A Conversation with Sifu
Interviewer: Hello Sifu, thank you for talking to me
Mark: Hi, to be honest I appreciate any excuse to talk Gung Fu!
Interviewer: Could you briefly tell me about your martial history?
Mark: Sure, my first Martial Art was Tae Kwon Do, in my younger days I
basically knew only of TKD and of course Judo and Karate, I think though the
first thing that really impressed me about Martial Arts was watching my school
friend Neil Hopwood perform a Judo throw (tai atoshi I think) on another boy who
jumped on his back, he did it effortlessly and it looked pretty cool! I remember
getting into a fight – no fault of my own I’ll add – and getting pasted! I took
the beating of a lifetime defending a friend, I figured this was the time to
start taking Martial Arts seriously, so in 1995 I saw an advert in a local shop
describing Wing Chun, I read about Bruce Lee, seen his movies and decided I
wanted to be as good – if not better than him, so I took up the art.
I studied under a very good Sifu called Steve Lyons at a local
club, then dissatisfied with my progress I moved on, I spent a year or so with
another instructor and then started to explore JKD.
Again I wasn’t happy with the Wing Chun content, even though I
had pretty limited experience in Wing Chun I was pretty critical about it, I had
I thought at the time burnt my bridges with my other Sifus’ and sought another
art to practice, so I spent a bit of time doing Yang Tai Chi and 3 styles of
Silat. The Silat was in a word, awesome. But injury cut my learning short and I
couldn’t train for a while.
It was during this period of time that I encountered Sifu
Doctor Christian Pankhurst, I went to one of his group classes at Bournemouth
university, and hated it!
It didn’t look quite like the Wing Chun I had been training. I
never returned to another group session. That was in 1998. In early 1999 I
figured because I was getting frustrated I would go find out exactly how good
Sifu was, so I booked a private lesson with him – he blew me away, not only with
his skill, but more so his knowledge. I like to know every detail because I was
very analytical, he could explain and demonstrate – oh yeah, he also looked like
a Gung Fu movie when he moved, he was just mind boggling.
I have spent nearly seven years learning off him now and am
still as impressed now as I was then.
Interviewer: Why Wing Chun?
Mark: Initially purely for the combative, as I understood it at the time
it was the only art you could do in a ‘phone box! But as the training
progressed, especially when I met Sifu Christian, I began to see beyond the
fighting, the potential to grow on a personal level through Wing Chun – or for
that matter any Martial Art, is huge. But you have to train with the right frame
Through my achievements in Wing Chun I have developed a profound understanding
of how I learn on a very personal level, I know the process, I know what I must
do to progress in anything I undertake, and most importantly I know how to
In a nutshell, I look at my Wing Chun teaching as teaching me how to learn
effectively, not how to beat people up.
Interviewer: So what has Wing Chun helped you learn?
Mark: A great many things. A good example would be learning to play the
guitar. I always wanted to do it, but I never knew how to do it on a personal
level, I could never commit to anything. I am basically a lazy person you see!
To be more general, Wing Chun has taught me how to live life to my potential, I
could never have imagined doing some of the things I have done without ever
committing myself to achieving something in the first place. I have found out
who I am by putting myself in a self-imposed hostile environment.
Interviewer: What do you mean by a self-imposed hostile environment?
Mark: Who really in their right mind would choose to stand there in front of a
guy who is bigger than you and stronger than you, and then ask him to throw
punches and kicks at you? It’s crazy, but that is what I chose to do, mainly
Mark: Absolutely! I have, because of the things that have happened to me
in my life, a fear of violence, a fear that if it occurs I wont be able to act,
that I’ll get hurt and the people I love will be at risk and I wont be able to
protect them. By placing myself in this environment – albeit, without the same
risk, I can start to learn how I’ll perform and how I can make my responses fit
the situation better, both for me and the people around me. With the training in
wing chun the pressure can snowball, you start to really learn when you can’t
think and eventually, you become accustomed to the speed at which bad things can
unravel before you and develop the ability to really think on your feet, without
really thinking at all, you just act. Your body makes a choice based on the
stimuli it receives and because of the training, it selects the best course of
action for you, removing you from the process of thinking of all the bad things
that could occur. This sort of involuntary action is honesty on a very profound
level. Because the motion is coming from you as a natural thing, at a time when
conscious thought is too slow to make you worry about looking cool, or hard, or
like a gung fu movie, it is honest. You are expressing yourself without the
chatter in your mind. Thus the fear is removed, why be afraid when you are being
honest, the body will choose the right thing to do, if it works and saves you
that is fantastic. The question though is how far will you train yourself to
find out this truth?
