Lessons from Patrick Chow

by Ray Van Raamsdonk

Training notes from 1976

Patrick Chow was a slimly built individual who was a private student of the late Grandmaster Yip Man. His family was wealthy so he could afford the fees. When I met him, he was teaching various people with eight to ten years of martial arts in different styles like boxing, Hung Gar, Choy Lee Fut, Tai Chi and others. He asked people to come up and try anything they liked on him. What impressed me was that he handled the attacks in a very controlled manner without relying onpatrick chow speed or strength. He was very, very relaxed and supple in his actions. He said that Wing Chun was small circle Kung Fu. He said other Kung Fu systems also have many of the techniques, but teach them at a much later stage. He said Wing Chun just disposed of the big movements. In 1976 Patrick Chow charged $50/month which was more than double what anyone else charged. He had no intention of teaching the complete Wing Chun system. He said, “None of what any of you learned will work on me.” I will teach you just a bit of Wing Chun but I guarantee it will improve your skill. Because of Patrick’s skill level, everyone thought it was worthwhile.

For quite a few months, practice consisted of getting into the Wing Chun pigeon-toed stance or goat-restraining stance. Then students would slowly (very slowly) bring the Tan sau out, do a Heun sau, and slowly bring it back. Then do the same with the Fook sau. We did this for one hour straight each class. I didn’t know why at the time. All I knew was that Patrick was incredibly relaxed. He had very short range powerful hits and he always outmaneuvered everyone else. He never hurt one person in a fight. For seven months straight, we only learned part one of the “Siu Lim Tao” form plus some applications.

Here are just a few of the things he said:

