2010 INTERVIEWS part 6

Final Installment in the 2010 Interviews with Kevin Earle, Founder and Principal Instructor of Earle's Academy Ving Chun Kuen

Welcome Sifu Kevin. This will be the final of our interviews for 2010. There has been a lot of interest in the previous installments in this series, as evidenced by the amount of feedback and the number of questions we have received over the past year.

Hmmm. Well, I can say that it's been very interesting for me also.

Regarding your wooden dummy training, a curious reader asks; "The dummy form you learned from Greg Tsoi, was it complete. I am asking because I understand you were not that long with Greg Tsoi, and I have read that one must study Wing Chun for ten years before being taught the wooden dummy."

This is an interesting question on a number of levels. Firstly, when I trained with Sifu Greg I undertook private instruction, as well as participating in classes. What one learns in private is varied in substance and depth compared to what one might practice in a public class.

Secondly, who imposed such a time limit? Why not 3 years, or seven years, or 12 months? I do not believe the old Masters would have imposed such a time limit. One is either ready to learn, or one is not. The wooden dummy is just a tool.

Thirdly, prior to training with Sifu Greg, although I had some idea, when I look back I was really quite ignorant as to the substance and training methods of the wooden dummy. For example, I did not understand what was meant by the dummy form, or that some divided the wooden dummy form in to 7 sections or 8 sections. Therefore to my understanding each move was either a form or a section, ultimately becoming a series of movements on the wooden dummy.

Fourth, when I say that I learned all of the wooden dummy from Sifu Greg, I mean that I learned, and then practiced, all that he taught me. Was that 'all' of the wooden dummy? What does 'all' mean? What a burden to place on ones teacher....'all'. Yet I am sure that if I were to meet with Sifu Greg today he could teach me a lot more.

Next, I would point out that it is not so important if ones dummy form is comprised of 1 section or seven sections or 8 sections or 108 movements or 116 movements. I believe that the most important aspect of the wooden dummy training for any practitioner of Wing Chun to consider is, are the movements of the practitioner comprised of the essence of Wing Chun? If they are not, then the number of movements one knows are irrelevant, and one is wasting their time. One of the things I learned during my sessions with Sifu Greg was to become more self analytical, and to look beyond the surface of the movement.

Finally, if the movements of the practitioner are Wing Chun in substance and essence, then the variations of movement on the wooden dummy are unlimited. Sifu Greg taught me that kungfu was only limited by ones imagination.

Thank you Sifu Kevin. Returning to the subject of the previous interview, we have received a number of emails complaining that your previous comments concerning Bruce Lee and William Cheung were everything from dismissive, to harsh, to highly critical and insulting of the memory of Bruce Lee. What is your response to such criticism?

First of all, my remarks were not directed at the challenge matches, those arranged matches between the different kungfu schools, or the participants. By all accounts they were reasonably frequent occurrences, and strict rules were enforced. I was simply expressing my personal opinion on the exploits of a handful of juveniles; an opinion formed after some careful consideration of the available material. However I wasn't there, and I may well have jumped to an incorrect conclusion. One could as easily conclude that joining a gang and constantly looking for fights were just boyish pranks, harmless fun. Part of growing up. 

To some extent that may be true. However the attracting of the attention of known triads, and the involvement of the police, lends support to the idea that the exploits of Bruce Lee, William Cheung, and their companions had grown beyond childish pranks or harmless fun. Things were getting serious. In our present day society (in New Zealand, Ed.), such behavior by juveniles could ultimately result in them being removed from their families and placed in a residential facility, with prison just a step away.

Secondly, my use of the terms 'thugs' and 'louts', were used to describe their youthful behavior, not their character as adults.

Thank you for clarifying. Now someone wrote in asking if you had information other than statements made on internet blog sites regarding William Cheung's fight with the seamen during his trip from Hong Kong...

