My SiFus: Part II

My kung fu brother’s council

A few days later, while meeting up with my Kung Fu brother Poon Tung, I mentioned my encounter with our Grandmaster. After I told him everything, he grimaced and slapped me on the side of my head and exclaimed, “Idiot! There are so many people lining up, offering large sums of money, begging to be taught by him… He comes and offers to teach you, and you tell him that you’ll think about it!?!?”

I felt like a complete fool. Poon Tung took me to see my father right away and told him about my encounter with the Grandmaster. My father, excited and eager for me to take this opportunity offered to support me so that I can continue my Wing Chun training with the Grandmaster.

My Sifu Lok Yiu is a man of dignity, of strict, severe and demanding work ethics. He diligently built his students’ foundation and basic understanding. His Sifu, Yip Man recognized all of this. Sifu Yip Man mentioned to me with pride that, “Sifu Lok Yiu’s insight of Wing Chun theory and sticky hands surpasses even my own. Lok Yiu is totally outstanding.”


Sifu Yip Man’s advice to approach Wing Chun

The first lesson with my Sifu Yip Man is memorable. He wanted to review everything I learned so that he can correct me. He started from the beginning, the First Form, Sil Lim Tau.

I started to measure my horse by turning out my toes at 45 degrees, once, twice, three times, then four times. “Kong Jai, Stop. Wait a minute. Let me explain. Yes, normally measuring the width of the stance like that is correct, but how about if you’re born with small feet; or you’re born with longer feet. Are you going to use the same method to find the proper width?”

Sifu explained that the correct horse width should roughly be a little wider than the shoulders and described the purpose behind the horse and why we train it just so. Then I understood the idea that even though you’re doing a form, you have to adjust the movements to fit your own body structure.

Continuing with the Form, I did the introductory hand movement that concludes with Tai-sau (holding the two elbows in front of the body and lifting the two elbows upwards straight). I recalled that some Wing Chun schools performed this portion differently by turning the hands in a circle. So I asked Sifu why there is a difference.

He told me every movement in the Sil Lim Tau is a technique and each movement has a meaning to it. He said that you can’t change the movement and still hold true to the meaning behind. Then Sifu showed me the application for the two hand movements I performed and he said, “Think about it your self. Which one is correct and makes more sense.”

In this open manner we kept on training. Nearing the end of the class, Sifu suddenly asked me a very interesting question. “Am I famous? Do you think you can learn something from a famous Sifu?”

I thought of his famous student Bruce Lee and replied, “Of course you are famous! I consider I can definitely learn something from you!”

He then explained to me that even though I consider him famous it doesn’t mean that I can learn something worthwhile from him.

He gave me a scenario. Suppose our founder Yim Wing Chun comes alive to teach you and it turns out what you learn is not practical for use in a real fight. How about someone who is nobody but he can show you some technique - Wing Chun technique that really works in a fight. What do you think? Why do you want to learn from a famous Sifu?

Sifu told me not to blindly believe everything he says. He told me to do my own research using my common sense with his teachings as a guideline. After all, he would tease me, “Kong Jai, how do you know I’m not cheating you?”

He concluded the lesson by saying, “I’m not telling you not to respect me or to question my knowledge. Of course you have to respect the Sifu. I want you to use your common sense. Accept what I say, research it. Test it. Don’t mystify the art. If you can’t see it, and if you can’t feel it, then how do you know it is correct and practical? This is the only way to understand.”

Wing Chun can only be earned

Sifu Yip Man’s method of teaching was completely different from anything I had ever experienced. He was always challenging me intellectually with Wing Chun theory and philosophy. He gave me new ideas and different approaches and was always making me think about what I was doing.

For instance, Sifu had showed me in detail the pull and punch chasing punch (chain punching), a technique which a lot of people would consider a trademark of Wing Chun fighting. He had explained the physics behind this technique and I felt the power when I practiced it. I really liked it, I felt confident using it, and considered it to be very effective. He asked me if I thought this technique was effective. And I replied, “Of course!”

In his typical manner of teaching, he said, “Now that you understand how to perform the technique properly, I want to show you how this technique doesn’t work.” I was startled and confused by what he could’ve meant.

