About the author: David Peterson, age 43, has been training in the Chinese martial arts since 1973. He became a student of Sifu Wong Shun Leung after travelling to Hong Kong in 1983. He is a teacher of the Chinese language, speaking both Mandarin and Cantonese dialects, and principal instructor of the ‘Melbourne Chinese Martial Arts Club’ where he instructs in the “Wong Shun Leung Method”. Peterson is one of only two authorised and qualified instructors of Wong’s system in Australia, and a fully endorsed member of the world-wide ‘Wong Shun Leung Wing Chun Martial Arts Association’ and the Hong Kong-based ‘Ving Tsun Athletic Association’. He is also a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in many local (Australian) and overseas journals, including “Combat”, “Inside Kung-fu”, “Black Belt”, “Masters of the Martial Arts”, “Impact: the Action Movie Magazine”, “Eastern Heroes”, “Australasian Fighting Arts”, “Blitz Australasian Martial Arts Magazine”, “Traditional Martial Arts Journal”, “Impact Martial Arts Magazine”, “Qi Magazine”, “Australasian Martial Arts Magazine”, “Martial Arts Illustrated”, “Ging Wing Chun”, “Kicksider” and “Kung Fu Illustrierte”. More recently, his articles have featured on several international Web sites in both the English and German languages. A respected seminar presenter of the Wing Chun system, both in Australia and overseas, Peterson recently travelled to the USA for the second time to conduct seminars and workshops at the ‘Ving Tsun Museum’ in Dayton, Ohio, and to an enthusiastic group of Wing Chun and JKD enthusiasts in Orlando, Florida. In 1998, Peterson was invited to America by Sifu Jesse Glover, the late Bruce Lee’s original student, and this second trip was on the strength of the great success of that first sojourn overseas. He can be contacted by mail at: PO Box 150, Ivanhoe, Victoria 3079, Australia (Ph: +61-407-043-303), or by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Articles By David Peterson
WING CHUN HISTORY - an alternative viewpoint
By David Peterson
With an almost monotonous regularity, readers of the many martial arts books, journals and magazines are constantly confronted by version after version of the “legendary history” of the various Chinese combat systems. Each tale seems to begin with some chance encounter between a warrior, monk, nun or peasant with an animal or insect engaged in mortal combat with some other creature. Invariably one of the creatures, by one means or another, manages to become victorious over the other and the observer is able to go off and create a “new and improved” method for fighting their fellow man based upon what they have noted in the “battle”.
The “creator” usually has some kind of connection with the now famous Shaolin Temple, the one that still stands in Henan province that is, or the one which is said to have existed in Fujian province. This relationship established, the authenticity of the system is therefore not in question because we all know that “If it’s Shaolin, it must be good”. If one was to believe every story told about Chinese martial arts, one would be forced to accept that virtually every system extant in China is a so-called “Shaolin” style, or a derivative thereof.
Some stories would even suggest that the founders, or at least the “key figures” in several systems were one and the same person. This practice of making a legitimising-link with an established “authority” is by no means unique in Chinese society or history, nor is it uniquely Chinese to make such claims. Not only in the martial arts, but in all kinds of enterprises can one find examples of this. To cite such an example one need only take a look at the secret societies of China’s historical past, the “notorious” Triads.
Far from being the criminal groups which the Australian and world media are fond of portraying, the Triads were secret organisations formed to unite the Chinese against a common enemy. Such was the case in the 1890’s when the Boxer Movement swept across northern China, a rebellion organised by secret societies whose aim was the expulsion of the foreign invaders from Chinese soil.
Many of the modern Triads are legitimate groups whose aim is to help members of their own Chinese communities around the world. Melbourne’s Man Ji Dong or Chinese Masonic Society and its Sydney counterpart, the Ji Gung Tong are perfect examples of legitimate (not to mention law-abiding) Triad organisations. I say this in complete confidence being, as I am, a fully initiated member of the Melbourne based group, perhaps in fact the only non-Chinese in the last 150 years to have been through this very secret of ceremonies, the last known “gwailo” being a couple of British sailors in Macau during the 1800’s, according to what elder members here can recall being the case.
To return to my original thrust, even these legitimate Triad groups claim to have been founded by members of the Shaolin sect who founded these groups following the burning of the Shaolin Temple in the late 1700’s (an incident which, incidentally, cannot be verified by any existing records in China and is now thought to have been a story invented by the Triad leaders to encourage unity amongst the various groups and to fuel the Chinese hatred for their Manchurian oppressors). These Triad “ancestors” fled to various places in China and began inciting the people to rebel. Modern day criminal groups, such as the 14k Triad, in hoping to instil fear and respect, not to mention gain some measure of credibility for themselves by gaining some “instant history”, have adopted the customs and rituals of the real Triads. Unfortunately, these false Triads have received more than their fair share of attention and in doing so, have given the term ‘Triad’ a less than flattering interpretation.
In keeping with this idea of “instant history” it is not unrealistic to assume that the majority of these martial art legends are just simply “fairy tales” whose purpose was to make a system and it practitioners seem more believable because of some assumed link with an already accepted “authority”. The Chinese have a great love and respect for the past and for tradition, hence a system with a colourful history had a better chance of being taken seriously than one whose founder had “just-come-up-with-the-goods” so to speak.
The history of the wing chun system, as with the majority of Chinese systems, is shrouded in the mists and legends of the past. It, like most of the well-known styles, has its “Shaolin connection”. Legend has it that the founder of the system was a Buddhist nun named Ng Mui who was one of a group of experts who were researching the existing systems in order to develop a more stream-lined fighting style which could be taught quickly so as to aid the Chinese in rising up against their oppressors.
Before their knowledge could be systematised and passed on, the Temple was razed to the ground, resulting in the death of many of the masters residing there. Ng Mui, being a nun, was not at the Temple at the time (only monks being permitted to stay there) and so managed to escape the violence. She fled southwards, some versions of the story having her travelling to Sichuan province while others have her ending up in Fujian. While in the region she met up with Yim Yee Gung, a friend and past student of her senior, the monk Ji Sin, one of the “Five Elders” of Shaolin.
Prior to this, Ng Mui had witnessed a fight between a snake and a crane (some versions say a rodent and a crane, or a fox and a crane, etc.) and from this event had been finally able to systematise the knowledge which she and her colleagues had been experimenting with. On learning that the daughter of Yim Yee Gung, the beautiful Yim Wing Chun, was being forced into marriage with a local ruffian, Ng Mui devised a way of stalling for time during which she taught the young Wing Chun her “new” method. The rest, as they say, is history, …..or is it?
As far as records accurately describe, we know absolutely nothing of Yim Wing Chun or the inheritors of her skills, that is until we come across the one man in the history of the system whose existence can be verified and who is known to have taught the system that is said to be named after Ng Mui’s student. His name was Leung Jan, a herbal doctor who lived in the southern Chinese city of Fatsaan (Foshan in Mandarin) during the early 19th century. As a fighter he was renowned for his unrivalled skill and was reputed to have never been beaten. He taught only a handful of students, the best known of whom were his two sons, Leung Chun and Leung Bik, and Chan Wa Sun, who was also known as Jaau Chin Wa (“Money-changer Wa”).
Leung Jan himself was said to have learnt from two people, Wong Wa Bo and Leung Yi Dai, both of whom were said to have been experts at different aspects of wing chun, and at least one of whom (Leung Yi Dai) was a travelling performer with a Chinese opera troupe which moved from place to place by boat, on the so-called “Red Junk”, the name given to those engaged in this roving profession. This is where I would like to put forward an alternative view of the history of wing chun.
As stated earlier in this discussion, if one or more persons came up with a new idea concerning martial arts, it would conceivably be very difficult for them to convince anyone of its value if it did not boast some kind of link with past events, places or people. To digress for a moment, the sophisticated nature of the wing chun system does not allow one to easily accept that any one person could have devised its many sophisticated theories on their own. It is much more likely, as is the case with modern disciplines such as boxing, free-style karate and the many eclectic combat arts, that only after several generations, and with the input and experiences of many individuals, that such a system would begin to develop into something of such depth.
The late Sifu Wong Shun Leung, of “Hong Kong” wing chun fame, in his seminars around the world over the years, liked to make a comparison with the modern combat sport of Western boxing, which he observed had changed quite dramatically over just the last sixty or so years, from the crouching-like postures of boxers like Joe Louis in the 30s and 40s, to the flashy footwork of the likes of Muhammad Ali in the 60s and 70s, through to the more upright and flat-footed approach of recent champions such as Mike Tyson. As sifu Wong would say, if it took boxing some sixty or more years to reach its current approach, it is easy to imagine the long process of development that led to wing chun’s present approach to combat. It is therefore very difficult to believe that any one individual could conceivably come up with such a sophisticated system in just one generation.
The nature of wing chun is such that it is quite easy to accept that a woman did indeed have some role to play in its development. It is an extremely logical, scientific system, which always makes use of skill over strength, economy of motion over flowery techniques, and is well suited to someone of smaller stature and strength. This is in no way meant to be interpreted as a sexist viewpoint, simply as one of many observations to be taken into consideration. The fact that Leung Yi Dai was said to be employed on a boat should not be dismissed lightly either. On closely observing the basic stances and footwork patterns of wing chun, it is indeed possible to accept that this system had its origins on the deck of a boat where it would have been quite impractical to jump about or throw high kicks. Wing chun’s Saam Gok Bo, or “Triangular-sliding stepping”, and Yi Ji Kim Yeung Ma, or “Goat-gripping stance”, are perfectly suited to maintaining stability on something as unstable as the deck of a boat.
Then there is the issue of the name of the system. Was, as the legend suggests, the system named after the first and only student of the nun Ng Mui, or is there another explanation? According to most accounts of the original Shaolin Temple, one of the halls in the grounds of the Temple was known as the Evergreen Hall (Wing Chun Tong), the first two characters being identical in sound, though differing in form and meaning, to that which makes up the first part of Yim Wing Chun’s name. In mainland China today there still exists at least one style of wing chun which uses this same character rather than the one favoured by the “Hong Kong” school.
Some other schools of southern Chinese martial arts also make reference to this Evergreen Hall, claiming it was one of the main sites in the Shaolin Temple for training, or that it was the residence of the monk Ji Sin and that when he taught his version of the hybrid style, he named it wing chun in memory of his former home. While training in Hong Kong over the years I have spent many long hours discussing the history of wing chun with instructors of the style, one of whom teaches another branch of the wing chun tree which traces its line back to the monk Ji Sin.
This instructor, Sifu Cheng Kwong, relates a history which brings the two branches of the wing chun line back together, firstly around the time of Yim Wing Chun’s husband, Leung Bok Chau, and again at the time of Leung Yi Dai. Sifu Cheng Kwong also believes that when the funeral tablet for Yim Wing Chun was being prepared, the first character of her personal name was written down incorrectly and was in fact meant to be the word meaning “evergreen” rather than the one which has come to be used, the meaning of the combined words in the “Hong Kong” wing chun meaning “to sing praises to springtime”.
As stated earlier on, I consider it fair to assume that several people, over a long period of time (rather than one or two people making up an entire system in just one generation), gradually developed and refined the techniques and concepts of the wing chun system, pooling their combined knowledge and experiences in order to do so. As my own instructor, Sifu Wong Shun Leung suggested, it is most likely that a group of “Gung Fu fanatics” with a wealth of knowledge and experience, gradually developed what we now call wing chun gung fu, refining it further and further with each successive generation.
Taking this notion even further, on more than one occasion I have heard it said by my teacher that it was not until when being interviewed by a reporter one day in the 1950’s that the late Grandmaster of the system, Yip Man, made mention of any of the history prior to Leung Jan’s time. It seems that there was popular martial arts magazine circulating then which regularly did feature articles on the various schools in the Colony and one surmises that, in order to follow the pattern already established, Yip Man may well have embellished the story somewhat. Sifu Wong even suggested on several occasions that Yip Man, on being bored with the whole idea, told the reporter to go ahead and make up the details himself! So much for the “history” that has been repeated again and again over the years.
Sifu Wong had himself surmised that the system was more likely to have been transmitted down the coast and along the rivers of south-eastern China by the people who ply those waters, such as fishermen, traders, opera junk performers and others, who would have had a use for good fighting skills and many an opportunity to test, refine and exchange skills. Finally, one extra piece of the puzzle fell into place during my quest for answers when I found, quite by accident while reading a Chinese book on a completely different subject, that tucked away in southern Fujian province, about one hundred kilometres “as the crow flies” north of the port city of Xiamen lies the small town of Wing Chun (Yong Chun in Mandarin), the characters being exactly the same as those in the name for the Evergreen Hall!
Could it be then, that over several generations a group of dedicated martial artists, seeking more efficient ways to engage in combat, gradually came to develop this unique method, and that they passed it on, friend to friend, relative to relative, teacher to student, until it made its way to Fatsaan where it was eventually learnt and refined even further by Leung Jan? Perhaps, as Sifu Wong suggested, they were people living on the water who travelled regularly up and down the coastline of southern China?
That would account for the opera performer Leung Yi Dai coming across the art while himself travelling on the opera boat. It would also help to explain how the wing chun system inherited its Luk Dim Boon Gwan or “Six-and-a-half-point-Pole” form, the techniques of which greatly resemble the poling actions used when travelling upstream along the many river deltas in that region. And what better name for their brilliant invention than wing chun, the name of the village from whence they had come?
While it is highly unlikely that we will ever know for certain what the true origins of wing chun are, it is interesting to consider these possibilities. The one factor which is irrefutable is that the wing chun method is one of the world’s most evolved combat systems. It is structurally sound and stands up to the most stringent scientific scrutiny, not to mention its very impressive record on the streets of Hong Kong and elsewhere. What is most important is that the man who brought wing chun to the public, the late Grandmaster Yip Man, should be remembered for the role he played in developing the art, and for passing on his unique skills to his four most gifted original students, Leung Seung, Lok Yiu, Chu Shong Tin and Wong Shun Leung, each of whom have contributed in some special way to the development of wing chun’s reputation for being a combat skill not to be taken lightly.
As Sifu Wong so often said, though we don’t know who the ancestors of wing chun were, it is our duty to carry on the tradition, to pass on the art as we have learned it, and to develop in our own students a pride in the system that they have inherited, and a desire to raise the skills of wing chun to even greater heights. On the walls of the Wing Chun Athletic Association in Hong Kong, and in countless wing chun schools around the world, is a two-line verse in Chinese characters which translates roughly as, “Pass on the skills of Wing Chun complete and unchanged in order to strengthen the Nation”, a motto which obviously has even wider implications.
Whether we owe a debt of gratitude to a nun and her student, or to a group of fishermen and an opera star, the fact remains that wing chun is a magnificent achievement which should be preserved for future generations. All teachers and practitioners of wing chun should strive to keep to the most basic principles of the system, to be, in sifu Wong’s words, “The masters of wing chun, not the slaves of wing chun”, and to always utilise the most SIMPLE, DIRECT, and EFFICIENT means available. If we, the most recent generation of practitioners, pursue these ideals, preserving the true nature of the system and teaching the concepts in their purest form (as opposed to so-called “secret techniques”), the future looks bright for wing chun gung fu.
About the author: David Peterson, age 43, has been training in the Chinese martial arts since 1973. He became a student of Sifu Wong Shun Leung after travelling to Hong Kong in 1983. He is a teacher of the Chinese language and principal instructor of the ‘Melbourne Chinese Martial Arts Club’ where he instructs in the “Wong Shun Leung Method”. Peterson is one of only two authorised and qualified instructors of Wong’s system in Australia, and a fully endorsed member of the world-wide ‘Wong Shun Leung Wing Chun Martial Arts Association’. He is also a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in many local (Australian) and overseas journals, including “Combat”, “Inside Kung-fu”, “Black Belt”, “Masters of the Martial Arts”, “Impact: the Action Movie Magazine”, “Eastern Heroes”, “Australasian Fighting Arts”, “Blitz Australasian Martial Arts Magazine”, “Traditional Martial Arts Journal”, “Impact Martial Arts Magazine”, “Qi Magazine”, “Martial Arts Illustrated”, “Martial Arts Legends”, “Kicksider” and “Kung Fu Illustrierte”. More recently, Peterson’s articles have appeared on several Internet sites around the world including “Planet Wing Chun”, “Wing Chun World” and the “Ving Tsun Kung Fu Association Europe” homepage.
WONG SHUN LEUNG: THE LEGEND BEHIND THE LEGEND
By David Peterson
January 28th 1997 was a very sad day for the martial arts, and indirectly, for fans of Hong Kong cinema, specifically, for fans of the legend that is Bruce Lee. On that day, wing chun kung-fu master, Sifu Wong Shun Leung, 61, teacher and friend of the late martial arts superstar, lost his fight for life following a massive stroke and ensuing coma that had befallen him some 16 days earlier. Considered by many to be a fighter and instructor of unparalleled skill, Sifu Wong was renowned for earning the title of Gong Sau Wong (“King of Talking with the Hands”) after surviving countless beimo, or “comparison of skills”, throughout the 50s and 60s, emerging every time as undefeated and undisputed champion.
These were not tournament fights as conducted in the West, with rules, protective equipment or time limits. Instead, they were full-on fights between representatives of the various schools of combat in Hong Kong, and Sifu Wong is said to have “let his hands do the talking” by winning the majority of these “contests” within just three punches! In one such match, arranged by a reporter working for a prominent Hong Kong newspaper of the day, Wong (who stood barely 5’6” tall and weighed in at around 120lbs) easily defeated a visiting Russian boxer named Giko, a giant of a man who weighed over 250lbs and stood some twelve inches taller than the dynamic wing chun exponent.
Wong almost single-handedly put this previously low-profile martial art in the public spotlight, gaining great prestige for his teacher, the late grandmaster, Yip Man. Wong’s reputation as an invincible fighter also attracted the attention of the young Bruce Lee, who had only recently joined the Yip Man wing chun school after having been introduced to the system by his friend, William Cheung, who was later to become a prominent, some might say controversial, spokesman for the wing chun clan. Initially, Lee had trained with his friend Cheung, but when Cheung left for Australia to further his education, Lee became the protegé of Wong Shun Leung who, at almost six years his senior and assistant instructor at the school, commanded the young (around 16 years of age) Bruce Lee’s unwavering respect.
In the beginning of their student/teacher relationship, Wong found the young Lee to be quite lazy in his approach to training, consequently his progress in the art was relatively slow. It wasn’t too long, however, after witnessing first hand the devastating effectiveness of Wong’s skills, that Lee began to take his wing chun training far more seriously. In fact, Lee was so keen to learn from Wong that he even found devious ways of monopolising his sihing’s teaching time. Wong was, at the time, running training sessions out of his home (his father had helped him to set up a small area for this purpose), as well as helping his teacher Yip Man conduct the classes at the kwoon. After unsuccessfully approaching Wong for private lessons, the young “Little Dragon” found another method of getting his own way.
On more than one occasion, after school was finished for the day, Lee would rush over to Wong’s house in order to arrive before his sihingdai. Later on, Sifu Wong would often recount this story to his students, this writer included, saying how Bruce would check that he was indeed the first to arrive, afterwhich he would make up some excuse to leave for a while, whereby he would head downstairs to wait for his classmates to arrive. Sitting on the steps, looking dejected, he would greet his friends with the news that Wong was ill, out on an errand, or otherwise indisposed, then walk with them down the street, even going as far as to help them board a bus for home. Once he was sure that they had all departed the scene, Bruce would double back to Wong’s to take advantage of what was now a private lesson. Eventually, Wong became aware of this little ruse and, according to others of that era, gave his young disciple an especially realistic lesson, complete (so the story goes) with black eyes, split lips and a bloody nose!
Despite his awesome reputation as a fighter, Wong was not a violent man per se, but he revelled in the chance to test his skills and the effectiveness of Yip Man’s art. “I didn’t actually learn wing chun just to go out and fight. Kung-fu should really be used as a way of protecting yourself in circumstances where you are physically threatened”, he was quoted as saying in an interview conducted in Australia some years ago. “After I learnt the skills of wing chun from Yip Man, I often had the opportunity to test them. By experimenting with my skills I could discover their limitations and how they compared with other disciplines and so improve myself.” It was during this period of “experimentation” that Wong Shun Leung first introduced Bruce Lee to the experience of the beimo and in the very first of Lee’s matches, Wong (who was actually refereeing the fight) coached him between rounds, urging him to continue when it had appeared that Lee was about to give up the fight.
It could be rightly said that the resulting victory changed the course of Bruce Lee’s life, certainly it heralded the beginnings of the training regime that would see him become the martial arts superstar that the world was to discover many years later. It is reported that grandmaster Yip Man, on learning about what had transpired, took Wong aside and said, “Fortunately you accompanied him to the venue and encouraged him to go on with the match. This trial of martial skill may well be a decisive influence on him in the future. If someday, Siu Lung (Bruce) succeeds, the credit should rightfully go to you.” In writing about this period in Lee’s life, Jesse Glover (his first American student) stated, “Wong was four years senior (in training) to Bruce in Yip Man’s clan and Bruce studied privately for a year and a half under both him and Yip Man.” Glover also wrote that Wong was “…the man most responsible for the development of Bruce Lee”, and that “In ‘59 Bruce told me that Wong was the greatest fighter in the wing chun style, and that he had successfully defeated all challengers.”
As fate would have it, circumstances arose that lead to Bruce having to leave for a new life in America, curtailing his opportunity to train with Wong. For the next several years, apart from the occasional visit by Lee to Hong Kong for filming or family visits, his relationship with Wong was restricted to a steady stream of letters between teacher and student. Many of these letters still survive today, and in one such letter Lee wrote, “Even though I am (technically) a student of Yip Man, in reality, I learned my Kung-fu from you.” Over the years, Lee would strive to be able to overcome the skill of his teacher, using Wong’s level of expertise as the yardstick by which he measured his own development as a fighter, but try as he might, Bruce Lee was never able to defeat Wong Shun Leung in combat.
Many of the personal fighting concepts by which Lee would eventually become famous for can be traced back to the lessons that he learnt from Sifu Wong and, even after obtaining both fame and fortune from his martial arts and film careers, Lee never forgot where his roots were, spending whatever time he could with his teacher when back in Hong Kong during the final years leading up to his own premature demise. Sifu Wong once spoke to me of an occasion when he and Lee began to discuss their favourite topic early one evening, retiring to the hallway while their wives sat with their children watching the television. At 7.00am the next morning they were still there, having talked, trained and tested their martial theories right through the night!
Lee was keen to involve Wong in his movies, offering him a part in “Game of Death”, specifically the role that was later to be played by basketball star Kareem Abdul Jabbar, that of Lee’s final opponent at the top of the “Tower of Death” at the end of the film. “My character was to have beaten Bruce,” Wong told Bey Logan in a 1986 interview for Britain’s ‘COMBAT’ magazine, “…but he would still have managed to kill me! I told him that I didn’t want to go and die in my first movie!” Wong also added that, “…(besides) I wasn’t in dire financial straits at the time, so I didn’t have to do the film (just) to make money.”
However, Lee wasn’t one to give up easily and, when shooting “Enter the Dragon” in Hong Kong, he invited Wong to come “on location” to discuss the fight scenes. Anyone viewing the documentary “Bruce Lee: the Man and the Legend” can briefly observe Wong on the “Han’s Weapon Room” set, “sparring” with an extra, and reacting to punches thrown by Lee himself. Over the years Sifu Wong was involved in a number of film and television projects, including the movie “Bruce’s Fingers” in 1976, starring Bruce Lee look-alike Bruce Le (Lu Hsiao-lung), in which Sifu simply played himself, the hero’s instructor. He was also the wing chun consultant and action choreographer for the film “Stranger From Shaolin” (aka: “The Formidable Lady From Shaolin”) starring Michelle Yim, and a Hong Kong television mini-series called “The Story of Wing Chun”.
Sifu Wong Shun Leung also “starred” in a training video on his style, entitled “Wing Chun: the Science of In-fighting” which was produced as part of a series of instructional tapes in the early ‘80s. He also occasionally authored articles on his beloved wing chun for a number of Chinese-language martial arts magazines, and was the subject of several articles and interviews in magazines all over the world. A number of these articles were concerned with his famous pupil, Bruce Lee, and delved into the relationship between the two of them, attempting to determine his role in the career of the superstar, and often attempting to extract controversial views on Lee and other wing chun practitioners. Always the diplomat, Wong would never allow himself to be drawn into such discussions, preferring to either restrict himself to positive comments, or else choosing to make no comment, dismissing the enquiry with a wry smile.
On the whole, Wong preferred to downplay his role as Lee’s instructor, not wishing to take advantage of someone else’s achievements. Instead, he just got on with the job of passing on the skills of wing chun which he constantly tested and refined over the years, adhering to the motto “To improve myself with each days training.” In addition to teaching Kung-fu, Sifu Wong was a practitioner of the ancient Chinese art of tit dar (“bone-setting”), the traditional method of treating sprains, bruises, dislocated and broken bones (a very useful skill, considering his line of work!) He was also an accomplished self-taught calligrapher with a profound knowledge of ancient forms of writing unknown to many modern Chinese, with which he would spend many hours writing classical poetry as a form of relaxation and self-improvement.
Rather than standing up on his own personal soap box, proclaiming his own greatness as many of his contemporaries in the martial arts have tended to do in recent years, Wong made no such claims and rejected the many grandiose titles which others attempted to bestow upon him, preferring to quietly set about destroying the myths and “kungfusion” associated with the Chinese fighting arts. He taught a devoted band of followers who travelled from all corners of the world to obtain his instruction, and he regularly travelled to Europe and Australia where he conducted seminars and workshops for the students of his representatives there. Sifu Wong shared his knowledge with great enthusiasm, believing that anyone, regardless of race, colour or creed, was worth teaching. As long as a person was prepared to work hard, Sifu was more than willing to call them his student.
Refusing to cash in on his connection with Bruce Lee, or on his own formidable reputation as a fighter and instructor par excellence, Sifu Wong insisted that he was a simple man, with no special talent, and was never one to “blow his own trumpet”. You were more likely to hear of his past exploits from other people and on those rare occasions when he did speak of such events, he would always refuse to name names or criticise rival styles, his only real gripe being with instructors who wasted their student’s time with endless, useless techniques and combat drills. “You can always get more money (if you run out)” he would say, “…but you can’t get more time.” On the subject of wing chun, his most common advise to his devotees was, “You must be the master of wing chun, not it’s slave”, meaning that one must take the concepts of the system and make them work, rather than get bound up in unnecessary analysis and potentially dangerous limited thinking.
