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2010 INTERVIEWS part 5

2010 part 5 - Continuing the Interview with Kevin Earle

Founder and Principal Instructor of Earle's Academy Ving Chun Kuen

Sifu Kevin. One student has asked about Si-Gung Choy Siu Kwong. The photo from the magazine article, is that the same photo you have had hanging in your studio?


Yes, the photo with Sifu Greg using the pole. That is the same photo which I have hung next to the photo of Grandmaster Yip Man since about 1975.


Do you know of other students of Si--Gung Choy Siu Kwong's who are still training or teaching?


Well, I know of only three others. YC Yeung (Yun-choi Yeung), who visited with us a few years ago while on a visit to Christchurch, and Zopa Gyatso, who teaches in Canberra, Australia, whom I haven't had the pleasure of meeting in the flesh. These two trained with Sifu Greg prior to my traveling to Sydney. However I have limited myself - naturally - to the Wing Chun I have been exposed to, while I believe both YC and Zopa have studied other systems of Wing Chun. YC also studies TaiChi, while Zopa has trained extensively in other martial arts.


And the third?


Tony Bardakos, deceased. I do not recall meeting him at Sifu Greg's, but If I remember correctly, I met him while visiting Jim Fung's academy, and again at one of Chu Shong Tin's seminars.


You mentioned previously that Si-Gung Choy was a senior Wing Chun practitioner when you trained with him. The question has been asked, does that mean he is senior to Chu Shong Tin?


Well, when I said that Sifu Greg was already a senior when I trained with him, that was not to imply that he was senior to any other Wing Chun practitioner. I was, (in response to an earlier question, ed.) simply pointing out the obvious - that after more than twenty years of training and teaching, and subsequently running his own Kung Fu school, I believe Sifu Greg was already a senior, a Master. I say obvious, because Wing Chun was developed, I believe, to be learned quickly.


Sifu Greg said that he started training when he was twelve years old, which means he started his training in 1951 or perhaps 1952. He also said that he started training a couple of years before Bruce Lee, who began his training about 1954. Since Chu Shong Tin began his official training on the first of January 1951, then he would be the most senior.

While Sifu Greg was only twelve years of age when he commenced his training, Chu Shong Tin was about nineteen years of age. Being some six years older, and already having some experience in the art, it would only be natural for the older student to give guidance to the youngster. And I was told by Chu Shong Tin (through an interpreter, ed.) that this was so, since he often instructed Yip Mans private lessons, and he remembered Sifu Greg from some of those sessions. I have no reason to doubt that. Therefore I think it can be assumed that Chu Shong Tin is the more senior of the two.


However I point out that Sifu Greg's Teacher was Yip Man, and so the lineage to Earle's Academy students is from Yip Man to Sifu Greg to myself. Not through Chu Shong Tin.

The question of seniorority is a complex question. When one is talking about seniorority is one understanding about age in years? Years in training? Knowledge acquired? Ability in applying knowledge? Who received permission to teach first? Combinations of these and other definitions? You see, seniorority can be implied in many ways. Some even develop their own 'system' and following, so of course they are the senior in their own organization.


For example, on a personal level - and I don't believe Sifu Beau will mind me mentioning him here - I occasionally refer to Beau as my student, and if one is looking purely at lineage, then that is, I believe correct. However it is more correct to say that Beau began his Wing Chun as a student of mine. Is he still a student of mine? When I am with Sifu Beau I am very much aware that I am in the presence of a man who is very much my senior on many levels. A man from whom I have learned much. Do either of us dwell on which of us is the senior, or which is the student? I think not.


So, while I believe it is important to have a correct understanding of ones lineage, I would suggest that ones time would be better spent training than being concerned with whom is senior.


Thank you Sifu Kevin. The next question I have here is, "I have read that there are numerous styles of Wing Chun, The Wing Chun taught at Earle's Academy, is that Yip Man Wing Chun?"


