FINDING WING CHUN
"Finding Wing Chun - A Personal Journey" - by Awatea Edwin
Seeking my own "Jeet Kune Do?!"
In Searching for my own "Jeet Kune Do" in the 80's I found the path to Ving Chun Kuen instead. As a youngster I had been attracted to the fighting arts very early on, and I experienced wrestling, boxing, karate and various styles of southern Chinese kung fu.
However after seeing Bruce Lee's 'Enter The Dragon' and 'Big Boss' movies I was hooked on the ideas Lee called Jeet Kune Do, and whilst training in Fut Gar and Preying Mantis Kung Fu I read all I could about Bruce Lee and his "new" art.
Window into Wing Chun
Black Belt and Inside Kung Fu magazines became my window into Bruce and in these I found out the name of the art he had learned while a teenager in Hong Kong. Wing Chun Kuen Kung Fu. And through their pages I became familiar with the "little" Buddhist nun Ng Mui and her student Yim Wing Chun; about Yip Man and his teachers Chan Wa Soon and Leung Bik.
I also learned about the infighting that was happening in the 80's between some of Yip Man's students, in particular between William Cheung, based in Australia and Leung Ting, based in Hong Kong. Through the pages of the martial art magazines much posturing and slandering was reported to the martial arts world. This culminated in a series of articles in Inside Kung Fu called "The Wing Chun Controversy".
Monthly installments introduced different lineages from Yip Man students and articles telling us why they were the chosen successor of the late, great Grandmaster Yip Man. (Truth being of course Yip Man never called himself Grandmaster and laid no claim to the title; he also never left a successor to his position, instead he left an association of Hong Kong Wing Chun practitioners with a democratically elected leadership).
Over the next few years others like Ting and Cheung would claim they taught the correct version of Wing Chun only revealed to themselves. These became known by added titles that told you they were the best; Traditional Wing Chun, Original Wing Chun, Authentic Wing Tsun (Tsun and Chun are often used to spell the word which is pronounced the same. Wing is also some times spelt Ving), Modified Wing Chun, Integrated Wing Chun etc.
Meanwhile the most senior and closest students to Yip Man remained silent and carried on teaching their own students. These most senior men included the late Leung Sheung (Tings original master), Lok Yiu, Tsui Seung Tin, Wong Shun Leung and others. It would be the 90's before most of us heard from, yet alone of, these masters.
Introduction To Wing Chun
In 1984 in Wellington, as a student carver, I frequented the Martial Arts supplies outlet in the Cubacade in Cuba Mall. There I met the owner, Sifu Peter Yu, a teacher of 'Wing Tsun' (Wing Chun), and a year later I was introduced to the Wing Tsun he taught. His art was from Tam Hung Fun, a senior student of Leung Ting.
At the time - perhaps because I was young and in awe of the elaborate postures I saw in the myriad of kung fu films and videos of the era - I believed the Preying mantis and Fut Gar to be superior to the Wing Tsun I was exposed to, therefore I carried on with the former arts and added Wing Tsun to cross train in. After all Bruce Lee had done this and I figured what was good enough for Bruce Lee was good enough for me!
Also, I felt that if I stayed and learned a little Wing Chun I might even be able to experience my own metamorphosis into a Maori Jeet Kune Do exponent, hahaha!
Meeting With A Wing Chun Master
It wasn't until I met Sifu Kevin Earle that I began to see the art of Wing Chun Kuen for what it really was. Sifu used a different spelling for his interpretation of the art, based on the methods of his own teacher Tsoi Siu Kwong or Greg Choy. Both Greg and Kevin used the Ving Chun Kuen spelling.
Why I was able to see the logic in Sifu Kevin's Ving Chun Kuen and not in the Wing Tsun in Wellington, I don't know. It may have been a maturing eye for realistic pugilism had begun to develop within; it may have been because the art Sifu taught was honed by his years of experience in actual combat as a doorman in some of the roughest pubs and night spots in Wellington, Christchurch, Sydney and Invercargill; or it could have been that Sifu Kevin was exposed to a deeper insight into Ving Chun Kuen through Sigung Greg Choy, since Sigung Choy was the first private student of Grandmaster Yip Man.
