Questions and Answers

A selection of questions and answers over the years from John’s classes, workshops, and e-mails. These may be informative regardless of training with John or his Teachers. Please see available books and other web sites for greater depth and more information. Views expressed below are John’s and may not accurately express his Teachers, or his Teachers Teachers, methods, practices, or explanations.

1. What is Wing Chun?

LA KF CORFU 2013 1It a style of Kung Fu made famous by Bruce Lee who studied it -however not to completion its said, with Yip Man, he only got two thirds of it, the rest partially from William Cheung. For instance we never see Bruce Lee with Butterfly Knifes. In Hong Kong as a youth. Its a Shaolin hybrid, ‘bare bones’ ‘Master Art’ {nothing flowery or particularly beautiful about its movements much the same ethos as the Internal Art Hsing Yi} a condensed style that originates as the story goes in one of the Shaolin monasteries, by the legendary Five Grand Masters.

This story says it was developed as a quicker method to learn; three to five years instead of ten to twenty. It removed what was considered superfluous and redundant or ‘showy’ movements, and training.

This is summed up as ‘efficiency rather than beauty’. The traditional history and counter claims to its origins, particularly by Yip Mans surviving son Yip Chun, are widely available all on line so I suggest looking there. I studied it in my youth after I began studying Tai Chi and becoming some what disheartened, looking for a quicker, simpler and more brutal martial method. It was still as challenging for me as Tai Chi, to my frustration! Just in different ways.

That’s what twenty something’s are like though, not very good at the long drawn out slog to get something. Certainly for me anyway in the beginning till I got obsessed!

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2. What style do you do?  No idea!;-}

Seriously, I learnt primarily only from one teacher originally, even though I’ve been to other schools to see their styles, and even briefly trained there.

My teacher was the late Derek Jones. He learnt first from Victor Kan {student of Yip Man at same time as Bruce Lee}, then the story goes as he told us, ‘beat him up’, proving his superior skill {Derek was already a keen street fighter from Wales before he learnt Wing Chun. In that way he was very much like his hero Bruce Lee}.

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Yip Man a few months before his death

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Yip Man and his students circa 1956

Kan has a different version of the story I’m told, and have heard, about Derek’s ‘need’ to leave the school, and his desire to set up his own school. Who knows. Kan still mentions him on his website all these years later.

Derek then went to learn with William Cheng, Vickors class mate, so also a students of Yip Man, but teach different versions of it.

There’s been a lot of talk over the years about the truth or fabrication of transmission from Yip Man to William Cheng of Traditional Wing Chun {TWC] verses Modified Wind Chun {MWC}. Only Cheng knows the truth about what he does and where it came from. All I know is Derek learnt Victors first {MWC} then Williams {TWC} second. Derek was never beaten in a street fight {he agreed a challenge fight with a karate guy -different versions go of that story too,mostly likely it was a draw, but I wasn’t there so I cant say} Its one reason Derek then went his own ‘Way’ in WCKF. Derek rated Cheung above all other Wing Chun exponents, as it so seems did Bruce Lee, who maintained a relationship with him even while in the USA pre and post fame.

IMG_23632869989565William Cheung forms on video are similar to what I learnt from Derek, BUT with some moves, and less obvious subtleties left out. So Derek taught this version, certainly until he changed and developed his methodology with his ‘Mind Body Spirit’ School in the late 80’s early 90’s. So in that sense I trained in TWC, then MBS.Its said that Yip Man trained in other martial arts during his time before he taught Wing Chun in his later years. No one knows if that is true or if so what they were, I think there are many elements in there that I can identify, but that may be just my imagination and others too. If anyone thinks they got the whole deal from him I really doubt it. He made Wing Chun famous though, especially through his student Bruce Lee, whatever its true development prior to him, or other lines that still exist. 

He too was unbeaten as far as I know, and he worked as before he started teaching at the age of 50, as a police man, so he had to be able to fight. His life may have been sanitised and beefed up by those since, and the films about him are wildly exaggerated, to foster their own was and line various pockets, but we WCKF all acknowledge him. Anyway in all martial arts, few stay with exactly as their teacher taught, its why style emerge, everyone finds their own truth. In Wing Chun their are many different versions now, some saying theirs is modern, others the traditional, ‘original’, some of its all a lot of marketing BS, as usual that’s as old as Shaolin. The old macho ‘mines bigger than yours mentality’ pissing contest attitude that unfortunately that prevails when any one gets empowered or wants to be seen to be is as old and older. Its a trap we all have to learn about at some point in some way, not just in Martial Arts.

