Wing Chun's - little ideas  Newsletter - Spring Edition 2014
Australian Wing Chun Federation

little ideas

Spring 2014          
edited by Corey & Melissa Slade

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In loving memory of Sigung Chu Shong Tin who passed away 28th July 2014

It is with great sadness but profound pride and respect that we reflect upon the most influential Wing Chun practitioner of our era.

I only hope we can continue to develop a useful understanding of this beautiful practise along with the ability to convey it more effectively as was Sigung's wish.

It was suggested this week that we use this newsletter to record everyone's personal testimonials to Sigung and his family. Unfortunately I felt the task too onerous given our timeline with requesting permission to reprint people's Facebook comments etc. and then there was the moral responsibility of choosing which to print. So I'm suggesting that those who would like a record of testimonials for all times sake in the next newsletter to please email me privately at exactly the content & pics. I will then begin to compile them in no particular order (i.e. the order I receive them).

Welcome to the 6th edition of our Wing Chun community newsletter.
Hope to see you all there at Conference!

Yours in Wing Chun,    


Melissa and Corey Slade

We wanted to include a story on Chu Shong Tin and the best we could put our hands upon in short time is that by Ben Judkins which most of you have already read via Facebook. But for all time prosperity we are re-publishing this article which you can find at the end of this newsletter issue below. Thankyou Ben for such great work and for allowing us to share.

Video Tribute Links (just click)
*Grandmaster Chu Shong Tin | In Memoriam: A tribute and insight into Chu Shong Tin's Wing Chun (32 min - Sydney memorial service footage 23rd Aug 2014)

*In Memoriam Grandmaster Chu Shong Tin (13min - IDEAsWing Chun)
*Grandmaster Chu Shong Tin Tribute

Australian Wing Chun Federation 3rd Annual Conference - Timetable & Presenters


Music from the Wooden Dummy
by Gary King, South Coast Wing Chun

Over the years of practicing on the wooden dummy one of the things I have noticed is the different sounds it can produce. In years past the sound produced was, to me, simply an indicator that someone was using the wooden dummy. And then I would watch and study their application. These days, the sound produced to me is more than just an indicator that someone is using the wooden dummy. It is also an indicator of how correct their application is. The sound produced can be used to determine if someone is correctly applying form or just striking at the arms.

This recognition of sound and correct application became obvious a few years back when I had my wooden dummy installed in my school. Like most practitioners, the wooden dummy has always seized my attention whenever someone used it, but in my own school with my own wooden dummy it seized my attention even more. Sometimes I would be aware of a pleasant noise coming from the wooden dummy and turn to see who was making it. At other times I would turn to see who was making such an awful racket.

The sound produced when someone is incorrectly applying form to the dummy arms is uncomfortable to the ears, like the sound of randomly smacking two wooden sticks together. It is an ugly sound and has no connection with any of the arts. Whereas the sound produced when someone is using the wooden dummy correctly, sounds more like wooden wind chimes. The sound produced is a pleasant deep resonating sound that is quite beautiful to the ears and therefore clearly connecting with the arts.
If you study the two different approaches to the wooden dummy you will notice that when an ‘untrained user’ strikes the dummy arm, the force travels along only part of the dummy arm and is only applied to the outer most part of the dummy circumference, the first contact point between arm and dummy. This is where the sound is coming from, producing a higher sharp clacking sound. Now when a ‘trained user’ correctly uses the dummy, you will notice that their force is applied further along the dummy arms into the centre of the dummy, producing a deeper more resonating sound.

As many would already know, this force application can be felt by placing your hand flat on top of the wooden dummy. Incorrect force can only be felt against the finger tips and thumb, whereas correct force can be felt deeper inside the palm.
I believe the sound produced from the wooden dummy is a good indicator of how well the practitioner is applying the force and how well their force is aimed. An uncomfortable sound of bashing sticks indicates just that:  arms simply bashing the dummy arms. Whereas a pleasant sound, a deeper smooth resonance, indicates an approach derived from careful structure and releasing of force.
But be careful you do not fall into the trap of simply trying to produce a pleasant sound. The pleasant sound is a by-product of correctly aimed and controlled force application. Attention should first be focused on your structure. If you concentrate on maintaining your structure during all movements, you will find you can let go of any tension much easier. Accomplishing these two things will naturally lead you to aiming correctly at the dummy and producing music.
So enjoy the basics, enjoy the practice, and enjoy the music the dummy will ultimately produce.

Thoughts on Wing Chun
by Tim Souter, Adelaide Wing Chun Kuen

I started Wing Chun back when I was an apprentice about 1979 or so.  Back then I guess Bruce Lee movies and working with an instructor at Sifu Jim Fungs was inspiring.  It was all regimented and technique driven.  We learnt arm grabs, kicks, punches and lots of fitness.  Hence the motto back then, “fitness with a purpose”.
After awhile, money became an issue and Wing Chun was forgotten for maybe ten years or so.  Fortunately the seed had been sown through and a friend and I joined again later.  We knew the guy that owned the pub next door so it became a weekly ritual.  My mate lasted a month or so and for me another ten years zoomed by.  During that time I made some lifelong friends and Mike Riley made me a wooden dummy.  That thing is a work of art, if it was up to me it would reside in the lounge room.
That is the thing that stands out for me about Wing Chun.  I’ve made great friendships and a place where it was all about the training.  Learning about relaxation and changing my thoughts to hopefully get better force with less effort.  Wing Chun is great for balance, dexterity and general well being, for any sport that requires strength, balance and concentration.
Fortunately I got to meet Grandmaster Chu Shong Tin at the Academy and feel, through him, what we all aspire to achieve.  It leaves a big hole in the Wing Chun community, now he has passed away.  His books and DVDs are really helpful reference points to give you a direction and now with YouTube there is endless footage of him training in Hong Kong and elsewhere.
The force you develop through Wing Chun training is something you can use throughout your life.  When I stuffed my elbow moving hay around at home it was amazing that before the end of that athletic season, I was throwing shot put better with my left hand than my right.  I was thinking about Wing Chun force and it gave me that improvement.  It helps my surfing too but getting old doesn’t make it easy.  Just chopping wood or moving, lifting around home and work, Wing Chun is on my mind.
The people at training help you learn along the way, sometimes you feel good, sometimes crap.  The main thing is you do feel something, you recognize what your body is doing and hopefully you get positive feedback to help you improve.  The more I learn the more I want to get that feeling.  For me training is an opportunity to put everything else out of my mind and think about Wing Chun with other people that are doing the same.
Hope my thoughts are of interest.

How to listen 
by Daniel Pitman, Adelaide University Wing Chun

It’s a stormy journey on the oceans of understanding, this little art form. I feel bad for new people who rock up to our classes, even though our instructors are superb because I know that no matter how many times you tell them a thing, a really important thing, they won’t listen, or they won’t remember it and you’ll have to tell them again. I know this because, and this is why I claim to be able to write such an article, I DON’T LISTEN (all these seniors up the back are thinking, “…damn straight he doesn’t”).

