JKD vs. Sum Neng Wing Chun
by Charles Ken and David Lee
I am a fanatic martial arts enthusiast. I am also a Bruce Lee fan. Like many of my friends moving in and out of the many different styles of martial arts, I learned the traditional ways and the modern ways of various martial art schools. For years I collected techniques from different styles. I picked up information, from good to bad without a proper understanding of the principle guidelines. I then studied Jeet Kune Do and Bruce Lee's philosophy, yet I could not relate what I learned, not in the depth that I wanted. I needed some actual guidance. Finally, I found what I had been looking for in Sifu Tom Wong's teaching. It was not easy in many ways. I know I have been selfish and like some of my kung fu brothers I did not want to share my fortunate experience in Sifu Wong's school of martial arts, until today. I have read others who have published articles about Wing Chun. I think it is time for me to tell of my real experiences and perceptions of Sifu Wong.
I have studied martial arts for almost 30 years under many famous grandmasters from, Karate, Hapkido, Jujitsu, JKD and Wing Chun. When I met Sifu Wong at one of his demostrations in college, my intention was to convince him to become one of my students. But it worked out otherwise. When he said, "extraordinary comes from ordinary hard work," I was intriqued. He then demonstrated, in front of thousands of college students, of breaking a board within a distance of an inch with his fist. He held the board with two fingers in his left hand and broke it with his right fist. The crowd was excited! Then he had Mr. Gloss hold up two boards and broke it again with an inch of distance. Then he demonstrated his single hand one thumb push up..., the crowd cheered. Later, he showed our class the same technique but by breaking the board with his finger tips. Then he let me hold out three pieces of wood with one hand and broke them with a sidekick. I was stunned and couldn't believe my eyes. How could anyone develop such explosive power in such a short distance? I wanted to discover his Wing Chun skills in other areas, so I told him I had studied from half a dozen Wing Chun schools throughout the U.S. and I knew all the forms and I also told him I had taught over 100 students. He told me that practicing the forms alone would not make me understand the priciples and applications of Wing Chun. He also tested my sensitivity with his hands attached to mine. I was not able to sense or block his punches. Even though he had told me in advance where he would try to hit me. He did the same thing to every one I knew. It puzzled that I couldn't do the same thing he did to me. Out of frustration and curiosity, I suggested we go under a freeway for an all out sparring match.
Since I was at my prime physical state, ten years older, heavier and bigger than him, I thought I had every bit of an advantage of winning the sparring contest. But in no time I became his punching bag. It went beyond my power and comprehension that he could generate such power and throw me in every direction. All I could see was the sky turning upside down. There was a blackout and from there on I couldn't remember a thing.
Afterwards, he explained to me in depth about sensitivity and "yee"...intention and chi, trapping is only the beginning portion of sticky hands in Wing Chun Kung Fu. We talked for hours, but at the time it didn't seem like it. I realized a new way to understand kung fu. There is a lot more than just fighting and winning or losing at that moment. I had met many grandmasters who claimed that they could accomplish the same thing in a book, but not in reality. I have seen much abusive uses of the word, "grandmaster." I had met many of them who only mystify one with words or make wonderful sense but could not demonstrate the relationship between theory and action. I can see why Bruce Lee called it, "the classical mess" or the classical case of a mechanical student. In some cases, it is the immature practicioner who can not wait to become a master or founder of his own style. Of course Bruce Lee probably also meant the useless things for showmanship. I thought I had mastered certain techniques, but Sifu Wong showed me otherwise. There were a lot more facets to it.
For example, he showed me the backfist-lap sao technique with many different aspects of energy and ways of application. There were many different kinds of finger grips I had learned in the past from different styles. However, most of them were not designed to work with the Wing Chun applications. I know many instructors miss the importance of proper energy and only focus on what makes sense in appearance. Another example of Wing Chun is the "Bong Sao." In this technique though it looks simple in its application, none of his students could execute it as well as he did. We call these and other techniques "sifu techniques." Most of the students could not fully duplicate Sifu Wong's executions. All of us saw it and felt it but could not duplicate it. Most of his students were basically talented, had backgrounds above black belt, were football players, boxers and wrestling champs. He explained that all had to do with the understanding of Yin and Yang. The conflict and coexistence of tension and relaxation coordinates with internal chi and external muscular mechanics. I had never seen any well-known grandmaster who had demonstrated the depth of ordinary techniques to be as successful as Sifu Wong. He knew so many sophisticated techniques and more stunning surprises as time went on as we built a trusting relationship. His lessons are full of new and exciting information. He said if he had seen something interesting he would learn it, but I have seen things he had done many times and I still cannot fully understand it. Sometimes I feel it will take a life time to learn. I know so many people with a fraction of his knowledge who have taught hundreds and thousands of students. There are many different types of teachers out there, "philosophers" who know how to talk only, but who have no real experience and perceptions of what constitutes real fights. There are fighters who have no substance or depth of understanding the advance skill in a higher level. Then there are "chop-suey founders" who know many styles but master of none or mostly based on wrong information without being aware of it. Everything looks similar to them. Finally, there are teachers who can relate the philosophical theory and proper technical skill in application.
