Welcome to episode two of our Wing Chun Podcast “Wing Chun Interviews.” Today, Scott sits down with Sifu Danny Xuan, who has been featured in Wing Chun Illustrated Magazine. They talk about everything from training Karate in India to teaching Wing Chun in Bangkok. Currently he lives in Canada with his family and still offers Wing Chun training.
Lets check out the interview!
**Please note for the first 15 minutes or so we had some sounds issues**
How do You Contact Sifu Xuan?
If you wish to contact Sifu Xuan have a look at his website:
Please note, he is currently located in Canada.
Check out his blog at:
Scott: Alright everybody, so we’re sitting down here with Sifu Danny Xuan. How’s it going Sifu Xuan?
Danny Xuan: Doin’ OK.
Scott: Cool. So, I’m having trouble keeping track of you. Seems like you travel all over the world. You’ve been to Thailand, China, India, all over the place.
Danny Xuan: Correct – I’m a bit of a gypsy. In fact one of my nick names, my e-mail, Skipe, is “The Gypsy Kid”. I don’t stay around too long in any one place.
Scott: If you don’t mind, we’d love to hear a bit about your training. Before we started the recording you we’re saying you were born and raised in India and traveled all over.
Danny Xuan: Yes, my parents were kind of like gypsies too. My father was half Tibetan, half Chinese, which is basically two enemies. My mother was Vietnamese, they actually met in Burma, and my father actually kidnapped her, haha, and took her to his home town in Southwest China…
Scott: …and when you say kidnapped, you mean physically took her away or kind of asked her to come?
Danny Xuan: Uh,.. unwillingly – it’s kind of a long story, she was an insurgent fighting the French rule at the time, you know, the French were colonists in Vietnam, and so as a young girl she was actually fighting against them, and at that time, she was escaping from there…
…But back to the subject – my father was a fighter. He liked fighting. He was 51 years old and I was able to watch him fight younger guys over the next 10 years. He did take up martial arts: Shao Lin and Tai Ji. But he didn’t have the patients to go all the way through because he was already a good street fighter. Anyway he inspired me and my brother who was 3 years older and we always fought each other and the other kids around, and my father bought us boxing gloves to fight each other to settle scores and issues since we fought all the time anyway.
Scott: Heh heh that’s a little cheaper than health insurance I guess.
Danny Xuan: Ha ha, and also (my father) helped us as we fought.
Scott: So this is all taking place in India?
Danny Xuan: Yes this is right at the bottom of the Himalayas at the boarder of Tibet, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, and India.. There were no cars, no TV – we were just a couple of tough kids.
Scott: So when did you actually start to pick up the kung fu training?
Danny Xuan: Well we eventually migrated toward the city, Calcutta and there I discovered a Judo school. I was a young kid at the time and also inspired by all these spy movies that came out at the time like James Bond which had Martial Arts in them. My father finally enrolled me in the Judo School and I trained till I was 15 and became very good at it. So Calcutta, being a port town, brought sailors and many would stay for a while and come to our Martial Arts club to train so there were many different practitioners from different styles to train with.
From there, then I heard about Karate. Some of the sailors knew Karate and taught us a little, and I bought books. I started learning from books. Finally in 1967 the family migrated to Canada. There in 1968 I started my Karate training. Shortly after I found a Korean Karate school, Taekwondo. I was inspired by the instructor and watched him beat all the Karate guys and practitioners from all around who came by to try him out. Then I discovered Bruce Lee from an issue of Black Belt magazine and his movies inspired me. I would spend time watching at the Chinese theater.
Scott: Is this around when you started to discover or become interested in Wing Chun?
Danny Xuan: Well as you know Bruce Lee was throwing alot of kicks in his movies fighting more like the way we were doing it at the tae kwon do school and alot of Wing Chun guys were coming over from Hong Kong to train at our school and they said they were doing Bruce Lee’s art, but it seemed that they were no match for our kicking, like I was kicking their butts because it was like they couldn’t fight, so at first I didn’t think much of Wing Chun. But later about 1970, I was invited to visit a Kung Fu school where I found many young students rolling hands and so forth and I saw a value there because Tae Kwon Do you know the hands are useless – in fact even more so today. Now you can see many Tae Kwon do guys doing kicks and you know their hands are just hanging doing nothing. And plus the forms are totally useless as we never use them for anything.
Anyway I wanted to learn with these wing chun kids but I had difficulty joining because I asked the wrong question which was how much is it to join. But it was not a school like that and the teacher had to accept you in a traditional Chinese was offering tea and so forth. But finally after much effort I was accepted.
