2010 INTERVIEWS Part 2
Sifu Kevin, some have disputed that you were in fact teaching Wing Chun publicly as early as 1972. They claim it was in 1975 or '76, or even later. Can you shed any light on that?
Ha! Well, the recent launching of our new website may help dispel the rumours that I am dead or that I am no longer teaching, and other such nonsense. I am very much alive, still teaching, and amused that some people are bothered with the triviality of attempting to discredit me, or somehow gain from my silence. Friends from as far afield as Hong Kong have contacted me regarding these matters. Those who spread such rumours would be better of attending to their own training. The fact is that at that time (1972, Ed.) I wasn't interested in being the first, or creating an historical record, or having my photo taken with famous people - I was simply interested in studying Wing Chun. I was not concerned with dates.
Yet you are on record as stating that you were the first person to publicly teach a Chinese martial art in New Zealand. When was that?
First let me say that it is not important whether or not I was the first person to teach Chinese martial arts publicly here (in New Zealand, Ed). However to my knowledge, when I began formally teaching Wing Chun in 1972, or thereabouts, no one else was on record as teaching Chinese martial arts. By about 1974-75, following the new wave of martial arts movies resulting in the popularity of Wing Chun exponent Bruce Lee, some Japanese trained Karateka "discovered" their Chinese roots, so then overnight their classes were
being advertised as "Chinese Karate" and "Chinese Kempo". Of course in some cases that is historically correct, however prior to that time they had publicised themselves as being of Japanese tradition - which in fact they were.
So can you tell us when you started teaching?
Well, I fell into teaching by circumstance and as part of the natural progression of my own learning. And by 1976 we were well established in Southland, having been involved in public demonstrations, workshops, and the opening of a branch in Gore.
You had classes in Gore as well?
Yes. Actually, if I remember correctly we opened there in March of 1976, which is perhaps where some confusion comes in. Anyway, on our opening night in Gore some 65 people turned up.
65? In Gore?
Yes. Not bad for a farming township famed for its country & western singing. After a week or so it soon settled down to about thirty or so regular trainees.
Tell us how you got started in Gore.
Sure. A young guy from Gore, Colin Double, had been traveling down to Invercargill to train once or twice a week for a couple of years or so. That's about an hours drive each way. A promising young instructor, he expressed an interest in starting a class in Gore. So he got it organised, and Beau Bouzaid and I traveled up to Gore and helped him get it started.
(Sifu Kevin produced newspaper clippings and two excerpts from the "South Pacific Martial Arts" magazine that left this writer in no doubt that he has been teaching Ving Chun publicly since 1972 or '73. Ed).
Actually, my friend Norman Chin from Dunedin started teaching White Crane Kung-Fu publicly during this period as well, and we had two or three joint training sessions between our students. That was maybe about 1975-'76. So perhaps Norman Chin was the first to teach Chinese martial arts in this country. We never discussed it. It was never an issue. But still, I believe I was the first to teach Wing Chun in New Zealand. However, my Wing Chun cousin Peter Yu also began teaching Wing Chun publicly in Wellington at about that same time - around 1975 I believe. Peter was a student of Tam Hun Fan from Hong Kong. Perhaps they were the first, however it wasn't a race. I am sure that would have been the furtherest thing from our minds....
Thank you for clearing that up. Can you tell us more about your early years teaching?
Well I was teaching perhaps as early as 1969 or '70. After all, I taught myself from day one - since my first contact with Wing Chun while living in Wellington and by 1970 - '71 I was living in Invercargill. Then for a year or so I trained privately with a couple of friends. At that time I was boxing and working part time as a doorman at a hotel, so I was quite well known.
You were working as a bouncer?
I prefer the term Doorman, or, Managers Representative. Anyway, a few young guys kept asking me to teach them how to look after themselves. At first it was quite casual, and I would teach a mixture of western boxing, Wing Chun, and skills I had developed working as a doorman. After a while I would have fifteen or twenty so people arrive at my place on a Saturday afternoon and we would train in the backyard. I recall several occasions when four or five carloads of us would just head out to the beach and find a quiet spot to train and have fun.
It sounds like fun!
It was. We used to have a great time. Anyway, my passion for Wing Chun rubbed of on some of the other guys and by 1972 or '73 we were spending most of our time together focusing just on the Wing Chun, and we started having classes one evening a week, as well as the Saturday. In 1973-74 we formally organised ourselves under the banner "Hsiao Loong Kung Fu Kwoon". Later I adopted the name Earle's Academy, while my student, kung fu brother, Teacher, and friend, Beau Bouzaid, retains the name Hsiao Loong Kung Fu Kwoon.
And you were still training at the beach?
Around that time, maybe 1974, we trained Thursday nights and Saturday mornings in the Southern Cross Scout Hall, and some time later we also had a Monday night class in the Georgetown Hall.
Thank you Sifu Kevin for outlining the historical development of Earle's Academy, and Ving Chun Kuen in New Zealand. Some questions have been forwarded concerning your training.
