The Wing Chun of Dr GK Khoe by Ray Van Raamsdonk
I got a letter at Christmas from my friend Keenan Jang dated November 21/81. He had been searching all of Vancouver for a Wing Chun school. Through his persistence he finally found what he considered to be a very good one. In order to give some background to my next discussion of the Wong Kiu lineage, I thought Keenan’s original letter would help.
“Dear Ray, Hi. I thought I’d take a break from studies to fill you in on the “Wing Chun” situation over here in Vancouver. First of all, I looked for the place on (or near) Fraser St. and Broadway Avenue. It had been gone for a year apparently. The sifu Bill Kwan, went back to Hong Kong or Edmonton. Next I looked all over town for a Wing Chun school in vain. For a city the size of Vancouver, there are no Wing Chun schools; or so it seemed. I asked shopkeepers in Chinatown and went from club to club asking if they knew of any Wing Chun sifu but I had no luck. In desperation, I tried to form a club at UBC (University of British Columbia). I hoped to attract students who had taken Wing Chun previously so that we could practice together and learn from each other.
A week later as I was checking out a Shaolin style club in Chinatown, I learned from the sifu that he had a friend (who was doing chemical engineering research at UBC) who wanted to form a Wing Chun club at UBC also. I got in touch with this person and we soon pooled our resources to form the Alma Mater Society Wing Chun Internal Kung Fu Club. His name is Dr. G.K. Khoe. He is about 40 years old and is from the Hague in Holland. His sifu was (and still is) Wang Kiu who was an original student of Yip Man. Wong Kiu learned from Yip Man the same time as Wong Shun Leung did and these two became friends.
Anyway, what luck! We are now learning Wing Chun about as pure as you can get. Our club did not advertise at all but we relied on “Clubs Day” to attract students. We have about 20 students right now. The sifu Dr. Khoe started us on the 1st form and all of its theory and applications in the 2nd week of October. He also started single hand chi sau (sticky hand) on the very first lesson (He said he wanted us to be familiarized with the “feeling” as soon as possible) with very good results. We went through a lot since then. Presently, we are well into double sticky hand, slap blocks, trapping hands, grabbing hands, and even some limited chi sau sparring. We have also started the 2nd form and its applications as well as foot mobility and kicking. This sounds rushed I know, but the sifu feels that he may not be here (at UBC) after October 1982 since he is on a sabbatical leave from a Dutch university, so he wants to teach us the system and establish the club. From there, we can practice and solidify our knowledge.
Dr. Khoe knows the entire system of Wing Chun (the butterfly knives, the long staff, spear, 108 Dummy forms, the 3 major sets, the weapon sets, etc.). Since I have a head start on the other students, he was showing me some staff moves. The Wing Chun staff is so different from the Shaolin (Hung, Choy, etc.) styles. It is like the Wing Chun hand techniques, thrusting, sliding, poking, tan stick, bong stick, etc. Enough about our club.
I eventually found out (through a friend of a friend’s friend’s cousin) that in Al Cheng’s Preying Mantis Club on 800 Keefer St. (Chinatown) a young man teaches Wing Chun from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Then at 1:00 p.m., an older man teaches Wing Chun from 1–4 p.m. I only got a chance to see the older man. He is the Leung Ting style with the knees of the stance so close together they are almost touching. He had about 10 students. He has only been there for the last 5 months. The younger man’s been there for at least 3 years. It seems a lot of people know a little Wing Chun but not many know a lot. Everyone seems to know some Wing Chun or claim to know that is. (“Bruce Lee bandwagon”). if you are ever in Vancouver, our club practices Monday 7:00p.m. −9:00p.m., Wednesday/Thursday 12:30–1:00 p.m. and Fridays 5:30p.m.−9:30p.m. Some guys (3 of them) from Bill Kwan’s club are now with us. Apparently, Kwan emphasized power a lot. These guys are very stiff and tense. A student of Bill Kwan’s, Alex Nam had a Wing Chun club at SFU (Simon Fraser University). It has since folded. I met two students who used to learn there. They said Nam was a depressing demanding, son-of-a-bitch, of a teacher. Nam has been rumored to have left to make Kung Fu movies. He also emphasized power. Our club emphasizes the “feeling” of chi sau, suppleness, chi control and “Yin and Yang”. It is “internal”. Well, I could say a lot more but I’d better go. Good luck with your studies on Wing Chun Kung Fu.”
After that glowing report on the Wing Chun scene in Vancouver I naturally wanted to join this club right away. In 1982 it was still very difficult to find Wing Chun instruction and especially instruction that was done in English and that covered the complete system. I was a bit envious of Keenan Jang. But I was also persistent and asked Keenan Jang if his sifu would allow me to train in the UBC club which consisted of only Chinese students. Keenan asked on my behalf and I got a letter dated December 15/81 with the answer to my request.