It appeared that, after so many years, Sifu Wong was finally about to gain the recognition and rewards that had long eluded him. All manner of book, film and video projects had been discussed in the months leading up to his untimely passing, the most significant of these being the proposed movie, “Story of Yip Man”, starring none other than comedic sensation Steven Chow Sing Chi, himself a former student of Wong Shun Leung and a lifelong Kung-fu fan and Bruce Lee aficionado. Chow had been in training with his former instructor in preparation for the upcoming role and had negotiated for Wong to be the technical consultant on the film. There was also a distinct possibility that Wong would have an on-camera role and would most likely be involved in the choreography of the action sequences.
At the time of Sifu Wong’s death, the 25th anniversary of Bruce Lee’s death was fast approaching, and there had been much talk of interviews and book projects, including one arranged by Steven Chow. Writers and producers from Hong Kong and around the world had approached Sifu with a view to include him in their proposed ventures and preliminary work had been done on at least two of these. Australian producer, martial artist and Bruce Lee aficionado, Walt Missingham, was already set to begin shooting at the beginning of April that year when I had the sad task of informing him of my teacher’s death. Sadly, this and all the other projects will now either not take place, or else will be completed without the input that Sifu’s vast knowledge and experience would have added to them. More disappointing still is the realisation that Sifu Wong will now not be able to personally enjoy the recognition which was long overdue.
The man whom was often referred to as “Wing Chun’s Living Legend” is now no longer with us, but his influence will be felt for many years to come through the efforts of his many students, both in Hong Kong and around the world. The members of the world-wide “Wong Shun Leung Wing Chun Martial Art Association”, this writer included, are dedicated to spreading the skills and knowledge that has been passed on to them by this outstanding teacher and exponent of the art. While Wong Shun Leung was not one to take flashy titles with any seriousness, always insisting that to be called Sifu by his students was sufficient recognition of who he was, in the hearts and minds of all who witnessed his awesome talent or benefited from his wisdom and instruction, he was one of the greatest Masters of wing chun (and the Chinese martial arts in general) in this, or any other century.
Tragically, like his famous student Bruce Lee before him, Sifu Wong left us far too early in life, but like Lee, those of us fortunate to have been touched by his greatness, whether directly as his students, or indirectly through the cinematic exploits of his famous pupil and friend, are all the more richer for having known him. The “Legend Behind the Legend” may be gone and will certainly be greatly missed, but Sifu Wong Shun Leung, father, teacher and friend to so many, will definitely never be forgotten. The next time that you enjoy watching your film hero Bruce Lee on the large or small screen, spare a thought for the great man who inspired him to such greatness.
Wong Shun Leung… 1935-1997
About the author: David Peterson, age 43, has been training in the Chinese martial arts since 1973. He became a student of Sifu Wong Shun Leung after travelling to Hong Kong in 1983. He is a teacher of the Chinese language and principal instructor of the ‘Melbourne Chinese Martial Arts Club’ where he instructs in the “Wong Shun Leung Method”. Peterson is one of only two authourised and qualified instructors of Wong’s system in Australia, and a fully endorsed member of the world-wide ‘Wong Shun Leung Wing Chun Martial Arts Association’ and the Hong Kong-based ‘Ving Tsun Athletic Association’. A speaker of both Mandarin and Cantonese dialects of Chinese, Peterson translated for his teacher whenever Sifu Wong conducted seminars in Australia, and in 1996 was employed as script translator on Jackie Chan’s “Mr Nice Guy” which was shot on location in Melbourne. He is also a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in many local (Australian) and overseas journals, including “Combat”, “Inside Kung-fu”, “Black Belt”, “Masters of the Martial Arts”, “Impact: the Action Movie Magazine”, “Eastern Heroes”, “Australasian Fighting Arts”, “Blitz Australasian Martial Arts Magazine”, “Australasian Martial Arts Magazine”, “Traditional Martial Arts Journal”, “Impact Martial Arts Magazine”, “Qi Magazine”, “Martial Arts Illustrated”, “Martial Arts Legends”, “Kicksider” and “Kung Fu Illustrierte”. More recently, many of Peterson’s articles have appeared on Websites around the world such as “Wing Chun Kuen”, “Planet Wing Chun”, “Wing Chun World”, and many more.
FUNERAL FOR A LEGEND
By Sifu David Peterson
“Following what doctors in Hong Kong described as a ‘subarachnoid haemorrhage’ and lapsing into a coma lasting 16 days, Wing Chun’s “King of the Challenge Match”, Sifu Wong Shun Leung, passed away peacefully on January 28th, 1997… he was just 61 years of age. Wong had been with a group of friends at the “Wing Chun Athletic Association” on Sunday January 12th, enjoying a few games of cards and Mahjong when he complained of feeling unwell. Soon afterwards he collapsed into a coma from which he never awoke…..”
Sunday the 12th of January, 1997, had been a fairly uneventful day for me. Being in the middle of my vacation from work, and in the lazy days following Christmas and New Year celebrations, I had not been giving much thought to anything of great importance, except that I was wishing that my financial situation had been better that year so that I could have spent a couple of months in training at my beloved teacher’s school in Hong Kong. This had been a tradition over many years, going back to my first trip to Hong Kong in the December of 1983, and the fact that hard times had forced me to remain in Australia since 1992 weighed on my mind.
The last time that I had enjoyed the company of my dear teacher, Sifu Wong Shun Leung, had been in February of 1994, the very last time that he had travelled “Downunder” to pass on his knowledge to my students in Melbourne, and those of my sihing, Sifu Barry Lee in Sydney. We had spoken on the telephone a few times since then, and I wrote him occasional letters during the intervening years, but I really missed not being able to be with him in person, to share in his jokes, help him with his English (and be helped in turn by him with my Chinese!), to drink coffee at his little table or eat at the “Shun Tak Yu Wong” restaurant in Mongkok where many a long evening had been enjoyed eating and drinking while talking with Sifu and my Sihing-dai about training and the “good old days” of the past.
I had in fact, just a few days before Christmas, written Sifu a long letter, half in English, half in Chinese, apologising for being such a bad student by not keeping in more regular contact, and also apologising for not being able to visit him for yet another year. I had told him that, while times had been hard for me and my little School, things were looking better and we were hoping to be able to invite him to visit us again in the coming year, …a visit that was, sadly, never to take place. I had also written for his help in trying to rectify a situation in my country, whereby an instructor of somewhat “questionable” Wing Chun training had been claiming, falsely and without basis in fact, to be Sifu’s student and representative, and I had asked Sifu to compose a letter which would state clearly that the man concerned was not his representative, that only Sifu Lee and myself were authorised and qualified to represent him in this country.
I do know that he received this letter, and that he had considered the issue to be serious enough to ask one of my good friends, Sydney-based Sifu Victor Leow, to assist him in composing the letter in English so as to put the matter to rest once and for all. They had sat down one night after training and Victor had assisted Sifu in doing the rough draft of the letter, afterwhich Sifu had placed it in his little carry-bag that he always took with him, telling Victor that he would have one of his sons type it out for him, then sign it and send it off to me so that we could have it published in the local Australian martial arts press. Between that night and the day of his collapse, the letter disappeared, presumably lost amongst his personal papers at home, never to reach me as he had planned.
A few weeks went by and I had heard from Victor that the letter had been drafted and would probably reach me soon. Then, out of the blue, I received a phone call that I had never anticipated receiving, at least not for many, many years to come. It was quite late, around 11.30pm on January 12th, and on the other end of the line was one of my Australian “Wing Chun Brothers”, Sifu John Smith, another of Sifu’s Hong Kong-trained foreign devotees. His tone was serious and his voice had an urgency which struck me immediately. “Sifu has had a stroke and is in a coma!”, he told me. I was stunned, and one thousand thoughts went through my mind in an instant. I quizzed John for more details, but at that point in time, details were not very precise. John had received a call from Rusper Patel in Hong Kong, who had received a phone call from someone else in Hong Kong, and so on. It was going to be at least a while longer before the facts were known. In the meantime, my telephone went into meltdown as I quickly informed friends and students all over the world of what had taken place. At the same time, in the back of my mind, through the clouds of disbelief that were quickly taking over, a decision was quickly being made; I had to somehow get to Hong Kong, …as quickly as possible.
At around two o’clock in the morning I received my second phone call from Hong Kong, this time from my student Angus Macnab who was at that time training and working there. By then, more details were known, and the news wasn’t good. That night, sleep was impossible to contemplate, and I continued making phone calls to friends on the other side of the world. I also busied myself preparing press releases for the major martial arts publications both here and overseas. I have a particularly good professional relationship with the editors of ‘Combat’ and ‘Inside Kung-fu’ magazines, having written many articles over the years for those journals, so I knew that I could rely on them to make the news of Sifu’s situation public, and therefore began the first of several reports to them on the matter. Then, it was time to await further bulletins from Hong Kong, …and so began the dawn of what was to be 16 days of torment as the calls continued backwards and forwards, and hope began to fade for Sifu to make a recovery.
All of us who were aware of the grave condition that Sifu was in, know that surgery occurred several times to relieve the pressure that the stroke had put on Sifu’s brain, but the coma continued, and the longer that it did, the more we all began to realise that maybe the “King of the Challenge Match” had finally met his toughest opponent. All the while, I desperately tried to figure out how I could get to Hong Kong, afterall, like the rest of the “WSL Wing Chun Family”, I desperately wanted to be by my teacher’s side, to let him know that we were there for him at his time of greatest need. Several of his long-time students from around the world were either already by his side in the hospital, or en route to Hong Kong, and I too wanted to make the journey. Several of my friends and students came to my aid, giving me gifts of their hard-earned money so that I could afford the airfare, and just as I had finally found the means by which to go to my Sifu’s aid, the news that I had dreaded came in the form of a terribly sad telephone call from my dear friend and sidai, Rusper Patel. Sifu Wong Shun Leung, the “Living Legend of Wing Chun”, was with us no longer. It was the worst phone call that I had ever received, …the tears flowed freely, as they would many more times over the next few days, …and the rounds of telephone calls began again in earnest.
My dear friend and student, Ian Squires, had been determined that he would accompany me to Hong Kong, regardless as to whether Sifu had recovered or not, and he quickly made use of business contacts to obtain last minute plane tickets for the two of us. Accommodation was quickly arranged with a close friend in Wanchai, himself a one-time student of both myself and Sifu, and bosses were informed that Ian and I would be absent from our respective jobs for at least a week. Less than 36 hours after we had received the news of his passing, Ian and I were on our way to the airport to mark the first leg of our sad journey to bury our beloved teacher. The conversation on the plane was sparse during the eight hours of the flight, but when we did exchange words, it was mostly of our glowing memories of Sifu, and what a loss it was to the martial arts world now that he was gone. I started to wonder whether or not I was going to handle the events to come, but I knew that I wasn’t alone on that score because there were going to be a lot of other very sad people there to greet me when I stepped into the door of the Club for the first time in so many years.
The next couple of nights were spent at the Club where students and friends gathered to talk over old times, work out the details of the funeral service, organise wreaths, banners and floral tributes, and basically make sure that no stone was left unturned in making sure that the entire procedure ran as smoothly as possible. It struck me as to what an amazing gathering I was taking part in. There, in that one not-so-large training room, stood some of the finest Wing Chun practitioners in the world, men and women who, collectively, represented many thousands of hours of training, and scattered in their midst were several other famous faces from the “Wing Chun World”, such as Sifu Chu Shong Tin, Sifu Siu Yuk Man, Sifu Yip Ching, and several others. People huddled together in little groups, trying to find a common language of communication amongst a group made up of many different races, with many different languages.
As I scanned the room, I recognised some faces immediately, people I knew from my own training days, and other faces that I recognised, but had not met before. For example, this was the first time that I had the opportunity to meet with my German contemporary (and happily may I say, now my dear friend), Sifu Philipp Bayer and several of his students. Gradually, people began to move from group to group, exchanging words of regret and sorrow, or sharing happy memories of the past, and soon most people had spoken to the majority of those present, or at least given them a nod and a smile. It was somehow ironic that we had all come together like this, and the only missing ingredient was our Sifu. Every now and again, heads would turn at the sound of another arrival, and I know that I wasn’t the only one who almost expected to see Sifu come in through the heavy metal gate, his little bag clutched under one arm, cigarette in hand, smiling and asking us if we wanted to share a coffee with him. You could really feel his presence in the room that first night, …it was uncanny.
On the second night that we met together, the discussions were held in earnest, with last minute details being hastily arranged. Then, Simo took out a photograph of her late husband that had been prepared as the official funeral picture, and there was a sudden increase in the level of the discussion in the room. It appeared that the majority of those present did not approve of the choice of photo, and it was quickly suggested, by a couple of my German Sihing-dai, that amongst my collection of photos that had accompanied me on my trip to Hong Kong, was a photograph which they approved of. I was quickly summoned to the table, photo album in hand, and asked to provide a better shot for the occasion. Once it was chosen, a photo of a smiling Sifu taken in Australia in 1988 on the occasion of his first meeting in 23 years with student Sifu Rolf Clausnitzer, a group of us raced down the street to locate an all-night processing store where we quickly enlarged the photo to a more suitable size. It was received enthusiastically on our return to the Club, and it was decided that Simo would arrange to have it retouched and mounted in time for the funeral ceremony.
Due to my ability to communicate in Chinese, I was nominated to sit in on discussions so as to represent the views of the foreign students, and to translate the proceedings for them. This was a great honour for me, and I really felt accepted at last by many of my Hong Kong Sihing-dai whom had previously not taken me all that seriously. Our common grief was quickly breaking down old barriers between the races, and this was, in my opinion, yet another achievement for Sifu, …even in death he had a way of uniting his followers, …I’m sure that I detected his smile shining down on us at that time, …I think that he was very pleased with us at that moment! After that, it was arranged for everyone to meet at the funeral home in Hunghom the next day, at the appointed hour, and the groups then divided up and moved off into the Hong Kong night to various supper destinations.
Sifu Wong Shun Leung’s funeral was a very moving affair for his family, friends and students. Taking the form of the traditional two-day ceremony, the funeral service contained much in the way of Daoist and Buddhist imagery and ritual, the immediate family, Sifu’s wife, two sons and daughter donning the traditional white robes worn on such occasions, as did his brother and sisters. His students, both local and overseas (including men and women from England, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Holland, Poland and Australia) also wore a white sash and badge indicating their relationship to their teacher. Our main task was to act as an honour guard for Sifu, greeting mourners as they arrived at the service and escorting them to the signing of the official attendance record, to the altar and, in some cases, to the rear of the altar to pay their respects to Sifu in person as he lay in state. This duty was shared amongst us over the next several hours, with groups of us taking a supper break at some stage into the night.
The entire hall where the ceremony was conducted, and the entrances and hallway leading to it, were filled with floral tributes of all shapes and sizes, from Hong Kong and places all around the world. Reading the tributes written upon the wreaths and banners was like reading a “Who’s Who” of the martial arts, indicative of the respect that Wong Shun Leung commanded amongst his peers. In the centre of the rear of the room stood an altar, upon which rested the now enlarged, retouched and framed photograph of a slightly smiling Sifu, looking out on the proceedings with his tell-tale glint in the eyes. At that moment, as my eyes first fell upon the photo, a combination of grief and pride rushed through my body, and it was then that the realisation of his death started to really sink in.
The full impact of his loss finally hit home when I was taken to the room at the rear of the altar in which Sifu’s body lay upon a trolley. Dressed in traditional clothing, a small Mandarin cap on his head and his body draped in a red and gold blanket, Sifu rested peacefully in the silence of this cold little tiled room, while outside, guests were led to the altar where they, like the rest of us on our arrival, placed smouldering joss sticks in front of his portrait after bowing three times before his image. During the hours that followed, I “visited” Sifu on several occasions and had the little chats with him that I had missed over the preceding couple of years. At other times, I accompanied several of my students and Sihing-dai as we stood in the presence of our teacher and remembered the good times that we had shared with him over the years. These were all very special moments that made the bond between us even stronger, …but also increased the sadness of the occasion.
Prayers had been offered on and off during the first few hours as mourners arrived to pay their respects, bowing at the altar, then bowing to the family members present. Eventually, the ceremony proper got under way, with various incantations being made, accompanied by ritual costumes, gestures and acts of devotion, all delivered like a kind of surreal theatre performance, complete with musical accompaniment, incense and chanting by a steady stream of priests and priestly assistants. Sometimes members of the immediate family were actively involved, one at a time and as a group, and these activities went on well into the night, with all of us finally leaving the building well after midnight had passed. Perhaps the most moving of these rituals took place when we all moved outside into the chilly night air to witness the burning of paper and bamboo artefacts, representing the possessions that Sifu would need to accompany him on his journey into the next world. Among these items was a car, a house, a bridge and wads of paper money for him to “spend” on the other side.
Day two began early in the morning, again a steady stream of mourners arriving at different times to pay their respects. Some sat quietly for ages, others spoke briefly with the family, then quietly left, but most stayed on for the final part of the ceremony, whereby Sifu’s body, now placed in a traditional Chinese-style wooden coffin, was wheeled into the main room and placed in the centre, just ahead of the altar. At this time, everyone was again asked to come out and bow to Sifu in his coffin, then the official speeches began. I was personally honoured to be able to speak to the gathering on behalf of all of the foreign students, addressing the audience briefly in Chinese, before reading aloud the lines that we, his foreign students, had collectively written two nights earlier. As I waited for my turn to read our simple speech, my emotions rose up inside of me, and I feared that I would let everyone down by not being able to complete the task.
However, as I listened to my Hong Kong Sihings Anthony and Cliff speak before me, I regained my composure and determined to face all those present with pride and self-control, and I was able to get through the speech successfully. When I had finally finished, I began to walk back to my place in the line of honour, and it was only then that I allowed the sadness that I had been holding inside to burst forth. Thank goodness for the kindness and compassion of several of my dear Sihing-dai who saw my distress and quickly comforted me. I treasure that moment very much indeed, and I am so grateful for their act of friendship at that, and other moments, during the course of the funeral service. I am not ashamed to say that I cried for my Sifu, …I know that we all loved him very much, and always will. It goes without saying that we all shed many tears over those days, with even the toughest amongst Sifu’s students feeling the enormity of our collective loss. After a long drive by bus, from the funeral home to the eastern side of the peninsula beyond the airport, the funeral service culminated in Sifu’s burial at a beautiful location overlooking the ocean at an area known as Junk Bay, situated on Kowloon-side.
Following a brief service at the graveside, and the offering of a toast of wine to Sifu by all of his students present, we all made our way back into the hustle and bustle of East Tsimshatsui where we gathered in a restaurant and shared a meal with Simo and the family. Sadly for Ian and I, our stay in Hong Kong was then over, and after saying our goodbyes to all present, we quickly returned to our place of lodging where we then packed our bags and headed off for the airport and our flight back home to our jobs and families. While I can’t say that this trip to Hong Kong was in any way a happy one, unlike trips prior to this occasion, it was a journey that had to be made, regardless of how painful it proved to be, and I am eternally grateful to my students for making it possible for me to attend and represent them at Sifu’s funeral service. I am also indebted to Ian Squires for accompanying me there and supporting me during such an emotionally taxing time. I know that I would never have forgiven myself if I hadn’t made the journey, no matter how painful an experience it was. Sifu deserved nothing less from me in return for the wealth of knowledge and friendship that he shared with me since we first met. In conclusion, I would like to leave the reader with the words that were spoken by me at the funeral, composed by and on behalf of all the foreign students of the late, great Wing Chun Gung-fu Master, Sifu Wong Shun Leung, the undisputed “King of the Challenge Match”.
TO OUR SIFU
“How do we find the right words to describe our feelings for the large, sweet Soul that has gone? Some of us have lost a father (Sifu), some of us a grandfather (Sigung), but we have all lost a very good friend.”
“He was a man of great character, with a very high level of being, an honest man who gave of his time freely to all who sought his guidance. To all of us who knew him as our teacher, he was “one-in-a-million”, and in our lifetime we will never meet his like again.”
“Whenever we had a problem, no matter how trivial, or personal in nature, Sifu would take the time to talk with us, share in our problem, and always help us to find a positive outcome. If nothing else, he was always positive in his outlook on life, and he helped all of us to see things in the same kind of way.”
Above all else, Sifu Wong Shun Leung was a man of great integrity, …a man whom we loved, …and a man whom we will remember forever we were incredibly fortunate to know him, and we will strive to keep his memory alive in everything we do from this time onwards.”
Wong Shun Leung…. 1935-1997
Get Out Of The Way, ...And Make Them Pay
“Get Out Of The Way, …And Make Them Pay”
The Street-Effective Footwork Of Wing Chun
Everyone knows how boring it is to practise footwork, but there isn’t a martial artist alive who could deny the importance of acquiring the skills involved. It doesn’t matter how fast or powerful your punches and kicks might be, without a delivery system, no striking technique, no matter how great it might be, is of any use at all if it can’t reach the target. Even more important is the need to be able to avoid an opponent’s attempts to attack, while still being in an advantageous position, hence footwork, no matter how tedious, is a skill that needs to be drilled constantly.
Not only does footwork require constant drilling to perfect, it must be structurally sound and based on logical principles in order to be effective under real conditions. While much of the footwork patterns practised in many martial arts may work within the relative safety of the dojo, dojang and kwoon, or in competition or pre-arranged demonstrations, when it comes to the “real thing”, sadly many methods of footwork fail to deliver the goods. The footwork of the wing chun gung fu system, as taught and practised by the late Sifu Wong Shun Leung of Hong Kong and his followers, this author included, stands up to the demands of real combat.
What is it that makes this brand of footwork so effective? In simple terms, it is the fact that it adheres to the three most basic principles of the wing chun system, namely that it is SIMPLE, DIRECT and EFFICIENT. It is simple because wing chun footwork is based entirely on just one stance, yee ji kim yeung ma, generally referred to as the “goat stance”, and variations to this stance are derived naturally as a result of the structure of this basic position. It is direct because it advocates always utilising the shortest distance between defender and attacker(s) without superfluous motion or posturing.
Finally, it is efficient because it prescribes small changes in position so as to maintain close proximity to the assailant (the preferred wing chun fighting range, and the range most often encountered on the street), maximising the control one has over their opponent and reducing the time available to the opponent for attempting a counter measure. It is also efficient because it provides a strong base from which maximum power can be generated with minimal effort, without compromising the balance or integrity of the stance, thus making sudden changes to the situation easier to respond to in a very natural way. Wing chun footwork is also efficient as it allows for simultaneous attack and defence (lin siu dai da), because the practitioner is always left in a position where he or she can reach the opponent with both hands and at least one leg for attack, defence and control.
While this article will try to touch on all aspects of the wing chun footwork concepts, it is likely that the reader will note an emphasis on the defensive aspects. This is due to the fact that in the majority of cases where one might expect to need to use these skills, it will be as a victim of an attack, rather than as the instigator of one. Having said that, one will soon realise, by virtue of the descriptions and illustrations provided, that where wing chun footwork concepts are concerned, attack and defence are closely entwined and one easily gives rise to the other. In other words, wing chun footwork is both flexible and adaptable. It has been suggested that the footwork of the wing chun system was developed by people who spent much of their lives working on the water, plying the intricate river systems of the southern Chinese coastal provinces of Fujian and Guangdong. This is a not an unrealistic assumption when one examines the basic shapes and principles involved, in particular the propensity to slide rather than step with the back foot when in forward motion (thus maintaining constant contact with the ground which assists in the maintenance of good balance), while the “goat stance” would provide a perfectly good way of maintaining good footing on the surface of a moving deck. If you doubt this, try it for yourself, and it needn’t be a boat; a moving train, tram or bus is just as good a proving ground.
This theory also helps bring us some way towards understanding what many people regard as the paradox of the wing chun system, that it makes use of upright, mobile stances typical of northern Chinese systems, yet exhibits a distinct preference for close-range application of both hand and foot techniques, more typical of the combat systems of southern China. Because of this preference for a more upright, less flamboyant stance than most other forms of gung fu, the wing chun method was ideally suited to the tight alleys, crowded streets and rooftops of Fatsaan and Hong Kong where its most famous exponents, Dr Leung Jan, his student Chan Wa Sun, the late grandmaster Yip Man and his student, Wong Shun Leung, brought the art to prominence.
When categorising the various forms that footwork takes within the system, it can be said that all wing chun footwork is derived from the basic “goat stance”, as stated earlier, and that from that stance there are but five footwork options. The best way to come to an understanding of how the footwork is actually applied in combat is to take each of these five options in order and break them down into concepts and applications. In order to begin, we must firstly take a look at the “goat stance” so as to appreciate its structure and its underlying influence on wing chun footwork overall.
The Cantonese name of the basic stance is yee ji kim yeung ma, which describes very accurately how the stance should look and, to a lesser extent, feel when being practised. It is the stance from which all three empty hand forms of the system are practised, most evident in the performance of the first form, siu nim tau (“young idea”), where the entire form is practised while in this one basic position. If the name is broken down into two parts, it is easier to understand what it is telling us in terms of how the stance should appear.
The expression yee ji means “the character for the number two” and this describes the correct position of the feet. With the toes turned inwards in the classic “pigeon-toed” position, a line drawn between the toes of both feet would represent the shorter, top stroke of the character, while a line drawn between the two heels would represent the longer, bottom stroke of the character. The other half of the name, kim yeung ma, translates as “goat-gripping stance” and is meant to conjure up the image of a person bending their knees inwards and forwards so as to squeeze a goat (or sheep) to prevent it from getting free, in much the same way as Australian sheep-shearers might keep control of a sheep as they remove its fleece. Another contemporary image that parallels this shape is the so-called “snow plough” position used by skiers to slow down when going down the ski slopes.
When viewed from the side, it is important that there is a straight line existing from the shoulders through to the hips and the knees. It is structurally unsound if the head and shoulders are too far back (indicating that the practitioner is leaning too far back), or if the hips are back (indicating that the back is arched), as both of these postures will result in poor balance and/or the inability too move smoothly and quickly from this stance to another. The knees should be in line with the feet, not turned inwards towards each other, but instead pointed forward towards a common central point in front of the body. When done correctly, the feeling is not unlike that felt when sitting in a chair. In other words, you will feel stable and comfortable with no sensation of being able to go any lower or fall down.
