I had a really interesting interview with Sifu Michael Quijano. He was a professional Thai Boxer, studied with Moy Yat, Jessie Glover, Victor Koo, and lots of other well known marital artists. I found Sifu Quijano to be a super nice guy, who tells it how it is. Lots of fun chatting with him, check out the podcast or the transcription below:
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Is it possible to get into your training?
I was born in Manhattan in 1963, in 1968 I started training gyo with Peter Urban, Grandmaster Ronald Van Clief, Grandmaster Lew Angle, Rick Pascetta, and a whole bunch of other guys. They were like once you get your black belt you gotta go study other systems. Like everyone else, because of Bruce Lee, I’ve always been interested in Wing Chun . In 1978 I started to study under John Watkins, an instructor of Leung Ting system. Around that same time I met Moy Yat and went to his school and to be honest I was not very impressed. This is because I came from a fighting background and these were not sparing when I showed up. Keeping in mind I was young and wanted to ‘bang,’ It was a lot of Chi Sao and talking about philosophy. Later on I started to study with Moy Yat and one of his students Moy Bai Yu. I gained my masters certification under them. Later I would move to Thailand for over 5 years and became a 3 time province champion.
Which province? Chang Mai, Nong Khai, Udon Thani, all northeastern Thailand. Thailand is a great country, as long as you go there respectful and not a loud America, you will be treated like a king. While I was there, in order to learn how to speak the language, I became a monk. Then I would have over 100 amateur fights and 75 professional fights. When I returned to the states I had over 30 professional fights in the US.
This is all Thai boxing?
All Muay Thai. After that I served in the army for 15 years. I was in infantry, airborne, special forces. I was also a Spanish and Thai language linguist. Meaning I got to spend time in South America and Thailand. During that time I was still training and teaching Wing Chun. I also became certified in Sambo and Savate. In 1999 I came out with Total Muay Thai Video though TC media. This video was basically an overview on Thai boxing. Let me back up a bit, because in 1987 I met Grandmaster Victor Koo. Who I currently continue to train with, he trained with Wong Shun Leung until he passed away. He would travel back and forth between Hong Kong and California every 6 months. Actually I recently did an interview with him in Wing Chun Illustrated. I was the only one he ever allowed to do this, this is because he does not seek out the limelight and does not make his money from Wing Chun. I’ve also written a number of Muay Thai articles for Inside Kung Fu, World Marital arts, the World Muay Thai council in Thailand. I’ve even been profiled in Thai newspapers. More recently in Wing Chun Illustrated, in issue #6 I did an article called “Gong Fu Piracy: Credentials for sale.” I was actually featured on the cover, Gregory Leblanc; one of my Kung Fu brothers was kind enough to do the interview. I was even interviewed on Sidekick radio. As you know I was one of Jessie Glover students and he gave me permission to teach his system of non-classical gong fu.
Can we go into who was Jessie Glover?
He was Bruce Lee’s first student. When Bruce first came to Seattle he was still very much Wing Chun oriented. Jessie Glover, who passed away last year, at the time it was amazing that an African American student under a Chinese instructor. Jessie became his guinea pig, at that time Jessie was already a black belt in Judo and came to him with experience. He was the kind of guy that was very low key, but often sought out.
Is it true that Bruce Lee only taught high level marital artists?
Jessie used to tell me that Bruce did have patience for beginners. I think that pretty much sums it up.
Can you tell us how you met him? Sure, it started with that I had one school, which grew into 3 schools, not all at once, but to go on with the story I kept having these Jeet Kuen Do guys showing up to my school who wanted to test my students and me. Now I train my Wing Chun people just like my Muay Thai fighters. They do the same kind of conditioning. Over time, I started to read about Jessie Glover and I wanted to meet him. To me, even though Bruce studied with Ip Man, he was more Wong Shun Leung’s student. As you know, Wong Shun Leung was the man, he was the fighter. I really wanted to see what that was like. We started to correspond with each other and in 2004 I started to train with one of his students. Later he would actually move to San Francisco with his girlfriend. On and off, he would stay at my house. Sometimes for a month, 2 weeks at a time, perhaps a week. Sometimes we would train 4 hours a day, others we would train 8 hours a day. All because Jessie loved to train.
To skip around for a moment, you said you train Thai Boxing drills for Wing Chun?
Yes. Let’s put it this way, I condition my Wing Chun fighters like a Muay Thai fighter. We keep it strictly Wing Chun, but we use Thai equipment, we use the Thai banana bag, Thai bags, I have them work on their endurance. I strongly believe you have to be in shape as a fighter, you can’t rely on Wing Chun alone. This is the problem with a lot of teachers and practitioner’s right now.
When you trained with Jessie Glover for 8 hours every day, what drills did you do?
