We managed to lock down Gary Lam for one of our interviews. He is a student of Wong Shun Leung who is very well known in the United States, if not the entire world. If your into the podcast Gary Lam’s son, Rayan Lam, was kind enough to fill in for farther for the audio version of this show.
**Please note, during the audio podcast – Rayan and I made the mistake of believing Sifu David Peterson & Gary Lam possibly trained with Wong Shun Leung at the same time. ** Both Trained and completed the system with WSL, we just got our time periods mixed up.
Without further adieu here is the podcast and scroll down further for the transcription:
Can you tell us how you found Wing Chun Kung Fu and how you started training?
In the beginning, I honestly had no idea what Wing Chun was due to the numerous amount of styles of Martial Arts out there. To me, the fact that I found Wing Chun was almost like fate. The first thing I actually started on was the Snake Style, but it didn’t feel like it suited me. So I left and tried to learn Praying Mantis, but the Sifu wasn’t even there at the time! So finally I walked into Lok Yiu’s Wing Chun School. After 2 years there, I then moved onto Sifu Wong Shun Leung’s school. He was very open with his knowledge and experience, and the way he presented his skills really made Wing Chun look applicable in real life situations.
What was early training with Wong Shun Long like?
Like I said before, he was very realistic and experienced in his knowledge and skills in the art of Wing Chun. He was very personal with his students, and really seemed like he wanted to pass on his knowledge to others. It was a very enjoyable experience when I joined his school.
Wong Shun Long is reportedly to be one of a few handful of students that learned the knives directly from Yip Man- WSL has developed his own knife form-why did he feel the need to develop it?
When GM Ip Man first taught the knives forms, he taught it at a very slow pace. For example, there are 8 sections in the knives form, someone who learned the first section would not even see the second section until 6 months later. Another thing was that GM Ip Man always taught a little something different to each person. This was the traditional way of teaching back then, in order to keep a bit of secret with each student. As a result, WSL used his time to gather knowledge and information from his sihings and sidais, in order to develop a knives form that would be practical while still maintain the traditional aspect of things. His own form is furthered developed through his own fighting experience, hence making it even more practical in a real life situation.
To your knowledge, what level of devolution does it take to learn the knives from Yip Man?
From my understanding, you must work hard and have talent to gain GM Ip Man’s favors. Also traditionally speaking, someone who can bring honor and respect to the sifu’s school would be someone that will learn more. Having a great personal character would also help you learn more since you would earn the sifu’s respect.
In a world where people are obsessed with certificates and belts, training under someone like WSL – how long would it take to truly “complete” the Wing Chun system. For example, how long would it take the average person to get from Sil Lim Tao to the Knives?
I must first state that the ways of the old are way different than those of the new. What I mean by that is that the idea of ever fully learning the entire Wing Chun system depends solely on if you have earned the sifu’s admiration and respect. If the sifu likes your character and believes you can be great in the art, then he will show you all he has to offer. If you want to have a modern comparison, it would honestly take someone roughly 32 years to truly complete the system of Wing Chun. To us, even if you learn the entire knives form and all the drills, that is still just level three. There is a lot more to Wing Chun afterwards.
What did it feel like to play Chi Sau with WSL?
He had excellent control and his hands were so refrained and experienced. The way he constantly change was fast and effortless. He was constantly controlling you with his timing, speed, and angles.
Are there any unknown teachers or training partners out there that had a profound effect on your martial arts training?
There are numerous influences that had help me develop my Wing Chun to where it is today, and while it is hard to list them all, I would say that each and every practitioner that was WSL’s peers as well as my own peers had definitely helped me in some way or another to improve myself.
Sifu Lam’s Wing Chun Questions What do you feel the main problem is with Wing Chun today?
I feel like the biggest problem with Wing Chun is that due to the various lineages of the art across the world, there isn’t one near-perfect standard to really set the bar of what Wing Chun should really be and how it should be taught. Another problem is that there also lacks an influential group or association that can really dictate whether someone is capable of being a proper instructor. Everyone is making their own groups and such, but who is to say that they have the influence to dictate who is good enough to be a sifu or not.
What do you believe is the most important principle in Wing Chun?
To me, one of the most important principles in Wing Chun is the understanding of the physical structure. Anyone can learn the forms and the drills, but without structure then they might as well be free fighting and throw random punches and kicks. A person have a chance to win a fight if they happen to punch and kick at the right time, but that alone would not make them a capable Wing Chun practitioner.
How has He changed his teaching methods in comparison to what he was taught from WSL?
