2010 INTERVIEWS part 1
2010 part 1: Interview with Kevin Earle, Founder and Principal Instructor
Earle's Academy Ving Chun Kuen.
Sifu Kevin, I see that you prefer to spell Wing Chun with a 'V', as in 'Ving' Chun. Can you tell us about that?
Interesting place to start! I asked my teacher about that one day. He said that the initials 'WC' stood for 'Water Closet'. (meaning toilet, Ed.). He didn't want the school to be associated with the toilet - I guess it could bring bad luck. So he chose the initials 'VCK', for Ving Chun Kuen.
The spelling identifies our roots. I guess the easiest way to understand it is that within the wider Wing Chun community the W is often used when speaking generically about the greater Wing Chun family, whereas other spellings such as 'Ving Tsun', 'Wing Tsun', 'Ving Chun', etc, generally identify individual families. That is one explanation. Many schools simply use the generic 'W' spelling. My teacher used the 'V', and I have followed that tradition out of respect.
Sifu Kevin, would you tell us a little about your beginnings in Wing Chun - perhaps your first contact with Wing Chun, and the history of Earle's Academy?
Well, about 1968 or thereabouts. I was working 7 nights a week in a couple of Wellington nightclubs, and I thought I was a fighter.... anyway for a brief time I shared lodgings with a couple of British merchant seamen. One of them showed me a few things about punching. Chain punching, how to move, where to keep my hands. At the time I thought I was pretty good, but this guy had it all over me.
Where had he learnt?
I don't recall. I don't know. If it was mentioned, it probably went in one ear and out the other. I was only interested in the method. This guy was maybe eight or nine years older than me, and being a merchant seaman had travelled and worked all over the world. Perhaps he had lived for a time in Hong Kong. A number of Wing Chun Masters were teaching "Gwailo" (foreign devils, Ed.) in the sixties.
He taught you the form?
No. I only knew this guy for maybe a month. He just showed me a few practical moves. I immediately saw the practicality of what he was showing me, and I incorporated what I learnt into what I was allready doing which basically was knocking people over.
Well, that's pretty basic all right!
Yes. Anyway, after he left I wrote to him. I guess the best part of a year past, then out of the blue I got a parcel from him. A letter and a book, "Wing Chun Kung-Fu". Straight of I recognised what he had been showing me was in that book!
(Master Kevin is referring to the Wing Chun book written by Rolf Clausnitzer and Greco Wong. Ed.)
By then I had matured a little, and found more in that book than fighting. It was the first book on Wing Chun ever published in english, and I still rank it as the best book ever published on Wing Chun. It put me on a path that ultimately led me to seek out my formal Teacher, Sifu Greg Tsoi.
Have you seen or heard from that guy since?
Well I did write back to him, however as I recall communication was through the shipping company, which then forwarded the mail to whereever he was in the world. I have never heard from him since. Ha! It's been fourty years!
Did you travel to Hong Kong or China for your training?
I have been invited on several occassions, however I never felt the need to travel to Hong Kong to further my training. My Teacher was based in Sydney.
Please tell us about your Teacher, Sifu Greg Tsoi (Sifu Choy Siu Kwong, Ed.).
Well, I don't have a lot to tell...I wrote to him and asked if he would accept me as a student if I travelled to Sydney. He wrote back and said yes, and I was on the next plane. The great thing about training with Sifu Greg was that he spoke reasonably good english. One of the reasons I later chose not to go to Hong Kong, was that to my knowledge the Elders didn't speak english, and I don't speak cantonese. Sifu Greg invited me to Hong Kong, but he also suggested that the training in Australia was equal if not better.
Do you ever regret not having gone to train with the seniors in Hong Kong?
Seniors? When I trained with Sifu he had been training for more than twenty years, (he commenced his training about 1951-'52, Ed.). He had been teaching publicly and privately for some twelve years, prior to which he had some experience instructing his juniors - including Bruce Lee - in the classes in Hong Kong. Further, he began his training as a private student of the Great Grandmaster Yip Man. So Sifu - your Si-Gung - was a senior Wing Chun master.
How much of an impact did Sifu Greg have on you and your training?
He had a tremendous influence on me. Up untill I met Sifu Greg I had really only been interested in Wing Chun for fighting. There is nothing wrong with holding that thought - for a moment - for that is the practical purpose of Wing Chun. To Fight. Yet such thought is superficial. Fighting is a shallow pool. Survival is a deeper pool, and in that regard Sifu Greg taught me that Wing Chun is really the art of fighting without fighting. I thought I was a fighter. Sifu Greg never claimed to be a fighter yet possessed superior fighting skills in comparison to what, in hindsight, could best be called my crude fighting skills. He filled gaps in my knowledge of Wing Chun, guided my practical developement, and, most importantly, opened doors in my mind.
Prior to traveling to Australia to study I was already aware that kung-fu was concerned not just with fighting but with health. However that side of the art had not interested me so much. I was just interested in the combative aspects. Essentially I was really ignorant of how inextricably interwoven the martial aspect of kung-fu was with Chinese medicine and philosophy. It was through Sifu Greg that I was awakened to the idea of the power of the mind. I refer to internal strength, internal health, and how this "mind force" is harnessed, not just for physical and mental health, but for use in martial application.
