Interview with Sifu Lewis Luk by Darrell Jordan
DJ: In your opinion what do you feel is the most important in Ving Tsun training?
I think that I would develop into 2 stages. First is the basic, and I always think the basic is very important. I think that a lot of Sifus say that Siu Nim Tao is very important, because really Siu Nim Tao represent the basic of Ving Tsun. If you are good at Siu Nim Tao, actually, many of the important concepts and the majority of the things are already there. Chum Kiu, Biu Jee, the wooden dummy and other things are to help you to develop further. So the basic is very important. And very often I find out that many of the students including my self in the early day’s, do not spend enough time on the basics.
Like today, one of the new training that I learned from Yip Ching, as I told you, I have trained with Yip Ching for 11 years as a private student, is single hand Chi Sao, which is something I learned a long time ago. Now I go back, and of course now the single hand Chi Sao that I am training is no fixed pattern, of course the original single sticking hand has a fixed pattern, now is no. It is able to help you to use just one hand to you control the whole situation so that when you put up two hands together, it will be much more improved.
It is up to a stage where you think you cant progress any further in double hand Chi Sao, you just think, OK, I just stay there, I find difficulty to progress any further. Then go back to single sticking hand can help, can really help. But very often you find that the students are just too rushed, they want to learn more and more new things, they don’t spend enough time on many of the basic things, like Pak and Lop Sao, this kind of basic thing, so first is the basic.
And then the second stage I think is very important. The student should open up as I told you, open their mind. Be more creative in their thinking regarding many of the Ving Tsun applications. Of course what the Sifu has taught them is very important, because that represents the many years of experience the Sifu has. But one day you have to grow up, one day you have to be a Sifu, you have to stand alone yourself. So you have got to have your own thinking, your own interpretation, and open up more possibility on the application of the techniques you learn in Ving Tsun, and more importantly, to go deeper enough to understand the principles behind all of these techniques. As I say, every small detail, every small single technique in Ving Tsun has its own meaning. Of course, Sifu can tell you, but that only represents the Sifu’s experience, and as I say, what I expect for the
Ving Tsun practitioner should be one generation better than the other, by that we should be getting better and better. That is an accumulation of experience of learning of different generations of practitioners. So, the student should be encouraged to develop themselves in a more creative way. So I think these 2 aspects are very important. One is the basic, the student should really spend the time doing it over and over so that it becomes very solid. The other is be creative, be opened minded to develop yourself, based on this basic, you know, how to understand more, open up their thinking regarding Ving Tsun.
DJ: In Chi Sao, one of the most difficult aspects is relaxation. What is a good way to learn how to relax in Ving Tsun?
LL: I think still going back to what I say, very often you find that if a student cannot relax when doing Siu Nim Tao, he cannot relax when he is doing Chi Sao. So actually, doing it over and over again sort of develop a kind of habit on yourself. So many of the student start off playing the Siu Nim Tao using too much force, and it becomes a habit. So when you are putting on a Chi Sao situation as you say because you are under pressure, because you are more intense, you tend to tighten up your muscle. So I think that a way to help is to be good at the basic. Another thing, maybe, some people think it is too much advance but I think it can be done, is to do the blind fold Chi Sao. What I mean by blind fold Chi Sao is the more senior guy opens up his eyes, and the junior one puts on the blind fold. By doing that, it helps you relax, because once you can not see, you will try and use your sense rather than your force. And sometimes the other thing distract you, what you see, what you smell, try to make you not tight.
That is my experience, and that is also what Wong Shun Leung taught at the beginning, he taught blind fold Chi Sao at the very beginning stage. But not like the others, one is open up the eyes one is closed, this time though, it is the junior who is closing his eyes and the senior who open up his eyes because he knows how to control and knows not hit the students to let him flow.
DJ: What are your thoughts on mixing other martial arts with Ving Tsun?
LL: Now I think that when you say it’s mixing things, I don’t like it. Because I think when you teach Ving Tsun, it is Ving Tsun, and Ving Tsun is very simple. It is one of the most simplest martial arts that we can find among the other martial arts. But on the other hand, I think that I can keep an open mind that as a Ving Tsun student or practitioner, he can go out to learn different arts, but respect that martial art as stand alone.