Ok let me get to the point. Who first said to me, “relax your shoulders!” Who was that? Probably Aleksis or Pete.. I can’t remember.. I heard it many times. The only time I really listened was years later in my recent venture to Hong Kong, under the watchful eye of Alex. Ahhhh.. such relaxation in my shoulders was achieved! Much progress! But still to this day instructors will look at me struggling with something, tap my back as a reminder, unblocking the stance as my shoulders get wider, letting my head up, and everything into order (I need a tap in the photo). I have been reminded so many times now nothing needs to be said, just a tap. I think to myself, “I knew that..” and proceed to notice everybody else’s tense shoulders for the rest of the night.

I hate that I have to be told over and over, but that isn’t really the kind of not-listening I’m getting at. After all there are so many things you have to do right at once. It’s pretty common to forget one thing as a student. The kind of not-listening I’m referring to is the kind where someone is telling you something you have heard a million times before but can’t understand. But who decides what is told and to who?

Once upon a time, the ineffable Mr. Blencowe, ever willing to give me his time and words, would say something like (and sorry about paraphrasing), “Imagine you are at the start of a one hundred metre race track and they fire the gun!” and thus (magically somehow) movement! I didn’t quite get it and I pushed. How many times have I pushed… But I couldn’t link that quite palpable thought of motion with the movement of my hand yet.
Even, “Don’t push,” is a confusing sentence for a beginner. “Wait”, I ask, “so what isn’t pushing?” I get answers like, “use intent, use focus, spine up, relax, use aiming, stay on centre, tai gong, use mind not force.” Those were all really advanced terms for a beginner. These terms, still orphans, rattled away in my head, so much so that I often forgot to relax my shoulders (true story). I used to get infuriated with it, thinking it was rubbish, or a trick (text book wing chun crisis). I did listen! I did. Sometimes I didn’t digest or believe it though. I bet half of you who read this said something to me that I didn’t get at one time or another! I listened as hard as I could, but I didn’t understand. This feels like a long time ago now, when Wing Chun seemed like superpowers.

I can pick this moment in time, not so long ago, where that stopped happening. These things which people had always said to me, once like instructions for operating machinery that I couldn’t fathom the workings of, somehow made plain sense all of a sudden, quite literally. If I explain this to a senior student or instructor now, they agree with me, “yeah we always meant literally”. But I remember when I couldn’t make that logical connection. Now when someone says, for example, “…it uses the arm roll here <pointing>.” I’m thinking to myself, “I remember when this didn’t make sense to me, but now it’s the most obvious thing”.

In teaching terms (As I draw experience from teaching sound engineering at the University of Adelaide), I use building blocks as an analogy. Beginners have no blocks at all. The knowledgeable in the field will have a good solid structure that reaches very high and/or very broadly. So please let me talk about Wing Chun instructing (though I am not qualified as an instructor) in the broader sense of the art of teaching. I assume that teaching Wing Chun can follow a similar analogy, and I have experienced much instruction as student.

If you try and get one part of the wall to the top without building up all of it in nice layers, you get a weak shape. When your knowledge and structure is a strong shape, this is solid, even if there are not a lot of blocks yet. When asking an exponent who just got their level one, “what will you work on now?” I commonly hear something like, “I’m just going to go back over from the start again and fill in the gaps”. I can already hear Craig yelling, “Finish ya tools!” at me. In this blocks analogy, we can outline a risk, a sort of weak infrastructure or mental Jenga. As an instructor, you are potentially guiding students like me in the placing of blocks. If you talk to a student about something much more advanced than the student is ready for, you may be creating a relatively high block in that student’s knowledge structure. Every block of knowledge is ideally supported by the blocks below it, so in order to deal with that suspended block you placed way up in space, the student is forced to form supporting assumptions in place of real working knowledge.

To a certain degree this is bound to happen sure, and a healthy mind will allow gaps to be filled by asking questions or filling in gaps as time goes by. But we humans are complicated creatures. We want to get better faster, take shortcuts, beat our peers, end frustrations, and we always enjoy simply contemplating the furthest extrapolations of our thoughts. I’m sure we all know someone, who has been given or developed a very high block, and developed an attachment to it, and thus clung to all the assumptions that maintain it. It takes a long time to relearn things. Chu Shong Tin warns us explicitly in The Book of Wing Chun, that a badly learned form is almost impossible to relearn correctly.

This puts a lot of responsibility on an instructor, and even senior peers. You want to relay your latest epiphany to everyone you train with. You’re a nice guy, you like to share and discuss these things you’re excited about! But the gap between your new oh-so-incredible discovery and the knowledge base of the newer students around you is ripe grounds for misunderstandings. I mean, I’m not suggesting a regimented policy of anal strictness and elitist secrets! Not at all. You can talk about ideas and concepts without installing it as specific knowledge. The big picture is worth painting if you can. It can be quite hard to install knowledge at the best of times. I’m just saying, know your student. The best instructors also listen, although, and this is my core point, not just to words.

There is nothing more useful (or impressive) to me than when an instructor has discerned exactly where I’m at. Sometimes just by looking or a brief talk, there are those that can look at me and see exactly which block I’m working on (or should be), and show me exactly what I need to work on to fill it. This is the most rewarding block for the student and the most profound act for a teacher. There is nothing more awkward as a student than being given someone’s golden insights, words, and concepts, yet having no way to understand it. I totally understand when my regular instructors get nervous as I talk about information I have garnered from other sources. No one wants to see their regular student suckered by an egotistical practitioner, tempting a new student with a bite of the “bigger apple” of shortcuts, secrets, or heady revelations. It must be wise as a student, to refer everything back to the instructor that knows you best. The onus of “listening well”, and again I don’t mean to just words, falls on the student as well.

Sometimes instructors say stuff that doesn’t make sense. Wing Chun has all these layers of structure, relaxation, sensitivity, thought, force, rotations, focus, and they all get built up, stripped away, rebuilt, and stripped away again. The group of students I am a regular part of is a mix of skills, but rarely do I see minds get blown. Our instructor knows where we are at and tailors to our own frontiers. When minds are blowing and everything seems “supernatural” or magical, it’s not usually a good thing.  It's exciting, tempting even, but not good instructing or learning. Things that used to seem supernatural years ago make perfect logical sense now.

As a Wing Chun student, alarm bells ring when people try to blow my mind. I mean the mind does get blown for real, it happens to us all. Probably more in Wing Chun than anything I have ever learnt. But I get suspicious when someone is trying to blow my mind. It doesn’t matter at this point whether or not the information is legit or not, I simply don’t have the context or prerequisites to deal with it. I need to develop ways to filter out stuff that isn’t useful to my own journey from the stuff that is relevant to me now, and for most of us who are students and not independent practitioners yet, that can only really be done with the help of our instructor, who yet again is faced with the prospect of listening well.

