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Can you tell us about your training?
Yea it all started with those Saturday morning TV shows, my friends and I would watch then go in the back yard and fight. At some point my dad enrolled me into a Judo class when I was 8. My grades were slipping and my parents pulled me out. In my teens, before a knee injury I would train Tae Kwon Do then Kempo Karate. I also trained Kickboxing and boxing, did everything I could to learn about martial arts. Around 1999 I stared to read a lot of Wing Chun books and Bruce Lee books. At that time, you could not really find anyone to train with, so I decided I am going to go the route of the solo trainer. I am going to go find a wooden dummy, figure it out, and train myself. I had that type of attitude.
That is when I met my SiHing (kung fu older brother,) Danny Xuan online. He told me is this guy Nelson Chan who sold wooden dummies. I went there and this small guy around 5’3 asked me “Do you know Wing Chun?” I said “No.” He asked me again “Do you know how to use the wooden dummy?” I said “No.” he asked me again “How are you going to learn the dummy?” I told him “I am going to pick up that book with 116 moves and learn it.” His response “Oh okay, I am going to teach class” and I asked if I could watch.
He let me watch and I noticed he was teaching REAL Chinese martial arts, not YMCA or McDojo martial arts. I asked him if I could become his student and again he asked me “Why? Why do you want to learn from me?” I told him that I read a lot about Wing Chun and I hope one day to be a Sifu. That is where it all started.
Was Danny Xuan, someone we interviewed in the past, is your SiHing?
Yes, he is my Kung Fu big brother. I got to play with him once; he was in Thailand when I was really into my training. It was interesting to see the differences and the changes as you grow in the art. I wish I got to train with him more, but now that he is back in Canada, I might pop over to his place to play with him some more.
I keep hearing about Nelson Chan, I would really like to hear more about him.
He was taught relatively young in the 60’s in Hong Kong with Moy Yat. If I remember correctly, I asked him “Sifu, how did you get into Wing Chun?” I believe he went to a Wong Shun Long school, but it was too expensive for him. Wong Shun Long told him to go check out this other guy, who ended up being Moy Yat. He said he was there all the time and just absorbed the art. Before my Sigung (teachers, teacher) came to New York, he had already completed the system. Somewhere around that time Nelson came to Canada and went to school here.
Do you still have knee issues? I find that Wing Chun is not as hard on your body as other styles.
That is why Wing Chun is great. I’ve injured my knee in Tae Kown Do, I’ve injured my back doing Brazilian Jiu jitsu, and things like that. I’ve had several students with knee injuries or back injuries, and guess what, they don’t have a problem doing the art. You can tone it up or tone it down, it just depends on who you are, and what is the purpose of your training at that time.
What concepts should you focus on when you train Chi Sau?
One of the first things I always stress when teaching Chi Sau is first of all, SLOW DOWN. You do not need to role at a 100 miles an hour, especially in the beginning, when you go that fast you cannot feel anything. Really look at your “Luk Sau,” pay attention to it, where your elbows are, the weighting of your hands. When many people start out, they have the tendency to rest or want to push against the opponents arms.
As far as the principles are, facing is so important. It is amazing to see how we are dominate on one side of the body and not the other. Many people do what I call “blade the body,” leading with one shoulder. To learn how to be square and keep square is so critical. After that, focus on maintaining the correct distance between you and your opponent. Many people get too close, many people have the tendency to get too close, not recognizing they are already in a range where they can get hit. Not seeing or putting themselves where they have to make “half a move” to get me type of range.
Can you define “half a move?”
What I mean by that is that you’ll have to take a half step forward to actually make contact with your opponent. Or you have to make an angle shift to get that proper depth. That is what I mean by half a move. If you learn how mitigate someone making a move on you, or learn how to get past someone who wants to get in.
When I look at stages of learning, when I look at Chi Sau, I find that the first level we want to hit. We don’t care about anything else, we will take hits, and we don’t care what it takes. I try to encourage people to get away from that quickly. The point of Chi Sau is not to hit people, its learning how to control and manipulate centerline. Understanding that placement and your footwork place key factors on how you work with opponent.
The next stage after hitting, is not to get hit, you’ll do crazy things not to get hit.
