Interview with Sifu Jerry Yeung
Sifu Yeung, please tell us a little bit about yourself. Was Wong Shun Leung your first Sifu, and how did you meet him?
I started learning Ving Tsun when I was 14. I went to one of the SiHings school, who opened the Ving Tsun school after my Sifu passed away. I got a chance to continue the training there and started teaching and training with some of the students in the school.
In my thirties, I started my own school and taught Ving Tsun part-time. It is now almost 10 years ago. I quit my job in a trading company and directed my energy into running the Ving Tsun school full-time, teaching people to spread the Ving Tsun skills and experiences I had learnt throughout the years.
Sifu Wong Shun Leung is my first and only Sifu in Ving Tsun. I was lucky to meet him in my early years. He was not only teaching me Ving Tsun, but also guided and gave me a direction for my life. I wasn’t doing well in my studies at school and he let me know that besides the academics, I could also build myself up and my career, through kung fu. I felt that he was a great man, he had amazing achievements in Ving Tsun and was recognized as a great fighter. I never thought I could walk the same path as he did. I am not saying I am a great fighter now, but I have built my career with the Kung Fu I like so much.
In the 80s, fighting in school was quite common. My uncle was learning Ving Tsun at that time, and he took me to Sifu Wong Shun Leung after I lost a fight at school. My uncle asked me whether I liked Ving Tsun after the first trial class, and of course I said yes, because I knew he liked this kung fu very much. He also paid my Ving Tsun class fee, so I had no excuse for not going.
Tell us about “Pure Ving Tsun” (PVT). How did it start and for what purpose?
In my early 30’s, I suddenly thought “what should my career be in the future? Where should I go? What do I want to achieve?”
Coincidently, I saw that some kung fu brothers started teaching in the parks or even opening their own schools. I asked myself: “Why can’t I do the same? Will I be able to teach?” I thought it would be great if I could teach, help people understand kung fu and be able to fight. This would be a great achievement, being able to share the skills I have.
I realized I like teaching people very much, but it is not easy. I started thinking about having my own class for Ving Tsun. Since I was not a famous Ving Tsun practitioner and no one knew me, I asked my friends and colleagues to learn from me and try. In order to promote my class, I uploaded a Gor Sau video online and had to think of a name for it. I wanted to only talk about Ving Tsun. Ving Tsun was the only element in it - nothing else. Thus I used the word “Pure”, and the name of the video is “Pure Ving Tsun”.
Many teachers today are mixing Wing Chun with other Martial Arts. Pure Ving Tsun does not. What are the benefits and disadvantages of both approaches?
I believe different martial arts have their own strengths and are for different purposes. Using distance as an example, kicking, punching, and grappling represent 3 different distances. It is not necessary to master all 3 distances, but you need to train yourself like a professional in one of these. Furthermore, the concepts behind each martial art can be different or even contradict each other. Thus if you want to mix it, you have to know and understand each martial art very deeply.
What are the advantages of training in Wing Chun? Can it improve people’s performance in other areas of their lives, such as work or relationships?
There are many concepts that can be applied to our daily lives, and thus in 2017/18 we had the theme “Yǐ quán rù zhé” (以拳入哲), which says “Through The Punch, into Philosophy”. I want to share that learning this Kung Fu can bring philosophy into your life – and how to apply it. It basically changes the mind set (makes you think in a different way). It is a problem-solving technique. For example, the concept of forward and backward stepping teaches you not to always move forward. Stepping backward can give you another point of view and helps you to build a different vision.
You have fought in various competitions. What was that like, and do you recommend Wing Chun practitioners to do the same?
First of all, I need to tell readers that I have fought in Sanda, Boxing and Thai Boxing Competitions, not Ving Tsun competitions. If you learn Ving Tsun, and want to participate in other martial art competitions, it is difficult and dangerous, as the standards and requirements are completely different among different martial arts. If you are a Chinese cuisine cook and entered a French cuisine competition, what would that look like?
When you enter any competition, you need to have a clear understanding of what that martial art is about. You will need to train with those skill sets instead of using Ving Tsun drills. You must be able to extract and apply the concepts to it. You need to have a very clear understanding of what you have learnt in Ving Tsun.
For example, if you enter MMA competitions, you are following their rules, which might contradict your own kung fu. Thus you fall into your opponent’s strengths and they will have advantages under those conditions.
Tell us about Kung Fu Quest. How did you get involved in it?
Philip Ng, who acted as Bruce Lee in the 2017 film Birth of the Dragon is my SiDai. We learnt Ving Tsun together in the 90s. I was invited to take part in the first Kung Fu Quest episode. At that time, he asked me to train with him. Later on, when he was asked to do the second episode, he introduced me to the crew, and I got a chance to be in the casting interview.
In season 3 you sparred against a Muay Thai fighter. Any tips for our readers on how to deal with Boxers and Kick-boxers?
Every martial art/kung fu has its own strengths, fighting concepts and distances. No matter if it is a boxer, MMA-fighter or any other kind of fighter, we have to fight with our own techniques and not fall into the opponent’s strengths. You must not allow them to execute the things they are best at.
You have stated in the past that Biu Jee is to be used for situations where you are injured or outmatched. Can you please explain?
Most of the actions/moves in the Biu Jee form are for single hand use. Fingers are weaker compared to the fist. Using fingers to hit something will likely hurt your fingers. So why would we choose to use fingers instead of punches?
If it is because Biu Jee is the last form in Ving Tsun and it should be the strongest or the most powerful skill set. The training before it should entirely be related to how you use your fingers, or strengthen the fingers so that you can use them in Biu Jee.
For whatever ability/skills we want to achieve, all preparation work (pre-requisites) should be related to the ultimate goal.
If you are not injured and your entire body can function properly, why give up punching and choose to use fingers?
Using fingers, you must attack weak points like eyes, throat, etc. Attacking these areas can cause severe damage to the opponent causing permanent disability and even death. You will not use fingers to attack the chest or the belly, because it is like “using an egg to hit the stones”. You can’t really hurt the opponent, but you can hurt yourself.
Is your own personal Wing Chun changing or do you prefer to preserve the art as it was taught to you?
You must preserve the essence. If you add something which contradicts the essence, it is no longer the same art. Thus preserving the art as it was taught is important. Otherwise, it becomes a new Kung Fu/Martial Art. The key is how and what we preserve in order to fit today’s world and make it applicable.
You can keep the drills and moves without adding or removing, and keep the “traditional” training methods. This is one way to preserve your martial art.
From what I learnt 30 years ago, I understood they are not just drills but concepts. In the past, besides the basic forms, we Chi Sao quite a lot. We learnt from hitting people and being hit - trial and error. We learnt from mistakes. So it depends on how smart you are, how much you are able to understand, and how many hidden tips and concepts you can discover from the training. I found this is difficult for people to understand nowadays, as we have more entertainment, and people are less patient and unwilling to spend time training. I kept the drills, the movements, and of course the forms and Chi Sao, but modified the training methods, and built up a learning system for people to learn more quickly. This is how I preserve the art.
What does the future hold for Wing Chun? Do you see the art continuing to grow and thrive throughout the world?
Ving Tsun is relatively easy to pass on. There are movies that have introduced it to the world, and celebrities like Bruce Lee, who is an icon.
It should continue to grow for years. However, as there are more people learning it, we need better systems to preserve it or we will end up with many different versions. After all, everyone learning Ving Tsun can have a different understanding.
In this generation, we are still affected by Bruce Lee. How about the next generation? What can make them interested in learning Kung Fu? That is the question.