Old Fashioned Wing Chun
by Ray Wong
Truly impressive! How else do you describe Sifu Tom Wong? He is by far the most technically superior martial artist I've ever known. Having mastered multiple disciplines including Wing Chun, Tai Chi, Desui (Chinese ground fighting), Wong Sifu* is also well trained in herbal medicines, human physiology and osteopathy. With over 30 years of martial arts experience and 20 years of teaching, Sifu has taught hundreds upon hundreds of students throughout the years. However, Sifu has been quite particular upon receiving his high level students. These students must demonstrate discipline, character, respect, sincerity, leadership and dedication before he accepts them into his private class. I am quite honored to be training directly under him as I have for the past 2 years. During this time I've been awed by his skill which ceases to amaze me. Literally, I learn something new each time I meet him. Whether it be in class or during meals Sifu always manages to expel an abundant amount of information. My job is to absorb as much as I can. My learning experiences with Sifu though have not always been about martial arts but life lessons as well.
As far as Tom Wong's Wing Chun is concerned, I define it as the most complete system of martial arts I've ever encountered. It's efficiency, speed, and power is incomparable even within the Wing Chun world. Sifu's lineage known as Yuen Kay San / Sum Neng Wing Chun is different from other Wing Chun lineages including the more popular Yip Man branch. One of the more noticible differences in our system is the "Sup Yee San Sik" or the 12 Techniques which cover all ranges of fighting. Each technique has varying applications that apply to short and long range as well as inside and outside perimeters. They are applied to and stem from the Wooden Dummy set.
There are many families, roots, or branches of Wing Chun that have suffered from commercialization and/or expansion while others have not. Wing Chun as it was born is not the way it is today. There are many versions, some have lost many concepts others have added concepts for better or worse and some have rid themselves of concepts. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the Martial Artist to ensure that his/her art is preserved to the truest form. I feel that Tom Wong's Wing Chun is as pure as it was centuries ago. All Wing Chun practitioners follow the same set of principles and theories no matter the lineage, but in actual application there is a vast difference.
Take Chi Sau as a prime example, all Wing Chun practitioners understand the principles and idea of "Sticky Hands (also known as Rolling Hands)", but when performed the outcome is totally different. "Looking proper is only half correct, the other half is energy," Sifu use to say. In my experience, after watching proclaimed masters on their commercial and home videos, I've noticed that most people are not proper to begin with. Their elbows are not centered, their stance is not stable... I can go on and on about not looking proper, but the fact of the matter is if you are not proper then you will be open for attack every single time. And if you don't have the proper energy then you are not sticking. Rolling Hands is not a technicality. Its purpose is to find weaknesses in the opponent's defense for attack and control, but often people will disconnect from their opponent to strike leaving their selves vulnerable or exchange blows. This is a violation of the principles of Sticky Hands.
Another example of this is Wing Chun kicking. Most martial artists including Wing Chun practitioners do not think that Wing Chun has effective kicks or that we do not kick. This is quite the contrary. Because Wing Chun hand techniques are so effective many students and teachers neglect the training for kicking. Training the legs for Wing Chun is extremely difficult and the benefits are not gained as quickly as the hand techniques. I think this is the cause of the misnomer that Wing Chun does not kick well. Sifu has demonstrated many times to us the power of his kicks. From a stand still position he put a bruise on a fellow students arm after kicking through a 5" kicking shield. Many of Sifu's students that have different martial arts backgrounds including Tae Kwon Do (known for their kicking) wonder where he generates his power. Aside from hard training, its just like all of Yuen Kay San / Sum Neng Wing Chun; technique. Wing Chun kicks can be found in the "12 San Sik."
There have been many martial artists to cross hands with Sifu but they knew in an instant that they would not be able to strike Sifu from the Chi Sau position, but on the other hand Sifu Wong was able to attack and strike his opponent. This is because of his sticking energy. He has control and balance between relaxation and tension. I know this from watching and experiencing this myself. As a famous martial artist once said, "Feeling is believing". I find this to be most true. Every single technique he has taught me has a certain depth and practicality to it. Every inch and movement makes a difference.
In one situation, I was using the Loy Lim vs. Sifu's Gong Sau. I was having the most difficult time as he was easily throwing me off balance with each attack. It was not because he was bigger or stronger than I rather it was my foundation. Sifu explained to me that all of the techniques I have learned are entirely useless if I do not have a strong foundation behind it. It is all about fundamentals. This is what separates the good martial artists from the poor.
The switching stance or pigeon toed stance is one of the fundamentals that vary within the families of Wing Chun. We are hunched-back with chest and stomach tucked in, knees bent and hips forward. In our family of Wing Chun the stance is the foundation of techniques and its varying applications. This affords us the ability to strike with power in close combat. Without proper form and utilization, the techniques will not be executed with the necessary force. The actual switching is compact and efficient as possible enabling us to maneuver without having to take any steps. This needs to be applied with the 12 San Sik for maximum effectiveness.
The forms in Wing Chun when practiced to its very complex detail contain many movements to which every single one has a purpose. When not properly executed, its effectiveness diminishes thus losing its concept and reason for being. For this reason Wong Sifu does not teach forms until a student becomes knowledgeable of each movement and it's concept. Practicing as such would be a complete waste of time. It is the energy that is applied in these forms that are most important. Sifu is relentless in his approach to properly deliver his kung fu as it was taught to him.
Sifu also incorporates Desui (Chinese ground fighting), Tai Chi and Chi Gung into his Wing Chun training. All of these martial arts follow similar principles including speed, efficiency and internal energy. As soft styles they go hand in hand with each other and when combined in combat is most deadly. As much as Sifu is capable of using his martial arts skills, he has proven to be a superb healer as well. I have been lucky to be a benefactor of his Eastern medicinal skills. He has helped me with torn and sprained muscle tissue in my neck and chest and most recently a bone fracture in my foot. Recovery time was incredibly quick. Although Sifu is not a doctor, I would look to him to help me with my well being. He has always been gracious enough to help me even without my request.
Everything that Sifu has taught me, I try to relay to the students that I instruct, many of whom have different backgrounds in other arts, including Tae Kwon Do, Jujitsu, Aikido, Boxing and Kenpo Karate. Wing Chun however is a completely different entity. No matter their experience in other arts all of them have been willing and eager to learn Tom Wong's Wing Chun.
*In Chinese the surname precedes any titles. Ray Wong has been a student of Tom Wong's since 1999 and has been granted instructorship.