Learning when someone is feeding themselves, and trying to impress you with mind blowing skillztm, from when someone is simply telling you something legit but a few steps ahead of your game is a real problem. Cliché concepts of, “finding yourself (cringe), being honest with yourself (gag), knowing in your heart (dry reach) and even listening to your gut (.. not so lame) are all goofy new wave names for what us cool kids call, “bullshit filters”…  Actually “healthy ego” is probably the best name. So often I hear terms like, a confident stance, stepping into their comfort zone, and pressing psychological advantage, that a healthy ego must, MUST, be a part of correct physical technique as well, so development of the mind is clearly an essential item on the Wing Chun student’s .

In summary, if you are “listening”, you might find it difficult to differentiate between personality and technique. Don’t you chi sau with your peers so much that you do get to know them in a certain way? The stubborn pusher, who won’t let up even to his own detriment rolls a lot like he speaks in conversation when he just won’t stop talking. The student who has no presence at all and will not follow up any advantage gained will sit quietly at social occasions and not speak until spoken to. Even the instructor, who teaches us all and yet moves in ways that defy understanding, remains equally mysterious in social encounters, yet is approachable and willing to engage in conversation.

Obviously it is really important to roll with new people, and to get out of your comfort zone when possible. But after these years of training with my peers and instructors, I can see why they, even though there are others around town with more experience or higher levels or whatever, are the best people to train with and to look back to for context.
Grow minds, don’t blow minds ;)

Movement: Chum Kiu supporting the concepts of Siu Nim Tao and the tactics behind footwork
by Seth Piszczuk, Full Circle Wing Chun

Movement in Wing Chun can sometimes be a little contentious. People claim that there is no footwork, and yet there is a specific approach to how we move (I guess this could be called footwork :P). My position, as is often the case, is that you can find all the answers within the practice of the forms.
The Siu Nim Tao form establishes an ideal. In that we want to approach physical confrontation with as many options as possible. The front facing stance gives us the freedom to use all limbs and provides us options to move any direction. This is a good thing. If this is an ideal then we should do what we can to preserve it. So fundamentally any movement that we make up until the moment of engagement should be to ensure that we keep these options open.

Why is it then when people start getting dynamic with sparring exercises the majority of people immediately fall into a staggered and sometimes even bladed stance (by bladed I mean having the body presenting a sideways facing, not just the legs?) Part of this could be the fact that collectively we’ve ignored the concept of footwork too much, so that people don’t know how to maintain the ideal of Siu Nim Tao under pressure. Maybe…

A common excuse for a poor stance is “I’m doing Chum Kiu stance”. Bollocks. This just shows a lack of understanding of what the Chum Kiu is about and implies that once you learn Chum Kiu you abandon what you’ve learnt in Siu Nim Tao. Let’s examine the footwork patterns in the Chum Kiu, then I’ll offer my interpretation of how we can use concepts from the second form to reinforce the ideal positions of the first.
The first stepping section of the Chum Kiu places us in a parallel stance (feet facing roughly 45 degrees off of the focal centre in front of you) shifting to the side whilst applying force forwards. Like most of the movements in the forms, this is not literal (of course you can extrapolate a literal example of the movement if you really want to, but then you miss the point of the bigger theory at play here). Why is the parallel stance important here? I know I got corrected a lot when first practicing the form for allowing my leading food to point towards the direction of movement, and it’s a common error.

What the form is showing us here is that regardless of the direction of movement, the legs must still be focused towards the direction of force application (centre). Whilst in a parallel stance, even though they’re pointing off on an angle both knees can still contribute force towards the target point. If the front foot is allowed to splay out towards the movement vector, then that leg is no longer applying force towards the target and you are therefore no longer applying the full potential body force.

An example of this idea in action is a simple step and punch: The common mistake pretty much everyone does at some point is to focus entirely on the lead foot, stepping into the strike and allowing the back leg to drag. Usually the back foot will splay out to the side, ending up facing a different direction. The back leg here is a passive support, not a focused driver of force. By refocusing the back leg to maintain its directional focus toward the target even a very fresh beginner will gain an increase in power.

The Chum Kiu parallel stepping is exactly this. Just the foot roles are reversed as we’re generating force in a direction independent to the line of movement, so the back foot is effectively the lead. This is a really long way of saying that this movement is actually applying the same stance as Siu Nim Tao. In that we are keeping both legs involved in focusing towards the target. The foot positions are slightly different, but the focus of both legs (and the whole body) is aiming in towards a common point. Same stance, different position. This means we don’t have to be exactly in the full pigeon toed adduction stance to apply its principals, but if the opportunity exists, I think we still should!
The second stepping section of Chum Kiu is entirely different. We are now applying force along the same line as we are moving. So why are we in a different position? Shouldn’t we be in our Siu Nim Tao stance if we wanted to move directly towards a target? I think so. So there’s more going on in this movement. Why would we be in a position where we’ve been forced into an effectively one legged stance? The form is showing us here that we don’t have to be superhuman. There’s a threshold of force beyond which you are going to have to give ground and be forced backwards. When we’re driven back to this point naturally the back leg will be taking more weight and is therefore quite difficult to move. The form stepping pattern shows us that we can still be free to move, allowing the front leg to gain some ground (by stepping and/or kicking) then using our body force to bring us forward (not driving/bracing with the support leg).

This is a pretty difficult position with very limited options, not the position you’d want to be in by choice surely. Certainly not a position to begin a confrontation with (so stop initiating sparring in this position!!).
So, I believe the movements in the Chum Kiu are showing us how to maintain or return to the original ideal of the Siu Nim Tau stance, not a substitute.

There’s a way we can practice and demonstrate it, I’d like to offer the following drill up for people to try. We’re all familiar with the simple drill of practicing stepping with resistance, partner placing force into the practitioner’s waist or chest whilst they move forwards attempting to maintain the stance. Start with that. We can then offer a sudden increase in resistance, push the practitioner hard so they’re forced to retreat backwards (if their stance is so good that you can’t break it, good for them!). The practitioner should seek to find their balance with as few backward steps as possible. Usually they’ll end up in a bad position (as per second Chum Kiu example). They can then practice taking steps (with the potential to kick also) to start moving forwards again. They may need to shuffle a few steps as they regain control of their centre but as soon as they can they should try to return to their original Siu Nim Tao position. The drill can also be done with pressure on the arms or within a controlled sparring environment.

This exercise I believe will help to establish a tactical habit, which should be to maintain the stance we’re first taught as a foremost priority.
So is this footwork? I think so. I think sometimes when we underemphasize any element there’s a risk of creating gaps in peoples skills. Because we focus so much on achieving fantastic power from static positions people start to get a bit ahead of themselves and think that’s all they need. Watching people then try to apply themselves dynamically and stumbling about when they encounter resistance tells me that we need to think a bit more about our legs. 

