I had a fantastic past week with my si-dai (younger kung fu brother) Haw Kuo here in NYC. He came to visit me so that we could train, trade notes, strategize and talk shop for our respective and mutual future plans. One of the main topics we discussed at length is the paradigm shift that is finally occurring in the WingTsun (“WT”) world. Despite WT’s popularity worldwide, an institutionalized, almost cult-like "closed-off" mindset has been breaking the art apart internally. But thankfully this is rapidly changing. A much needed step out of the 70’s and into the modern-age of innovation has arrived at long last! The students aka consumers now have choices; real quality choices to learn proper WT in North America. No longer do they need to follow cult-like regulations and pseudo pyramid scheme business structures. The market is free and performance is now the decider, not a “monopoly” of WT; there are no secrets! Sifu Haw and I feel honored to be part of this new and happier face of the future of WT.
The future seems so bright now as our vision of creating strategic alliances with top WT instructors and martial artists of all styles is beginning to come to fruition. With so many plans underway, it's too bad this week went by way too fast.
As a foundation for understanding our vision, one must remember that a Chinese martial arts family can be defined in Chinese as 同門 (tung mun) which this means something like “of the same door (family)”. Before there were legal entities of martial arts schools and associations, there was only the distinction of being part of the kung fu family. This had nothing to do with “business” as many students did not eventually go on to earn a living by teaching martial arts. It would actually be normal for a student to move or leave and begin teaching his own students. These people would still always be considered part of the lineage of that particular kung fu family. However as “business” became the motivation and associations sprung into being, suddenly if a business relationship didn’t exist then suddenly the “family” one didn’t either. This is completely against the tradition of Chinese martial arts! It’s quite ironic that when enforcing compliance basically through blackmail is the goal, suddenly the senior is your “family member”, but when the business relationship no longer exists they disown you like you never existed (photoshopping (badly) out of photos is not unheard of, as are spurious legal threats).
Since we both exited from a WT association last year, Sifu Haw and I have created something new in the WT world. We have created an alliance, namely the Open Alliance Wing Tsun Network. We did not create it for the reason of installing yet another “institution,” but to establish our vision that WT can only grow outside of the closed and isolationist nature of associations in this day and age. Our alliance is to abide by a code of progressive thinking and mutual cooperation to finally achieve a mainstream, ethical and moral name for WT in North America. Associations and academies that continue to trumpet the notion of isolationism will only fall apart in this new age. If the open and progressive way MMA and many other arts are trained is any indicator, students/customers will go to the schools that remain cutting edge and avoid the ones that operate in the 1970’s mindset. A martial art cannot grow by putting up the iron curtains and denying the progress of the outside world.
Sifu Haw and I both run our own independent WT schools. Haw has his Art of WingTsun banner in San Jose, California which he runs with Sifu Marcus Clever; this school has been growing recently. Sifu Haw has plans to keep growing and potentially to open new branches as well. We both cooperate with the great Sifu Elmond Leung and in the future potentially also with Sifu Chris Collins of Hong Kong among other top WT instructors worldwide; and all of this is at our discretion! What this allows us to do is to expand our network, access different quality modalities of WT training from top experts across all eras of WT, and ultimately impart this combined rich experience unto our students. Associations or academies that only follow one stream (most often not allowing their students to train elsewhere with or without permission) ultimately short-change their own students, especially when they claim to be the “only source,” and/or magically create technicians overnight. People are our greatest resource and isolating ourselves from different perspectives and challenges does not make us grow. In fact isolation is the death knell of many great institutions!
With this progressive drive to grow our schools and to grow as martial artists and individuals, Haw and I work together for the simple reason that we wish to. This does not mean that there are any contractual or financial obligations between CWT and AoWT. In actuality I consider him just as much a member of CWT as I know he considers me a member of AoWT. We are si-hing-dai (kung fu brothers), and we can cooperate with each other without it being a “business deal.” The sad thing is that in the modern Chinese martial arts world this is actually almost unheard of, although it was the de facto mode of operation in the old days. But for Haw and I, being martial brothers doesn’t mean we have to control each other or each other’s students. We invite each other for seminars to expand our students’ horizons, teach each other’s students to help them achieve their goals, share information and train so we can improve our skills, and we manage magically not to get upset that we have different logos on our shirts. Amazing!
Amusingly, we both have a slightly different presentation of WT and teaching methodology and our programs differ slightly too (though we follow identical concepts, they are expressed differently because we are different people). Regardless of this fact, we can train and cooperate as we wish, unlike those who have a “financial arrangement kung fu family,” which is somewhat of an oxymoron in any event. Being able to adapt, change and incorporate different viewpoints is the necessary step that is vital to the growth of WT, and indeed it is at the heart of the WT fighting concepts. I’m proud to be part of this future with the support of Sifu Haw and many other premier instructors of the WT world.
“Other things may change us, but we start and end with family” - Anthony Brandt
(Note: I will follow this blog with another detailing my crazy busy week with Sifu Haw. It was a pretty insane week, with or without guests here in NYC, far beyond the scope of this article)