For instance, you also teach Shuai Chiao, but you name it Shuai Chiao, and give credit or respect to who taught you, and do not call it Ving Tsun or a kind of funny name which consists of all these different things mixed together. Even Wong Shun Leung, he used the term of super market approach where you go inside and you got everything there mixed together. And many of the older generation don’t like it.
So my view is that I keep a very open mind and in fact I myself learned two different kind martial arts. I learned Ving Tsun which is my major martial art which I learned for the last 20 years, and I learned JKD under Tat Wong because I’m very interested in understanding what Bruce Lee was thinking about and of course I started to get some clue in which Bruce Lee was doing and I discussed with the older Masters what actually Bruce Lee was doing in the old days, and that he actually had his own plan regarding his own development of Ving Tsun.
DJ: I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that he did not complete the Ving Tsun system and he had to do it out of necessity in order to progress further. Do you agree with this?
LL: That is part of the reason and it is a fact that he did not complete his studies. But another reason is that Yip Man at one time told many of his students, and one of them I think was Bruce Lee because some people say that Oh, why Ving Tsun has only 3 forms compared to other martial arts they have 10, 20 forms, so why so little, are you holding back something that you don’t teach us? Yip Man said “You think that 3 form is too little, I can tell you that in future generation there will be somebody in Ving Tsun can make this three form into one form.” That is in future the direction of Ving Tsun will only go to more and more simple, and not adding things more and more. Three forms will never become ten forms, the direction will be three forms to one form. That if you ask many of them they know, so what I believe at least in the early days, what he actually doing was going in that direction.
Despite that he didn’t complete the system, you know that Bruce Lee always had self confidence on him self. He think that OK, in future generation there is going to be one guy, it must be me. So if you compare his curriculum in Seattle, Oakland and LA Chinatown, and all the way along, he was actually going in that direction.
DJ: So how do you enjoy JKD, how do they compare to one another?
LL: I think there are so many things similar, on the structure side, that means if you look outside, it’s different, the stance is different, the footwork is different, but here are so many similarities, and there are so many connections, and only by looking very closely, you will find the connections. For example, in Chum Kiu we have a punch which is driving like a cork screw, that is the interpretation of Wong Shun Leung for this punch. Of course there are different people that like to do it like an uppercut, and in JKD there is one that is just the opposite of this, and so I think that he just twist it to the opposite.
DJ: Do you see JKD evolving any further?
LL: No, no, my approach, I learned from Tat Wong, I don’t know if you heard that there is a difference of opinion between Tat Wong and Danny Inosanto, where Danny Inosanto is adding in Kali, and other things. Whereas Ted Wong is more of the original, and he wants to stay with what Bruce Lee taught him, and in fact what Bruce Lee taught him is very simple.
DJ: Back then it was really based on more Ving Tsun.
LL: Yes. So I am more into the original one, more interested in what Bruce Lee is actually doing and not predicting what direction he was going, because he already died and there is no point in predicting what today if he lived what would he do.
Actually it is more important, what would you do, that is if we want to evolve, if we want to change, we just change, we should throw away the name JKD.
DJ: From what I understand, Bruce didn’t even want to give it a name.
LL: Yes exactly, exactly.
DJ: Where do you see Ving Tsun going in the future?
LL: One thing I find very interesting, if you ask some of the Sifu who you are interviewing to show some of their technique or their interpretation, you will find that each one of them has a different thinking, a different interpretation, and many people don’t understand why.
DJ: Well that’s the uniqueness of Ving Tsun?
LL: Yes, exactly, if you don’t have your own style, if you don’t have your own interpretation, you still have not learned Ving Tsun. You still don’t understand Ving Tsun, because Ving Tsun just give you the basic structure, the basics, and actually based on these basics, add in your character, your physical strength, your own characteristics, and then when you throw it out, it may be different. But I think that this is a good and bad thing for Ving Tsun, good things in that each person can develop his own characteristic. But the bad thing is because it come up with so many different interpretations some of the Sifu think that OK, I must stick with my interpretation, and mine is the only correct one, and the others are all wrong. And they don’t allow their own students to share or to learn other things. Actually when you look at some of Bruce Lee’s essays he said that at the beginning when some people find partial truth about martial arts, the founder is very good, but the followers try to make it like a bible and follow it as a rule that cannot change, they are putting in a grave yard for their founder.
