Prelude:


In 1990, I had a difficult year physically. I was addicted to the endorphins produced from excessive mountain biking. As a result of that addiction, I would even go mountain biking when I had a cold which made the cold worse and weakened my immune system before a dental surgery. Six percent of surgeries get infected, and because my immune system was compromised, I fell into that six percent. I contracted a virus and spent a good portion of the year with an immune system that was out of sync, either too strong or too weak. This experience made me crave earlier times of my life when I felt physical clarity. And, those times happened to be when I was a freshman and sophomore in college learning Okinawan Karate, and in 1985, when I took 6 months of Aikido in Mill Valley.



In 1991, my mother passed away from cancer, I was living by myself in San Rafael, and the time seemed ripe to try Kung Fu. I was attracted to Chinese Kung Fu because Chinese Kung Fu exercises appeared more linked to health and chi development. Within Kung-Fu forms and motions there were many motions that could be officially classified as Chi-Gung.


 At this time, I started purchasing Kung Fu magazines and buying some Kung Fu books. From studying Kung Fu literature in magazines and books it became very clear that not only the West, but also the East has a distorted view of Chinese martial arts and martial arts in general. But, this has totally to do with the pursuit and understanding of history. Many great writers praise history, as it should be praised. Other writers expressed a not so naive view:



 History is more or less bunk. - HENRY FORD,


 Chicago Tribune History is written by the winners. - ALEX HALEY,


as quoted in And I Quote Half the things you've been taught in school are just convenient fictions. History is a puppet show for childish minds. - JOHN TWELVE HAWKS, The Traveler Mankind often doesn't learn from history, because mankind doesn't care so much about history or facts. It takes some extra effort to locate historical facts. Regarding Kung Fu: In the 1970s, when movie goers watched Enter the Dragon, no one seemed to question that on a Chinese island, the majority of people (all Chinese) were all wearing Japanese martial arts uniforms. Kung Fu and Karate were perceived as practically the same thing. Across America many martial arts schools still offer to teach "Kung Fu" as if Kung Fu is just one thing. Why? Because it is too difficult to educate people that there are at least 200 styles of Kung Fu. Then, beyond that, you have to tell them that "Kung Fu" means "the diligent practice of an art". So a master chef, a master carpenter, or a master dancer is doing a form of Kung Fu. What one can deduce is that when Kung Fu is assigned to an art, you know that the art requires practice, practice and practice.




I will give a couple examples of Chinese Kung Fu "history". This "history" is believed to be fact by probably at least 50% of Chinese people. How did Kung Fu get started? People will say: Bodhidharma came to China from India in the 7th century and taught the Shaolin monks Chi-Gung, which they developed into Kung Fu fighting styles. This is a nonsense story. To believe this story, one would have to ignore at least 2000 years of Chinese history in which hundreds of wars and skirmishes happened. Yet somehow, it is a preferred fairy tale.


 Another history lesson: Who created Tai Chi? First of all, you begin with a mass of people who don't know that Tai Chi is a style of Kung Fu. Again, 50% of information say that Tai Chi may have been invented by the Taoist master Zhang Sanfeng. This is however, an embarrassment to Chinese scholars who know that Tai Chi was developed in Chen village, and it was derivative from a large mass of Kung Fu styles and forms, mainly from the Chinese long fist forms. Furthermore, the character Zhang Sanfeng was a fictitious character. It is just simply much more fun to believe that Tai Chi was magically created by a mystical Taoist master, than a Chinese general who liked boxing. The Japanese samurai were told that the secrets of swordsmanship were taught to man by the Tengu, the mountain spirit immortals. These history anecdotes are given to illustrate that the sincere study of Wing Tsun is the pursuit of truth. Where did this knowledge come from? Does it work? Does it not work? Who has the best understanding of this knowledge?


The first obstacle to Wing Tsun Kung Fu knowledge is invisible. Because, you don't know that it is there at all. That obstacle is that we do not know HOW to learn this art. And, knowing how to learn this art is important. Why? Because this art has true depth beyond what is seen on the surface. When Bruce Lee wrote his book, The Dao of Jeet Kune Do, he was grasping at this process of learning.



