Our senior instructor Sifu David Peterson was feature in Wing Chun Geeks last month,Scott from Wing Chun Geeks sits down with Sifu David Peterson chat about Wing Chun Bruce Lee and everything in between, catch the podcast and transcript of the interview below!
How would you classify Hong Kong Style of training?
Peterson: Most people would be more familiar to a Tae Kwon Doe class or Karate class where everything is very organized. Hong Kong style is a bit different; everyone kind of shows up and trains at their own pace. Some people will pair up and work with partners, while others will train forms. As the instructor I’ll walk around and help students with their individual situation. Although if things are looking a bit slow and people aren’t terribly motivated, then in a HK style situation I’ll prompt a drill or situation.
In a formal class, I’ll run though drills fairly intensely. For example I’ll give attack and defense scenarios, or I’ll even teach the wooden dummy. Even in my formal classes, there is an element of Hong Kong training, meaning people will be given the opportunity to take time out and do their own thing.
What is it like starting a Kung Fu school in an Asian country (in Malaysia)?
I’ve been jumping back and forth to Asia for some time now; I’m used to the different cultures. I also have a background in Asia languages. Since communication isn’t a big issue, it’s not a big deal to change countries. Obviously, since I was opening a Kung Fu school there were some hurdles. Long story short, it started when some people over here caught wind I was moving here, it started out with us just meeting, and resulted in me opening a school.
Where I am located, its more like a big town than a huge city. I’ve become a bit of a novelty, being known as “the foreigner who teaches Kung Fu.” The only downside is living here is a bit like living in a 1970’s “C” grade Kung Fu movie. There are a few people around here who have a chip on their shoulder, where people pretend they don’t know anything or just want to have a look at my class, but in the end they turn out to be instructors or senior students from other schools. There has been a bit of fun and games.
About Sifu Petersons Training:
As little kids we watched lots of TV, watching Bruce Lee and Japanese shows in Australia. It really got us into Asian culture. I began my training in Australia, where I studied Shao Lin Kempo, also known as Shao Lin boxing. The instruction was fascinating, but the process of learning was very slow. I took a chance upon someone who knew Wing Chun. Being a fan of Bruce Lee and Asian culture, I decided to check it out and ended up at that school for about 10 years.
After a while I found out he was not as qualified as he claimed, resulting in us having a falling out. Because of my Chinese studies, lots of people in the Chinese community pointed out what I was learning is not the real deal, not to mention he would often make excuse why I wasn’t ready to move onto the next level.
In the end, I decided to go to Hong Kong and find a real teacher. I found out who Wong Shun Leung was, wrote him letters in Chinese, and he accepted me as his student. Since I learned how to speak Mandarin back home, I used Mandarin to learn Cantonese in Hong Kong.
What was it like training with Wong Shun Leung?
It was amazing. I didn’t train with him all the time, since it was Hong Kong style of training it was a lot more casual, but training with all my SiHings (older Kung fu brothers) and juniors, it kept us busy most of the time. Sifu would interrupt the class from time to time to help us with issues or talk about certain topics to help us understand it a little better. As I got better he would come more hands on with me, I was also lucky enough that when he came to Australia, he would stay at my house for weeks at a time. That was a bonus, because I could listen to him and compare ideas.
Since I was a teacher, I would have lots of breaks when the term ended. Sometimes I would go and train in Hong Kong for up to two months. I would go as many times I could go and I would stay as long as I could stay. I kept doing that from 1993 until he passed away.
Can you tell us about your book?
It is not a typical martial arts book, I would refer to most books as a “how to do it book.” Books with how to throw a front kick or some other attack. What I tried to do was write a book what I referred to as a “how to think book.” How anyone can get inside the head of my instructor and learn what it’s all about when it comes to fighting. I would quote him directly, and then enhance by explaining his intention. The goal being, they can learn firsthand the message that my teacher had.
Why should a non Chinese speaker learn Cantonese?
According to Wong Shun Leung, Cantonese is the language of Wing Chun. When I first got to Hong Kong we mainly communicated in Mandarin and I started to learn Cantonese. Although my Mandarin was much better, when we spoke in Cantonese, my understanding of Wing Chun was much better. It would help me understand things on a deeper level. Since written Chinese is the same among most dialects, If we ever got stuck, we would write it down. There is a different way to express written Chinese in a Cantonese matter of writing.
Unlike Mandarin, Cantonese is a spoken language. It is not as easy to find a text book, pick it up and learn it. To learn it, you have to communicate in as many words as you can, picking it up little by little. If you have to, you can even mix English and Cantonese or Mandarin and Cantonese.
Mandarin is a manufactured language, but Cantonese is a spoken/nature language, people just pick it up as is. The secret is, just listen to what the native person says and do your best to mimic it. Don’t worry about getting something wrong.