So I think that is a danger, because more and more Ving Tsun Masters they just want to make it very tight, you must do it like this, if you step one step outside you are wrong. And they never even think OK, there is more room in Ving Tsun, because Ving Tsun is very unique although you may not appreciate many of our terms, the names are very simple. This is Tan Sao, Tan Sao is just a strict interpretation in Cantonese even you are not using martial art, this is Tan Sao. Because when you say Tan Sao, it doesn’t tell you what application it is, it can open to so many different applications. It just tell you the basic movement, and all this basic movement relates to you, the human being. I remember one time someone interview Wong Shun Leung, they say, OK, Chinese martial art very often relate to an animal, like tiger form, crane, monkey forms, so what kind of animal is Ving Tsun is coming from? Wong Shun Leung is very simple, he said that Ving Tsun is designed for human beings, not we want to imitate animals.
You don’t have to imitate a cat, a tiger, or some monkey, you are a human being, so why don’t you have a form for the human being? And I think that is the challenge in the future for the Ving Tsun master whether they really understand that that is the direction that Yip Man want them to go. One funny thing, Wong Shun Leung use Tan Sao like this, and Luk Yiu use it like this, and many people use it like this, and both of them go to Yip Man and ask which one is right? Yip Man said “both, are correct, sometimes your hand is here, you have to use it like that, and if it is here, you use it like that, it’s that simple, you do it both ways.” Yip Man is a very opened minded person, because he is one of the few masters that had the privilege to study in an English school. He came to HK and study in St. Stevens college which in those days, many of the foreigners studied there so he was open to western thinking and education. Many of the masters did not have the chance to meet this kind of education. I am trying to look at Ving Tsun from Yip Man onward. OK, before Yip Man I would be interested to study as a matter of history only.
But I don’t mind nowadays that so many different kinds of Ving Tsun are coming out and claiming that they are older than the Yip Man approach, or more complete than the Yip Man approach, I think
those are just irrelevant for us. Because what I understand or what I believe is that Yip Man already made good progress in Ving Tsun, he simplified, our system is much more simplified. We should not go back to the old days. OK, for a matter of the study of history, sure, so we can know where it came from. But as a matter of technique, we should go forward, not backward. Because there are many different Ving Tsun, they have 10 forms, 12 forms, many many complicated things, I dont think we should go back.
I don’t know whether if people have talked to you about Batt Jom Doa, and you know what is Ba Kua (Eight trigrams), our approach, we already took away the Ba Kua, all the funny things about the I Ching, I Ching is good, but sometimes people go too much and make it superstitious. In the old days, people practice Batt Jom Doa against the Ba Kua, the reason why because in the old days, there were no mirrors, and when you practice Batt Jom Doa, there are only 8 directions, I mean you can only chop in eight directions. There is no other directions to chop, and if you want to learn and practice correctly you use the Pa Kua because it basically tell you the direction. But some of the Sifu didn’t teach the students about the purpose of using the Ba Kua, they make it superstitious.
Today, if you go back to China, that some master in China ask, OK, you learn Batt Jom Doa, have you learned Ba Kua? If you haven’t learned Ba Kua you missed out on something.
DJ: You are referring to the martial art Ba Kua?
LL: Both kung fu system and the symbol is originated from the I-Ching, the Book of Changes. It is actually a mathematical book; it’s used for calculations for the future. Because Ba Kua yes, it is based on the I-Ching but the theory is very basic and simple. Bott Jom Doa eight cutting chop, that means no matter how many combinations there are only eight directions to cut, you don’t have nine or ten. So one hand is eight directions and the other hand eight, times together you got 64 different combinations, it’s that simple. In today’s knowledge of mathematics, you don’t need Ba Kua, everybody knows eight times eight is 64, you have eight directions here and eight here, mixed together you have 64. And you have the mirror and a centerline to use to help you to guide in the right positions, so you don’t need the Ba Kua. I think for historical purposes, it is good to understand this.
DJ: For historical purposes, what about the Look Dim Boon Gwan?
