For this interview we manged to sit down with Grandmaster Samuel Kwok, someone who manged to study with both of Ip Man’s sons. if you scroll down a bit you can read the transcriptional of the interview or you can download/listen to the audio interview from the media bar below.
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Lets get the interview started!
Can we hear a bit about your training?
When I was a kid I was really interested in Chinese martial arts. At the time they had lots of TV and movies about it. My uncle was also a famous White Crane Grand Master & bone setter in Hong Kong. His name was Luk Chi Fu. When he came over I learned it from my cousins.
Later I got bullied in school because my father was the headmaster. I got pushed to the floor and thought “I better go and learn something.” After that I went out and bought all the Tae Kwon Do and Karate books I could find.
Eventfully I went to different schools and started to study different arts.
What happen to your Uncle, the Grand Master of White Crane/Bone setter? For the readers who do not know what a bone setter is, correct me if I am wrong, it is something like a Chinese Chiropractor. A form of Eastern Medicine.
I learned a lot about healing from my cousins and uncle. Bone setting is actually for a fracture. In the old days they couldn’t do things like operate, my uncle could just feel your hand, and find fractures. He could find complex fractures and put them back together, really amazing. He would put them back together, almost perfectly and apply bamboo as a brace to secure it. Then put some herbs on it. He can also break the bone and reset it.
Ouch gosh, that sounds so painful.
If it wasn’t set properly he would have to break it again and reset it. He was amazing at what he did.
Did you manage to study White Crane Kung Fu with him?
A bit, mainly from Michael Luk Chung Mao. He is very famous in Hong Kong for Lion Dancing. Do you know of it?
Yes, it is something like a Kung Fu form. Instead of using hands, you hold a huge lion head or body.
Yes, it really works your horse stance (kung fu stance) and of course the lion head is heavy. It is more like Tiger style Kung Fu. And you really have to use a lot of “Fa Jing” to make it look alive.
Fa Jing, explosive movements or attacks – In the West we look at “Fa Jing” as something that only exists in styles like Chen Tai Chi. You are moving very slow, then all of a sudden you do this huge explosive movement or attack. From my understanding, Chinese people have a very different view of it. For instance I believe that “Fa Jing” is also in Wing Chun. When I am chain punching, am I Fa Jing’ing?
All movements in Wing Chun are Fa Jing, but a lot of people do it with no energy at all. Another thing is when training punching, a lot of people get hurt. This is because they are locking the punches at the end of the movement. If you keep doing that one day you will get tennis elbow.
When you do a front punch, you first should be relaxed until the last moment. Squeeze hard when you make contact, straight away remove your punch, and relax again. Imagine that when you punch a wall bag, BANG, when you come away relax. Instead of pushing against the wall bag.
Same as your palm strike. When I hit the dummy when I am tense like this (hear small bang in background, which, unknown to Scott, GM Kwok is hitting the dummy). You hear a dull sound.
When I hit the dummy and relax at the last moment you squeeze hard (in the audio you hear a huge rattle in the back ground) – you see the whole thing vibrates.
When I started Wing Chun I didn’t really know what I was doing. When I first stated I was really locking my elbows. After a while I was like “wow, I got tennis elbow in my arm.”
When you punch a human like this – you punch and your arm is straight you are actually moving the person backwards. If you punch and keep your arm hard it is more like pushing, but if you punch and then relax, the result is very similar to Tai Chi. The person will get an internal injury. Try it – punch someone in the hand, after you make contact relax straight away, and then you will see the difference. You can knock someone out very easily with this motion.
To go back to your personal history, how did you get into Wing Chun?
Just like everyone else, Bruce Lee! He did Wing Chun.
In 1969, my basketball captain, said “you do martial arts, so do I.” He showed me Sil Lim Tao, I said “you can’t fight with that,” then I got a hard lesson. I got hit many times. Although at the time I didn’t think much of it. It wasn’t until I learned that Bruce Lee did Wing Chun.
Later I met a friend, his brother was Moy Yat’s student (Moy Yat is a direct student of Ip Man.) He is a good friend of mine, his name is Simon Lau. We started training together.