Regardless of the reason my early years with Sifu Kevin taught me a lot about Ving Chun Kuen as a fighting art and a lot about myself as a person first, practitioner second and eventually as a teacher.
From the late 80's and early 90's I was very lucky to be able to train intensively with Sifu and with my most senior sihing, Master Beau Bouzaid, and spent countless hours training alongside my Ving Chun brothers Bryan Finn and Honty Morris in Timaru.
Bryan, Honty, and I instructed Earle's Academy students in Timaru, Temuka, Ashburton, Oamaru and Fairlie. We had many great times together and trained many wonderful people as well as some very colourful characters.
Many times our classes would be interrupted by people from other martial arts or backgrounds wanting to "suss" us out. (I may write about some of these incidents sometime).
Evolution Of A Wing Chun Teacher
During this first period I had several personal students as did Bryan and Honty. My first was Neville Kingsbury who unfortunately departed this life to early. The next and my most senior student and loyal friend (and a extremely confident Sifu) is Greg Columb.
Bryan had his own students too including Sifu Phil Aberhart who teaches in Timaru to this day. Honty established his own school called Natural Self Defense in 1992 and had students in Timaru and Twizel. Honty passed his skill to Stephen Ross and others. Stephen has gone on to become a fine teacher as well.
We all taught many students between us but these few stood out and for want of a better term gravitated to their teacher of choice as primary mentor. Other past students of the Timaru school have gone on to learn elsewhere and an early student of mine, Ray Solomon, went to Australia and has become a senior representative of Ian Protheroe, a William Cheung student. Ray now teaches a dedicated group in Ashburton. Other ex Timaru students have found their way back to my classes in Kaiapoi and are now Trainee Instructors with my Man Sau Gwoon Ving Chun School here. They are Mark Pepping and Trevor Bates.
My First Wing Chun School
Due to personal circumstance and differences in personality I decided to branch out on my own and eventually headed south to live in Oamaru where I started my first school. This school was called simply the North Otago Wing Chun Club. After two years there I moved to Dunedin and after much prodding from a friend, Glen Wallis, a teacher of Tai Chi Chuan and Bagua Chang, I opened the doors of Man Sau Gwoon in 1995. Some great people again came out of this school and several have gone on to become fantastic Wing Chun practitioners and teachers. Among these Nathan Ferrier, Terry Rongo, Anthony Revill, and Mark Nicholson really stand out.
Work got the better of me in time and in 2000 I was teaching privately only. In this time I trained several military persons and other wonderful students who have become teachers as well. These include Te Horipo Karaitiana, Lyndon Waaka (Lyndon actually started with me in the 80's as a child and later returned to learn as an adult), Lee Berry and Kirsten Te Moananui.
In 2008 I eventually opened Man Sau Gwoon to the public again. We opened in Kaiapoi in October 2008 and have a steady following here. In 2009 we opened a branch in Bishopdale, Christchurch, but a year later I closed that branch and welcomed the members there to attend in Kaiapoi. Two Earthquakes and three years later we have relocated our Kaiapoi school to Pines Beach where it is headed by two fine first level Instructors – Steffen Gasteier and Brent Williams.
To The Future
Sifu Kevin has been prompting me for sometime to write about my experiences in my personal Ving Chun journey and the above is merely an introduction of sorts. I intend over the next while to tap away on the old keyboard and share some anecdotes and stories of the times (good and bad) that have shaped my Ving Chun Kuen journey. I have been fortunate to train around the world with many great teachers in Hong Kong, Fatshan, Singapore, Australia and South East Asia. But I have found equally exceptional learning and teaching here in New Zealand.
Oh! And as for Jeet Kune Do, I know little about it but to me it seems I found my way in the mother art and I have comfort here.
Until next time keep it simple and "box on".
Published with permission of the author - Awatea Edwin