Interviewer: How often do you train?
Mark: Well, now, not as much as I did, one of the things I make sure I do
daily is the Siu Lim Tao, and I play Chi Sao as often as I’m able. It was quite
different over the last few years though, because of my desire to be the best
and my love of the art, I was training up to 10 hours a day! This would be in
the form of solo drills and forms, partner work with my senior student or
friends, or through teaching, both privately and classes.
Interviewer: Could you give me a typical training routine that you used
Mark: Sure. Every week followed a standard format, I would practice the
three empty hand forms and the Jong singly. I would have one form that I would
practice to death, two or three single man drills, punching, partner drills and
So, one day would see me get up, stretch then crack on. I’d do
my forms at the required pace and timings, just doing them if you like, then I
would take my form of the week, say for example the Chum Kiu and break it down
as in the Randy Williams 108 (taking each of the 108 motions in the forms and
practicing them 100 times at full speed and power, the 8 times slowly and
perfectly as possible) – this could take me up to an hour. Then comes a period
of slow stretching allowing my body time to recover before I abused it again.
I would then do between 1000 and 3000 punches, this would be
followed by 500 repetitions of a single man drill or two, for example the eight
palms or Tan Da Gaan Da. I would then usually do a couple of private lessons,
this would be followed by a huge amount of partner work with my senior students
– something like 1000 Lop Sao or 1000 Pak Da. Then I’d do another lesson before
going to teach one of my classes.
Interviewer: Did you benefit from training to such a huge degree?
Mark: Yes and no, I over trained really. Because of my desire to be the
best the important things in life suffered. Before teaching full time, my job
was simply a means for me to do Wing Chun, I could have gone far in terms of my
career, I chose Wing Chun. My relationships were secondary, I had no sense of
responsibility to the people who were closest to me other than those I trained
and of course me.
Interviewer: So did you achieve your goal?
Mark: In a way, yes. I was the best me I could be, nobody could be better
than me at being me! There are a lot more skilled Wing Chun people out there,
people who are completely out of my league, it simply comes down to comfort and
experience in the art.
Interviewer: How long have you been teaching Wing Chun?
Mark: It has got to be coming up to four years now I think. In the
beginning the teaching was more experimental, my motivation was pretty selfish –
not in a bad way I’ll add, I just wanted people to train with. Sifu kept
hounding me to teach the art, I was pretty reluctant but he told me that I would
truly begin to “learn” about my Wing Chun and Wing Chun in general when I pass
Interviewer: What do you mean by learning about Wing Chun through
Mark: Well, teaching gives you a comprehensive understanding of the
concept. My personal training consisted of me taking lessons with Sifu
privately, effectively the only person I had spent time applying with was Sifu –
which was very good because of his skill level, but I was just learning his
methodology, I was always dealing with the same structure, intensity and
personality constantly, it is all well and good being good against one person,
but to be good against other people would require me to experience other people,
he recognized this. I however was happy as I was and ignored his advice for a
while. When I started teaching I simply taught a couple of friends who had
expressed an interest, it cost them nothing other than a little time and we all
gained. It is interesting because you find yourself reciting what Sifu has told
you and applying it, but the constant questioning of the student makes you look
so much deeper, a certain type of explanation may not be understood by a
particular student as all people see things differently, so you have to find a
way of delivering the information, you can only truly do this if you know what
you are talking about.