When formed correctly, you have a stance that is balanced, favouring neither leg over the other, and a stance that is actually training both back legs of the advancing stance (saam gok bo) at the same time. That is to say, the angle of both feet is the same as any one foot would be positioned if you were to move forwards or backwards in the left or right side stance. The “goat stance” is also deliberately unstable, such that as soon as a force is applied to it, there is a natural tendency to collapse into a better position, hence the practitioner learns to not try to stand like a brick wall, meeting the opponent’s force head on, but to use that energy to form a more favourable position, but more on that shortly.
To form the “goat stance”, the ideal method is to firstly bend the knees, while the feet are together, as far as they will naturally go, which isn’t all that far. From there, the toes are turned outwards (at approx. 45o ), the heels remaining fixed on the spot, then the heels are turned out with the toes acting as the pivot point. At this point the hips should be tucked in, allowing the weight to be taken up by the knees which are now bent in line with the inward-pointing feet. Determining how wide the stance should be (ie. the distance between the heels) becomes more obvious when one attempts to move from the stance (refer below) but as a rule of thumb, one’s own shoulder width is generally wide enough as a shallower or deeper stance effects balance and mobility.
Creating a stance for advancing and/or retreating can then be created by turning to the right or left, using the heels as the pivot-point. Movement can now be achieved by stepping a few inches forward with the front foot (which should leave the ground, not slide), afterwhich the body is propelled forwards by virtue of the angle of the hips (backside tucked in) which cause the back foot to drive the body in the same direction as the forward leg. This action very much resembles the action of a rear-wheel drive car, the front wheels steering while the back wheels provide the energy to drive the car. The back foot should be in total contact with the ground throughout this action. To step backwards, the process is done in reverse, with the rear foot stepping and the front foot sliding, however, the posture remains the same and the weight remains over the rear leg. Practitioners of wing chun will no doubt realise that this is the way that forward stepping is first introduced within the second and third sections of the cham kiu form, the second of the three basic training forms.
It is now, when stepping is attempted, that one can discover whether or not the distance between the feet is correct. If the distance between the heels remains the same, after stepping, as the original basic “goat stance”, then all is well. If, however, there is inconsistency (ie. when returning to the basic position one finds that the feet are too close or too far apart) it is important to determine whether it is that the original stance was wrong to begin with, or that the distance between the feet is being allowed to vary during stepping. Usually it is found to be a little of each, however by lessening or increasing the angle at which the toes are turned out when forming the basic “goat stance” can often fix the problem. By a process of trial and error, one can normally find the “happy medium” which is the right stance for themselves.
The method described above clearly helps to understand the connection between the “goat stance” (yi ji kim yeung ma) and the “triangular advancing stance” (or saam gok ma), but it does not represent the most practical way of applying it, only the best way of learning, understanding and training it. As far as combat application is concerned, it is important to be able to advance or retreat as directly as possible from a neutral position and this is achieved, in training, by firstly forming the basic stance and visualising a line running between the feet, dividing the stance down the centre. Moving in either the forward or backward direction is then done by moving which ever is to be the lead leg directly to that line (either to the front or rear), followed immediately by the other foot. There should be no unnecessary motion associated with this, such as bringing the feet together first or making circular patterns, simply moving as directly as possible to the central line as described. This then represents the first two of the five options, (1) advancing forwards, and (2) stepping backwards, both possible from either a neutral or committed stance.
In attack, which is the favoured application (while stepping straight back may be an option, it is generally avoided at all costs by wing chun practitioners, with “side-stepping” (see below) being the preferred response), this concept of seung ma (“advancing/attacking steps”, literally: “getting on the horse”) can then be applied from any position or angle from the opponent, simply taking the shortest distance between oneself and the target as the line of attack, and stepping accordingly. Generally speaking, the closest side to the target will always become the lead leg as it reduces the time taken to achieve the movement, reduces the targets made available to the enemy, and maximises the chance of intercepting the opponent with most effect. If the situation calls for a more proactive response to a given threat (what some combat strategists, such as Britain’s Geoff Thompson, like to refer to as “pre-emptive strike scenario”), this type of footwork provides a very efficient means of delivering the first blow.
In accord with earlier remarks, it is important to now consider what, for the majority of situations, may well be the more likely requirement, the use of defensive footwork. This is the area in which the wing chun method excels, and for want of a better term in English, it will be referred to as the technique of “side-stepping” (the Cantonese term being tui ma, or “pushed step”, but more on that later). At the basic level, “side-stepping” is mechanically exactly the same as the footwork previously described, that is, it is the “goat stance” modified to form the “triangular advancing stance”, but with the direction and angle of movement altered to meet the specific needs of the situation. These are that (1) one must move in such a way as to avoid meeting the force of the attack head on, but (2) still be close enough to launch an effective counter-attack. Not only that, but to be able to achieve this as a set of simultaneous motions, catching the attacker off balance and totally committed to their attack, hence at the mercy of the defender who is then able to reverse the situation with consummate ease.
To understand and develop this skill, one must first imagine themselves as standing in the centre of a giant clock face, facing the twelve o’clock position. The attacker is then visualised as moving from the twelve o’clock position to the six o’clock position, taking you with them if you remain standing in the centre. It must be remembered here that it does not matter what form of attack that the enemy may be launching (hands or feet, straight or round), the fact of the matter is that he or she is bound by the laws of nature such that the central mass of their body must move in a straight line (only Peking Opera performers attack by running in winding lines!) For this reason it is imperative that one always faces the line of the attack (ie. the body of the attacker) so as to maximise the effect of the counter strikes to be delivered.
Thus, turning side on to the attack, or turning away from the attack will reduce the chances of seeing it coming, let alone dealing with it. Obviously, moving back in a straight line only delays the inevitable (you will still get run down), likewise jumping straight out to the left or the right is risky because the likelihood of still getting hit, at least partially, is still there, not to mention the fact that it is next to impossible to land an effective counter strike while moving in the opposite direction to the target. The wing chun response then? Go with the attack, moving both backwards and slightly sideways, at either an angle of five o’clock or seven o’clock from the centre of the “clock”. This enables the defender to face the attacker so as to be able to control and attack with both hands simultaneously, quite literally drawing them into to the trap that has been set by the footwork.
It allows for a very powerful counter strike because the enemy literally falls into the oncoming hand techniques which are being supported by the strong base provided by the rear leg. The harder the attacker rushes in, the harder they get hit, contributing to their own downfall. The structure of the stance provides a natural line of power, being that all impact is being reflected back from the ground, not through the shoulders or waist of the defender, as is the case in the methods employed by other systems, hence body mass does not play the crucial role that it does in some methods and even a smaller person can generate sufficient strength to injure an opponent quite seriously. The sharpness of the angle also makes it extremely difficult for the attacker to respond in time, preventing them from re-positioning themselves for a continuance of their own attack.
There are basically two ways in which this “side-stepping” can be employed. The first is when initial contact is made, such as during an attack involving pushing or grabbing, or else when a clash of techniques has taken place. Under these conditions, the Cantonese term of tui ma (“pushed step”) makes perfectly good sense. When the opponent attempts to push the victim off balance, the structure of the basic position takes over and the stance collapses naturally towards the side most appropriate, with the closest leg to that side moving first (left leg to the left side, or right leg to the right-hand side). In other words, the attacker guides the defender into the appropriate response, what sifu Wong liked to describe as, “Allowing the attacker to show you how to hit him”.
The other possibility is, of course, when initial contact is not made and the attacker launches his or her attack from a distance. Should this take place, the response is exactly the same, except that the defender has to judge when to move from the visual clues offered by the attacker, but the method of shifting the body remains identical. Again, the attacker, by making the first move, sets himself up to be counter attacked, attack being the operative term as the Wong Shun Leung Method always advocates attacking the attack, not defending against it. There is also ample research available to support the notion that the reactive fighter is more likely to be successful than the proactive one, in much the same way that the gunfighter who draws first inevitably gets shot by the guy he has drawn on. This is scientifically provable, not just Hollywood hype.
Once the “side-step” has been applied and the first of the counter strikes initiated, the wing chun fighter is now in a commanding position and can take full advantage, driving forward with “advancing footwork” (as described earlier) towards an opponent who now finds themselves out of position, off balance and unable to continue their own fight plan as originally envisaged. They are not only then physically defeated, but also psychologically defeated as they find themselves at the mercy of the very person whom they had previously planned to injure. By driving the attack back towards the enemy while simultaneously controlling the upper and lower portions of their opponent’s body, the wing chun practitioner is able to get the “head and tail of the enemy moving in different directions”, thus fully controlling the situation.
The technique of “side-stepping”, as described above, not only works from a neutral posture such as the “goat stance”, but also from a position where one is already committed to a movement in either the forward or backward direction. For example, should the initial “side-step” be insufficient to slow down the forward rush of the opponent, or else the counter-attack not completely incapacitate them, the body can be easily shifted again by means of one of two methods, “shuffle stepping” or “long stepping”, both of which make use of the same structures already described, and both of which are natural follow ups which take their cues from the opponent’s actions. These actions are not limited to being applied after an initial defensive response, they also work just as efficiently as a response to an attempt to attack which has run into trouble, such as a clash of techniques which effect the balance or position of the wing chun exponent as they drive forwards.
To understand how these variations on the stepping work, let’s set up a situation and see what takes place. If, for example, the wing chun exponent already has the right foot forward after having moved towards or away from the opponent, and then wishes to retreat towards the left side, the “shuffle step” would be applied. In essence this is exactly the same as the basic “side-step”, whereby the closest foot to the desired destination, the left foot, steps in that direction, followed immediately by the right foot. The end result is a stance no different from that which would have been achieved had the step originated from the neutral “goat stance”. As with basic “side-stepping”, this technique can be applied from a contact or non-contact position, although it is particularly easy when it occurs as a direct result of the opponent’s attempts to crash through one’s defence.
Should the situation require movement in the opposite direction (ie. the right foot is forward and there is a need to retreat towards the right), the method employed is what is referred to as “long stepping”. In this case, unlike the “shuffle step” whereby the stance remains in the same configuration as the body shift takes place, in “long stepping” the stance changes completely, transferring the weight to the opposite leg. This means that the right leg, which begins as the front leg, ends up as the rear supporting leg. In both instances (“shuffle step” and “long step”), the direction of movement remains the same, being either five o’clock or seven o’clock from the original position in relation to the opponent’s line of attack. Should the opponent prove difficult to control due to great strength or the inability of the defender to land strong counter techniques, a short series of steps making use of all of the above variations can easily be applied to confuse and control the opponent until they can be effectively dealt with. This then represents the third option, (3) side-stepping, with all its practical variations.
This brings us to the fourth footwork option utilised by wing chun practitioners, (4) the “pivot” or “stance-turning” (juen ma). Of all the footwork methods utilised in the system, this is probably the one most misunderstood, most misused, and most underrated. It is also the most difficult to use well and, as such, requires a great deal of training. Juen ma is first introduced in the very first section of the cham kiu form where it is used in conjunction with the bong sau/lan sau technique combination to illustrate how force can be dissipated. While the “goat stance” may be the perfect position for practising techniques, it is the “half-pivoted stance” (dui gok ma or “diagonal/side-on stance”) which is the preferred pre-fighting posture. This is mainly because it is more mobile and less committed than a stance with either leg already forward, and less “rigid” than the “goat stance”.
To try to put “pivoting” into perspective so as to illustrate the difference between it and the “side-step”, consider the following statement: “When one side-steps, one allows the opponent to maintain their position and structure, and is forced to relinquish territory to the attacker, whereas when one uses the “pivot”, the opponent is the one forced to give up position, structure and territory.” In other words, if one is able to use “pivoting” rather than automatically retreating to the side, it will be the opponent, rather than the defender, who ends up off-balance and out of position because their line of attack has been suddenly and dramatically disrupted. For the attacker, recovering from such a position is extremely difficult indeed, whereas when a “side-step” is the response to their initial attack, there is always a chance to reposition the body and attack again if the defender has not counter-attacked with sufficient effect.
The question that should now be rushing to the mind is that, if the juen ma is such a dynamic technique which causes so much trouble to the opponent, why isn’t it used all of the time? The answer is, of course, quite obvious, …or at least should be. The use of the “pivot” is limited by virtue of one’s proximity to the opponent, and by virtue of the type and strength of the attack being dealt with. Under most circumstances, the “pivot” is employed only when initial contact has already been made, or else when there is little body motion accompanying the attack (ie. the opponent is remaining virtually motionless during the strike apart from moving the attacking limb), such as when one throws a jab punch from a stationary position with shoulder or hip movement, but little or no forward body movement.
The structure of the “pivot” is such that, if used incorrectly, where the opponent’s forward energy was misjudged or not anticipated, the position formed by “pivoting” will automatically collapse into the previously mentioned “side-stepping” positions. Which way that one moves will generally be determined by the actions of the enemy who will trigger reactions in the stance that are pre-determined by virtue of the underlying structure and concepts already discussed. This, of course, will only happen under pressure if the concept has been tested through drills, and more importantly, only if certain basic guidelines are adhered to by the practitioner.
The most basic of these is that the heels of the foot are always used as the pivoting point, not the balls of the feet or the centre of the feet. By pivoting on the heels, the body is able to remain on its original position, with the balance remaining unaffected. A common error made by practitioners of wing chun is to pivot on the balls of the feet because this method does not allow the body to remain on its central axis, nor does it maintain the balance. Instead, pivoting on the balls of the feet throws the body from one side of the central axis to the other, actually increasing the distance that the counter strike has to travel. It also provides an opportunity for the attacker to “steal the balance” of the defender because the rocking/swaying action caused by moving in this way leaves the defender easily overcome by the forward momentum of the attacker’s body.
Similarly, pivoting on the centre of the feet also creates a balance problem, particularly because the body in not able to remain on the same vertical axis. Again the result is the potential to over-balance, and this can lead to being unable to deal with the force of the opponent’s forward force without the need to take a full step, thus losing whatever advantage the pivot was meant to provide. In direct contrast to this, pivoting on the heels makes it possible to fall naturally into a side-step position while still maintaining the range required to nullify and counter the attack, because the structure of the stance at the moment of pivoting is such that too much force causes it to collapse in the same way as the basic “goat” stance already described above. This then completes the range of stepping to be found within the Wong Shun Leung Method, bringing the total number of options to five, this fifth one being a combination of two previously described methods, whereby (5) a “pivot” collapses into a “side-step”.
All of the methods mentioned above are easily tested and found to be valid, so long as the basic requirement, the underlying structure of the stance, is maintained at all times. In recent years there seems to have been a lot of unnecessary tampering with these methods of footwork, giving rise to additional, but impractical variations to the “repertoire” of techniques available. Some instructors have no doubt been influenced by the methods employed by other martial disciplines that they have been exposed to, or have “invented” variations that appear to work within the safe surrounds of the training hall, but have never been put to the test under realistic circumstances. On analysing such methods, they are generally found to be structurally unsound and not compatible with the basic techniques of the system. If nothing else, these “alternative” methods are usually too complicated, require too much thought, and demand almost psychic awareness of the adversary’s intentions in order to be applied safely and effectively. In short, …they just don’t work!
It is most important to keep in mind that the methods described in this article have been put to the test many dozens of times by one of the greatest fighters of this century, the late Wong Shun Leung, who used these skills with incredible effect in his illustrious and undefeated challenge fight career, where he earned the title of Gong Sau Wong, the “King of the Challengers”. If nothing else, these methods represent a natural extension of the basic principles of the wing chun system, are completely complimentary to the hand and leg techniques found within the system, and are easy to learn and put into practise, providing practitioners of wing chun with skills that work when it really counts. The reader, if already a devotee of wing chun, is encouraged to actively compare these methods with those currently being practised so as to possibly streamline and make more effective their current footwork techniques, which, as stated earlier, may include many techniques radically different from those described on these pages.
Objective analysis of such “additional” stances or complex footwork patterns will more than likely reveal them to be superfluous, impractical, inefficient and (potentially) downright dangerous if applied under realistic circumstances. For the non-wing chun practitioner, the wing chun footwork concepts outlined on these pages could easily be adapted in order to enhance the effectiveness of the methods currently being employed in your particular combat system. To that end, this writer hopes that the reader will give serious consideration to the footwork concepts and techniques of the Wong Shun Leung Method in order to make the motto “Get out of the way, …and make them pay!” more than just words on a page. Make it a practical reality!!!
About the author: David Peterson, age 43, has been training in the Chinese martial arts since 1973. He became a student of Sifu Wong Shun Leung after travelling to Hong Kong in 1983. He is a teacher of the Chinese language and principal instructor of the ‘Melbourne Chinese Martial Arts Club’ where he instructs in the “Wong Shun Leung Method”. Peterson is one of only two authorised and qualified instructors of Wong’s system in Australia, and a fully endorsed member of the world-wide ‘Wong Shun Leung Wing Chun Martial Arts Association’ and the Hong Kong-based ‘Ving Tsun Athletic Association’. He is also a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in many local (Australian) and overseas journals, including “Combat”, “Inside Kung-fu”, “Black Belt”, “Masters of the Martial Arts”, “Impact: the Action Movie Magazine”, “Eastern Heroes”, “Australasian Fighting Arts”, “Blitz Australasian Martial Arts Magazine”, “Traditional Martial Arts Journal”, “Impact Martial Arts Magazine”, “Qi Magazine”, “Martial Arts Illustrated”, “Ging Wing Chun”, “Kicksider” and “Kung Fu Illustrierte”. More recently, his articles have featured on several international Web sites in both the English and German languages. A respected seminar presenter of the Wing Chun system, both here in Australia and overseas, Peterson has just returned from the USA where he conduct seminars and workshops at the ‘Ving Tsun Museum’ in Dayton, Ohio, and to an enthusiastic group of Wing Chun and JKD enthusiasts in Orlando, Florida. In 1998, Peterson was invited to America by Sifu Jesse Glover, the late Bruce Lee’s original student, and this second trip took place on the strength of the great success of that first sojourn overseas.
WING CHUN GUNG-FU: the science of in-fighting
By David Peterson
There are, it seems, many interpretations or “styles” of the Chinese martial art known as Wing Chun Gung-fu being taught throughout the world. Within these variations, like in all martial systems, there are inherent strengths and weaknesses, good and bad points, subtle and not so subtle differences. If what a particular school or instructor teaches is to meet the requirements of what is generally considered to be authentic Wing Chun, a system whose origins are said to be an amalgamation of the most effective combat theories and techniques of several Chinese systems some two centuries ago, then it must meet certain criteria, namely it must reflect three distinct qualities – SIMPLICITY, DIRECTNESS and EFFICIENCY.
At the ‘Melbourne Chinese Martial Arts Club’, all aspects of our training emphasise and refine these three qualities. Our basic philosophy is that if something requires excessive movement, strength or effort, then it is not something we wish to waste time practising if a more practical method exists. In the words of our late Hong Kong-based leader, Sifu Wong Shun Leung, “You can always replace money, but you can’t replace time.” Sifu Wong believed that if a student is allowed to, or worse, made to spend time on something which is unlikely to be of any use, the instructor is not only deceiving his/her students, but also him or herself as well.
Wing Chun is a system based upon logic and science. It requires neither great strength nor great athletic ability. What it does require, however, is a very precise understanding of some very basic combat principles and unless the instructor can get these across to the students, the likelihood is that the students will never fully realise their potential, no matter how skilful the instructor may be. In Wing Chun, it is not just a matter of copying movements, one has to know precisely why something is being done, when to apply it and, most importantly, how to develop and perfect such skills.
This being the case, we at the ‘Melbourne Chinese Martial Arts Club’ (‘MCMAC’) do not spend the majority of our training time alone in lines, punching the air, or engaged in make believe combat routines, but in contact with many partners, constantly testing and refining the principles and concepts gleaned from the three basic training patterns or forms of the Wing Chun system, namely (i) Siu Nim Tau, (ii) Cham Kiu, and (iii) Biu Ji. Training on the Muk Yan Jong, or “wooden dummy” also provides a means developing good positioning and accurate techniques and allows for the practise of techniques in a way which would not be appropriate on a “live” training partner. As well as a variety of training drills and reflex exercises done with partners, we at ‘MCMAC’ also place a great deal of emphasis on the Chi Sau or “sticky hands” exercise to further develop instant reactions and technical precision and to provide us with a linking device for all of the above-mentioned concepts, forms and techniques.
Chi Sau has, in recent years, become a very misunderstood part of the Wing Chun training regime. There are those who say it has no application to combat and dismiss it as a useless exercise, and there are those who do nothing but Chi Sau, but for all the wrong reasons. Chi Sau is quite simply a means of developing practical reflexes and of refining them to the point where conscious thought is eliminated. It is not fighting per se, but it does provide the perfect environment in which to acquire and develop the skills and responses necessary for fighting an opponent at the worst possible range, ie. extreme close-range, a position where many other fighting systems do not have effective responses, and more importantly, the very range at which real self-protection situations actually take place!
Chi Sau’s main purpose is to enable the Wing Chun fighter to develop the means by which they can instinctively find or create gaps in the opponent’s defences. The sensitivity developed through Chi Sau is such that whenever the path of an attack (by the Wing Chun fighter) is blocked, he or she automatically redirects the enemy’s hands and continues the attack. Should the enemy not put up an effective defence, there is no need for the Chi Sau to be applied. In other words, Wing Chun does not fight by doing Chi Sau with the opponent, but if the Wing Chun fighter’s own techniques are trapped, jammed or blocked by the opponent, Chi Sau training has provided him or her with the means to overcome the problem. By its very nature, Wing Chun is an attacking system, the belief being that the best form of defence is attack.
The other great advantage of Chi Sau training over the sparring normally seen in other martial art systems is the fact that it is totally spontaneous, virtually anything can and does happen so that the practitioners are constantly forced to react to very real attacks without the luxury of standing back to think about it. Instead of becoming a session of trading blows, “tit for tat” so to speak, Chi Sau training encourages the student of Wing Chun to treat every threat as a real one and to totally overwhelm the opponent at the first opportunity so as to render them unable to offer any kind of defence. In other words, through Chi Sau the Wing Chun student learns to dominate the situation with skill and controlled aggression, never being afraid to go forward and never making the mistake of trying to trade blows with the enemy.
Wing Chun in fact trains in reverse order to many other systems of combat. The first range to be developed is close-range, the theory being that as most situations end up at this range, one must excel at fighting there. From there, Wing Chun devotees work outwards, realising as they do that the greater the distance becomes, the more time one has at one’s disposal and, consequently, the easier things become. After just a short time training at the In-fighting range, the Wing Chun student begins to realise the effectiveness of getting in close and tends to develop a distinct preference for this range. Contrary to what the many critics of Wing Chun may say, Wing Chun does indeed have medium- and long-distance techniques/strategies, and it does utilise kicking and ground-fighting, but it requires these so rarely that many people think that these skills don’t exist within the system. Because of its efficient and subtle nature, Wing Chun trains these techniques and concepts in such a way that even some Wing Chun practitioners fail to appreciate their existence and potential.
Sifu Wong Shun Leung, under whom this writer and several of our students have had extensive training in Hong Kong, was a man who believed wholeheartedly in the importance of practical experience and practical training, having himself many times put his fighting skills to the test for the sake of improving himself as well as proving Wing Chun’s effectiveness under real conditions. He preferred to refer to Wing Chun as a martial “skill”, rather than a martial “art”, simply because a skill is something which can be tested, proven and improved upon, whereas art is purely subjective. Like a piece of music or a painting, you can’t “prove” whether it’s good or bad, it’s more a question of taste, but if you think that “A” can defeat “B” then it can be put to the test, their skill levels compared.
This then is the ‘MCMAC’ approach to the training of Wing Chun, being as it is drawn from the training philosophy of my teacher, Sifu Wong Shun Leung, the man who almost single-handedly put Wing Chun on the martial arts map in Hong Kong in the ‘fifties and ‘sixties when he engaged in countless challenge matches against practitioners of all styles, including western boxing and fencing, emerging undefeated each time. The late Bruce Lee drew many of his fighting concepts from what he had learnt from Sifu Wong during those early days and applied that line of thinking to his own training, the result of course being his own expression of combat, Jeet Kune Do. We at ‘MCMAC’ believe that not all Wing Chun is the same and that if one examines his or her own training by asking if it is truly SIMPLE, DIRECT and EFFICIENT, it may well be that it just doesn’t measure up. Put quite simply, if your not attacking your opponent’s attack, it’s not Wing Chun; if you have to think, it’s already too late! That is the essence of the “Wong Shun Leung Way” of Wing Chun Gung-fu.
In order to maintain the highest possible standards, students and instructors at ‘MCMAC’ have regularly spent extended periods of time training at Sifu Wong’s school in Hong Kong. As often as possible, ‘MCMAC’ invited Sifu Wong to Australia to conduct classes and seminars while he was alive. We at ‘MCMAC’ are constantly striving to pass on the very best Wing Chun skills possible and take great pleasure in sharing Sifu Wong’s teachings with anyone willing to put aside pride and ego in order to journey down what we believe to be a more rewarding path to combat proficiency. You just may find that Wing Chun the “Wong Shun Leung Way” can answer questions for which you have been unable to find a satisfactory solution in other martial systems. We are very confident that we have something of value to share with you.
Concepts for survival in the street
By Andrew Williams, Rolf Clausnitzer and David Peterson
Personal Protection is a relatively new phenomenon in the field of self defence. In fact, it represents a radical departure from the somewhat limited vision presented by most traditional self-defence systems.
It is inspired by and based on two major influences:
1. The work done by two very respected and experienced (in terms of both tournament performance and real life confrontations) British martial artists, Geoff Thompson and Peter Consterdine; and
2. The highly efficient and practical Chinese martial art of Wing Chun Kuen which, interestingly, Messrs. Thompson and Consterdine acknowledge in their video series, “The Pavement Arena”, as having had a major influence on their own self protection philosophy and methods.
Wing Chun is a major Chinese martial art or system that is unparalleled in its suitability for today’s urban environment. It is radically different in its general approach from that of most traditional martial arts, as it is not reliant on strength, balletic poise, acrobatic movements, or a complexity of often flamboyant techniques. Instead of being technique oriented and requiring students to learn by rote an endless variety of movements (which often result in a mental “log jam” in real life situations), Wing Chun is based on a clear understanding of fighting concepts and strategies, expressed via a minimal number of techniques which meet the basic criteria of simplicity, directness and efficiency.