The final stage I find is like the Wing Chun saying – “hit when you should, don’t hit when you shouldn’t, don’t get greedy when you hit.” It is hard in the beginning, many people want to just hit in the beginning.
In your own words how would you describe Luk Sau?
When I explain it to my students I say Luk Sau is not Chi Sau, Chi Sau is the game. Look at it like the game of chess. Luk Sau is the board when you see a chess game. When you are rolling, your goal is, not to give any real information to your opponent. Since we are training Wing Chun and train things like sensitivity, you don’t want to let them know where you are going based on force and things like that. You are trying to find your ability to read your opponent while maintaining your own gate. All while learning how to neutralize any pressure you might feel from your opponents.
If you had a new student, what kind of things would you give them to practice on their own (solo training)?
One idea I really like is that you have to be adaptable and resourceful. At my Sifu’s school it’s a very Spartan club, he had some stuff he had to buy, other than that he had stuff he had to build. If you have a door frame or use the door itself. If you set yourself up to chain punch to hit at one spot on that thin door you will start to understand where your centerline is. If you miss, the door will swing from left to right. I’m not talking about pounding on your door, learn to get the distance right and you’ll get that sense.
For some of my students I would tell them “use the door frame to practice pok sau.” They would look at me strangely at first, but I would show them how to do it. All you need to do is use the edge as your centerline. Line up with the centerline, pok run though the center line, then let your palm touch the wall.
You don’t need to have a partner all the time to refine the principles system. That’s what makes Wing Chun great, it is not a technique based system.
What principles should a newbie keep in mind?
The first is centerline. It’s always the key things, most important things we have to learn. The other thing would be facing (turning towards your opponent to keep them in hitting range.) Keeping your hips and shoulders square, not allowing them to twist out of the way.
The third thing I try to teach is proper distance, try to avoid leaning in or over committing. It is interesting when people first start out and want to hit an object, instead of moving their feet forward, they want to lean forward and leave their feet where they are instead of moving 6 inches and make the proper adjustments. These are the 3 most critical things you could learn when you first start out.
For more advance people, you are constantly refining everything you learned in the past. It is not something you just “get” in one day.
I remember my Sifu said, I think Moy Yat was asking Yip Man a question, during a Dim Sum. One of the things he heard him say, was “not too much, not too little, just enough.” When we first start out we may have to step a little, as we get better, you learn how much you really have to move? Can you move just enough that their fists are just an inch in front of your face? Just enough so they can see that you didn’t shave this morning?
That’s how I perceived the art and how I am trying to train all the time. How much do my hands have to REALLY have to move before I change position? How much do I need to change my feet or facing just so I have a new line of attack? When it comes to thing like distance for someone who is really advance, its like “how much do I really have to move to go get him? Can I bait him? Can I get him to create a mistake for me to take advantage of? Wing Chun is about simplicity, its about economy of motion. As a practitioner, we should always try to refine these principles. I like to say “when we train we should train like we are 20 years older from now. Trust me there is a different from when you are 20 to 40. That is how you get into refining those principles. Because you will not remain fast and you won’t always be strong.
How would you define people who are “family focused” on their Wing Chun?
It’s funny how many people come from the Ip Man line (linage,) it’s almost like football. People are proud of that, it’s almost like “I am going to show you how much better we are and how much truer we are to what Ip Man taught.” I think its unfortunate that is happening, you should be proud and say this is the family line I come from and understand the traditions. Sometimes I go down and I train with Gary Lam, who is from the Wong Shun Leung line, he is what I would call my Si Bok or “uncle” I wouldn’t call him my Sifu. It is important to respect those lines, but don’t let it get in the way of your learning. I have learned some great things from different people from different lines. When I learn it is like “wow, I never thought of looking at the art that way.” You can look at it and say we are part of a bigger Wing Chun family and that is one of things I am always trying to promote. When some people look at it they will think “wow, I don’t want to get involved with all this in-fighting, it’s all just crazy.”