The questions are my lessons when I am teaching now, I make
sure all of them, my students ask questions constantly, if I can’t answer
verbally as well as physically, I will show them the answer to their question in
application, analyze what I did while doing it, then verbalize it, this happens
a lot if I show people how to do different types of attack, “ how can I stop it
Mark?” they will ask, I tell them to do it to me and I will observe what I do,
study the timing and if I can improve the defense I will, and then break it down
for them, the break down will be in such a way that they can see principle in
operation, this way they can apply principle as opposed to technique – I believe
simply showing technique will only serve to limit them. People tend to ask the
most random questions which I love, it makes me proud of my accomplishment when
my students have told me that I answer questions extremely clearly. This is not
to say I know it all, I don’t, but I can relate theory well to application.
Interviewer: Do you enjoy teaching?
Mark: Most of the time, it is extremely rewarding when you see a student
that you have inspired to train hard start to get it. They start to reap the
rewards of their hard work. It is also good for me in the sense that there comes
a point where I no longer look at some students as my students, they have an
excellent grasp of the system and they start to express it personally, we then
simply train together, the teacher student thing only then comes into play when
they start to deviate from the guiding principles of the system, or need moral
Interviewer: You said most of the time?
Mark: I did, yes. In 2004 I expanded my school to teach up at the
university in Bournemouth, I had a lot of students and two classes a week up
there, I didn’t really enjoy it that much to be honest.
Mark: I turned my small private school into a business and I was making
But the problem was the driving force for me isn’t the money, it is the art. I
didn’t work and my income was basically from the Martial Art, every student who
came through the door was simply a pay cheque to me, I had to cater to what they
wanted and expected rather than what I really wanted deliver – the same life
changing art that I had been given. I don’t care for merchandising, pricey
lessons and a “six year £20-a-sash” grading syllabus – it makes the art a chore.
Also Wing Chun is not a watch and follow art, I had up to 90
people in a class at a time, simply trying to get round that amount of people in
a 2 hour class to see to it that they could feel first hand what it should be
like was extremely difficult.
Interviewer: So what did you do?
Mark: I disbanded the university class and told the students that if they
liked what we had been training they could attend my town centre classes, the
way I saw it was that the committed would travel, the non – committed would not,
and it worked! I ended up with a core group of hard training people, I charge
them a token amount of money, which is peanuts and anyone can afford, and expect
them to train hard, in return I will give them everything I know.
A friend of mine told me I should be making so much money out of what I do, he
was shocked that I charge less than half of what the other schools in the area
charge, but the money is irrelevant, I intend to keep business and pleasure
completely separate, the only thing I have to worry about then is the Wing Chun.
I look at it as if I had a hugely successful enterprise which failed, then
turned into something much better, I am now way more successful than I ever was,
I don’t advertise anywhere, people seek me out through word of mouth, they come
to me because I am true to myself and I am honest with them. I really appreciate
that; it makes me feel very responsible to the students because they have taken
time out of their lives to learn something off me.
Interviewer: So do you grade the students?
Mark: If you mean do I put sashes on people because they could remember a
huge amount of sequences or be able to defend them selves flawlessly in
prearranged attacks while charging them loads of cash for the privilege of me
telling them that they can do it, then no.
I teach the system in an orderly manner through the natural progression dictated
by the system. Siu Lim Tau, Chum Kiu, Bue Gee, Mok Yan Jong. Simple structured
response drills and flow drills must come before Chi Sau, Chi Sau must come
before Man Sau and so on. In my experience you can generally feel somebody’s
skill level as soon as you touch hands with them, you don’t need a sash to know
if they are skilled or not.
I don’t believe a martial artist needs to advertise his skill
level, in my class everyone is the same, when a new student walks in he will not
be able to distinguish between skill levels until he begins training, this I
feel removes the reluctance to train with higher skilled people, it also removes
the hierarchy within the class, which in turn aids with the removal of ego and
helps the students relax, if the students are relaxed then half the battle is
Interviewer: Your class sounds pretty informal.
Mark: It has to be, I refuse to have a regimented class, shouting orders
at people, the people in my class don’t fear Sifu, the respect I have from them
is earned through the fact that I am honest with them about everything they can
expect from the system and my willingness to answer any question they have, and
if I can’t answer I wont just tell them it is a secret, or advanced stuff or
whatever, I will tell them I don’t know – I will however go out of my way to see
that I find out the answer before the next class.