Did Sifu Tsoi teach internal strength, or 'chi', in class?
Well, the internal aspects of Siu Nim Tao, and then only in passing. No other internal training that I was aware of - certainly not in any class I attended. There was Iron Palm training, but I never witnessed such training during a class. Apart from that he sold herbal remedies, teas, and iron palm linaments. He was very knowledgable in the healing arts, having studied Chinese Medicine and alternative therapies for several years in Taiwan.
When you say 'internal strength' I presume you mean 'chi'. Do you teach students how to develop internal strength, or 'chi'?
That is an interesting question.The answer is both 'Yes', and 'No'. "No", because I do not hold classes specifically in chi development, and again 'No' because I do not claim to 'teach' chi. Yet the answer is also 'Yes', because I do teach students 'about' chi, about internal strength, and how to develop it through Siu Nim Tao. Actually every one has chi, and training Siu Nim Tao with the right 'idea' will develop chi. So you see a simple question has a complex yet simple answer!
How many times did you travel to Sydney to study with Sifu Tsoi?
Just the once. Unfortunately it seems he stopped teaching, (at least publicly, Ed.), and moved to Brisbane where he sold Real Estate for a time and practised Chinese Medicine, Reflexology, and other alternative therapies. But that information was given to me third hand, and I stand to be corrected on the detail.
Did you train with Sifu Tsoi much while you were there, or were you instructed in a class setting?
I had written requesting private tuition, and that is what I received. I trained privately with Sifu Greg once a day, and sometimes twice a day, depending on his timetable and what we had arranged the previous day.
Whereabouts did you train?
At the VCK Kung Fu Centre in George Street Sydney. I would arrive at the appointed time and take my instruction from Sifu Greg. This may have been an hour or so session, sometimes a couple of hours. Then students would begin arriving for a class, and I would participate in the class program. After the students departed I would take another lesson, or spend the rest of the day practising anything Sifu Greg had given me. Solo, or on the wooden dummy. I did considerable training on the wooden dummy while I was there. I would then attend the evening class as well. The only day I didn't train at the Academy was on a Sunday, as it was closed.
Please tell us what you can about the classes.
Well, the classes were not as intense or varied as our own classes back in Invercargill at the time. Most of the time training focused on basic drills, little in the way of practical application. Back home in Invercargill probably half the training time was spent on practical application. This is not a criticism of the Sydney classes, simply my observation of the small number of classes I attended. There may have been periods where classes focused more on application. As a teacher I am aware that a number of factors influence lesson content. It can also be said that we can never spend enough time on basics.
Bruce Lee movies were a huge influence for Wing Chun in the seventies. The classes must have been packed out.
Actually, the Sydney classes I attended were quite small, no more than eight or nine or so. Some daytime classes maybe just four or five of us. I recall the odd occassion where I was the only one there for a class, so I spent the afternoon going through my forms and refining moves on the wooden dummy, or taking an extra private session with Sifu Greg if he was available. Although Sifu Greg would be about, I don't recall him taking a class personally. Generally a senior student would take the class, or we organised ourselves. Occassionally Sifu Greg would offer some input. But even that was very rare. Generally only when he had been asked a specific question.
Did you teach any of the Australian students anything at all while you were there?
No. I did not go there to teach I went there to study and further my own skills. To have presumed to teach would have been rude and disrespectful. Besides, if my memory serves me correctly only Sifu Greg was aware that I was a Wing Chun teacher from New Zealand. I didn't make it general knowledge. So no, I did not teach, I participated in what the other trainees were doing on the day, and at other times I trained privately with Sifu.
I have heard it said that you claimed to have taught Wing Chun in Sydney, can you elaborate on that for us?
That was much later. (1979. Ed.) I lived in Sydney for about a year and taught both publicly and privately.
(Sifu Kevin produced a clipping from a Sydney paper, with text and photo, which showed he did indeed teach Wing Chun in Sydney. Ed.).
You mentioned spending considerable time training on the wooden dummy. I have heard it said that you once claimed to have learned the wooden dummy in a dream. Do you care to comment on that?
Ha! As well as teaching me a number of basic drills on the dummy Sifu Greg took me through the entire dummy form on a number of ocassions, and I studied each section of the dummy form diligently. On my return to New Zealand by the time I had built my own wooden dummy I was a bit rusty on it, and had some difficulty remembering the order of the sections, the order of the moves. During a period of intense training on the dummy and dwelling deeply on the moves I had a dream in which Sifu was going over the dummy form. On awakening refreshed I found it relatively easy to get the dummy form back in the order I had been shown. It is not unusual for intense study to invoke dreams or flashes of inspiration where previously acquired knowledge or prior experience is reawakened, or resurfaces. Obviously someone has misunderstood something I may have said in passing, taking it to mean that I had dreamt or otherwise invented the dummy form from nothing - which of course would be a nonsense! Why would I devalue my own diligence and hard work like that?
Thank you for clearing that up Sifu Kevin. And thank you for your time.
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