William Kwok began training in Martial Arts at age seven. Born in Hong Kong, he is Grandmaster WAN Kam Leung’s Closed Door Disciple. He is the first official instructor of Wan Kam Leung’s Practical Wing Chun to teach in America.
A Harvard graduate and a former business professor, Sifu Kwok established Gotham Martial Arts in 2007, in New York City.
In September 2014, he was honored by the Martial Arts History Museum in Los Angeles as a recipient of the “Museum Honor Award” for his excellence in the martial arts and his contributions to the local community.
In December 2014, he was honored with the martial arts titles “Grand Master in Wing Chun” and rank “7th Dan Menkyo/ Grand Master in Martial Arts” by the World Personal Martial Arts Federation.
In January 2015, Sifu Kwok received the “Silver Lifetime Contribution Award” at the Action Martial Arts Magazine Hall of Honors in Atlantic City. And most recently, in May 2015, he was honored with a “Community Leadership Award” by the US President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition.
Despite his many achievements, Sifu Kwok is a humble and respectful man. We are proud to have had the chance to interview him, and we thank him for his openness and generosity in sharing his vast knowledge with us.
Sifu Kwok, you experienced many different martial arts and styles before learning Wing Chun. What about Wing Chun attracted you to it? Did it offer something that your previous styles did not?
I have experience in over ten different martial arts systems, from a novice level to a master level, since I was seven years old. After practicing a variety of martial arts, I noticed that many techniques rely mainly on the strength of the practitioner, so a larger person would always have more advantage than a smaller one.
In my mid 20s, I realized that no matter how much I trained, it would be hard to defeat someone bigger or stronger than me. So I decided to explore a martial art that a smaller person could use to fight a larger opponent in a real life situation. When I first encountered Wing Chun I was drawn to the style because it addressed this issue, but I did not truly see its full potential until I began practicing under my Sifu, Grandmaster WAN Kam Leung.
I like my Sifu’s Practical Wing Chun system because it is very scientific and logical. All techniques in the forms serve like different building blocks that can be combined in many different ways. It is interesting to find the most effective and efficient techniques in any given situation. It gives me a lot of room to improve and think.
There are many good martial arts systems out there as long as we can find the right teacher and commit to the training. However, I prefer to study a sustainable martial art that allows me to train regardless of my age. I am in my mid 40s now but I know I can still practice Wing Chun even when I turn to the age of 70 or 80. This system is not only practical but also good for my mind and body.
Wing Chun is often referred to as a scientific martial art. Why do you think that is?
Wing Chun does not only utilize force against an opponent’s force, but also uses body mechanics, structure and angles to defend, counter attack, and redirect incoming force. Practical Wing Chun practitioners, for example, observe five components of the body structure (five centerlines, relaxed shoulders, sinking elbows, flexible wrists and precise angles). Without scientific reasoning behind the techniques and structure, they will fail to work properly and rely only on muscle strength. More importantly, we should constantly analyze our techniques and have an open mindset in order to ensure the continuing effectiveness of Wing Chun. My Sifu has taught me to emphasize these values to my students, so that through trial and error and analysis of the core principles, Wing Chun techniques will continue to be useful, modern, and efficient.
When fighting against a bigger and stronger opponent, it is crucial that we can reach him/her in a hand-contact distance, enter the opponent’s “gate” (red zone), and destroy his/her center lines.
Wing Chun is known for its ability to be used against bigger and stronger opponents. How does Wing Chun get around the problem of a bigger opponent?
Wing Chun is one of the most suitable martial arts for close quarters combat. Its practitioners observe their body structure and centerlines in order to make every movement as efficient and effective as possible. Following these principles, a Wing Chun practitioner, regardless of his/her age and body size, is able to generate structural power and defeat a non-Wing Chun opponent’s attacks. When fighting against a bigger and stronger opponent, it is crucial that we can reach him/her in a hand-contact distance, enter the opponent’s “gate” (red zone), and destroy his/her center lines. This approach will immediately put the opponent in the defensive mode and increase our chance to defeat him/her. Please remember that studying Wing Chun doesn’t make us super-men. “
However, practicing Wing Chun techniques can maximize our potential and ability to protect ourselves, and reduce our chance to be defeated, even while fighting against a bigger and stronger opponent.
Please explain how weapons training, which is common in so many Chinese Arts, can be used to improve one’s empty hand fighting (no weapons fighting).
In Wing Chun, the two most popular weapons are the Luk Dim Bun Gwan (six-and-a-half point pole) and the Baat Jaam Do (eight cutting knives). The benefits of weapons training are beyond measure. The grip of the knives training alone can greatly improve the strength of our fingers and wrists. Also, since knives training requires very delicate and focused practice to prevent injury, it helps us develop a more serious attitude towards training.
Such deliberate training can translate to better empty hand techniques, especially since the knives are considered extensions of the arms. On the other hand, the pole, because of its weight, can greatly improve arm strength, overall strength, proper body positioning and stance. In addition, weapons training helps us gain better control of the relaxation and tension of our arm muscles. Overall, the skills developed through weapons training will lead to improvement of speed and power, timing, sense of distance, structure, stability and energy extension. These elements are extremely useful to empty hand training and fighting.
