Sifu NG Chun-hong and the Art of Wing Chun

by Gerard Lee  

(Written in May 1999)

Until the beginning of this year Sifu Ng was still a member of the Hong Kong Police Force.  Being an active Policeman meant that he had to keep his classes fairly low key for obvious reasons.  Prospective students were introduced by friends, relatives, or in my case by my Sifu in London, and after being interviewed and passing a probationary period students are accepted into the school.

I first met Sifu NG Chun-hong, who I refer to as Sibak, (the term used for a Sifu's senior) 12 years ago, while visiting relatives in Hong Kong.  By that time I had been training in this particular style of Wing Chun for about 2 years, under Sifu Nino Bernado at "The Basement" in London.  It was due to Nino's gracious introduction that I was able to meet and train with Sifu NG Chun-hong or Ah Hong Gaw (a nickname which roughly translates into big brother Hong) as he is also known.  That six week period would change my life considerably, 2 years later, almost to the day I was back in Hong Kong, living, working, and being part Chinese getting in touch with my heritage, but most importantly I was training.  It is now 1999 and I'm still here in Hong Kong doing all the things I set out to do.  Now a little older and a little wiser, I think it is about time the public is introduced to Sifu NG Chun-hong.

Sifu Ng was certified to teach the art of Wing Chun in 1978 by the renowned Master WONG Shun-leung, one of the senior students of the legendary YIP Man.  In his time as an instructor Sifu Ng has taught a small and select few the complete Wing Chun System.

A strong advocate of foundation training and a rigorous task master, Sifu Ng demands a high standard in forms and drills.  "What I care about is whether your technique can work!" he says.  Pointing across to a framed calligraphic script emphasising the Chinese characters for patience and diligence, he adds  "be patient and work hard."

Sifu Ng is concerned about the future of Wing Chun. There are some good articles on the internet, but he worries that this short cut in knowledge may adversely affect the art.  It's good to have the theory of Wing Chun at your fingertips, but the knowledge gained in this way is not earned through hard work and practice.  Internet articles and books devoted to the art are fine, as long as these are treated as additional learning tool or aids, not as a replacement.  In other words Sifu Ng worries that we may become armchair practitioners with no practical skills or experience and that the art will die.  This is one of the reasons Sifu Ng was driven to open up his school.

With a teaching methodology that is a little different to other Sifus I've encountered (although the theory is primarily the same),  Sifu Ng teaches in a way that is very structured.  All of the individual techniques taught can be equated to the letters of the alphabet, drills equate to words and sentences, the forms are the dictionary.  By conditioning his students to realise that all the techniques are interrelated through familiarity of practice, it is assured that all students have an adequate arsenal at their disposal. It is this step by step approach, an unparalleled attention to detail, and 40 years of experience that sets him apart from others. "Can you combine what you have learnt and express yourself ?" he asks.

During class gaw sau (controlled free fighting) sessions, Sifu Ng can sometimes be heard reciting kuen kuit (fist idioms) to remind his students of how to react in  particular situations.  There are many of these idioms but perhaps the most common of these is loy lau hoi sung, lut sau jik chung.  To the uninitiated out there who are reading this article the idiom can be said to be the credo of this style of Wing Chun.  Roughly translated it means "Receive what comes, escort what leaves, when the hand is released thrust forward".  It is a complete eight character idiom which is usually broken down into two halves.  lut sao jik chung can be said to be the easier half of this idiom to learn and is usually taught first.  Quite simply it instructs you to attack once your hands are released or are in a position unrestricted by obstacles.

Loy lau hoi sung on the other hand teaches you the elementary theories of   control and is much more difficult to master.  If practiced without close supervision students may find this leads to the bad habit of joi sau (chasing hands).

Together, loy lau hoi sung, lut sao jik chung comprise the formula for Wing Chun in its purest form.  Perhaps you could say that the two halves of our motto are the two faces of the same coin, yin and yang, hard and soft.  And yet like everything that has two halves one cannot exist without the other.  For anyone to have good Wing Chun both of these "halves" must interact seamlessly in total harmony, a constant cycle in which the flow of force or energy becomes elastic or sticky.  It is a balance between the two that is sought, in an effort to achieve equilibrium with your opponent.

Chi sau or sticky hands which is an exercise performed by a pair of practitioners in which each person completes or initiates a technique completed or initiated by his or her training partner.  It is the objective of this drill to cultivate this elastic or spring like force which will enable you to become the other half of your opponent.  Being able to read his or her every intention will aid you in the efficient exploitation of your opponents weaknesses.

Geometry also plays a large part in the theory of Wing Chun.  This is why some knowledgeable practitioners mention angles, circles and of course straight lines, when trying to express their art or technique in words.

"Can you cut the angle?" Sifu Ng asks.

The angle or angles referred to are made by the joints in your own arms or at a point where your arm touches or crosses your opponents, this is what the experienced practitioner seeks.  It is at these joints and crossing points that you can attack, defend or control.  To "Cut" the angle simply means to simultaneously attack and deflect, and sometimes destroy your opponents structure with a single action.

"How well do you know your forms?" Sifu Ng once asked me. Naively I replied, "very well".  He then said, "can you show me where the locks are in your forms?" I had seen my seniors apply locks in class but thought they were free playing.  It never occurred to me that we had locks in our system.  In short all three empty hand forms and wooden dummy form contain subtle locking techniques. It is this depth of knowledge that Sifu Ng frequently demonstrates.

Sifu Ng recommends that Western students learn a little of the Cantonese dialect, as understanding the names of techniques can aid you in realizing their applications. It is also advisable to do some research into the Chinese classics such as I-Ching, Sun Tzu's The Art of War and perhaps read a little on Buddhist and Taoist philosophies to assist your Wing Chun, as the concepts and theories contained therein are sometimes radically different from Western thinking.  This will open your mind to more subtle ways of using your skills and reacting to your opponent.

As Sifu Ng likes to remind us, "I cannot teach you everything.  Something has to manifest inside you.  I can teach you a formula but how you use it and apply it is up to your own level of skill and knowledge.  Your Wing Chun must be practiced naturally, and should reflect your own personality and character."

There are not many real Wing Chun masters left.  A true master stimulates his students minds and points them in the right direction, he is a guide on that path to ..... dare I say it ..... enlightenment.