LL: Look Dim Boon Gwan, if you go to China there are many complicated Look Dim Boon Gwan, but our approach, is already down to the most simple, because I have learned in the old days how Yip Man learned the Look Dim Boon Gwan, originally he did not like Look Dim Boon Gwan because he thought it was too simple, so he learned other forms. When he got beat up by one of his seniors then he tried to really pick it up. Originally, if you go to some part of China, they only have the three and a half point, Saam Dim Boon Gwan, because that is the basic which is the Biu Gwan, Til Kwan, and Ding Gwan, if you can master these three, you have already covered 80% of all the attack and all the movement, because in Luk Dim Boon Gwan your side is the centerline, so if you face your opponent like that, no matter where he come from, up, down and Biu Gwan, and of course the other three and a half, Huen Gwan, Fuk Gwan Lao Soy Gwan, OK, and where do you have the half point? It’s very simple, because all the six points are based on the first three inch that is the most powerful part of the Look Dim Boon Gwan.
But the Look Dim Boon Kwan has one weakness, that is if your opponent gets inside and gets too close to your first hand, that is dangerous. So you have to learn from day one that if people go inside you have to take them out, and try to generate power between this direction so this is the half way, the half way through, the half point. Luk Dim Boon Kwan does not belong to Ving Tsun, originally we have Batt Chom Doa, and you know in Batt Chom Doa we always cut the people front hand and cut there neck, or some fatal part, especially the front hand. So we are always training to attack the front hand to make them drop the weapon, so we will try to keep our hand back as far as possible so we developed a half point to counter this kind position. If your energy is good, you can generate power half way between, you don’t need the first three inch in the front, because the first six point cover these areas.
DJ: So do you believe that Yip Man was the one who simplified the Look Dim Boon Gwan?
LL: I believe so, because I don’t believe that Lin Gai is telling lies he is a very decent man, but when you compare their Ving Tsun to our Ving Tsun it is very different.
DJ: Who are you speaking of?
LL: Lin Gai, he is an early student of Yip man in Foshan China, he trained a group of students there. I think that when he came to Hong Kong for various reasons he simplified the system, and I think this is good. He took away all the superstitious terms, like Yum Yeurng, Ba Kua, all this kind of things. You never hear of this in our lineage, but you hear a lot of this in other Chinese martial art systems, in fact I think that Ving Tsun is no exception, because Ving Tsun is one kind of Chinese martial art. Why it doesn’t have, I think it have, but only Yip Man make it simple because he had the privilege to receive western education.
DJ: Do you feel that prior to Yip Man coming to Hong Kong in 49 he was superstitious in some sense?
LL: Not really, it was more political because he still had seniors and many of the seniors were still in Foshan and if he come out and teach differently, you would have ten fingers pointing at you, what are you doing, this is not what your Sifu taught you. This is the pressure he had in Foshan. They say there were 16 students and he was the youngest, so he had 15 seniors, looking at what he was doing in Foshan, so he could not deviate too much. So when he came to Hong Kong, he was the Grandmaster, he can do what ever he like. I think that is exactly the point that he tried to reform. I don’t like to use reform, or modify, but he simplified it, to make it more simple, more direct, more to the point.
DJ: The direction of Ving Tsun students today is determined by the Sifu. Do you concur with this?
LL: Do you know that when Bruce Lee told the story of the finger pointing to the moon, that that originally came form Ving Tsun?
DJ: I never heard that.
LL: In Biu Jee, the name Biu Jee many people think it means shooting fingers. Wong Shun Leung told me and I should go into and research the actual book that it mentions Biu Jee, Biu Jee means “Finger Pointing to the Moon.” That is exactly what Ving Tsun wants to do, as a teacher, you are acting like a finger, you point a direction for your students, but it is for your students to go in that direction. But not always concentrating on the finger, if you just concentrating on the finger, then you are short sighted.
So I think that is the real challenge that means how open minded will be the Sifu to allow the student to develop themselves. Actually I think Ving Tsun is a whole process of self development, and eventually, from Wong Shun Leung point of view at the end of the day, you don’t need the Ving Tsun name anymore, you are yourself, you have found the way.
Hong Kong, 2001