I genuinely believe that the optimal learning environment is
one that is comfortable,
You have to be comfortable in Wing Chun because it deals with close proximity,
people don’t like having their personal space invaded, if you can’t be
comfortable with it you will never relax, if you never relax you will never
develop a high level of Wing Chun.
Interviewer: But isn’t Martial Art supposed to be disciplined?
Mark: See you have to ask yourself what discipline is, discipline in
Martial Art is not someone barking orders at you, Discipline in Martial Art is
self discipline, you have to ask how people out there became masters of their
chosen craft, very seldom is it because they had someone 24/7 making them
practise, it is the individual that makes himself do it, discipline is about
motivation, if you want to be good the only person who can make you good is you,
nobody can do that for you. Self Discipline should be the description used in
the Martial Arts.
Interviewer: So, what exactly is Wing Chun?
Mark: Okay, so I could give you a huge answer here, much bigger than the
Wing Chun Kuen is a style of Southern Fist originating in Southern China. It is
approximately three hundred years old. It is considered a close range fighting
system and the training is primarily centred around the contact reflex.
It is also a powerful tool for self-development, a good exercise etc.
Interviewer: What is the contact reflex?
Mark: Wing Chun works on the obvious premise that if your opponent wants
to hit you, he needs to be able to touch you, this means he has to be close
enough to do so. Now if he can touch you, you can touch him, and if you can
touch him you have a great potential to “feel” for movement, if you can feel the
movement you can act accordingly. At that sort of range the eye is simply too
slow to be able to register an attack for your brain to then analyse the motion
and then tell the relevant tool to act in the optimal manner, and because the
brain can only guess the power and direction of the strike, the block will be
based on your best guess, and what you have to consider is that your best guess
might not be good enough and in a situation where your life may depend on you
getting it right, there is no room for error.
The contact reflex removes the guess - work, if you are touching an attacking
tool you can gauge the force, direction intent etc. very accurately.
Interviewer: So what is the contact reflex?
Mark: Look at it like this, imagine when you get burnt, you don’t look at what
is burning you and decide to move yourself from the source of the pain, you just
We go through a series of drills, which deal with very specific energies over
and over again to show you the best possible response to that type of energy.
The repetition has many benefits. First it programs you to act instinctively.
Secondly it gives you an understanding of timing. Both are critical in a
Interviewer: Why is timing so important?
Mark: If you understand the timing of motion you can start to operate within a
variety of points within that motion, you can begin to break it all down if you
can do that fluently and you will always control the opponent, if your opponent
has the greater application and understanding he will always control you.
Therefore Wing Chun ultimately becomes simply a study of timing. And through the
process of developing the contact reflex you will learn very quickly the
associated timing which will allow you to complement your opponent rather than
clash with him, this on a deeper level could be observed as the yin yang harmony
of Gung fu, this harmony exists in everything.
Interviewer: What do you mean by complementing rather than clashing?
Mark: Wing Chun is a harmonious Martial Art, if he is hard, I am soft, if he is
soft, I am hard, it is not about “fighting”, fighting suggests resistance, if
you resist how can you ever be fluid? By complementing your opponents forces
what will happen is he should not be able to distinguish his motions from yours,
he will effectively tell you how to beat him, you must be able to “listen” to
what he is telling you to do. Resistance requires muscle usage, if you employ
muscle the stronger guy will win. In Wing Chun we always seek the path of least
possible resistance, there is a greater likely hood of success.
Interviewer: Wing Chun is considered a close range Martial Art can you tell us a
little about this?
Mark: Sure, in the combative, a person is only a physical threat to you if he
can touch you with his attacking tool, close range to me is when someone can
touch you, from this you can assume that all Martial Art is close range. Because
of the available offensive/defensive measures various Martial Art take, the
application at this range varies. The Wing Chun concept prefers a distance where
the practitioner is inside the full extension of the adversaries’ attacking tool
and where the Wing Chun guy can strike with a bent arm, a Martial Artist who
prefers to use his legs will like to maintain a distance where he can use this
to its’ fullest potential.