If one purchases a martial arts book on a Kung Fu style, there are usually two parts to the book. The first part of the book shows a series of photos which are the form or forms of the style. The second half of the book shows examples of how parts of the form are used, called "application". So, it initially appears as a two step process. Here is the form and over here is the usage of the form. What the books won't tell you is that it is not a two step process, but a multi-step.



 Many martial arts are taught with the two step concept. Form is taught. Then dozens and dozens of techniques, so the student accumulates a pile of techniques or "stuff". If you learned 500 techniques, then you need the muscle memory to use that technique when situation number 85, 147, or 286 arises.


 Wing Tsun, being an art with depth requires more than two steps: Learn the form, the geometry of the system - Learn to incorporate energy principles to the system: Forward, stick, yield, follow – Learn to use the principles within a strict geometry and the rules of physics – learn to make the nervous system sensitive by training reactions or triggers – learn the techniques or usage – learn how to train the techniques – learn how to train to apply the techniques – then, achieve the ability or skill to apply the techniques. Here, I have 8 steps, but it could also be broken down into 20 steps.



 Beginning practice:



My Wing Tsun practice began late in 1991 with a Wing Tsun or Wing Chun course offered at the San Rafael community center. The instructor's name was Derek Kolchak. Because Wing Tsun or Chun is not widely spread throughout the U.S., your access to W.T. knowledge depended on what the local teacher knew.



We began the way most Wing Tsun classes begin by learning the first 3 sections of the Siu Nim Tao form. Although at that time, there was just "the form". There was no division or distinction between sections. In the first lesson we were taught, the chain punch and Jin Bo advancing step. In the beginning, the Jin Bo seemed a little tricky because it utilized muscles groups not commonly used, the adduction muscles.




 Derek had practice Wing Chun/Tsun for several years, but did not have a progressive teaching method for advancing one's ability. You gradually improved through repetition. Although the stream of knowledge was limited, one of the key practices I found useful (from the Sifu Leung Ting lineage) was the practice of the turning. I drew a box with an X on the floor using tape and turned 45 degrees with weight on one leg and pivoting the foot from the center of the sole. This practice and a few other practices were useful and because they came from the Sifu Leung Ting lineage, they translated to my next phase of WT learning.


 Other Stuff:


 Before I tell anecdotes about my next phase of WT learning, I will discuss a side subject: other Kung Fu training. Because Wing Tsun was called a "short style" in the magazines and because I kept hearing about all of these other styles in the magazines, I decided to also take another style of kung fu. In early 1992, I found that on a Saturday, for a very reasonable price, I could take 3 kung fu classes. I enrolled in a class in Bagua, Tai Chi, and sabre with Sifu Adam Hsu.


 Sifu Adam Hsu was an accomplished instructor in Northern Style kung fu. He taught Long Fist, Mi Zhung, Tai Chi, Bagua, Pi Gua, Baji, Mantis, Hsing-I and sword and sabre forms. This was a radically different approach to kung fu from learning Wing Tsun. One trained a much wider range of muscles and lots of the training was fun and refreshing like taking a yoga class. I trained for a year in Bagua and Tai Chi, then later in Baji. Although I enjoyed these forms very much, I concluded that the road to actual combat was much, much longer. These systems were designed for a student who had at least 4 hours a day to practice. One might not be shown combat until at least 10 years of practice. Because, a student had to prove himself to be a righteous and peaceful Confucian, or Taoist. In the past, if a student killed someone, he would be executed and his Sifu would also be executed. Thus, serious Kung Fu combat was kept secret. As a result of this practice of secrecy, the knowledge of kung fu usage in many styles was lost.




 Translation: maybe only a long time student would be shown Kung Fu self defense. And, if the teacher waited so long to teach the secret stuff to a few people, maybe the teacher's ability to apply the material has also delined. Sifu Adam Hsu's decision was to keep Kung Fu as an art.


This attitude has it's merit. People who practice weapons forms such as Iado most likely do not expect to have a sword with them at a bar at 1:00 am. In my own experience, I have found that learning how to fight with a system helps you learn the system faster improving all aspects of it because you learn the intended motilities, hard and soft qualities, timing, distance, power, balance etc. You learn how the body works. And, when that understanding is achieved, that understanding can be applied to any Kung Fu style. GM Leung Ting, by mastering Wing Tsun knew more of how other styles work than the masters of those styles. My end result of four years of northern style Kung Fu: It was an enjoyable experience that I do not regret, but I did not learn real self defense or combat. That learning might have come eventually, but maybe not at all. Also, the styles were labeled as internal styles. In four years, I only reached the beginning stage of internalizing those styles. I really will only blame myself. If I had chosen one style and practiced it 4 hours per day, it might have internalized. Survival, and being engaged in combat in my experience, provides a student with the push to internalize and apply a Kung Fu style. This has been true for me in Wing Tsun and in Escrima.



