Hot Topic: In recent days, a story has gone viral about a fight between a Tai Chi master and an MMA fighter in China. Have you seen it and what are your thoughts on this?
Yeah, I did see that! Look, I do know MMA but I know only a little bit about Tai Chi. First thing is that Tai Chi has four major styles and especially these days the ‘Yang’ style is practiced more and they are all good for health. From what I have heard from some of the people I’ve touched hands with ‘Chen’ Tai Chi is more for fighting. From what I know also Tai Chi works more on yielding which basically means that you are waiting for the opponent to make a move and then use that against them. This is a fundamental difference between Tai Chi and Wing Chun. In WC just like in MMA we go forward and keep on the offence and we use the opponent’s force against them in a different method than in Tai Chi.
But here are some very important point to consider.
Firstly, you can’t judge an art by the performance of one person. So I think it’s not fair to say that that video is proof that MMA is better than Tai Chi for fighting and it’s very much an individual thing. I mean that’s why there are rematches and results differ each time.Another thing is that sometimes people that practice ‘internal’ arts do not condition their bodies nor do they do realistic sparring. Back in the day in Hong Kong, there was ‘Gong Sau’ which are challenge fights with bare knuckles so that’s how they tested themselves. So for real fighting it’s important to actually condition the body and also condition the mind, put yourself under stress and learn how to deal with the adrenalin rush. MMA is based on this concept so if the Tai Chi people aren’t doing that then it’s a huge disadvantage.
What might a Wing Chun practitioner have done differently when coming under a barrage of hooks?
In Wing Chun we believe the best defence is offense, so what that means is that rather than taking backwards steps in shock and trying to slap the punches out of the way, we would cover the line of attack and strike simultaneously. This is why the ‘Centreline’ theory and forward intention in Wing Chun is so effective and realistic. Even without having any internal or relaxation force, when I was in my late teens and early 20s, I was a bouncer at King’s Cross in Sydney so got to put this theory to use and did okay for myself.
What characterizes Wing Chun and how does it differ from other forms of Kung Fu, and how is it useful for basic self-defence?
As a martial art, it’s a very realistic art with no unnecessary movement. Its principals are based on the laws of physics. Also, Wing Chun has no flowery movements like jumping spinning kick or big pull back momentum movement. Its principles of economy of movement, directness, minimum use of brute strength enables anyone to learn Wing Chun regardless of age, gender, or fitness level. So it’s very realistic and it’s used for many law enforcement and special forces around the world. It uses geometry quite brilliantly. Triangle, circles, straight lines.But what makes it special is the internal/mindfulness aspect. In this day and age, we carry too much physical and mental stress, our bodies are energetically closed up with tension and imbalances and misalignments. This is from injuries and postural habits, repetitive mindless movements, the way we sit etc. And there’s mental and emotional stress because we don’t spend enough time observing the workings our minds so our relationship with our mind can become less harmonious which creates internal friction which is what they call the ‘monkey mind’ in Buddhism.So traditionally Wing Chun is an art that through the meditative mindful practice of its from in particular ‘Siu Nim Tao’, enables us to observe the workings of the mind and direct it to the body to relax and open up all the tension and energetic blockages. Which leads to balancing of mind and body. This leads to a more peaceful mind and access to being able to use our bodies in a remarkably powerful and efficient way in daily life.
What kind of people take up Wing Chun
Because of the efficiency explained above, many kinds of people take up Wing Chun because it doesn’t require to be in your physical prime, muscularly strong or even physically fit. So as a self defence system its compatible with more kinds of people than any other martial art, I think.
But different schools and teachers attract different types of people. For us now, we are attracting majority professionals, people in finance, lawyers, pilots, chiros etc. This is probably because of the name and focus of our school, the mindfulness aspect is what professionals in Hong Kong are hungry for it seems. Having said that I do have people who are professional fighters who come and train with me every year.
Is it popular today and why?
I think Wing Chun is the most famous form of Kung Fu after Tai Chi. And its fame is snowballing more and more. Bruce Lee, I think the Ip Man movies have helped a lot, the fact that some actors have actually started learning it, Anderson Silva looked into it.
But I think ultimately, even though the majority of Wing Chun out there is only the external style, its popular because even as an external style it works and makes sense because it’s based on the physics and mechanics and uses geometric shapes to its advantage. So then I guess it makes sense to smart people to learn it as a self-defence system. But I think WC have a lot more potential to get even more famous once the WC community and others start to realize the remarkable control it gives us over our mind and body and that ultimately, like yoga, it’s an art of peace and self-development.
Going back to Ip Man, why is he most associated with Wing Chun than any other individual, and how important was he to the art?
Because he has the largest number of dedicated students and also ‘cause of Bruce Lee. Very important. Because it’s thanks to him and the way he inspired his students to practice hard that Wing Chun’s name is where it is now. CST and Derek Fung both said that. He was also one of the very first masters of his generation to be open to teaching foreigners in Hong Kong. And he could speak good English too.