Having been in the art long enough, you do see the politic stuff come up. Which is a real pity for people who just want to train. I look it as look at the principles and theory of the art/linage. Compare it to what you are seeing, learn and test it for yourself. You may find that one style of Wing Chun doesn’t resonate with you as an individual. You might find that one style is more cerebral, while another doesn’t consider it good training unless you leave with a fat lip. There is such a wide diversity, but that is what makes the art so beautiful.
Before the interview you mentioned you have training camps, where are they located?
They are located in Canada and we try to get at least 2 or 3 a year and often last for 3-4 days. It depends on what we want to focus on, we might work on Chi Sau. Since we do so much work, we call it turbo charge your training. This is because you working on it SO MUCH in a short period of time. As opposed to saying “I trained 24 hours in 3 months.” It’s a great time, we have a bunch guys come up and we get to learn a lot.
How did you meet Gary Lam?
I found him on Youtube and thought “this guy is interesting.” He says a lot of what my Sifu tells me, but he is doing it just different enough. Which made me want to get down there and train with the guy. It turned out of my friend, who was one of Gary Lam’s certified instructors, was having Gary Lam over for a week and I got the chance to meet him. When I finally got to meet him he told me “if you want, come down and train with me.” It’s a really fun time when I get to go down there, a lot of time it’s the same kind of stuff my Sifu does, but it’s kind of like some people like salt and others like sugar.
How would you describe the differences between Wong Shun Lueng’s family and Moy Yat’s?
It seems like with my Moy Yat style training we focus a lot on Pok Sau type drills, where as with Wong Shun Lueng’s type it revolved a lot more around Chi Sau. I find it really interesting how the different family different, I would love to meet more people like David Peterson. It would be interesting to see how he expresses the art differently. I noticed a lot of those guys when we Chi Sau its like “game on” almost like sparring.
Even with my Sifu (from the Moy Yat line) he was also very soft when you Chi Sau’ed with him.
I think the best piece of advice we can give out is you really have to get out there and experience their other styles and training methods for yourself.
That is why I always tell my students it is okay to go to other schools. Just be kind, be respectful, and try to learn from the perspective of the Sifu who is there. Don’t assume your way is already the right way, because sometimes the way the actuate something might be different. You might see it and think “wow, I never looked it that way, now I have to look back on my Wing Chun and say “does this follow Wing Chun principles and can I incorporate this into my Wing Chun?” As a Wing Chun practitioner, you have to study the principles, not just the technique. Personality and different energy comes out in the technique, but the principles don’t change. It is really a great thing to experience different arts and see what they have to offer.
Before we finish up, from what I understand you have a whole series of DVD’s and training videos?
Yea, we have a whole downloadable series that we are always expanding. You can get that on learnwingchunonline.com. I really gear them to people who want to learn the art. I make sure to go very slow and go into lots of detail. I’m even working on dummy video with custom colored arms, so you know exactly where I am.
The whole series started as a thing I did for my students and it really helps them remember. You can download many of them and you even watch on your mobile device. I even encourage my students to video me in class or record themselves so they can really see what they are doing.
It is funny you bring that up; I find recording myself has had some really positive effects on my training.
Always, I still do that. I like to spar with a lot of different guys. It’s great to see what you weren’t doing. You get this 3rd person perspective. It’s a great tool. You get to see a lot of mistakes and you have to be humble enough to change them.
The same goes for YouTube, it can be a great learning tool. But when people comment, I often wonder if they really understand what’s going on. You see someone sparing against a MMA guy, but does the person commenting really understand how it is to spar with an MMA guy? All I have to say is be kind, that person had the nerve to put it up there.
How about any final training tips?
Go slow. There is no need to go fast all the time. Don’t worry about putting power and strength. Wing Chun has a saying “beginners don’t use power and beginners don’t use strength.” Don’t think about muscle; think about your machines, and your structures.
The other thing is if you are training Pok Sau, Chain punching, or whatever; if you’re not into filming yourself, go find a mirror. If you use the mirror you’ll find that you can use yourself as the opponent, you’ll find that you can really grasp the concepts for this type of training.
The last thing, when you’re watching TV, use the commercials as your training time. If you do that over the period of 3 hours, those 2-3 commercials add up.
Where can we find you?
Learnwingchunonline.com – that is where you can download all the videos.
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