It was my first time in Leeds and although Darren (who was driving) had supplied a computer printout, that had showed us the main arteries to get there, as soon as we came off the motorway we were lost. There were no road markings, names or direction signs anywhere to be seen. After touring the city via it's loop road a few times (just to get our bearings), we eventually located our cheap and cheerful hotel. After we had freshened up and eaten (in TGI Fridays - which was a new and horrific experience for me), we went out to explore the local wildlife. It was my first Saturday night out in quite a long time, due mainly to Theo my four month old son, so I thought we'd better not cut lose too much - otherwise we'd never get up in the morning. However, we still managed to end up drinking beer in a place called Tiger Tiger - grrr!
The next day, we did manage to haul ourselves up - in time for breakfast in the adjoining TGI Fridays again. It was also snowing hard by now, just as the weather girl had predicted. Darren drove us through the blizzard, with me navigating from scraps of scrawled directions given by the sullen receptionist, who seemed to hate me on site. Against all odds, we arrived at the Methodist Centre in Chapel Allerton in good time and slithered through the now thickly laying snow, wondering if we would ever make it home again.
As things got under way and general introductions were made, Conrad Howard from Didacious Designs was busy setting up some of his dummies which were available for demonstration purposes. Luckily he had already located the tea. First up was Trevor Jefferson, who talked at some length about a forthcoming book on Wing Chun. He was mainly concerned that people should understand the need to feel what they were doing, as opposed to just mimicking teachers.
After Trevor it was my turn to get up and show some stuff. Anyone who knows me, will tell you that I teach in a coaching style and like to demonstrate by getting everyone involved and working together. Personally, I think that this is what Wing Chun is all about - getting on with the job in hand. I set off with a drill based around Single Sticking Hands to demonstrate some simple footwork. I was however, surprised by the amount of practitioners who seemed to over- commit their actions way beyond the pivotal axis of their partners. I was also alarmed to find that many people wanted to use their hands and wrists to cling on and try to smother, as opposed to utilising body structure and elbow position, thus enabling the arm to be strong but relaxed and most importantly, free to attack.
People have often asked me how can you relax when engaging in Chi sau or fighting – my answer is always the same… If you fight and train on the intended Wing Chun range (and in my humble opinion, many people do not), your power will come from the stance, and control will come from the elbow, not the hands or wrists. The result is that your structure is doing the work i.e. the larger (stronger) muscle groups are engaged. This enables the smaller (weaker), arm and shoulder muscles, to relax - which in turn enables you to move closer to your enemy / partner with no force and without being controlled. Also if your elbows are dominating correctly – your hands are free to attack. If you are attacking your enemy has to defend or be hit, if they are defending they can’t be hitting you. Wong Shun Leung once said (I paraphrase) - As a fighter, it is your duty to get things over as quickly as possible.
I am minded here of David Peterson (a Wong Shun Leung student ) and his rousing speech at the First HK Wing Chun Conference in 1990, about how many lineages seem to be moving in the wrong direction – away from Wing Chun’s core principles of Simplicity, Directness and Effectiveness. This divergence is even more apparent today, in Wing Chun everyone says the same things but there are significant differences in the way that they apply and train them.
Later on we were lucky enough to have David Peterson attend in person. He had literally just hopped off the plane from Australia and was soon to do seminars in Manchester with Ged Kennerk and myself in Southampton. David joined in with everyone to help out during a Chi sau workshop, Samuel Kwok also attended, although he had to leave early as he was worried about getting home through the snow.
After my stint, Alan Orr from the Chu Sau Lei group set about demonstrating some nice, direct and solid Gwor sau / fight training. Alan has worked tirelessly to drag Wing Chun into the modern era of cross-training and Mixed Martial Arts competition. It’s all very well saying Wing Chun is effective fighting art but nowadays you need to be able to prove it, if you want respect from other martial artists. As we all worked through Alan’s techniques, I felt that the reality of fight training was coming as a bit of a shock to some people – which means that they have been wrapped in cotton wool for some time. It is naive to think that Chi sau practice will get you out of trouble when an aggressor has his mind set on smashing your teeth out. Some of Alan's students, Aaron Baum, Neil Broadbent and Alex Wright had come fresh from recent victories in the MMA arena - Good work boys!
Towards the end of the day Alex Wright, who had organised the conference, chaired a Question Time type debate - where pertinent questions were put to the panel of coaches - it was clear that different types of questions came from different teaching ethos' i.e. Some people were more concerned with Wing Chun's practical evolution into the pavement and MMA arena, whereas others were more concerned about lineages and people using too much force. The real telling point came though, when the audience was asked, 'How many of those present, might change the way that they train, as a result of what you have seen in the seminars today? Nearly everyone’s hand was raised, which was nice, and certainly I found this one of the most interesting points to note about the day.
By all accounts, a great day was had by all and a good many practitioners had their eyes (and hopefully minds) opened a little wider than they were before, the only downer on the whole proceedings was when a student from Leeds, had to be barred - for failing to be open minded and not entering into the spirit of friendly training with people from different lineages. In two separate episodes he lost his temper, became aggressive during Chi sau and had to be separated from his opponent. After the second incident he was thrown out. There were about 50 people from diverse lineages at the event, many teachers were there too. All were polite, attentive and most participated heartily in the training. It is an embarrassment when someone in a position of responsibility, brings shame on a large association, because he feels he has something to prove – as opposed to something to learn. In an affair like this, people need to leave their collective egos at the door, everyone else did.
Congratulations to Alex Wright for organising a fantastic event which will surely grow into a yearly institution and help drive forward the evolution of Wing Chun as a functional fighting art.
by: Alan Gibson, www.wingchun.org.uk
Alan's DVDs and books are available from: Summersdale Media
Article date: September 2006 .