I felt very fortunate to have met Sifu Wong. Many people as well as I thought that Sifu Wong was too reserved and humble with his skills. In the beginning he was very old fashioned. But like he said, I would not appreciate his knowledge. I had spent much time and moeny on other martial arts schools and felt I had wasted my time. Due to my investment and ego I showed much resistance in my early learning experiences. I did not even realize it at the time. I had formed my own perceptions of what is martial arts training. It was like Bruce Lee said, "empty your cup of tea before you can taste mine." It was easier said than done. It took me quite awhile to change my perceptions of training. I began to see why some of Jerry Poteet's JKD students had mentioned that their teacher strongly recommended that Sifu Tom Wong was the best Wing Chun expert in America. Sifu Wong never accepted it. I was not convinced. It was not Sifu Wong's extraordinary speed and power of his hands and legs that impressed me, but it was my personal experiences of witnessing his skills which were often being tested in numerous challenged matches.
Once I witnessed him substituting at a noisy kung fu class for a friend of his in college. At that time he was 19 years old. He picked the biggest volunteer in the class and dropped him in a flash. That was the first time he met wrestling champion (8 times) Mr. Gloss. The whole class of fifty people were shocked. You could hear a pin drop! For years I have had countless challengers in many martial arts styles and have learned to appreciate Sifu Wong's impressive close-quarter fighting skills. I had begun to understand and appreciate Sifu Wong's principles and fundamentals of the internal and external training techniques. Most importantly, I have learned the value and respect of my teachers as well as my fellow human beings.
I must admit it took more than just a few good moves of Sifu Wong's to impress me, although I was fortunate enough to witness more than a dozen fights Sifu has had with various challengers from different schools of martial arts. I remember Bum Mi, a kick boxing champion who was very aggressive and experienced in his art. One day Bum Mi and his friend Carlos walked in and interrupted our class and challenged Sifu. Sifu said that Bum Mi would not be able to handle him. I did not know what Sifu had planned, but we were all quiet and holding our breaths. Sifu suddenly closed in with a series of kicks which overwhelmed Bum Mi. Sifu was only using one leg. The outcome was obvious. It was simple, but none of us could have done what Sifu did to Bum Mi.
Another time the amazing Danny, a Thai kickboxer who was a foreign student from Thailand was sparring with my kung fu brother, Choi. Danny whipped his kick to Choi's head in a flash. It was Choi's first day in training. Danny turned around and challenged Sifu. Most of us had not expected it to happen so quickly. We couldn't what Sifu did. All we saw and heard was Danny's body slamming into the floor with a strong bang. Sifu explained what he did later. He said he used the throw from Bil Jee form, and he also said grandmaster Sum Neng had used the same throw once in a Hong Kong seminar, except the result was much more dramatic. At the time, a student had raised doubt about Wing Chun's throwing application. He challenged Sifu. As a result, that student landed on his head and passed out. He probably never figured out what hit him.
I am a Bruce Lee fan. I have read many of his books and seen many of his movies. I am very much in favor of the late Bruce Lee and his followers, like Jerry Poteet, James De Mile, and others who possess a practical approach to martial arts. I have heard much about them and I would be very interested in writing a book with Mr. Jerry Poteet or Mr. James De Mile in "JKD and Wing Chun." I know Sifu Wong had turned down many book offers in the past. He is most humble yet he is often criticized for his demeanor. Nevertheless, his friends such as Poteet, De Mile, Frank Joseph and contribute writers for Inside Kung Fu and Black Belt Magazines encouraged him to elaborate on his true knowledge of Wing Chun and to shed some light on this art. That was over 15 years ago. He declined.
I have been through the tests for skill, patience, persistance and respect of the formal classical schools. I have been through the modern school that empahsized only what is useful for fighting and sports competitions. I found both and more in Sifu Wong's teaching, but most importantly I have found the depth in skill and the link between the (Bruce Lee) philosophical cyle of "a punch--not a punch--just a punch" and the reality of it, which is also the meaning of Yin and Yang. It put me on a whole new horizon. It truly feel life is too short to learn it all.
Charles Ken and David Lee are currently teaching in Texas and can be reached via email at: email@example.com