Articles, Food for Thought




Does reaching Master Level have anything in common with surviving violence?

There is a saying that my Sifu used, and many of my fellow students still use that I absolutely and completely disagree with….  Wing Chun is easy to learn but difficult to Master, maybe like so many things in Wing Chun this saying simply does not translate clearly to English, because in English this statement is an Oxymoron.

Improving in any Martial Art, but especially Wing Chun is not really about the physical training, it is not about power production or dexterity, it is not about footwork or punching, it is not about Chi Sau or Forms but these are the things that consume our time, this is what we consider to be the work, but is it?

I know from personal experience that in the Chaos of a street fight there is precious little thinking going on, it is only in hindsight that we can garner any idea of what we did to survive, and then we try to retrofit those actions to reflect our training, as if our training was even important, only the outcome is ever important.

Does reaching Master Level have anything in common with surviving violence?

These oblique ideas need to be justified if we truly wish to be in control of our own training and have it fulfil the role we wish it to play.

How do we do this, how do we shape our involvement and propel our training to the top level?

Many people in Wing Chun focus the majority of their training on the Siu Nim Tao Form, which if it works for you is just fine but how do you know it is the best approach if it is the only approach you use?  We benefit in any endeavour by using multiple approaches, by having different result  expectations, it may be a cliche´but it is also true that “If you only do what you have always done you will only get what you always got” so hoping to achieve upwards momentum by continually working on the Siu Nim Tao is more of a hope than a plan, personally I believe that only working on one Form is procrastination, it is lazy,  growth and improvement require feeding with a complex diet, they need dynamic involvement.

There is another relatively large stumbling block when it comes to advancing in Wing Chun, most of the important work is in understanding how to “NOT DO” certain things, such as not fighting force, not creating tension in the body, not using overt strength so the real difficulty becomes how do we learn how to not do something by actively doing something?

This is quite a conundrum.

Anchoring our training in any single Form not just the Siu Nim Tao is always self limiting bordering on self defeating. Each Form has a core learning objective often multiple core learning objectives that only begin to make sense once they are viewed in relationship to each other.  For instance what does the Siu Nim Tao teach us about moving our body or accepting force?  What does Chum Kiu teach us about driving our energy out to the edges of the Body or Core winding.  What does Biu Gee teach us about moving around and negotiating an opponent? What does the Dummy Form teach us about extending our awareness and energy out to power a weapon?

Ultimately we must ask ourselves what does Wing Chun teach us about anything that is not Wing Chun?  Because when the brown gets airborne it will not be Wing Chun, interpersonal violence is chaotic and complex, it is mind numbing in the extreme, every event is the sum of its parts so at best it will be only 50% Wing Chun and that can only happen if we are able to remain 100% Wing Chun, which of course we will not, next stop madness and confusion.

Violent situations are complex, infinitely complex and every changing, people on the other hand are finite, as finite as a brick wall, or a glass ceiling.

A painting of a Horse never won the Melbourne Cup.


Articles, Food for Thought


Trying to claim that the what we do is suddenly “Internal” because the thinking that generates the energy is Internal  is like saying our television is steam or coal powered because that is how the energy that operates the T.V. is produced.

One of the guiding principles of Wing Chun is PRACTICALITY, my own Sifu Jim Fung would go so far as to say that if it is not PRACTICAL it is not even Wing Chun, so why is it that some Wing Chun schools are becoming obsessed with so called “Internal” training?

I have had people punch me and genuinely think they are using “Internal” force but they make contact with their fist, by way of their arm, by way of their body mass, all of which are “External”. It really does not matter what mind games they are playing with themselves everything that happens is external and physical and has nothing to do with internal or mystical.

Power is equal to the amount of weight we can transfer, attack or defence in Wing Chun we give the opponent our weight, there is no internal connection to our body weight, there is no kind of thinking that can change our weight.

Imagine what Jenny Craig would do with that if there were?

Contact with another body is all about momentum, what we may or may not think caused the movement is quite unimportant, contact is where the work is done, movement is just the bus to work.

Let us look at this in another way, if I am employing  “Internal” thinking, and I throw a brick at you that hits you in the head, within the brick there would be no circulation of Chi, no Song, no Jing, no Hsin, in other words nothing Internal / Mystical just a moving brick, its hits you in the head, you fall down, job done. 

Could I still claim that I am using “Internal” Kung Fu?  

What difference to the brick or the outcome of the contact would it make if I was or was not thinking “Internal”?

How is this in any way different from what people are doing when they punch while thinking of their “Internal  Mysticism”?

How are we abiding by the principal of PRACTICALITY by doing one thing while thinking something else?

