey of a Wandering WingChun Aspirant.
Sifu Victor Leow has turned down many interview requests over the years, because he believed that his experiences and perspectives weren’t worth people’s precious time. He now sees that you don’t have to be perfect to contribute in a forum such as social media.
We have the first ever published interview with Sifu Victor Leow, and he shares with us some highlights in his decades-long quest to learn WingChun Kungfu.
When did you start learning WingChun and how did you get started on this journey?
If my memory serves me correctly, it was way back in the early 80s that I seriously embarked on this odyssey. I came to know the late Grandmaster Jim Fung who was, at that time, based only out of Adelaide. Soon after that, I agreed to help kick off the Sydney branch of his schools, which eventually snowballed into the exposure of this wonderful system to so many people throughout the Sydney metropolitan region. At that time, I realised that to succeed in running this branch well, I needed to be deadly serious in my own cultivation. I would regard that as the turning point in my WingChun destiny!
What was the training like, and how have things changed now?
Understandably, it was still pretty virgin territory in those years. It was an exciting phase in WingChun history in Australia. There was no internet then.
Few people in Sydney had any idea what WingChun was all about. Now we do, and the maturation of the WingChun market has resulted in the proliferation of many WingChun schools throughout Australia.
Lately, with the Covid19 pandemic situation, people can even practise remotely under online supervision to gain the necessary skills and prowess in WingChun, and other martial arts. So, I would say, the single most significant element in propagating WingChun would be the development of the online world.
Content wise, the impact is no less. People can literally “see” the differences of the various WingChun styles, schools, teachers etc. Aficionados of WingChun can very easily share and become friends with each other in this environment. The great thing about this transparency and connectivity, is the diminution of unhealthy rivalry and tension between egos. We witnessed much of this in the eighties and nineties.
What has made progress possible on that front?
The transparency I mentioned holds the key to more openness of exchange between online savvy WingChun enthusiasts. This can only be beneficial for all of us, as people can learn from each other very conveniently and at practically no cost.
Consequently, there is a great reduction of blind faith in following a teacher as people can quickly find out answers for themselves. As a result, we see vast improvements in the presentation of WingChun to the whole world.
Promoters must come across as credible, practical in their approach, and cost effective in the adoption of their WingChun systems. Thus, the WingChun community has collectively evolved drastically with this technology utilisation. This will allow WingChun to penetrate deeper into the martial arts market.
How has your WingChun training continued all these years?
It is still continuing, I must say. In the eighties, I met Grandmasters Tsui Sheungtin and Wong Shunleung, and learnt from them. TST was an awe-inspiring and formidable WingChun exponent. He had so much to offer.
As for Wong, he was a legend in his own right! By the early nineties, I also came to know Sifu Derek Fung who was introduced to me by my friend Norman Ma.
Sifu Derek was very generous with his teachings and taught out the whole system to a handful of us, out of his home in Sydney. It was quite remarkable that even though they all learnt from Yip Man, they were so different from each other.
It was very challenging for me to dissect their teachings and make sense of it all. By the early 2000s, I started following my Goo-Lo WingChun teacher Leung One-qi. I also met with my SiHing Grandmaster Wan Kamleung, who was Wong Shunleung’s number one disciple.
Right from the start, I was blown away by Wan Sifu’s skills and power. We hit it off very well, and he showed me a number of eye-opening aspects of WingChun. However, once again, life’s commitments took precedence and I couldn’t spend more time with him.
What about your Goo-Lo WingChun teacher Master Leung?
Master Leung sadly passed away early this year. I meant to visit him towards March, but Covid19 took over and I had to reset all my plans.
Master Leung distinguished his Goo-Lo WingChun, referring to it as the Three Infinity Goo-Lo WingChun Kungfu.
In my FB page, I named it as Triunifiniti Goo-Lo WingChun. A bit of a mouthful, so I decided I will also refer to it as Three Infinity or 3Infinity or Infini3 Kungfu. Easier I think. From my experience, I3k is very effective and the concepts and principles are scientific and street sensible.
Please talk about this lesser known cousin of mainstream WingChun known as Goo-Lo.