Interviewer: Is Wing Chun a trapping art?
Mark: Not specifically no, it is primarily a striking art that has traps in it,
people assume that Wing Chun is a blocking or trapping art because of the Chi
Sau that they see, all that is happening is the student is training to find his
way through structure to be able to hit safely and end the fight quickly. Traps
can happen in a variety of ways, it can be described as the delivery of a moment
of helplessness to your opponent, and can be done with hand on hand, hand on
body, body on body, leg on leg, through emotion, through striking etc. People
can lose sight of the primary goal though, that is to terminate the threat as
soon as possible.
Interviewer: I have heard you describe the in built trapping effect of all Wing
Chun techniques, how does this work?
Mark: In the Wing Chun I train, we favour placing the defensive tool on the
outside of the opponents bridge (arm), if the motion is correctly referenced, it
will cramp the opponents arm into his own centreline, this forces error on his
part should he be unable to recover, making his response to the stimuli you are
providing him predictable, even if he can recover it. This means he is always
Interviewer: Just to take a step back to something you mentioned earlier, why
would you want to hit with a bent arm? Would it not be better to hit with a
fully extended arm?
Mark: It depends what you are trying to achieve, the closer your arm comes to
full extension, the more the muscles associated with the stretch reflex come
into play, this is a hindrance to the Wing Chun man, we rely on accurate bone
alignment to support the strike as opposed to muscles, if the bones are
accurately aligned all you need the muscles for is the acceleration into the
strike and to stabilize the motion, this is good for endurance, i.e. even the
most unfit, or skinny people with no muscle will be able to hit with great
frequency, and using little muscle is good for power transmission into whatever
you are hitting, there is no hindering of the power caused by a contraction of
the muscles trying to stop your joints from hyper-extending, therefore any power
developed goes into the target instead of staying in you. Also this correct
alignment trough a bent elbow down structure gives you an interesting power
train from the floor up through the hip, into the elbow and on to the attacking
tool, this removes the relatively weak shoulder rotator muscles form the
equation to a great degree, moves the source of the strike to the ground though
your centre of gravity making for an extremely solid striking platform and it
eliminates the "bounce off" effect that you might experience with a fully
extended strike with the power going through the shoulder as opposed the the
Also just to ramble further, by hitting relaxed allows you for rapid directional
changes, so if it all goes wrong you will be able to engage the relevant muscles
quicker from relaxation than if you had to relax before you needed to move them.
Interviewer: What do you think is the most important thing to train in Wing
Mark: All of it, you can’t just be a “forms man” or a “Chi Sau man” if you don’t
practice forms your Wing Chun will suffer, if you don’t practice Chi Sau, you
will never understand the forms and how the principles are applied, if you don’t
drill, you will never respond correctly in Chi Sau. Every element is
complementary to the others, lose one, lose it all. The best analogy I ever
heard likened Wing Chun to a plant, water it and it will grow, if you don’t it
will soon die.
Interviewer: The forms in the Wing Chun system appear to be different to other
Martial Art forms, they don’t look as technical or exciting, and there is only
three empty hand forms can you explain the forms to me and how they work?
Mark: This is an answer that could be very, very long winded! Okay, the three
empty hand forms are purely conceptual in nature, they simply do not operate in
an applied sense, if you look at most Martial Art forms or patterns they are
designed with very specific techniques to illustrate application, when done like
this they are very clear cut, you know what each technique does and why, they
are centered around imaginary opponents, producing imaginary combat scenarios,
this is hugely beneficial for short term benefit, theoretically you could apply
what you have learned with immediate effect, because you know what it does
right? However to cover every eventuality, you need more forms, so you see
Martial Art with forms well into the double figures, that is a lot to remember.
The Wing Chun forms operate slightly differently, on a basic level they teach
you how to reference technique, Siu Lim Tau is a static form ( in the sense that
the player doesn't take a single step ), it teaches you how to reference
technique to both self centre and to the centre line, because it is static they
both remain one and the same for the most part. The student will also develop
the ability to sink and issue force from yee gee kim yeung ma into his
techniques during this form. When the student can perform the first form well he
then learns how to move with correctly referenced technique, the reference
doesn’t change even though through physical motion the students relationship to
the centre line does, essentially he learns to move with structure, this happens
in the second form, Chum Kiu. In the third form, again if you were to look at it
on a very basic level, the student learns how to apply minimal muscle power,
using body motion and good structure to power the technique.
