18 August 2009

Purity or Richness?

"If your philosophy of purity was applied to cars, we would still be driving Ford Model T's!" - addressed to me by my Wing Chun brother, T, 2009.
Here we go again, my favorite debate topic with my favorite adversary, T. (Real name not mentioned because I'm not sure he wants to go public!)

Background: T is an elderly gentleman with a loooong history of martial arts, the most recent before Wing Chun being Sanshou* and Karate. Despite being elderly (same age as Sifu Yip Fook Choy) he is absolutely fit and trim, energetic and with a great sense of humor. A very intelligent, respectable man. In his opinion, a person becomes a better martial artist by combining many different arts, the more, the merrier.

But, I argue, Wing Chun and other martial arts with a similar level of integration/optimization** cannot be "mixed and matched" with other martial arts, without hurting the end result. My retort (after a few minutes of reflection) to his above comment was that you can't mix 2 different types of vehicles and the end result would be a useless compromise. In my example, I used a Volvo tractor-trailer and a Porsche 911 GT2. Each are very, very good at what they do, but mixing the two would result in a truck that cannot pull much of a load or a sports car that cannot go fast!

T's argument, as implied by his analogy above, is that all MA's are the same, and that there is no MA that is absolutely perfect. Adding techniques from other MA's would therefore enrich Wing Chun, not weaken it. In fact, in his opinion, all MA development over the years must have been from mixing and matching different styles.

But in reality, not all MA can be mixed and matched easily. Different MA, especially ones that are highly integrated, are designed for different purposes. Although they are all made for fighting, they each develop different ways of generating power, even different ways of damaging targets, and they train someone to have a body structure and movement which support such ways of striking a target.***

In other words, applying this principle to the vehicle analogy, different MAs designed for different purposes are like different vehicles designed for different purposes. The Volvo tractor-trailer and the Porsche turbocharged sports car above would not fit each other, and you wouldn't mix and match a motorcycle with a boat, or a plane for that matter. That would make the resulting vehicle a complete mess, and not suited to any of the purpose of each!

But enough of analogies. Analogies are good for illustration, but analogies are not the subject itself.

Let me try to explain, real-world, what I think would happen if you mix Wing Chun and Ju-Jitsu, both of which I have had some experience in. Wing Chun with it's philosophy of delivering chun ging, or inch power to a target, and maximising the effect of it (more explanations to come in Part 2 of Intelligent Design, I PROMISE!!!) and Ju-Jitsu, a collection of techniques and sequence of movements that are designed to result in an opponent being thrown, or joint-locked, or joint-broken. At first glance, why not? Seems like a good idea to mix a type of art specializing in strikes with a type of art specializing in grappling. Wouldn't that result in an all-rounded fighter, able to fight in either a grappling of striking encounter? (Yes, I am aware most MMA fighters are trained this way.)

Wing Chun, however, demands that you stand, and move and strike in a certain way, at all times, so that you are ready to deliver a chun ging strike any time a target becomes available. If you mix in Ju-Jitsu, there will be moments during a fight where you will not be able to deliver a chun ging strike because your body structure is wrong at that particular time when a target becomes available. Even if you try, you will probably find that your Wing Chun strike will have no power, without the Wing Chun structure that enables it. Similarly, many techniques in the Ju-Jitsu I learned depend a lot on circular blocks (with predominantly sideways movement) that end in pinning or grappling a person, and I will not be able to use the centreline principle to maximise the effect of a strike, or to attack the opponents structure. And techniques in Wing Chun require the practitioner to be relaxed completely except at the point of impact, where the sudden shock will have the desired result on the opponent, whereas in Ju-Jitsu, some muscular firmness is necessary to force the opponents limbs and/or body to go where you want it to go. From such a muscular firmness, it would be totally impossible to have the sudden tenseness required for an effective Wing Chun strike (because the difference in the soft to hard change, or yin-yang change, would be too small). It would completely mess up Wing Chun, to the point that the Wing Chun practitioner cannot effectively use it anymore. These are only three inconsistencies that I can think of off the top of my head, I'm very very sure I would find more if I were to do more research on it.

