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?
Sure and I will do my best to be brief for the readers. My name is Steve Milliet.
I have been actively involved in Wing Chun since 1988.
I am currently in the process of starting a school in the Savannah, Georgia area (I moved here 6 months ago), which will also be the same location for our family’s kung fu organization headquarters (Wing Pai Federation, www.wingpai.com).
I have been chose by one of my Sifu to inherit and oversee our Kung Fu family and Kung Fu Family Association, the Wing Pai Federation, as well as being an active component with the International Chinese Boxing Association (ICBA) and the World Head of Family Sokeship Council (www.whfsc.com).
We currently have certified black sashes throughout the United States and formal schools (both public and private) located in Demopolis, Alabama (Sifu Jim Webb/Sr. Master Fred Hansard); Picayune, Mississippi (Sifu Shane Fischer); Helena, Montana (Sihing Troy Mikalaski/Josh Salaiz) and are starting a new school in Bolivia with a prominent Choy Lay Fut Instructor (Sifu Huascar Anda), which is very exciting!
In our school we teach what we call Southern Boxing or Yuen Wing Chun. However the Wing Chun which we teach has no blinders on, meaning that we do not teach a specific family – although we do try to ensure that the Wing Chun which has been passed on to me is kept intact.
However, we do allow for self-expression within our schools and we meld the wing chun methods of our training lineage, so long as it does not contradict to the concepts within Wing Chun Kuen.
The beginning of my training began in Slidell, Louisiana where I grew up. I was always interested in martial arts, specifically Kung Fu.
What I recall sparking my interest in Kung Fu was television programs and movies. Mostly it was Bruce Lee movies (like most people of my generation) and weekend Chop Socky Movies from television like Black Belt Theatre and Kung Fu Theatre.
I can not say that one particular thing or experience led me to continue the Martial Path, there were several factors and reasons.
My training started with Grand Master David M. Grago, Sr. David had a very in depth background in several families of Chinese Boxing and Wing Chun (William Cheung, Leung Ting, Sam Wing (NY) and also from Mok Poi On of Pao Fa Lien Wing Chun).
I spent a few years with david and completed my training with him, then he moved to Texas and I joined the US Navy.
I studied other martial arts during the next six years to gain a better perspective, but I do not claim to be a teacher in any other arts.
Then in 1998 I started studying Yuen Kay San Wing Chun Kuen privately, as a Disciple. My YKSWCK Sifu learned from a student of Kwok Wan Ping (Sum Nung’s Student).
I continued this in depth study for over 10 years, which entailed my traveling by car, 3 hours for each day I trained.
2. What are the most common mistakes, or assumptions, you’ve encountered during your years of teaching?
Hmmmm. Most common mistakes are the assumptions that the student already “knows what to expect or how it should work” from their observations. the second is similar, but involves the preconceived ideas by students who have studied other arts.
Some try to learn and express Wing Chun using their assumed understanding or other concepts found within other systems, or what they read.
Either of these is a huge mistake, but it is only a mistake in that it hinders the student from absorbing the full teachings and also holds them back.
I compare it to driving a car then using those concepts to drive a tractor. Although similar and some concepts/ideas to cross-over, the overall experience and performance will be hindered and faulty. As the old cliché says, and holds true, “One MUST empty their cup” to accept what is being poured into them.
3. Movies such as “Yip Man”, “The Grandmaster” and such and 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?
But they ARE MOVIES. And although they do use a true-to-life person to convey a story, it is a “STORY” which is shown as a “MOVIE”.
I place focus on these two because not too many people want to see a movie about a persons normal, everyday life.
So, to ensure that the money spent on making the movie is returned (along with a profit), they must ensure the story line is exciting (of which is a combination of different stories which are from other wing chun masters from the time – Yip Man did NOT do all of what is portrayed in the movies).
Next, and most important is, they are movies…… Made for entertainment, suspense and awe. However, I LOVE those movies, LOL. I watch them often.
They show some great wing chun and applications, well choreographed so that you can almost taste the Wing Chun. But viewers need to keep in mind that these are choreographed movies.
True to life fight and events are rarely executed as cleanly as on the big screen. True life fights are spontaneous, messy, and FAST!!!
Key aspects which i believe a person should focus on are – Basics, Basics, Basics. Foundation training and how the techniques and foundations intertwine to produce a response, shape or reaction.
Fluidity of movement and smoothness of transition from shape to shape and action/reactions. But the end goal is for your Wing Chun to be naturally there and express when needed.