Later, my father who is a priest said “you go to church there is a priest there who is good at Kung Fu” and it turned out he was an expert at Monkey style Kung Fu. He learned from the Grand Master “Ken Tak Duk Hoi,” but he wouldn’t teach me. He goes “I’m a priest, I can’t teach you Kung Fu.” I begged him to teach me and he never did. He said “I do know someone who goes to church here and I can introduce you to him.”His name was Lee Shing who was a student of Luk Yiu. Luk Yiu was the second student of Ip Man. Lee Shing also learned from Jiu Wan, another student of Ip Man. Before he came to England he become Ip Man’s student. I trained with him for a few years.
I decided to go back to Hong Kong after I had been living in England for 6 years. Lee Shing Came with me and introduced me to Wing Chun in Hong Kong.
Just to clarify quickly, this mostly took place in the UK?
Yes, in 1972 I came to England to do my nursing study. That is more or less where my Wing Chun career started.
In 1981 I went back to Hong Kong to work as a nurse. My Sifu told me he is coming back to Hong Kong and I am going to join the Ip Man association and he wanted me to go with him.
When we got there he wanted to introduce me to a shorter gentleman. He said to me “this is Grandmaster Ip Man’s oldest son, Grandmaster Ip Chun.” I almost died when I heard this information!
While you were there, who did you train under? Was it a collection of people?
It was only Grandmaster Ip Chun.
When I first met Grandmaster Ip Chun, I said “hello, how are you?” He responded by saying “have you done the dummy form?” I said “not really” he showed me the form and I became his student.
What level have you reached when he showed it to you?
I was at the Bil Jee level (the third form, the one right before the wooden dummy.)
Back then you had to really wait to learn the different forms. It isn’t like it is now with Youtube. At that time, you might be stuck at Sil Lim Tao, the first form for a while.
Do you see that as a bad thing? Having to wait so long.
Not at all! It strengthens your basics. Nowadays, people say to me “I bought your DVDs and in three months time I know 3 of the forms.” I spent 40 years and I am still learning from it.
From what I understand, you managed to study with both sons of Ip Man?
Yes, but that is later on. I was in Hong Kong for only 3 years and I met a lot of different Wing Chun people.
When I came back to England in 1981 and I had a job waiting for me. That is when I started teaching Wing Chun. In 1986 I brought my Sifu, Ip Chun over. We went all over, even to the United States and Australia.
Later, he gave me a called and told me his brother Ip Qing retired from his factory job. Since he was no longer working, he wanted to try teaching and doing seminars. I did not meet him until he came to England.
He really impressed me. He really showed how lots of power comes from the hip and stance. Not just the upper body.
As someone who got to speak with Ip Qing and Ip Chun in their native language. Its seems like they are fairly normal people?
When I brought my Sifu over in 1985 or 86, he tells me I just quit my job. He was an accountant and I asked him “what are you going to do?” He said “I am going to teach full time.” Only then did he get a lot of students.
In Hong Kong it is hard to teach full time. Most people have a second job. It’s an expensive life style there.
You mentioned later on you finally got to train with Ip Qing?
In 1992 we met and became good friends. We kept in contact in 1994 he went to Holland to do a seminar. After that he also did a seminar in the UK and that is really when I started to train with him.
What is the difference between Ip Qing and Ip Chun?
They both trained with Ip Man. Ip Qing is really into martial arts. Sifu Ip Qing studied from 1962 to 1972 and helped his father teach. Making him very experienced.
The difference is the Chi Sau is more, it is not about strength against strength. If you look at GM Ip Chun who is around 5’4 and Ip Qing is around 5’11, how can Ip Chun fight or Chi Sau with people over 200 pounds? I’ve seen him do it, they cannot lay a hand on him.
What kind of thought process is behind that style of training? Although I am 6’0 tall, let’s say I was on the shorter side, how should I be training?
If you are Ip Man, he would say you should find someone who is the same height as you. If you are 6’0 tall, you should find someone who is also 6’0 tall.
In the case of Ip Chun, it seems to be different. This is because everyone seems to be taller than him (laughing.) I’ve seen him Chi Sau with people taller than him and he has to use a lot of his legs, lots of footwork. On top of that he is always using lots of angles. Let’s say he would turn at a 15 degrees angle and then he could control that person’s centerline. Mostly, you have to have good footwork.
In real fighting, many people say you only go straight forward. Many people say you can’t back up in Wing Chun, but that is not true. If I’m really short, I might have no choice, I won’t always be able to step forward. It is like when you are a little kid, trying to hit an adult they just put their hand on your head.
In a real fight situation what you are looking at is the dummy form. Chun Kiu, the second form is the same, lots of footwork working at a 45 degree angle.