One example is a fellow student and Wing Chun brother of mine, who, on the sly, studied a different kung fu while attending Wing Chun classes at the same time. In that Kung Fu (Shaolin, I believe) one of the weapons he praticed with is a weapon which is also available for Wing Chun, the Luk Dim Boon Kwan (its called a different name in Shaolin, but its exactly the same weapon). After training in that weapon, Guan Gung noticed his body was too hard to correctly execute Wing Chun moves. He had, in fact, lost power in his strikes and he was unable to match the reflex speed of Wing Chun. It actually weakened his kung fu! (View the video below to see what a Luk Dim Boon Kwan is.)

Similarly, a weight trainer will also not be able to perform Wing Chun well because weight training trains a muscle through resistance throughout its range of movement, not a sudden application of force (and just as sudden relaxation after) at only one small part of a movement. The structure and stance a weight trainer uses while lifting weights is also different, and weight training will result in a body which is hard and tense throughout a movement - counter to what Wing Chun training produces and counter to what Wing Chun needs to be executed properly.

This brings to mind another topic. Many people, used to seeing only Hong Kong Wing Chun, (as taught by Yip Man) as the definitive Wing Chun, explain the expanded syllabus and different teaching methods of Yip Kin Wing Chun as "a mix of many different Kung Fu". As a student with some experience in Yip Kin Wing Chun, I disagree. And the reason why is this: if there were any other Kung Fu that had been mixed in with Wing Chun in the Yip Kin system, the difference would be immediately obvious. The student will notice certain portions of the art where stances or structure are different, or certain movements which feel different, or certain strikes which do not use the chun ging or any other exception and inconsistency. By contrast, every move in every form in Yip Kin Wing Chun have the same feel to them. Consistent throughout the entire system, Yip Kin Wing Chun feels the same everywhere, and different to any other martial art I have done before. More about the training aspects later.

So in conclusion: T, while I respect your vast experience in the martial arts, I (still) disagree that other martial arts should, or even can, be mixed with Wing Chun, without weakening, maybe even disastrously, Wing Chun itself. I'm sorry, T, but I must disagree with you! If I were to choose a vehicle to drive, it would be one fit for my purpose, not one which is a bit of everything and fit for nought! I do relish another conversation with you on this endless topic though, because you make me think. And for that, I am deeply grateful to you.

P.S. This paragraph is separate because while it is tangentially related to the above topic, it deals with my personal preference. Why do I prefer a single integrated art instead of one which is a mix of techniques? While it takes longer to gain proficiency in an integrated art compared to one where each technique can be learnt and memorized in a single lesson, in actual usage, I believe (based on my experience with Ju-Jitsu, Ninjutsu, et. al.) that it would be more confusing. Each technique in such a MA is a counter to what your opponent does. (e.g. if he does this, I would to this, this, then this; if he does that, I would do this, then that, etc. etc.) And even if you have learnt thousands of techniques, you would probably only depend on a few that you are comfortable with. With an integrated art, every technique feels similar enough that you don't need to plan what to do beforehand. With Wing Chun especially (since this is the only integrated art I have experienced), what happens will come naturally and automatically, and what you actually use and how you use it may even surprise you! And based on our (rare) sparring sessions, what you actually use will be devastatingly effective. Your body will know what to do, and you can just trust (even enjoy? ;) the flow of events that unfold. I much prefer this later situation.

* T's Sanshou, however, is not the same as that in the link (which is another form of kickboxing). Rather, his Sanshou appears to be a mix of a few different Traditional Chinese Kung Fu. I think there are at least some Choy Li Fut and even some Wing Chun(!) as well as other styles in there. It seems to be a specialized one-of-a-kind mix for which not much is known. It's called Sanshou (mixed hands) because that's what it literally is....freestyle!

** Wing Chun is by no means the only highly integrated or optimized kung fu. Two others that Guan Gung has mentioned to me are Chen style Tai Chi and Hung Gar. Each are highly integrated, and like Wing Chun, each cannot co-exist easily with each other or any other MA. I'm sure if I look hard enough, there would be others like this as well.