Impact Force is always external,  no matter what you may think generates the power.  Trying to claim that the what we do is suddenly “Internal” because the thinking that generates the energy is Internal  is like saying our television is steam or coal powered because that is how the energy that operates the T.V. is produced.

My own Sifu, Hong Kong born, raised and trained, who was remarkably skilful in Wing Chun and freakishly powerful would refer to any mention of “Internal” energy as Chinese Mumbo Jumbo, incredibly some of his own students that had become enamoured of the Mystical IDEA of the Internal would say “ He may not believe in it but he uses it”!   WTF?  My Sifu did not know what he was doing but somehow they did!

Beyond a doubt there is something going on, but what is it? Can it even be trained or are some people simply getting distracted from the real work?

Nim Lik or Kundalini?

Kundalini, “the coiled one” is part of the Dharma in ancient Indian spirituality that made its way into Chinese Buddhism and Daoism, it is vehicle for meditation that undoubtably existed at the Shaolin monastery, many people that say they practice Nim Lik or Thought Force are really involved in trying to raise Kundalini, the practice of Dai Gung is a shortened version of Mula Bandha, the yoga lower spirit lock.

I myself believe that Kundalini is real, but it is a spiritual practice and not a practical practice.

Once humans get involved with a spiritual practice it is not very long before reality flies out of the window, it is a short and slippery slope from practising Nim Lik to pushing people around without making any contact.

The study and practice of Kundalini {Nim Lik} is essential in the building of a bridge between who we are and our higher self, but this same bridge is destroyed forever by the study and practice of violence {Kung Fu}, they are incompatible, in fact in the Yogic traditions using Kundalini for negative reasons, such as powering a Martial Art is considered evil and self destructive and a absolutely certain way to NEVER achieve enlightenment or mindfulness as it is oft refered to these days.  You cannot become a higher person by learning how to beat people up, the myth of the Spiritual Warrior is the same fantasy as the Kung Fu Hero.

But without doubt there is something extraordinary that becomes available through deliberate, diligent, functional Martial Arts training.

I do not think that there are many intelligent people that would deny the existence of INTRINSIC ENERGY, which can appear as  limitless and incredibly powerful, we see it frequently in elite sportsmen, effortless power, the thing is that INTRINSIC ENERGY is inherent, natural and inborn, it is what it is, it is already what it will always be, it cannot be enhanced or circulated it is beyond human control, saying otherwise is at best self delusional and at worst deliberately deceptive for dishonest gain.

Highly skilled Wing Chun practitioners can do things that may to the ignorant or low skilled seem like magic but it is easily checked out and seen to be the Physics of the natural world.

If imagining hidden forces and energies circulating the body help you get out of your own way and begin to act naturally then it is not all bad, except for the wasted time, however trying to say that it is something “Internal” that needs to be developed and groomed and worked on is moving in completely the wrong direction, it is moving in the direction of the “Law of Attraction”, lets be honest how many people do you know that believe in and practice the “Law of Attraction” who actually have the Lamborghini and the Big house?

Physical contact, impact forces, impulse, momentum and kinetic energy are all real, measurable and observable in everyday life, they exist in and of themselves, they are part of the human experience and not something that needs to be shaped to be used, just understood.  Wing Chun is based on and firmly centred in “Normal Human Body Movement”.

If you are a serious Martial Artist that wishes to develop a long lasting and effective skill set I agree that it is important to align yourself with one particular Master / Style but this Masters / Styles instruction, information must operate in accord with the Master of Natural Physics.

Sifu Isaac Newton.



Food for Thought


WING CHUN is firmly based in the pursuit and study of  THE IDEA, the SIU NIM TAO, weirdly in many ways this turns Wing Chun into an imaginary Martial Art, a mental construct, perhaps not a genuine, useable reality.

As a result of this weirdness a great deal of what we do, the physical bits of our training if you wish, is simply a distraction that keeps our bodies occupied while our mind interprets the IDEA and in time extracts the knowledge that many confuse as the IDEA.   Once understanding of the IDEA reaches a certain level there is no distinction between Chi Sau, ironing a shirt or mowing the lawn.

If this epiphany has not yet happened for you yet I can well understand people thinking “What is this guy smoking”?

The IDEA is not the knowledge the IDEA is simply the key.

If someone were to read back through all of my Blog Posts they would notice a sudden and quite dramatic change in the overall feel of my posts from about 5 years back and more acutely about 2 years back, I quite simply reached a place of no doubt.   I am not trying to say that I now know all there is to know, that is of course impossible, but I had reached a place that no longer needed sustained improvement, there was and still is plenty of room for improvement, just no pressing need, the impetus now is mostly maintenance.