What if you are tall like me and kind of skinny?
You have to rely on the angles and footwork. The other main thing is you have to get close to the other person and control his elbow. If you look at the dummy arms, those are not arms, they are elbows. In Wing Chun we say we have 3 gates.
The first is the wrist, if someone is controlling you’re wrist your okay.
But if They are controlling your elbow and your shoulder – then you will lose.
If I am fighting a taller person it is important to get in close, bridge the gap, control his elbow, and it is best to strike first.
The secret of Sifu Ip Chun is that if someone is taller he will move closer. This way you can’t get your arms and elbows up. If you control the other persons elbow, they will not be able to move very smoothly.
What do you think the place is for Chi Gerk?
If we are doing Chi Sau you have to arrange the kick. If you try to kick me, it is not very easy. If I pull your arms down or push you away, it will not be easy to kick me. There are only a few movements in Chi Gerk itself. It is mainly about basic blocking in an emergency.
For you Chi Gerk is more of an emergency type of thing?
If it was Ip Man, he would advise people to move in quickly. He would not advise to block with your hands. He would bridge that gap very quickly.
How do you feel MMA has affected Wing Chun? Do you feel the Wing Chun fighting level is getting better or worse?
I have a lot of students who joined MMA fighting schools. To me it is like a sport, they have many rules and regulations. One of my students was the 2004 MMA champion. Have you heard about my relationship with Carlson Gracie?
No, but I would like to.
He is one of the most well known Brazilian Jiu Jitsu teachers. In 2003 I was in Chicago doing a seminar. My student’s student brought him along because he has seen some of the Wing Chun movements. He found Wing Chun to be very interesting and found it effective.
He came to me and asked me to show him Wing Chun. I gave him a demonstration for half an hour, afterwards he said to me “very good we can do business together. We can train fighters together.” He really like the energy techniques, this way they can do something before they go to the ground.
So he has a lot of respect for Wing Chun.
MMA is a really good sport.
How do you feel about Wing Chun level, increasing or decreasing?
I feel Wing Chun has really improved over the years. I feel in Hong Kong many people like to have Wing Chun Vs Wing Chun. Every style has its good points, it is important that people have fight against other styles. This is the only way to find out if it works or not. I think it is improving.
If you think about it, anything that is not advancing will be faded out by society. Wing Chun is one of those things.
I was once speaking with Wong Shun Leung, since he is a really good fighter and well known for his fighting abilities. I asked him “do you have any fighting tips for me?” He said to me “Samuel Kwok, he doesn’t fight enough. If you had more fighting experience, you should fight ANY style. After that, you don’t have to ask me that question again.” After that I would try to spar with any style. I learned a lot from it.
The only way to do it is to test the water. You have to try to see if your techniques work or not. You are teaching someone something where life and death matters. If you are teaching something that will not work in a real life situation, the person will die. There is only one way to find out if they work or not.
When I practice with my students I say “you have to hit me with full power.” If I didn’t block it, it is my fault. In real life people will really try to hit you. It is not about sitting down and talking about this theory or that theory.
How would you approach other people to train with them? If I go to someone else school and say “I don’t want to train with you, I just want to fight you” it might a pretty uncomfortable situation.
You just have to train the way they do. If you want to train Thai boxing, you have to train with them for a while. If you just go and challenge someone, have no idea how they fight, you will be finished. Don’t underestimate what they can do. For example I’m really impressed with Thai boxing, they train REALLY hard.
When you go to train with them for a little bit, you mostly have to study how they fight. You have to know what you are getting yourself into before you fight or spar with them.
From what I understand you have a distance training program?
It is on my website, kwokwingchun.com
It is about the main key points on what to practice. Why are you doing it correctly? Why are you doing it wrong?
It also comes with videos, so you can really benefit from it. You can also send me videos, so I can see what is wrong. It is pretty successful; one guy did Sil Lim Tao for 6 months, now his form is really perfect.
You said you recently came out with a book?
Yes, it is called “The Keys to Wing Chun.” Just contact me kowkwingchun (at) hotmail.com for a copy. It was reviewed in a recent issue of Wing Chun illustrated.
Can we finish up with one fast Wing Chun tip?
Remember, Wing Chun is not force against force. You need to redirect the incoming energy.
Where can we find you?
KwokWingChun.com or just type my name in Youtube.com