Although widely believed to have been founded and developed by a Buddhist nun, Ng Mui, and her female pupil, Yim Wing Chun, about 200 hundred years ago, Wing Chun has evolved over time via a process of “natural selection”, with a continual discarding of superfluous, complex and ineffective techniques and movements. It is the system that the legendary Bruce Lee used as the foundation of his own combat philosophy of Jeet Kune Do, and has become the most influential style of Kung Fu, allowing even traditional Karate and other Kung Fu practitioners to reappraise and enhance their own skills and techniques.
Successfully tested in real “no-holds barred” fights against numerous other styles in Hong Kong in the 1950’s and early 1960’s by outstanding students of Grandmaster Yip Man, such as the late Sifu Wong Shun Leung and Sifu Wang Kiu, Wing Chun is considered to be one of the most, if not the most practical and efficient martial arts for use in today’s increasingly violent environment. In simple terms, Wing Chun is the “Science of Street Fighting”, designed solely for the purpose of surviving an attack by being a better attacker than one’s assailant. Hence it forms the perfect basis for the concept of Personal Protection.
It should be made clear at the outset that this document is only a basic guideline, not intended to be, or taken for, a comprehensive and definitive work. For example, it does not purport to supply the reader with an in-depth examination of an attacker’s psychology. Nor is it a typical “how to” manual, detailing specific, complicated self-defence techniques in make-believe, often unrealistic situations. It is certainly not intended to lead the reader through a sequence of events culminating in the inevitable limiting solution.
It is the sincere wish of the authors, however, to encourage readers to take a closer and more realistic look at the concept of personal security, a good understanding of which, under the guidance of an experienced and competent instructor, can provide a sound basis for developing a practical and effective method of self protection. It should be stressed, of course, in view of the complexity of the subject, that this article is not to be taken as a “quick fix”, ready-made set of rules for instant implementation. Considerable analysis, discussion, and testing are called for, as any one of the main ideas or principles outlined could itself become the theme for an entire seminar. Further, a particular idea may not automatically fit in with your philosophy of fighting or it may need to be modified accordingly.
It should be pointed out at this stage that, as few of us can rely on great physical strength, it is vital that the instructor has a clear understanding of power generation utilising an informed understanding of exercise methodologies and biomechanics, thus enabling the students to realise their full striking potential. An open mind is called for, far removed from the “arm-lock” mentality* of many martial arts systems, not only to get the most out of the concepts presented in this paper, but also to get the best out of those inherent in all martial arts.
Personal Protection is not a sport, but a serious approach to preparing oneself for potential real life threats. To quote an ancient Chinese sage, Li Chuan, “War is a grave matter. One is apprehensive lest men embark on it without due reflection”. A skilful fighter is one who is able to triumph over his or her opponent by having a deep understanding of their own capabilities and potential. Therefore, the proper training is essential, training that prepares you not only physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.
As stated at the beginning of this article, Personal Protection is certainly a departure from the countless “self defence” instruction methods, widely depicted, showing attackers in unrealistic, static, even clumsily inept poses, telegraphing their movements, and “allowing” themselves to be handled with impunity by the defender. And it is certainly not an exploration of the dramatic scenario so popular with idealistic and inexperienced instructors in countless martial arts clubs around
the world, where the two antagonists conduct a gentlemanly bout to decide who is the better man, two noble warriors observing a set of rules and a pattern of ritualistic behaviours, who by mutual consent begin a dignified exchange of technique.
*ie: the mentality that many martial artists exhibit, in that they will try to make a technique fit the situation (eg: try to put their opponent in an arm-lock), no matter what, becoming, in the words of Master Sifu Wong Shun Leung, “…a slave to their art, instead of a master of it”.
In the street, the classical depiction of a defender representing a particular martial art squaring off against an attacker from another system is seldom, if ever, encountered. Violence can erupt with little or no sign of threat. And this eruption is usually in the form of a vicious, spiteful act, carried out with deadly intent, with no regard for the rules of civilised conduct and little, if any, resemblance to the set piece duel in the dojo or kwoon. In the street, almost every conceivable weapon, from keys and cutting weapons to baseball bats and house bricks, is used to inflict pain, serious injury, and even death. And it is here that you are more likely to be savagely bitten by a crazed attacker than to be stopped by a beautifully executed roundhouse kick to the head.
It should also be noted that few of us these days have the “luxury” of testing our fighting skills in real combat situations. As such, we are usually unable to duplicate the enormous amounts of emotional pressure that accompany a real fight in the practise of sparring or ‘Chi Sau’. Both lack the physical and verbal aggression so often used by remorseless street opponents.
Most acts of violence and physical abuse are carried out in familiar surroundings, by people one knows. They can be long term, and often occur in the home, perpetrated by a family member or so-called friend, and if you are unable or unwilling to confront these cowardly individuals, your best long term defence is to use the laws that are in place to protect you.
Not all attacks, however, occur in the home and not all the perpetrators are known. They are usually carried out by vicious, cowardly individuals and/or people seeking monetary gain. It has been said that 99% of these attacks are opportunistic, ie. they are not pre-planned but occur at the time because the “conditions” seem right to the attacker(s).
Environmentally, there are two “basic” ways in which you may be attacked. Firstly, your attacker can strike suddenly from a concealed position, utilising the element of surprise. The object is to catch you unawares and subject you to enormous pressure, mentally, physically and, most importantly, emotionally. The sudden change in your emotional state is effected by the body’s reaction to threat, which is normally experienced as fear. If this reaction is uncontrolled, you will limit or waste your chance to react or retaliate in an effective manner, whether that is to run or to stand and fight. The attacker can use a multitude of situations in which to stage an ambush. This would of course dictate that one needs a highly developed sense of subliminal threat awareness in order to minimise the possibility of being attacked and/or surprised. As it is improbable, however, that one could remain vigilant all of the time, the next best option is to train in such a way as to develop a high degree of control over your body’s reaction to threat. This type of instruction requires a high degree of realism and honesty within your training regime, never accepting a protective technique just because it looks like it would or could work. It requires the continual testing of the limits of your emotional capabilities in a threatening and violent environment.
Another method of attack would be for the opponent to confront you at a very close range, employing psychological tactics. Your attacker needs to be close so that you feel the full force of their aggressive tactic. These tactics can vary greatly, but their underlying purpose is to engage your thought processes and hence control your corresponding emotional reactions in some way, to make you more vulnerable to attack. As in the ambush scenario, fear is a major weapon in the arsenal of the attacker, who may adopt aggressive tactics, where prodding, shoving, abusive and threatening language, and menacing, threatening gestures may all be utilised to create fear and even panic. On the other hand, the attacker may decide to adopt the very different strategy of appearing to be non-threatening, by behaving in a disarming and deceptive manner. He may ask you a seemingly harmless question designed not to upset you, but to distract you in some way, thereby making you vulnerable to a sudden attack because you are in a more relaxed state and off your guard. Here the attacker relies on the ability to launch his attack without you being aware of their intention, and again it is worth considering the distance this is best achieved from.
Amidst the endless variations and combinations of ambushes, surprise attacks, and openly aggressive assaults, it is very important to bear in mind that it is nearly always the attacker who dictates (or intends to dictate) the physical distance at which the confrontation and assault will take place. It is somewhat ludicrous to believe that this distance is the one usually depicted in martial arts movies, or the regimented distance at which sporting competitors begin their exchanges in tournaments. In reality, it is the distance where the victim can be struck with little warning and the full impact of an aggressive approach can be felt. It is the distance where one may engage another in polite conversation, or to stop to ask for directions or the time. The distance is almost, without exception, punching, kneeing, headbutting or stabbing distance. It is only logical, from the attacker’s viewpoint to utilise this range. Afterall, why would you allow someone to have the room to manoeuvre or recognise your initial movement to strike them?
If you accept this notion, and from our personal experience, and from the related
experiences of our peers, we believe it to be true, and if you are serious in your intentions to teach or learn practical self-protection, then this is the distance you will base most, if not all of your training strategies, tactics, and power development drills for Personal Protection. It would require enormous discipline to remain fully aware all the time, and the nature of most societies would make it almost impossible to maintain a personal safety area that would inhibit an attacker’s intention to get within striking distance, so the ability to recognise ritualised patterns of assault behaviour is essential.
The Victim Syndrome
On their videotape entitled “The Pavement Arena”, Geoff Thompson and Peter Consterdine say that a booby trap or bomb is deemed to be victim operated. So it is that in many instances an attack on yourself can be said to be victim operated. You can make yourself a victim by your lack of awareness, your meek demeanour and other body language. Once you understand, and more importantly, practise the concepts and strategies of Personal Protection, however, you will be able to project a more positive and confident image. It will enable you to become more aware of someone’s intention to attack you. Put yourself in the attacker’s position, …whom would you attack? Someone who presents a formidable target, or a person who looks like a pushover?
I had to return to my car in the dark. The area was renowned for being dangerous at night and I was nervous to be alone. I walked on the footpath close to the road and watched each door and alleyway for movement. I walked into the car park and kept close to the middle of the driveway lest someone was waiting in ambush. I would look over my shoulder as a matter of routine whilst maintaining a steady, even pace. I was about twenty metres from my car when I could make out two people near where I remembered parking my vehicle. As I drew closer, I could see that they were at the rear of my car. One man was crouched and was busying himself with my bike rack which was attached to the car’s tow-bar. The other guy leaned casually on the boot of my car, smoking a cigarette. I was about five metres away when the smoking man became aware of me, and he looked in my direction and said, “G’day mate.”
I was shocked. He seemed so casual and displayed no concern that he and his friend had been caught in the act of stealing. The rest of the conversation is lost to me, so confused by his manner was I that I doubted for a while that it was even my car. It went along the lines of me saying, “Move away from my car”, and him answering, “Yeah right, …f**k off!” This went back and forth a couple of times, whilst the kneeling man working at the bike rack. Confusion quickly turned to fear when the man who had been busy freeing my bike rack rose, turned and moved towards my right. I had no idea as to what tool he had in his hand and realised that my fear was fast becoming uncontrollable. I was unable to make any rational decision. I was aware that I should be doing something when the man leaning on the boot made the decision for me by flicking his cigarette at me. As soon as it left his fingers, he leapt at me. I stepped toward him and punched him twice in the face, knocking him backwards on to the bike rack.
There was a blur of movement to my right. My arm shot out and I contacted the man with the tool’s arm. I heard a crack and experienced a flash of light behind my eyes. I think that he overbalanced, as I was able to step closer and began punching as fast and as hard as I could. I have no idea where or how many times that I hit him, but I know that he hit me at least four times, very hard! He slipped again and staggered backwards. I could see his head and managed to land a few clean blows that had some effect. He continued to stagger backward until he fell into a low hedge in the flowerbed that ringed the car park. As he thrashed around, trying to regain his feet, I was able to repeatedly punch him hard in the stomach and groin. The weight of his body, coupled with his frenzied movement, caused him to break through the branches, and he fell into a sitting position within the hedge. Although he could still raise his hands, there was little that he could do to stop me from punching him in the face. I knocked him into a stupor, then stepped back and stomped on his ankle.
I spun around, expecting his friend rushing toward me, only to see that he was shuffling around, still at the rear of my car, reaching around to his back. I walked over to him, shaking and with no idea of what I was about to do next. As I got to within striking distance, I saw a man running towards us, shouting. I had no idea what he was saying, only that he was waving his hands around, but showing no signs of aggression. His behaviour distracted me and I lost all interest in pursuing the fight. I was physically spent and thoroughly exhausted. Despite an extremely high level of fitness, all my energy had been used up in a few short seconds. The fight was over, the whole thing not lasting more than a minute. I did not sleep well for a couple of weeks after that, I was profoundly disturbed at my inability to handle the situation. In the aftermath, I replayed the scenario repeatedly in my mind, in an effort to better understand how I could have coped with the situation more effectively, and tried in vain to rationalise my fear.
I came to realise that after years of studying the martial arts, I had yet to learn how to control my fear, and that without the ability to control my fear, I was destined to relive and replay my mismanagement of the situation over and over again. I had been involved in many fights before this one, yet I had never suffered the resultant disruption to my thinking or emotions. What seemed to separate those encounters from this one was the need for tactical positioning, a skill that I obviously lacked. This, coupled with the behaviour of the men involved, triggered a progressive evolution of thinking that I was completely untrained to deal with.
Fear is the most overlooked aspect of any attack scenario. That is to say, those who overlook or pay little attention to this aspect of a fight could not have experienced an attack themselves, or are unwilling to admit to feeling fear. Fear leaves one of the most lasting impressions after an attack. The memories and biochemical residues are powerfully evident and profound. The creation of fear in the victim is one of the major goals and weapons employed by a would-be attacker. As such, any self defence system that ignores or plays down this aspect cannot be regarded as realistic. In fact, martial arts instructors who teach self defence tactics that are repetition/technique based, executed on overly compliant partners, and do not take into account the effects of fear in a life or death scenario, are possibly placing their students in a dangerous position. When in a critical situation where fear is a factor, the student can end up with a “log jam” of techniques and find it difficult to apply the appropriate response as well as deal with the physical and emotional effects of fear. This type of techniques-based training can also develop an “arm-lock” mentality. An example of this occurs when the martial artist tries to fit a technique into an inappropriate situation.
It is interesting to note the lack of understanding displayed by some instructors where they suggest things like “fight like a tiger” or “have the courage of a lion”. This simplistic approach is ignorant at best and extremely dangerous if the student believes that by simply thinking that he/she is a savage beast he/she will magically adopt the level of courage and fighting prowess attributed to the animal.
The attacker uses fear as a weapon. We will aim to rationalise fear and thereby go some way towards negating its influence on the outcome of an attack. In fact, when encouraged in the right manner, one can learn to harness their own fear bio-chemical responses and effects to great personal benefit. Proper consideration should also be given to the control of anger. Aggression can be a useful tool when channelled correctly. However, anger is a sign of a lack of mental control and can blind you to what is going on around you, affecting your own intuitive responses. Needless to say, if there is more than one attacker, you need to be conscious of all that is going on around you. If you are not aware, you increase your chances of choosing an inappropriate action which may have disastrous results if the people with whom you are dealing are serious in their intentions to do you harm.
Control over your emotions is also required if your situation has deteriorated and your fear has become completely invasive. It is useful in such situations to be able to focus your thoughts around an image that will give you the determination not to give in or surrender to your fears and therefore the attack. For example, if you have been knocked to the ground and your thoughts are in disarray and fear is taking control, you could use this image to help crystallise your thoughts, a thought that would prompt you to act, to fight on, or to take flight. It should be an image which has strong meaning for you and one which gives you cause to take action.
What is Effective Personal Protection?
At the core of any good personal protection system are one or two techniques, at most a handful, honed and developed using the principles of simplicity, directness and efficiency. Given the opportunity, these techniques should be applied with the intention of being first, being fast and being ferocious.
Be honest and ask yourself if your system fits these criteria, and if it doesn’t, then maybe it’s time to reassess your approach to Personal Protection. Consider the following definitions:
SIMPLE: does not require analysis or thought processing;
is as automatic as blinking;
does not require balletic poise;
utilises the minimum number of movements.
DIRECT: follows the shortest distance from point A to B;
where possible, attacks the closest target with the nearest
EFFICIENT: does not create targets for the attacker;
has minimal effect on balance/stability;
uses economy of motion, achieving the expected outcome with minimal expenditure of energy.
THE PROTECTION LADDER AND LEVELS OF AWARENESS
Levels of Awareness
It is the ability to constantly monitor your surroundings that affords you the greatest level of protection from attack. As with most things of value, the functional levels of protective awareness take time and effort to develop.
One technique that can be used to help develop a better understanding of the different levels of awareness is a visualised colour system. Such systems have been utilised with great success in combat pistol instruction and are easily applied in the realms of self-protection. It is also a system that Thompson and Consterdine have tailored to suit their own protection method and has proved inspirational in the development of our model.
The colour guide can be seen as an ascending ladder (see next page) and has been prepared to help readers to understand the various levels of awareness, or the “colour condition” that they are in, in relation to a threat, the form and content of these threats, and the likely consequences.
Levels of Awareness (in summary)
Condition White: Condition White can be seen as the level of awareness that is dangerously low. Unfortunately, it is the condition occupied by most people most of the time. To be in Condition White means that your chances of being aware of any threat to yourself are greatly reduced. The resulting inability to perceive a threat, for example, as a result of being mentally distracted, will dramatically increase the chances of being taken by surprise, with little or no chance of avoiding an attack or issuing a counter-attack.
THE PROTECTION LADDER AND LEVELS OF AWARENESS
FIGHT OR FLIGHT
THE PRE-EMPTIVE STRIKE
RESPONSE TO THREAT
MAKING A DECISION
BASIS FOR PERSONAL SECURITY
AWARENESS – EVALUATION – AVOIDANCE
LACK OF AWARENESS
THE VICTIM SYNDROME
Condition Yellow: By developing a calm, subliminal awareness, not paranoia, you will be aware of a change in the environment and have time to adjust. Being “quietly alert” is another way of putting it.
Condition Orange: When a change occurs and you are aware of it, you give yourself a chance to avoid or counter a threat. In practical terms, you will be able very quickly to evaluate the threat and put in place strategies and tactics to avoid or otherwise deal with the threat in an effective and efficient manner.
Condition Red: Fight or Flight – the moment of truth. If you have to fight, be first, be fast and be ferocious. It is far better to be pro-active than reactive. Seize the initiative before it is too late.
It can be useful to get a visualisation of the awareness levels in your mind, using the colour code as outlined above. When applied correctly, this will enhance your decision making process.
NB: Condition Red must not be visualised as, say, a red flashing light overlaid with words like “emergency” or “battle stations”. That would presuppose that there is still time left to prepare for action. Instead, Condition Red should be seen as an automatic, virtually instant trigger for full blooded, totally committed action.
Levels of Awareness (in detail)
Condition White – Having little or no awareness
Attack can take numerous forms, eg.:
All these can be inter-related and the threat posed by a thief should not be thought of as less serious than the threat posed by a rapist, as a thief can easily become a rapist or murderer. Therefore every and any threat should be taken seriously and dealt with following the method which forms the basis for developing a sense of personal security (see Condition Yellow). For example, if you are unaware, your attacker can use two major weapons, fear and surprise, against you. In fact, your lack of awareness has the potential to turn you into a target. Condition White (being unaware) must therefore be avoided at all costs, and at all times.
Condition Yellow – Forming A Basis for Personal Security
To attain Condition Yellow, you need to have developed a subliminal level of awareness (it must be stressed that this is not to be confused with a sense of paranoia). Subliminal awareness can be developed in a number of ways, however the most accessible of these is a standard technique used in training advanced tactical drivers. It is called “commentary driving”, and is a procedure whereby one has a conscious recognition of the changing environment. The same can be done whilst walking. The idea is to verbalise your changing surroundings as you move along, noting as many things as possible, such as the traffic conditions, weather, scenery, people in your environment, areas that could be used for concealment, and so on. By using this simple technique, and depending on your seriousness, it can take from one to four weeks to develop a conscious, continuous and accurate recognition of your surroundings. Once this is done, there is no need to verbalise anything, it will occur naturally on a subliminal level.
There are a number of complementary drills which can be used to develop and enhance your subliminal awareness. These include:
1. Peripheral awareness drills
2. Photo-retentive recognition drills
3. Recognition of threatening body language (static and dynamic)
4. Recognition of pre-fight rituals (verbal and physical)
5. Victim recognition/threat evaluation drills
6. Immediate threat recognition drills
7. Development and testing of a pre-plan
8. Development of acronyms, eg: ‘KEYS’
The ability to maintain cognitive awareness is indicative of Condition Yellow and is of vital importance. It provides a strong foundation from which you can develop your personal security through:
It is important to note here that a tactical evaluation is only valid if the appraisal of your part in the scenario is realistic and honest.
At this stage, it may still be possible to walk away from the threat or danger, and Threat Avoidance may be your best option. However, you may not be able to control the situation and may find yourself in a position where your level of awareness is heightened to Condition Orange.
Condition Orange – Threat Escalation / Making the Decision
This is in some respects the most crucial condition that you will find yourself in. Having come from the personal security basis of Condition Yellow, with the understanding of threat awareness, evaluation and avoidance, you are now faced with making the decision!
Threat Evaluation and Avoidance
This is a tactical situation and requires a critical assessment. If your training has led you to believe that you will somehow be able to control yourself and the situation without your training ever having placed you in harm’s way, then you have been misinformed. To truly understand how the pressure of a confrontation (or the potential of a confrontation) can effect your decision-making process, you need to duplicate the pressure in the dojo or kwoon. There are vast differences between sparring in an institution where you know that a fight will not deteriorate to the point where your opponent is going to bite you or stab you after you are knocked to the ground, and when these things become a very real possibility.
Attackers often perform patterns of behaviour before they commence their assault. If you can identify these patterns you may even be able to implement your own psychological tactics and gain better control of the situation.
Whether they know it or not, your attacker will probably employ one of the following ploys when approaching you:
1. Disarming / Deceptive (eg. asking for the time or directions, etc.) When using this ploy your attacker is not only trying to lull you into a false sense of security, but also attempting to draw your attention away from his “line up” (ie: his intentions, and the position/posture from which he intends to launch his attack). If successfully executed, where you are taken by surprise, the effects can be devastating. Not only will you be unprepared physically for the attack and most likely receive the full brunt of the blow, but, more importantly you will be unprepared emotionally. Here, fear is your enemy, and to now be able to bring the resultant rush of adrenaline under control will be extremely difficult. There are, however, methods of training that can bring about the spontaneous control of adrenaline and, consequently, you will be more able to fight from this disadvantageous position.
2. Aggressive (using verbal and/or physical threat behaviour) There are many ways to display aggression. Understanding patterns of behaviour is extremely important. Verbal aggression (whether your attacker understands it or not) is a means whereby your attacker can engage your mind, resulting in a multitude of effects. These range from a general feeling of unease all the way through to blind panic, thus disabling one’s ability to react instinctively. Physically threatening behaviour is perhaps the most frightening and potent weapon that the attacker can employ. While many of us have been in a verbal argument, most people have not experienced the type of physical contact that may be a precursor to a full-blown assault.
Of course we can talk about how we could cope with such a situation, but unless you practise and develop strategies to deal with physical and verbal abuse as part of a pre-fight ritual, your skill in dealing with this scenario will be lacking. The fight can be won or lost before the first punch is thrown, yet this often discussed aspect of fighting goes largely unpractised. For instance, how do you maintain the optimal distance to launch your own pre-emptive strike without moving into kicking or grappling range? How do you maintain a tactile reference that allows you to subtly monitor your assailant’s intentions as well as controlling a bridging arm? If there is more than one attacker, how do you maintain or even attain a superior tactical position if your attackers are not compliant and/or mobile and aggressive? The answer is probably, “You cannot!”, unless it is a skill that you have developed and practised under pressure. Another idea to keep in mind is that you can gain some understanding of your enemies fears by recognising the means he uses in an effort to frighten you.
Armed and Aggressive
If it were suggested to you that the opponent you were about to face was carrying a concealed weapon, that the attacker had every intention of using the weapon (let’s say that he has a butcher’s boning knife), do you believe that you would then proceed in a similar fashion as you would if you were in ignorance of the weapon? You would be well advised to treat every attacker as armed, whether a weapon is in evidence or not.
Have you been in a threatening situation where people around you were unknown to you? If a fight had started could you discount the possibility that those around you would not join in with an attack against you? Just as weapons can be concealed, so can your potential assailants. Treat every attack as a multiple attack.
The above would suggest that fighting should be avoided because of the incalculable and hidden variables, however if you have to fight you should dispatch your attacker(s) as vigorously and quickly as possible, with little remorse. Avoid going to the ground because once there, it is difficult to get up if you are outnumbered. There is now a huge increase in the popularity of grappling arts. There can be no doubt as to their effectiveness, but arts that seek to take their opponents to the ground at the earliest opportunity may place the practitioner at a disadvantage, especially if those who are attacking them are prepared to do so with absolutely no consideration for gentlemanly fair-play, and no regard of the consequences.
Remember, any tactic that the assailant uses is designed to engage your conscious thought process. You are left vulnerable if this is allowed to happen and must guard against such tactics. By being aware of these psychological tactics you can also employ similar and additional counter tactics to engage your attacker’s thought processes. You too can be:
1. Disarming / Deceptive (eg. asking a counter or nonsense question)
2. Aggressive / Demonstrative (“call their bluff” through the use of verbal or
physical intimidation). Remember where ignorance is common, arrogance is king.
3. Submissive (this is an additional tactic, ie. a “pretend” submissiveness to
lull your attacker into a false sense of security by switching off his
The methodology of Fear Control which is presented below is based on experience and research, and we would encourage the reader to research their own experience, and that of their peers, openly and honestly. Central to any discussion of the response to a perceived threat is to understand the physiological responses that the body has when a potential menace is recognised. One of the first things to realise is that your thinking stimulates the physiological reaction, and that it is your own thinking which can therefore control and harness this response. “Fear is in the mind of the beholder.”
Fear is experienced as a sudden release of adrenaline (a combination of two chemicals, Epinephrine and Norepinephrine), followed immediately by the associated physiological responses. If left uncontrolled, these responses can have a devastating effect on both the body and the mind. Most of us have been conditioned to associate the effects of these adrenalines with fear, rather than as a means of providing a biological “overdrive”, commonly referred to as the “fight and flight syndrome”.
Fear can be thought paralysing, causing one to act irrationally, or not to act at all, thus giving the attacker a devastating advantage, ie. the ability to attack you without fear of reprisal. To learn how to control fear, one must confront fear, to move outside of one’s comfort zone. This can be done through the creation of a Fear Pyramid, whereby you confront your own fears, starting with the mildest at the bottom of the pyramid, and working up to your worst nightmare at the top.