Hopefully by thinking about the use of the legs as extensions of the practice of the forms theories it can help people to apply their forms under pressure and not resort to other bad habits.
I would welcome any feedback from my peers on these thoughts, if anyone does have a go of the set of drills I’ve explained here please let me know what effect it has. If there’s ways to make it work better lets collaborate!
by David Lovegrove

It can seem a stretch for most people to see a link between martial art (which tends to be seen as a ‘violent’ pursuit) and visual art (which tends to be seen as a ‘peaceful’ pursuit).

In stories of the martial arts of Asia however we often hear of masters who were both skilled in fighting arts and in peaceful arts (ink painting and calligraphy, Chinese medicine, tea ceremony etc) and we get the feeling that there is indeed some kind of hidden connection and wisdom in this.
Two classic examples of martial artists who were also masters of the brush are the great Japanese swordsman Miyamoto Musashi, who was also a highly skilled and appreciated ink painter and sculptor, and our own Sigung Chu Shong Tin, who was a master of Chinese calligraphy.

This is a subject that deserves deep research however in this article I would like to share some practical ideas for developing your Wing Chun that  have occurred to me as I have practiced both arts.
From the very start of my training my instructors emphasized the importance of being symmetrical in Wing Chun – always being aware of both sides of the body at all times. Gradually I felt my consciousness habitually thinking of both sides and feeling a circular connection running between both arms and my body. Later I became aware of being too much in the upper part of the body and forgetting to be aware of my legs, so I worked at changing this.

Always there is the emphasis on feeling your centerline running right through your body from top of head to the ground and then of the actual centre of the body being a tiny still point around which we learn to pivot in 2D circles and straight lines in Chum Kiu and then as a ball turns in 3D in Biu Gee form.
After a couple of years of Wing Chun training and practice I spontaneously started to draw with both hands one night in my art studio. I drew in a symmetrical ‘mirror’ style where my left hand basically ‘felt’ what the right hand ( the master hand ) was doing. I was amazed by how easy it was once I started and it occurred to me that Wing Chun training had taught me to do this.  I stood in our centred symmetrical stance and mentally put my awareness in both sides of my body and ‘felt’ the drawing.

There is an idea in our training that once one side of the body gets the feeling of doing something then the other side will get it too. We all know this from having the movements of Siu Nim Tau tested – once one arm can move against resistance in the right relaxed way then the other arm tends to get it as well. Indeed I find that my ‘weaker’ left arm learns faster than my over-confident right! My Wing Chun appears to be benefitting the more I push this unusual drawing approach (which like Wing Chun is really all in the mind).
When I prepared for and shot the Qantas Cash ad, I drew for aprox 20 hrs over two days and I believe that I could only do it because of my Wing Chun training -  I stood ‘grabbing the goat’ most of the time and at one stage had to stand for quite a time in horse stance so that they could shoot over my shoulder. Ambidexterity is a major part of all Wing Chun forms and it is one of the reasons why this is such a smart and effective art.
One of the obvious connections between the skill of martial arts and of visual arts is the ability to be absolutely accurate in moving through space. An artist who cant be very accurate produces clumsy art works no matter what style of art they are creating. The mind-body connection that lets us know exactly where parts of our bodys are in space is called in western medical terminology ‘proprioception’.

Proprioception is controlled by parts of the brain that receive feedback from every single muscle fibre in the body about whether each fibre is tense or relaxed. This feedback allows the brain to plot exactly where in space your body is, even in complete darkness. I find this fascinating as to me this is like the state of Fong Seung that Sigung talks about, of letting go of all tension throughout your body ( and being aware of the state of lack of tension to a higher and higher degree).

It seems obvious that this state of relaxation and natural movement combined with strong mental focus on the work to be drawn is the best way to create a work of art. Artists tend to set up their workplace to be relaxing, playing favourite music, having time to work without too much stress.

The amazing thing is that over the years of my Wing Chun training this same attitude has been taught by the amazing instructors and mentors I have been lucky enough to train with.
Some examples – “Don’t think fighting, think of this as a game (specifically about Chi Sau but also learning the forms generally)”
-“Punch like a baby reaching for an apple”
-“ Kick like going for a stroll”
-“ Move as if no one is there (resisting me)”
-“ Move as if drawing a picture, put your mind in your hand and just move naturally.”
I practice the forms to relaxing music often, favourites being classical Indian music and traditional Chinese music. Pleasant surroundings, out in nature, on the beach. What ever gets you relaxed is great!
There is something very profound in all this!
To actually fight as if not fighting is not an easy task, and it seems to take quite a long time of dedicated practice and focus to achieve this. Each form we practice encourages us to find this state as we move through more complex and sophisticated body and mind applications.

Finally a word about the Holy Grail of Wing Chun - engaging what Sigung calls the Nim Tau. This is where the real power we aspire to comes from.
Sigung Chu wrote that he felt it is an area in the top rear of the brain. Some top practitioners say that they feel a sense of the whole brain and others that they feel it in the rear of the brain with a strong awareness of the spine.

In application there seems to be agreement that we seek to empty the body of tension (and even the conscious mind’s control) and reside (locate ourselves) in this Nim Tau. The body becomes virtual and the conscious mind commands from its seat in the Nim Tau. The subconscious/ unconscious mind of the body works out how to get the move done.

I have been very fortunate, having excellent teachers, to experience a little of this state and the experience is extraordinary. It’s not only a feeling of effortless power but also of an inspired elation, a sort of rightness about the action. To use old school kung fu terminology, it feels ‘virtuous’!
Which brings me to my final connection point between martial art and visual art. Most artists (in the traditional training approach) in their first years spend a lot of time consciously chasing accuracy and skill and a control of realism and many related mental constructs (thinking in 3D, copying light, inventing light, artistic anatomy etc). Not unlike our learning of skills in Wing chun, pursuing the ‘shape’ of the art.

With time however artists usually want to create works that are not ordinary, works that have something special about them. My experience of this is that I noticed a certain feeling in my mind that came over me when I felt ‘inspired’. It was like a less conscious and linear state of mind, basically a state of mind that had a dream like quality. If I stayed in this state I found that suprising things would appear out of my pencils and paints. A big part of this was to be very relaxed and ‘try not to try’.

Pretty much to draw and paint with no concern about making a great work or of ‘stuffing it up’. Sometimes I would be almost at the end of such a work and get distracted by somebody interrupting or the phone ringing. When I came back to the work I would be in a more ‘conscious’ state and invariably the drawing wouldn’t be as good, it would definitely lack that inspired quality.