Derek became openly frustrated by Master Cheung, feeling he couldn’t get any more from him. He showed us how Cheung was subtly and overtly incorrectly showing positions in his books to mislead others. His present forms aren’t exactly how he does them in his early books either. Because of this and more, I don’t know, and other reasons regarding some dubious behaviour of Derek’s I wont mention, and I do know, Derek ‘left’ Cheung and developed his own new school of ‘Mind Body Spirit’ having felt he’d found his own truth. I think he did, it was pretty cool stuff.

The fact that Derek was also getting into a lot of ‘chi cultivation’ is worth mentioning as some WCKF people don’t at all and dispute its existence or relevance and go the purely physical route, as some do in Tai Chi. He was training to move objects without touching them {match boxes on a table top was how far he got when I was there first in 1986} for instance, learning this he said from a ‘ Secret Shaolin.

DEREK JONES2‘Manuscript’. He quite openly said he had ‘stolen’ this, from whom I wont say, but this points to the lengths he’d go and his mind set which I didn’t like, but let go. I’ll say no more in print on the that apart from I’d never steal, let alone from the Chinese, that’s a truly dumb, stupid, and out right risky endeavour. On the other side of his Chi development, his strength and focus was incredible, for instance he filled a punch bag with cement and used to kick that-once at time was all he could manage. But he moved like a normal bag! He didn’t use weights, just lots of body weight exercises, chin ups on a bar he put in the basement where we trained in with him in the basement school in Shepherds Bush London. He got very lean, and when he oiled up for some publicity photos one time, well we all took the piss out of him about that! Everyone was at it though in the 80’s, me too as I was in the modelling game. This was the time of Claude Van Dam at his peak so muscles were in, Dolph Lungren, Stallone etc were all at it too. I’d started at a gym too a couple of years before to bulk up. My life as a punk had made me painfully, and ridiculously thin.

Anyway Derek took the piss taking very well! His anger was there, but he handled well around us, he was like that, very down to earth as a person, teacher, more a friend and mentor than a the typical Chinese thing. The thing was Derek really wanted to be better than Van Dam. He admired him, but also slated him a lot, called him glorified poncey ballet dancer. In the ring he said though he wont win against a kick boxer, because of the rules that banned elbow strikes and other techniques, but on the street where anything goes, a different story. He greatly admired their dedicated and hard training though. It was jealously too he had enough of grim basements and shepherds bush. He’d loved Bruce Lee from the day he spent watching the films again and again in the cinema in wales as a kid. He was a truly obsessed man. Its where i first read Krishnamuti books and Lees too, in that dank old basement school smelling of iron palm medication, sweat, smells from the street above, and wild dreams.

He openly looked for fights in London’s pubs and clubs, loved telling us about his hair raising antics. Yes he was a bit of a show off. He dressed to impressed, a bit of a ‘soul boy’ thing as it used to be called. He liked to dance, so did i, and that helps a lot in martial arts. Distance timing, direction changes. I used night clubbing to experiment with these things outside of classes in WCKF and TCC. Lee did dance too, if you doubt its uses.

We all wondered if someone might really take offence, and just blow Derek away one day, with a sawn off shot gun, or a knife in the back. That happened in London. Its ugly, it was ugly. We chatted before class cleaning the floors and changing room at the back. He was very candid about everything he did, but to me he seemed, even in my excessive 20’s, that he took too many crazy risks. He was very ‘old school’, if you did martial arts you fought, and not just in a class. Step up or F off basically. I realised soon I wasn’t into violence to this out there degree, i hated fights, but I stuck with it, as bullying experiences as a kid had got me there in the first place. He was very supportive of me because of this, especially when my mother died in 87ish and left me cold and off the rails.