Well, on the one hand, since our lineage comes from Yip Man, the answer is 'yes', we teach the so called Hong Kong version of Yip Man Wing Chun. On the other hand, the answer is also 'no'. It is Earle's Wing Chun - how can I be Yip Man? If we taught Yip Man Wing Chun my name would be Yip Man, and the Academy would be named Yip Man Wing Chun Academy. Likewise I do not claim to teach Sifu Greg's Wing Chun. So, I teach the Hong Kong Wing Chun of Yip Man, as passed down, and to my understanding. Someone else may understand it differently.

Yet there are other teachers, several generations from Yip Man, who claim to teach Yip Man Wing Chun.


I cannot answer for others, or for the way they choose to define what they teach.


Where did Si-gung Choi rank amongst the fighters in the Wing Chun clan?


Sifu Greg never boasted about fighting or spoke about fighting in my presence. From what little has been written I believe he was more interested in the not fighting philosophy of kungfu, and the health benefits, rather than fighting. However I can only surmise, and I may be wrong. He may have been a fighter. Actually, since we are on the subject of fighting, in my opinion there is a lot of hype and nonsense surrounding the so called "fighters" of Wing Chun in those early years.


Really? Can you please explain what you mean by that?


Sure. At the risk of offending some people, in my opinion those so-called fighters in the Wing Chun clan of the mid fifties were just arrogant young thugs and louts (1). For example there are numerous stories about the exploits of the young Bruce Lee and William Cheung. But when one removes the rose tinted spectacles, the fact is that during the time written about, say 1953 to 1959 they were only twelve or thirteen years of age, being about eighteen or nineteen years old when they left Hong Kong.


Even Wong (Wong Sheung Leung, Ed.), was only about 19 when he first met and 'challenged' Yip Man. Yip Man was then in his late fifties and in his prime as a Wing Chun master, so I would expect he could show them a thing or to! They were just boys, and trouble makers at that. By some accounts Bruce Lee was fighting on the streets prior to his joining Wing Chun, meaning before he reached his teens. That is why his father wanted him to learn a martial art. (2).


Since he (Bruce) came from a wealthy family and had a driver to drop him of and pick him up from school, it would have been relatively easy for him to avoid trouble, but it seems that in the company of the likes of William Cheung, Hawkins Cheung, and others, they went about as a group looking for trouble. With who? My guess is other ten and twelve year olds they could bully and intimidate. But did they fight with anyone of note? Or with 25 year old triads? So they challenged a couple of masters of other styles. So what? If a thirteen or fifteen year old challenges an adult to fight, should the adult fight him? Which one will get into trouble with the authorities? And what master would fight with a child?

That's interesting, I hadn't looked at it quite that way. Do you have any evidence to back up your suggestion that Bruce Lee was, in your words, just an arrogant young thug?


Well I wasn't there, so I can only go by what has been written, and read between the lines. For one, it is recorded that Bruce had joined a street gang. (3). Also, according to his friend Hawkins Cheung, prior to him and Bruce leaving Hong Kong, a police check revealed that both their names were on a blacklist of known Juvenile delinquents. (4) Robert Lee, Bruce's brother, said that the police spoke with their father and said that they might have to put Bruce in jail. (5). I also read that his friend William Cheung had some similar trouble in Hong Kong.


About William Cheung. It is reputed that Bruce Lee credited him as being the top fighter in the Wing Chun family, and I have heard that he fought ten seaman on his trip from Hong Kong to Australia. He must have been a tough fighter.


Possibly. Seamen were a tough and rowdy bunch, so I've no doubt there could have been a fight of sorts. But like all stories they get exaggerated with time. Differing accounts have differing eyewitnesses, Wing Chun men, yet not one stepped in to help William, and there must have been some counting problems. Some accounts say that there were four opponents, some say that there were ten and that William Cheung locked himself in a cabin with them. Have you ever been in the cabin of an aged freighter? You would have a better chance of fitting three men and a dog into a lunch box.


