In this interview I managed to sit down with Sifu Marat Kaplan. If you are not familiar with him, he has been featured in WC Illustrated magazine and is a student of Grandmaster Samuel Kwok.
Lets get the interview started:
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Can you tell us about your training?
I became interested in the martial arts as a little kid at the age of 6 after I had gone to a Bruce Lee movie with my late father. Actually, it was the first time I went to a movie-theater and I can say it changed my entire life.
I took up Tae-Kwon-Do when I was 6, and about a year later I was introduced to Chinese Gung Fu. I practiced Chung Guo Chuan (which can be translated into English as ‘Chinese Boxing Form’) under my first Si-Fu, Lee Peng (a retired Chinese official, and a friend of my father’s). This style can trace its roots back to Shaolin Gung Fu temples of Honan. One of the styles I was introduced by him was Tong Long, the Northern Praying Mantis, which later helped me with my Wing Chun training.
During my Gung Fu trainings with Peng Si-Fu for nearly 18 years I was also lucky enough to practice a Southern Chinese Style called Cha Chien Kuen (which can be translated as ‘One Thousand Fists’) with my second Si-Fu Nevzat Bayrak, a Turkish martial artist living in Germany and spending his summers in Antalya. I owe most of my early southern Chinese Gung Fu skills to Bayrak Si-Fu.
In addition to my Chi Gong/Tai Chi studies with my first Si-Fu, I was also privileged to train Chi Gong and Tai Chi under two Shaolin masters, Grandmaster Shi De Wei and Master Zheng Xiaohong from whom I learned a lot.
Thanks to my academic career I found opportunities to visit and live in different countries where I had chance to exchange ideas and techniques with great masters.
I can recall training with some Russian masters , have you ever heard of Systema?
No – I’ve heard of Russian systems, just not this one.
That one is pretty effective, they have special courses called Systema and I was very lucky to practice with them when I lived in Kazakhstan.
To get on with my story –
During my Wing Chun journey I became a member of the Fong’s Wing Chun Gung Fu Federation under Si-Fu Fong Chi Wing, student of Grandmaster Ho Kam Ming, and The Chien Wing Chun System under Si-Fu Yen Chien, student of Grandmaster Lo Man Kam until I met Grandmaster Samuel Kwok in 2009. I was later officially announced as his disciple at a Bai Si ceremony held in Portugal during the ICKKF (International Chinese Kempo Karate Federation) All Style World Championship in 2010. Since then I have been training under my Si-Fu Grandmaster Samuel Kwok and following the Ip Man Wing Chun Samuel Kwok Martial Art Association curriculum.
Wow – it sounds like you got to train all over the world. If I’m not mistaken your a University professor of foreign languages in Turkey?
That’s right. It allows me to communicate with these teachers as well. I currently work at an international University in Antalya, as the director of foreign languages. I’m really enjoying it.
If you do not mind my asking what is it like to train in Kazakhstan?
It is a country that is developing very fast. I got there in 1993 and it was a difficult experience – but it taught me a lot. I learned a lot from my Russian and Kazakh friends living there. I can say it was completely different, yet it was a very fruitful life experience.
During the early days when it broke out of the Soviet Union, there was nothing. I can remember days when we could not find simple table salt. Now, things are developing much more rapidly, I strongly recommend you go and see it.
Can we hear a bit more about your views on Wing Chun?
My views on Wing Chun… Well, I should say this is a quite deep question and a separate interview would be held only about this topic. I can still say a few words about how I see Wing Chun.
I consider Wing Chun as an effective tool to prepare me and my students for real life by developing skills necessary when we encounter difficult situations in life. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be a fight situation only.
If its concepts and principles are seen from a multiple dimension; and if they are interpreted and digested correctly under the guidance of a good Si-Fu – Wing Chun can be used as a complete hand-book for a better life. Even from the first days of the training Wing Chun would lead us to a higher level of consciousness that help create a better way of life with the curriculum followed.
Let’s take Siu Lim Tao, for example, and see only a few characteristics of it to answer the question: Proper practice of Siu Lim Tao enables the student to develop proper abdominal breathing – a crucial skill to be developed for a healthier and stronger body, independent arm movement and focus – skills that we all need in order to develop better coordination and concentration, stance/stability – skills that we all try to develop for decision skill and maintaining our position in social or business life, and proper energy – something every one of us needs to learn in our lives for a better performance: mentally physically, and emotionally, will eventually lead to Chi Gong exercise from this first form of the art.
That of course is just the beginning, it is a much deeper subject then what I just said. Of course you need a good Sifu you need to teach you all this.
What are some of the characteristics of a good Sifu that we should look for?
This is really an important point. I really consider myself so luck to have found a number good Sifus. I often get messages about this from email or social networks, but here are a few points.
The first thing is the lineage of the Sifu. Is it clear? Is it too complicated? Who did he learn from? Who is he still in touch with?
is he still trying to improve his skills? Is he still training really hard?
Another thing I find important is the characteristics of the Sifu. He is not simply a man who teaches you how to fight. He is equipped with all the qualities of a martial artist, so he can teach his students all the quality’s he is discussing with them. In our culture it is said that “if a man talks about virtue, but lacks the virtue he is talking about, then their is a problem with that person.”