 Wing Tsun Knowledge phase 2


 In early 1993, I was told by another Derek student that a 1st Technician from Arizona was now living in San Francisco and was teaching. That teacher was Si-Hing Joe Frahm. I began learning Wing Tsun material in a more systematic method. During this year, we trained many WingTsun techniques and drills. Because Sihing Joe was trained in the Leung Ting system independently of the EWTO method, much of the Chi Sao involved pieces from what are now called 1st section and 4th section and some fragments from other Chum Kiu sections.



In early 1994, Si-Hing Joe Frahm and Al de la Cerda brought myself and more of Si-Hing Joe's students, Dave and Ron to Sifu Elmond Leung. Sifu Elmond was a student of GM Leung Ting's from Hong Kong who had reached 3rd Technician level. 1993 was a fun year as we were getting instruction under a 3rd level technician. We all felt a knowledge path forward. Years later, it became apparent that Sifu Elmond, by learning from Grandmaster Leung Ting, was at the mercy of his Sifu's teaching method, or lack of method. Apparently GM Leung Ting's method was massive repetition and the student was often responsible to figure out counter methods by themselves. The Hong Kong students were taught series of techniques but not numbered or labeled in an organized system, but through massive repetition, muscle memory would eventually piece the techniques together. The system of massive repetition worked on one hand, because Sifu Elmond was successful in remembering all of the angles and geometry he learned in Hong Kong after years of separation from his Sifu. We all discovered the necessity for correct angles and turning to survive. We were all tested at proper Kwan Sau ability. Sifu Elmond had a student called Joel Jones. He was a big Afro-American cop from Oakland built like superman. He was instructed to punch us continually with his big muscular arms while his force made us Kwan Sau and turn - yielding from one end of the room to the other. He would punch us right into the washing machine. You felt like it was Mike Tyson smashing into you. I think it was a classical Hong Kong way of learning by trial and error.



 In the spring of 1994, I met Dr. Leung Ting for the first time. He did a 3 hour seminar in the Mission at 14th and Valencia. When he first walked in, I thought it was a Mexican walking in the room. He was tan, as if he came from Hawaii and he had a beard. For 3 hours, we worked on Siu Nim Tao, Jhin Bo, and Gaun Sau Punch.


 Later that year in the fall, GM Leung Ting gave a seminar for 2.5 days at Fort Mason with Sifu Emin Boztepe. We worked on Siu Nim Tao, and Jhin Bo variations. This was all classical Hong Kong training, but at that time, we started hearing that the Europeans had incorporated a training routine called Lat Sau. After this seminar, I felt that my Jhin Bo had improved, since we worked mainly on that. The system began to feel even deeper as I realized that to improve, you needed to do 2 full days of every single technique and really internalize the technique. At one point in the seminar, Sifu Emin Boztepe was trying to explain to a student how to do a Jhin Bo into someone. That individual was working with me, so Sifu Emin executed a Jhin Bo into my space. Within a fraction of a second, Sifu Emin occupied my space and I was literally in the air travelling 6 feet to the floor. GM Leung Ting said to Sifu Emin: "Don't do that, you will hurt the student." At that time, I realized that the Jhin Bo alone, without a punch, could overcome an opponent. Therefore, I thought, Wing Tsun is a work of genius, and any single technique at the master level could end a fight.


 During the 1994 seminar, some of Sifu Emin's students from Eureka attended, and I got to see them doing Lat Sau 1 for the first time. I felt curious and had a desire to learn it for three reasons. First: it seemed to have a linear sense of progression from Lat Sau 1 to 5. Second: I saw that the sequences could develop fluidity, where you just never stop. In the current chi sau training at that time, we did not have too many loop sequences which give you the energetic to keep on moving. Third: Sifu Emin appeared to be a real fighter, and if Lat Sau could help develop that, I am interested.