Is Wong Shun Leung’s Wing Chun different than everyone else’s?
The best answer is that his Wing Chun is different. The reason for this is, before he became a Wing Chun man, he was a very good western boxer. When he arrived at Wing Chun he had a fighter’s mentality. Fighting was exactly that, it was two people trying to hit each other. Many people get into the art form, prolonging a tradition. They might be afraid to get into a boxing ring or they just want to do something less violent. He, being a fighter, came to Wing Chun and saw the potential. He used the tools exactly what they were meant for, fighting. A lot of people get into Wing Chun with a scholarly attitude, the only people they ever work with are their own people/classmates and they think they know what a fight is, but they never had a fight. The result is they end up chasing hands and do fancy moves that never work in real combat. My Sifu, looked at the tools and said “can I use those to smash a guy.”
His approach is to streamline, simplify it, and what is the shortest distance between my fist and the other guys noise.
Since he had a real world view of Wing Chun, what was his interpretation of Chi Sau?
His attitude was very simple, Wing Chun without Chi Sau is not Wing Chun. Chi Sau is in the central part of the training process, he always maintained if you get a perfect set of twins, who are physically exactly the same, and train them both in one year Wing Chun. Train one with, and one without Chi Sau. The one who trained Chi Sau would have an attribute the other did not have, resulting in him/her wining every time. He/She would have the automatic touch reflex the other did not have.
What was his class like?
It was not dominated by one approach. There is a problem in the Wing Chun world today where some say Chi Sau is useless and never do it. The other group that says Chi Sau is everything and that is all they do. The true answer is somewhere between those two views, on top of all that, there are some who use Chi Sau from the wrong means. Basically they get in there and try to smash each other, they touch for one second and try to remove the other guy’s head. On the other end of the spectrum, there are others who train like their hands are made of glass. They do endless repetitions of situations that will never happen in real life.
If you want to fight the guy you should just fight the guy, you don’t go out into the street and say “alright, lets fight!” Then put your hands up and start Chi Sau’ing. Chi Sau is a means to bring out attributes that MAY and the big important word is MAY come out in a fight, depending on what course the fight takes. If my fist gets straight to your head, there is no Chi Sau. If in the process of my fist getting to your head, your arm gets in the way, then the attributes that Chi Sau has enhanced MAY come into play.
How has this all effected how you teach?
It is important to have a mixture of everything, so you try to strike a balance. If my Sifu was still alive, he would absolutely agree with me, it is important that you have one or two techniques that work under all types of pressure. You don’t need 1000 techniques to be able to protect yourself against a violent person. One or two techniques that work WELL under most situations. We spend a lot of time making sure stance is good, footwork is good, basic tools like the punch, and very basic things of Tan Sau, fuk Fau, etc. Making sure all those tools are working under pressure.
There are solo drills to work on, there are partner drills to work on, and then you can work on Chi Sau. There are various with Chi Sau type drilling. Then there is the form, the form gives us the alphabet, combinations, and the flow of the technique. Of course there is also the wooden dummy. Not to mention what we refer to as “open drills.”
We don’t spar so much in the tradition sense, because it becomes a game of “tit for tat, you get me I get you.” It is not reflecting what a real violent counter is, two people come together, very quickly there is an exchange of blows, and somebody goes down. Sparing tends to be an extended game where nobody is really hitting anybody. When you put the equipment on, it’s one of your friends and you can’t really destroy him. What we do is what we call “open drills.” We put together a scenario and basically say “try to remove my head.” Then we will do the best we can to shut that movement down in the least amount of movements possible, to take control and overwhelm the opponent. This is because a real life encounter is going to be sudden, violent, and very sudden. If you cannot deal with that first rush of attack, you can forget everything else you learned.
If I showed up to your class and don’t know anything, what is the first thing I can expect to learn?
Bonus Section – We contacted Sifu Peterson at a later time to clarify the points listed below.
If you came as an absolute beginner, my first session with you, my goal would be to take you through what we call “the 5 most important ingredients that make up Wing Chun.”
The “5 most important ingredients that make up Wing Chun” are:
- How to make the basic stance correctly so that you have correct structure, making sure that the body is relaxed and linked from top to bottom
- How to throw the punch correctly, using the whole body thru correct alignment of the stance and NOT muscular force.
- How to step forwards correctly in attack (‘seung ma’) so that power is drawn up from the ground
- How to step backwards defensively (‘tui ma’) so that the body moves along the narrowest line possible and allows you to stay facing your opponent’s centre of mass
- The ‘Siu Nim Tau’ (“young idea”) form, which provides us with ALL of the most important concepts dealing with structure, relaxation, the ‘Centreline’, ‘lat sau jik chung’, ‘Chi Sau’ and footwork in one unique package.