When the third form is learned, the student takes what he has learned back to
the beginning again, so the advanced will improve the basic, which in turn
improves the intermediate.
If you look at the forms on a deeper level you soon see that they are so much
more than an exercise for technique reference, the importance goes from the
shapes you see, to the motions, the shapes become very similar – for example
most short bridge shapes even though different, maintain very similar structure,
all exhibit and angle of around 135 degrees, this makes the technique construct
for short bridge techniques very simple, they all fall in to one of three
categories, tan, bong or fook depending on the controlling portion of your
bridge – you learn that in reality you only really have three techniques for
bridge control and if you consider that these three techniques are all really on
the way to a punch, you only really have one technique.
So, I have just digressed a little, the point I want to illustrate is that the
forms when you ignore the “technique” become a physical reference book of
principle, they are a way of unlocking the system and preserving the system, if
you ever have a question regarding application, the answer is in the forms
Interviewer: Can you give an example of what you might find out by looking at
Mark: Again, potentially a very long answer coming up!
Lets take something common to all the empty hand forms – the hoi sick motion
(opening of the stance), now in this motion there is a massive amount of
information about the Wing Chun system you train.
The opening of the stance first and foremost shows you personally the optimal
width for all of your foot work, this width varies for every one, essentially
you want your heels to be just outside of your shoulders, your toes just inside,
yee gee kim yeung ma (the basic stance) is the yard stick all of your foot work
is then measured by, whatever foot position you fall into, you should be able to
turn one of the feet in and you will be in ygkym, if you are not, the awareness
of where the feet are falling is not there, it tells you are not training
correctly, i.e. something is lacking. Ygkym also illustrates all of the
properties every type of footwork should posses; you will never be able to
achieve stability in motion if you are unable to achieve it stationary.
Believe it or not, the set up into the stance illustrates the relation ship
between the feet and hips for the two major types of kick within the system, the
front kick foot relation ship can be found just after the initial outward pivot
on the heels, this position incidentally is the root for dok lop ma, the single
leg stance, when the stance is set the final position shows the relationship the
feet and hips must have to execute the side kick, once you understand these
relationships, because the two kicks are the roots for the other six types of
kick within the system you know how to structurally perform them to their
maximum advantage. The forward roll of the hip not only promotes the locking
together of the upper and lower parts of the body (so you are also learning how
to travel with structure without actually moving) but it places the hip in the
optimal position for delivery of the kicking tools, with the hip rolled forward
you will find it easier to kick to say waist level than you would if your
backside stuck out, stick your arse out, you will have to mass balance by
leaning and to open the hips up to get the height needed, this not only
compromises upright structure (which given that we are designed to stand
upright, is not good), but it also gives the game away to what you are doing -
you telegraph. There is more…But I wont go on, you surely can see that this is
just one part of the form, it hasn’t even got going and already there is a huge
amount of information. Each form has 108 motions. That is a lot of stuff to get
Interviewer: So would you say that Wing Chun is a simple system?
Mark: Yes! Ha! The system in application is very simple, maximum damage in the
shortest time, but in terms of theory, because there is so much variation in
conflict anything can happen, so you will always be learning or understanding.
Things change as well, because Wing Chun is a concept it is very open to
personal interpretation, it will forever evolve because peoples experiences are
different, and people are different, so Wing Chun can never be the same for two
people, but just to contradict myself, it is always the same!
Interviewer: How can that be?
Mark: Wing Chun is driven by principles, if you adhere to the principles it
can’t be different, people might produce different shape or call things by
different names, it doesn’t matter if it is doing the job in the way that the
principle governing a type of motion then it is Wing Chun, it can’t be anything
It can be likened to walking, regardless if you walk fast, slow, with shoes or
trainers or sandals, with a stick, take long steps or short steps, it is still
walking is it not? Radically change something in the concept associated with
walking, then it becomes something else.
