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Can you tell us about your training before you opened Wing City Wing Chun?
I got into martial arts when I was around 9 years old, I started with Tae Kwon Doe at the YMCA. Took it for a long time, between 9 – 11 years. I enjoyed it and competed. After a while the tournaments didn’t do anything for me. You showed up, got a trophy, and that was it. One tournament really stuck in my mind, I went to one that was an open tournament. Not just Tae Kwon Doe, other martial arts as well. The guy I was facing was shorter and stocky, in my mind I was like “I should be able to kill this guy!” I ended up losing that fight, it wasn’t that he could kick better, but he kept moving in and my kicks were getting jammed. In my mind it clicked that “if this was a real fight situation I would be in trouble.” That was a huge turning point in martial arts. I then started seeking different types of martial arts and tried lots of different styles. Judo, Mui Tai, Kali, I was searching for something to deal with issues like that in a close range.
Around 1991 I found Wing Chun, at the time I didn’t know much about it. I recalled that Bruce Lee did a little bit of it. I was more familiar with hearing JKD than Wing Chun. It turned out there was a Wing Chun school close to my house and decided to give it a try. It really answered my questions regarding what to do about close range combat.
My first Sifu was Tony Kariotis, the first thing he told me was “I’m not a master, so I have no problem with you going out to find other people.” After training with him for several years, I thought “Wing Chun is great!” He taught me the best he could, but there were so many questions left unanswered. I kept looking for more teachers, including his Sifu, Steve Lee Swift, Leung Ting, Ip Qing, William Chueng, Emin Boztepe, finally I went to a seminar and I met my Sifu, Augustine Fong.
Later it dawned on me that, what he saying, what he was doing was made the most sense. By 2000 I officially joined his school.
This is all taking place in Chicago? Your home state.
This is all taking place in Chicago, a lot of those teachers would come here for seminars. Many of them would have students here. Any kind of Wing Chun seminar I would go and see their approach to Wing Chun. Back then those guys were touring a lot and the internet wasn’t that great. After reading about them you got to finally check them out.
Back then, how did you find out about the seminars?
Back then their was “Inside Kung Fu” magazine, they would advertise in the back. Or we would hear by word of mouth. Most seminars were long, they lasted at least 3 hours.
What resonated with you regarding Sifu Augustine Fong Wing Chun?
He was different. The very first thing that Sifu said and at the time I didn’t appreciate it was “fighting is not too important.” At the time I was still young, so I was like “why the hell am I still here?” He was very different in that case. He was different in the sense that he didn’t have that selling approach. I’m not saying the other Sifus didn’t have that same feeling, but when I worked with him, he gave me the impression that “this is my Wing Chun, this is how I do it, if you like it, you like.”
After awhile I realized “why am I waiting?” I found that he was hosting his own seminars in Tucson, Arizona, where he lives. He has been doing that for the last 17 years, he does it once a year. It’s like Wing Chun camp. I still study with him all the time. I just came back yesterday. I had about 4 days with him, all privates. I try to see him as often as I can.
What are some general fighting principles? What are the general concepts of Wing Chun?
The main thing to remember in learning, is not to learn too much. A lot of times a student will be new and are doing lots of different forms/drills. His main instance is that he wants to go onto the next one. Everything in Wing Chun sounds simple, but it is not. Simple idea, but difficult to do. Once you can do it, it becomes simple to execute. There is always a balance in everything we do.
If a young person who was only interested in fighting, what you say to them?
I would say look for another class. The point regarding that is people want to fight, today’s mentality they want to play the game right away. The reality is they want to fight before they have the skill. You have to learn the skill before you fight. All too often people want to fight, all because you’re giving or taking a hit, doesn’t mean you know how to fight.
How come Wing Chun isn’t often seen in MMA?
If you understand what Wing Chun is designed to do. From a fighting aspect it is designed to kill and end the fight fast. If you try to put it in a MMA setting, it’s a sparing element and you will lose every time. Once it is out of its element you don’t have a chance. A lot of time people put gloves on for Chi Sau, but they miss the point of development regarding Chi Sau. In Chi Sau you are trying to develop everything you need to fight, but not fight. In other words, if you are Chi Sau’ing with one another and constantly pegging each other, you are doing it wrong. You have to look at it as “what skill am I trying to improve or work on at this particular time?” Any training we do in Wing Chun is all for development, which leads to fighting.
It’s all apples and oranges. When you mess them up you lose it, you have to develop one at a time. Chi Sau is your schooling to learn how to fight, once you can do that, then fighting is a totally different aspect.
Most of the drills we first have you learn by yourself. Most people think I need a partner to work with, think of it this way, if you can’t punch correctly, it is going to get a lot worse when you train with others. You have to look at it in segments, be able to do it by yourself correctly, and then do it with a partner, then after that you can take it to the next step. You have to worry about the skill first and foremost, before you start worrying about getting hit or hitting.
How long would it take your average student to work their way up to Chi Sau?
It takes a while. You can show someone the stance in one day, but to actually utilize the stance, and make it work for you, it takes a while. People see a motion and they copy the motion, it doesn’t mean they understand it.
First you have to look at coordination, let’s look at Chi Sau. If you see two people training and one person looks good, why does he look so good? The reason is that he really understands Chi Sau, he is juggling a million things at one time. Even though he made one movement, he made a thousand adjustments. In the beginning you don’t have that type of coordination. Think of it as you can only juggle one ball, then you have to increase to 5 balls, then 10 etc. At first you need the coordination, like rubbing your tummy and head at the same time. You need the coordination before you put the theory and structure behind anything.
When you first start Chi Sau, what one thing should you work on?
The way I see it, you always have to work in reverse. First learn stance, horse, punching, the first form, shifting, then if you are struggling with one thing. Often someone will say, “I am struggling with my punch” often it is not your punch that has the issue. It might be your stance, you might not be putting your stance behind the punch. The way I see it, if you are struggling with something, go back to see what you were doing before. That is the way you have to fix it, there is something in the main basics you have understand. You might be able to do that, but it doesn’t mean you understand it. Most people don’t want to do that, they may say “why do I have to do this again?”
The way I see it is Wing Chun training is like monopoly, if you are going around the board and are about to go past “go,” think of it in terms of, you got penalized and have to go back to it from the very beginning. For most people that mental type of training, they can’t digest or accept it. Most people need that reward.
Control your ego and be willing to go back to the beginning.
When you move onto another level, for example the first form to the second form, at least in my case my perception of the previous form would completely altered.
If you understand, it goes in reverse. If you learn Chum Kiu (the second form) you will find that the Chum Kiu goes into the Sil Lim Tao (the first form.) There is always looking back at what you previously learned. Once you understand the Chum Kiu, you have to find where the Chum Kiu can be put into Sil Lim Tao.
People always see it from the starting point to the end point. What people do not see is that the cycle does not end.
How did your school become popular?
I’m not sure how popular we are. I could have one student and operate that way. My goal is to not to be the biggest and most well known. I do my own Wing Chun and the goal is to understand Wing Chun and help my students understand Wing Chun.
Do you have any final Wing Chun training tips?
Mentally your ego will be your undoing. It has to be a balance, it helps you to push you forward, but it will hurt you when you start thinking “I am really good.” What most people don’t do or see, they look at training as “I want to be like my Sifu, I want to copy him.” To me that is the wrong way to look at it, it is not how well you can make it look or look like your Sifu. It is how I can make it work for you. When you are learning for yourself, then you will learn what the art is about. It is about learning about you.
How can we find you?
I prefer to use my Facebook fan page, I tend to update it more often.