“Dear Ray, Sorry this took so long. Yes, my sifu says you are welcome to train with us on Friday nights or Monday nights. As I might have said before, our Friday class has only 11 members (was restricted to this number) so that the sifu can instruct us all personally and with higher quality. Our training is intensive, I just wish I had more time to train. Even still, I’ve improved 300% (or more) since I have started here (in 3 months), My sifu stresses the Chi of Yin and Yang. Actually he stresses many things. Now that I have a better insight of Wing Chun, I can see it is a very well thought out and efficient form of combat. We have finished the 2nd form and we are learning something new about Chi sau (sticky hands) every time we meet. In Chi sau, we are now into footwork as well. There is so much to learn and to practice! By the way, if you practice with us, you’ll have to change your Bong sau. The Bong sau we learn is with the elbow high and the center of chi at the wrist, not at the middle of the forearm. We are also (some of us) playing chi sau with eyes closed as well. To get the “feeling” as Mark Lee used to say.
It’s too bad that Ming (one of Mark Lee’s students) went back to Karate. It’s probably because his Wing Chun training is at a stalemate. If only he had more instruction. My sifu out-spars blackbelts with ease. Too bad Mark Lee is not interested as much either. When I sparred with Terry Wong (northern Kung Fu instructor), he said in competition that Wing Chun people always lose. Now I realize why. Putting gloves on a Wing Chun man is like putting handcuffs on him. Now I know that the “bare” hands are so important in Wing Chun. See you soon, Keenan.”
On January 15, 1982 decided to travel from Victoria to Vancouver, for my first lesson at the newly formed UBC Internal Wing Chun club. The trip involved 30 minutes to drive to the ferry, then a 1 1/2 hour ferry ride which cost $50 roundtrip, then another half hour at least to get to the University The fees were $48 a month, which were paid in three month blocks to encourage students to stick around. Japanese gardens and a small pond outside a beautiful Asian looking building surrounded the training hall.
I had a lot to catch up on in the first lesson. The club had been operating for three months only but ALL the students seemed more a advanced in skill and Wing Chun knowledge than me. Most had no martial arts background whatsoever. I already learned martial arts including Wing Chun for 15 years but I couldn’t handle their stuff.
I thought, something wrong there! Somebody wasn’t telling me something. I never considered myself a poor student and in fact usually ended up leading the class. I found out I was no match for Keenan Jang who was the most talented of the group at that time. Yet just three month’s earlier I easily defeated him no matter what he tried on me. What a difference a good teacher can make.
Dr. G.K. Khoe was a slender very fit Chinese who was brought up in Indonesia. He was on a one year sabbatical leave from a Dutch University to do some chemical engineering research at UBC. His strong scientific background put an engineering perspective on all that he taught. He mentioned that the traditional teaching from his teacher Wong Kiu (often written Wang Kiu) was not quite as organized but Wong Kiu allowed him to ask thousands of questions to bring all the details of the art. Wong Kiu’s method concentrated on chi sau. He wanted the student feel what to do. He would correct you on the spot during the dynamic action, which Dr. Khoe described as trying to play with an octopus with eight arms attacking you. Wong Kiu was so rooted that he was impossible to move. Later one of my large 240 pound police officer students said the same about Dr. Khoe.
Wong Kiu taught only privately teaching two students each evening. He himself was a private student of Grandmaster Yip Man and learned at the same time as Wong Shun Leung did. Apparently he knew Yip Man much earlier than this but officially joined later when he had a chance to see how Wing Chun really fared against the other Kung Fu styles. Wong Kin in fact was known to have arranged many of these matches. Wong Kiu and Wong Shun Leung used to write a newspaper column circa 1955 to 1960, entitled “40 Bridges of Wing Chun.”
Wong Kiu’s pen name was Siu Lung Wong (little Dragon King), modified by the paper from Sui Lung Wong (Water Dragon King), from the fact that he was a great soup drinker. Both he and Wong Shun Leung are very literate in Chinese: they composed versus with implicit challenges to other styles of martial arts. They and a few others, including William Cheung, fought many challenge matches.
Most matches were won with simple combination punches to the body. Dangerous strikes to the neck, head, and groin were never used. They had antagonized over 70 top martial art teachers who threatened to kill the two Wongs, until Yip Man intervened. one of these high-profile matches was to be William Cheung against Chan Hak-fu, a white crane stylist who had fought a sensational match against Wu Kung Yi (Wu style Tai Chi). The Wongs wrote caustic verses in the newspaper to precipitate the match. At the end, no match was fought; the two schools made peace over a dinner party.
