The Wing Chun of Terrance YipThe USA has a number of talented teachers and Kung Fu is very popular. Wing Chun has a massive following, in recent seminars, Grandmaster Yip Chun and his brother Grandmaster Yip Ching hosted seminars to groups of over one hundred people at a time! However, there are only a small number of Grandmaster Yip Chun's students teaching in the states. Terrance Yip is one of them.
Master Terence Yip, originally from Hong Kong, is an original student of Grandmaster Yip Chun (though no relation), eldest son of Yip Man who revolutionized the martial arts world and is solely responsible for the spread of Wing Chun throughout the Western world. Terrence Yip began is studies with Yip Chun (now in his seventies and still teaching over the world) in 1983 and continued until 1988 whereupon he decided to move to America. He has been residing and teaching in New York City since 1990. Recently he took the time to answer questions on Wing Chun's concepts, his training with Grandmaster Yip Chun, and what Wing Chun means to him.
Qi Mag: Wing Chun has diversified. While certain principles remain, the way in which Wing Chun is taught varies, in terms of attitude and intention. Some schools emphasize forward aggression. What are your views on that?
TY: Some styles of Wing Chun do push forward very hard in the Lok Sau (rolling arms) process. When we do Lok Sau we need to apply a little force forward but not too much. You should be able to control it. Don't make it stiff, tense, or tight. You cannot just lean forward all the time. This is a very bad habit and you will be left vulnerable. When you practice Chi Sau with the arms in contact you can push forward a little when you want to test the opponents reactions and energy, but only on condition that you control the force in your arms very well. But when you attach and you are able to reach the target you should use all the force you can muster, full-power to strike.
Qi Mag: How would you describe the difference between Grandmaster Yip Chun's approach to Wing Chun and that of others?
TY: I think Grandmaster Yip Chun has kept the original principles and theory of Wing Chun, It is very important to keep the movements correct and clear. For example, the Bong Sau (wing arm) we should do in standard position i.e. upper arm parallel to the ground, we can do the lower Bong Sau in different situation. We can change the position of Bong Sau, for example when we deal with a person who is taller than us by raising the elbow higher than the should. So in some situations we have to change the position but in the form we have to keep the standard position, also when we use straight punch we have to stand firm in Yee-chi-kim-yeung-ma (Chinese "Two" character stance, toes forming a triangle) and lock our knees. We cannot bounce up and down like dancing when we punch. When you stand firm you can concentrate all the power in your fist and punch. When you stand firm you can concentrate all the power in your fist and punch. Some people change the movements of Wing Chun and of course, don't stick to the principle and the original concepts. They fail to pay attention to these details. This is not good. In Chi Sau we should be soft yet powerful but not stiff or tight. There is not enough emphasis on softness. They emphasize strong punches but make them stiff.
Qi Mag: Would you say that the system has largely lost it's essence as different instructors have their own interpretations?
TY: Yes. For example they change the basic movements like Tan Sau (open hand) and Bong Sau from the original standards, and Chi Sau they make hard. The essence of Wing Chun is, when we should be hard we are hard. Hard means we use the force when it is necessary when conditions dictate. We cannot keep hard or stiff all the time and we cannot remain soft only.
Qi Mag: When you began training in Hong Kong was Wing Chun popular at the time?
TY: When I began, Wing Chun was becoming increasingly popular but people were more familiar with Taekwondo and Karate, probably because they were more organized in terms of uniforms, grading systems, memberships etc. However, Bruce Lee had become popular and people knew that he had come from Wing Chun.
Qi Mag: Is there a difference between the way Wing Chun developed in Hong Kong and mainland China?
TY:Wing Chun was forbidden for several decades in mainland China because of the communist government. When a government prohibits something it tends to disappear, the people become very afraid and won't practice or teach it. I think this is why Wing Chun in Hong Kong developed better than in China. The reason why Wing Chun was prohibited in mainland China has something to do with the fact that the police were taught a specific kung-fu and Wing Chun is extremely difficult to deal with so they wanted the police to have a better advantage.