DSC_1336Also we ‘had’, it wasn’t compulsory, to go and challenge other schools students as part of our training. I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would! It hurt! I got a rep though which i liked but made me a bit of a tool. An incident where i attacked a friend at a party in 88/9, I cant remember, from a light hearted provocation, was the low point of my aggression and ability. I’m still mates with hat guy, so it was sorted fortunately. It freaked me out though. I took up yoga at that point, another friend took me along. That’s another story.The manuscript theft though, continued to worry me a lot. I certainly wouldn’t want that kind of karma and when Derek died in the early 90’s in traffic accident about a year after I drifted away, I wondered about what really happened. He was about to break into the film industry, Hollywood was on the cards, trying to emulate his hero Bruce Lee and supplant the Van Dams. I’d already tried that path a little, and realised by the end of the 80’s that it wasn’t for me. I told him as much to look out.

I think he would have loved it but might have suffered in many ways like his hero. There are show reels of film of Derek he did to this end including him doing a great nunchuk routine, a father of one of his students shot these, the copyrights mean that they cant appear on You Tube, which is a real shame. It would have made him happy to be famous at least in that way finally. He was so good, and very photogenic. He wasn’t at peace though. What a waste, his poor wife. I didn’t go the funeral, missed it, really gutted me.

His death effected me deeply for many years, It still saddens me decades later. I didn’t train in Wing Chun for over a year afterwards. I then lost interest in Wing Chun for a long time, kept up the forms purely to remember them, but had returned to concentrate on Tai Chi, then Aikido for a bit, then Ba Gua. My personal epiphanies about WCKF didn’t occur till the last decade. Maybe they would have happened earlier who knows.

His school still exists in London, run by his most senior student, and other ex students run schools too. I never went back to Shepherds Bush after his death. I’ll always remember the little things, particularly fondly his love of jelly beans which he kept in a big jar on the small table at the bottom of the stairs to the basement cellar, his school. They sat next to a plastic human body acupuncture model you only used to see in Chinese Herb shops. Prob where he got it, as he bought herbs for his ‘Iron Palm’ medicine from various Chinese Herb suppliers, splitting the prescription so no one supplier knew the whole formula. Now you buy it on line, but i doubt its the real stuff.

J & L WING CHUN 86My Wing Chun is very influenced by my small frame Tai Chi and another arts. I don’t know if that is good or bad. Its just what its is as I’ve spent a lot of time and effort on tai chi. Those from other schools respectively say my WC is very relaxed and fluid ”your hands fly round like a wind mill’ said one.

Theirs is very powerful too, probably more especially if they are younger. Its just they train in ways that I don’t do anymore or perhaps don’t know. Most WCKF is mostly suited to the younger athletic person. I’m pretty good for a old guy, its helped me keep youthful. Some of it out there though is really just only the ‘Yang’ elements of the Art, the ‘Yin’ entirely absent. Not WCKF as far as I can say then. Its all USP, ‘unique selling point’, it saturates so much now its crazy, the Chinese have been at it for ever. Its why I haven’t taught it since the 80s.

Interestingly Derek thought Tai Chi was too regimented and fixed in its approach, but he respected it, and went to watch Chinese masters demonstrate especially as he was getting into the more Chi side of Wing Chun in the late 80s. He was impressed but I don’t think it was violent or expressive enough for him. It doesn’t look good in action films either. A lot of Wing Chun has now dispensed with the fundamentals such as sensitivity training, Chi Sau, centre line theory, and any Chi Kung. How can that be called Wing Chun, I don’t know. Its great that so many get a lot from their art though, but they might be missing the wood for the trees I suspect.

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3. What are the similarities between Tai Chi and Wing Chun?

Too many too mention! As are the differences. A lot of similarities to Hsing I too. Direct, straight in, no nonsense, doesn’t look pretty, doesn’t back down. No traditional spiritual potential unlike Tai Chi or Ba Gua its said, but I don’t agree about that. The single possible greatest similarity is that neither WCKF or TC martially resist a stronger force but seek to neutralise it. Or at least get out of the way if all else fails!