Unlike my sifu’s methods of teaching which was more personal and traditional, I have compiled all the drills and forms into one proper learning curriculum. Just like the order of schooling that one goes through in life (from K to college/university), I organized the drills he had given me into a suitable order that teaches our student to slowly understand the structure of everything that emcompasses to what Wing Chun is.
Where does he see most Wing Chun people fall down or lack in their training?
There are many out there today that had not finished their own training and already start teaching. As a result, when they teach, their personal standards that are brought onto their own students are not as complete as it should have been. Even if there are some who are very talented in the art, they are reluctant to share the information they have with their students.
In a previous interview you said people today cannot focus on one marital art, they are all over the place. What if your Sifu or Marital Arts instructor cannot provide everything you need? For example if I live in an area where Wing Chun is very limited, would I be wrong to fill in the gaps with boxing?
There is really no “right” or “wrong” to what I had said. It’s just a matter if you really want to be an expert in one specific art or not. If you mix in too many things, it’s really hard to really consider yourself as a true professional since there are so many other influences. For myself, I also dabbled in Muay Thai and competed in Freestyle Boxing, but I had only done so after I had felt that my wing chun skills were at a very high level. That way none of those other things would be able to disrupt my Wing Chun background. As tough as it sounds, if you want to really take Wing Chun seriously, then you should make extra effort to learn Wing Chun through other means. It’s a matter of wanting to truly excel and devote yourself into your passion. Filling in the gaps with boxing would not exactly be wrong, but it wouldn’t necessarily complete your Wing Chun training. An example I can give would be an aspired Chinese cuisine cook learning to complete his lack of skill in Chinese cooking by learning Italian cooking instead. You’ll be able to be a cook with more diverse skills, but you would not be able to call yourself a true Chinese cuisine master.
What level of Wing Chun do you need to reach before you start adding personal touches? For example I’ve heard that Hawkins Cheung will incorporate throws.
In our system’s standards, you would at least have to be level three in order to add those personal touches. Since all the other schools and lineages have their own standards, I cannot truly say when you would be able to add those touches. BUT! You must have a really clear understanding of the skills and knowledge you possess about Wing Chun as well as you must have the confidence to trust those skills and knowledge in order to add those personal touches.
When shifting – do you have any comments on whether one should shift on their heel, or middle of their foot?
You must shift on your HEELS with your butt sit tucked in just a bit and “sit” properly. If you shift on the middle of your foot, you are not focused on a proper direction. You are neither attacking nor defending. You are in the process of waiting and indecisiveness. Shifting on the heels allows you to focus all your structure and energy to attack and gain the position you want. Also, KEEP YOUR HEAD STRAIGHT FORWARD AND DON’T LOOK DOWN. The moment you even look down at your opponent’s hands or the floor even just a little, you are already unconsciously tilting your balance forward and disrupting your own structure.
Your stance – Any comments on keeping a 50-50 stance or 100- zero stance? In other words, the difference or benefit of keeping 50 percent of your leg on one leg, and 50 percent of your weight on the other leg. Many styles of Wing Chun even keep 100% of their weight on their back leg. Do you have any thoughts on this subject?
If we are talking about the neutral “Gee Kim Yeung Ma” horse stance, then you are supposed to sit 50-50. The 50-50 weight distribution is stable, but too stable. You become fixed in the stance and it is hard for you to move properly. But if you are talking about the forward attack stance with one leg in the front, you should actually sit 60-40. This allows you to emphasize on grounding yourself more on the back leg (the 60 percent) while still having some weight distributed towards the front leg (the 40 percent) for structural stability. The ground power comes from the gap of the difference of balance between the two legs. If you sit 50-50 in this stance, there is only balance, but no proper power can be released. If you sit 100-0, then you are way too off-balanced. People can just easily push you over since you have placed so much energy towards the back leg. Even if no one attacks you when you sit 100-0, eventually you’ll just tire yourself out since you have placed so much emphasis towards only one side.
Wing Chun Fighting Questions Do you feel Wing Chun was better 30 – 50 years ago – when Ip Man students were up and coming, a time when a Wing Chun person was more likely to fight?
While there were definitely a lot more opportunities to fight back then, I wouldn’t necessarily say Wing Chun was better. Because as traditional and “complete” as all martial arts are, time and proper practitioners have only made each art better. Because now there are such wide exposures to all these different fighting styles in the world, there is constantly new experienced to be gained from each interaction between Wing Chun and other styles to make it even better to deal with situations and encounters you would have not expect 30-50 years ago. Back then, you would never dream of dealing with arts like Brazilian JiuJutsu or Krav Maga, but now everything has changed.