*** It's not so bad if the different MA are similar enough to each other and have the same purpose (e.g. the different types of kickboxing), or, if each of the martial arts are nothing but collections of techniques, with no central theme or philosophy that demands a synergistic combination for one purpose. But Wing Chun is not like that.

19 January 2009

Intelligent Design (part 1)

"The scientist does not study nature because it is useful to do so. He studies it because he takes pleasure in it, and he takes pleasure in it because it is beautiful. If nature were not beautiful it would not be worth knowing, and life would not be worth living. I am not speaking, of course, of the beauty which strikes the senses, of the beauty of qualities and appearances. I am far from despising this, but it has nothing to do with science. What I mean is that more intimate beauty which comes from the harmonious order of its parts, and which a pure intelligence can grasp." - Science and Method, Henri Poincaré, 1908
So what is Wing Chun? What is the difference that makes it distinct from all other MA? I submit that Wing Chun is a MA engineered (for lack of a better word) to perform one aim, that of successfully attacking an opponent, with the maximum possible effect, despite whatever defenses or technique he uses, in the shortest possible time and by giving up as little as possible of ones own defenses to do so. (I am not saying that any Wing Chun practitioner is guaranteed to prevail in a violent encounter. This itself should be its own topic to be discussed soon, God willing!)

In my previous post, I hypothesized that the founders Wing Chun had adopted certain characteristics that are not intrinsically natural for a person to adopt, and they did so specifically to address the societal and political forces of the time. I believe Wing Chun had developed during the time of widespread rebellion against the Qing Dynasty, and although periodic large-scale action had been organized by the rebels, small scale and local activities was carried out constantly, and secret societies were born for this purpose. Qing Dynasty mandarins would be under constant threat by rebels. Besides local law enforcement and military guards, they would also have access to trained martial artists hired as bodyguards. These martial artists could be trained in one or more in many, many different styles of MA. The founders of Wing Chun chose to hone what they knew into an integrated system incorporating principles which they knew would work against all MA. Wing Chun is of course by no means the only martial art developed during this time and for this reason, being only one of many brought about in this region during this period in history. However, the founders of Wing Chun, I believe, chose to focus almost entirely on the most direct route of attacking skilled martial artists while cutting out unnecessary movements and compromising defense. All other goals were rendered secondary or discarded altogether, if it interfered with this main focus.

In this post, I hope to write just a simple list of Wing Chun principles as I know them (based on my limited knowledge of Yip Kin Wing Chun Kuen, your flavor of Wing Chun may vary) and describe each one, and leave the discussion of how these principles interrelate, and why these principles were chosen (with respect to the "engineered" term used above) to my next blog. Please bear this in mind! I'm still working out the details and the best way to describe them!

The first, and most important (IMHO) principle is that of rootedness. Rootedness is the property of being connected to the ground, as a tree is rooted to the ground. Many MA (and sports) "generate power from the ground" and this is understandably true, because the ground is practically immovable and therefore used to leverage movement. The usual method a MA uses the ground is by pushing off against it, as in the case of Bruce Lee's 1-inch punch or a taekwondo expert powering a stepping side kick. Such techniques typically involve a weight shift such that the body weight itself becomes a component of power, adding to the power of the muscles. Imagine a wall falling towards you (at the same time punching you!), this is an illustration of this method of generating power.

Wing Chun is AFAIK, unique in the sense that the ground is used to lock the practitioners lower and upper body to the ground such that leveraging the ground by weight shift is not practiced. A Wing Chun technique, therefore, largely leaves out the body weight component as a source of power, leaving entirely to the speed of a delivery of a strike. One advantage is that a rooted person is able to channel a force acting against his body entirely to the ground. E.g. if you push against a standing wall, the wall doesn't push you back, but whatever force you impart to the wall is channelled into the ground. A fantastic example of this in action is in this video below, starting at the 1:38 mark:

As can be seen, the Wing Chun Master in the video (Tsui Seung Tin) is resisting the push of a student while standing on only one leg. Interestingly, the reading on the weight scale below him read higher while he was being pushed, showing us that the force of the push being channeled into the ground. The student pushed as hard as he was able, until his feet lost grip with the ground! Yip Kin Wing Chun trains the student in maintaining this rootedness throughout contact with an opponent, even while stepping and turning.