Another story had forty opponents, with William getting a knife in his back, but still sorting them out. Evidently that fight was supposed to have taken place around the internal gangways, where only one person at a time could get near him. By Williams telling Hong Kong triads had put a hit out on him. Four triads had boarded the boat in Hong Kong, and when at sea they recruited a number of crewmen to kill him and throw his body overboard. A number of crewmen and the triads received broken limbs and multiple injuries, but no medical reports or Captains log, or police report have been produced. Sources say it was supposed to have made all the papers, but no one has ever produced a news clipping about the incident yet (5).


But what about Bruce Lee's exploits in America? Even the top US martial artists like Chuck Norris looked up to and trained with Bruce Lee.


So? Who were they really? No disrespect intended - I admire the personal training ethic of Bruce Lee and his later accomplishments. He was my hero, and there would be very little known about Wing Chun today if not for his example. I also respect the accomplishments of the early American karate exponents like Chuck Norris and Joe Lewis.

But look at the reality. Where did they come from? Lee came direct from a rich cultural tradition of Chinese martial arts thousands of years old. On the other hand I believe the Americans were struggling to come to grips with Japanese karate that had been in America for only twenty years, introduced there by US servicemen returning from the occupation of Japan after the second world war. And I suggest they hadn't learned much at that stage, since they were only in Japan for one or two years.


The guys like Chuck Norris, when Lee met these guys he had been training some six or seven years longer than any one of them, and none had experienced anything like Wing Chun. Naturally he blew them away. He should have and he did, so they called him a master. Yet in Wing Chun circles the general feeling among the older generation was "Bruce Lee? Not bad. Could have got quite good if he had of kept training".


Personally I believe that the impression Bruce Lee made on the American karate public spoke as much for the uniqueness and the power of Wing Chun in the martial environment that prevailed at the time, as it did the undoubted tremendous ability of the man.


It has been widely reported that Bruce Lee did fight and beat a British Champion in a Hong Kong boxing match while he was still a teenager. Doesn't that prove he was a great fighter?


While I accept Rolf Clausnitzer's account that there was a boxing match, again I believe that story has become exaggerated, or is quoted out of context. Who was this boxer that he fought? Why, another teenager like himself. And was he a British champion? Actually, I believe he was an American, another student at the British college Bruce attended, and that he was (perhaps) the amateur boxing champion of the college, not "The British Champion".


And even as the college champion, or even the under eighteen schoolboy champion of Hong Kong, what did that really mean? How many boys boxed in college? Was he the champion among three, or seven, or twenty? Did he box on to become a champion? No. So how good was he really? (Gary Elms, Ed.). If it was such a big championship match, there would be a record of it in boxing records, or in college records, or a trophy bearing his name. To my knowledge no one has produced any such record.


And compared to the actual boxing champions of the time, how good were the Chinese boxers? Can anyone name one Chinese World champion or Olympic champion? No disrespect to any boxer past or present, I am simply pointing out that Bruce Lee's boxing record has been used to help create a myth. In boxing circles, that match proved nothing. (6).


But what would people hope to gain by exaggerating stories of Bruce Lee's accomplishments?

You would have to ask them that. There could be numerous reasons. For example the re-telling of such stories add to the stature of the story teller, merely by association. There are reports from credible martial artists who new him personally which suggest that he developed incredible speed, power, and endurance, all of which are attributes required to develop successful competitive fighters. Have there been fighters or Wing Chun practitioners faster than Bruce Lee? More Powerful than Bruce Lee? I believe so, yes. But my remarks are not made to belittle Bruce Lee or his accomplishments. Far from it. I am merely suggesting that one should look beyond the words to the man.


Anyway, that is just my personal view. I would like to leave it there for now.


Thank you again for your time Sifu Kevin.


(1) Sifu Kevin is using the terms "thugs" and "louts" to describe his personal opinion of their general behaviour as boys in Hong Kong, not as a reflection of their character as adults.


(2) Lee's mother, Grace Ho, was from one of the wealthiest and most powerful clans in Hong Kong, the Ho-tungs. She was the niece of Sir Robert Ho-tung, patriarch of the clan. As such, the young Bruce Lee grew up in an affluent and privileged environment.....


post-war Hong Kong was a tough place to grow up. Gangs ruled the city streets and Lee was often forced to fight them. But Bruce liked a challenge and faced his adversaries head on. To his parents dismay, Bruce's street fighting continued and the violent nature of his confrontations was escalating.


