Interviewer: Here I am again with veteran Wing Chun expert, Sifu Yun Hoi. Sifu Yun Hoi. Sifu is a senior Yuen Kay San/Sum Nung Wing Chun gung fu expert, Sifu, can we talk about a topic you’ve mentioned to your students before – understanding the swallow, spit, rise, sink aspect of the art?
Yun Hoi: Certainly, tan or, more correctly, tun, tou or biu, fau, and chum. These are called “sei noi biu jing”. How would you like to begin?
Interviewer: Well, you’ve taught us that Wing Chun has a technical dimension, a conceptual dimension, a tactical dimension, a theoretical base and a principle dimension. Where do we find the essence?
Yun Hoi: Yes. I’ve often stated this to my students. The essence is not any one of those but all of them. They all inter-relate. This is why people who learn some aspect or aspects of Wing Chun and think that they have learnt it all are deluded. It’s as foolish to see Wing Chun as a group of techniques as it is to see it solely as a set of concepts or principles. These all inter-relate. The sei noi biu jing are not the essence of our art, though. Certainly they’re significant. But if anyone thinks they’re the essence of Wing Chun then I say they’ve been hearing or reading too much about other arts! (Laughs) Actually, the sei noi biu jing are more commonly associated with other Southern gung fu arts. However, we certainly have these concepts.
Interviewer: OK. Thanks for explaining that. Sifu, you use the terms “simplex” and “simplexity” to focus our attention on the fact that whilst Wing Chun can be simple that it can also be complex.
Yun Hoi: Yes. That’s correct. People can have a simple, or I might actually say a “simplistic” view of Wing Chun on the one hand. Anyone saying that the sei noi biu jing are the essence of Wing Chun is being simplistic, for example. On the other hand, some people make it too complex. In reality it is simple but you have to have a depth of understanding that can be complex to sort out without the right guidance. Whilst simplicity is a core Wing Chun principle, being reductionistically simplistic isn’t! Being simplistic is being a minimalist. It is minimising our art into a basic core that, whilst it is essential, is not all there is.
Interviewer: I see. Most Westerners learn the Wing Chun of Yip Man, and I think they tend to minimalise. Most Mainlanders learn Gwangjo Wing Chun. That seems a much fuller art. Am I correct? What’s the difference or overlap?
Yun Hoi: Yes, I think so. But, there can be quite different viewpoints on this. Let me say that there are a number of excellent practitioners of Hong Kong Wing Chun. As there are of Gwangjo Wing Chun. Each group varies in quality. The two arts have similar or the same names for many techniques. Some techniques are similar. But, overall, the two arts are really quite distinct. I know – I did Hong Kong Wing Chun for twenty-five years and Yuen Kay San Wing Chun for the past twenty. If you understand them both, to say that they are the same is quite ill informed. If all your Wing Chun is the same then it may be it’s all lousy! One difference I note, and here I need to generalise, is that overall most Hong Kong practitioners do tend to over simplify. In doing so I think they lose valuable points. This is decidedly not to throw out the baby with the bath water! Now, if you are very good at Hong Kong Wing Chun then you are very good. And, there are some very good Hong Kong practitioners! But, the vast bulk of practitioners are not what you could describe as very good at all. As we live in the West, we naturally more commonly encounter the Hong Kong folk whereas we don’t encounter many Gwangjo practitioners at all. I must note I’ve seen some pretty sloppy Gwangjo practitioners, too! Taking an overly simplistic view of the art is one of the things that contributes to poor quality. Just as complexifying the art by bringing in aspects of other arts and adding unnecessary forms and weapons does. Overall, I see the Gwangjo art as more complete.
Interviewer: So it has to be a balance between simplicity and complexity? Do you think that those versions of gung fu that call themselves “Wing Chun” yet have extra forms are falling for becoming too complex?
Yun Hoi: Bluntly, yes. True Wing Chun only needs what is contained in our few forms. Not more, not less. Versions that include extra forms are not truly Wing Chun as far as I’m concerned. Comprehensiveness is the thing. The art has to be fully comprehensive. But also compact.
Interviewer: Some practitioners could become quite proficient in those forms in their system that derive from, or contain sections from, other arts – Choy Li Fut, Cho Gar and so on?
Yun Hoi: Yes. This is the trap! You can train hard to become very good at the wrong thing! You can train very hard at too little or too much. There is a very much overlooked kuen kuit that says: “Few pass down the true art”. Also, in the final words of the original Red Boat song of Wing Chun we hear:
“The true skill of Wing Chun is difficult to find,
There are many levels.