Infini3 Kungfu (I3k), has an array of 22 solo techniques, and more than 12 partner practice drills called Tui Jark – meaning mutual deconstruction. Most other Goo-Lo systems have 12 solo techniques and a similar number of Tui Jark drills. It also has a system of noigung or internal power training built into it which practitioners can use to power up their applications.
How can folks learn more about this system?
Master Leung published a Chinese book introducing I3k a few years back. I now use it as a text for my students to refer to. This year, my Kungfu brother, Dr. John Fung, also published a specialised text on his Tensiometrics power principles. In it, he details for the first time, some of I3k’s internal power methods. Dr. John Fung is also one of only 3 licensed teachers outside Mainland China qualified to teach I3k.
In the mid-90s, you taught a system called VIKOGA. What happened since?
In the 90s, it was still a politically volatile time, especially for WingChun. To avoid unnecessary controversy, when I came out to teach a few people, I decided to use VIKOGA as an acronym, to distinguish myself from others.
In those days, the WingChun community was a hotbed of hotheads, and rife with conflicts. I never liked politics, especially in martial arts. It was quite belligerent and bitter amongst some ego heads.
I did my best to isolate myself, limiting my association with only a few close and trusted friends. Some of these were Sifu John Smith, from the Illawarra Wing Chun Academy, and my other Kungfu brothers Cam Seeto Shihan and Dr.John Fung.
And so it was that the name VIKOGA stuck. Even as far away as in Indonesia, where my disciple Anthony Chung taught his students.
Nowadays, VIKOGA is the name for my platform system, which uses I3k. VIKOGA is thus a “Martial Arts Practice as a Personal Cultivation Process platform”. Also referred to as a MAPaaPCP platform. You can see I really like indulging myself with all these names and terms […laughter].
What distinguishes VIKOGA from other schools, styles, systems, etc?
Let me take this interview opportunity to plug in a little promotion here.
I see the practice of martial arts as a personal cultivation process to make us better human beings. Our training becomes an ethical discipline to cultivate our morality and values, and to facilitate more effective lifestyle choices and habits.
My focus is on character development, which can be lacking for many people. Usually, bad decisions and lifestyle choices can result in a lousy destiny. So in my opinion, this should be our topmost priority.Not training to fight others or to match up with others in a ring!
Along the way, we become more confident, competent, righteous, purposeful and successful in our life and relationships.
Having said all that, there is a place for boxing, wrestling, and other competitive events. We should rejoice and celebrate their choices and success. Personally, as I am, by nature, a traditionalist, I put a premium on the morality aspects of martial arts training and will continue to do so.
How do you reconcile your emphasis on the metaphysics with your martial arts?
Nowadays, I teach the Bard Jaam Do, using the wooden knife (Mookto), almost right at the beginning of the curriculum. This and the Siu Nim Tau form.
The Mookto enables a certain mindset of using the arms in a sensible, correct combative manner.
First, you need to identify the parts of the knife that correspond with your arms and allow the safe handling of the knife. Combining this with the actual mechanics of the Taan and Fook as supination and pronation, we can conjecture on how WingChun came into being all those years ago!
They follow certain principles and rules consistent with worldviews and concepts our forefathers held dearly at heart. It is also perfectly consistent with how a small Chinese woman, a few hundred years ago, could defeat a large brute.
What about structure? How relevant it is?
In VIKOGA, there is a concept called Self-Safety-Space.
To have this S3, you need to have a rigorous and robust structure to dynamically shield you in actual combat. Because of this, you cannot afford to take even one single hit, because our baseline assumption is that our enemy is armed with a short, concealable bladed weapon.
This means that if you are ambushed, no matter how well trained you are, even say, as a SAS soldier, you still can be hurt, harmed and killed.
However, in a confrontation escalation scenario, you have a much better chance of escaping unhurt. So safe structuring is critical to adequately deflect and contain a sharp cutting attack.
Of course, it is best to be armed yourself and be able to wield your weapon effectively. So, to summarise, your form training must construct a dynamic protective shield-like space for you.
To do this properly, you must do the form correctly. Right from the start, with your Siu Nim Tau form and the very first movement, the crossing hands! Movements should be as spherical as you can manage. Nothing in life is ever that straight or straightforward!