I hope that this will clear up what I was getting at in the interview and that it might help you & your listeners to better appreciate the ‘WSLVT’ approach. In addition to that, I make a point of teaching my people that the “5 Most Important Elements, what I term the “Black Belt techniques” of Wing Chun”, are:
1. The basic stance (‘yi ji kim yeung ma’), from which comes ALL the footwork (including kicking) of Wing Chun
2. The basic punch (‘yat ji chung kuen’), from which ALL the other attacking actions of Wing Chun can be derived
3. The ‘taan sau’ technique/concept, which teaches us how to control, protect & attack on the outer side of the arm
4. The ‘fook sau’ technique/concept, which teaches us how to control, protect & attack on the inner side of the arm
5. The ‘bong sau’ technique (via the 3 defined variations of ‘yi bong’, ‘paau bong’ & ‘dai bong’), which provide us with the means to overcome the failure of ‘taan sau’, and with a “shield” whenever we are caught by surprise or out of position.
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If you want to win a fight you should be the guy that is throwing punches, we always emphasize attacking techniques before we defending techniques. I teach you how to step forward and throw punches, and then I would teach you defensive footwork. In the real world, more than likely you are the victim, you need to learn how to avoid the first attack or you can take advantage and become the attacker.
After we learn to combine all the ingredients together, we would learn the first section of the Sil Lim Tao form. If we manage to combine all those together, I am satisfied to believe I have given you what I call the “black belt techniques” of Wing Chun. No matter how far you go in the system, no matter how many more years you intend to train, those 5 ideas that you learned in the first lesson, are the most important techniques you’ll ever learn.
How would you define defensive techniques?
If the opponent is attacking me, I am not trying to defend myself, I am trying to attack you. Think of it this way, if you and I had a gun fight, and you pulled out your weapon and shooting at me, I wouldn’t stand there with a rubbish bin lid (garbage can lid), and try to block the bullets.
I would pull out my gun, fight back, and hope that I was a better shot than you. It’s the same if two nations go to war, one nation doesn’t hold up a blanket and try to block the missiles, they fire missiles back. In Wing Chun, if you attack, I attack you in a more efficient matter.
When I talk about defensive movement, I mean shifting slightly off the line and throwing back a punch straight away. It’s not a defensive movement, but an offensive movement.
Competition in China, who was there?
When we competed in China, there were mainly Chinese people, but there were some foreigners, to my surprise, mainly from Russia. Very few people from Hong Kong, mainly Chinese people from Fut San (Fo Shan) and surrounding areas.
The thing that threw us off was that we were assured it was going to be only Wing Chun based tournament. Meaning, anyone who went outside of Wing Chun technique would be penalized and probably disqualified. In response, we prepared for a Wing Chun tournament. To our dismay, when we arrived they invited every man and his dog to the tournament. It was pretty much anything goes, instead of being a Wing Chun tournament; it was basically a pub brawl. We were caught off balance because we train for one kind of fighting and were confronted with a different one. They allowed anyone who had Wing Chun on their resume or business card in the competition. Their Chi Sau competition consisted with the same thing as the San Da (Chinese Kick Boxing) competition, the difference being it was on the floor.
Despite everyone under the sun showing up, did you get to see the different lineages of Wing Chun China has to offer?
For us that was the most enjoyable part, we entered the form competition and won the bronze medal. It also gave us the opportunity to see a very big variety of different interpretations of the forms. Some reminded us of our own Wing Chun, others that looked like completely different systems of martial arts. You could see there were elements that were similar, but when they applied what they did, it was a completely different martial art all together. Wing Chun is meant to be a concept based martial art, you would expected to see some variation, but in some cases you would see even more variations than you ever expected.
Can we hear about the documentary about John Little?
We did work on a documentary last year with John Little at the Shao Lin temple in Henan, China. That footage will be released in June of this year. It is for the 40th anniversary of the film “Enter the Dragon.” He put together a 25 minute documentary of which myself and a couple of my guys are featured/seen in. We talk about the connection between Bruce Lee with Wing Chun and where it all came from. The other project that we are very excited about, after hearing about my teacher and our approach to Wing Chun, which is very different from what he had come across before. Because of it, he dropped his original idea of doing a general documentary of Wing Chun, which was his original plan, and he now wants to shoot a documentary that zeros in on my teacher. Mainly his contributions to Wing Chun, because we both believe that m teacher is being overlooked. His importance in Wing Chun has been pushed to the side and it is time that he get some recognition for it.
For those of us who don’t know, can you explain who John Little is?
That’s easy, John is one of the worlds best known historians on the whole Bruce Lee saga. He has produced a large number of books and many articles on the subject of Bruce Lee, JKD, and the entire history of him and his art. He also made the documentary “Bruce Lee In His Own Words.” It’s like sitting down with Bruce Lee for an hour.