These stories inspired many to take up the art of Wing Chun including the legendary Bruce Lee. Wong Kin was very familiar with Bruce since Wong Shun Leung would often come to Wong Kiu’s house to train Bruce Lee. Originally Wong Kiu was from the Preying Mantis back ground. His whole family was good at this type of Kung Fu. I heard that he was hoping that Preying Mantis could defeat the Wing Chun style and in particular Wong Shun Leung but when that didn’t happen he converted totally to this new art. Wong Kiu told me once that from his experience, you had to give up 100% of the other arts if you really wanted to be good at Wing Chun. Sometime during the famous Wong Shun Leung matches, Wong Kiu and Wong Shun Leung became very good friends.
Wang Kin did not like to talk about the history of Wing Chun, because he said there isn’t any. The so-called history was created by one man called Li Man. Yip’s senior students agreed to the “history” because legendary (could be fictitious) characters like Ng Mui and monk Gee Sin could help to publicize Wing Chun. Wong Kiu said that he does not know of any characters before Yip Man. Later, however some people wrote versions of Wing Chun history which in many ways appeared ridiculous. Wong Kiu said: “A lie told a hundred times the same way would become the truth, but a lie with various versions would remain a lie.”
Dr. Khoe sad he was the only student to be taught on his evening. Each of Wong Mu’s students was taught in a different way according to their interests and abilities to absorb the essence of the art. If you thought Wing Chun was like Karate, then Wong Kin would teach it to you in this form. If you thought it was a kind of Tai Chi then he would teach it to you in that form. He didn’t bother to fight with obstinate students. Dr. Khoe’s background was in judo, Karate and Taekwondo. A magazine article about Wing Chun perked his interests so he went in search of a master and found Wong Viu. While learning he continued to spar against Taekwondo and found his new learned skiffs to be very effective. Handling blackbelts was not a problem for him. Some of Wong Kiu’s other students also had great success fighting against Taekwondo even against high-ranking players of the art. Wing Chun’s success rate at one time in Holland reached 75% against Taekwondo. This inspired several of Wong Kiu’ s students to encourage competitiv e Wing Chun so the emphasis was more on this form than on the almost 100% chi sau training common to most Hong Kong Wing Chun clubs. However Dr. Khoe wanted to learn the complete art with no preconceived notions. He was taught all aspects by Wang Fiu and became a top student.
His slant on the art went more to the internal side. He hated the word soft to describe what he did since this did not adequately express what an internal art really is. The ability to direct chi to a different place without physical movement was something that he mentioned to me but I was not at a stage to fully appreciate that. Everything Dr. Khoe stressed related to exact position, sensitivity and correct transfer of energy.
The class at UBC was run in a very formal manner. Every class started and ended with a bow. Everyone would stand in a circle, bow, do warm ups and then the Siu Lim Tao. The circle idea was to ensure that all actions pointed to some center, namely the center of the circle. We were told that traditionally, the wooden man was the object in the center. Dr. Khoe said Wing Chun was never taught in the fashion where one expert stood at the front of the room and yelled out orders. Teaching Wing Chun was a very one on one personal thing. Internal arts had to be felt. They could not be learned from observation alone. Dr. Khoe made sure that he transmitted the correct feeling and position to all of his students. At least he tried his best. Stance and feeling were number one above all else. He would constantly correct the legs, the hips, the shoulders, the elbows, the wrist positions, the arm angles and the head. A millimeter off center would not be good enough. I thought I was relaxed. From my Tai Chi background I was relaxed but I was told to relax even more. Dr. Khoe’s arms felt like soft rubbery snake like objects but they always kept to perfect form. As soon as a student drifted the high Fook sau by the slightest amount, their neck would instantly get chopped. As soon as the lower Fook sau elbow drifted a tiny bit, we would receive a sharp stinging slap on the chest. Fortunately the sifu had great control, no one ever got hurt.
Once a student came back from Europe and commented how fast those Wing Chun people were. But Dr. Khoe was not impressed with speed. He said speed could hide a lot of mistakes. To him doing the right thing at the right time was far more important. A good Wing Chun man would pick up on those mistakes quite easily. So a very fast Lap sau attempt would only result in a sore chest from a stinging palm slap to remind us to close up properly during the process. During the first three months we all had plenty of red chests from sharp stinging slaps. This was a way to point out to close the center and served as a substitute for punching the head. Dr. Khoe mentioned that in Chinese martial arts, the palm work was the higher level skill. It was more deadly and at the same time it was easier to control.