The idea is not to rid yourself of fear per se, but to get used to or desensitised to its harmful effects on you and instead learn how to harness their effects and make them a useful tool. As already mentioned, fear is merely a biochemical reaction to a perceived threat. It can in fact heighten your awareness as well as prepare your body for action. These are useful reactions to have under control. A requirement of a more complete training regime would be to acclimatise its participants to the effects of adrenaline, and if structured correctly, slowly condition the students to make effective use of it’s effects, some of which are:
1. Vasoconstriction, causing diminished blood supply to the non-fight or flight
organs, eg. the skin. This enables more blood to be pumped into skeletal
2. Increased heart rate and force of contraction, leading to subsequent
increased blood supply to the muscles
3. Dilation of lung airways, enabling increase in oxygen uptake
4. Increase in brain sugars (glucose)
5. Dilation of the pupils, increasing depth perception
6. Increased mobilisation of liver carbohydrate stores and the stimulation of the
production of lactic acid from glycogen in the muscle. The lactic acid
produced can be used in the liver to manufacture new foodstuffs (glucose
7. An anaesthetic effect reportedly associated with its release.
The effects that the release of adrenaline can cause, that are usually associated with fear are:
1. Constriction of vessels in the skin (pallid complexion), mucous membranes
(dry mouth), and kidneys
2. Uncontrolled high levels of adrenaline may cause to excessive carbohydrate
metabolism, leading to hypoglycaemia (the feeling of weakness often
associated with moments of fear)
3. Lactic acid produced at the muscle site enhances the feeling of weakness
and the loss of endurance capability in the muscle.
It is the ability to recognise adrenaline’s effects that is our greatest ally when dealing with what the celebrated Chinese strategist Sun Zi called the “Inner Opponent”, and he advocated learning as much as possible about this so as to overcome the negative responses that are created by it in battle. The release of adrenaline should therefore be seen as a positive response to the perception of a threat, and therefore encouraged in training. There is not an elite fighting force in the world that does not duplicate the pressures of combat whilst training. Sparring, and in the case of Wing Chun, ‘Chi Sau’ practise, are usually too regimented and controlled, and both are too bound by protocol to successfully reproduce the emotional pressure that occurs when a threat is not generated at our choosing.
As a professional Fire Fighter you come to expect the unexpected. You might be “turned-out” to a yard fire and on arrival find a house fully involved with fire and people trapped inside. And so it was in March of 1998 when, at approximately 1.00am, the crew of Canning Vale Fire Station’s Pump and Light Tanker were turned-out to a grass fire on Chapman Way in Canning Vale. I was the passenger in the Light Tanker, which is a Toyota Landcruiser fitted with a rear-mounted 650 litre water tank specifically designed to suppress grass and scrub fires. The Light Tanker follows the larger Pump, a 12 tonne Scannia, in which sit an officer and driver.
When we arrived at Chapman Road we found a street party taking place, involving some 1600 people, mostly young men, most of whom appeared intoxicated. The Officer in the leading vehicle decided that we had best leave the area as the partygoers were clearly upset by our presence. It was quickly obvious that we would be ill advised to attempt to reverse or u-turn in order to quit the area, the road being too narrow and lined with partygoers cars, plus the ever increasing presence of the now agitated partygoers, so we came to a halt.
Some 50 metres in front of us was the main body of the crowd who were, as yet, unaware of our presence, despite the fact that our vehicles were slowly being surrounded by a gathering crowd which was decidedly unfriendly. With no police present, our options were severely limited, so the Officer in Charge communicated over the radio that we should push gently forward through the crowd to escape the area. As the Pump started to move forward a small fire was lit in the grass next to our vehicle. The summer had been long and hot, with many days reaching temperatures in excess of 40 degrees Centigrade, and even small fires had the potential to quickly develop into something that threatened life and property. There was no way that Phil, my driver, and I could ignore the fire, so we stopped and exited the Tanker.
The fire was indeed growing in size, and people had started to push back from the fire’s edge. The hose-reel for the Tanker is attached to the rear of the truck, so Phil and I had to push and shove through the crowd to get to it. A small band of men had taken the branch (ie. the nozzle) and were running the hose down the road. Up until now the crowd had done no more than hinder our progress and be slightly abusive, but at this point I felt that they now believed that we were going to interfere with their fun, and their behaviour became noticeably more aggressive. I looked back towards the fire, which had now grown to a threatening size, and with an increased sense of urgency, I began to pursue the group with the branch and hose up the road, leaving behind the crowd around the Tanker.
A small group of young men stepped out from between a row of cars and blocked my path. I had no time to waste so my intention was to push through them in an effort to regain the hose. They did not break ranks as I neared, but instead stepped towards and around me. Without a word they started throwing punches, some of which landed, but most of which bounced off harmlessly. My only reaction was to remain calm, show no fear, and make a determined effort to regain the hose and branch. After the initial onslaught of blows, a couple of the guys stepped back. I could not tell you what they were thinking, but they did look surprised. I told them to move out of the way and pointed back at the fire, which had now started to cross a paddock and run towards a house. I asked them if it was their intention to let the house burn down. This had the desired effect as I was then able to force my way through their tight cordon.
There was much the same reaction and action when I got to the group with the branch, but I did finally manage to retrieve it, run back to the fire and extinguish it. Whilst doing that I was assaulted twice more, but my only real concern was to make sure that the house and the people inside it were not placed in any further danger. The crowd gathering around Phil and me had swelled to a point where I could no longer see the Pump’s position. A few of them now started to throw bottles and Phil had to take cover in our vehicle. I was cut off from the Tanker by another group who “got stuck in”. At least when that was happening, no one threw bottles at me.
As I forced my way back to the Tanker, I saw that there was a large number of people pulling equipment off the Pump, some of which is extremely expensive, most of which is essential to our job. I yelled at Phil to follow me to the Tanker, and on foot I pushed towards the people with the equipment. I managed to wrestle some of it back, but by now there was a veritable storm of bottles raining down on the Tanker and myself. This forced most of the crowd back when a couple of them were hit by “friendly fire”. It was definitely time to get out. Phil had a broken bottle pushed through his window, narrowly missing his face, but he remained calm and drove at a pace that matched my walking. We forced a way through the crowd to the other side of the party, not wanting to stop and present a stationary target, and finally passed through this gauntlet which was some 200 metres long. We returned to the station and I was then off to hospital. Thankfully the rest of the crew were physically unharmed
Why didn’t I retaliate? Why hadn’t we turned our hoses on the crowd? Why didn’t we drive our vehicle into the densely packed people? Discipline! I was mentally aware through the whole affair but at no stage did I behave or think recklessly. I controlled and used the adrenaline rushing through my body. I remained calm so as not to provoke any retaliation from the partygoers and further expose Phil or myself to danger.
Had we not behaved in such a disciplined fashion, it is my belief , and that of the men I work with and the police investigating the incident, that the repercussions and retaliation we could have suffered would have been far greater. Phil later told me that he had been terrified, but had taken strength from my apparent calm and control, both of which I have developed within the confines of a martial arts club. By training in a realistic manner, which is pressure filled, my ability to cope is constantly strained and tested. It is because of this that I have been able to master some of my demons and am now on the long path to beating my “Inner Opponent”.
If you allow your attacker to initiate the action then he will usually dictate your response. This will allow him to determine the distance at which the altercation will take place, and this may not be the distance where you can best apply your protective principles. Many arts now talk of “bridging the gap” or “making distance”. This may be relevant in a match fight or an organised competition, but in the street, if your attacker wishes to truly hurt you, he will have to close the distance to where he can best dictate the terms of the altercation. Thus it is imperative that you know how to deal with your attacker at kicking or punching range because if you cannot, the fight may then go to grappling range and once there it would be almost impossible to return to any other range. The implementation of a decisive posture will help to maintain your preferred distance and enable you to position yourself whereby you can launch a pre-emptive strike. Given the right sort of training, this tactic will finish the fight instantly. You need to place yourself in a position that offers little option of attack for your opponent, yet allows you to “line up” on him, positioning yourself so that you can achieve your objective without exposing your intention.
Your “line up” will influence:
1. the attacker’s perception of you;
2. ranges and tools (fighting ranges occur at kicking, punching and grappling
3. targets, both yours and your attacker’s.
A Decisive Posture
How you can, and will respond, will very largely be dependant on your posture when confronted by your attacker. To effectively “line up” your opponent requires a decisive posture. Whether the fight is won or lost may well be determined by the posture (physical and mental) taken in the lead up to the altercation. Effective components of a decisive posture, that allows for the option and delivery of a pre-emptive strike, include all of the following:
1. it is deceptive in its martial intent;
2. it allows for effective mobility and distance control;
3. it is based on the ability to deliver an extremely powerful blow from a short
distance without a perceptible “wind-up”;
4. it allows for the application of techniques that are simple, direct and
5. it enables your hands to be positioned to appear innocuous, yet provide for a distance management arm, which can also serve as a tactile reference with regard to your attacker’s movements and intentions;
6. it enables either or both arms, from whatever their position, to strike effective targets without “telegraphing”;
7. it facilitates the option of the acceptable tactic of the pre-emptive strike;
8. it is trained to be a trigger for action, ie: by adopting the correct posture, you are putting into operation, a sequence of flexible movements designed to
enable you to protect yourself efficiently;
9. it is designed to be utilised in most situations. You should not require a different stance for each different confrontation, as all that would achieve is
the inclusion of yet another variable into an already complex calculation;
10. most importantly, it is a trigger for psychological action (the discipline of your
training will be pivotal in your ability to act decisively)
When deciding on a decisive posture, one should avoid the notion of being able to block and then counter or control the opponent. If you accept the idea that your attacker will try to gain a position where he can launch his own pre-emptive strike, then you will be at a distance that would suggest you would lack the reaction speed to block a punch. The Wing Chun maxim that “Attack is the best form of defence” is most definitely the method that serves our purpose, and is the cornerstone of the “Wong Shun Leung Method”, whereby every combination of movements involves at least one attacking technique, never only defensive actions.
Condition Red – Action!!!!
The threat is unavoidable, …it is now “the moment of truth”. Using a “trigger for action”, which might be a verbal prompt, or even your own decisive posture, and given the opportunity, you should apply the acceptable option of the pre-emptive strike. For the pre-emptive strike to be pursued successfully, one would need it to be applied with what is commonly described as “extreme prejudice”. In training the emotional wherewithal to do this, it may help to keep in mind this mantra:
It is absolutely essential that you totally overwhelm your opponent and that you deliver your attacks with the sort of venom which will ensure this aim. If the fight is on, if not totally committed to the attack being launched, you are destined to become the victim rather than the victor. Is there a component in your training that achieves this? Do you train in a fashion that places you in the frame of mind that allows you to feel the discipline and commitment that encourages you to “win at all costs”, lest you suffer the consequences? To this end, it is crucial that you make all drills, including striking practice, take on a reality that approximates the realism of the street. While attacking the striking pad or punching bag, role play the scenario, get into the right frame of mind, and EXPLODE when the strike is launched. In addition to the above, make sure that your practise sessions only make use of techniques that are:
Just as every attacker should be dealt with as if he were armed, so too should every attack be dealt with as if it has the potential to become an attack from more than one aggressor. This reason alone would determine that grappling or “going to the mat” should be avoided at all costs on the street. Psychological tactics, decisive postures and emotional control should still be employed, but you must quickly recognise the attacker who presents the greatest threat to you. He is the person you should deal with first. It may not always be the largest of your attackers who represents this threat. It is the person who can strike you the quickest and with the least amount of potential resistance or reaction from you. This again illustrates the need to develop devastatingly powerful blows, and a system to deliver them. If you do not drop your man quickly, no amount of ‘Chi Sau’ will enable you to cross arms with multiple attackers. Thompson and Consterdine refer to their management of this situation as dealing with the “red letter syndrome“. The bill that represents the greatest threat to you, eg. to cut off your electricity supply, is the one printed in red. It is the red one you deal with first.
Having between them over 50 years of traditional training, tournament fighting (both national and international), and professional “hands on” security work under their belts, Geoff Thompson and Peter Consterdine hold the view that “90% of what is taught and practised in traditional martial arts today will not work on the street”. They therefore advocate the need to re-assess training methods and self-protection concepts and to start putting reality back into martial arts training, to apply a proven handful of reliable techniques to combat situations based on an understanding of training theory and methodologies, coupled with a sound knowledge of biomechanics and psychology.
Just as one cannot expect reasonable levels of improvement in the haphazard application of a physical training regime, one cannot expect credible results from the random implementation of emotional training. The instructor needs to consider the emotional needs of each student and construct and implement a flexible training model. Students of the martial art of Wing Chun are uniquely placed to take advantage of the concepts of Personal Protection. They are already practising a martial method dedicated almost exclusively to fighting. The followers of the “Wong Shun Leung Way” of Wing Chun have a distinct advantage in having, as their mentor, a man who pioneered a method based upon his experiences in countless real life fights. He brought these experiences into every aspect of his Wing Chun teaching, advocating the injection of a great deal of realism into his training sessions and seminars. Most importantly, sifu Wong advocated the natural application of internalised physical concepts and a flexible approach to “in-fight thinking”, rather than the rote learning of set techniques or responses, as is in evidence to anyone lucky enough to have trained with him. Thus, his teachings easily lend themselves to the Personal Protection concept, and vice-versa.
Martial artists of other disciplines would do well to look at their own approach to self-protection and ask themselves what they could do to make their methods more street effective. It takes more than flashy techniques to survive a street encounter. What is needed are sound concepts, effective and realistic training methods, and a complete understanding of the psychology of the attacker, as well as oneself. We need to conquer, or at least begin to recognise our fears, to gain control of our emotions, to develop threat awareness and how to deal with it effectively. As Sun Zi wrote in his celebrated “Art of War” over 2000 years ago,
“Know the other and know yourself:
One hundred challenges without danger;
Know not the other and yet know yourself:
One triumph for one defeat;
Know not the other and know not yourself:
Every challenge is certain peril”.
It is, or should be, the goal of every sincere instructor to equip his or her students with the skills to survive. It is the wish of the authors of this article to encourage, at the very least, a discussion of the protective methods now employed in your school. We would hope that the concept of Personal Protection presented on these pages will lead to a return to reality and practicality in the martial arts, regardless of style. Good luck in developing your potential, and that of your students!
About the authors: Andrew Williams has trained extensively in two different Wing Chun systems, had his skills tested in numerous real life encounters, and is fast being recognised as an innovative Wing Chun instructor. Williams is currently assisting Rolf Clausnitzer of the ‘Wing Chun Academy of Western Australia’. Clausnitzer was the late Sifu Wong Shun Leung‘s first foreign student and co-author (with Greco Wong) of the first ever English language introduction to Wing Chun. David Peterson, principal instructor of the ‘Melbourne Chinese Martial Arts Club’, has been publicly acknowledged by Sifu Wong as one of his outstanding overseas students/instructors, acting as Sifu Wong’s personal translator during five seminar tours to Australia. Peterson is also a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in many Australian and international journals, and more recently, on several Internet sites around the world.
RETURNING TO THE BASICS: the Scientific Foundation of Ving Tsun Gung Fu
By David Peterson
There is an old expression in English that goes, “He couldn’t see the forest for the trees”, and sadly, this seems to be the case for many of my Ving Tsun brothers and sisters. Not that I am in any way suggesting that anyone is wrong, or that I have somehow stumbled upon all the answers, but that over the years since the late, great Yip Man sigung first began to transmit his knowledge of this marvelous system to the world, it would seem that many of those who studied the system have lost sight of its fundamental essence. Perhaps it is due to the influence of other martial art disciplines on the minds of those practicing the Ving Tsun system, or perhaps it is just a basic human trait to overlook the obvious (and not-so-obvious!) and continually “re-invent the wheel” when one already has at their disposal a uniquely brilliant set of combat concepts such as those which make up Ving Tsun Gung Fu, but whatever the case, many of my respected brethren are going down paths that have strayed a long way from the basic tenets of this skill.
Before anyone starts accusing me of trying to put myself upon a pedestal, proclaiming myself as some “Next Generation Grandmaster”, please allow me to put things in perspective. I am not, by my own definition, a master teacher, a master fighter, or a master “anything” as far as Ving Tsun is concerned. What I am is someone who is in awe of the potential of this system that we have all chosen to practice, a person who loves the art of Ving Tsun above all other pursuits in my life. I have tried to develop an understanding of this system for the past 25 years of my life, and for almost 15 of those years, I had the great fortune of being under the guidance and tutelage of another great man who helped make this system what it is today, my dear Sifu, the late Wong Shun Leung. What Sifu helped me to realize was that the effectiveness of Ving Tsun is in its inherent simplicity, and that as soon as one ignores the most basic concepts of the system, they are no longer practicing Ving Tsun.
It is quite natural, and as a result, completely acceptable, for each and every one of us to use Ving Tsun in our own unique way, in keeping with my late teacher’s often repeated philosophy that, “One must be the MASTER of Ving Tsun, not it’s SLAVE”. However, if in being different, we are in fact “breaking the rules” so-to-speak of Ving Tsun, as set out in the basic forms and drills of the system, then we are no longer practicing Ving Tsun and are in fact reducing the quality of what it is that we practice and teach, and over time reducing our skills to a “watered-down” version of what they could be. While I readily accept that there are different ways to interpret or apply techniques, surely each of my learned colleagues present here today would agree that there are several basic underlying principles which simply must not be ignored, yet time and again, in books, magazines, videos and in classrooms around the world, students of Ving Tsun are being shown methods that totally contradict the principles upon which this system was built.
One of the most glaring errors that I have observed, time and time again, is the robotic way in which students are taught to apply, verbatim, the sequences of movements as they are practiced in the basic forms. To be blunt, this is a grave error and will only lead to a false impression in the minds of the practitioners which could well see them totally at the mercy of any potential adversary. Real attackers don’t attack in rehearsed or predictable sequences, they attack at random, and with deception and aggression. Attempting to deal with such people by applying a sequence rote learned in the classroom is a recipe for disaster. The sequences in the forms, with the possible exception of an extremely few examples, are NOT to be interpreted as such, but simply as a well structured means of understanding concepts and “internalizing” these ideas so that the body can reproduce the best possible shapes or movements at the most opportune time. It is a serious mistake to presume that certain motions must follow each other in sequence just because they do so in the forms.
A more useful way to see the forms is to think of them as an ideal toolbox or toolshed, with all the tools that one might ever need placed neatly and ready for use at our disposal. As we are confronted with each new task, we simply make use of the one or two most practical tools for the job, in no particular order, and with no obligation that if we make use of a particular tool that we are in any way obligated to also use the tools immediately next to it. The tools are simply positioned for either ease of access, or easy recognition of their individual potential. We do not have to use every tool in the toolshed every time we enter the toolshed, nor do we have to make use of every tool in our lifetime. We simply use what we need, but make sure that the entire contents of the toolshed are made available to all who come after us, because while we may not need some of the tools, others may find that they have a need for them. This is in keeping with the Ving Tsun maxim, “Pass on the complete skill in order to make the next generation strong”. If we only pass on our favorite ideas or techniques, we rob the next generation of the chance to reach their full potential, and that of the system.
It is therefore the CONCEPTS that need to be passed down to each successive generation of Ving Tsun practitioners, not an endless series of sequences. By the same token, drills should be kept SIMPLE, DIRECT and EFFICIENT, with an emphasis on “free” or “open” drills whereby the students are encouraged to apply the most basic techniques and concepts against random and very threatening, realistic attacks, not set routines with fixed patterns and predictable outcomes. This goal is best achieved by firstly setting up a “closed” drill, where a basic concept or technique is tested under fixed circumstances, but as soon as practical, the student should be encouraged to try to apply the same concepts or techniques under increasingly random and more realistic conditions. This helps to get the students out of the trap that complicated set drills can engender, and it keeps the training challenging and realistic. Instead of developing a false sense of security through the rote learning of patterned responses, the students quickly realize that real combat is an unpredictable arena where ones ability to adapt instantly and aggressively is the key to survival.
Too many Ving Tsun practitioners overlook the most obvious aspect of the system’s advantage over virtually all other combat methods; in Ving Tsun, the best form of defense is attack! We are not, and should not, be in the business of “self-defense” as this is the fastest way to defeat in real life combat. If you are busy “defending” yourself, you are ignoring the fact that your opponent is still in control of the situation. While you are “chasing the hands” of your enemy, you are always one or more steps behind him or her. The ONLY way to guarantee victory when being attacked is to have a better means of attack! This is what Ving Tsun is all about; when the opponent launches his or her attack, you should be responding with a scientifically more structured and more efficient attack of your own! That is the true nature of this system, and that is what sets it apart from virtually all other methods.
Why then do many Ving Tsun exponents advocate complicated sequences of blocking and trapping motions when a more aggressive response is what is called for? When you are in combat with the enemy, you are not trying to Chi Sau with him, you should be trying to hit him! The reflexes and skills developed through correct Chi Sau practice are only needed and applied if and when our own attempts to attack are hindered or impeded by the enemy, and we should definitely not be going out with the idea in mind to “trap hands” with them. This kind of thinking is extremely dangerous, yet such methods are being taught all over the place. This constitutes a blatant misunderstanding of the realities of real combat and has to be avoided at all costs. If we teach our students to attempt to deal with an adversary in this way, we are teaching them how to be defeated! Surely this is not our goal as teachers and practitioners of Ving Tsun.
Ving Tsun is one of, if not, the greatest methods of combat that exists in the world today, yet there are still many people in the world oblivious to the potential and benefits of this system of personal protection. One of the reasons that Ving Tsun is still to be taken seriously by many in the martial arts world is the constant bickering and in-fighting that has occurred in recent years. We cannot deny that this has taken place, and we must come together in a spirit of understanding and cooperation so as to work together for the long term benefit of both the system and all who have, are, or will practice it. This conference is the first very positive step in that direction, and I am indeed proud to be a participant in this historic event, and deeply humbled to be asked to speak to all present. I can only wish that my Sifu was still alive to be a part of this occasion, and I am sure that he would have much more wisdom to share with you all than I could ever hope to have in my lifetime.
The other very important reason that Ving Tsun is yet to be recognized universally for the brilliant system that it is, is that we have allowed ourselves to stray from the original concepts of the system, adding unnecessary complications and impractical methods to the repertoire of techniques that are being transmitted to our students. Individual creativity, based on real experience and practical experimentation, is the key to the future of Ving Tsun. This is not to say that we need to radically overhaul and alter the system. On the contrary, we need to put aside our individual egos, be prepared to rethink and reassess our teaching and training methods, and get back to the job of bringing Ving Tsun into the 21st century. This can, and will only be achieved, by returning to the basics, by re-examining the basic concepts and techniques with the added benefit of modern sports science and the input of those who have participated in the “Pavement Arena”, pitting their Ving Tsun skills against real opponents in real combat situations. It is no good constantly adhering to “tradition” when the reality of the world is no longer what is may have been in the past. If our Ving Tsun forefathers had thought in this way, there wouldn’t be a system known as Ving Tsun and we’d all be here for a poetry or paper folding conference! Ving Tsun is, by its very nature, a constantly evolving art, but for it to evolve further, we must ensure that we never lose sight of what makes it work, and the underlying principles that make this possible.
When people come to my classes and ask me what Ving Tsun is all about, I answer by telling them what it is not. It is NOT a sport (…there are no rules in real combat!); it is NOT a form of fitness training (…it is too efficient in application to demand enough of one to create super fitness!); it is NOT for demonstration (…while you and I can see the inherent beauty of the system, for “outsiders” it is just not “pretty” enough!); and it is NOT a form of meditation (…well, not in the classic sense, anyway!) What it is, in simple terms, is a sophisticated weapon with which one can overcome an adversary by applying scientifically provable concepts through efficient bio-mechanical motions, derived and practiced through realistic and efficient training methods and drills, resulting in the acquisition of skills that could one day save your own life, or that of a loved one. The restrictions of time prevent me from elaborating further, but I hope that I have planted an important seed in your mind that will slowly develop into the necessary thought processes that will help each and everyone of us present here today to make sure that the legacy of Yip Man, and those gifted students of his who have also passed on, such as Leung Sheung and Wong Shun Leung, is not only preserved for the future, but is developed even further to even greater heights. Like the ‘Siu Nim Tau’ form, this is a “young idea” that should be nurtured so that it develops into something truly wonderful.
I thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts with you, and I hope that I have provided some positive inspiration towards the goal of uniting all Ving Tsun devotees around the world so as to not only take Ving Tsun into the next millenium, but to strive for the development of the very best quality of Ving Tsun instruction and training. I also hope that my comments have in no way insulted or offended anyone present here today. That was never my intention, and if my words have been interpreted in that way, I sincerely apologize to those concerned. If my late teacher taught me anything at all, it was that I should never stop seeking the truth, nor ever assume that there isn’t a better way of doing something. He taught my Sihing-dai and I to never accept any idea or method at face value, but to think it over, discuss it and test it, as realistically as possible, in order to determine its validity. Today, I have tried to share some of my Sifu’s wisdom with all those present in the hope that you too will make the effort to sort through the “martial mess”, to put aside egos, false pride, ignorance and prejudice, and in doing so, once again see the beauty and simplicity of the Ving Tsun forest. Thankyou.
WING CHUN MEMORIES
Interview Conducted By David Peterson
“The following interview was conducted by David Peterson, Melbourne-based Wing Chun instructor, with his friend of many years, Rolf Clausnitzer, author of what is arguably the first ever English language book written & published on this popular system. Rolf, now living in Perth, Western Australia, was born in 1941 of a Japanese mother and a German father in Shenyang (Mukden) in what was then known as Manchuria, and spent most of his childhood in Shenyang, Tianjin (Tientsin) and Shanghai, before he moved with his family to Hong Kong in 1954. In this interview, conducted a few short years ago, Rolf recounts his earliest memories of the Wing Chun system and some of its most famous practitioners, specifically his meeting with the young Bruce Lee and the patriarch of Wing Chun, Yip Man. Rolf also sets the record straight on Lee’s now famous high school boxing match, the first time an accurate account from an eyewitness has ever been reported.”
DP: Rolf, you have been associated with Wing Chun for many years now, as both an avid learner, enthusiastic practitioner and, over the last decade or more, an instructor of the system. Quite a lot of people would know of your book, Wing Chun Kung Fu, written in collaboration with Greco Wong back in 1969, but what about your Wing Chun background? How did your interest in the system begin?
RC: Well, although I started my actual Wing Chun training in 1964 (no cracks about my age, please, I feel ancient enough already!), my interest was first aroused 6 years earlier, during my penultimate year at King George V School in Kowloon, Hong Kong. KGV was truly a cosmopolitan school with some 23 nationalities represented, although the British and the Americans formed the two largest ethnic groups. As far as my interest in self defence was concerned, I had previously done a year of Judo under a very impressive Filipino instructor. I had also done a little bit of boxing at school and privately with an American friend. As for Kung Fu, apart from childhood memories of looking at sidewalk comics featuring heroes with supernatural powers and witnessing a Bak Hok (white crane style) demonstration at a Western boxing tournament, my knowledge of the subject was limited to stories (tall ones, I felt!) of Kung Fu feats and powers, told to me by a few of my schoolmates.Then came that memorable afternoon after school which started me off on the Wing Chun path.
