- As a quick intro, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your school? When, where, how and why did you start practicing?
As a young kid, I was was small and weak for my age, so I was often the target of bullying. This created a desire to want to learn to defend myself. I took my first martial arts class at the local YMCA. I spent the next decade or so training in mixed martial arts of the time.
It wasn’t until 1989 that I began training Wing Chun exclusively under Sifu Ron Heimberger. During my time with Sifu Heimberger, before his passing in 2008, I was exposed to Sifu Leung Ting and Sifu Ip Ching’s versions of the Wing Chun system.
Later, when I was accepted as a disciple of Sifu Samuel Kwok, I was able to keep my Ip Ching lineage, but was also exposed to Sifu Ip Chun’s version of the system and of course, Sifu Samuel Kwok’s. Inspired by a former student to begin teaching again, I started West Coast Wing Chun in 2009 in Long Beach, Ca.
We currently have schools in San Diego, Ca under my disciple Sifu Sung Choi and in Layton Utah under my disciple Lo Si Lee Kim. Our curriculum reflects the best of what I have learned from all versions of the Ip Man Wing Chun system I have been exposed to.
The cornerstone to our approach is effectiveness. We provide a well thought out and organized path to our students combining a linear Western approach to learning an Eastern martial ar. This provides our students with a strong foundation of training.
Our school is a home away from home for many students. We strive for an ego free, family like atmosphere. This allows our students to grow as individuals and fosters a better learning environment.
- What are the most common mistakes, or assumptions, you’ve encountered during your years of teaching?
I am not worried so much about mistakes, as mistakes can be corrected. However, coming into any martial arts with a full cup or assumptions about what the process will be like is a detriment to the student. It means there is no room for new knowledge to grow and flourish.
The most common assumption that I come across as a Sifu is that some students think that learning Wing Chun should only take a few months or even, a few years.
We have a saying, “Wing Chun is easy to learn, but takes a lifetime to Master.” A student can become proficient in about two years if they work hard and practice daily. But the path to Mastery is neverending. There is no quick gratification on this path. The path is the gratification.
- 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?
Wing Chun’s Principles, Concepts and Maxims must be thoroughly understood. It is why we began an Intro to Wing Chun Program called Wing Chun Bootcamp. This is a 3 month course that focuses on Wing Chun’s Principles and connecting them to simple application using 11 Methods of Defense and 6 Methods of Attack.
Rushing past this basic understanding and trying to deal with real force at this stage of training will make your Wing Chun fail. Progression must happen in stages until eventually real force can be dealt with efficiently.
- How can Wing Chun be used in an educational, non martial arts setting?
We just finished a week long event for International World Day 2017 at the Long Beach Convention Center in Ca, USA. World Wood Day is a cultural event celebrated annually on March 21st to highlight wood as an eco-friendly and renewable biomaterial and to raise awareness on the key role wood plays in a sustainable world.
It was a coming together of different cultures from around the globe sharing their cultural connection to wood.
We were invited by Master Wang Zhipeng, a renowned Wing Chun Sifu out of Beijing, and the International Wood Culture Society to assist in representing Wing Chun’s connection to Wood through the use of the Mook Yan Jong and the Luk Dim Boon Kwun.
Since all of the people who came to the event had an appreciation of wood as a renewable biomaterial, artistically and otherwise, they felt connected to this aspect of Chinese history.
This cultural sharing brought people of different cultures together in a way which one wouldn’t expect. It reminded all of us who participated and attended the event to focus on what is similar between us, not on what differs between us.
- 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?
I feel mixed about it. Through my own Sifus, I have been taught that the relationship between a Sifu and Student is like that of a father and son. A bond of trust is built over time through the relaying of vital information that has been passed on from generation to generation.
When a student jumps his own Sifu, in favor of You Tube Sifus, for example, he is not allowing for the full capacity of trust and learning that could exist with his own Sifu.
Furthermore, I feel a responsibility to my own students as the information I am teaching them could save their lives or the lives of their loved ones. The potential for receiving bad information through the internet is high. This could put my student at risk.
On the other hand, my Sifu has always told me, “Don’t just believe me, think for yourself.” Once a student has a more in depth understanding of the art and can critically differentiate between good and bad information, then the internet can be a good tool to help him learn and grow.
So, I encourage my students to stay away from the internet for at least the first year of training. After that, I trust they can critically observe. If they have any questions about the differences between what we do and what someone else does, then I can address those questions trusting that they are critically thinking and not just looking to jump ahead.
- What direction do you see Wing Chun or martial arts, as a whole, heading in?
As globalization increases, the world becomes smaller. As the world becomes smaller, there will be cultural exchange. Cultural exchange will force traditional martial arts to evolve. As traditional martial arts evolve, there will be a movement to preserve tradition.
And so on and so forth. Until hundreds of years down the road, traditional martial arts will have truly evolved into something different than it originally was. One cannot argue the effects that BJJ has had on the martial world.
The exposure to that particular fighting system has forced traditionally stand up arts like Wing Chun to take a look at their ground fighting. It has forced us to learn how Wing Chun’s Principles and Concepts can be applied in the horizontal plane.
Cultural exchange should be viewed in a positive light, as it forces us to grow and adapt. So, I don’t see this cycle stopping or changing. Furthermore, one must also recognize that the popularity of any particular martial art is often subject to the whims of promotion and media. Wing Chun has benefitted greatly from many successful movies that have been made about Ip Man.
It is now the most popular Kung Fu system in the world. However, we are also seeing a huge rejection of traditional martial arts in favor of MMA and UFC. I suspect, at some point, traditional Martial Arts will make a resurgence, and we will see a leaning towards a more complete understanding of a single system.
But we will never lose the faction of people who believe in mixed martial arts. Like the music industry, we are heading towards a world in which all martial arts can and will exist simultaneously, subject to the evolution that globalization inspires.
So, what does that mean to us as individuals? I would say that no matter what system or style you practice, whether mixed or traditional, try not to forget the original intent of most martial arts – “to quell violence”.
Pass this intent to our future generations, and we can affect the world in a positive light. The promotion of martial arts as an expression of violence or anger is surely a detriment to our world.
- 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?
Master Ron Heimberger, my first Sifu of nearly twenty years, told me that I must always have a Sifu. He felt that it was important that no matter how long a person had trained or studied the art that there was always more to learn.
This was the reason I became a disciple of Master Samuel Kwok the year following my first Sifu’s death. Under Sifu Kwok’s tutelage, I have continued to grow immensely as a martial artist and have discovered for myself that the well of Wing Chun is bottomless.
Being a student, has an incredible way of keeping you humble and learning. However, my own added advice to students is that if you get an opportunity to assist your own Sifu in teaching, gratefully take the opportunity. Teaching requires a deeper level of understanding of Wing Chun’s principles and concepts. It is an additional way you can learn and grow.
Sifu Bryan Talbot
West Coast Wing Chun