The true art will be found in the most unusual circumstances;
You must be intelligent and diligent over the years,
The unworthy practitioner will always be a lonesome boat in a big ocean.
The art teaches the art! The art protects the art!”
If people are happy with what they do then they’ll either look no further or look with biased eyes at their own art and those of others.
Interviewer: What then of theory?
Yun Hoi: Yes. This is where we can see a difference. The original Wing Chun of Gwangjo is rich in theory.
Interviewer: Like the four elements – swallow, spit, float, sink?
Yun Hoi: Yes, you can readily see these come from an understanding of yum yeung theory and practice.
Interviewer: Could you expand on each of those four please, sifu?
Yun Hoi: Sure. Tan or tun – we can express it as either, as it essentially is either dispersing – spreading out force – or taking it in. Tun is actually more taking it into emptiness (swallowing). Tan can be intercepting force and re-directing it back into the attacker – this is more like spit, actually. Tan can be external or internal. It can strike firmly and jam or deflect without much firmness or impact power. You understand this, all four of these concepts, tactics are interwoven with everything else in our art. This is why you can’t learn “some” or a “bit” of Wing Chun and mish mash it into an eclectic brawling method.
Interviewer: I can certainly see this, sifu. I think some people have a hard time grasping it, though.
Yun Hoi: I guess that’s inevitable. (Laughs) Funny, isn’t it? It’s so simple!
Interviewer: You once told me a Japanese expression about this type of person.
Yun Hoi: I did. “Enko ga tsuki wo toran to suru ga gotoshi” which means, “Like monkeys trying to snatch the moon’s reflection on water”. Such people are trying to gain the appearance – they can’t even do that, actually – without being aware there is more substance, more depth, more than is not externally obvious. They will never see the true thing, let alone have it in their hands. I would hazard a guess that most of them have no idea that they don’t know what they don’t know.
Interviewer: (Laughs) OK. I know that’s not the case. OK, back to spit. Can you say something about this please?
Yun Hoi: Essentially it’s like biu of the sup yee faat. But biu refers more to simply shooting out a technique rapidly. Tou implies that we receive an attack and throw it back at the attacker. Or, at least, neutralize his attack and launch our own instantly or simultaneously.
Interviewer: Thank you. What about floating then, sifu?
Yun Hoi: Ah, this is being relaxed like you would in order to actually float. It implies that your power, your force, can travel in potential form from your kwa through your joints until you express it (with “spit”). It can be connected with our principle of flow, too. It also relates to your rapid stepping and body movement and rotating.
Interviewer: Whilst you do justice in words to these concepts, you demonstrate them convincingly to your students in application. Do you think understanding can be conveyed only by a verbal description?
Yun Hoi: In a word – “no”. No matter how verbally fluent one is, trying to convey these concepts solely verbally would inevitably lead to misunderstanding.
Interviewer: I thought that might be the case. “Sink” is the final concept. What must we understand here, sifu?
Yun Hoi: Ah! You’ll hear most Wing Chun sifu repeatedly telling their students to “sink”. For those who don’t hear this I think they ought to question just how much their sifu understands or cares about developing good practitioners! Chum is one of the sup yee faat. So, we do have to sink our stance. How? Let the soft tissues relax and be supported by the skeletal structure and the sinews. Chum is also something you can express onto your attacker’s structures. Hence the name of the form, “Chum Kiu”. We sink or break our attacker’s structure essentially by mis-aligning his verticality. This entails breaking structure. We have a concept of “luk jing” that relates to fau and chum. This means we have to co-ordinate stance (ma); kwa; yiu (waist); ying (torso); sau (arms); and head (tau), which includes the neck, head, teeth (ngah), and face.
Yun Hoi: Yes. They need to be closed together. Not tensely. But certainly not parted. Also we ought push our tongue behind our top teeth.
Interviewer: May I ask why, sifu?
Yun Hoi: Yes. Closing the teeth prevents them being smashed if you get hit. It helps stabilize your jaw. Also, if you have a habit of putting your tongue between your teeth, as a few students sometimes do, it prevents you losing part of your tongue if you are hit! Pressing the tongue behind the top teeth closes a hei (chi) flow circuit. This is internal thinking.
Interviewer: OK. Well, thank you sifu, for those thoughts.