Preserving the Media of the World's Most Advanced Martial Art.


A Conversation with Sifu Mark Smith

Interviewer: Hello Sifu, thank you for talking to me today.

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 of mind.
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 appreciate it.
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 through fear.

Interviewer: Fear?

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 to perform?

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 Chi Sao.

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 it on.

Interviewer: What do you mean by learning about Wing Chun through teaching?

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 guidance.

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.

Interviewer: Why?

Mark: I turned my small private school into a business and I was making good money.
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 won.

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 others!
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 act.
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 combative situation.

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 playing catch-up.

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 hip.

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 Chun?

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 the forms?

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 through.

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 else.

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 Chun?

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” student.

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 -> Christian Pankhurst -> Mark Smith
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 

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