What is it that I no longer have any doubt about?  What knowledge has the key unlocked?

The answer is so simple….. ME {or in your own case YOU}.

If I get in trouble  I”  will use Wing Chun and not the other way around, it is I” that does any Form and not the other way around, it is  I” that plays Chi Sau and not the other way around.  It just took me a long time to understand.

My own Sifu, Jim Fung once said to me that “the first 20 years are the hardest”, it may be coincidence but it turned out to be that was the timeline in my case.

The Great Leap Forwards was not understanding what goes where, when and why but rather identifying what was surplus in my practice, a little like the parable of the uncarved block.  If you FOCUS on taking away what is not the carving you will be left with only the carving.

And of course accidental perfection.

This is very clear to me now but what is not clear is can I teach this, is the passage of time all that is really required, on a different occasion I asked my Sifu …………

Q.   “What does it take to become a Master”?

A.    “Turn up to training and pay attention, one day you will just wake up a Master”.

My Sigung, my Sifu’s Sifu, Chou Sheung Tin, realising his time was coming to a close radically changed his teaching methods in 2000, he did it to pass on what he believed was the core knowledge of Wing Chun to as many people as possible so they could learn as quickly as possible, and in doing so preserve the style.  In the rear of his book there are testimonials from his closest and long standing students that basically say that after 10 years hands on training none of them achieved the goal before his passing.

His way was just for him.

Many of us humans do not really know why we do things in the manner we do them, but we will always try to find a way to explain it to make it appear that we do, that it was us all along and not some cosmic hiccup, we seem to be adverse to the IDEA of it just being inherently easy for someone, the ubiquitous “natural”, we like to think they had a major hand in bringing it to be, when in most cases they did not.  We like to think we can be as good as others that have gone before, when most cases we can’t.

When Bruce Lee died so did Jeet Kuen Do.

One time I was really struggling with some of the IDEAS from Biu Gee and my Sifu said “Stop trying so hard, no-one every gets it anyway, when I was training  I often did not understand what my own Sifu was telling me to do, never mind what I was doing”. 

None of us can follow, none of us can lead, we can only hope to find our own way and learn our own Wing Chun.  This does not in any way imply that we do not need assistance, but we should seek guidance and not instruction.

A way to turn IDEA’s into action.

As a final reference to my Sifu, I once complained to him about the quality of the instruction I was receiving when I turned up to training, he calmly looked me in the eye and said “Derek, when you come to see me you should not come as an infant needing to be spoon fed, but as a student looking to have his homework marked”!


This was always the way with Kung Fu, at least before it became a business.


Food for Thought



When people first approach me to teach them I enquire why they wish to embark on training, very few say “I wish to be a more effective fighter”, mostly it is some strange mix of T.V. Hippy Culture and Kung Fu Hero Worship, so I tell them “I am the wrong Teacher for you, I teach people how to become more effective fighters, Wing Chun is the vehicle I choose because it works, I do not teach Culture.

Some leave there and then some stay for a week or a month but leave soon after, it is not that me and my people train hard physically, I teach like most Wing Chun teachers, but mentally and emotionally we are very tough, we do not let ourselves slip into denial about the very real dangers that encouraged us to seek training in the first place.  We do not play the  “I think it is good to have some skill IF I ever need it, but I hope I don’t” game, we play the “Training to be ready for WHEN I need it because I know I WILL need it someday” game.


This dichotomy exists in most Martial Arts, but it appears to be more common in Wing Chun than any of the other styles I have trained in, students would rather spend years doing Forms and Chi Sau than learning how to really hurt someone, they are in denial that they will ever need their training.

Gavin de Becker puts it like this in his book Fear Less.

“..denial can be seductive, but it has an insidious side effect. For all the peace of mind deniers think they get by saying it isn’t so, the fall they take when faced with new violence is all the more unsettling. Denial is a save-now-pay-later scheme, a contract written entirely in small print, for in the long run, the denying person knows the truth on some level.”

Lt. Col.Dave Grossman writes ..

“Denial kills you twice. It kills you once, at your moment of truth when you are not physically prepared: You didn’t bring your gun; you didn’t train. Your only defence was wishful thinking. Hope is not a strategy. Denial kills you a second time because even if you do physically survive, you are psychologically shattered by fear, helplessness, horror and shame at your moment of truth”.

Denial is not just about thinking the Brown will not become Airborne, it is also in the delusion that what you do in training in and of itself will be enough to save the day, usually it will not be..

Just last night {Thursday 8 / 6 / 2017} at training one of my guys said “I have a question I would like to hear your thoughts on. In a f*#ked up thing like the attack in London, what would we do in that situation”?