Thank you. Had you, or have you, studied Karate?
Apart from reading a couple of books, no. I had trained for about three months in Judo when I was younger, however until I immersed myself totally in Wing Chun my main sporting activity was western boxing. I trained boxing in Porirua East with Bob Elley, and then in Invercargill with Bill Enright. Let me just add here, that I studied Wing Chun for its functional practicality, not because of its origins, or historical roots.
Apart from Judo and Boxing, have you studied any other martial arts?
Well, since my hobby is kung-fu, naturally I do study other aspects of martial arts. But no more than reading, observing, and privately practising various methods. Some stickfighting. But not a serious study of another art, no. More an exploration born of my own personal curiosity and development. My real interest is kung-fu, and in that area I have had some experience, some mutual exchanging of ideas with other Masters; Praying Mantis, Hung Kune, White Crane. A little formal Tai Chi instruction. But specifically my interest is Wing Chun Kung-Fu. I have found through experience that I am busy enough trying to perfect my personal skills in Wing Chun and helping others to do the same, without spending valuable time trying to master multiple styles.
Okay. You mentioned stickfighting. Please tell us about your involvement with stickfighting.
Not much to tell really. I had dabbled with sticks, becoming reasonably familiar with basic methods - in fact I used to teach nunchaku - and while in Sydney I was introduced to Master Perry Gamsby, the Australian representative for Corral System Arnis. So I was lucky enough to get to train with Perry on a few ocassions. I say lucky, because Perry was rated by Master Sam Corral, the founder of Corral System Arnis, as one of the best Arnis instructors in the world.
I organised for my eldest son, Clay, and a student, Leigh Jenkins, to live in Sydney and train Wing Chun with Sifu Beau Bouzaid, of the Hsiao Loong Kung Fu Kwoon. Sifu Beau also studied Corral System Arnis as well as Doces Pares Escrima. In fact Beau was a black belt and New South Wales rep for Cacoy Canetes' Doces Pares Escrima. (GrandMaster Ciriaco Cacoy Canete Doces Pares Escrima Pangamont, Ed.). So those boys were introduced to Escrima through Master Beau.
So it was Clay and Leigh who were the stickfighters from Earle's Academy?
Well, what happened was, Sifu Beau introduced Clay and Leigh to Master Vince Palumbo, the Australian representative for Cacoy Canete. When Leigh opened his Wing Chun & Escrima School in Christchurch, he brought Vince over for a workshop and we held the first ever grading of Cacoy Canete Doces Pares Escrima in New Zealand.
When was that?
1996. Prior to that I had also brought Sifu Beau, and on another ocassion Geoff Rudd, one of Master Perry Gamsby's Corral System Arnis instructors, over from Sydney to Christchurch for workshops.
Did you train in Escrima?
I did for a short while, mainly to support my sons and Leigh in encouraging others to train with them. Personally I am too involved with Wing Chun. However my sons were Leighs right-hand men in Escrima when Leigh opened his school in Christchurch. (Leigh Jenkins, NZ Wing Chun Kung Fu and NZ Doce Pares Eskrima. Ed.).
So Leigh Jenkins is the most senior student from Earle's Academy...
No. Leigh's seniors are still with Earle's Academy, or running their own schools. To name a few - Clay Earle, Luke Earle, Awatea Edwin, Dean Davidson, Beau Bouzaid - in fact Leigh was graded to Black Belt ranking by Sifu Beau while training at the Hsiao Loong Kung-fu Kwoon in Sydney, prior to going to Hong Kong, so naturally Beau is Leigh's senior by many years and experience.
That's interesting Sifu Kevin. Moving on - not only did you introduce Wing Chun but really you were in the fore-front, if not directly responsible, for the introduction of Doces Pares Escrima into New Zealand.
Since you put it like that, I would say indirectly that's true. Yes. And when Leigh Jenkins opened his school I encouraged all of my students, including my sons, to train with him if they wished, to help him get established. That gave Leigh the financial base to bring out Vince Palumbo from Australia, thereby benefiting all of the students. His senior instructors Hugh Puttock, Kyle McWilliams, and Edward Benton, were among those Earle's Academy members I encouraged to support Leigh Jenkins.
Do you teach stickfighting?
Escrima? No. Not as a system. Occasionally I may teach methods of using Wing Chun against a stick wielding assailant, but not much beyond that. I am to busy with Wing Chun.
Japanese? Chinese? Actually, it is just a weapon, a tool, although in point of fact its origins are Chinese. So I do occasionally teach Chinese nunchaku, yes.
Many Wing Chun practitioners gravitate toward stickfighting systems. Is that because they are similar to the Wing Chun Butterfly knives?
Well, sticks are easy to obtain, reasonably safe to train with, and generally speaking the stick fighting systems are practical. However those who think they are the same as the Wing Chun Butterfly Knives are mistaken, although there appears to be some similarity.
Could you explain some of those differences for us?
I could, yes. Wait for my book.
Thank you for your time Sifu Kevin