How is the progress with the film?
John has done a lot of the research and background work, the sad thing is we can’t start shooting . The truth is if John mentions Bruce Lee water brothers will or anyone else in the big studio, they will say “yea we will do that” and they will put the money into it. If you mention Wong Shun Leung and they go “who?” Since they don’t know who he is, they assume the audience doesn’t know who it is and they aren’t interested in funding it. Unfortunately we are sorry to say we aren’t able to get the support we thought we would get from the wider Wing Chun community. We thought they would all be jumping up and down to help, sadly that hasn’t happened. It’s not that we are after a huge budget, but the quality of the film still needs a decent budget. We can’t start rolling film until we have that. There is a very small window of opportunity because we would like to get it finished before the 40th anniversary of “Enter the Dragon.”
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It is a chance to give credit where credit is due. Wong Shun Long is the unsung hero of Wing Chun. He put his physicality and his life in some cases on the line to test, prove, and develop the Wing Chun system. A lot of people talk the talk, but very few walk the walk. He actually stood up the plate and went for it. If it wasn’t for him, people like the late Jessie Glover, one of Bruce Lee’s students, always praised him. While he was still alive he would often say “If their wasn’t Wong Shun Long, there wouldn’t be a Bruce Lee.” He is a very important missing part of the story, but because people want to connect with Ip Man, he is the main legend, my teachers participation in the saga has been pushed in the background. Being that he is a humble modest man that didn’t seek the limelight, he just let it go that way. The result is, people don’t know who he is.
He also made the documentary “Bruce Lee In His Own Words.” Its like sitting down with Bruce Lee for an hour. John wants to make a documentary that is the same, if not better quality. We are gathering up any audio material, photos, anything we can get our hands on, where my teacher can talk to the audience.
When you trained in HK, was there any “rooftop style fights?”
It was mostly a thing of the past by the time I got there, but from time to time somebody from other martial arts or another branch of Wing Chun would stop by. They would ask if they could play, but it would always end up with them holding their head wondering “what the hell happened.” Other times when we visited other schools and we found what we did worked well under real pressure. For the most part those types of fights are over, now it is illegal and it is not a healthy way to run your day.
Now people will get together to play with lots of rules, but I read an article recently that really reflected what both my teacher and myself think. If two people from the same school get together it is a learning experience, we are trying to help each other. There might be a few people who are hot headed, but generally speaking, it is about learning. That being said, it is always a dangerous thing to do Chi Sau with someone outside your family. Despite what rules you might lay down, usually someone always want to push the envelope. Nothing is really gained from that, only someone gets angry and someone gets hurt. As a rule we always said that if someone from the outside came we just called it a fight and let’s be done with it.
For the most part people have evolved, but like I said earlier, few people have stopped by my school pretending to be nice guys then they blew up like an atom bomb. But in the end it becomes more unpleasant for them, then us.
In an effort to educate others, how do you think the internet has affected Wing Chun?
Both good and bad. On one end you have “keyboard cowboys” who are just wasting everyone’s time, later you find out they are 14 year olds who have never done any training. On the other hand they have provided people who really know good training with a good vehicle to promote themselves and the conmen can no longer hide.
Before the internet, many people have figured out how to take advantage of people from other countries. They show up and claim they were the only student of Ip Man and are willing to give away the secrets. Then the internet came around and those people figured out there was many people who can teach them that stuff.
Others have figured how to suck people in with the internet. Unfortunately many people are the victims of their own stupidly; they want to believe in magic. It’s about hard work, developing a skill that requires physical work, bruises, and maybe even broken bones. All to develop a skill that you may never even use under combat situations.
In your school do you have belts or anything like that?
No. You are who you are. The only thing we do have is that senior students will have gold lettering on their t-shirts, the reason for that is so you know who to ask questions. Otherwise we are not into fancy belts, jackets, or certificates on the wall.
My teacher used to say “it doesn’t matter how fancy your cloths are, your belt, or how many years you have been training, it all comes down to what you do when someone in the middle of the room tries to remove your head.” You got to leave you ego outside the door. You would discover, if you can here to train all the men and women who train here, are incredibly down to earth. There are no egos or any morons in the class. That’s why we get incredibly annoyed when people from outside come with a different thought process, it’s not about that. It’s about training and bringing yourself to the next level.
Do you have any training tips?
Don’t be in a hurry; it’s not how much you know, but how well you know it. The biggest enemy in Wing Chun is that they are too tense; they get emotion involved with the point of contact instead of relaxing. Using structure instead of muscle on force, if you start with softness you will become very powerful and very fast. If all you do is use power and speed, you are never going to reach the power and speed that you dream of.
How should we contact you?
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If you come with an open mind and the will to learn, you are welcome to come train with us in Malaysia.
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