The second principle is the principle of the centerline. In Yip Kin Wing Chun, the centreline is defined by a vertical line running through the center of the opponents body. This is also the main target in all forms of Wing Chun. All techniques applied must be directly towards this centerline. Imagine, if you will, a pencil resting on a table. If you were to push it either end, the pencil would rotate about its axis, whereas if you were to push it exactly in its center, the pencil would move directly backwards. If, for example, the opponent has his side facing towards you, striking towards his centerline would mean striking against a target along the side of his body. Aim towards his core, and where your weapons strike his body will be the correct target.

In some Hong Kong Wing Chun, the centerline is usually defined as a line linking your own center and the opponents center and the striking target is anywhere along the vertical centre of the opponents body, i.e. the nose, chin, throat, center of chest, center of abdomen, etc. A few Hong Kong Wing Chun students I have talked/trained with mentioned this. I have no comments on this as I have not learnt Hong Kong Wing Chun (The "Wing Chun" I learnt before joining Yip Kin Wing Chun is NOT a form of Hong Kong Wing Chun, it's missing too many important characteristics), however, I suspect this definition is only practical if your opponent is facing you squarely. If your opponent is facing you sideways, it would be difficult to hit these targets. Any feedback? I would love to hear from you if you have a contrary opinion. It must be said, however, that not all Hong Kong Wing Chun has only the frontal centreline as a target. I'm told some Hong Kong lineage Wing Chun teaches the student to strike the closest target, which would agree with Yip Kin Wing Chun.

The third principle is that of forward energy. "Energy" in this case doesn't have exactly the same meaning as in the scientific sense. This "energy" is difficult to describe, but I feel it is a combination of a slight push, an intention, seeking an opening or seeking a feedback from the opponent and must be there whenever there is physical contact with the opponent. It has to be felt to be understood. When just joining Yip Kin Wing Chun, I only understood in the abstract what it is, and only really felt it after some time practising the first form (Sai Fa Kuen, "Small Flower Boxing). It is a relaxed state, yet with some tension, like a spring ready to unleash its potential energy. It is flexible, and adapts to changes depending on the opponent's input, like water. And it is always in the direction of the opponent's centerline (see above). It also seems to be manifest itself in the elbow. The elbow seems to be the pivot and a driving force for strikes.

The fourth principle is that of yin-yang change. Yin and Yang in this case refers to the position of the arms, empty hand "weapons" (fist or fingers, etc.), body or legs. For example, arms extended would be Yang, retracted would be Yin. Fist closed would be Yang, open palm would be Yin. Palm facing upwards, Yang. Palm downwards, Yin. Side facing body, front facing body. And so on. As you might imagine, many of these can be combined.

In Yip Kin Wing Chun, Yin Yang change is everywhere in the system, and is used in many ways. It is used to generate power, open an opponents defenses, bypass a stalemated position (e.g. when both parties are in perfect centreline alignment and forward energy and neither one has an advantage over the other), trap an opponent, force an opponent to overextend, etc.

Looking back, one of the goals of Yip Kin Wing Chun's forms is to internalize the use of Yin Yang change such that the practitioner will rely on it constantly. Without realizing it, I have been using them in application. Only when it was explained to me then I began to notice how it is being used constantly for everything. It really was mind-blowing when I saw how this simple philosophy was so useful in combat. The art and skill in Yip Kin Wing Chun is not what hand positions you use in a particular situation, it is in the change from one state to another. Change is what brings results.