DP: What was it that made such an impact on you that particular day?
RC: My younger brother, who was at a different school, came home a little later and his first words were, “Guess what I learnt today? C’mon, throw me a punch!” As Frank (who was exceptionally strong for his age) and I were always fighting and driving our poor mother wild, I stuck out an exploratory jab and was violently yanked off my feet. I ended up with my arms jammed and at the receiving end of rapid fire, light punches to the nose. I asked to try again and this time used a classic corkscrew punch (taken straight out of a booklet on Karate a Japanese friend had sent me some months previously!), with similar results. Boy, was I embarrassed but I just had to know how the hell Frank had done it!
DP: So what was your brother’s secret?
RC: Frank explained that he had learnt the techniques from his classmate, an amazing guy who did Chinese boxing and was absolutely fantastic. At that time, Frank’s school, St Francis Xavier’s College (SFX), was almost 100% Chinese, with only one French boy (I think), a couple of Koreans, and a handful of Portuguese and Eurasians. Anyway, it transpired that this guy loved showing off his Kung Fu skills to a highly appreciative audience.
DP: What sort of things did this “show-off” like to do?
RC: One of his favourite stunts was to stand on one leg and with the other fend off a number of “attackers”, pivoting as required. His speed, balance, manoeuvrability, and control were such that it was almost impossible to close in on him without getting kicked. The main reason why Frank had become friendly with him was that, besides having been impressed, Frank was one of only two pupils in the entire school who could beat him at Indian arm wrestling. So there was a mutual feeling of respect. Actually, Frank was very fortunate. This guy invited Frank to his flat where he showed off his impressive and noisy wooden dummy skills. Frank also got to chat with his mother who turned out to be part German as well.
DP: Did you finally get to see this guy for yourself?
RC: You bet. Some weeks later Frank brought home this wizard and introduced him as Bruce Lee Jun Fan. It was the one and only time I met Bruce face to face, but I recall he was clean cut, well groomed, about my height, but considerably lighter. He began by demonstrating what I reckon was part of the Siu Nim Tau form. This had the same effect on me as it has had on countless people since who know nothing about Wing Chun….not very exciting and somewhat puzzling! Then came the mind blowing experience which was to confirm my interest in Wing Chun that my brother had aroused a few weeks earlier with his own little demo. Bruce invited me to “spar” with him, assuring me that I wouldn’t get hurt.
DP: What did he mean by “spar”? Did you actually have a fight with him?
RC: He asked me to bring my arms in contact with his, turned his head through 180% so that he couldn’t see me, and he gave me the go ahead to box, to go for his face and chest. I tried for what seemed like a minute to score, but he deflected and trapped every jab, hook, cross and uppercut I threw, and his fist kept ending up under my nose. I realise now that what he was doing to me was “blindfolded” Chi Sau of a very high order. From that moment on, I guess I was hooked.
DP: Did he demonstrate anything else to you that day?
RC: Before he left, he showed me some typewritten notes on Wing Chun he had prepared himself. My only recollections are of the faulty English, some reference to the traditional history of Wing Chun, and a misspelling of “Wing Chuin”. In turn I showed him the paperback on Karate I mentioned earlier. He asked to borrow it and that’s the last I ever saw of it. It had a sort of khaki-green cover and showed one or more hands on the face. It may well still be part of his notable martial arts library.
DP: Lucky for you it wasn’t a library book! After that, did you get to see Bruce doing Wing Chun on any other occasion?
RC: Not long after, I was privileged to see Bruce again, not face to face, but in action at the Hong Kong Inter School Boxing Championships. Ironically, his opponent just happened to be good old Gary Elms, one of my schoolmates.
DP: What was Gary Elms like? Did you know him well?
RC: Gary, also nicknamed “Garung”, was one of those irrepressible, but likable nuisances. Although he was considerably lighter and smaller, that didn’t stop him from pestering me and others. I’d wrestle him to the ground, pinch his nostrils and force grass into his mouth to make him say “Uncle”, but he would never submit. As soon as I got up in frustration, he’d jump me again. He was one tough nut.
DP: So, how was their match together? As an eyewitness, what can you say about the fight?
RC: His bout with Bruce turned out to be the most amazing and bizarre boxing match I have ever seen and expect to see. I honestly believe that Gary did not land even one single scoring punch throughout the entire 3 x 1 minute rounds, with Bruce deflecting and taking all of Gary’s punches on his arms. Gary was knocked down several times, but he was not knocked out (contrary to what has been reported in various articles and books!) and, even more surprisingly, he did not appear to be hurt or distressed. Each time he was floored, he would immediately jump back up. That’s why the referee did not stop the fight. Notwithstanding Gary’s extraordinary toughness, I was amazed to see him survive the bout in such good shape. It was not until later when I caught up with Frank that some sort of explanation emerged.
DP: Do you recall what your brother Frank told you about this?
RC: Apparently, when Frank and his friends went to congratulate Bruce after the bout, Bruce was shaking his head and looking far from pleased with himself. His reply to Frank’s obvious question was something along the lines of, “Damn it, I couldn’t knock the guy out”. His rationalisation was that the large (16oz?) gloves neutralised the intended, penetrating effect of tilting the wrist on impact, a practice common to many Wing Chun practitioners (I gather he abandoned this practice in later years). He reckoned that this force was not penetrating the padding and, in any case, Gary was already being propelled backwards from the pushing impact of the glove. He swore that he would continue training until he could achieve the penetration he wanted. He also had his sights set on Peter Burton, a stylish and hard punching boxer from St George’s School (which was exclusively for the children of British Armed Forces personnel in Hong Kong), a much bigger and heavier competitor who had TKO’d his opponent in the second round. By the way, Frank and I met Peter (who turned out to be half German as well) at a party a few weeks later and we talked about Bruce, but it’s unlikely that such a bout would ever have been approved because of the weight and size differences and, in any case, Bruce left for the USA a few months later to begin a new chapter in his amazing life.
DP: Many fans of Bruce Lee would have read other accounts of this fight, as reported in various publications since his untimely death. As an actual eyewitness to the entire event, what sort of things would you say are wrong with those reports of the match?
RC: I will stick my neck out by stating that not one accurate account, let alone analysis of it, has ever been published. Every single account, including Linda Lee’s, contains glaring, basic errors and inaccuracies: the result of the fight, Gary’s ethnic origins, the conduct of the bout, even the location, all have been wrongly reported. There’s even an incredible example of a published full page photo supposedly depicting Bruce with his back against the ropes. I could be wrong, but I reckon it’s another guy altogether, a hapless, unnamed SFX representative being “taken apart” by someone who, from behind, looks suspiciously like Peter Metrevelli, a highly skilled KGV competitor. If no one beats me to it, I’ll write the first true and full account of what actually happened, provided I can track down Gary Elms!
DP: Have you lost contact with him over the years?
RC: Yes, and I could kick myself for not having brought up the subject when I caught up with Gary again in a Soho restaurant in the late ’60s, but at that time it was not an issue for me. When I last enquired about Gary’s whereabouts a few years ago, Frank, who lives in the UK, told me that he seemed to have vanished from the scene. So, Gary, if you’re out there somewhere, please get in touch and we’ll set the record straight!
DP: That’s a real shame. I certainly hope that you’ll be able to contact him one day soon. It would be fascinating to hear his account of the fight. Well, after seeing these displays of the Wing Chun system in action, did you decide to take up the art for yourself?
RC: After Bruce had left for the USA, I couldn’t stop thinking about Wing Chun. Not long after, I got a schoolmate and good friend, Billy Silvey, sort of interested in Wing Chun and, after some enquiries, a Korean friend of Frank’s, Peter Koh, arranged for us to visit a Wing Chun class. We had no idea of what to expect, but it turned out to be a memorable experience, the significance of which did not sink in until years later.
DP: How did you eventually find your way to the class?
RC: It started off with our meeting a Wing Chun practitioner whose name I never did get, but I clearly recall he was good looking and unusually dark skinned. He may very well have had Indian blood in him, and went by the nickname of “Hak Jai” which I think means “black boy” in Cantonese! He took us first to a cinema which may have been the Zenith, an old establishment that showed reruns of old Hollywood and continental films. I doubt if it’s still standing. Anyway, as it was in between performances, probably between the 2.30 and 5.30 screenings, it wasn’t that busy. This guy took us up the stairs towards the dress circle and there he got Billy and me doing a very crude version of Poon Sau (“rolling hands”) after only about 60 seconds’ instruction!
DP: That’s not a bad effort for a novice! What happened next?
RC: After that, he took us into what was for us unexplored territory, a refugee resettlement area, the name of which I can’t recall, but it wasn’t far from the cinema. As we came to a low concrete building and walked through the entrance, the first sight that greeted me was of several employees of the KMB (Kowloon Motor Bus Company), drivers and conductors in their khaki uniforms, some practising, some watching, and others just chatting. I don’t know if they had just come off a shift or were training before going on a shift, but I clearly recall two busmen, one tall and one short, doing Chi Sau, with the bigger guy driving his partner across the room, in almost a bullying fashion. Then came what was in retrospect a priceless experience.
DP: Please continue!
RC: We were introduced to a friendly, smiling, older gentleman (he would probably have been in his 60’s at the time) who turned out to be none other than Yip Man himself. I couldn’t speak Cantonese but I made all the respectful gestures and noises. Billy, however, was quite fluent and may have chatted a little with Yip Man, I couldn’t swear to it. Anyway, we watched the class for a while and then had to go. We took our leave of Yip Man, with intentions of taking up Wing Chun.
DP: Much has been written over the years about Yip Man concerning his attitude towards teaching foreigners, especially with respect to Bruce Lee’s training days. What thoughts do you have on the matter?
RC: Looking back now, I question the much publicised view that Yip Man refused to teach foreigners. The facts are that we were taken specifically to meet Yip and that he greeted us in a friendly manner and was not at all surprised to see us. Billy and I are Eurasian (he’s half Irish and half Chinese) and Eurasians were definitely regarded as Westerners at the time. It’s debatable, of course, but we could have become the first foreigners to train under Yip Man’s supervision.
DP: So, why didn’t you start your training at that time? Surely you were just raring to get started?
RC: The truth is both ironic and embarrassing and has bothered me all these years. When I told my parents of my intentions, my over protective mother was absolutely horrified at the thought. She had this notion that I would be getting mixed up with criminal elements in an unsavoury environment. No amount of reasoning and pleading would move her. With both Germanic and Japanese concepts of filial duty and obedience well drilled into me, I had to defer to my mum! Of course, Billy wouldn’t join without me. It was one of those classic, “if only…./might have been” experiences that haunt you for the rest of your life!
DP: That being the case, when did you finally take up Wing Chun training?
RC: Well, it was not until 1964, some six years later, after I had finished university in the UK and returned to Hong Kong for a working holiday, that after a combination of enquiries and fortuitous events, I found myself in the presence of Wing Chun’s living legend, Wong Shun Leung, but that’s another story….
DP: Thank you, Rolf, for some truly fascinating recollections. I look forward to further instalments!
RC: My pleasure, David.
**The author, Sifu David Peterson, is a student of the late Hong Kong-based Wing Chun instructor, Sifu Wong Shun Leung, and is the principal instructor of the ‘Melbourne Chinese Martial Arts Club’. This article, one of dozens written by him on the techniques and history of the Wing Chun system, was first published in the March 1994 issue of “INSIDE KUNG-FU” magazine, under the title “Solid Gold Wing Chun Memories”.
VING TSUN BY DEFINITION
VING TSUN BY DEFINITION
Getting It Right …the . Wong Way. !!!
Shun Leung, chose to represent, in English, the name of the system he taught, which is otherwise known as “wing chun” in most other publications. The authors, being students of sifu Wong, have also adopted this spelling throughout the following article out of respect for their teacher, and as a means of identifying their lineage.
There are many people claiming to teach ving tsun, and as many different “versions” of ving tsun as there are teachers, or so it seems. The reasons for these variations are many and complex, one factor which immediately springs to mind being that there are at least three or four different systems of Chinese boxing which take the name ving tsun (though the Chinese characters may differ). At least two of these appear to have originated in or around the city of Fatsaan (Foshan in the Mandarin dialect), the southern Chinese city where Grandmaster Yip Man of the Hong Kong-style first studied the system under his teacher, Chan Wa Sun, who in turn had learnt from the most celebrated of ving tsun “ancestors”, Leung Jan, the undefeated “King of Ving Tsun”, a man who is said to have been very protective when it came to passing on his skills.
Herein lies just one of the many causes of today’s confusion, that Leung Jan in fact may have taught two interpretations of the same art in order to preserve its uniqueness, one to his own sons (whom he hoped would inherit and pass on his skills), and a somewhat less sophisticated method to “Chan the money-changer”, the man under whom Grandmaster Yip Man began his ving tsun training. If we are to believe the stories handed down through history concerning Leung Jan and his attitude to teaching “outsiders”, it is therefore possible that Leung (who was an intelligent, educated man) did in fact “simplify things” for his not so bright, but physically powerful student Chan, who, it has been said, was a far more gifted fighter than he was a thinking man. What Chan learnt and made use of was a cruder, less sophisticated, but nevertheless very effective form of ving tsun.
Two events in recent ving tsun history tend to lend substance to this belief. One of these is the well known story of how Grandmaster Yip was easily defeated by Leung Bik, the son of Leung Jan. According to the story (which has, it must be said, been thrown into some doubt in recent years) said to have been told by Grandmaster Yip himself, and retold by many of his students over the years, he suffered his first and possibly only defeat at the hands of an old man whom he had challenged while a student in Hong Kong during the early part of this century. To cut a long story short, Yip Man was to learn that his opponent was the son of his own teacher’s teacher, and Yip Man in turn became Leung’s student during which time he was taught a much more refined and subtle approach to ving tsun, something which may well have influenced what he was to teach to his own students later on.
The second event, which is not so widely known, except to students of the late sifu Wong Shun Leung (and anyone who attended his seminars on the ‘Siu Nim Tau’ form over the years), concerns the fact that sifu Wong’s “version” of the first form contains an extra movement in the third section. The following story explains this fact. While fighting a rather stubborn opponent during one of sifu Wong’s many celebrated “contests”, his opponent, in a fit of desperation and at the point of exhaustion, dropped to one knee and lashed out with a punch which sifu Wong attempted to deflect with the ‘Jam Sau’ movement contained within his form. Because the attack was so low, the ‘Jam Sau’ only partially deflected the blow which then struck Wong in the upper thigh, leading to an injury which nagged him for months. He of course went on to dispatch his opponent, afterwhich he and Grandmaster Yip got into some heavy discussion about what had transpired.
As a result of this discussion, Yip Man advised his students to include the technique known as ‘Gaan Sau’ in place of the ‘Jam Sau’ previously found in this section of the form. Prior to this time, the ‘Gaan Sau’ technique was only seen in the ‘Biu Ji’ and ‘Muk Yan Jong’ (“wooden dummy”) forms. Sifu Wong decided that both techniques were important (especially in view of the fact that the ‘Jam Sau’ is an integral part of the basic single-hand ‘Chi Sau’ exercise), and so continued to include both, while most, if not all of his contemporaries (the instructors of today) dropped the “old” technique in favour of the “new” one.
According to sifu Wong, Grandmaster Yip Man had explained to him that the ‘Jam Sau’ movement had been taught to him by Leung Bik, his second teacher, who had been a very small man and had not needed to make much use of the lower action ‘Gaan Sau’. Chan Wa Sun, on the other hand, being a taller man, would often make use of the lower action as many of his opponents had been smaller than himself, and therefore were more likely to hit lower. Grandmaster Yip, being more influenced by his second teacher, Leung Bik, had therefore altered his form accordingly. ‘Jam Sau’ is also a much more subtle action than the ‘Gaan Sau’ movement and therefore less likely to be included in the arsenal of a man like Chan who tended to just blast his opponents out of his way.
It has often been suggested, though not proven by any means, that Yip Man taught in a fairly un-systematic way, tending to pass on skills according to the student’s size, reach and so on. It is also said that he didn’t have much time for his slower, less intelligent or less diligent students, and actually taught few people the entire system in person. This, in turn, possibly led to the fact that many people learnt by observing others training, rather than at first-hand, and that quite a few of these individuals actually learnt a “second-hand” or even “third-hand” version of ving tsun, filling the gaps in their knowledge with guesswork based on what they could recall seeing others do, or even worse, making it up out of their own imagination. This, of course, gave rise to the variations in technique (and the interpretation of these techniques) extant today amongst instructors of the same generation, not to mention those of their younger ving tsun brothers and sisters.
Of all Yip Man’s students, sifu Wong Shun Leung probably spent the longest time under his tutelage because it was sifu Wong who in fact did most of the teaching in Yip Man’s school over the years. Whereas most of the other senior students opened their own schools and went about doing things their own way quite early on, Wong did not have a school of his own until the end of the 60s. Wong was therefore always close to his teacher, could confer with his teacher and, most importantly, could train with and observe his teacher thereby picking up many of the subtleties which his peers never did. Sifu Wong was also the one student of Yip Man who always put everything he had learnt to the test so he soon developed what can only be described as an intimate knowledge of the ving tsun system. Becoming known throughout Hong Kong as ‘Gong Sau Wong’, or the “King of Talking with the Hands”, sifu Wong took the ving tsun system to a whole new level and was never defeated in dozens of real life encounters with practitioners of a myriad of martial styles.
All of the ideas and opinions expressed above would tend to be supported by the fact that the majority of ving tsun teachers have a fairly similar looking ‘Siu Nim Tau’ form (though concepts and applications still tend to vary), but that the more advanced forms differ by greater and greater amounts, often appearing like completely different systems! To make matters worse, some of these teachers have withheld certain techniques from their students, or have been unable (or unwilling) to teach certain techniques or concepts at a given time or to particular students. What a present day instructor teaches therefore has many factors influencing it, depending on what his instructor learnt directly from his teacher, or what he may have learnt indirectly from other sources (ie. other students).
We need to bear these factors in mind, and understand that ving tsun is a unique system of Chinese boxing, unlike any other fighting art, Chinese or otherwise. The ving tsun system is strongly influenced (one could say, obsessed) with three main qualities. These are DIRECTNESS, EFFICIENCY and SIMPLICITY. These three qualities are immediately evident in any genuine representation of the system, from the physical application of the techniques to the structure, practise and content of the six training forms (‘Siu Nim Tau’, ‘Cham Kiu’, ‘Biu Ji’, ‘Muk Yan Jong’, ‘Luk Dim Boon Gwan’ and ‘Baat Jaam Do’). While one would assume that the majority of ving tsun practitioners are aware of these three qualities, some present day instructors defy all logic by ignoring them altogether! How often have we seen sequences of movements where the instructor demonstrating his or her defence against various forms of attack, takes five or six techniques to deal with a situation that should only have taken one, or at most, two techniques to control?
What is even more disturbing (and frustrating) is that many very intelligent people blindly continue to follow such instructors, even when confronted by convincing arguments which clearly prove that what they are doing does not conform to this very logical approach. Instead, they take what is basically a simple, straightforward method, and turn it into a complicated and less efficient one. Like the person who pulls the flower to pieces to discover its beauty, they completely miss the point, becoming obsessed with needless analysis. So many ving tsun practitioners invent endless sequences of defensive actions when what is clearly the obvious message of the system is that “attack is ALWAYS the best form of defence”.
Let’s pause here to define, in simple terms, what is meant by these three above-mentioned qualities:-
DIRECTNESS: Extending or moving in a straight line, or by the shortest route; not crooked or oblique; going straight to the point.
EFFICIENCY: Productive; with minimum waste of effort; ratio of useful work performed to energy expended.
SIMPLICITY: Easily understood or done; not complicated or elaborate; consisting of, or involving only one element of operation.
By recognising and understanding these three concepts, deciding if what you are learning or teaching is valid and/or deserving of the title VING TSUN!! should (if one has an open mind and a willingness to improve) be a relatively easy process. The sad fact is, however, that the majority of people do tend to freely accept much of what they are told by their instructors when in fact some healthy scepticism, coupled with some positive discussion and experimentation, could and would lead to a better standard of ving tsun throughout the world. We are in no way advocating anarchy in the classroom, simply that instructors should encourage their students to think rather than blindly follow, to seek out ways of making what they do even more DIRECT, EFFICIENT and SIMPLE.
This is the attitude with which the late Bruce Lee approached his personal training, leading to the development of his now well-known fighting concepts. Lee departed Hong Kong as a very young man and found himself without an instructor and with an incomplete knowledge of the ving tsun system. However, he knew enough of the concepts of the system to realise that by applying those same three qualities to other ideas and methods, he could begin to fill the gaps in his knowledge. Interestingly, sifu Wong Shun Leung, now generally acknowledged by many to be the most influential teacher Bruce Lee ever had, noted that the more Lee explored the intricacies of combat, the more his ideas and techniques began to resemble the ving tsun he would have eventually learnt had he remained in Hong Kong! In their many all night discussion-come-training sessions on those occasions when Lee returned to Hong Kong to work, sifu Wong found that Lee was rediscovering many of ving tsun’s most basic concepts in his efforts to develop ways of becoming more DIRECT, EFFICIENT and SIMPLE. It is unfortunate that Lee’s own followers have in many ways missed the point of his philosophy, complicating things when the whole idea was to make everything more streamlined.
Present day instructors need to take a long hard look at themselves and what they teach, to put aside pride and ego in preference to developing a higher standard of teaching. Even if it means going back to the basics to re-learn and perfect their knowledge, surely it’s worth it, and their students will respect them for it as well, not to mention the pride the instructor will feel when he starts being honest with himself and starts producing even better students. Take it from two people who have been down that very same road….it’s a big step to take but you’ll never regret taking it. Having had our eyes well and truly opened up by our teacher, sifu Wong, after many years of far less efficient ving tsun training (under an instructor with a poor understanding of the system), we’ve never looked back!
In the long run, when all is said and done, the concepts of ving tsun are far more important than any particular technique/combination, though obviously if the movement being utilised meets the aforementioned criteria (DIRECT, EFFICIENT and SIMPLE) it has far more likelihood of succeeding. With this in mind, the examples offered on these pages are not to be taken as “The Way”, but as illustrations of methods already available to the ving tsun practitioner within the basic forms, examples which exhibit the three qualities being discussed. In particular it is hoped that they clearly show how the “tools” within the forms can be applied as needed, rather than in set combinations as practised in the training forms. As sifu Wong Shun Leung so often repeated over the years, “Be the master of ving tsun, not it’s slave!”
To put it even more plainly, the sequence of the movements in the ving tsun forms MUST NOT be taken literally, to be copied and applied verbatim, because if so used, the real purpose for doing them is missed altogether, often with disastrous results. The forms contain a combination of theory and technique, of structured movements and concepts which, when seen in the right perspective, provide the ving tsun student with a system of combat which adapts naturally to any situation, without the need to rote learn an infinite number of combinations to deal with an equally infinite number of possibilities. Like a well-equipped workshop, the ving tsun forms provide a full range of tools from which one may choose to make use of within a given situation, but there is no need to use all the tools all of the time, nor in any fixed sequence. To put it another way, we only use the ingredients required by the recipe at hand, we don’t just empty the pantry because it’s full, and not all dishes require the ingredients to be used in the same order.
Like learning a language, ving tsun starts with an alphabet through the practise of the ‘Siu Nim Tau’ form (the “young idea” from which everything grows), and then proceeds to teach the student to make words and sentences, to “engage in conversation” in a natural way, responding to the opponent’s movements and the changes that angling and positioning bring to the basic concepts of the first form. This is the purpose of the ‘Cham Kiu’ form which provides the keys for “finding & maintaining the bridge” with the opponent. Finally, like the tertiary stage in one’s education, ‘Biu Ji’ form highlights the need for looking beyond one’s own ideas, to step outside one’s own universe and consider potential weaknesses or problems and to apply the logic of the three qualities mentioned so as to overcome adverse situations whilst sustaining the least amount of damage to oneself. The ‘Biu Ji’ form “points the finger” to the fact that rules sometimes need to be broken, that no one and no method is infallible.
Finally, through ‘Chi Sau’ (“sticky hands”) training, the ving tsun student learns to utilise this knowledge and to improve his or her skills and understanding in a free-flowing exercise that develops the “language” and is forever emphasising the need for, and advantages of DIRECTNESS, EFFICIENCY and SIMPLICITY. Although ‘Chi Sau’ is not fighting per se, it encourages the development of reflexes necessary for effectively responding to situations where one is grabbed, pushed, dragged or otherwise prevented from completing one’s own attack (by virtue of clashing limbs), at the very range where real combat generally takes place, and where split second changes at a sub-conscious level mean the difference between defeat or victory. As such, ‘Chi Sau’ provides the perfect environment in which to develop the skills to control the most dangerous (and most likely) range in which one may find themselves, and where most people (and many systems) lack the necessary skills to survive.
As a final point, please keep in mind that this article has been written with the deliberate intention of provoking some thought, comment or inquiry into what it actually is that some instructors/schools are teaching. It is our intention to make ving tsun practitioners everywhere question the validity of what they have been taught, to test the effectiveness and practicality of their “brand” of ving tsun, and to be prepared to change their approach if it fails to live up to the definition presented here. It is also deliberately aimed at the average martial arts enthusiast, and to those contemplating becoming involved in the martial arts, to help them sort out the VING TSUN!! from the VING TSUN?? To this end we can only hope that we have succeeded in invoking a response which will lead to an even brighter future for this most dynamic form of Chinese boxing.
Ving tsun owes its very existence to the fact that somewhere back in time, someone bothered to question the combat theories that they encountered and sought a method that offered more than those at their disposal. Sifu Wong Shun Leung, the “King of the Challenge Fight”, spent much of his life attempting to raise the curtain of ignorance surrounding the martial arts, and to test, improve and teach the ving tsun system minus the “Bull****” that keeps on raising its ugly head time and time again. His personal motto was “…To better myself with each day of training”. Now it’s up to us, the next generation of ving tsun practitioners, to see that we pass on the best system possible, to ensure that only the very best that this system has to offer survives into the 21st century. So then, it’s time to ask yourself, …how does your ving tsun measure up?