He asked me to use the technique against him. When I did, he countered it easily. “Sifu, what happened? ” I was more confused. He said, “Kong Jai, no technique is a perfect technique. Even if you work diligently at it there are still many things to consider such as speed, power, timing, positioning and range. I want you to really think about this after the lesson.”

As I was leaving, I tried to discuss what happened with Sifu again, but unexpectedly, I got a lecture. “I am your Sifu. I have a responsibility to teach you. But I don’t have to baby you. If I keep answering all your questions you’ll always rely on me. Can you find a way to answer these questions yourself? Tell me! How old am I? Do you expect in your whole life you can keep coming to Sifu for answers? Do your research! Don’t build a habit of relying on other people, even Sifu. You will never gain understanding without figuring it out for yourself. Yes, I can teach you what I know. I can give you my experiences and ideas. But you won’t really get Wing Chun, unless you figure a way to earn it yourself.”

Martial Arts experiments

I spent a lot of time with Sifu Yip Man. I was lucky enough to have a flexible job at the Hong Kong airport which allowed me to workout under my Sifu’s tutelage. As a result I was gaining an even better picture of Wing Chun than what I had before. Whenever I had spare time I would accompany Sifu on adventures around Hong Kong. It was during these precious times that Sifu passed down his knowledge and philosophy to me.

Remembering my lecture, I followed my Sifu’s advice and performed my own research and experiments using his teaching as my guide. I had many close friends in different Martial Art styles and we would get together and spar. I had sparring matches with them as often as we could arrange. From these experiences, I would analyze what works and what doesn’t work. When I couldn’t figure out something I would ask my Sifu. As I was progressing in my understanding, so were my friends in their understanding of martial arts. After all, they had their Sifu’s advice also.

After about two years or so, it came to a point that my Wing Chun wasn’t working properly for me. I was sometimes getting beat up. You see, during these later free sparring matches, I had the insight of how I was being attacked. I knew what I did wrong and why I was defeated. But, no matter how I tried, I couldn’t overcome my opponents. There would come a point during the sparring sessions, that attacks would come to me and I had all the ideas of how to counter them BUT my body just wouldn’t do what I wanted it to do! Then I understood that there was something I was missing in my Wing Chun training.

I practiced and practiced and kept trying, but still I couldn’t figure out how to accomplish my goal. Finally, I went to my Sifu Yip Man and told him about my research and experiences. I told him I felt something was missing. He listened to me and smiled in his special way and said, “Ha! Very good! Now you know.”

He told me, “Yes. Basically you learned everything from me Confidence, technique, power, understanding… You have that. But, remember what I told you? Besides these elements we have to train timing, speed, endurance, flexibility, reflex, etc… Without all these important training, no matter how hard you train, you will only have a shell of the art. It only looks like Wing Chun but it has no substance. Let me tell you honestly. I am 70 years old now. Due to my physical condition and because of my age, I cannot show you how to train these things… But, I have 5 private disciples who trained everything in Wing Chun. They have the power and skill (Gung lek), to show you so you will get it. Do you want to learn?”

He continued to tell me about the training involved, “That kind of training is really tough. Are you sure you want to do it? Do you think you can take the pressure? Are you willing to make the sacrifice? I want you to think about it for a few days. Consider what I said. Then tell me your decision. But, don’t waste my time.”

One day, I told Sifu of my growing desire to travel around the world and maybe settle down in America. I also told him I didn’t make my decision yet but I would let him know soon. This was an important commitment and I wanted to be sure it was what I wanted. I didn’t want to start training and then quit. That would be disappointing to Sifu.

A few days later, Sifu Yip Man asked me what my decision was. I told him that I already committed to travel but I will dedicate myself to train when I return to Hong Kong. He told me the names of his 5 private disciples and told me when I returned from my trip he will introduce me to them.

Sifu could sense my pride in Wing Chun and reminded me that I still had a lot more training to complete the whole system. He warned me that even though I have some talent, I should continue to practice even harder. Ignore your art for one day and it will forget you for two.

My Sifu Yip Man is a man of wisdom and great knowledge, especially in Martial Art. He considered Wing Chun to be his greatest treasure and like any man with a valuable treasure, he guarded it very well; choosing only to give it to the certain people for his own private reasons. My Sifu Yip Man never sold his Art.

I am sincerely grateful to my Sifu Yip Man for sharing his Wing Chun knowledge with me.

Continue to My SiFus: Part III

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