Want to get in contact with Sifu Leo?
Where did you first start to study Wing Chun?
Leo: I first started in Hong Kong under Grand Master Yip Chun. I was 16 yet I still keep in touch with him regularly because of the new Ip Man movie coming out, which I have a small role in. After I came to the US I continued with Sam Kwok…
What was it like training with Yip Chun?
Sifu Leo: This was a great experience. In Hong Kong you have to be a very ‘active’ student, you have to be forward and ask a lot of questions. Otherwise, most of the time Yip Chun would just sit down, start to read the newspaper, but he secretly would be watching you without opposing you. So when I first started I learned all my skills from the senior students as usual. Eventually I spoke a lot with Sifu and then, later I invited him to have tea after class, and got alot of training tips from him in this way – was a great experience.
Was the training strict?
Sifu Leo: Actually, the training was kind of laid back. Basically, everyone warms-up together and does forms and then the majority concentrate on chi sao training all the time. This is good because you will have good sensitivity in chi sao and a good understanding of Wing Chun, but on the other hand you may not understand how to use your Wing Chun in fighting. You know this is something later on in your training you will have to think about.
When learning the forms in Hong Kong how do you typically start out, were you showed the form once and expected to be responsible for it from then on?
Sifu Leo: Well, basically Sifu Yip Chun would stand up and demonstrate, say, Sil Lum Tao (first third) about 3 times just to get a rough idea, then you start to practice it. Then a senior student would come over and start to make corrections. But always you have to ask and show that you are the person that is interested to learn. In Hong Kong you have to step up and ask, basically make friends with the people first, basically build a trust between you and the Sifu and with other senior students. Basically, they want to know about who you are before they waste their time to show you stuff and know that you are really interested.
Tell me about moving to England.
When I was fourteen or fifteen, my parents decided to move to England and this is what got me started in Wing Chun because my parents thought it would be good before leaving China to learn about chinese culture as well as learn to protect myself. So about 2 years later (2 years with Yip Chun) we moved to England and I continued my training with Sam Kwok.
And how did you come across Sam Kwok?
Sifu Leo: He was actually recommended to me by Sifu Yip Chun
How was the training with him compared to Yip Chun?
Sifu Leo: Well, since Sam Kwok trained with both Yip Chun and his Younger brother, Yip Ching, he was able to give me insights from two different perspectives. For example, Yip Chun is more, well, softer and more ‘angled’ and Yip Ching is a little bit more direct. And of course he would have a little bit of his own ideas to teach me as well. So I spent about 5 years with him.
Before we started recording you had mentioned another Sifu
Sifu Leo: Sifu Sin Kwok Lam. He knew Sam Kwok and Yip Chun as well, so there was a connection there. I learned a lot from him. His Wing Chun is very good. I met him about 6 years ago. After studying with him for 3 years, before leaving England he asked me if I could help him with a project he had in mind. He said, “I am thinking about making a movie about Yip Man.” I thought he was just joking but of course I said I would help him anyway I could. He helped me so much, I wanted to give something back. It was about a year and a half later that I started working with the actor and stunt men for ‘Ip Man I’ with Donny Yen. This was hard work for example, that first fight scene we worked on the choreography for 7 straight days, 7 hours a day.
Very cool. So, I have to ask, did you meet Donny Yen
Sifu Leo: Yes, I did, I worked with him a lot.
That’s very cool, I’m a big fan!
So, different Sifus and practitioners of Wing Chun sort of have their own flair or perhaps follow different lineages. On the blog, for example, people might comment, “Hey your doing that all wrong.” or this person is doing that all wrong and so on…
Sifu Leo: Yes, yes – I think that interpretation can be different among different practitioners but, the principles can not be changed, for example, Wing chun is a short distance martial art, wing chun has short or ‘inch’ power, has continuous attack, use force against force,… you know these basic principles can not be changed. The method or application of the movement may be different, but the principle can not be changed.
so for guys who are a bit newer to Wing Chun what are the principles to start with.
Sifu Leo: Ok, this is how I teach my student: The first thing you have to understand is that Wing Chun is a short distance Martial Art. So first you must define what is short distance. A lot of people that are doing wing chun, lop sao or pok sao or whatever. They are doing it in mid range or perhaps longer range. This is a fundamental mistake for me you must first learn the distance where you can strike the person, but they cannot strike back. This is number 1. Number 2, Wing Chun is a force against force system. It is supposedly a smaller guy that is fighting a bigger guy. So you have to understand the idea of only force against force. So if your technique is directly combating the force or you are using a lot of force in order to defend yourself, then you have a problem. This is not good Wing Chun. Wing Chun is supposed to use turning and stepping in order to fight against someone bigger. Also, like in the movie we highlight one of the Wing Chun attack styles continuous attack. So if the practitioner is able to deliver only one punch, then it’s not continuous intensive attack and not good Wing Chun. So this is a few examples of principles and how to justify whether it is good Wing Chun or not.
I see. And regarding the ‘boxes’ of the Wing Chun gate, could you talk about structure like if your hand is too high over the shoulder or too far to the outside…
Sifu Leo: Yes, basically if you are talking about the hand position, if you are able to connect all of your body and your stance to the hand, then you are probably doing it right because there is only a limited number of ways you can deliver the whole body’s strength to one point. So for example the tan sao. If someone puts some pressure on your tan sao you should be able to feel the force being transferred to your back then your stance and to the ground. Now you are probably doing it right. It’s not about the tan sao is too low or too high, but whether you can transfer the energy to the ground. Ok, and this is not just the tan sao it applies to every technique.
Ok, last question. Can you give us some training tips.
Sifu Leo: Ok, first as I said earlier you first must train the range of Wing Chun and develop you energy and how to absorb force from this short range position. It is easy if you are practicing chi sao but beginners have trouble getting from long range to short range when fighting or sparring, or even the mook jong. This is the first thing. And the second thing is always refer to the form. The way you do it in the form should be exactly the way you do it in chi sao or fighting.
Great! How would someone go about finding you?
Sifu Leo: Oh, ok I have a website: www.chinesekungfu.co.uk. All the information is there.
Scott: on behalf of the Wing Chun Geek community thank you for your time and hope to talk soon.
Sifu Leo: Very good, Scott. See you later.