This probably seems pretty abstract and ‘arty’ in concept to you unless you are an artist or involved in the scene. When applied to combat however these arty ideas become very concrete and real. What I began to notice in my Wing Chun was the same sort of feeling in my mind and body when I was doing things right.  A feeling of focus and concentration in the brain, for me towards the rear, and also the incredible feeling of fong seung (letting go of tension). My teachers and fellow students would note the change and the feeling of (somewhat) effortless power.
I was amazed to realize that the same mind body connection was happening here as in the feeling of creating an inspired drawing. It really does appear to be the same state. I am still very much a beginner with this state as it applies to Wing Chun. There are many much more qualified teachers out there, but I feel sure that the same almost divine quality that can come with artistic inspiration is also possible in Wing Chun kung fu.

Stories of our Sigung Chu Shong Tin point to the possible heights to be attained.  I have heard that he often said that in the Nim Lik (mind force) state he didn’t need to think about fighting strategy, his body just knew what to do and no one could stop him. That is pure inspiration! In Zen writings they say that pure inspiration is pre-cognizant – that the end is known before the that’s the way I would like to fight!
Thanks for reading, I really look forward to discussing ideas about this with anyone interested and am very excited about meeting my Wing Chun brothers and sisters at our 3rd AWCF conference at The Rocks, Sydney (where I went to art school for 3 years!).

Video examples of my canvas based artistic style you may find interesting;

Qantas vid -
Dip Fine Art ( Julian Ashton Art School)
MA ( Visual Arts) Griffith Uni
Member – Wing Chun for Life
Wing Chun training 1997 to present under
Sifu Jim Fung, Suzanna Ho, Grant Mathers, Richard Antonini, Ivan Howe
Mentors – Tony Psaila, Tony Blencowe and Lindy Scott

- Miscellaneous Photos - 

Awards & Sock Wars @ Kids MA Sleep-over Camp Tumby Bay, June 2014

New Pink Camo Uniform at Full Circle!

Wing Chun Tea House, Tumby Bay & Port Lincoln


Congrats to Candice earning
her Level 1


Invitation reminder to our 3rd
Annual Australasian Wing Chun Conference
by Tamara Sales, 
Prism Martial Arts Wing Chun for Health

YHA Rooftop with Sydney Opera House view

The Conference this year will be held in the heart of Sydney at one of our oldest suburbs ‘The Rocks’ We have to our fortune a roof top terrace for late night Chi Sau with uninterrupted harbour views in Sydney’s brand new hostel facility which to our luck I just happened to stumble upon after much search through the suburbs of Sydney.  As everyone is aware same as every year full event price include accommodation over the 4 days and all meals included plus all workshops.

Just a couple of travel tips for everyone who is travelling from interstate and travelling into the YHA:

  • Check-in time is after 2pm for everyone 7 days per week
  • If you have booked your air fare tickets already and are arriving into Sydney earlier, luggage can be held for you at reception until check-in time. 
  • Latest arrival time to YHA on Friday 3rd October would be approximate to 5pm as Dinner will be at 6pm
  • Breakfast is served between 7-8am
  • Seminars begin every day at 9am and finish at 6pm ready for dinner time
  • Lunch is at 12pm
  • If you are travelling by plane we have Sydney Airport just 15 mins travel time to and from The Rocks by train.  J
The closest train stations to SYDNEY YHA are Wynyard and Circular Quay Stations with approximately 7-10 mins walk.  PLEASE SEE MAP

To all our Sydney Day Trippers, I would recommend travelling by train or bus into town and to facility to avoid paying high parking rates for the day. I believe there’s a flat rate of $40 for the day at the nearest parking facility. 

YHA Rooftop with Sydney Harbour Bridge view.
Guys the Sydney YHA is welcoming our stay with a whole wing designed for large groups so this means almost half of the facility will be just about private for our group throughout the weekend.

Please do advise your head of school and make your bookings as soon as possible as we have limited booking spaces available and spaces are booking fast. Our latest booking date is July 31st to guarantee your discounts and YHA accommodation.   

Finally I look very much forward to welcoming everyone into Sydney for our 3rd Annual Conference and on behalf of our committee and myself we look forward to hosting a wonderful Wing Chun weekend event for everyone! Warmest wishes to all.
Sydney YHA Façade
Please for further enquiries email us: 


Remembering Chu Shong Tin and the relationship between theory and observation in Chinese Martial Arts
by Ben Judkins (copyright) - 15th August 2014
Originally published in Kung Fu Tea

Introduction – The Loss of Chu Shong Tin

A few weeks ago the Wing Chun community lost one of its leading lights. It is hard to overstate Master Chu Shong Tin’s contributions to the emergence and preservation of the modern Wing Chun movement. Best remembered as Ip Man’s “third disciple” (and at the time of his death his most senior living student) Chu combined a very thoughtful approach to his art with boundless energy and an infectious smile.

Named the “King of Siu Lim Tao” by Ip Man, he pursued his own research into the softer, more structural, side of Wing Chun while immersing himself in the duties of a hands-on instructor. Students remember him for his openness in discussing every aspect of the art. Chu remarked on many occasions that in Wing Chun nothing is secret. He left both a written and visual record of his insights that will provide guidance to students for decades to come.

While a practitioner of the same style, I am not part of Chu Shong Tin’s lineage, nor was I ever lucky enough to meet him. My work on the modern development of Wing Chun made me aware of his many contributions to the art, and like other readers I have benefited from his various essays and books. My initial plan for this post was to compose a brief summary of Chu Shong Tin’s life. Documenting the current history of the martial arts is just as important a task as delving into the deep past, and Chu’s career spanned an interesting period in the development and transformation of Hong Kong’s Kung Fu community.

I had expected this to be rather easy given the various publications and interviews that Chu has left for posterity. Yet as I began to review these works a complication arose. While he was eager to discuss the practice of Wing Chun, Chu rarely spoke about himself. Interviewers, both those interested in the practice of Wing Chun and its history, spent a great deal of time asking Chu about his associations with Ip Man and other illustrious practitioners from the past (Wong Sheung Leung, Bruce Lee…) but rarely about his own life story.

This results in a somewhat paradoxical situation. Chu Shong Tin was an important player in the emergence of the post-1949 Hong Kong Wing Chun scene. He left behind a richer documentary record than most other martial artists. While these sources shed much needed light on figures like Ip Man, Chu himself remains somewhat in the shadows.

In the following essay I would like to bring together some of the existing sources to paint a more detailed portrait of Chu’s life and career. Next I would like to focus our attention on some of the gaps that these discussions typically contain and to discuss why they are a problem for students of Chinese martial studies. Lastly I would like to offer some thoughts on how theory, either cultural or social scientific, can lead us to ask better questions and gather more important types of information as we engage in either interviews or archival research.

Too often students make an artificial distinction between “historical” and “theoretical” work when in reality these two approaches should complement each other. I doubt that it is actually possible to actually write anything substantive that is totally devoid of theory. We all approach our research field with certain questions and assumptions, and those are theoretically given, whether we realize it or not. Regardless of if one is engaged in “hypothesis testing” or delving into the sea of “thick description,” theories are useful precisely because they reveal our blind-spots. They allow us to ask better questions, and that leads to more meaningful discussions.