The fifth principle is that of the chun ging, or "inch power" (see previous post). While forward or elbow energy is relaxed, the chun ging is the exact opposite. In a sudden and momentary burst of intensity, your relaxed, flexible, springy arm becomes a battering ram (example using a straight punch), but returns to the relaxed state immediately after. Unlike Bruce Lee's demonstration of one inch punching, a Wing Chun punch should not send the opponent flying backwards. Indeed, in Bruce Lee's own book explaining how he does it, he uses a combination of waist-twisting and weight-shifting (non-Wing Chun), combined with a relaxed to rigid change of his arm. It is a push/punch, but with quicker acceleration and with shorter distance and time than most people can do without proper training. The effect of a Wing Chun punch, by contrast, does not send the opponent away. The effect can range from a stun where your autonomic nervous system freezes, causing momentary paralysis to breathing and muscular reaction, giving enough time for follow up strikes, to a weakness of the whole body that lasts for a much longer time, causing the opponent to collapse. If the target includes the opponents bone structure, the bones can be fractured. Since the opponent does not go flying off, many more strikes can theoretically be done on him until he can no longer fight.

Chun ging in Yip Kin Wing Chun is everywhere in the system, not just in strikes. Turning, stepping, trapping (Wing Chun style), tripping, etc. all have it, some with a soft chun ging, and some with a hard chun ging. When striking, it must be there with whatever weapons you use, i.e. fists, elbows, shoulders, feet, knife hand, biu jee (darting fingers), edge of foot, etc. etc. The best results can often be had when the chun ging happens simultaneously from several actions, for example turning with a chun ging at the final part of the turn combined with chun ging of the fist when connecting with the opponent would result in an exceptionally strong punch.

Sixth is "Hit With Borrowed Energy". This principle is an extremely effective way of breaking through a defense which is non-centered. For example, if I were to punch my opponent and he blocks it with a downwards block, I would use that downwards push by the opponent as a way to power my next strike, where my arm, in moving downwards, would pivot around my elbow and flip up to back fist him. The arm that my opponent initially used would end up below my fist and in no position to block a second time.

However, for me to make use of his energy initially, my arm must be completely relaxed (see the third principle, energy, above) and yet with that forward energy that provides a direction for the follow-up strike. This principle would only come into play when the opponent is not centered. If the opponent were to block towards my centreline, there would be no energy I can borrow. Also, even if the opponent were to block away from my centreline but use energy for only a moment, there would not be enough energy that I can borrow to drive my follow-up strike. I would need to depend on something else.

Hmmm, block towards center, momentary energy (chun ging)....sounds like Wing Chun!

This is only a list of principles from Yip Kin Wing Chun that I can name based on my limited level of understanding. Its quite possible theres a lot more. I hope to discover more the further I go, and as time and training allow. In the next post, I'll try to explain how they relate to each other synergistically and how each one is an essential part of the whole.

11 September 2008

Origins of Wing Chun?

"No matter that patriotism is too often the refuge of scoundrels. Dissent, rebellion, and all-around hell-raising remain the true duty of patriots. " - Barbara Ehrenreich, The Worst Years Of Our Lives, 1991
What is the difference between the various martial arts? Why is one called Wing Chun Kuen, another called Muay Thai, yet another called Karate-Do? Aren't they just all ways of beating people up?

The answer may be obvious to some, especially those with a MA background. There are many degrees of differences. Some are quite similar: Muay Thai and Savate, for example, are types of kickboxing. The differences here are may be confined to the different ways of kicking, of the way the fighters stand when facing each other, differences in rules, or other minor details. Some MA are wildly different, like Capoeira or Systema. By and large, individual MA are reflections of the needs of the time, the personality of the individual founders(s)them and the cultural background at the time and place of when it was developed. For example, Karate-Do uses farm implements as weaponry because of the policy banning weapons imposed by the Japanese rulers of Okinawa a few hundred years ago.

Even in a single country, like China, there are thousands of different styles of Kung Fu and each may have at least a few variations. Internal, external, animal styles, grappling styles, striking styles, etc., etc., etc. Each may have different movements, defenses or ways of generating and/or applying power. To fight any random person would be, well, random!