Interviewer: So if all Wing Chun is the same, would it be worthless to train
with other teachers?
Mark: No, it would be extremely valuable, to go back, there is so much there
that to increase your chances of seeing the complete picture it is a must to
train with as many people as possible, not just teachers, but students everyone
who does it has their own take on the system, everyone sees it in their own
personal way, nobody has the monopoly, yes there are people who are better than
others, but you can take something useful away from everyone. I do think it is
important to learn fully only one system though, and develop it using the
information rather than trying to learn hundreds of Siu Lim Tau forms etc.
Interviewer: Can you explain the use and purpose of the drills found in Wing
Mark: Again, because there are a great many drills in Wing Chun, it could be a
very long - winded answer. Every drill in the system covers technique and/or
principles usually designed in such a way so it is cyclic, this means you can do
a massive amount of repetition in the most economical way, repetition breeds
familiarity, familiarity breeds comfort and when you are comfortable you can
begin to operate freely. You can understand associated timings and how to break
them down, and understand the “flight envelope” of technique – when it will work
and the limits of it.
They help with flow, hand speed and accuracy. You can do them alone or with a
partner. If the forms are the textbooks of the system, the drills are the
experiments, everything from the forms can be improved by single or double - man
drills, if you can see that you lack something in Chi Sau, look for a drill that
can hone the relevant points.
Interviewer: What is Chi Sau?
Mark: Chi Sau or sticking hands is the vehicle where we randomly practice
everything in the system. No two Chi Sau sessions are the same, every time you
train, you learn, because you never know what is going to happen. Chi Sau
teaches you in a fast exchange how to panic in a healthy manner and with
structure, eventually you become very calm within seemingly impossible
situations, it is very good fun!
Interviewer: Is Chi Sau Wing Chun sparring?
Mark: Not in the strictest sense, no. Again it is simply a drill where you can
experience the forces and pressures you might encounter in conflict, Chi Sau can
last hours, a fight will be over very quickly, it is simply an economical way of
experiencing all the positions you could find yourself in and it breeds the
familiarity needed to be able to act appropriately. It is also a valuable tool
to lose ego, everyone gets hit, from the beginners to people like me – you don’t
learn anything from always getting it right, so you have to learn how to embrace
it and accept that losing is a way of gaining.
People tend to spasm when the pressure is piled on, muscular tension comes into
play and you become your own enemy, Chi Sau teaches you to trust accurate
structure and relax.
Interviewer: How does Wing Chun operate in the self - defence situation?
Mark: Wing Chun, if used correctly, can work very well indeed, like all Martial
Art; it is designed with combat in mind.
It is important to note though that you don’t need Martial art to be successful
in a fight, there is plenty of good fighters out there that have never learned
any system in their lives. Martial Art is no guarantee, if you train hard and
long you stand a better chance than those who never train. As for self defence,
good awareness of the environment you are in will go a long way to preventing
common assaults, stay switched on is the real key, if you wander around
oblivious to what is happening around you, you become the “ideal” victim, then
the training becomes irrelevant.
Interviewer: Why train then if it will not necessarily work?
Mark: To get a better understanding of how you operate, to enhance yourself. I
am not going to lie to you, fighting is very nasty, you can get hurt physically
and psychologically, even with training you might lose, but I would rather have
an edge than have no clue. There are so many variables, how many people,
environmental considerations, lighting, intoxicants and so on, you can’t predict
the out come of every situation, what you must do though is protect yourself
with every fibre of what you are, you owe it to yourself, if that means running
away so be it, if it means fighting if you can’t run, then you have to give it
your all, there are no second chances.
Interviewer: Have you ever used Wing Chun?
Mark: If you mean generally in every day life, then yes, it dictates how I
operate within my life, I deal with all problems I encounter with lessons I have
learned in my years of training. I know however you are really asking if I have
used it combatively, again, yes unfortunately I have found myself both
professionally using it and using it defensively.
Interviewer: Could you tell me about it?