Martial artists should have these types of characteristics and it should be seen in his every single move. I also believe a real Sifu gives more then he takes from his students. He is generous and ready to share his knowledge.
Once I was told and I agree with this, when you go into a Kung Fu school, you just feel excited to be there. When your Sifu corrects you or tells you what you are doing wrong, you are just excited. When you are seeing yourself changing and you are satisfied with the education there, its a wonderful feeling.
How the schools look is also not important. It should be larger enough to train and offer a safe environment. It should not matter if they’re a lot of diplomas on the wall. If he lacks all the previously said issues, it might not be the school for me.
How can we apply Wing Chun principles in our daily life?
Although there is more to say about this topic, I will take the principle of “relaxation” as an example to apply in our daily life. In order to better understand how we can apply this principle in our daily life, we should first remember how it is supposed to be understood:
From the first day of training we remind our students that techniques in Wing Chun are performed in a relaxed manner; both during the training and in an actual combat. Therefore, we train our students to move like water and hit like a brick wall. The reason we continuously tell our students to relax is the fact that ‘muscles act in pairs in opposition to each other’. This is to say if the arm is tensed, maximum punching speed cannot be achieved. In essence, a tensed arm must first relax then begin the punching motion. When relaxed at the onset the punch may begin at any time. One motion is always faster than two. Unnecessary tension wastes energy, causing fatigue. This can be critical in an extended engagement. Tension stiffens the arms, making them less sensitive in Chi-Sao and reduces your ability to sense and react to your opponent’s intentions.
Let me then paraphrase two of the core points of this Wing Chun lesson:
1. ‘tense muscle slows down our reaction speed’,
2. ‘unnecessary tension wastes energy, causing fatigue’.
When we get angry or tense this is exactly what happens in our mind and consequently we will have difficulty acting in the speed we need. This unnecessary tension in our mind will not only waste our energy and time but it will also create a lot of undesired situations that we will have to solve. A relaxed mind can always see things more clearly than a quick-tempered person and he can easily react with proper speed and attitude. This is why a person who understands the principle of relaxation correctly can certainly be more careful and successful to react when necessary by keeping calm and relaxed.
This is just one example, there are lots of others.
Since we are on the topic of relaxing, do you think it is possible to be too relaxed in Wing Chun? For example during Chi Sau?
This reminds me of my teacher Grandmaster Samuel Kwok. When I was in a seminar with him in Chicago, I watched him Chi Sau with a really big guy. The gentlemen was good and his Wing Chun skills was not that bad.
You could not believe how relaxed how GM Kwok was. No matter how much force he used, he was able to relax. He was able to overcome everything he did just by staying relaxed.
Of course you do not want too much, it does not mean you have to be loose. You will still need proper distance, angles, and how to lead power coming at you.
Can you we hear about your experience of teaching Wing Chun in an academic curriculum?
In 2009, when I was working at an international university in Warsaw, Poland an idea of ‘putting Wing Chun (and later Chi Gong) to academic curriculum’ came to my mind. First it started as a club activity then it was officially one of the elective courses for students to study Ip Man Wing Chun and Chi Gong. Later in the following years – with the establishment of the Confucius Classroom at the university – a Chinese master along with the chief trainer of the Polish National Wu Shu Team began to teach Gung Fu at the university I worked in.
Now back to my hometown, in addition to a club in the city, I started to teach Wing Chun in my new university, Antalya International University (AIU), under the AIU Ip Man Wing Chun Club. Students love Wing Chun and say I contributed a lot to their social and academic lives.
In 2011 I came back to my hometown in Turkey.
From what I recall you also teach local authorizes, women’s self defense, and all kinds of seminars. Many say Wing Chun is very simple, perhaps if you have been training Wing Chun for a long time, otherwise I personally do not think it is an easy system to understand in a few short classes. What do you try to get across in these types of seminars?
I try to get as much as much information about their objective. Once I know this information I can design my seminar for them. If it a short training, like a few days, like today. Today I was only able to talk about the relaxation principle.
I give them what they really need for real combat. If it is criminal issue or a lady with a self defense issue, I just teach what they really need. For example I’ll give some small points that will help them, like Wing Chun attack and defense, footwork, breathing, things like this.
What was your experience like training with GM Samuel Kwok?
To make a complex issue look very easy is the true skill, such as the wooden man or mook yan jong and other techniques. He has this really masterful ability, when he teaches he can make a really complex concept look so simple that a beginner can do it. He goes about it in such a creative way, that you learn it very quickly.
This one time I saw him teach a complete beginner Chi Sau and taught him how to do it in 5 minutes. I am not saying he completely understood everything and anything about it, but he understood all the basic principles in a couple of minutes.
On top of that he is just like one of us. If he is training with 10 people that day, he will touch hands with all those people. He allows you to experience touching a Grandmasters hands. This is not something you always find with Grandmasters.
Do you have any final words of wisdom?
I think we need to spend more time speaking with our fellow Wing Chun practitioners around the world. This way we can promote Wing Chun and its principles. Allowing people to live a better life, more relaxed, and happier, all with the help of Wing Chun.
Regardless of your linage, or style, martial arts should unite people. It should not separate them. As Bruce lee said, we should apply everything we do.
Wing Chun – Ip Man – it is a pretty large Facebook group. I’m really surprised at home many people joined my page.