Wing Chun is a very young MA in Chinese MA history, being only a few hundred years old, developed during the Qing Dynasty. The Qing were considered foreigners who were cruel and corrupt by the Han Chinese (the natives, as it were). Numerous rebellions were fomented against them during their reign, especially in the restive south of the empire.

Unlike, say, an animal style, which is obviously inspired by the movements of animals, or any other marial art which is externally inspired, Wing Chun seems to depend on a set of principles which cannot be found in any external source. While some movements have an obvious animal inspiration (e.g. a biu jee strike is very similar to a snake strike, which may show some of the shaolin roots of Wing Chun), each and every techniques must conform to a set of principles, i.e. a rooted stance, locked torso and hips, "ging" or "inch" power (a very sudden power expressed momentarily, and only when required), and a centreline focus. All these principles are found in a greater or lesser extent in any style of Wing Chun, whether the various traditional mainland chinese lineages or in the other more mordenized and simplified Hong Kong lineages.

These principles are not natural, i.e. nobody is born with these qualities, and they have to be drilled into a student with consistent practice to make it a natural part of their movement. So why did the founders of Wing Chun design an entire martial art around these principles? It would have been easier to design a martial arts with movements people are already used to. After all, a Karate punch does an immense amount of damage, so does a Tae Kwon Do roundhouse kick, an Aikido lock will incapacitate an opponent, etc. Martial arts have been doing damage to people for thousands of years! Of what use is a new, difficult to train and learn (at least initially) martial art?

Something in the time of the Qing dynasty must have necessitated the creation of Wing Chun by rebels. Wing Chun's principles would have been their response to a threat.

So what would these principles achieve? Discussion in the next post!

P.S. All these are my own hypothesis, based on my limited knowledge of Chinese history, and my personal experience of what Wing Chun is. If you know something to the contrary, or you know something to add to this, please comment!

P.P.S. Welcome to Kahar, my Wing Chun si heng (elder brother), to the world of blogging! Writing as Guan Gung, he has many years of experience in Wing Chun (since '90 or '91), the curiosity of a scientist, the playfulness of an experimenter, the wide-eyed wonder of a child and the single-minded determination and ferocity of a warrior. I look forward to reading his posts.

10 September 2008

Hello World! or My Road to Wing Chun

Mushu: "Now punch him in the face - that's how men say hello." - Walt Disney Feature Animation, Mulan, 1998
Hi, and welcome to the Wing Chun Diaries. This is a blog about Wing Chun, my thoughts and impressions I have while training, and miscellaneous ramblings and musings about it. This is not just my blog, other students of my branch of Wing Chun will also be posting as well, and most will probably be more insightful than mine! But first, about me:

I've been a fan of martial arts ever since my father took me to see The Big Boss in 1972. Bruce Lee was my hero. I read his books, about how he produced his awesome power and learned that Wing Chun was his first martial arts training. So I was interested in Wing Chun from quite a young age. I didn't think that Malaysia had any Wing Chun classes back then though, so my first foray into the martial arts world was through Hakko-ryu Ju-Jitsu.

What an experience that was! The sensei, Shihan Goh, was a classic no-nonsense, strong and silent martial arts teacher. Although not so tall, he was built like a wrestler. He was all muscle, hard as nails and had forearms the size of most peoples calves. When he demonstrated a neck chop (by just tapping!) I swear I could feel my neck move sideways! I trained regularly under him for 2 years and was at that time, the most fit and energetic as I have ever been in my life. Unfortunately after 2 years I had to leave for the UK to further my studies and had to stop for a while.

While in UK, I tried 2 other martial arts classes, one was a sort of Kung Fu that must have been "mordenized". It was ok, but felt a bit lightweight in terms of content because during sparring, many of the students I sparred against were just kicking and punching, and I felt it wasn't really Kung Fu, just another form of kickboxing. The instructor belittled my previous Ju-Jitsu training, which wasn't polite of him, and he also thought I was putting the moves on his girlfriend! Needless to say, I left after only a few classes. The other art I tried was Ninjutsu and that was pure fun! In fact, probably the most fun I had in any martial arts training to date. It was somewhat like the Ju-Jitsu I did earlier, except more mobile, and with some ingenious twists of their own. The group, including the instructor, was also easygoing and friendly. I loved it! But I only found the class during my final year of studies there and had to stop after a few months because exams were looming.