Qi Mag: In Hong Kong Wing Chun has a reputation for being practiced by gangsters yet the art is considered very refined or gentlemanly. Can you explain this paradox?
TY: Wing Chun is very popular with gangsters. In Hong Kong you cannot carry any weapons, even knives, and the police have the right to search anyone they want or suspect in the street. Generally the gangsters don't carry weapons to avoid trouble from the police, unless they are ready to fight. Gangsters encounter fights any time in the streets so as they can't use weapons, instead they equip themselves with kung-fu. They find that Wing Chun is very good in street fighting. This is why Wing Chun in Hong Kong is called Lan Chia Kuen (or "Gangster Fist"). Wing Chun is also called Sie Man Kuen (or Gentleman's Style) because it does not have so many fancy movements, no high kicks, the movements are very refined. So the bad element also uses the style that a gentleman would learn because it is very effective for fighting, it gives them an advantage, like a weapon. In Hong Kong many educated, professional people learn this art, including bankers. One of my kung-fu brothers is a doctor, one is a manager in a very big shipping company, and another is a vice-president of a bank.
Qi Mag: As a system, Wing Chun is very good in theory, but how has it been tested?
TY: I think very few people challenge Wing Chun practitioners. People know that Wing Chun is very effective. When the late Grandmaster Yip Man was teaching his student, called Wong Shun Leung, continually tested and proved it's effectiveness behind closed doors. There may be people testing it on the street or in secret and no one will know. The fact that so many gangsters in Hong Kong choose this system over others proves this. Another example is Bruce Lee. The reason he was so great is because he learned Wing Chun first. Wing Chun is not just theory even though it has it's own theory and is very scientific.
Qi Mag: What kind of students are drawn to Wing Chun?
TY: Some people are looking for exercise only, and these people I advise to study Taijiquan. However, Wing Chun is good exercise too because when you move you are exercising the body and during Chi Sau you should be relaxed. Because Wing Chun is good for street fighting some people want to learn to defend themselves. Of course, some people are attracted to martial arts for performance only. Wing Chun has very fancy movements and it's a pity that it's not good for performance on a stage. There are only three hand forms, one of which contains no steps forwards or backwards. There are no jumps and high kicks in any of the forms. Wing Chun theory is simple but of course, not simple to learn or develop the skill. You need to use your brain to learn it, to understand it. Adults can learn Wing Chun but for children it is difficult, for example just the Bong Sau/Tan Sau combination.
Qi Mag: It is said that the level one can attain from Chi Sau (Sticking hands) practice is unlimited, there is always room for improvement. Is this true of the forms?
TY: It is very easy to learn the combinations, but to do them well you have to practice and practice. Indeed, the simplest movement you have to repeat over and over until you are very good at it. Even Sui Lim Tao (the first form) you have to practice alot. The first time you practice it you have a certain kind of feeling, but after many times you have different sensations. So yes, Chi Sau is unlimited but so are the forms. You do keep getting better.
Qi Mag: What qualities should one strive to attain from Chi Sau?
TY: Sensitivity, the feeling of relaxation, flexibility, maneuverability and coordination of arms and hands, the knowledge of when to use force and how to control it, understanding the angles and position of the arms, limbs, and body.
Qi Mag: Can you tell another practitioner's level of Wing Chun from the first touch during Chi Sau?
TY: If you have enough knowledge and experience of Chi Sau you can tell the level of another person or training partner. But of course, level here means an approximation. You cannot divide the levels quite so clearly.
Qi Mag: Can you explain the difference between strength or force and Gung-lik (internal power)?
TY: Gung-lik means lasting power which means you can do it for a long time. Force is usually explosive. For example when you execute a straight punch you should concentrate the force. Gung-lik also has the meaning of force, but it means lasting force.
Qi Mag: How is Gung-lik developed?