Thai Boxing Questions What is the biggest lesson you learned from Thai Boxing?
GUTS. Guts in the sense of being physically tough and being able to endure hard attacks from your opponents. Guts in the sense that you learn to take chances and “gamble” with your opponent as he attacks. From Thai Boxing, I learned how to suffer and face the hard challenges and be more confident in my skills.
How does Thai boxing affect your Wing Chun and vise versa?
Thai Boxing has made my Wing Chun even more simple, more direct, more faster, and more powerful. In that ring, you need to find the quickest and strongest way possible to take out your opponent. So as I said before, the guts that I gained from Muay Thai had only made me even more efficient in terms of taking someone out with my Wing Chun.
As someone who learned Thai Boxing, something many would consider to be “sports fighting system, “do you think it is impossible to apply Wing Chun fighting concepts to MMA? If so, how would one go about it?
The thing that really restricts Wing Chun concepts within the realms of MMA is the fact that it teaches you to efficiently to attack the most sensitive parts of the opponent’s body to take them out as quickly as possible. As a result, that usually means going for things like the head, throat, limbs, fingers, ankles and so on. That only already makes it hard for Wing Chun to be used in a sports fighting system since there are many rules and restrictions. There are certain fighting strategies that can be used, but it must be altered in order to fit into the realms of MMA. Ideas such as Chasing their Center and disrupting the opponent’s balance are definitely concepts that could be used.
Sifu questions: As a Sifu, how do you make your students “get it,” what is needed to become a good teacher?
First of all, you must have a good system with a proper structure and curriculum that can guide your students towards understanding the system. TEACH your student how to do things. Don’t just have them COPY you. Really teach them. Then you must watch them to ensure you can fix any mistakes or misconceptions they might have. Thirdly, you must do the drills with them together to further refine their abilities and understanding. Finally, you must allow your student to be independent in order for them to develop their own sensitivity and perception of the drill. This will allow them to incorporate their own creativity and other concepts they’ve learned (provided that it is still functional and applicable) to make it even better. This will continue to boost their confidence and understanding of the drills so they can be even better.
What does it take to become a good student?
A good student must first understand what you are learning. You must give in all your effort and patience to work on improving yourself. Don’t be afraid to feel mentally or physically frustrated as you progress when you are training the wooden man or any other aspect of Wing Chun.. It is not what the Sifu or instructor want out of you, rather, it is what YOU want to get out of yourself learning in order to better yourself. You must respect everyone around you and be loyal to your school. Unity and cooperation with everyone is key because then you will be a contribution to your school.
What does it take to grow your school and become as well known as you?
To grow your school, you must first understand where your own skills and standards are at. You must then have a plan and have the capabilities to properly raise students to the same standards you place upon yourself. The investment you place in your students will only be beneficial as more people will be able to see your own skills as well as your students’.
Does your Thai boxing back ground affect how you teach Wing Chun?
My Muay Thai background had strengthened my desires to stand against any challenges I may face. This is the same mentality I place upon my students in order to build their confidence in their own abilities. It had also taught me the understanding of how to take advantage of the destructive power my body possesses, which I also pass down to my students. Like I said previously, it had also taught me how to bear any suffering that comes from a fight, which I always remind my students of.
Do you have any final training tips?
If you truly love Wing Chun, you should then devote yourself into understanding it even more. Ask more questions, don’t just idly obey instructions without ever trying to really understand what are the things you learn. Don’t make it competitive and bring others down, really make an effort to make those around you to improve so you can work harder together to share knowledge, so that everyone can help make Wing Chun even better.
Does Sifu Lam have any products or projects he would like to talk about?
We actually have two days of seminars planned for this coming summer, on the weekend of August 10th and 11th (2013). It will be hosted at our school. First day will cover the last two forms of Chum Kiu and Biu Jee while the second day will cover the aspects of crossing hand techniques and chi sau, where Sifu Lam will personally touch hands with everyone and give advices. One day of seminar will cost $100 USD but if you attend both days, it will be $150 USD. Each day will last 5 hours.
How do we get in contact with you or find your school?
Our school address is located at: 2834 W. Main Street, Alhambra, California 91801. Best way to contact us would be through our e-mail at email@example.com or through our facebook at https://www.facebook.com/garylamwc. The facebook page is currently the best way to find out the latest information we have about any seminars and upcoming projects. What did you think of the interview? Do you agree with everything Gary Lam had to say?