After that seminar, Sifu Elmond told us that he agreed to work with GM Leung Ting in his organization to propagate his new system. Now, historically we know that there was so little contact or support from GM Leung Ting to get that going, that it did not even begin to happen until almost 10 years later.


 Phase 3 – the European Training Method


 In the fall of 1995, Sifu Simon Mayer visited Sifu Elmond's garage. He moved to the Bay Area from Germany having just achieved 2nd level Technician in Wing Tsun. Outside of Sifu Emin and maybe a couple others, he was the U.S. early exposure to individuals who attended a European Kung Fu university – the Castle at Heidelberg.


Within a week or two after meeting Sifu Simon at Sifu Elmond's I ran into him at Safeway in Marin County and agreed to help him construct some brochures to advertise his classes. He was searching for studio locations at that time and with the help of Dennis Bone, opened a studio in Santa Rosa.


 One of the earliest things to do was to come up with a name and logo for his specific Wing Tsun school. I came up with an idea for a name. Originally, I thought that the name is just a starting point and maybe in a year or two it will change to something else. But because the name was based not only on local visual reality, but Taoist global ideas, the name still exists: Bay Mountain Wing Tsun.

The local visual was that when you are entering Marin County by road or ferry, you see the bay and you see Mt. Tamalpais. To make that concept more global, I added trigrams from the Chinese I Ching, the book of changes. The trigram for water below and mountain above. It ended being an appropriate Taoist representation of Wing Tsun. Wing Tsun is a Ying Yang system. The mountain is still and immovable Ying, while the water is constantly flowing yang. The power of the mountain delivered with the spontaneity of the water. This idea was also applicable later when BMWT spread to the East Bay. The bay was below and Mt. Diablo was above.


It did not matter that I had learned Wing Tsun previously from Sifu Elmond Leung and Sihing Joe Frahm, because I was fully prepared to begin Wing Tsun from square one, the Lat Sau program 1. It was apparent that if I were to adapt a new training method, I must be acquainted with the whole alphabet and building blocks. The alphabet allows you to form words, then sentences and then communicate with everyone. Even with the motions of Lat Sau 1, one begins to realize how removed we are from perfect control and alignment of our body and how much we don't know about our own body mechanics. Wing Tsun became a tool for learning how the body works.


 Lat Sau 1 was a basic way to open the door to Wing Tsun learning. On the surface it appears quite simple and has its limits. However, if trained with diligence, it can stand on its own. I tested for program 1 in Eureka, CA with a group of people who did nothing but program 1 for six months. The students executed constant kicking as well as constant paking and punching. When you do that for two 2.5 hour slots, you have the equivalent of a kickboxing seminar.


 Later in 1996, Andre, a local Berkeley resident came to class. He studied Wing Tsun in Germany and was 6th student level. Because Andre worked on Lat Sau 1 for one year, he was an example of the word Kung Fu (diligent practice of an art). He showed that you could actually achieve a lot if that was the only program you knew. With program 1 and using a little bong sau from program 3, Andre once proved more effective than a group of new black belts from a friend's karate school.


 As students of Wing Tsun we may remember our time with programs 1-5 as a time struggling with new concepts and the initial goal to achieve was to simply not look too awkward. The programs are practiced quite cooperatively and safely and sometimes it was forgotten how potentially powerful the early programs were. If one were young and trained programs 1-5 extensively at the athletic level, one could become a professional martial arts fighter even before beginning Chi Sao.


 The potential of programs 1-5 was illustrated in the later half of the 90s when one of Sifu Simon's training partner, from Germany visited and demonstrated ideas that were extrapolated from the early programs. This was of course possible,because the ideas in the lower programs were extrapolated from higher program concepts.


 During this time period, seminars were held either by Sifu Simon, Sifu Emin, or Sifu Emin & GM Leung Ting and a couple times from Sifu Giuseppe Schembri. The seminars given by GM Dr. Leung Ting were usually six hours long and focused on perfecting basic techniques. Seminars by Sifu Schembri focused on the precision of form. In one seminar we spent 4 hours on the Siu Nim Tao form. Sifu Schembri said that the Siu Nim Tau form shouldn't be thought of as a form for beginners, because it is for masters. Sifu Emin Boztepe's seminars varied from a focus on ground fighting, to wedge entry and chain punches, to self defense and the law with the "I don't want to fight you" seminar designed to create witnesses to a confrontation.