After the Siu Lim Tao we would practice chain punches. Instead of ending the form with the traditional three punches, we would just continue to chain punch a few hundred punches. We were not to wiggle; the stance had to be firm. The lower back had to be straight and also it could not be hollow, it had to be filled. Proper alignment was constantly emphasized because we would often do it wrong. In nearly all classes, the Siu Lim Tho would be followed by chi sau and after that a variety of drills. It was Dr. Khoe’s idea that chi sau should be practiced while one was fresh. Once the students tired then inaccurate chi sau would result in bad habits being formed. Since the class was at least four hours long, half the class would be spent doing chi sau and 30 minutes of that would involve only doing relaxed slow rolling or Poon sau. Correct feeling, position and stance were always the key things to concentrate on. Good defense came mostly from lots of rolling to develop the right suppleness and sensitivity. Further on in the year we engaged in random freestyle chi sau. We had a large repertoire of movements acquired from our many drills. So we enjoyed using these. But the instructor frowned upon our practices and often asked what we were training when we had our freestyle matches. We said we were training fighting. But he pointed out we were in fact training nothing. We were wasting our time with foolish fancy movements, which would only build bad habits. Instead he wanted us to always work with something specific in mind. Chi sau was not supposed to be a fight although once a month we would do competitive fighting which started from the chi sau position as a way for students to learn to relax while under pressure. Because of my Tai chi and previous Wing Chun background I felt at the time I was not doing too bad however my Wing Chun was not as correct as some of the other Chinese students and I won for other reasons than proper Wing Chun skill.
Dr. Khoe’s Siu. Lim Tao was very impressive to me. His structure was very stable and Yin and Yang was present in every movement. The ability to relax and tense quickly was important and it was this f actor that made his form look so good. In comparison I didn’t think Wong Kiu’s form looked as good. However I saw Wong Kiu easily control Dr. Khoe one day and was impressed because none of us could move him from his stance. Obviously Wong Kiu was still the master and there is more to form than looks. Dr. Khoe’s taller stature and longer hands gave a certain beauty aspect to the form. Wong Kiu was a much shorter person with shorter stubbier hands. This made his form less exciting to watch if you consider the Siu Lim Tao something exciting to watch.
The first lesson covered a lot of material. Partly it may have seemed like that to me because I had to catch up. However every lesson that first year was crammed full of information. On my way home from each lesson I was able to remember nearly all details of what we covered and every word that the teacher said. I jotted down four to five pages of notes each lesson. We were certainly never bored. At the same time, two solid hours of chi sau ensured that a quality skill was building.
After the warm ups, Siu Lim Tao, punching and double sticking hands, we practiced a variety of drills, the Chum Kiu form, turning and stepping. Dr. Khoe would have each person feel what it was supposed to feel like so those partners did not waste time practicing incorrectly. In this particular lesson we drilled the Tan sau and punch against a partner’s punch. We also practiced charging in with the Tan sau and punch to wedge or jamb the opponent’s punch from the outside. Every action had many details explained regarding exact position and feeling. We drilled using the Siu Lim Tao crossed high Gan sau (some call it Tan sau or Kwun sau) to jam the chain punch and then to reverse the roles by chain punching back. There were also various drills to use the Pak sau to the outside of medium speed chain punches and then do a variety of entry techniques including Pak sau and punch or Lap sau and punch.
The technique that stuck in my mind from my first lesson at UBC was that of the Jum sau (Chum sau) or sinking hand. I went home to practice the Jum sau on almost everything. Dr. Khoe was very good at changing quickly from the relaxed supple state to the shocking Jum, sau to collapse any structures that were in the way. Wang Kiu -had told him that Lok Yiu was particularly adept at this technique in that he would shock his partner to the bone. it would feel like an earthquake had just hit. Lok Yiu’s Jum sau was powerful enough that he used it to break someone’s shin during a real challenge fight that he engaged in. This story must have inspired Dr. Khoe to develop a similar skill. Later one of my own students also got so inspired. He was a large police officer who liked to practice the Jum sau on his squad car’s steering wheel. He said the mechanics were very annoyed at him because whatever he was doing was causing the bolts on the steering wheel to loosen. He got tired of having to tighten them all the time.
By my third lesson I learned: the Siu Lim Tau, the Chum Kiu, the Biu jee, single sticking hands, double sticking hands, turning, stepping, punching, kicking, the Lap sau exercise, various chi sau words, three chi sau sentences, a wealth of theory and copious amount of detail on all these things. There was no way I would retain this amount of information except to practice everyday. Unfortunately I did not live in Vancouver so I decided to start up a Wing Chun practice club in Victoria so that I could have some regular practice partners. Eventually this became the Victoria Wing Chun club.
Copyright: Ray Van Raamsdonk