TY: When you do alot of Chi Sau for a long time, even just rolling the arms, you should have alot of Gung-lik. Using the mind and concentrating on the first section of Siu Lim Tao, for example, the slow Tan Sau, develops Jarn-die-lik (power under the elbow) which transfers to the arm, wrist, and hand, and concentrates Qi to the fingertips. Practicing the dummy form and weapons forms can also help alot. These all develop Gung-lik.
Qi Mag: Because Wing Chun was developed by a woman, would you say that it is the best martial art for a woman?
TY: When a woman has learned Wing Chun she can deal with a man easily because she has the technique. But of course, when a man has learned Wing Chun he therefore has an advantage over a woman who knows Wing Chun because of his strength, unless her skill is even better than his. But to answer the question, Wing Chun is very good for women's self-defense because the techniques are short, simple, direct and require minimal effort.
Qi Mag: What would you say is the most important defense technique in the system?
TY: Of all the movements I think the Tan Sau is very unique and useful because it can deal with most attacks above the waist. A long time ago there was a Wing Chun instructor nicknamed 'Tan Sau Ng'. Ng was his family namd and 'Tan Sau' because he was very good with it. When he fought against other people he used Tan Sau so effectively he acquired the name. There is a saying that 'Tan Sau Ng' invented Wing Chun, but there is no conclusive proof of this. Therefore Tan Sau is a very effective technique in defense. Bong Sau is also very unique to Wing Chun but is also has it's weaknesses. You have to know instinctively when to use it. Fook Sau (controlling arm or resting arm) is also very good for sticking to the opponent's arm and is useful, but the single most important technique in defense is the Tan Sau.
Qi Mag: What are the applications and purpose of Chi-gerk (sticking legs)?
TY: Chi-gerk is useful because you use the leg to deal with the kick. So once your leg makes contact with the opponent's leg you use sensitivity to feel the opponent's movements to counterattack.
Qi Mag: It the Luk-Dim-Boon-Gwun (six and a half point long pole form) kept in the system for tradition, or does it have it's applications today considering one does not generally carry around a weapon of that length?
TY: Before the gun was invented the Long Pole had it's advantages in fighting. For example, more than two thousand years ago Alexander the Great's armies (who conquered Greece) were very good at using the long spears. When the weapon is very long one has an advantage. Obviously in modern times nobody carries around a long pole in the street, but the training helps us to develop strength in the wrist and Gung-lik but it's not practical now.
Qi Mag: Can you describe your training with Yip Chun. What were his demands and emphasis on the forms?
TY: Yip Chun asked us to practice every form correctly, seriously, especially Siu Lim Tao. I remember once he said that if you practice Siu Lim Tao one time seriously it is better than if you practice it many times half-heartedly. You should take at least 15 minutes to 45 minutes to complete this form. Of course he believed that the other forms should also be practiced seriously and correctly. But his main emphasis was Chi Sau. Chi Sau is a very unique training method of Wing Chun, and you have to develop calmness and stillness. Tsum Kiu develops how to move well and how to shift. Biu Tze's purpose is mainly for attack, especially developing the elbow and finger strikes. The Wooden Dummy helps us to develop certain techniques. It also teaches you to keep sticking to the arms, especially when the dummy is mounted in a wall with springs, and this helps develop Gung-lik. The knives help us to move the limbs well, and to develop coordination in both arms, as well as strengthening the wrists.
Qi Mag: do you have any final words to students of Wing Chun?
TY: When I learned about half the system, I wanted to invite fights and test Wing Chun's effectiveness and my technique, but after learning more I felt that there is no need for this. When you have a good fighting technique and you confront someone with no martial skills you will obviously have a very good advantage. After learning more, you will realize that violence is not good. There is no need to fight for no reason. In confrontations it is best to avoid violence and to solve the problems with words. In your training you have to commit yourself, study seriously, and regard it as a challenge, but take everything easy. Work hard but of course tend to the most important things in your life, like studying or work. However, your family should always be the first priority.
Qi Mag: Master Yip, thank you.