The individuals who took the time to interview Chu Shong Tin were not really attempting to do something like “martial arts studies,” even though a number of them were very interested in the question of Wing Chun’s origin and history. Still, the subsequent discussion of Chu’s life points to the importance of approaching this type of research with an understanding of (and curiosity about) the ways in which the martial arts fit within other larger social systems. I suspect that Chu’s career may be especially

illuminating in this regard. While he has left us with a detailed record of his thoughts on the practice of Wing Chun, there is still much that he might be able to teach us about the evolution and development of the modern martial arts in Southern China.

The Life of a Wing Chun Master – Chu Shong Tin

Much of the information in this timeline came from biographical statements made by Chu Shong Tin in his dual Chinese and English volume The Book of Wing Chun (vol. 1).  Also available to the general public are a number of interviews such as those conducted by Darrel Jordan and Sergio Pascal Iadarola.  One of the most intriguing sources on the life of Chu Shong Tin is his profile at WingChunPedia. This essay contains a detailed account of his early years, but it is also totally unsourced. While this seems to be the normal state of things on the internet, it limits our ability to determine the reliability of this information and hence its usefulness within Chinese martial studies.

One suspects that there are more detailed sources of information on Chu’s biography that remain unpublished within his own lineage. My own background in Wing Chun lies in different areas and I do not make any claims to having special “insider” knowledge on this topic. Rather I have relied on what is generally available to individuals interested in the recent history of Wing Chun. Hopefully some of the questions that I raise in the remainder of this essay will inspire a fuller accounting of Chu’s life and career in the future.

Chu Shong Tin was born in Guangdong province in 1933. His childhood occurred during an era of rapid change within both Chinese society and the martial arts. There does not seem to be a lot of information about this period of his life, but we know from Chu’s own statements that he was considered somewhat sickly and at the age of 10 his father arranged for him to study Taijiquan.

Taiji itself was a recent import to the Pearl River Delta, first being popularized in region during the 1920s and 1930s by teachers associated with martial reform movements such as the Jingwu and Central Guoshu associations. It is also interesting to consider that his father was able to arrange for instruction in 1943, during the middle of the Japanese occupation of the region.

Chu’s introduction to the traditional martial arts was not particularly auspicious. He remarks that as a child and teenager he had no particular love for, or interest, in boxing. He simply followed the movements of his teacher in accordance with the demands of his father. All of this seems very unlike the adult Chu who would go on to demonstrate a profound appreciation for the conceptual basis of the martial arts.

The roots of this deepening emotional connection seem to lay in the traumatic events and displacements of the end of the Chinese civil war.  Chu, who was then 16, fled Guangzhou for Hong Kong in November of 1949, following the KMT’s collapse and the Communist takeover of the area. It is not clear to me how much of his family left at the time, but it does appear that he had an older sister who lived in Hong Kong.

In September of 1950 Chu got a job as a secretary at the Restaurant Worker’s Union in Kowloon. This proved to be a fateful development. Ip Man was already living at the Union offices and he conducted Wing Chun classes during the days when Chu showed up for work. Still, Chu did not join his initial class.

Instead he followed the urging of his father and found a new Taiji instructor. This individual was a friend of his older sister and took a different approach to teaching. Rather than just reviewing the movements of the form, Chu was introduced for the first time to the conceptual foundation and philosophy of Taiji, as well as its applications. This was a teaching style that seemed to better agree with him than what he had been exposed to as a child.

It also served to introduce Chu to the discussions that swirl around the Chinese martial arts. This turned out to be critical as every day at the cramped Restaurant Workers Union he would have to listen to Ip Man explain the core concepts of Wing Chun to his new students in the same communal space that Chu was trying to do his work in. Eventually the young man who didn’t actually “like” boxing found himself drawn into the unfolding discussion.

For a variety of reasons Chu decided that he preferred the parsimony and conceptual simplicity of Wing Chun, and at the urging of Leung Sheung (a more senior union officer and experienced martial artist), quit Taiji and took up this new style. On January 1st of 1951 Chu Shong Tin presented Ip Man with a red envelope becoming a formal student.

This decision was critical for everyone involved. In all honesty Ip Man’s initial forays into teaching at the Union were not all that successful. While he started out with about 20 students, retention was a serious problem. Chu notes that one after another these students slipped away.

Part of this no doubt stemmed from the transient and economically strained life of most of these individuals. At the same time we know that Ip Man innovated throughout the 1950s to find ways to make his art more attractive to his highly mobile student base. For instance, Chi Sao (sticky hands) came to be emphasized during this decade while long periods of stance training (common in the traditional arts) were scaled back.

By January of 1951 Ip Man had only two remaining students, Leung Sheung and Lok Yiu. This was a critical issue as the old master was totally dependent on his students for economic support. If the teaching experiment had failed it is highly likely that Ip Man would have looked for some other source of income and the modern Wing Chun community (to the extent that one might even exist) would probably be very different. It should be recalled that Ip Man was actually somewhat ambivalent about taking up public teaching in the first place, so this situation may have been more delicate than is generally realized.

Instead Leung Sheung (perhaps the first martial artist in Hong Kong to fully recognize Ip Man’s genius), Lok Yiu and Chu Shong Tin pooled their resources to support their teacher through a period of poor enrollments. Much of the later popularity of the style was subsidized by these sacrifices in the lean years of the early 1950s.

Chu Shong Tin stated that the order in which he learned the Wing Chun system was somewhat different than how most students approach it today. In fact, it seems closer to how the style was taught in the Foshan period. Initially he was introduced to Siu Lim Tao, the style’s first unarmed form, which he practiced for over 1 year. Next he was introduced to the concept of turning prior to the actual introduction of Chum Kiu (which employs both stepping and turning).

Sometime after that (probably during 1952) he seems to have started studying Chum Kiu. The following year he was introduced to the dummy, learning about 20-30 movements at a time. Rather than seeing the entire set at once, individual chapters were introduced throughout the remainder of his unarmed training as new topics or problems came up. In or around 1954 Chu was introduced to Biu Jee, and the following year he began to learn the Six and Half Point Pole.

Chu does not appear to have approached learning as a passive pursuit. One of the things that impressed me as I read about his life and watched various interviews were his keen powers of observation. Chu had been carefully observing Ip Man and his instruction for some time before he ever joined the class.

As such he was able to demonstrate the entire Siu Lim Tao form on his first day as a formal student. This allowed him to spend his time perfecting the nuances of the movements and their applications rather than simply learning them. He is reported to have done the same thing with Chum Kiu.

It was during this early period that Chu first acquired his nickname, the “King of Siu Lim Tao.” Multiple accounts of how this came about have been given, though they all seem to be different aspects of the same event. All of the stories are clear that Ip Man, who enjoyed pronouncing light-hearted nicknames upon his students and friends, was ultimately responsible for this one as well.