Similar to when you want a piece of bread that’s on the table, you instinctively simply reach out, take the bread and bring it to you – subconsciously and effortlessly.
4. How can Wing Chun be used in an educational, non martial arts setting?
Well, I suppose it would depends on a persons’ understanding of the concepts and/or Kuen Kuit of Wing Chun Kuen.
But for the novice or practitioner who does not know or have access to the Kuen Kuit, I would mention these points which are Wing Chun derived ideas/concepts:
– Receive what comes and follow what goes:
Receiving is also viewed as accepting. Meaning that accept the trials, tribulations and challenges which you will be presented with in life, work and relationships.
Follow what goes is a little more in depth. it does not mean to pursue or chase incessantly. To be inline with the Kuit, it means to move toward goals, objectives and desire in a pressing fashion.
However a person must have a line drawn, which they will not cross.
The line between moving toward a goal or objective (in life) and chasing one incessantly, without boundaries is a fine line and moves depending on circumstances and environment.
This is one example, of many. Wing Chun concepts can easily be life-lessons and applicable to everyday life, if a person works to understand the parallels.
This is one of the reasons Wing Chun is considered to be the “thinking man’s art”.
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?
I feel this is a wonderful and truly beautiful piece of evolution in information sharing!!!
Unfortunately there is so much good and bad out there that a novice or interested person could easily cling or learn something which does not possess the quality which a person desires when wanting to learn Wing Chun.
For there to be a quality check in the internet, there would have to be some policing and governance – which would lead to politics and money, which would inherently lead to the same concern and issue which brought the governance about.
So it would be a mess all over again…. LOL
The only way to sift through what is good and bad (which is relative depending on your understanding, your teacher and your Wing Chun Family’s doctrine), is to have a solid foundation in Wing Chun, through training with a Sifu who has the deep understanding of concepts and applications, as well as an open mind.
However, it is possible to sift through it as well if the viewer takes a scholarly approach and learns to understand the concepts and applications, then deepens this with breaking down the concept and how it would apply to various other circumstances.
Using the concepts and understanding as the gauge in which to compare the internet content to the teachings would provide a sufficient gauge to validate what you are looking at. However, application and experience is ALWAYS the best gauge to close the argument!
That is what training time is for. Use your training time to prove or disprove the applicability and effectiveness of what you are seeing out on the internet. Don’t LOOK, FEEEEEEL.
As far as the effect it has had on Wing Chun, it has been mostly Positive. It has spread this wonderful method of martial arts world-wide.
Unfortunately I have met and seen those out there who are Cyber-Kwoon Sifu (meaning they learned everything via internet and videos), some of whom were good at the physical part, but lacked the Jing or transition (meaning feel) and some that were just plain bad.
Then there are others who learn from the internet and incorporate it into their martial programs. Which is fine, but too often their advertising or marketing of this AND giving the credit where it belongs is usually done in a Non-honest way. This isn’t common, but does happen.
But this is a problem that has always been around in martial arts, as well as in other areas. Till the day the world ends there will always be Snake-Oil Salesmen.
6. What direction do you see Wing Chun or martial arts, as a whole, heading in?
Not sure I am the person to be asking honestly, as I do not govern this.
But I believe that the progression will continue just as it always has. There will be new and/or bigger WCK organizations and Sifu.
There will be Politics and my Sifu can beat up your Sifu (LOL). There will be newly found lineages springing up (which is fine), some authentic, some not.
There will be hybrids (which is VERY POPULAR now), which is fine – but they do tend to often lack the full depth of Wing Chun.
There will be innovations to make Wing Chun more effective and efficient (which is as it should be, provided they do not violate the concepts/principles which make Wing Chun what it is).
I think it will continue to thrive, now more than ever.
I honestly am not concerned about Wing Chun’s direction or path. The true and inspired people who love it will see it thrive and continue to bear fruit, which is what keeps me intrigued and at peace.
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?
– If you desire something, work for it – Tirelessly.
– Perseverance is KEY!
– The more you sweat in the Kwoon, the less you bleed in the streets.
– Never take anything at face value; Test it and Prove it.
– Don’t treat “Sifu Says” as Gospel and Truth. TEST IT.
– What works for me may not work for you, try something different. As long as you apply what works within the concepts – it IS WING CHUN!
Zhu Gong Wing Chun Kuen
Ch’uang Chuan Wing Pai Federation