About the authors: David Peterson, a martial artist with 25 years experience, is one of only two people authorised by the late sifu Wong Shun Leung to represent him in Australia. A teacher of the Chinese language and principal instructor of the ‘Melbourne Chinese Martial Arts Club’ (MCMAC) which he established in 1983, Peterson is also a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in many Australian and international journals, and more recently, on several Internet sites around the world. Enzo Verratti, a martial artist for 20 years, has been assisting Peterson in the running the ‘MCMAC’ since 1983. Verratti, a qualified fitness instructor and former security worker, is also Hong Kong-trained in the “Wong Shun Leung Way”, and has recently established the ‘Wing Chun (Ving Tsun) Chinese Boxing Club’ in suburban Melbourne.
What I Have Learnt Through 'Beimo'
What I Have Learnt Through “Beimo”
By Sifu Wong Shun Leung
The following article is a personal account of what recently deceased Wing Chun master, sifu Wong Shun Leung felt were the main lessons he had learnt about combat through his experiences of “beimo” or skill comparison, a somewhat subtle way of naming the many full-on fights he had with practitioners of literally dozens of Chinese and other fighting systems during his forty plus years as a Wing Chun devotee. The “beimo” is a long established tradition in the Chinese martial arts and in the Hong Kong of the 1950’s and 1960’s, one name shone out like a beacon when “beimo” was the topic of discussion. That name was Wong Shun Leung, student of Wing Chun patriarch Yip Man, classmate and trainer of Bruce Lee, and the man who became known in martial art circles as “Gong Sau Wong”, the “King of Talking with the Hands”. During these celebrated “contests”, which took place on rooftops, in back alleys, behind closed doors, in the countryside and anywhere else that was found to be convenient, sifu Wong is said to have never lost a fight, and most witnesses claim that the majority of exchanges took no more than three techniques to determine his victory. Quite a few of these “contests” were arranged by a journalist who was keen to conduct these “tests of skill” so as to obtain exclusive articles for his newspaper, “The Star”. Unlike the tournaments of today, these were real fights where rules and protective clothing were unknown, where serious injuries could and, occasionally, did take place, and where there was absolutely no room for “martial magic”. The “beimo” sorted out the martial artists from the bullshit artists.
From these experiences, and with much discussion with his teacher, grandmaster Yip Man, sifu Wong developed his skills to what can only be described as an incredible level, and in doing so, brought the Wing Chun system to the attention of the Hong Kong martial arts community. He is even credited with modernising the way in which the system is taught, even to the point of convincing Yip Man himself to rethink some concepts or techniques and actually change them or delete them from the Wing Chun forms and drills. To put it simply, Wong Shun Leung helped revolutionise what was already a highly effective fighting form and raised it to an even higher level of efficiency. He has influenced many people over the years, the late Bruce Lee being an obvious example (his art of Jeet Kune Do utilising many of the concepts Wong put forward during the time that the two were training together and then later corresponding), and he continued to “spread the word” about his very practical approach to developing combat proficiency right up to the time of his recent death. This article was translated from the original Chinese by his Australian student, David Peterson, a speaker of both Mandarin and Cantonese dialects, and a teacher of the “Wong Shun Leung Way” at the ‘Melbourne Chinese Martial Arts Club’ which he founded in 1983 following his “discovery” of sifu Wong’s method after more than 10 years of less efficient Wing Chun training.
The kind of fighting that I am referring to in this article is not that which one might see in the boxing ring because this kind of fight has been restricted by all kinds of rules and regulations, turning it into a game or sport which is far removed from real combat. What I am referring to here is the “real fight”, free of rules and restrictions whether it be as the result of a conflict, or by mutual agreement. Because fighting is relative, the opponents’ build and strength can and will directly affect the result of the conflict, therefore it is difficult to assume to know the outcome. The classic Chinese ‘Art of War’ by Sun Zi states, “In warfare, first lay plans which will ensure victory, and then lead your army to battle; if you will not begin with stratagem but rely on brute strength alone, victory will no longer be assured”. Each of these approaches can affect its counterpart in terms of cause and effect. Indeed, when it comes to the business of fighting, I fear that in an article of this size there is still much that cannot be adequately dealt with. But now I would like to discuss the most common mistakes made by Wing Chun practitioners in order that we can learn to avoid them.
1. CHI SAU
The Chi Sau (“sticky hands”) exercise is a reflex training drill that must be practised repeatedly in order to develop skilful, quick and alert responses so as to satisfy the basic, essential requirements of the Wing Chun system, ie. “Intercept what comes; pursue what departs; when the hands are freed of obstructions, attack instinctively”. These are basic but profound principles which, when properly understood and drilled through Chi Sau, prepare the Wing Chun practitioner both mentally as well as physically for what should take place when one engages with the enemy and so, one gets into the contact condition from the very start. If detailed explanations are not given to the novice student, he or she will tend to over indulge the skill of Chi Sau, inventing their own interpretations until they end up following a totally incorrect form of Chi Sau which leads them straying from the intended path. For example, too much emphasis on the idea of “sticking to the hands” will cause such bad habits as “chasing the hands” of the opponent and thus totally contradict one of Wing Chun’s most basic fighting principles.
At the beginning of the “Young Idea” (Siu Nim Tau) form, one is taught the concept of “Chiu Ying”, or facing the opponent square-on, to facilitate favourable positioning even before the fight has commenced, allowing punches to be thrown along the shortest possible line with the most direct attack being able to be made on the opponent prior to contact being made with each other. Never is one asked in the basic form to consider doing “sticky hands” with the enemy as the range of motion possible by the hands is so wide that if one goes about “chasing the hands” the result is like a children’s game; you go left because he makes a sudden turn left, then you go right as he does, and so on. The result is that you always allow your enemy to dictate your actions, ending up in a passive position and unable to attack your intended target. As shown in photos fig.1, fig.2 and fig.3, by chasing the hands of the opponent in this way, like the man who puts the cart in front of the horse, you will end up at the mercy of the opponent. So, when fighting, one should fix one’s eyes firmly on the target with only one idea in mind, that of attacking the enemy most simply and directly. It is only if your attack meets with an obstruction that you have to change to attain your goal and this is where “sticky hands” comes into play, as a means to an end, that end being the winning of the fight.
2. GIVING THE ENEMY THE OPPORTUNITY TO STRIKE FIRST
To win or lose a fight often depends on who watches for his chance to attack the enemy first when both sides are fighting. As Sun Zi said, “When an invading force crosses a river in its onward march, it is best to let half the army get across, and then deliver your attack.” You will reap twice the result with half the effort if the attack is launched with such favourable timing as the opponent’s intention, developments and movements can all be readily determined. Should this strategy be applied, the opponent will find it especially difficult to co-ordinate his body, making advance or retreat virtually impossible and the loss of the fight by him inevitable. A common error made by inexperienced Wing Chun practitioners is to throw their punches from too far away, leaving a lot of distance between their opponent and themselves. As one can see from the pictures fig.7, fig.8 and fig.9, such a clumsy and rash move gives the enemy the opportunity to attack first.
Therefore, when engaged in combat with an opponent, never be impatient. Do not launch an attack until there’s a distance of one step between you and your enemy, then launch a sudden attack so as to force the enemy to be caught totally unprepared. Launching a sudden attack in this way, one gains the advantage of an extra step towards the enemy, making it extremely difficult for him to react in time, the result normally being a feeble attempt to move half a step to the right or left, or else retreat straight backwards. This makes it very easy to remain in contact with the enemy, maintaining control of the situation by affecting the enemy’s balance and positioning. You therefore avoid giving him the chance to attack first and take away his opportunity to manage the situation.
3. GIVE UP EXCESSIVE IDEALS
Having excessive ideals with regard to fighting will cause one to be far too nervous. Wing Chun theory is flawless indeed if one can accomplish it absolutely, but a theory is only just a theory, never can a person reach such a state of perfection, human beings are all apt to make mistakes at some time or another. In normal combat situations, most opponents are of more or less equal size and strength. Everyone has two hands and two feet, strengths and weaknesses, and so on. Each is subject to the same conditions and so each has to fight hard. The most determining factor overall is the level of skill each fighter possesses.
If the possibility of your winning is 70%, there is still a 30% possibility of being attacked. If we look at World Championship boxing contests, even the winner of the match has to take many blows from his opponent in order to finalise the competition. Nowadays, however, many Wing Chun coaches make exaggerated boasts and purposely turn simple things into mysteries, misleading their students with “fairy tales”. They deceive others and themselves. This is the height of shame. It would be a far better idea to prepare the student both mentally and physically before fighting, informing them of the realities of fighting, especially that it is expected that one may have to in fact take one or more blows upon one’s own body in the course of the fight. Thus, when engaged in fighting, you will not be full of misgivings and be at a loss as to what to do.
4. AVOID HESITATION AT ALL COSTS
In order to fight, both parties must be within the distance whereby they can attack each other. Both have equal opportunity to attack, yet there is no time to think of the fight in terms of punches and kicks. The skills and experiences brought about by routine training will be brought into full play at this time. The question of victory or defeat is more or less an open one, to be determined by what one has within. No matter what happens, one must never hesitate once the engagement has begun. To do so will bring about many unnecessary troubles. The high kicks that one often sees in the movies that are performed continuously with consummate ease are, in reality, without foundation. If applied in a real fight, it is difficult, if not impossible, to land a second such kick should the first one be successful.
Whether the enemy falls down or not, he will be out of position for any follow up kicking technique to be effective. Perhaps, if the enemy is hit by a side kick and retreats backwards in a straight line, you may have the opportunity to kick continuously, but the Laws of Physics make such a situation highly unlikely. If the enemy is fearful of the fight, he will draw back quickly and your second kick will surely fail since your first kick would have also failed to find its mark, the timing rhythm being all wrong, just as in dance and music. Only those who hesitate will be punched. One must retreat or advance as the situation dictates, or else the chance to control the situation will disappear in the twinkle of an eye.
The above points will not teach you how to win, but will enable you to decrease your mistakes as much as possible. In fact, if you want to win, it will depend on whether or not you practise hard and persistently, your will to win the fight, perseverance, the development of physical power, confidence, and so on. As for the supreme state of “calm heart and refined breathing” (ie. the ability to fight calmly and with total control of mind & body), attaining that will be on the basis of all the above conditions.
WONG SHUN LEUNG: Wing Chun Personified
WONG SHUN LEUNG: Wing Chun Personified
Trained by the late grandmaster Yip Man, teacher to the great Bruce Lee, Wong Shun Leung is perhaps best-known as the wing chun man who routinely challenged anyone of any style and lived to tell about it.
By David Peterson
Hong Kong-based Wing Chun instructor, Wong Shun Leung, has been called many things by people in the martial arts world. England’s ‘Fighters’ magazine called him, “…a communicator and teacher of Wing Chun par excellence”; Jesse Glover, the first American student of the late Bruce Lee, wrote in his book ‘Bruce Lee’s Non-Classical Gung Fu’ that Wong Shun Leung “…is one of the greatest Wing Chun teachers in the world”; Bey Logan, editor of the British martial arts magazine ‘Combat’ wrote that “…Wong Shun Leung is far more important as a Wing Chun teacher in his own right than just a figure in the life of Bruce Lee. He deserves better than to be in anyone’s shadow”; America’s ‘Black Belt’ magazine simply called him “…a Wing Chun phenomenon.”
Which ever way you want to look at it, there is no denying that Wong Shun Leung is possibly the greatest living representative of the dynamic Chinese fighting art of Wing Chun, the man who put Wing Chun on the map in the late ‘fifties and early ‘sixties in his well publicised challenge matches against representatives of all the major combat arts in Hong Kong. He is the man who can rightly claim to have been the late Bruce Lee’s teacher, and to have influenced the development of Lee’s personal art of combat, Jeet Kune Do. His ego is such, however, that Wong Shun Leung prefers to be known simply as a teacher, a sifu, and he refuses to accept accolades such as “master” or “grandmaster”, terms which he believes are worthless because they have been abused so readily in recent years.
Wong Sifu, in his own typical fashion, usually downplays his “deadly” image by stating that, “I can’t fight very well and my Kung Fu is not very good.” He decries the claims of other so-called “masters” by emphasising that it matters not whether one is the son of a grandmaster, or that one knows “every deadly move known to man.” In his opinion it is far more important that one must practise hard, to “become the master of the art, not its slave.” To Wong Sifu it makes no difference how senior you are, but how good you are. He considers that Wing Chun is a SKILL, not an ART, and he sees nothing wrong with using ones skills.
In comparing skills and art, Wong Sifu has been quoted as saying, “…if A and B have a fight and B gets knocked out, then everyone knows that A won. There’s a winner and a loser. However, in music, you can like someone’s guitar playing or not like it and it doesn’t matter. Because it’s an ART, you can’t PROVE that one painting or piece of music is better than another. However, in Kung Fu, you can prove your skill in such a way that there is no doubt! This is the difference….in other ARTS, beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but in MARTIAL ART, the only judgement is whether or not it works!” Statements such as this one are characteristic of the very down-to-earth approach that Wong Sifu has to combat, and he certainly has the fighting record to back up such a beliefs.
Wong Shun Leung began his training in the martial arts while in his early teens. He tried his hand at several styles, including Western boxing, in which he developed a real interest, an interest which he still maintains today. Wong Sifu considers boxing to be very practical for the street because boxers learn to give and take punishment right from the word go, concentrating on attacking instead of “chasing the opponent’s hands” like many of the classical Kung Fu styles do. He probably would have still been boxing now if it hadn’t been for two particular incidents which changed his approach to combat once and for all.
Firstly, while sparring with his boxing coach one afternoon, Wong accidently landed a damaging blow to the face. In a rage, the coach began pounding Wong until, bleeding from nose and mouth, Wong managed to gain the upper hand, eventually knocking his coach out cold. After this event, Wong lost all respect for his boxing coach and never went back for another lesson. Wong’s father and grandfather had both been doctors of traditional Chinese medicine and were well acquainted with members of Hong Kong’s martial arts community so that from a very early age, Wong had heard hundreds of tales of the exploits of various local heroes. His grandfather had even been a good friend of Chan Wa Sun, the first of his future instructor Yip Man’s Wing Chun teachers, so Wong was aware of the fighting art of Chan the “money-changer” (Jau Chin Wa) from Fatsaan.
Wong recalled some of the stories he had been told about Chan Wa Sun, and of Chan’s teacher, the legendary Fatsaan Jan Sinsaang (Dr.Leung Jan, a noted herbalist in the nineteenth century, renowned for his unrivalled fighting skills) and he decided to seek out a Wing Chun teacher to see what the system had to offer him. As it turned out, friends of his older brother were learning Wing Chun so it was arranged that he would go to see them train. To cut a long story short, Wong ended up having a match with the man who was to become his teacher, the late grandmaster Yip Man, after initially having “held his own” with a couple of the junior students at the school, and was very soundly beaten. From that moment onwards, Wong Shun Leung became a devoted member of the Wing Chun clan and within a year had single-handedly elevated the Wing Chun system from the position of an obscure, virtually unknown, southern Chinese martial art, to that of a real force to be reckoned with.
Now 55 years old, Wong Shun Leung has been involved in Wing Chun for over 38 years, constantly working to develop and pass on the skills of the system to literally thousands of students. These days he spends at least three months of every year travelling to various places around the world, spreading his interpretation of Wing Chun in an honest, effective and realistic manner. Wong Sifu is a realist when it comes to combat, advising his audiences that martial artists are not invincible, and that sometimes the best solution when surrounded by villains is “…run away!” It is foolhardy, he suggests, to believe that training in the martial arts will enable a person to dispose of a group of attackers without raising as much as a sweat.
“If someone practises any martial art,” says Wong, “then that person must become stronger and more durable than someone who hasn’t practised. So if you are punched you are able to take a lot more punishment than a normal person. I have been hit many times, as have all of the great martial artists that I know of. So we are not supermen, but we can take a lot more. Any martial artist who says that he does not get hit is lying to himself!”
To him, fighting is like a game of chess; just as one cannot expect to win a game of chess without firstly sacrificing one or more pieces, so one cannot expect to be victorious in a fight without sustaining some kind of injury, even if only a few bruises. Several jagged scars on his knuckles, as well as scars from a knife on his arm and forehead attest to this belief. When it comes to combat experience, Wong Shun Leung could tell many tales, but with his usual modesty he tends to downplay this aspect of his career in martial arts.
It is a well-known fact in Hong Kong, however, that from around the time Wong Sifu was 18 until about the age of 24, he took part in countless challenge matches (referred to in Cantonese as bei mo) against fighters from virtually every style of martial art in the colony. Bruce Lee credited Wong with hundreds of victories, but conservative estimates suggest something along the lines of at least 50 to 60 such matches, with Wong always emerging as the winner. So successful was he that the local Hong Kong press picked up on his exploits and one enterprising reporter (now a resident in Australia) actually went out and arranged fights for him against non-Chinese as well, including a 250lb Russian boxer named Giko!
In the press reports Wong became known as Gong Sau Wong, meaning the “King of the Challenge Fight,” the sound wong meaning both “king” as well as being the same as his surname (although a different written character). The term gong sau was actually coined by Wong during an interview conducted at the time and means literally “talking with the hands,” a very apt description of exactly what he did. When pressed about these matches while being interviewed in Australia two years ago, Wong Sifu responded by saying, “I didn’t actually learn Wing Chun just to go out and fight. Kung Fu should really be used as a way of protecting yourself in circumstances where you are physically threatened.
“After I learnt the skills of Wing Chun from Yip Man I often had the opportunity to test them. By experimenting with my skills I could discover their limitations and how they compared with other disciplines and so improve myself. After a time of this experimentation I learnt that I needed to rely less on the fighting part to get that self-satisfaction and feeling of achievement.” It was also during this period of experimentation that Wong Shun Leung introduced Bruce Lee to the experience of the challenge fight. In the first of Lee’s matches, Wong coached him between rounds, encouraging Lee to continue when it seemed that he was about to give up.
The result was a victory that possibly changed the course of Lee’s life and certainly began the development of the martial arts superstar whom the world was later to discover. Grandmaster Yip Man, on hearing of the event, was said to have told Wong, “Fortunately you accompanied him to the venue and encouraged him to go on with the match. This trial of martial skill may be a decisive influence on him in the future. If someday Bruce Lee succeeds, the credit should rightfully go to you.” In discussing this period in Lee’s life, Jesse Glover wrote, “Wong was four years senior to Bruce in Yip Man’s clan and Bruce studied privately for a year and a half under both him and Yip Man” and that Wong was “…the man most responsible for the development of Bruce Lee.” Glover also wrote, “In ’59 Bruce told me that Wong was the greatest fighter in the Wing Chun style, and that he had successfully defeated all challengers.”
Wong Shun Leung is not just a gifted fighter and excellent teacher, he is also a doctor of traditional Chinese medicine, and a self-taught calligrapher whose writing is greatly prized by those who appreciate such talent. He enjoys reading classical Chinese poetry, eating fine food, sipping a glass of good brandy with friends and sharing amusing anecdotes and jokes with his students. Bey Logan, in his article ‘Bruce Lee’s Teacher’ wrote, “The first thing you notice is how normal he looks. He looks too short, too friendly to be the legendary Wong Shun Leung Sifu. It is only the way he moves, the way he watches, that reveals the nature of the discipline he has mastered.
“Next, you’re surprised by his keen sense of humour. Many Westerners seem to cling to the idea that a Sifu must be a very old, very solemn man. There is none of the stereotypical Master Po-figure about Wong Shun Leung. He is very funny.” But as well as being a very friendly, amusing and approachable man, Wong Sifu is first and foremost an exponent and teacher of combat with quite definite views on the purpose and function of Kung Fu. Being the one student of Yip Man to have taught for him rather than go out and open his own school, Wong was able to truly absorb all that his teacher had to offer, the result being that he, above all other pretenders to the throne, could rightfully claim to be the inheritor of the system. Instead, Wong simply gets on with the task of teaching, letting his skills and experiences speak for themselves.
On the subject of self-defence, Wong says, “If you learn Kung Fu, your purpose is to fight. If you can’t fight and win, how can you defend yourself? Therefore, if you want to defend yourself, you must train until you can overpower others.” In an article on him which appeared in ‘Black Belt’ magazine, Wong said, “Wing Chun Kung Fu is a very sophisticated weapon… nothing else. It is a science of combat, the intent of which is the total incapacitation of an opponent. It is straightforward, efficient and deadly. If you’re looking to learn self-defence, don’t study Wing Chun. It would be better for you to master the art of invisibility.”
Strong opinions indeed, but then Wong Shun Leung bases such opinions upon many years of experience in what could only be described as real combat. He views many of the practices of modern martial artists as little more than games. Although he realises that the days of the challenge fight are well and truly over, he looks upon their passing with an element of sadness, not because he is an advocate of violence, but because today’s generation of martial artists are missing out on realistic training, and he sees the kinds of sparring exercises common to most styles as being a poor substitute for the realities of street combat.
Wong Sifu is constantly warning his students against the dangers of blindly following an instructor, copying every move he or she makes and accepting everything that they say as gospel. “You must become the master of your system, not its slave” is his often repeated motto. Using art as an example yet again, Wong Sifu says, “…Kung Fu is like painting a picture. When you learn to paint from your teacher you cannot be exactly the same as he or she because there are differences in age and experience, and so there must be personal differences.
“A person’s nature and physique influences the way in which one does things. Besides, if you do things exactly the same way your teacher does them, you’re just copying, not expressing yourself and will therefore not improve yourself.” He is not suggesting by these words that the Wing Chun student should go out and invent his or her own way of doing things. On the contrary, Wong Sifu is a firm believer in passing on and practising the skills of Wing Chun exactly as he himself learnt them. However, he accepts the fact that all people are different, having different levels of ability and so on, and therefore adopts the more realistic approach of passing on the essence of Wing Chun in the form of its concepts and basic principles with which the students are then free to interpret and utilise in their own particular way.
Wong Sifu also enjoys dispelling the many myths that shroud the martial arts, myths that give martial arts a bad name and detract from their credibility. “Martial artists are not people who learn magical powers to become mystical monks like the movies portray them to be. A lot of Kung Fu styles have in the past lived off reputations of having some secret level that you can eventually attain and, unfortunately, some instructors have maintained these ridiculous ideas.” He cites an example from his younger days when he was involved in a fight that had erupted between a friend of his and another man.
He defeated the person in question and was about to leave the scene when the guy, still lying on the ground, called out, “Hey little fella, don’t go! I’ve already given you the dim mak (death touch). You’re doomed!” Wong then adds, “That was around thirty-five years ago and the dim mak hasn’t worked yet…” Once, when asked by a journalist for an Australian magazine about the existence or non-existence of dim mak techniques in Wing Chun, Wong Sifu jokingly replied, “You might kill yourself if you touch yourself,” and then in a slightly more serious tone, “Besides, if a person is moving very fast, it’s almost impossible to touch some small areas with such precision.”
Wong Shun Leung is indeed a rare breed of man. He doesn’t try to exploit his reputation as one of Hong Kong’s most formidable streetfighters, nor his influence on the career of the late Bruce Lee. He doesn’t go around telling everyone how good he is, nor does he run down other instructors and styles. Despite his obvious skill he is not a pretentious man and his school in Hong Kong is small and drab, containing none of the mod cons found in most Western schools, just an excellent teacher who embodies all the qualities one could ever hope for in an instructor.
He has dedicated his life to the advancement and understanding of Wing Chun, “spreading the word” everywhere from Melbourne to Munich, establishing schools wherever he goes, teaching anyone willing to listen to what he has to say regardless of race, colour or creed. Wong Sifu is the enemy of all who make false claims about Kung Fu and the friend to everyone searching for the truth about combat and themselves. He has been described as “… an appropriate example of a man who has become his art and vice-versa. He started as a gifted fighter, studied both the physical and mental aspects of Wing Chun, and finally became Wing Chun spiritually.
“He’s a man who can be either soft-spoken or out-spoken depending upon the situation at hand. He has learned to understand his own limitations and thereby the limitations of others. His demeanour is calm, relaxed, and his intent unwavering. He is philosophy without embellishment, like an old sword that doesn’t appear dangerous at first, until you’ve tasted its razor edge.” Wong Shun Leung Sifu is Wing Chun personified, a living example of what can be achieved by anyone willing to devote all their energy into the practice and understanding of their chosen field of endeavour. The fact that he refuses to accept such praise makes him all the more deserving of it. Why he has achieved the level of expertise that he has is due to a very simple philosophy:”My aim,” says Wong, “is to better myself with each day of training.”
WONG SHUN LEUNG VING TSUN GUNG-FU A Scientific Approach to Combat
By David Peterson
The Wong Shun Leung (WSL) ving tsun system of Chinese gung-fu is not a style for robots, nor is it a form of martial arts practiced purely for its visual appeal. It is the thinking person’s fighting art, perfectly suited to today’s high-tech environment where quick results and practicality are the chief requirements of any activity. This is not to say that WSL ving tsun is beyond the reach of the “average” person, nor does it suggest that WSL ving tsun is an “ugly” martial art. On the contrary, has an inherent beauty all its own – it is simple, direct and efficient, and offers a no-nonsense approach to combat.
To learn and make use of WSL ving tsun, one doesn’t (and should not) have to concern oneself with the drilling of endless combinations of techniques to deal with endless possible situations. WSL ving tsun is not a system which requires the rote learning of set sequences of movement. Instead, it makes use of a handful of concepts, coupled with a small repertoire of techniques (which are all derived from just six basics – taan sau, bong sau, fook sau, the basic vertical punch (yat ji jik kuen), basic stance (yi ji kim yeung ma), and the dang geuk, or basic “ascending heel kick”) to deal with any situation. These concepts and techniques are taught within the three basic forms (or “empty-hand” training patterns) and are collectively trained via a series of reflex drills, the most famous of which is chi sau, or “sticking hands” technique.
The road to proficiency in WSL ving tsun begins with the first form – siu nim tau, or “young idea” form – which lays the foundation for all which follows. Siu nim tau exposes the student of WSL ving tsun to all the basic concepts, such as the Centreline Theory and the principle of Economy of Motion, and the cultivation of constant forward force (lat sau jik chung), the most basic essential requirement of the ving tsun system. It guides the student through the various hand techniques which form the basis of chi sau practice, and also offers some practical solutions to many of the typical grappling-type attacks that can occur in combat, such as wrist grabs, arm-locks, bear hugs, and so on.