Some accounts of the event begin by noting that Wing Chun received a certain amount of coverage in the local press during the 1950s and 1960s. In one of these stories Ip Man mentioned noted Chu’s dedication to the study and practice of Siu Lim Tao, beyond all of the other forms, and named him the “King of Siu Lim Tao.” The name stuck in large part as Chu’s own approach to Wing Chun emphasizes the importance of body structure, relaxation and psychological intent, all things that can be trained in, and explored through the practice of, the first unarmed form.

In a slightly different account of these events given in an interview with Sifu Sergio, Chu instead emphasized the role of his persistent questioning in the origin of the nickname. Following the urging of Leung Sheung, in 1951 he had moved into the Restaurant Worker’s Union to work more closely with his teacher. Ip Man and Chu shared a small room for some time. In addition to learning Wing Chun Chu attempted to help the older master with various household tasks, in effect becoming a live-in student.

The term “Siu Lim Tao” has been translated in a number of different ways. It means something like “the little thought form,” or the “small idea.” This had always bothered Chu as it is quite different from the sorts of names that are given to most other Chinese boxing forms. For him the name itself became a sort of paradox. Every day he would ask Ip Man what it meant, and his teacher would respond simply by telling him to continue practicing the form and to have faith in the process.

Chu did not abandon his quest lightly. Instead he continued to asked Ip Man about the meaning of the name daily. Each time he was told to simply keep practicing. And practice he did, almost constantly. Eventually he began to feel as though he was able to unravel the mystery of the form on his own.

It was at this point that Ip Man, always sensitive to the power of names, began to call his student “Siu Lim Tao.” I don’t think that Chu ever got a straight answer to his question about the origin of the form’s name. Indeed, it is the sort of question that may not have any answer at all. But through his own persistence he acquired a new name for himself.

During 1955 Chu Shong Tin began to study the Six and a Half Point pole form. This was a period of sweeping transition within Ip Man’s growing clan. Sometime during the same year Ip Man’s relationship with a widow and fellow refugee from Shanghai (known within his school only as the “Shanghai Po” or the “Shanghai Woman”) became visible. This relationship, outside of the bounds of his initial marriage, while never publicly defined, became a crisis for a number of his students. It was a violation of their understanding of “martial virtue,” or perhaps the Confucian glamor that Ip Man often exuded to his younger students.

A number of Ip Man followers left him. This proved to be both a professional and personal setback for the now aging master. Ip Chun relates that he had been receiving remittances from his father’s teaching fees that were sent regularly to his family members still living in Guangdong. Due to his increased financial hardship these payments ceased after 1955.

At the same time a number of Ip Man’s senior students left to start their own schools. These helped to establish a strong base of Wing Chun instruction in Hong Kong, but they also competed directly with the master’s own efforts.

After living with his teacher for almost five years Chu Shong Tin also left during this same period. Having found work as a secretary with another labor group (the Association of Taxi Drivers in Hong Kong) he moved to Wan Chi in Central. However he continued to study with Ip Man and made the trip back to Kowloon as his work schedule permitted.

During 1957 and 1958 Chu, like others, took advantage of the growing popularity of Wing Chun and began to teach. At first this took the form of private lessons at the homes of individual students. Later a new job (this one with the Association of Textile Workers of Hong Kong) allowed him to move back to Kowloon. Much like Ip Man in 1951, he taught classes on the rooftop of the association headquarters until he found a more permanent location for a school.

Ip Man’s sons, along with a number of other individuals who had been trapped in Guangdong when the border was unexpectedly closed in 1949, were able to return to Hong Kong in 1962. This period seems to correspond with something of a renaissance in Ip Man’s career and he once again took a more active interest in his teaching. In 1963 Chu Shong Tin began his study of the Bart Jarm Dao (“Eight Cutting Blades” or Butterfly Swords). Indeed, he was one of the few individuals to learn the complete form from Ip Man. His study of the subject took more than a year, and he was introduced to the final section of the form in 1965.

In 1964 Chu established his first school in a permanent space at the Four Five Six Building of Nathan Road in Kowloon. Three years later (in 1967) he moved about a block away to Cheung Sha Wan Road where he both lived and conducted classes for many years.

Chu was deeply affected by the death of his teacher from throat cancer in 1972. By this point the future of Wing Chun seemed secure. Ip Man had personally trained a generation of instructors who were running schools across Hong Kong (and eventually in a number of other cities) while his student Bruce Lee went on to ensure the lasting fame of the art throughout the global system.  This was also the start of a new era for Chu whose son Horace was born in 1974.

Chu remained busy teaching Wing Chun at his own school and with the VTAA throughout the following decade. Later he began to commit the fruits of his deep research into the principals of Siu Lim Tao to paper. In 1993 he published The Book of Wing Chun (in three volumes). This Chinese language project examined the unarmed forms, the wooden dummy and both the pole and knife sets. The text was accompanied by line drawings. The author of the 2013 edition’s preface states that while Chu was happy with the content of these volumes, he felt that they failed to achieve their full potential as they never received sufficient promotion.

He also took other steps to document his understanding of the Wing Chun system in other ways. In 2002 he released a DVD titled “Chu Shong Tin Wing Chun.”

The next decade of Chu’s life was not without incident. He was involved with a number of projects as Ip Man’s growing stature in popular culture increased the profile of Wing Chun. At the same time a 2011 article in the South China Morning Post revealed that Chu had been diagnosed with late stage cancer earlier in the decade and had been told to make his final preparations.

Luckily he managed to beat the odds and went on to enjoy another decade of teaching and exploration of his beloved art. His family attributed his long and relatively healthy art to his dedication to Wing Chun.

After a period of extensive preparation Chu’s earlier books were rereleased in a new edition in 2013. Not only has this been an invaluable resource for martial artists, but the form that these new volumes took seems to speak to important changes within the world of the traditional Chinese martial arts. To save both time and resources the previously planned three volume set was condensed into just two books. The first focused on the three unarmed forms, while the second combined a discussion of the dummy and weapons.

The overall production values of the new books are excellent. The original line drawings and diagrams (while helpful) were replaced with new photos featuring a still vital Chu presenting his own arguments about the nature of the art in visual form. Perhaps the most significant aspect of these books is that they were published as bilingual texts in both English and Chinese.

This is an interesting point as Chu himself did not speak English. While he worked with foreign students, in the West he was never among Ip Man’s best known disciples. There are probably a number of reasons for this. His own association with Ip Man predated that of Bruce Lee and his cohort. Nor did Chu leave Hong Kong to pursue a career abroad like so many other Wing Chun instructors. Lastly, Chu appears to have been a genuinely humble individual who did not get caught up in the various public disputes that characterized the Wing Chun community during much of the 1980s and 1990s.

The revised editions of these books and DVDs will make his understanding of the Wing Chun system available to a much larger and more diverse group of students. At the same time it seems to be a tacit acceptance of the fact that Wing Chun is no longer a Hong Kong, or even a southern Chinese, phenomenon. It has become a truly transnational movement. Most of the individuals who now study, teach and transmit the system are no longer located in China.