Coming back to Malaysia, I looked for the same Ju-Jitsu class I had done only to find Shihan Goh retired and his class taken over by one of his senior students. The new instructor was a nice enough chap when we were fellow students together, but as an instructor, I didn't seem to take to him as well. I probably wasn't the only one, because the school closed down some time after.

For years after that, due to the pressures of working life, and eventual marriage, I didn't do any martial arts, but the interest stayed with me.

And then, after a long long while, I found a Wing Chun class. And it was just behind my office as well. I eagerly joined, as the instructor was a great guy. Easygoing, funny, intelligent and dedicated to the art. This was one of the local schools of Wing Chun, and the instructor was one of the graduates.

After a few months though, it began to feel more and more as if I had rejoined the Kung Fu class I had joined earlier in the UK. It looked like Wing Chun, and seemingly had elements of Wing Chun I read about and described in numerous articles about Wing Chun, but somehow I felt there were some things missing. I began reading more and more about Wing Chun on the web, and later joined the Wing Chun Kuen Mailing List (WCKML), in a subconscious effort to find out if there was more to the art than what I was learning. Amidst the discussions, I found clues about concepts in Wing Chun, which, although discussed in class, I never seemed to feel I was developing, certainly it felt nothing like what was described in WCKML. Around this time, I met Kahar, a fellow Malaysian, through the WCKML. He had been recovering from an injury and needed a training partner to get back into condition.

This is where the story takes a strange turn. This school claims that its Wing Chun is from the Yip Kin lineage. Kahar was also from the Yip Kin lineage. But the two styles were completely different. The Wing Chun I was doing seemed to be similar to Leung Ting's, one of the Yip Man lineage, which itself was somewhat different from other Yip Man lineages. Even the uniform was a copy of Leung Ting's. I asked Kahar for his views about it, but he politely refused to give me his side of the story, preferring not to be seen as promoting "sectarian warfare" among the Wing Chun lineages. Doubts grew, but being still sold on the publicity around the Yip Man lineages, I still continued to go to class, giving it the benefit of the doubt. (Note: this school now claims to represent a Hong Kong Wing Chun lineage from one of Yip Man's sons, in spite of an official letter from the Association in Hong Kong denying it.)

Practicing Wing Chun with Kahar was a revelation. He had done Yip Kin Wing Chun for many years and also a few years of a Yip Man lineage in the UK when he was there for studies. Since my Wing Chun was closer to that of Yip Man's, he would practice only Yip Man style Wing Chun with me. He told me that he went to UK after doing only a few forms in Yip Kin Wing Chun but when he was there, he was very quickly included in the advanced class because he had some proven skills that even some long-time students in the UK class didn't. That proved to me that Yip Kin Wing Chun, while outwardly different from Yip Man's, was very much the same at its core. He could also answer all my questions satisfactorily, even going so far as to demonstrate the value of some of Wing Chun's concepts. The Yip Man lineage Wing Chun he had learned in the UK seemed to be much more complete in terms of content than the Wing Chun I was learning. My respect for his Wing Chun skills grew.

Time came when the school head himself decided to take over the class from my original instructor, to my instructors chagrin (nothing he said, but I noticed a change in his facial expression). At first I was quite excited, hearing the glowing reports about "The Grandmaster", as he preferred to be called, but as time went on, he seemed even less knowledgeable about Wing Chun concepts than his graduate! At least my original instructor talked about those concepts, even if I didn't feel I was actually learning them, but "The Grandmaster's" training seemed to include a bit of Tae Kwan Do modern style of fitness training, e.g. jogging before class, western style limbering up, etc. In other words, things I could get from any "Aerobic Boxing" class. He even told me to change my shoes, as I was wearing the same type of shoes he was wearing (Adidas Tae Kwon Do shoes), because it was "Only For Instructors"! He collected quite a sum of money from us to get our official Wing Chun uniforms, and all I got in return was a key chain. He also did not seem to earn any respect from his students, as everyone joked about him behind his back!