What about power training and the 1-inch punch?
In my opinion, all serious martial artists should have a program of internal power training. It is best when you have a team collaborating and working out on the program.
In our VIKOGA group, we have a dedicated team working on this, led by my Kungfu brothers, Ray “Akuromeo” Jackson and Bruce “RoyDan” Lowes from Canberra, with “Arthurius” Cam Seeto in Sydney.
We also network with Dr.John Fung and work on his Tensiometrics. Our system is based on looking at the body and mind in an integrated way. The intent as a mindpower dynamic is very crucial in developing the martial body.
We look more closely on working with the ligaments and fascia than say, the muscles, and employ certain tools like hammers and bokken in our cultivation.
As for the 1-inch punch, it is an expression of ballistic power that we cultivate in our training. It takes too long to go into details here, so maybe, I can write another article for you later regarding these.
That would be fantastic. What do you make of WingChun nowadays?
I cannot pass judgement on others. I know that many people are cross-training and even cross-fertilizing their knowledge with other styles, schools and systems.
This is absolutely delightful because no one has a monopoly on excellence. We should all learn from each other. Overall, my impression of where WingChun is heading is very encouraging.
In fact, Bruce Lee led by example, through innovation and adaptation, which he used to excel in his Jeet Kune Do. We should humbly learn from his example and similarly do our own research and study. Here, I want to refer to Sifu Wan Kamleung’s incredibly courageous contribution to the WingChun community through his innovations. I notice many practitioners and even teachers adapting either consciously or unwittingly the workings of Practical WingChun. I myself am deeply inspired by Sifu Wan’s efforts and found his updates refreshing and quite riveting.
Would you consider his WingChun style to be one of the best?
Honestly, there shouldn’t be a best style. Only a better practitioner in a conflict.
For instance, Wong Shunleung Sifu told me that Judo goes well with WingChun. I tend to believe that if China had the extent of concrete pavements then that we have now, WingChun would certainly have many Judo-like throws and sweeps to maximise injury to an enemy.
Such wasn’t the case with the landscape then, and so it evolved into what it is. It is really up to us to adapt, adopt and innovate and to meet our contemporary needs and match them with our current environment.
We shouldn’t have any discrimination whatsoever on any system – East or West. I found Boxing and Judo to be extremely potent. Very much like what Wong Sifu believed too.
And unless you have no choice, you better never mess with a trained wrestler or grappler. They can easily choke you out or break your limbs. We have to be real and recognize our limitations and work with that.
Do you practise any other systems and if so, tell us something about their relevance if any or relationships with VIKOGA?
I did personally meet and learn from some internal arts teachers. I tend to view any system in terms of the concepts, principles and their modus operandi.
If these all match up with our user functionality requirements in an achievable and affordable manner, and are compatible with WingChun, I will unreservedly adopt them into VIKOGA.
In that sense, I never mix style or systems. For example, my Kungfu brother Cam is a yudansha in Takemusu Aikido – scroll holder of the weaponry aspects of this system.
He incorporates and uses the bokken and jo training to enhance the ballistic power in VIKOGA for our senior students. In essence, they are using the bokken and jo training to cultivate the VIKOGA martial body. People who don’t understand this will mistakenly assume we are mixing systems. By implication, we actually do the bokken and jo training in subtly different ways to what most Aikidokas would do in their practice of the system.
Lastly, how do you see the future of martial arts and in particular WingChun?
I am very optimistic. Martial arts in general, and WingChun in particular, bring people from various backgrounds together. This is very healthy and good for humanity. Many teachers realised this and taught accordingly.
Here in Taipei, at my Sibak Grandmaster Lo Mankam’s rooftop school, it is like a mini United Nations. You find students from all over the world.
Amongst my past teachers, Tsui Sheungtin loved foreign students and was very active, generous and meticulous in teaching them. Wong Sifu has many disciples all over the world – Germany, UK, USA, with one teaching out of a backwater in Malaysia.
My Goo-Lo teacher Leung Sifu certified me to spread I3k to the world, and Dr.John Fung is already doing that with his students in America. The future certainly looks bright. I hope more people will take up WingChun and savour its unique flavour and content.