On the one hand this speaks to the surprising success of Wing Chun in establishing itself as a quintessentially modern (and highly accessible) fighting system. This is a fulfillment of Ip Man’s vision of what his school could become. At the same time it begins to pose difficult questions of what it ultimately means to be a “Chinese martial art” in the current era.

In the end time catches up with all of us. Chu Shong Tin died on July 28th, 2014. Wing Chun practitioners the world over are fortunate that he was able to so fully articulate an understanding of his beloved style. I suspect that his books and videos will be studied and discussed for decades.

The Place of Theory in the Life of a Master

Chu Shong Tin made a number of contributions to the development and spread of modern Wing Chun which have received too little notice within the global community of practitioners. The Chinese martial arts have never been purely technical exercises in violence. Instead they have always existed as a distinct set of social institutions embedded within broader cultural systems. It bears repeating that without the early support and dedication of Leung Sheung, Lok Yiu and Chu Shong Tin, it is unlikely that Ip Man would have been able to establish the Wing Chun community that exists today. Indeed, it is the existence of students which calls a teacher into being. One cannot exist without the other.

Current Wing Chun practitioners are fortunate to know as much about Chu’s practice as we do. Still, for students of Chinese martial studies he presents a number of problems and silences. Consider a few of the issues that didn’t really come up in the foregoing biographical sketch.

What do we know about Chu’s family and their socio-economic situation in Guangdong? And why did they consider it necessary to leave in 1949 when so many other individuals did not? What sort of formal schooling did Chu receive, and what affect did that have on his life?

It is interesting to note that many of the jobs that Chu had in the 1950s and 1960s were involved with the world of organized labor. This is important as unions had a somewhat complex relationship with the martial arts in southern China. What drew Chu to this line of work? What were his thoughts on the social unrest that gripped Hong Kong during the 1960s, and how did it affect his students?

Chu loved Wing Chun and he always seemed ready to discuss it. Yet even though he left behind a body of essays, interviews and books, we actually know comparatively little about his own life and experience of Hong Kong’s changing landscapes. It seems that collectively we have been guilty of asking Chu only about the technical practice of his art and his teacher, but never really about himself.

This is problematic precisely because the martial arts are part of a social system. As academic students we wish to get a better understanding of how they have evolved, their functional meaning in the life of the community and their relationship with larger social or economic trends. To do this we cannot look only to the founders of styles. We must instead start to ask detailed questions about those who followed them.

For instance, given the manifest economic hardships of the early 1950s, why were some individuals, but not others, willing to dedicate so many resources to follow a martial arts teacher? Why did certain students sacrifice to perpetuate these systems when the vast majority of their classmates were content to move on?

The biographical sketch that I have provided above brings up many fascinating questions, but it does not provide much in the way of answers. Chu’s understanding of his community, and his motivations for contributing to it, are left very much in the shadows of Ip Man’s achievements. While this may make for good Kung Fu hagiography, it does little to advance Chinese martial studies.

Popular interviews with important figures can provide scholars with certain pieces of the larger puzzle. Yet to gain a clearer understanding of the situation two additional things are needed. The first is a curiosity about how the Chinese martial arts interact with other aspects of life.  The second is a particular vantage point from which to investigate those questions.

This brings us to back to theory. Academic theories are essentially maps of reality. We need these maps because reality itself is too big and complicated to be easily understood. “Real life” contains too many random events and spurious correlations. Whether we are attempting to do “thick description” or to test “causal theories,” we need some set of assumptions that tell us what sorts of events are significant and meaningful, and which ones are not.

While certain historians and journalists are fond of “letting the facts speak for themselves,” this is fundamentally a delusion. One knows that a given observation is a “fact” only because you already hold a theory that tells you it is so. Indeed, theory seems to be hardwired into the human retina. Given that we cannot escape it, we have an obligation to acknowledge its existence and make some conscious decisions about how we intend to employ it.

An overreliance on theory does not make academic discussions inaccessible. As I have explained to my students numerous times, poorly defined researched questions and bad writing are much more likely to lie at the heart of unreadable papers. Theory itself should be liberating.

In the hands of skilled researchers theory expands our understanding precisely because it allows us to ask better questions about our research subjects than we otherwise could. It suggests puzzles which can only be resolved as we dig a little deeper into the historical record, looking for new and different types of data. Far from detracting from empirical description, theory drives us to make new discoveries. It suggests new avenues for investigation that are often counter-intuitive and exciting.

The question of what sort of theory to employ in a given situation is often a vexing one. Indeed academic students spend much of their time arguing about the superiority of various research methods and assumptions. These conversations are complicated by the fact that they generally lack easy answers. Different theoretical approaches may reveal or obscure various aspects of the same research subject.

Let us return to the career of Chu Shong Tin to see how all of this might play out. A student of cultural studies might look at Chu’s career and emphasize the role of popular literature and film in the development of the modern Wing Chun community. None of the existing interviews speak to Chu’s taste in literature, or the sorts of films and TV programs that were popular among his students. Still, if that information could be uncovered through interviews it might help to reveal quite a bit about how these individuals understood the social meaning of the martial arts and their place in society. This new data could speak to questions as diverse as the shifting nature of Hong Kong identity or the variety of cultural responses to the pressures of globalization.

A student of political economy or economic history might have a very different set of interests when looking at Chu’s life. His repeated association with various labor organizations is a potentially important subject. What can the development of the modern martial arts tell us about evolution of Hong Kong’s labor market? Given that Chu directly witnessed multiple periods of radical transition in Hong Kong’s economic history (from a shipping hub to center for light manufacturing to its current state as a financial destination) what can the evolution of his martial arts school reveal about the actual social costs and contours of this process.

These are only two possibilities. There are many other approaches that might yield equally interesting questions. Critics might object to the appropriation of Chu’s memory to advance lines of inquiry that probably are not directly related to his understanding of Wing Chun. Still, properly done such studies could help to fill in the blank spaces in Chu’s biography while at the same time illuminating the complicated ways in which the martial arts, as a set of social intuitions, interact with southern China’s broader popular culture.

The traditional southern Chinese martial arts are currently undergoing a pronounced generational shift. Chu’s passing only underscores that truth. We are emerging from an era that saw vast changes in these fighting systems as the reforms of the 1930s and 1940s were consolidated just in time for many of these arts to be introduced to the global marketplace. It is important that current students document as much of this transitional phase as possible.

In practice this means turning our attention to oral history projects, or looking at the more recent historical development of local schools. Still, for these efforts to be effective it is not enough to focus only on the technical transmission of these fighting systems (though that is often an important and very interesting topic). Instead we need to remember that each of these teachers and schools exists within a broader social environment. Adopting appropriate theoretical frameworks can help us to better understand these relationships and ask more interesting questions about the historical record.


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