  • To be good you should do daily sticking hands practice.
  • Keep the elbow in. This determines the circle size.
  • In Wing Chun we never take the hand back to hit.
  • Never put the head and knee forward like other styles. If you do, you will certainly get hit.
  • Step right in the center of the opponent’s legs, then hit.
  • Always protect your center.
  • Attack the opponent’s center. Punch at the nose. Always face the opponent.
  • The stance must be very active or mobile. Yet at the same time it must be very rooted.
  • Either foot from the pigeon-toed stance can kick.
  • Always use a straight line attack. A straight line attack is the shortest distance between two points.
  • Wait for the opponent’s movement. When it comes then counterattack at the very same time. Never block, just counterattack.
  • The stepping punch determines success in Wing Chun. It is just like an arrow shooting from a bow.
  • In the old days, sticking hands were not that important. (Note: Patrick was quite good at it though.)
  • In Wing Chun you go to the next step only after you have mastered the previous step.
  • The first part of the “Siu Lim Tao” is the door to the Wing Chun system. It represents one quarter of the whole system. I had to practice this part for two and a half years before I got taught anything else.
  • If you practice nothing else, then practice 500 double punches every single day.
  • If an opponent from the side surprises you, then turn and do a double punch.
  • The top punch is as high as your nose. Even if you do not hit the opponent, at least you protect your own nose.
  • In an engagement with a Korean kicker, the kick came fast but my Gum sau to his kneecap almost shattered it.
  • Against a very quick jab that someone threw, Patrick applied a light Pak sau to the outside of the arm and then punched the nose with the same hand.
  • Against a kick to the knee, Patrick was very quick to sidestep and simultaneously kicked the opponent’s rear leg.
  • Patrick’s students in Hong Kong specialized in different things. One was good at clawing techniques, one was good at the use of the palm, and one was very good in his Wing Chun kicking skill.
  • Yip Man was better in kicking than with his hands. His fellow students were much better with their hands.
  • Patrick suggested hitting the sand bag for one year. No more than this or you may develop arthritis. Patrick thought this killed Bruce Lee, because your body is just like a machine which wears out if you overtrain. The sand bag at first has peas or rice in it, then it is filled with sand, then it is filled with small BB-sized steel or iron balls.
  • Patrick said other styles have the defect of having their knee and head forward and their elbow out.
  • When I asked Patrick if it is good to practice a few different styles at once, Patrick said if you practice one day with the elbow out and the next with the elbow in, what will you use in the real fight when you have no time to think? You will lose the fight because your mind will hesitate. You use what you practice, so you have to make up your mind what you want to practice.
  • The wooden dummy is trained for two solid years. After that you will have the required skill and you can sell it. The wooden dummy should be the size of the practitioner.
  • Practice the slow Tan sau exercise to build up your forward flowing energy.
  • After the Bong sau deflection, you can do a palm up hit.
  • Practice at home can consist of practicing the first form very slowly, practice double punches, chain punches, turning the stance right and left with the elbow parallel to the floor, stepping with the punch (same hand and foot forward), elbow and palm practice on the sand bag. Everyday do Chi sau.
  • A bean barrel exercise is to drive the poking hand in (biu sau), then twist and claw at the bottom and pull the hand out.
  • 90% of the Hong Kong police who train in martial arts, now train in Wing Chun. For bodyguards it is almost mandatory to know Wing Chun.
  • The second best Kung Fu system is the Bak Mei or White Eyebrow style. (Patrick felt they curved the chest in too much.)
  • A very famous Bak Mei master in Hong Kong just died from overtraining. All of a sudden he just spit up blood. So be careful in your training.
  • Patrick practiced hitting nerve points on the side of the opponent’s punching hand using the middle knuckle of the index finger. It made the whole hand go numb.
  • Against very tall opponent’s, Patrick sometimes resorted to a jumping, whipping uppercut to the throat. It is mostly used without the jump however.
  • In the single sticking hands, modern students use the Bong sau. Older generation students used the Tan sau to stay inside of the opponent.
  • Move the feet to get into an advantageous position.
  • After the single sticking hands, use a lot of force to hit your partner. Later also use the feet to step in and really try to hit.
  • Patrick felt that Tai Chi was too soft and Hung style was too hard.
  • The use of the Wing Chun knife is the same as using the hands. A spear can be trapped between the blades.
  • Wing Chun is a ladies style. You can’t expect a lady to develop the same force as a large man. Many Wing Chun practitioners use too much force.
  • Many Wing Chun practitioners use the wrong arm angle. Their Tan sau is too steep. This means it can be pushed up. Some also have the Tan sau too low. This means you can punch over the top.
  • Someone threw a quick uppercut at Patrick and he used a double palm technique which resulted in the uppercut punch hitting that person’s own face.
  • In the first form, the teacher can test the Wu sau coming back by hitting it at any time. If the student is too stiff or not concentrating, his whole body will move or his Wu sau will collapse.
  • Wing Chun people often grab the back of the head to force it forward, then hit the head.
  • The Huen sau can be used to escape a grab.
  • You can change the Huen sau into a side hit. But if you are countered with a high fist, you can use the Tie sau (lifting hand) to counter and hit the opponent’s head.
  • For tournament fighting, conditioning is performed everyday by lightly hitting the student so that his resistance builds up. This works because each new generation of cells will become stronger when it replaces the old cells. The new cells are better able to withstand shocks.
  • Yip Man went to the Hong Kong police station to show them Wing Chun. He showed them part of the Siu Lim Tao. They all laughed at this display and said, “That’s not a martial art!” Then Yip Man sat down on a chair and asked various people to attack him. They all failed and then they switched to learning Wing Chun.
  • Wing Chun initially got established in Hong Kong by knocking on various gym doors and challenging the instructors. The Wing Chun challengers usually won, thus attracting all the students.
  • [Yim] Wing Chun was quite a tall lady.
  • Don’t punch, but throw the punch.
  • Two straight punches will handle a hooking punch. Hit straight to the nose, then hit to the eye area with the other hand. Other good alternatives are to use the elbow or use kicking.
  • Against a front bear hug, you can cave in the chest and thus create enough room to punch.
  • Wing Chun can handle Thai fighting but you have to train in the proper way first. People with a good fighting spirit can do the job. Many Wing Chun people don’t train hard enough and hence will fail. Patrick said North American’s are more strongly built and should be very good Wing Chun tournament fighters against other styles. A lot of money can be made in Thailand if you have a good fighter.
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