After being involved in several street fights, Lee's parents decided that he needed to be trained in the martial arts. Lee's first introduction to martial arts was through his father. He learned the fundamentals of Wu style Tai Chi Chuan from his father.


(Ed's. note: Was he forced to fight them? By himself? Or did he choose to - in tow with his mates? Remember to, at this time they were pre-teens!)


"Lee’s father, Lee Hoi-Cheun, was his first tai chi instructor, teaching the Wu style of Tai Chi Chuan to him early on. After taking up with a Hong Kong street gang in 1954, Lee began to feel the need to improve his fighting. Thus, he began studying Wing Chun Gung Fu under Sifu Yip Man."

(3) 'Lee became a member of the "Tigers of Junction Street," and was involved in numerous gang-related street fights. ..... The police were called as a result.'


(4) "Prior to any Hong Kong resident leaving for a new country, you had to check with the police station to make sure your record was clean. Bruce applied for this certificate, and found that our names were on a blacklist of known juvenile delinquents. He called me at home. "Hawkins, big trouble," Bruce exclaimed. "Our names are on a known gangster list. I'm going down to the police station to clear my name, and while I'm there, I'll clear yours, too.", I thanked him. A few days later, a police investigator came to my house and questioned me about gang relations. Bruce's efforts to clear me actually got me more in trouble. My father had to pay off this investigator to have my name wiped from the record, or else I wouldn't have been able to attend college in Australia. I hated Bruce for that." Hawkins Cheung


(5) 'The police detective came and he says "Excuse me Mr. Lee, your son is really fighting bad in school. If he gets into just one more fight I might have to put him in jail".' —Robert Lee


(6) Sifu Kevin is simply pointing out that the quality of Chinese boxers involved in western boxing in the fifties showed little depth, and we support those remarks with the following quote: "EASTSIDE BOXING 31.05.06 - By W. Gregory Guedel: Let's start with a small number -- one. That's the total number of Olympic boxing medals China has captured in its history. Light-Flyweight Zou Shiming's bronze medal at the 2004 games in Athens represented China's first and only placing in the sport on the Olympic stage. One is also the total number of professional titles won by Chinese boxers. In April 2006, female fighter Zhang Xiyan became China's first ever professional boxing champion by defeating America's Alicia Ashley for the WBC women's lightweight crown. One amateur medal, one professional title. Not an overwhelming number."


"21 Years in Wing Chun" - Sifu Red remembers his first contact with Wing Chun.

"Finding Wing Chun" - Sifu Awatea - his beginning in the Art that has taken him into China, Australia, Southeast Asia, and Hong Kong.

"Invincible Ving Chun" - About the art of Invincibility.

"KungFu History" - Dispelling a myth and recounting some real Kungfu facts & history.

"KungFu Lifestyle" - How can one live a Kungfu lifestyle?

"Legend Of Wing Chun" -Ving Chun is simply defined.

"Little Ideas" .. frequently updated; thoughtful and inspirational ideas from members.

"Memories" ... a Wing Chun Sifu shares his impressions of his training days with Sifu Kevin.

"Schoolboy Interview" ... over 25 years ago a schoolboy interviewed Sifu Kevin.

"Sifu Net" ... Sifu Net And The Wing Chun Riddle. A must read.

"Siu Nim Tao" - Sifu Beau gives this followup to his 2011 workshops in NZ.

"Treasure Lost" ... the remarkable life of Huloo Loo-Chi Hu. 2 videos & articles.

"Wing Chun History" ... A legendary history of Wing Chun Kuen.

"Wing Chun History NZ" ... The real history of Wing Chun in New Zealand

"Wing Chun Master" ...only known interview with Wing Chun GrandMaster Choy Siu Kwong

"Women In Wing Chun" ... The 'First Lady' of Wing Chun - Karen Armstrong

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