Although the siu nim tau form contains no movement of the feet or stance, it provides the basis of all stepping and kicking techniques in the guise of the basic “goat-gripping” stance (yi ji kim yeung ma). This is not a “fighting form” like those of other systems, where the practitioner goes through the motions of fighting one or more opponents. In fact, in WSL ving tsun, none of the training patterns could be regarded as “fighting forms” – they are more like “moving textbooks” of theory and technique, set out in a logical and very structured fashion. Siu nim tau form is practised in a stationary position, from beginning to end, the ving tsun approach being to train the concepts without motion first so as to perfect positioning and structure, and to prevent the ving tsun fighter from over using or over-relying on footwork, as well as developing stability, balance and a “power base” for all techniques.
Stance-shifting and stepping is only used when necessary, in response to the opponent’s actions, and it is not introduced formally until the second form, cham kiu, in which kicking is also seen (although both stepping and kicking are normally taught separately prior to learning cham kiu). In this second form, the concepts of motion and angles are explored, adding to the knowledge already developed in siu nim tau. Likewise, chi sau is also practiced in a stationary position first, footwork only being added when arm positions and efficiency of technique have been developed to the point where the addition of footwork is both necessary and applicable.
Like siu nim tau, the chi sau exercise begins with one hand, then two in unison, and finally the independent use of both hands, often with one hand performing several movements in sequence. Chi sau is really the siu nim tau form with a partner, each person either acting on, or reacting to, their partner’s techniques, competing for control of the Centreline. Footwork is used sparingly, and where necessary, to achieve the most favourable angles or positions for the concepts and techniques of siu nim tau to be applied.
The siu nim tau form can be thought of as the “alphabet”, the “primary school” stage of learning in WSL ving tsun. It provides the student with the building blocks, the basic “letters” and “words” of the WSL ving tsun “language”. Cham kiu form helps the student to understand and exploit subtle variations that can occur to the “words” and “expressions” of the first form. Where siu nim tau is very “one-dimensional” in its concept of the “target”, like shooting at a stationary target from a stationary position, cham kiu is “multi-dimensional” in its approach, in that it considers the complex reality of hitting a moving target while oneself also in motion. Like a kind of “middle/secondary school” stage, cham kiu allows the WSL ving tsun student to practice the more complex “combinations of words” while at the same time adding some “new expressions” to the student’s “vocabulary”. Finally, chi sau acts as the “university” stage, allowing the WSL ving tsun practitioner to explore and perfect the use of the “language” in a free-flowing exercise in which anything can, and does, take place.
This then is the very practical stage where the students are exposed to an ever-changing, unpredictable environment and must learn, by trial and error, to express themselves in a natural, free-flowing and efficient manner, making use of all that the previous stages have made available to them. By constantly drilling their skills against partners whose techniques are as efficient as their own, WSL ving tsun practitioners are able to fine-tune their skills and reflexes to the point where they will react instinctively, without conscious thought, to counter their opponent’s attack with a superior attack, and not to engage in unnecessary defensive actions, the so-called “chasing the hands” syndrome common in many interpretations of this style. They learn to become the master of the system, making it serve them, instead of impeding their progress with too much thought and analysis. The “what ifs” that plague and over-complicate other interpretations of ving tsun, play no role in WSL ving tsun because students are trained to only react to “what is”, always putting reality and substance ahead of style and appearance.
At the cham kiu/chi sau stage of learning, the muk yan jong (“wooden dummy”) form is usually commenced. The jong provides the WSL ving tsun student with someone to practice with when there isn’t a “live” training partner available, or when something more dangerous needs to be drilled with full power and intensity. More importantly, it also provides one with a training partner who will never become bored with endless repetitions of one or more movements. The jong allows for techniques from all three “empty-hand” forms to be trained, as well as many variations of the basic kicking technique. Correct distancing, timing, application of force, striking and trapping techniques can all be drilled with this training apparatus.
Ving tsun’s third form, biu ji, offers the student a collection of practical solutions for situations where the techniques from siu nim tau and cham kiu have been mis-used or countered, or in instances where the WSL ving tsun fighter has been injured, overpowered or otherwise caught out of position. In other words, biu ji is a “problem-solving” form, its purpose being to look at ving tsun from “outside” the system to see what could go wrong, and to provide, or else inspire, a solution which may, or may not, require the “bending of the rules” in order to regain control of the situation, or at the very least, survive and escape it. The late Wong Shun Leung sifu, founder of and inspiration behind this approach to ving tsun, likened the theory of biu ji to a smart modern businessman’s attempts to survive an impending financial crisis – in other words, it provides one with strategies and/or methods for “cutting one’s losses” in order to escape relatively unscathed. Wong sifu was always quick to add, when speaking about this form, that if the occasion arose where biu ji concepts needed to be applied, one had better realise that the situation was already quite serious, and that there was a very real chance of sustaining injury – WSL ving tsun practitioners therefore always hope that they will not need to make use of the techniques or concepts of the biu ji form as these do not guarantee victory, but rather only really offer some hope of survival under extreme circumstances.
Formal training in WSL ving tsun ends with the learning of the two weapons of the system. These are of course the luk dim boon gwan (“6½-point pole” form) and the baat jaam do (“eight-slash knives” form). Few people reach this stage of training, even fewer ending up mastering these weapons. The basic principles of directness and logic still apply, however, and any differences in technical application are readily explainable once the extra length and/or weight and physical characteristics of the weapons are taken into account. There is also the important fact that these forms were designed to counter an enemy who is also armed, hence the strategies of distance, stepping and so on may differ from the “empty-hands” forms, but the underlying principles remain the same.
Although there are those people who claim that traditional weapons have no place in modern martial arts, the usefulness in learning the ving tsun weapons should not be underestimated. The concepts contained within the weapons forms are just as applicable to “empty-hand” training, and lay a foundation which can be applied to many objects commonly at hand which would enable them to be utilised in combat with great efficiency and effect. These factors aside, there is still the very obvious benefit to the health and well-being as the weight and size of these weapons forces one to train much harder, developing strength and stamina as a result. Both weapons are especially valuable in developing strong wrists (from where much of the power in the hand techniques is derived) as well as strong, yet nimble footwork.
Progress in WSL ving tsun is of course up to the student and his or her teacher. The teacher must keep an open mind and really understand the theory of the system, while the student must work hard, making the most of each opportunity to train. It is important to realise that there are no “right” or “wrong” techniques in the system, only more or less efficient ones. In WSL ving tsun, the angle of the arm is never as important as the concept behind the movement, so long as logic and commonsense is always applied. One has to make the system work for them, to be the master of ving tsun, not its slave!
Too many people are bound-up by this technique or that technique, and in doing so, fail to see the simplicity and logic of the ving tsun concepts. Far too many people place barriers in front of their own development as martial artists by dismissing another person’s approach as “not ving tsun” when what they ought to be concerned with is the practicality and efficiency of what they have observed. After all, it is the end result that should be of the highest priority, that is, the defeat of the opponent. In simple terms, as far as WSL ving tsun is concerned, the “golden rule” of combat is to strike the nearest target with the closest available weapon, regardless of whether or not that means adhering to “classical/traditional” ving tsun techniques!
As the ving tsun system is one built on concepts rather than specific techniques, there are bound to be variations amongst its many practitioners. Surely this is to the betterment of the system for it indicates that the skills are being adapted to the changing needs of the practitioners, that it is being used rather than just copied. As stated at the beginning of this article, WSL ving tsun is not a style for robots, but for people who can think for themselves and who wish to express themselves through their chosen martial art. It was with this kind of thinking, and with the inspiration of his teacher and senior ving tsun brother Wong Shun Leung sifu, that the late Bruce Lee reached such an outstanding level of expertise through his art of jeet kune do, which was very simply his personal expression of the ving tsun concepts. This has been confirmed many times by his friend and original student, sifu Jesse Glover, who refutes all claims made by latter-day students and others that Lee ever “gave up” his beloved ving tsun.
As far as WSL ving tsun is concerned, students and teachers alike should keep two sayings in mind at all times so as to approach their training in the most positive and realistic way. The first, a paraphrase of the words of Confucius, the celebrated Chinese philosopher and teacher who lived over two thousand years ago, goes as follows: “One can learn for a lifetime and still not master all knowledge”. That is to say, there is always something to learn or improve, and someone from whom one can learn, regardless of age, status, sex or experience. Put more simply, you never stop learning and should strive to keep an open mind to ensure that you don’t. The second is a quote from Wong sifu, who said many times, “It doesn’t matter how senior you are, but how good you are. You need to study hard”. The message here is loud and clear. To sum up, as long as the teacher teaches the student to understand the concepts of the system and encourages the student to train hard, the necessary skills will be there when called upon, and the student and teacher alike will improve their skills as each day goes by. This is the most valuable lesson given to us by one who truly lived this philosophy throughout his lifetime, and who left us such a brilliant legacy in the form of his very pragmatic approach to combat.
Wong Shun Leung sifu, who preferred to call his interpretation of the system ‘Ving tsun Kuen Hok’, or the “Science of Ving tsun Gung-fu”, encouraged his followers to always “look beyond his pointing finger”, to take the knowledge that he gave us and train it, test it, prove or disprove it, and where necessary, discard it, refine or improve upon it, so as to reach our own potential through the system, and not to merely mimic him like cheap copies of an original work of art. For this reason, we his followers will be forever grateful to him for opening our eyes to both our own potential, and that of the system. It is also for this reason that we openly and unselfishly strive to share this knowledge with all ving tsun devotees around the world, just as he openly and generously shared it with us over the years that we were fortunate to learn from him. As a means of recognising and celebrating his gift to us, we proudly promote what we have chosen to name Wong Shun Leung Ving tsun Gung-fu in his honour. Hopefully, you the reader may perhaps soon become a convert to the “WSL Way”, or at least open your mind to ideas that will enhance your own personal development as a martial artist, regardless of your background, lineage or chosen style.
About the Author:
David Peterson, 44, has been training in the Chinese martial arts since 1973. He became a student of Sifu Wong Shun Leung after travelling to Hong Kong in 1983. Peterson is a speaker of both the Mandarin and Cantonese dialects, and principal instructor of the ‘Melbourne Chinese Martial Arts Club’ (MCMAC) which he established in 1983, and where he instructs in the “Wong Shun Leung Way”. Peterson is one of only two authorised and qualified instructors of Wong’s system in Australia, and a fully endorsed member of the world-wide ‘Wong Shun Leung Ving tsun Martial Arts Association’ and the Hong Kong-based ‘Ving Tsun Athletic Association’. Peterson translated for his teacher whenever Sifu Wong conducted seminars in Australia, and in 1996 was employed as script translator on Jackie Chan’s “Mr Nice Guy” which was shot on location in Melbourne. He is also a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in many local (Australian) and overseas journals, including “Combat”, “Inside Kung-fu”, “Black Belt”, “Masters of the Martial Arts”, “Impact: the Action Movie Magazine”, “Eastern Heroes”, “Australasian Fighting Arts”, “Blitz Australasian Martial Arts Magazine”, “Traditional Martial Arts Journal”, “Impact Martial Arts Magazine”, “Qi Magazine”, “Australasian Martial Arts Magazine”, “Martial Arts Illustrated”, “Ging Ving tsun”, “Kicksider” and “Kung Fu Illustrierte”. More recently, his articles have featured on several international Web sites in both the English and German languages. A respected seminar presenter of the Ving tsun system, both in Australia and overseas, in 1998 Peterson was invited to America by Sifu Jesse Glover, the late Bruce Lee‘s original student. Last year he travelled there for the second time to conduct seminars and workshops at the ‘Ving Tsun Museum’ in Dayton, Ohio, and to an enthusiastic group of Ving tsun and JKD enthusiasts in Orlando, Florida. On the strength of the great success of those two sojourns overseas, Peterson is about to embark on his third seminar tour to the States. Peterson has recently published his first book on his teacher’s methods, entitled ‘Look Beyond the Pointing Finger: the Combat Philosophy of Wong Shun Leung’. Peterson can be contacted by mail at: PO Box 150, Ivanhoe, Victoria 3079, Australia; by telephone at: 0407-043-303 (International: +61-407-043-303); or by e-mail at: email@example.com Further information about his School can be found at: www.geocities.com/omidshayan/opening.html
BIU JI: Ving Tsun's Misunderstood Form
The following article was first written in 1989 and was previously published within the pages of ‘Combat’ magazine (Vol.15/No.5) in the April 1989 issue as ‘BIU JI: Wing Chun’s Misunderstood Form’. It is reproduced herein an updated and expanded format – the Author.
BIU JI: Ving Tsun’s Misunderstood Form
by David Peterson
Of the three ving tsun “empty-hand” forms, the third one, ‘Biu Ji’, is the most misunderstood. It has been touted as a “deadly” form with which one can become invincible in combat. It has been said to have been so treasured by the ving tsun clan that it was rarely seen and never taught to “outsiders.” The ‘Biu Ji’ form has also been said to contain the secrets of dim mak, the so-called “delayed death touch” with which one can dispose of their enemy with one touch, depending, of course, on the time of day, and so on.
Sadly, all of the above claims are missing the point of the ‘Biu Ji’ form altogether. The name of the form is a contraction of an expression from the Buddhist sutras which in Cantonese reads as ‘Biu Yuet Ji’, a “finger pointing to the moon” and this best sums up what the ‘Biu Ji’ form is all about. Just as Bruce Lee said in the movie ‘Enter the Dragon’ when he, too, quoted this sutra, “Don’t concentrate on the finger or you’ll miss all that heavenly glory.”
The ‘Biu Ji’ form is a “pointing finger” and what it is pointing at is a series of examples of the kinds of problems which can occur in combat when things do not go as planned, and it offers some solutions to these situations. Humans being what humans are, we are all prone to make mistakes no matter how well we plan, or train for, a situation. ‘Biu Ji’ form takes us outside the ving tsun system, outside the system as presented in the ‘Siu Nim Tau’ and ‘Cham Kiu’ forms, that is, and asks the question “What if…..?”
This writer’s instructor, the late Sifu Wong Shun Leung always suggested that effective ving tsun could be likened to a “sphere” or “bubble”, within which the concepts and techniques of ‘Siu Nim Tau’ and ‘Cham Kiu’ existed. For the bulk of the situations that we might ever find ourselves in, the contents of that “bubble” would be more than enough to take care of things, but what ‘Biu Ji’ does is to take us out of the “bubble” and encourage us to look back at it from a distance and consider what could go wrong. It encourages us to seek logical methods for dealing with conditions for which the contents of the “bubble” are not able to provide us with a workable solution. It tells us that while theories of combat may well be perfect, people who apply them are not and errors will occur, and more importantly, that “rules were meant to be (or at least, sometimes have to be) broken”.
Where the first two forms are each easily broken down into three distinct parts, each part with its own particular concepts and techniques, the ‘Biu Ji’ form is quite different. Instead, in ‘Biu Ji’ the breakdown takes the form of clusters of techniques which build into a repertoire of “emergency responses” designed to overcome an opponent who has overpowered, out-positioned, injured, surprised or, through some error on the part of the ving tsun fighter, managed to gain the upper hand.
Sifu Wong Shun Leung referred to the contents of the form as being a collection of “emergency techniques”, and that unlike the first two forms, which were clearly structured, each with three defined sections, ‘Biu Ji’ was far less structured and had the potential to be added to at any time, should someone come up with yet another situation that gave rise to the need for a more specialised solution outside of the normal spectrum of ving tsun concepts. As such, ‘Biu Ji’ is something of an “open-ended” training form, in keeping with its basic reason for existing in the first place.
To claim that the ‘Biu Ji’ form is the superior technique of the ving tsun system is to imply that Grandmaster Yip Man was holding out on all his students by making them waste years and years training the first two forms while they could have been spending their time developing ‘Biu Ji’! Of course, this is an absurd notion, one which the late sifu Wong Shun Leung enjoyed making a point of in his enormously popular seminars around the world during the 80s and 90s. “Besides,” he would add with a smile in these discussions, “You might kill yourself with a touch!” On its own, ‘Biu Ji’ is in fact virtually useless in that it is teaching responses to so-called “errors” which a person who has not studied the earlier aspects of the ving tsun system would be totally ignorant of.
If I may be so bold I would in fact suggest to the reader, as I have on numerous occasions to my own students, that the ‘Biu Ji’ form alone is about as deadly as a bowl of wet spaghetti! However, it should be pointed out that in the past the reluctance of the ving tsun clan to expose the form to outsiders is understandable when one considers that the ‘Biu Ji’ form does in fact point out potential weaknesses in the system which could be exploited by an enemy with a knowledge of the form. Thus, it could be suggested that the form is “deadly” in the sense that it points to disadvantageous rather than advantageous aspects of ving tsun combat.
To take this notion further, sifu Wong Shun Leung always ended his discussion of the ‘Biu Ji’ form by stating that he hoped that his students would never need the techniques from the form. His reasoning for this was quite simple when it becomes clear that the only time that one would need to use these movements is in a situation where one is either injured or overwhelmed by the opponent(s) and close to defeat! In other words, it is good to know ‘Biu Ji’ but it is even better if that knowledge is never put to use.
As stated earlier, ‘Biu Ji’ is not a better technique and to use ‘Biu Ji’ when one ought to use ‘Siu Nim Tau’ or ‘Cham Kiu’ doesn’t guarantee success. ‘Biu Ji’ is comparable to the approach that one would take in an impending business crisis. When there is a certainty of sustaining losses what person wouldn’t do his or her best to attempt to cut those losses? To quote sifu Wong Shun Leung again, “We don’t go out to make mistakes, but if we do we must know how to recover from these mistakes in order to minimise our chances of injury.”
A perfect example of this philosophy is contained in the middle of the form where there are several clusters of techniques, each cluster containing a “key” movement. As each cluster or set of movements is done, one begins to see how the form is indicating how to rectify the situation when the preceding “key” movement is mistakenly applied. If these “solutions” are linked together we get an easy to remember cycle.
The series begins with gaan sau which is used when bong sau is wrongly applied; if the gaan sau is incorrectly applied, huen sau is used; should the huen sau be misused, jat sau is then applied. ‘Biu Ji’ also frees the ving tsun practitioner from the constraints of the first two forms, enabling one to “become a master of the system rather than its slave.”
By this I mean that it points out quite clearly that rules sometimes need to be broken, that it is not always possible, or for that matter even advantageous, to always operate within the concepts and movements taught in the earlier stages of the system. For example, there are many “rules” established in the first two forms and in chi sau training, such as “never allow your arms to be crossed” or “it is not a good idea to use grabbing” and “never use force against force” to quote just a few. In the ‘Biu Ji’ form all of the above “rules” (and several others) are challenged.
It is for these very reasons that ‘Biu Ji’ is best not introduced to a student too early, because the way in which it contradicts all the basic concepts makes it terribly confusing for the novice student to appreciate. Perhaps it is also for this reason that this form was, in the past, so closely guarded and rarely taught outside of a tight circle of trusted students. As stated earlier, ‘Biu Ji’ isn’t “deadly” because it contains secret, lethal techniques; its “danger” lies in the fact that it exposes situations or conditions whereby a ving tsun fighter’s potential “weaknesses” could be exploited by an opponent, should that knowledge be widely known.
Rather than attempting to break down and analyse the entire ‘Biu Ji’ form, a task that would take up far too much space than is available here, the remainder of this discussion will concentrate on just three aspects of the form and the implications of these to the combat situation. The first of these is the technique of jaang dai biu sau (“spearing/thrusting hand from beneath the elbow”), a technique which occurs many times at the beginning of the form.
Under normal circumstances practitioners of the ving tsun system avoid crossing the hands at all times. Allowing the arms to cross while in a close-range situation (or during chi sau practise) immediately invites the opponent to trap the hands by pressing one down on top of the other, yet in the ‘Biu Ji’ form not only are the hands allowed to cross, the technique of jaang dai biu sau actually begins by deliberately placing one hand in a most unfavourable position below the opposite elbow!
Why, after so much practise at not doing such an obviously dangerous move, does the ‘Biu Ji’ form encourage us to do the exact opposite? The answer to this puzzle becomes easier to obtain if we step “outside” the system for a moment and ask ourselves, “What could we do if we were pinned up against a wall with our arms trapped?” In such a situation we are starting from a bad position, not a good one, just like in the form, but there is one very important advantage which cannot be overlooked.
In being pushed up against the wall, our opponent is no longer fighting us; he is now fighting the wall! The wall provides us with a stable base from which it is very easy indeed to deflect the trapping arm(s) of the enemy by using the biu sau technique which involves thrusting the hand forward and, at the same time, outwards in the direction of the shoulder. Muscular exertion is not required as the required “strength” is provided by the wall which absorbs the opponent’s force. As a result, using this action causes the opponent to lose his or her balance and it becomes impossible for them to maintain the trapping technique.
The second of the movements to be considered is a fairly harmless looking technique called man sau (“inquiring/asking hand”). This technique also occurs in the third section of the ‘Muk Yan Jong’ (“wooden dummy”) form, as do a very large proportion of the techniques from the ‘Biu Ji’ form (more will be said on this shortly). The man sau technique provides the ving tsun fighter with an efficient way of escaping from a misused paak sau technique.
Normally the paak sau (“slapping hand”) technique is applied to the outside of the opponent’s attacking arm so as to deflect it away from the defender. This effectively prevents the opponent from following on with the opposite hand as the body is turned so as to make it virtually impossible for the other hand to reach. Should the paak sau be used “wrongly” whereby it blocks the inside of the attacking arm rather than the outside, the opponent will not be deflected or turned off balance, but will instead be in a very good position to immediately strike with the other arm.
This is where the man sau technique comes into play, the effect of which depending very much on the opponent’s reaction to the initial paak sau movement. Having used the paak sau technique on the inside, the same arm is immediately used to form the man sau action, cutting upwards and backwards towards the opponent’s centre of mass WITHOUT firstly turning the body back in his or her direction. In doing so, no time is lost, no ground given up, and instead of “chasing” the next attack, the ving tsun fighter is attacking before the opponent’s second attack can be effective.
It is here that the opponent determines the extent of the damage caused by the blow. Should he or she remain virtually unmoved from the position where the initial attack originated, the resulting strike is likely to cause minor damage, but of course it will set up the opponent for the inevitable follow-up. However, should the opponent be rushing in as the man sau is applied, the effect of the strike, which will likely hit the throat or jaw, is likely to be magnified, perhaps even fatal.
The final action of the ‘Biu Ji’ form, in the words of the late sifu Wong Shun Leung, “Illustrates the ‘essence’ of the form,” in that it appears to be totally removed from everything already seen in the system. We can’t afford to take anything at face value, however, and like the other techniques previously described, in the ‘Biu Ji’ form, looks can definitely be deceiving.
The sap dai seung (“lifting from below to above”) action involves bending the body forwards from the waist with the hands hanging down as if reaching for something on the ground. From here the ving tsun practitioner throws the arms up above the head as the body is returned to an upright position. This is usually repeated twice, after which the form comes to a close. It is certainly a strange looking movement but one done for very good reason.
The normal reaction for a person pushed up against a wall or getting up from a semi-prone position, is to push off the wall or floor with one or both hands. There is nothing wrong with that if no one is behind you waiting to attack you with a stick or bottle, but if this is the case, and the reason for being against the wall or on the floor is the fact that the enemy has forced you there, relying on natural movements could get you killed!
The sap dai seung movement probably won’t stop you getting injured, especially if a weapon of any kind is involved, but it could prevent you from sustaining a life-threatening injury. In other words, this technique will allow you to “cut your losses,” after all a cut on the arm is a lot less damaging than a bottle over the head. Instead of using both arms to push off from the wall or floor, ‘Biu Ji’ trains the ving tsun practitioner to bring one hand up before bringing the head up so as to deflect that which cannot be seen, reducing the severity of the likely injury.
On realising the dangerous position one would have to be in so as to require the use of this sap dai seung movement, it is easy to see why sifu Wong Shun Leung told his students, “If you know ‘Biu Ji’, it’s a blessing if you never have to use it!” Far from being the “deadliest” of the ving tsun forms, what the form is trying to teach us is that there is no absolutely right or absolutely wrong technique, but that technique is always dictated by circumstance (as well as affected by choice or chance). In other words, it teaches us to apply our techniques more naturally instead of being bound by what we have previously learned.
As mentioned earlier, many of the concepts and techniques of the ‘Biu Ji’ form are also contained in the ‘Muk Yan Jong’ form. In fact, after the first three sections (approximately 60 movements) of the “dummy” form, the majority of the ‘Jong’ techniques are ‘Biu Ji’ form techniques, coupled with the many variations of the two basic kicks (deng geuk and waang geuk) found in the ‘Cham Kiu’ form. One reason for this is that the structure of the ‘Jong’ permits the ‘Biu Ji’ techniques to be practised in a fairly natural way which helps to reinforce them in the mind and body of the practitioner.
Another reason is that some of the movements, such as the man sau technique described earlier, as well as such things as groin and knee strikes, are very difficult to practise on a live partner without fear of causing an injury. Therefore the perfect place to train such hand and leg techniques is on a wooden partner who doesn’t feel the pain. Like ‘Biu Ji’, the primary reason for training on the ‘Muk Yan Jong’ is to learn how to recover from or avoid mistakes, rather than, as some people mistakenly believe, to condition the arms or practise attacking combinations.
Generally speaking, when a student is fully conversant with the ‘Siu Nim Tau’ and ‘Cham Kiu’ forms, and has engaged in lots of chi sau practise, etc, they should be performing their techniques naturally and correctly. Once this is the case, on reaching the stage of learning the ‘Biu Ji’ form, sifu Wong Shun Leung believed that it should be possible for them to use it when necessary simply by practising the set. This is, of course, because the nature of the ving tsun system is such that its practitioners develop instinctive reactions at a neural level and the techniques of the ‘Biu Ji’ form automatically become a part of their combat “vocabulary.”
In summing up, I hope that I have provided some insight into the true nature of this most misunderstood of ving tsun training methods, and that some of the myths surrounding the ‘Biu Ji’ form have now been cast aside forever. Although this article has not exposed all the “secrets” of the form, I would hope that the reader has been “put on the right track” and will be able to gain more insight into their own training, be it in the ving tsun method or some other martial art. The real lesson to be learned is that everyone needs to “step outside” their particular style occasionally, to look beyond the outward appearance of their forms and techniques. In this way we can all aspire to be the master of our chosen art instead of its slave, to look beyond the pointing finger and see the moon.