Everyone was ears and eyes wide open, “We get stabbed to death” was my reply, we spent a few minutes talking about what had happened and if there was any chance of any martial artist suddenly becoming Chuck Norris, we then spoke of violence in general and what to expect and not expect, what to do and what not to do, we spoke of violence and survival, of awareness and escape.

At my Sifu’s School there was an Instructor that talked the talk that Wing Chun was bulletproof, went on the Wing Chun Haj to Hong Kong went to every seminar, he lived on a diet of pure Nim Tao, one evening in Darling Harbour he was challenged by some guys and thought “Bring it on”, they did and he got hammered.

Denial is really just not being honest.


We are Martial Artists, it is what we do.

Articles, Food for Thought


wing chun sydney


In the mid 1980’s I was employed by a large corporation in a Managerial position, this corporation was very forward thinking and all of the managers across all of the divisions were sent to Melbourne for a weekend seminar by Edward De Bono to be coached in Lateral Thinking, this became a regular work experience for the next few years either going to Melbourne for a weekend or having someone come “in house”, at first I was sceptical of the whole idea, after all I was a Chef in charge of a number of Catering operations how could Lateral Thinking help me, but I soon understood that  thinking is just thinking, it is not task specific, it is a method, once my method of thinking changed everything I did changed, especially how I trained my staff.

You may think what has Lateral Thinking got to do with Martial Arts?

All thinking is just thinking, and all training is just training, be it training apprentices to become Chefs or training I.T. Consultants to do Wing Chun.

Fighting is not really a Physical experience as much as it is a Mental / Emotional experience, in any chaotic situation the worse way to deal with the the problem is to try to do what has always been done, that has already failed or we would not be in the position we find ourselves, the solution is to innovate, to change things up, to be creative.

Creativity is a mental quality not a physical act.

What really changed everything about how I trained people, what made me understand the failings of the traditional Table Top / Building Block Thinking approach to training was the concept of Learning Backwards.

Traditionally when we are taught something we start at step 1, everything is new and unknown, everything is difficult to relate to because it is new and unknown, this is always “the hardest step”, then we move on to step 2 and then onwards 3,4,5 and so on, because this is the way we have all been taught everything, we think this is the only and correct way to proceed.  But when we move from step 1 to step 2 we are once again breaking new ground, everything is new and unknown, everything is difficult to relate to because it is new and unknown, this is just another “the hardest step”, and then we progress to another “the hardest step”.

The premise behind Learning Backwards is that it makes no difference what the first step actually is it will always be difficult, new, alien, so if we begin by teaching step 5 the experience is no worse than the original step 1, no one anywhere gets step 1, so when we begin at step 5 then move on by going backwards to step 4 we know where we are headed, we know what everything is for and what is expected, we know what comes next, it is no longer a leap into the unknown.  Step 3, 2, 1 are easier still because the path ahead becomes longer and clearer.

If we apply this thinking to Wing Chun the difficulty we face learning the Sil Lim Tao Form does not make it any easier for us to understand the Chum Kiu Form, which itself does not help us to understand the Biu Gee Form because we cannot relate to why we need the movements.

In fact I can honestly say that I only understood the Forms when looking backwards anyway.

We all learn backwards.

Traditional Martial Arts thinking, including Wing Chun’s thinking, is full of out dated Table Top Methods, how often does someone roll out the old chestnut that “to build a good house you need strong foundations”?

Houses evolved out of the need for shelter, before we built them we found them, Caves, the we decided we needed shelter closer to where we hunted so we built a basic roof to keep off the Sun and Rain, then we added walls to keep out the Wind and Dust, then we added a floor, to this day there a many wonderful majestic houses across the world that do not have foundations.

If we start teaching from Biu Gee then once we look at Chum Kiu it becomes a refinement and not an expansion, we are looking inside at what we already have and not outside to what we may think we need, the same goes for S.L.T.

I have had a number of Private Students that I  started off with the Knife Form, and they did really well really quickly.  When difficulties arose I would introduce tiny sections from the other Forms to help illuminate what we were trying to achieve, when we ran scenarios based on real incidents they transferred the Knife information seamlessly into empty hand use.  Obviously these students main aim was to learn how to be better fighters TODAY and their personal investment was serious, I fully realise that many students are not interested in becoming better fighters as quickly as possible so they do not see the fault with becoming a disciple and spending years learning the craft, the thing is we all love and enjoy the things we are good at, Learning Backwards would help everyone reach a level of personal enjoyment in their Wing Chun much sooner as well.

Quick Art is still Art.

Thinking is just Thinking.