With Jessie, and believe this too, the system has to become a part of your neurological system. Moy Yat used to say that you can learn this technique or that technique and its very pretty and I’ll put it in my pocket. You start collecting all these different techniques and one day when you go to use it, you reach into your pocket and it’s not there. You know why? Because you have not made it part of your neurological system. Jessie was a big believer in straight punching. We would do straight punching for HOURS, until your shoulders were burning and hurting. Some guys in Wing Chun do not do enough straight punching. After straight punching we would do straight punching with footwork, moving forward, backwards, etc. Their footwork was a little bit different, but we talk about that later. We worked on Jessie’s big punch and back hand, these were all special techniques that Jesse developed. Then we would work on his system of Chi Sau which was based on a lot of pressure. He also eliminated some of the hand movement he felt was not effective for the street.
Just to catch everyone one up, what is Jeet Kuen Do?
That is a good question, a lot of people say different things. To me, JKD is Bruce Lee’s personal expression of his own system. You can call it “way of the intercepting first,” or whatever, because there is a lot of people out there who argue what it means. To be honest, I’ve studied the system and trained with some good people like Patrick Strong and a lot of original students of Bruce Lee. That being said I really don’t want to be known as a JDK guy, because I hate the politics. I’m more of a Wing Chun guy, with some Thai Boxing, and non classical Gong Fu. There are guys out there who consider themselves original JKD, who do not add anything to the system. Then you have the concept guys who think “you can add whatever you want” because supposedly Bruce said add what is your own. To be honest, I am not impressed with a lot of JKD guys. Like some Wing Chun guys, they learn JKD from a seminar. Let’s say they go to one seminar for 20 years, and then you have guys who claim they have 20 years of JKD experience with their teacher. It is not true, a one weekend seminar does not equal a year. A lot of these guys and I do not care so I am going to say it straight up, they are pathetic. They cannot fight their way out of a wet paper bag. I’m NOT saying all the JKD guys are like that, I know a handful that can actually fight. The majority of the guys who are out there selling seminars are BS in plan English.
As someone who trained Thai boxing, JKD, Wing Chun, do you ever feel that Wing Chun guys footwork is too static in the ring? As in they just stand there and do not move around at all. Where as a boxer or something is kind of bouncing and going all over the place.
I’m glad you brought that up, because to me Wing Chun should not even be in the ring. It is not a ring system, it is a street fighting system. Any fool who jumps into the ring and tries to use plain Wing Chun, is going to lose. This is because it is a game and you have to adapt to their game. Like in China they had these fights; they called it a Wing Chun competition. My good friend David Peterson brought some of his students out there, they were amazed because some of the guys they fought were not doing Wing Chun. They were doing Muay Thai mixed with throwing with some other stuff and calling it Wing Chun. But there are a lot of people out there who do not know how to use Wing Chun footwork effectively for the street. They don’t’ spend enough on time it or structure. Anyone can learn the forms and anyone it seems can call themselves a master or whatever. You have to have a strong foundation in the system and pay your dues. I’m not talking about monetary wise, you have to put in the time and sweat. You have to make the system work and bust your butt in plain English.
I understand that Chi Sau is important but what are your views on sparing in Wing Chun?
Chi Sau is great, but it’s a drill. The problem with it is that people fall in love with Chi Sau and think that because they are great at Chi Sau they are going to be great in a fight. Chi Sau has its merits. Sensitivity, make contact with the opponent, if you’re a good Wing Chun man you should be able to feel his energy bar his force or redirect them. That being said, people get good at Chi Sau they think it is fighting. It is not fighting. What is Wing Chun fighting? If somebody comes and wants to fight you, in Wing Chun the best defense is a good offense. You gotta attack, you cannot sit back and wait. That is the problem I see with a lot of Wing Chun guys, they think they are in a movie. They want to sit back and wait, and then they get overrun by a good street fighter. A good Wing Chun should always be attacking.
Do you feel Muay Thai helps your Wing Chun in any other ways?
If you look at the Muay Thai stance its more narrow than boxing, if you’re a good Wing Chun man you can see the correlation between the two systems. I think there is nothing wrong with bringing in the conditioning drills into Wing Chun. I am NOT saying mix the systems, I am saying if you train like a Muay Thai guy it is definitely going to improve your kicking, your punching, and number one, your endurance.
You brought up early how some people actually purchase their Wing Chun linage?
Yes. This is a weird subject, lots of people will contact me on facebook or on email. They will say things like “so and so is causing problems for me and they are a BS martial artist.” These guys are my brothers and of course I stick up for them. I do my research and find out the guy is a fake, I like to use the term “Sifu Video.” There are a lot of guys out there who purchase videos, they learn the forms from the videos, then maybe they will go to a weekend seminar and get certified because they paid for it. Meanwhile they have no foundation in Wing Chun, they have never trained with anybody. They can say all the names of the people they met or the people they met in a staircase while buying the videos. They have never trained with these people. People have the right to be misled, I often say that I feel sorry for people; I don’t like people to cheat other people. It is not right, especially for the ligament guys. There are even a few individuals out there that claim “I trained with Ip Man.” Later you find out, they never trained with them. Others will claim “I trained with Ip Man 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, for 5 years.” Come on now, Ip Man was old, he liked Yum Cha (Chinese brunch,) he wasn’t able to train 16 hours a day. A lot of these do not have proof, they do not even have one picture with their teacher.
