1. As a quick intro, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your school? When, where, how and why did you start practicing?
My name is Kristian Gordon, 44 years old and have been practicing martial arts since I was about 12-13 years old. I began my training under my father once he believed I was mature enough and in part due to me being bullied.
I was a small child and commonly the target of those bigger than me. From my father I learned many things, for lack of a better term, I would call it mixed martial arts… wrestling, boxing, kick boxing, joint destructions, weapons/throwing, etc…
He was ex-military, a descendant of tsalagi warriors of northern Georgia. So indigenous fighting arts were passed down on my fathers family and to me. This includes knowledge that was taught to warriors of the tribe that were members of warrior lodges and trained by the priest class.
I guess you can say that pugilism arts are in our blood and it seems that every generation has been drawn and involved with the fighting arts and world. The hand techniques that I learned most closely resemble the hand techniques found within wing chun but without the three common forms.
Growing up in the 70’s and early 80’s I knew what Wing Chun was as my father exposed me to alot of martial arts, movies, magazines, books and the training he gave me.
In my adult life I searched for a teacher in the Ip Man lineage, which was not an easy task; sure there are alot of Wing Chun practioners and teachers in the world. But let’s face it, we are not that common in most areas.
I eventually found Sifu/Master Mark Beardsell and was eventually given the honor of becoming his disciple.I am a Fourth Generation Ip Man Lineage Sifu and Lineage holder. I currently teach in Martinsville Va. at our local YMCA.
I have quite an extensive background in the martial arts and have studied many styles. I am certified to teach in three main systems of martial arts, Wing Chun, Fukien White Crane and Southern Mantis.
Wing Chun however is my chosen art and at this point I have dedicated my life to the study, practice and dissemination of Traditional Ip Man Wing Chun as past on from his sons to GM Samuel Kwok to Sifu/Master Mark Beardsell, and to me Sifu Kristian Gordon.
2. What are the most common mistakes, or assumptions, you’ve encountered during your years of teaching?
Mistakes, well… I still make mistakes. Most people that I encounter usually have some false generalization about the style based own their experiences with tae kwon do or karate and this usually translates in a very stiff and rigid approach to their Wing Chun practice in class.
New students from these art forms take a while to smooth out their movements and relax. The mention of Kung Fu/Gung Fu and some think of a dubbed over hong kong movie they once seen or Bruce Lee.
Other than mis-perceptions, the mistakes that I deal with are based on structure.This is something that is easily fixed and mastered through repetition/ training. Common mistakes are always during the teaching/learning stage.
Focus on body structure and be sure to study your arts theories and concepts and mistakes become small leaning speed bumps; keeping in mind that each person has a different learning style and learning curve. In general, mistakes are made through the learning process and vary from person to person.
Everyone of my students are different and has their own strengths and weaknesses. It is my job to spot potential bad habits and re-direct the student before these turn into mistakes that negatively impact the effectiveness of their skill, a far as specific techniques, well again those mistakes are all structure based and vary from person to person.
I don’t believe Wing Chun is an art that can be taught en-mass like some other styles that have large numbers of students practicing in unison. I prefer to teach in small numbers and then it is easier to teach in a more personal environment, this gives me more influence in helping my students develop their skill properly.
3. Movies such as “Yip Man”, “The Grandmaster” and such are probably one of the reasons many people start to practice at some point. Since reality is mostly not matching most of these movie scenes, what are some key aspects a beginning martial artist should focus on?
That is funny! Most people in my town do “NOT,” know who Ip Man is or have never heard of the movie. I have found that only those people with a real love of all things martial arts know about the movies and style.
This is just my experience with teaching in a small southern town YMCA. If you asked my student’s what they here most often from me in beginning training is probably to “Relax!”.
Relax their muscles, mind and body then we focus on breathing and foundation training with Sil Lim Tao, chain punches and of course two man drills. You need all of those things to master this form.
Those that don’t get it usually get bored with the training and quit, never seeing the true depth of the style we call “Wing Chun,” Relax and having patience are two things needed to study any martial art.
4. How can Wing Chun be used in an educational, non martial arts setting?
Wing Chun takes a holistic approach to the individual, seeking to find an equilibrium between mind, body and spirit.
As a trained health care professional, the same approach is used as a model to patient approach. A greater sense of self gives the individual more power over those governing factors that have an effect on our daily lives.
Having good coping mechanisms/skills form our foremost defense against stressors. From a medical stand point, stress is in direct correlation to chronic health issues later in life.
These benefits include and are not limited to reduced stress, lower heart rate, blood pressure, slower respirations, in general an over sense of well-being.
There are many studies on the use of alternative treatment modalities in relation to improving overall health and combating chronic illness.
Wing Chun training involves many internal aspects in the varied lineages and subsystems. A good student always does his or her research, and I constantly encourage my students to expand their knowledge.
This is the only way to fully understand an art form. The result arguably is a greater ability to deal with negative external stressors, improved health and in cases longevity.
This is a subject that is extensively written about and hopefully passed on among schools to show the positive life benefits of martial practice. I think it is important to focus on the health benefits of Wing Chun and try to role model these behaviours to my students.
5. The internet has completely changed our lives over the past 10-15 years. We now have access to lots of information (both good & bad) and connections like never before. How do you feel about this evolution and it’s impact on Wing Chun?
Technology is the evolution of information exchange. This is already transcending into aspects of our daily lives.
I think this is good as long as the content that people are looking at is valid, teaches valuable information and is passing on promoting the tenets of our system. I mean even Ip Man was using current media of his day to record his wing chun.
That is no different than the way wing chun is spread today. Universities and Colleges use DL, distance learning , programs to teach their own students.
I even took them during my graduate experience. I think the internet can have a very valuable impact on wing chun history. This is mostly due to the involvement of the Grand Masters ion our system embracing modern technology to insure that future generations have their teachings available to the future…
No mis-understanding there. My Sifu and my GM both have used the internet to great sucess with accomplished students that used the internet as their main learning platform, and of course personal training with each Master.
As great as technology is, it will never replace one-on-one direct transmission style teaching… face to face.
6. What direction do you see Wing Chun or martial arts, as a whole, heading in?
That is a hard question; just based on my own perceptions and experiences that I have in my part of the world. Everyone has heard of tae kwon do and that is the first thing that I hear from people when I am asked what wing chun is.
I would like to see Wing Chun grow and become more mainstream; but not in the direction of sport martial arts. I think that Wing Chun should be always passed on as a traditional art form.
My mission is to preserve the art in its original form to the best of my ability and knowledge. “I could make mistakes, I am only human”, something that I tell my students during our lessons; that and “be humble.”
My mission is not to start a chain of studios in strip malls. I am kind of an old fashion teacher and practitioner. I believe in high standards and quality over quantity.
7. To end this interview in style, what is the best Wing Chun or martial arts advice you have personally ever received and what is the best advice you would give to our readers?
Never stop practicing, strive for patience and learn from your mistakes. Never give up, when you get frustrated take a break and just breath and clear your mind then try again.