Actually I do. I have hunted high and low for a copy of an interview William Cheung did with Penthouse magazine. Most probably an Australian issue Penthouse. I believe it was published sometime in 1986. Anyway it was a six or seven page article. Unfortunately I have misplaced the full article. Perhaps one of our readers has a complete copy. These are the pages where William gives his account of the fight on the ship. 

(Sifu Kevin produces two pages of the Penthouse interview with William Cheung. It is recorded on page 117 that (according to William) the Triad had paid 4 seamen to kill him; that he was confronted by 27 able-bodied seamen in a locked galley. According to Williams account many were armed to the teeth, the fight lasted seven or eight minutes, and that when the captain blew open the hatch with a shotgun he found bodies strewn all over the floor. William is quoted in the article as saying he received a total of four wounds from knives. Ed.)

We have had several emails asking if you have met William Cheung.

No I have not. However I have met several of his students, including Ian Protheroe. Interestingly, a youngster named Robert Hendricks who began his Wing Chun journey with me here in Christchurch in - I believe it was 1978 - moved to Melbourne to train with William after I moved to Sydney. As I understand it Robert became the full time chief instructor for a number of William Cheungs schools, and was Ian Protheroes Instructor when Ian first began his training. Which reminds me, Ian Protheroe's main man here in NZ, Ray Solomon, also got the taste for Wing Chun at an Earle's Academy branch before moving to Australia. He began as a student of Sifu Awatea Edwin, who in those days was an Instructor in our Timaru branch. I will say that those William Cheung students I have met were very good at what they did.

Can you share anything else about Robert Hendricks or Ian Protheroe?

Hmmm. Well, Like I said, shortly after Robert Hendricks commenced his training, I moved to Sydney. But as I recall, Robert joined Earle's Academy with his twin brother. They would have been about 15 or 16 years old when they commenced their training in our High Street studio. Young, fit, and keen. Press-ups on their thumbs. But Robert would have reached his full potential at William Cheung's. He was pretty scrappy as I remember. In fact it was no surprise to me that Robert was later regarded by some as the best pound for pound lightweight Wing Chun tournament fighter in Australia during the 'eighties. I believe a young Robert Hendricks can be found in a photo on our website somewhere... other than that I am not sure of his whereabouts, or if he is still training.

As to Ian Protheroe, Ian runs his own organization out of Queensland. Classical Wing Chun. A few years back we supported a couple of his New Zealand seminars down in Ashburton at Ray Solomon's club. Ian didn't seem to be fully aware of his New Zealand connections, and I didn't bother enlightening him. I didn't think it was the time or place.

Thank you for another interesting interview, Sifu Kevin. It seems that Earle's Academy has been a huge influence in lighting fires under students who have become very influential in other Wing Chun organizations in this part of the world.... Sifu Jim Fung's International Wing Chun Academy, William Cheung's World Wing Chun Kungfu Association, and downstream from there... Ian Protheroe....

Ha-ha! Yes. But that is just the nature of life, isn't it. Actually, we have had our fair share of international visitors calling in to train with us from time to time. Wing Chun practitioners from Australia, Russia, Hong Kong, China, South Africa, England, Germany, Sweden, Canada, the States, Thailand...and I can say that each visitor has in some way enriched us. And I welcome visits from any Wing Chun practitioner.

Indeed. I hope that 2011 brings many more to your door. This brings us to the end of our interviews for 2010 Sifu Kevin. Is there anything else you would like to add before we finish?

Well, finishing on the subject of who trained who, or who has influenced who, it is important that one acknowledge their roots, for everyone has a beginning. Yet a teacher merely opens the door; it is the student who must step through and make the most of life's opportunities. So while each of us are influenced by many people, in the end we are the product of our own work. Students must not rely on their teacher to achieve their goals, or blame their teacher if they fail to progress. Likewise a teacher cannot take the credit for the worthwhile accomplishments of a student, for if they claim that success then they must take responsibility for those students who fall by the way, and that would be a heavy burden indeed.

Indeed it would. Thank you for your frankness and honesty Sifu Kevin.

It has been my pleasure.