If you are just starting Wing Chun or I have to move and find a new teacher, how do you verify you teacher is who they say they are?
First watch the class, although if you do not know anything about Wing Chun you can be easily deceived. They should definitely have some lineage photo on his wall, some kind of proof that he had some kind of Kung Fu life with his teacher. If a person says that they trained with their teacher for 15-20 years, he should have some type of graduation type of photo, where the Sifu is seated, he is standing behind the teacher. You should also be able to say let me go online and look up this persons lineage. There are a lot of websites out there that have the lineages posted. I would contact known Wing Chun people in the Wing Chun world, contact a few of these people, and ask “do you know anything about this guy’s lineage?” You might get the answer you are looking for and you might also get the answer you do not want.
Do you feel lineage is as important as people say? The reason I bring it up is that people are “lineage crazy,” does it matter more if the person is good or not?
I think it is important, but if I trained with Ip Man. I should still be able to make my own name. It is okay to have trained with Ip Man, Moy Yat, Wong Shun Leung, or whoever, but at some point you have to be able to stand on your own two feet. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how much they know, sometimes it matters how little they know. What they know, do they have a strong foundation in it? If you are going to be out there and teach Wing Chun, you must know the system.
From a sports perspective, what do you think Wing Chun is missing?
Again, Wing Chun should not be in the ring. I think competition is great, if its Wing Chun or UFC, I do think it builds character. Win or lose it doesn’t really matter, unless you want to be a champion. Go out there for the experience. I think a lot of Wing Chun guys they fall so in love with the forms, the system, the fantasy’s of the art, that they think the system for them. You got to put in the time, train, and be in shape. If you are going to spar with Thai guys or whoever you got to get hit. A lot of Wing Chun guys are not used to getting hit. If you have experience fighting in the ring, you know what contact is like. Many Wing Chun guys, they are head hunters or go for the chest. The good thing about competing is that you get to dish it out as well as receive. I think if you are a fighter, it can make you a better teacher. You have to go out and build your own experience.
How do you feel about pre-contact fighting? In other words, before your hands are touching with the opponent?
You’re talking about closing the gap. There are lots of ways to do it and every instructor is different. Some like to wait and intercept or you can close the gap. One way to close the gap is with effective footwork. If you got weak footwork you are not going to be able to close the gap. Let’s say you are really fast at punching. You want to get faster, work on your footwork. You need a deliver system, it is like having a missile, but no way to launch it. You have to put your students into different scenarios. For me, I call it the lab, I get together with my students, we try certain things out that might not work for me, but work for you. If you have weak footwork, you are not going to be a good closer.
What kinds of footwork drills should we work on?
For my own students, we do tons of footwork. The way I teach is a little bit different than your traditional Wing Chun guy, I’ve been influenced by Jessie Glover. Sometimes we will train it in a running type style or a skipping style. It helps you close the gap a lot quicker. Wing chun also has zig zag footwork, Glover’s footwork was different and it is hard to explain over a podcast. We do this over and over and over. Another thing I make them do is jump rope, run in place, all that stuff is going to improve your leg straight. We do a lot of things that develop leg strength to make you more explosive. Here is how I would work out. Start out with 100 straight punches a day and work your way up to about 1,000 -2,000 per day. After that you want to do your basic footwork drills for at least half an hour or more. Of course at some point you should combine the two. We also incorporate heavy bag training and hitting the Thai pads. If you are only used to punching the air or pulling back before you hit your training partner, you are not getting the full benefit. I believe you got to hit something if you want to be a better fighter.
Here is a silly question, since you trained with Jessie Glover, do you have any good Bruce Lee stories? Yes.
After every training session with Jessie we would go across the street to drink coffee, he could drink like 20 cups of coffee. I have no idea how someone could do that, he also always wanted a hamburger. He had a lot of good stories, he would sometimes tell Bruce “you are full of Sh**” in plain English. He would put him in his place, they were close, went to the same university, he could tell him these types of things. I actually talk a lot about this stuff in my book called “Kung Fu Life” that is going to come out.
When does it come out?
It is going to come out in October 2013.
Do you have any final words of wisdom?
First I would like to thank you guys for giving me this opportunity, it means a lot to me. I would also like to thank my teachers. Train hard, train realistically, and believe in yourself.
Where can people find you?
You can find me on my website: quijanoscombatscience.com