And of course, Bruce Lee helped a lot in making Ip Man and Wing Chun famous too. Lastly, CST! He was a living example of the potential of the traditional/internal art of Wing Chun. Ip called him King of SNT. He literally surpassed Ip within the first decade of his training.
So even though Ip Man’s lineage is only one of a few lineages globally, if Ip man didn’t come to Hong Kong to teach, Wing Chun certainly wouldn’t be where it is today.
What are the benefits of Wing Chun, to you personally? Why do you recommend it?
Well the reason I recommend Wing Chun is because it’s a life changer! Wing Chun for me has become a way of life.
First, it has changed my relationship with the workings of my mind so that I have more understanding and control of my both thoughts and emotions, and so as a result I feel that I can understand and relate to other people with empathy. So, this has really improved the quality of my relationships.
Second, it has really given me remarkable control of my body. So, the way we practice wing is through deep relaxation muscles and mindfully gaining access to the joints and connective tissues. So this has enabled me to use my body in a much more efficient way than before, in any movement, activity or posture.
As I mentioned originally, I started Wing Chun for self-defence but now what keeps me are two things. First, I’m very curious to see how far I can take it as in how much deeper can go into my own mind and body. And second, since it’s helped me so much in my life, I really want to dedicate my life to being able to share it with as many people as possible. These two reasons not only ‘keep me going’, but are like fuel that make the fire bigger and bigger.
The way I practice my Wing Chun, let’s say for example in ‘Chi Sau’, is to figure out how I can avoid resisting the incoming force and instead have it so that I can accept it without it effecting my structure, balance and state of mind.
So I find myself naturally applying that in my life too. When a person or a life situation throws challenges at me, rather than getting stuck up and resisting the problem, I can accept the situation as it is and therefor made a more calculated decision which hopefully causes the least amount of pain and suffering to myself and others and is most beneficial to everyone.
Now don’t get me wrong I’m not the Dalai Lama yet, but my personality and view of life has shifted for the better completely thanks to Wing Chun and now I have a tool to keep practicing and developing with.
So not only does it give you self-defence, it enables you to control your body in a better way regardless of what for and it makes you a calmer and better human being as it has meditation and mindfulness aspects to it.
Why do people practice Wing Chun for mindfulness?
I think Bruce Lee and self-defence are two of the main reason that people start Wing Chun. Like I mentioned earlier, I think because of the efficiency and practicality of the art and the fact that anyone can learn it makes it very appealing to people.
At Mindful Wing Chun, people come to us to gain better control of their mind (or change their relationship with their thoughts and emotion) which leads to a calmer and more focused mind, to get rid of pain, correct postural misalignments, learn to move their bodies in a more efficient way which can be used for daily life or sports, to gain confidence and generally people here use Wing Chun as a self-development tool!
What’s the first thing someone learns in a Wing Chun class? Could you explain Siu Nim Tao and tell us why it’s important to master it?
Stance (how to stand with an upright and relaxed posture). Guard and the idea of centreline and how to put it into use simply. SNT is also very much emphasised in the first lesson.
Siu Nim Tao is the first and fundamental form of Wing Chun. Its name can be translated to little idea. This implies that its practice relies mainly on developing a particular state of mind which we can call ‘Nim Tao’. The ultimate goal of this practice is to initiate every movement with ‘Nim Tao’ which is only possible through the use of a correct and undivided type of focus. Moreover, it teaches the basic geometrical shapes and movements externally and internally it develops the engine that operates these shapes, ‘Nim Tao’.
The type of power originating from this state of mind, is unlike the force created by brute muscular strength. Muscles when contracted can only give out a limited amount of force but when mindfully relaxed, they are able to withstand and produce enormous power.
Beginners are often sceptical of this power of ‘Mindful relaxation’, nonetheless its existence is very real and attainable. So because it’s the foundation, all the other forms must be learnt after some idea has been attained in Siu Nim Tao. It’s like learning how to stand before walking or running.
Could you demonstrate a punch and explain how it differs from a boxer’s punch?
Boxers uses structural alignment to the ground and utilised the hip twist to gain momentum to drive its force. By aligning the body there will be very strong in one direction but maybe weaker in other directions. Momentum requires some distance which is why Bruce’s one-inch-punch impressed people. Correct alignment to the floor also makes it very important for correct footwork to set a solid foundation to push off or to act as a support
A Wing Chun punch doesn’t use that pushing force from the ground and it doesn’t use force to align the structure of the arm. The aim is to keep all the joint open and free moving so instead of acting like a baseball bat to push, it’s like a hose where force can freely travel through all the joints and so we are able to deliver more mass without relying on alignment and the floor.
Can you explain about the use of weapons in Wing Chun (why movements are slow)?
It’s about making the weapons an extension of the body. So this is extremely difficult to do which is why at our school we take a long time before we start teaching it. Also, we use a different stance for the weapons, and it’s done slowly for the same reason as in Siu Nim Tao.