 This kind of instruction made Wing Tsun feel new and opened the idea of improvisation. If a student could compose exercises that conform to the WT principles and WT geometry, he could develop useful training tools for himself independent of the curriculum. The key was to have enough understanding to compose exercises of genuine benefit. However, most students focused only on what was taught, because it was proven by the experience of others.


 Part of the learning process in programs 1-5 was learning why a technique can work and why a technique can fail. You learn to have confidence in a technique then have certainty that the technique can be countered easily. Having seminars from different people was useful because you saw how different instructors had different impressions of how Wing Tsun can be executed. Wing Tsun instruction differed because different instructors with different body types had the destiny to study under different Sifus with different body types. The top Sifus may have shown a Wing Tsun technique one way on a Friday and a different way on Saturday in a different city.


 The entry into program 5 and 6 is the first crossover into what defines Wing Tsun as a Ying Yang system. Once GM Leung Ting sketched two people doing Poon Sao on top of the Ying-Yang symbol. One gives pressure and yields to pressure while keeping the pressure equal and focusing on the center line. At the time I learned program 6, that program is what today is referred to as program 7 and vice versa. Program 7 was an ideal program to spend a long time on. After one develops enough alignment, turning, Kwan Sau and center alignment pressure from this section, the learning time for the following


Introducing Escrima


In 2000 I found the time to begin my study of Latosa Escrima also offered by Guro Simon. Latosa Escrima class was at 6:00 p.m. at Fort Mason. And since I was commuting back from San Carlos then, I could attend the class. Latosa Escrima classes were small at that time and sometimes I was the only one showing up and had a 30 minute private lesson. Before taking Latosa Escrima, you hear the concept that GM Rene Latosa came to a similar understanding of martial arts as did GM Leung Ting. But the first year of Latosa Escrima requires patience and the belief that there is light at the end of the tunnel.



Early Latosa Escrima did not feel like Wing Tsun at all. It felt very boxy, like Karate. It wasn't until later at 4th student level while doing massive amounts of figure eights, that one finally feels the fluid flow of Latosa Escrima. Before feeling the flow in Latosa Escrima, the two systems are running parallel alongside each other. But when the flow is introduced to the body, Latosa Escrima begins to merge into Wing Tsun. And after 2-3 years with the Biu Tse concept of Wing Tsun, the oneness between Biu Tse and Latosa Escrima is experienced physically instead of intellectually.


It was ideal to read Musashi's 5 rings early on in Latosa Escrima. I thought I understood what was written. But only 5-6 years later after more Latosa Escrima experience, I read the 5 rings and actually understood what was said. And, looking further into the five rings, I discovered that Musashi's Five Rings are also referred to as "The Five Elements". The icon for these "Five Elements" were five circles (solid) put together in a pentagonal formation known to the Chinese as …….. a plum flower.


 In Chinese martial arts, the plum flower was often used as a martial arts symbol, such as with the 5 elements of Hsing-I, the Five animals style, etc. And, the Bay Mountain logo happens to be inside a plum flower. Latosa Escrima practice gave me the opportunity to develop Kung Fu qualities that you read about but might not find time to work on. With Latosa Escrima you can develop explosive power, short power, and a strong root to the ground.


The Biu Tse years


This title of Biu Tse years is a joke. Because, the Biu Tse years include everything before it and are thus the Chum Kiu years and the Siu Nim Tao years. So many students first attempt and Biu Tse involved clashing like a semi return to karate.


You knew you were progressing in Biu Tse when you finally understood that a clash only occurs for a tiny fraction of a second and triggers a reaction. Beyond that the clash is from the hairs on the body, and beyond that there is no clash, only a pre-emptive precise cut like a skilled fencer.


 During these years, myself and other students had the benefit of seminars from Sifu Heinrich Pfaff and Sifu Bernd Wagner. Pfaff introduced us all to his new training method, an experimental approach to replace the Lat Sau training. He developed a variation of the Siu Nim Tao which emphasized the natural figure eight bio-dynamics of the body. Sifu Bernd's seminar brought the concepts of the Bart Chum Dao into the lower programs.