IMG_8146106896867Both Wing Chun and Tai Chi are based on movements of the Snake and the Crane

Movement wise Tai Chi ‘s raising Single Arm Ward Off {Peng},and Raising High Roll Back {Lu}, both have parallels to Wing Chun’s Bon Sau and other techniques. The difference is the absence of obvious rolling the attacking arm away as in in TC, rather often just butting/hitting it away often in WC. But it can be done that way to in WC, the softer, older more internal exponents seem to do this. Absence of tension in Tai Chi is the most obvious difference { the ‘metal’ element training of the ‘steel hidden in cotton’ training in TC is similar to the structure of the body in WCKF but feels different} between the two. Many can get away with being hyper tense in wing chun {it seems very appealing when your younger feeling your muscles hard like that i did that too, its a waste of time} and a lot enjoy that rush of hormone fuelled aggression. I did till i wised up and found a smoother route, I was a nasty unhinged piece of work when I wasn’t. My anger issues were huge. Too many use that like Bruce Lee did, the anger thing, blows your brain, literally. Why don’t they learn form his death, just obsessed with the images he left and not the methods, good and bad.

IMG_20131018_093444Finger strikes -’Bil Jee’ in Wing Chun, are in also Tai Chi, for instance hidden in ‘Lift Hands’, ‘Play Guitar’ and ‘White Crane Spreads Wings’.The foot work I found similar in both, {get out of the way and reposition} but I didn’t do the ‘sliding step’ of other Wing Chun styles.

Knee, pelvis and spinal alignments are mostly but not always different, being more complex requirements in Tai Chi. In large frame this is most obvious, but with small frame Tai Chi it can look and even feel quite similar to WCKF.

Simultaneous deflect and strike often with the same arm, is more obvious in TCC, less so in WCKF. In fact this helped me to be faster in WCKF, and the softness relax thing, and get past a ‘stop start stop start’ mentality in movements.

Both systems rely on very good rooting, solid integrated body structure, relying on tendons and ligaments not muscles. Both traditionally aim to work supported by Chi. That’s not always the case though with either. Being unmovable is sought in both, standing your ground so to speak, especially if you are cornered and can t get out the way. Both need to be able to move well when necessary or when the opportunity arises . J STC CORFU 2013 10WCKF in the beginning moves hands independently of the body which what a lot of us need so we don’t have too much to learn. Later on it doesn’t- its just you cant see it! Derek saw this as one of the ‘advanced’ methods of the art. Non separation of upper and lower body, energetically, not necessarily visually evident. I suspect Teachers keep this if they know it, from their students keeping them in the dark and therefor less of a threat. Then again maybe this is not WCKF but what Cheung adapted into it. It depends on what version of the story you take.

Lastly there’s not usually any striking of inanimate objects in Tai Chi, though some do. In WCKF there is the ‘wooden dummy’ wall pads, bags etc, which provides this. I found and still find this a useful and realistic tool.

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4. Would you say its valuable to do both Tai Chi and Wing Chun?

Hard to say. For me it was. If you have the time to do both yes, if not stick to the one you enjoy. Its about preference, mind set and temperament. Tai Chi in my mind will give you more over time, but you’ll spend a long time and effort getting it. Higher returns seem to come from greater investment as with money. TC is in my opinion is more useful then WCKF for those who just want health and peace of mind. WCKF will give you martial benefits more quickly though, but is not perfect, it depends on the person though not the style.

J WTC CORFU 2013 6

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5. You didn’t teach Wing Chun until now, whys that?

fa jing punch BWFirstly its was my emphasis, no one whose not in to fighting is going to learn it, tai chi accommodates all kinds of interest and many types of need.

My emphasis is on Tai Chi, and to a degree Ba Gua. I was a student instructor, taught my girlfriend at the time for instance. WCKF went out of fashion before the Yip Man films too, no one was interested.

Also out of respect to Derek. I didn’t finish my final training with Derek before he died. I got the all the forms, and he said ‘I had it’ {in fact that was in the first year he first said that, I honestly then and now thought he was wrong at that point, I didn’t think I had anything at all till later, but i was very insecure and too hard on my self} However I didn’t have the ‘extreme love’ for violence and fighting he did. He looked for fights in London’s pubs and streets as he did when younger in Wales. I often chatted to class mates about whether someone would really take offence to Derek and just shoot him one day. This happened in London a lot, it wasn’t unusual. He already had a young family when i started in 86, I we thought he was brilliant, but fool hardy.