After months of only punching and practicing the first third of Sil Lum Tao which I learned from the senior students, the teacher finally came to speak to me – this is traditionally done this way. he said, “Show me what you learned” I was then asked if I knew what all the motions meant. of course I didn’t because this was how the Tea kwon do school was – you just did what you were told and that was it. But I realized this was better – not just following what was taught blindly but to actually get you to think. Anyway I was finally accepted by this teacher. He learned first from Moy Yat. I was still doing Tae Kwon Do and doing Wing Chun as well. One day Moy Yat’s Godson came to the school, he was only 17 at the time and his Wing Chun was very good. His name was Nelson Chan and he was actually better than the instructor that was there so we, my training partner and I asked if he would teach us. So I trained with Sifu Chan for a while. It was at this time I stopped work, I stopped school, this was all I wanted to do. Each day I trained Tae Kwon Do from 12 to2, Wing Chun with Sifu Chan from 3 to 6, and from 8 to 11 pm, I trained at the Wing Chun school I had been attending. I did this steady for three years.
At this time I was sparring with guys from almost every kind of style and was basically undefeated. My Wing Chun was not yet as developed so I couldn’t use it 100%. I was ‘mixing it up.’ I had good kicks and didn’t want to give it up. Plus Bruce Lee was doing it also.
Then in 1975 I moved to Vancouver and joined a school, the teacher was Fred Kwok and he was kind of doing the same thing mixing the kicks into the style. I trained with him for a time but I really wanted to better my Wing Chun. Finally I met an instructor who was able to defeat me with only Wing Chun. I asked him what was my problem and he said that my horse was weak. I had been jumping around with tae kwon do and he pointed out how I was not ‘grounded’. So I trained with this guy , Winston Wan, who was trained by Lok Yu who was the second student of Yip Man. I found his to be very different than the Moy Yat lineage and the combination was very good. Moy Yat was more philosophical and Luk Yu wa more like a fighter – and you need both. In 1982 I met Weston Won who was an excellent Wing Chun practitioner and a student of Luk Yu. We became close friends and he shared all his knowledge with me. I trained with him till 1994. In 1994 after a bad business dealings I lost everything and decided to leave the country so I went to Thailand. There I couldn’t find any good Wing Chun school in Bangkok so I decided to re-vamp my Wing Chun by putting each thing I had learned through a sort of test. This test had three things or points that each technique had to pass: Was the movement economical? Was it efficient? And, was it productive?
This was a major part of my development and I learned a lot. I believe it is important for everyone to do instead of just accepting everything that you learned as ‘right’. I see it a lot. you learn something but then you try it in sparring and it just doesn’t work. So I attribute 50% of my skills to those who have taught me and 50% was my own self discovery – and I know my teachers would not be offended by me saying this. It was not their job to make clones of themselves but only act as guidance. I am the same with my students. You know a teacher sacrifices him or herself so that the student will excel beyond the teacher. They must discover their own path. Basically when deciphering the forms. The forms are like the secret encrypted user manuals of Wing Chun that the founding fathers left behind for us. And it is for us to decrypt it. A layperson is not supposed to know what the movements actually mean. It’s not like other style’s forms where it is obvious what is a kick, or a punch. The mistake is trying to see a specific technique in every motion and ignore the philosophy, the training tool, the strengthening tool. You don’t really understand even centerline theory until you truly understand the form.
Now, the Wing Chun guys are not proving themselves in the field. Guys from Wing Chun try to go to UFC and they get slaughtered. They don’t understand the practical training. For me, Wing Chun is not a fighting style. There is no such thing as a fighting style. Fighting is fighting. For example 2 people or 2 dogs fighting 2000 years ago and 2 dogs fighting today is going to be about the same. And, it’s totally unpredictable. For example the great warrior Musashi, he always went totally unprepared into combat. So, he fought guys with spears, chains, swords, and he would use whatever was around. If it was a stick, he used a stick – he killed lots of guys with sticks. One of the most famous warriors with a sword he killed him with an oar!! But you see, his book, The Book of Five Rings is really a book about the mind. Not about techniques. Its not about if the opponent does this, you do this – that kind of stuff is never gunna work!! And this is the problem, for example with the Jeet Kune Do guys, they’re doing Bruce Lee’s method and philosophy of fighting. But Bruce Lee was Bruce Lee – it was about his anatomy and his experience, his journey made him what he was. You can’t be like him, so don’t try to be.
One of the things he taught was to express yourself, just be yourself and do only what works for you the best. But people miss that and are just following his method – on the wrong track. Like Musashi, in fact the word Karate it means empty hand but the founder didn’t mean it like that, empty hand, weaponless hand. He meant for the hand to express an empty mind! And all superior fighters reach that level eventually. When you can empty your mind you don’t go with anything prepared, that’s when you can sense and feel everything. So Wing Chun is not a ‘fighting style’ but rather a training method to manifest the philosophy of Wing Chun. It is about the mind set. What is it that makes a sports player stand out from the rest? He has the same training, the same field, the same ball, the same goal. Why should one stand out from the rest? The answer is the mindset, the intent. For a great Wing Chun practitioner or rather, a fighter, not getting caught up or distracted by the specifics of the techniques. The goal is to hit the opponent, to attack the centerline, control the opponent – its not about any specific techniques, like waiting for the perfect opportunity to do a tan sao move, etc.
Scott: Wow, a wealth of information! Alright, I think this gives us a good opportunity to wrap things up. Thanks for that last training tip about focusing on attacking the center. Any final comments?
Scott: Absolutely! Thanks for coming by Sifu Xuen!