Sifu Pfaff introduced a conceptual way of perceiving one's Wing Tsun through five animals: leopard, tiger, snake, crane, and dragon. This was not limited to five animals because it referred to a practitioner's body type and style of execution. For example, some students body type might be more like a bear, a monkey, or an insect like a mantis. Being influenced by Latosa Escrima, my concept of combat was that it involved deception, tactics, variations of speed, timing, distance and technique so that an opponent can not track you.


Chinese martial arts have a whole northern style based on this theory called Mi Zhung Fist. Mi Zhung means "lost track". This meant that an opponent can not track you. Sifu Pfaff also spoke of the idea that the name Wing Tsun is a "cover" for what is hidden underneath. Combined with the Latosa Escrima idea of deception, I was here intrigued with the idea of practicing Wing Tsun so it doesn't even look like Wing Tsun at all until the last second. It would be like Musashi's concept of drawing the opponent in.


During this time period when Latosa Escrima was merging into Wing Tsun, the feeling started becoming natural and obvious to me that Wing Tsun and Latosa Escrima did not emanate out of the arms, but out of the spine. The spine generates a wave to the shoulders and hips, then the elbows and knees, then the hands and feet.


More Advanced Wing Tsun


Wooden Dummy and Long Pole are still a work in progress. When you hear that very few people have full comprehension of the dummy, you know that mastering Wooden Dummy is much more difficult than it looks on the surface. Wooden dummy requires the sensitivity for the whole body to react and execute a shape (form) to attack the core of the opponent. Like mastering a musical instrument, WD will be a lifetime project.


 Over a period of time, in theory, Long Pole should develop core strength. And, the effort to be precise trying to control a heavy long object will, in theory, increase precision and power in the short range. With Latosa Escrima, one is exposed to staff, and the idea of extending one's personal sphere out to the length of the staff. Long Pole, being heavier and longer than staff is an even more challenging art to master. And, to a Wing Tsun student who has not learned weapons, Long Pole is an opportunity for the brain to process greater distance while engaging in combat.


 Wing Tsun and humility


 About 5-6 years ago, BMWT had the opportunity to get annual instruction from a practitioner from Germany: Sifu Martin. Because Wing Tsun means Eternal Springtime, it was refreshing again to have a beginners mind and practice the Wing Tsun you had learned from a new perspective. As Wing Tsun is continuing to evolve, Sifu Martin felt comfortable in his knowledge to try and make it better.


The advantage of being in a lineage with a hierarchy is that knowledge flows down hill. It is a great feeling to know that there is so much more to learn. If you felt you knew it all, you would stagnate. Then you might as well move on to do something else. The enjoyable feeling that came with achieving 3rd level Technician was not the sense of achievement. It was the opposite sensation. I perceived that there was so much further to go that I was now a beginner again. With too much pride, you will miss out on the fun of starting from square one.


Conclusion


 This is also a false section title, because I will never reach the conclusion. However, what I have concluded so far is that the study Wing Tsun, being a brilliant eastern concept, reminds me of another brilliant eastern concept.


 In Tibetan Buddhism, there exists a concept called Lam Dre. The meaning of this is: "path and fruit". The first is impression of these words is valid. If you walk down this path you will get to the fruit tree. If it were that simple, how can the concept have depth? The proper understanding of this concept is that the path IS the fruit. The journey of learning the system is what provides richness and fulfillment and meaning. This narrative began with a tale of mountain biking. At first you think that the joy of mountain biking is the feeling of coasting down the mountain.


 But, the real joy is the endorphins produced from the effort of climbing the mountain. A corny Hollywood way of describing this is: "the fruit was with you all along". But, this is true. The early Wing Tsun programs and the geometry of Siu Nim Tao are a package of secrets to unlock. When those are unlocked, one has "comprehension". A Wing Tsun Master can therefore defeat Wooden Dummy with Siu Nim Tau.


 In the early phases of Wing Tsun or Latosa Escrima, the "single cut" of Musashi is already there. It already exists in space as a concept. We just may not see it or comprehend it. An early Latosa Escrimador might say, "I can't wait to get to double-sticks." But an older Latosa Escrimador sees that you are always double sticks and more than that. Your entire body is the weapon. Wing Tsun and Latosa Escrima becomes art in motion executed within your personal sphere of space.

Sifu Tom Skelly

My Kung Fu Journey