I regret to this day I didn’t see him enough before he died { even though i trained after college three times a week, double classes the lot}, modelling, then social life, then work as a jewellery designer and photographer got in the way, and if i’m honest I was lazy about it in general. I went to live in Canada too in late 87 till 88 which gliched my training till 89. Also he wanted to be in films, an action hero and all that garbage, like his hero Bruce Lee. Id had my fling with that path in the 80’s in fashion and advertising trying be an actor. I found it a hollow crazy world of mostly awful people I wanted no part of. It made me a little less into him unfortunately by the 90s, I was probably too judgemental, that’s 20 somethings for you. Think they know everything. Rubbish!;-}.

I didn’t realise what I had in him. You never know what you’ve got till its gone, is so true. You never know when you’re teacher is going to die, they don’t just have to be old. I’ve lost three to date {2013} two after him. Now I don’t take any moment for granted, with teachers, any one, so that’s a good if a painful truth to have learnt. More need that one, quickly!

It’s probably a middle age thing though, when you’re young time seems to stretch out before you and nothing is that important other than you. We nearly all learn the same hard way that its not.

His approach is carried on by his senior students, who are far more qualified then me so I defer to them, my is just low key. My WCKF is probably a Tai Chi, Hsing Yi, Ba Gua hybrid now anyway, so that’s what I do. I might put some useful clips for beginners up on you tube and see what comes from that, i reach the forms as i learnt them with some of Derek’s stuff from MBS.

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IMG_47078901286326. What’s the Wing Chun Chi Kung you posted?

Its derived like a lot of Shaolin stuff including WCKF from the ‘Muscle/Tendon{Ligament} Changing Classic’. Many versions purport to be the original, what version this WCKF set comes from who knows. Many say there is no chi kung in WCKF, which is daft. The Sil Lum Tao Form has many Chi Kung components. I cant comment on its origins or legitimacy.My teachers teacher Master Cheung has something different in his recent videos, than the ‘Chi Kung’ part shown in his first and later books from 1986 onwards. ‘Putting Tiles on the Roof’ is one name for it but I don’t think that’s what its called in Wing Chun. Now it just looks like the popular ‘holding a ball’ posture that many in Tai Chi including myself do. I never learnt that in WCKF, only in Tai Chi, and its not even found in that really originally, its Yi Chuan. Chu King Hong did a lot of non tai chi things.

We did this the ‘Pestle’{ name from Muscle/Tendon Changing Classic} or ‘Double Bil Gee’ posture {from Wing Chun, whatever the name, its like the hands in classic prayer position but parted} in class facing a mirror wall, or the opposite bare wall. Once you’d checked you’re doing it right in the mirror, you had to become sensitive to the bodily connections {skeleton, muscles and ligament’s first, then meridians} by closing the eyes, then with that combine, focusing between the hands trying to feel chi flow. My teacher Derek could put a candle out in a steel can, projecting just from his palm. That’s the truth, take it or leave it.

The set is short, but I like it. Its just fairly dull and meaningless, just a couple of stretches, if you’re NOT getting a lot of Chi sensation or internal connections. Its also not about tension, but alignment and opening and stretching the ligaments. Then feeling, really feeling, that can never be shown on film.

I don’t really know why but Chi development is not every WCKF exponents way. Different strokes different folks, same divergent paths exist in Tai Chi. All depends what you want, those with great physical strength tend not to look for this side because they don’t need it in conflict. Those who don’t have that power need to but don’t always look, and try and just muscle it out just wearing themselves out. If you’re not taught its there and how to get it whose going to look for it anyway. Then there’s the probably of faking all the chi stuff. That put the spanner in the works aeons ago. World full of charlatans saying this and that, fame will make people talk drivel! Not my interest.

I thought I put it out there. Someone might get something from it, hopefully the kid struggling with training who cant afford all the classes he like to do. We didn’t have this kind of access to info then. Just some books, ropey old video if lucky. YouTube is a double edged sword for all, some only watch stuff, never do anything, just computer games, porn and all that rubbish. A waste of a life. Kids sure, their learning, but adults, grown men, good grief, they really are missing out.