It was in February of 2002 – Sunday, February 17th to be exact – on the day of the Chinese Lunar New Year parade when I quite literally stumbled upon what has become my true home in martial arts.
That day, while looking for anyplace to get in from that winter Chicago wind that slices you like a knife and find a nice cozy spot to watch the parade, I wandered into a school in the upstairs of a 2 tier strip mall on Wentworth Avenue in Chicago’s Chinatown and was first exposed to the art that I have continued to train in and consider to be my root and base in the martial arts: the Wong Shun Leung system of Wing Chun Gung Fu. The school was the the Ng Family Chinese Martial Arts Association.
As a martial artist since 1994, I had already been exposed indirectly to Wing Chun theory and concept through my years of jeet kune do (JKD) training as well as having studied a different system of Wing Chun, so I understood enough about the art to know that this is what I wanted; this was the art for me. It was on that blustery, dreary, so-windy-and-cold-it-makes-you-want-to piss-every-10-minutes day in February that I first met my future Sifu Philip Ng and his father, Grandmaster Sam Ng.
By that point I had done my research into the art, especially the lineage of the Ng Family school and was impressed at Philip having trained under Master Wong Shun Leung, known as “Gong Sau Wong” or “King of Talking Hands” for his undefeated record in the no-rules, bare knuckle challenge matches in Hong Kong (the Chinese expression “gong sau” which roughly translated means “talking hands” or “letting the hands do the talking” regarding settling disputes or conflicts, is used much the same way American culture subscribes to the old John Wayne-type mentality, “enough talking, put up your dukes”).
It is well known to martial art geeks out there that Bruce Lee’s only formal training was in the Wing Chunsystem and,while a frail old man named Yip Man (made famous by Chinese martial arts film star Donnie Yen for his portrayal of the late Grandmaster in the enormously successful Ip Man series of films) is credited for having been Bruce’s instructor, in reality it was Wong Shun Leung who directly taught Bruce and in doing so had provided Bruce with a conceptual blueprint for the development of his art of jeet kune do.
Anyone who recalls Bruce’s famous “finger pointing to the moon” speech to his young acolyte in the classic film Enter the Dragon has witnessed just such an example of Wong’s words and martial philosophy coming out of Bruce’s mouth. Jesse Glover, Bruce’s first American student, has gone on the record to state that Bruce idolized Wong and would tell them of Wong’s exploits in the world of Hong Kong’s no-rules challenge matches.
Ironically, some weeks before I had looked up their school on the internet and decided I was going to visit them with the expressed intention to sign up. I didn’t know where the school was, though, until I found myself walking right past their door!
When I had mentioned to him that his lineage is what had brought me here, Philip replied quite matter-of-factly that lineage does not matter in and of itself; it is no doubt of importance, but how one trains and uses their art is the only thing that counts insofar as being able to apply Wing Chun effectively. That simple statement on my first meeting with Philip impressed me most of all.
Here was a place that did not rest on titles or lineage, on rank sashes or seniority. Training was the only thing that mattered. Philip explained to me (while keeping a watchful eye on two students engaging in an aggressive round of chi sau practice) that the art of Wing Chun is not some mystical set of motions but rather a skill set whose theory is structurally flawless yet whose potency rests in the practitioner who applies it. Trust me, in the martial arts world this completely unpretentious and down to earth attitude is something you do not see often.
Why I Chose WSL Wing Chun (And Why It Works For Me)
I chose to study the Wong Shun Leung (WSL) branch of Wing Chun simply because for me, the WSL system of wing chun satisfies all my needs:
- I am a traditionalist at heart, so the fact that it was a traditional Chinese system appealed to me right from the start.
- While I am a traditional martial artist, I don’t like wearing uniforms or belts – which was no problem because they didn’t wear either. Just a T shirt and shorts? Sign me up, Jack.
- What was most important to me was their approach to training as it relates to application and fighting. At that point I had been around the arts long enough and done enough complicated drills and unrealistic motions that all I wanted was something simple, direct and efficient; something that focused on the meaning behind something and not the motions themselves. In other words, something devoid of any of the bullshit found in so many other schools, styles and systems and all about combat.
That’s all WSL Wing Chun is about. That is why I’ve been doing it ever since, and why you’re reading these words now.
When speaking about different martial arts as they relate to combat effectiveness, Bruce Lee once said:
“some martial arts are very popular, real crowd pleasers, because they look good, have smooth techniques. But beware. They are like a wine that has been watered. A diluted wine is not a real wine, not a good wine, hardly the genuine article. Some martial arts don’t look so good, but you know that they have a kick, a tang, a genuine taste. They are like olives. The taste may be strong and bittersweet. The flavor lasts. You cultivate a taste for them. No one ever developed a taste for diluted wine.”
That’s My Story (And I’m Sticking To It) – What’s Yours?
Decide for yourself: what do you want from your training?
There is no wrong answer except one that is not true for you and that is based on others’ ideas of what you think you should be training for or how you think you should be doing this or that. Now I am biased in the fact that to me, any school you go to should focus on self-defense and combat first and foremost, but that doesn’t change the fact that your answer is still just that – your answer.
After bouncing around from art to art, which I will never regret doing (and if you have had the privilege of studying other arts, neither should you) since I have learned so much and met so many wonderful folks in all of them, I found my true home within both the structure of the WSL style of Wing Chun and the walls of the Ng Family Chinese Martial Arts Association.
Your path is up to you. All I can say is use combat effectiveness and self-defense as your guiding lights and find what satisfies your needs. I’ve got mine covered.
Allow me to leave you with another quote from Bruce that is quite applicable here…
“What is really important is that you have a few close friends around, and work out a couple of times a week, and go down to Chinatown to have a cup of tea.”
Train Smart, Stay Safe