The last straw came soon, after just a few weeks, when he told us that we were "ready" for the "instructor course", which was a 2 or 3 month intensive course, costing RM7,000 (payable in 6 monthly installments by post-dated cheques - because we care!) or roughly equivalent to almost 3 1/2 months of my net salary at the time, a very hefty sum to me. Imagine that, from zero to hero in 3 months flat, all you need is the money! And he was trying to sell us weapons (not Wing Chun weapons) which seemed poorly made, but for which quite a high sum was being charged. He was also preparing "butterfly knives" which were actually cut-outs made from plywood for us to practice later! I was getting loud alarm bells by then, especially since I had read about similar schemes in the WCKML and which was referred to as "McDojo" by several people there.

When I told Kahar about my predicament, he looked sorry for me, but still did not outright advise me to leave. When 2 of my fellow students and I did make the decision to leave, the 3 of us talked to "The Grandmaster" about it. It was a pretty tense time, as he gave us the third degree, complete with some threatening looks, gestures and innuendo. In fact, one of the students, whose name I shall not mention here, actually gave in and agreed to continue, in spite of his brave words before. 2 of us still held out and we got our money back. I still remember as we were leaving, "The Grandmaster's" father himself came to us and seemed happy that we were getting out of a bad situation, and advised us to steer clear of his son! That was when I made the hard decision to jump ship to Kahar's class.

For which I Thank God almighty. Because the real Yip Kin Wing Chun has been a revelation from the start. It is most awesome in scope and depth and yet the most pure and focused martial art I have ever learned, and simply the most intellectually rewarding and physically satisfying thing in my life now. It still, after a few years of admittedly on-again-off-again training, gives me the best results in training and humbles me with how much more there is to learn. And Sifu Yip Fook Choy (Sigung Yip Kin's grandson and the current Master of Yip Kin lineage Wing Chun) himself is an inspiration. A man of humble means with a down-to-earth nature. A man of principles, he will absolutely refuse any talk of commercialization. He will teach anybody who wants to learn, without exception, and sometimes even in spite of his own misgivings. And he always stays calm, in control and centered despite challenges to him from other quarters (usually only through rumours, gossip or outright lies. Nobody seems willing to challenge him in a duel! ;). He dislikes pride and bravado. A true father figure, a man I respect and want to emulate. Indeed, Yip Kin Wing Chun Boxing is one of my life's anchors, making me more centered in my hectic professional life. I LOVE IT!

Which brings me back to this blog and why I am writing it:

  1. The first and foremost reason is that as I move along this journey, many of the thoughts and impressions that I have about this art has changed and developed. So I want to keep a record of them to see how I have changed as I learn more and more. I only regret I didn't start this blog earlier, because there may be some things I have already forgotten.
  2. Thoughts kept to oneself has limited value. If I share them, and get feedback, I enrich not only my own knowledge but that of everyone who reads it (hopefully!). I also would like to share the lessons from my Wing Chun mates, which will be useful, because everyone has their own perspective, even from a shared experience. Although we talk about it verbally after class, nothing beats writing it down for focusing and analyzing, and therefore enriching ones own understanding. So feedback please!
  3. I know that this life-enriching, satisfying feeling, i.e. what I am experiencing is not unique to me, or to my martial art or even to martial arts in general, for that matter. I know that many have experienced the same doing whatever it is that moves them, whether in another Wing Chun lineage, in another martial art or any other activity and I would like to encourage them to share their lessons to the world and let me know about them too. I love reading about this kind of stuff and be inspired, so give us a shout!
  4. Finally, there's so little knowledge of the Wing Chun outside of the oft-publicized Yip Man lineages, therefore this is my contribution to opening up Yip Kin's legacy to the world. Let it be known that there are many, many other Wing Chun lineages around and I hope to chat with and compare notes with all of them.
So with Sifu Yip Fook Choy's blessing, I say "Hello World!"