Are there “secret techniques” or “methods” in Wing Chun? Things that would make it impossible to learn the system properly if not revealed?
Many believe that there are some “secret techniques” or “methods” that would only be taught to a small group of people, or in other words, the closed-door disciples. I am afraid that they have missed the point. It is important to understand that learning is a two-way street; a student cannot expect to receive unconditional support and guidance without demonstrating his/her devotion and commitment to the training.
On the other hand, a teacher has to ensure that a student has the right attitude to train and will not abuse the knowledge obtained from the teacher. The closed-door disciples are likely to have a more in-depth understanding of the system, and this is because of their continued commitment and responsibility to their schools, teachers, and training.
So to answer your question, no, there is no such thing as a “secret technique” in Wing Chun. All techniques exist within the Wing Chun forms. The real secrets are patience, commitment, humility, and endurance.However, practicing Wing Chun techniques can maximize our potential and ability to protect ourselves, and reduce our chance to be defeated, even while fighting against a bigger and stronger opponent.
Do you believe that meditation can make one a better martial artist? In the context of Wing Chun, how would meditation help?
Yes, I do. Meditation is an important practice that can help practitioners calm and balance the mind, better focus their thoughts and energy, and lead to relaxation of the mind and body. Once our mind is improved, our overall body condition will be enhanced as well. Wing Chun is a practical self-defense system ideal for real life threatening situations. Therefore, relaxation is critical to Wing Chun practice, both mentally and physically.
If we get tensed up out of fear, we would not be able to naturally respond to the threats even with great Wing Chun skills. Meditation practice can help us develop an ability to manipulate and control our Qi (internal energy) in combat. In class, in addition to practicing the Wing Chun forms, we learn to defend ourselves by practicing San Sau and Chi Sau. This partner based training requires extremely high level of self-control, awareness, focus and relaxation. We can surely enhance these attributes through practicing meditation on a regular basis.
What advice would you give to Wing Chun practitioners all over the world if they had to use their art for self defense on the street?
First, remain calm and assess the situation. If fighting is unavoidable, then one has to be completely committed to the fight with a clear purpose in mind. Understand what the goal of this fight is; is it to briefly distract the assaulter in order to escape? Or is it to control or even disable the person? Knowing the objective of the fight allows one to be confident in the techniques they use, eliminate threats effectively and avoid unnecessary injury.
After all, confidence comes from hard training with passion and perseverance. Training regularly under a good teacher’s guidance is surely the best preparation to help our mind and body stay connected and remain calm.
What do you consider to be the benefits of Wing Chun as a “real life” self defense system, compared to boxing?
Most boxing matches last for minutes in a ring, and is considered a competitive game. Boxers wear gloves and are restricted to training within the rules of boxing competitions. The goal of boxing is to get more points than an opponent.
However, real life street fights don’t take minutes but only a few seconds. Therefore, the fighting strategy of Wing Chun is different from boxing; Wing Chun needs to be efficient and utilizes the entire body – fists, palms, elbows, shoulders, fingers, knees, feet, or whatever is available to fight in a real situation.
One of the principles of Wing Chun is to apply the most direct and efficient skills in order to avoid conflicts, or to finish a fight as quickly as possible. In an extreme scenario, it can be a decision of life-or-death.
Which martial art that you have not yet trained in would you like to try, if given a chance? And why?
I have practiced a large variety of martial arts and chose to focus primarily on Practical Wing Chun. It is best not to be a jack-of-all-trades, master of none, but to find the martial art that is best for us and understand it as best as we can. Because of this philosophy, my goal is to continue developing Practical Wing Chun by further studying academically instead of training other martial arts.
At this stage of my martial arts journey, a greater understanding of areas such as biomechanics, applied anatomy, kinesiology, and physical education will allow me to improve my ability to become a better martial arts practitioner and teacher.
How do you see the future of Wing Chun? Do you think it will continue to thrive in a world where MMA has become so prominent?
In the age of information and immediacy, Wing Chun has to be conceived and taught as a scientific self-defense system, with strong traditional martial arts values such as courtesy, loyalty, and perseverance, in order to remain relevant. Thus, it is important to develop a well-structured curriculum to deliver the training more efficiently, and at the same time educate students in the valuable nature and effectiveness of the system. It is also crucial for Wing Chun to preserve its martial arts nature, and to emphasise the interconnected relationship of the mind and body. By doing so, even though Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is quite prominent these days, Wing Chun will continue to thrive. We have to keep in mind that Wing Chun is a practical self-defense system that specializes in close-range combat, and observes tradition martial arts values. Unlike MMA, Wing Chun is not a sport with rules and weight divisions. While the main goal of MMA training is about winning through competitions, the goal of studying Wing Chun is to develop self-discipline and practical self-protection skills.
Wing Chun teaches practitioners to handle real-life situations with a proper mindset, and prepares them to resolve conflicts in the most efficient manner. Self-defense on the street is not about winning or losing; there are no rules or points. Since MMA and Wing Chun embody different core values, the benefits of Wing Chun are undoubtedly irreplaceable.