Mark: What I will tell you is that I have used it in scenarios where I have been
attacked a couple of times and it has been instrumental to protecting me. The
circumstances are irrelevant, Wing Chun does work, in terms of specific
technique I used, I have no clue, you tend not to be able to analyse what you
are doing when the adrenalin kicks in. Because of my work as a publican I have
had many experiences where I have had to subdue people who have become a
problem, you can’t hit people so awareness through touch becomes paramount, you
have to protect yourself, the aggressor and the rest of the customers.
Interviewer: Here comes the political question, what is it all about? Why are
there such divisions in the Wing Chun community?
Mark: Mate, I have no clue! I think people spend too much time worrying about
what others are doing, rather than simply enjoying what they are doing and
passing the art on. Many schools are big business, so people want their schools
to be the best, I am not really bothered about that, I don’t make money out of
Wing Chun, if people like what I have to offer, they stay, if they don’t, they
won’t. I really don’t mind, I refuse to amend what I do to make it appeal to the
masses, as long as I can give people a piece of what I love to do, that is all
that matters – and that is what I do.
People can slag me off, tell me my Wing Chun is shit, fine, not a problem, while
they are wasting time on worrying about me, I’m training.
Interviewer: What are your plans for the future?
Mark: In terms of the Wing Chun, I have no specific plans, I don't plan to
expand my school in any way, in fact as of now I don't publicly teach anymore
I'm not interested in self promotion or making money from my Wing Chun. I think
I'll just continue to personally explore what I've learned with a few core
students and train with a few of the martial artists locally and further away
who I consider excellent.
Interviewer: Who are the people you most want to train with?
Mark: Specifically, Sigung Augustine Fong, from what I have seen he is awesome,
he is my Sifus’ Sifu and my Sifu is amazing, I can’t begin to imagine how good
Sigung Fong must be. Also Sifu Jose Grados, I have seen video of him and to be
honest with you, he is the man I would most like to move like, he makes it all
look like it is so natural, he moves beautifully. Sifu Grados is also a “Fong”
I have spent a little time with Master Sam Kwok, I had the pleasure of meeting
him through my first Sifu, Steve Lyons, He invited me to his school where he was
holding a seminar, this led to a seminar at my own school, he impressed me
immensely, he is very soft, I want my Wing Chun to be as natural and as soft as
possible. I have also had the pleasure of training with Sifu Alan Orr - In a
word the man is awesome, my senior student now trains under him and the quality
of the Wing Chun is extraordinary, it is extremely solid, Sifu Orr's
understanding of body structure is second to none. I would like to spend a
little more time with him in the future.
I also have train with Sifu David Peterson of the wsl lineage and Sifu Alan
Gibson, again these two people are extremely good and in the future I would love
to hook up with them again.
Outside of Wing Chun, by far the most impressive Martial Artist I have spent
time with recently is Chen style Tai Chi exponent, Brendan Burnett. Brendan has
an amazing control over his physical motion, to a degree I have not seen very
often, I am lucky that we have developed a friendship, I will be spending a lot
of time with him in the future to see how his Chen Tai Chi understanding can
improve my Wing Chun.
As for the others, and there are loads of them, I have to
prioritize, I will
explore these people first.
Interviewer: Sifu, thank you for sharing your insight with me.
Mark: No problem, just remember though, my insight is just that, mine. I don’t
know it all, and over the next few years my opinions will probably change, Wing
Chun to me is a very personal thing, I teach my art. When my students go on to
teach, they will teach their art, not mine, forming their own opinions, if they
are smart, they will continue to grow and evolve – look back to remember where
you came from, but don’t let doctrinarian hinder your progression, I feel that a
great mistake is that people seek to emulate past greats, there is no way you
will ever do it better in the same way, you will only ever be a second class
them, you can always be the best you. Peace.
Yip Man ->
Ho Kam Ming ->
Augustine Fong ->
About the Author: Mark Smith conceived Faai Sau Wing Chun in
2004. Faai Sau Wing Chun is set to become a popular school in the U.K.
for training this rare lineage of Wing Chun...
Copyright (c) 2006 the Wing Chun Archive and
Mark Smith 12/4/06