THE INTERVIEW WITH SIFU AUGUSTINE FONG

1) What attracted you to martial arts and why did you choose Wing Chun?

I was just lucky, because when I was young, I like to fight and be a hero like all kids.  As for choosing Wing Chun, it was the only Gung Fu School available, there was also Judo, but I didn’t like it.  I thought it involved too much punishment for the body, so I jumped into Wing Chun.


2) Ho Kam Ming was very traditional in his teachings, what was a typical day of training like?

Everyday after school I’d go for 2 hours from 4 – 6.  There were times Ho Kam Ming was not there all the time, so when he’s not there, I’m just by myself doing the form and working on the basics.  Other times I’d have to open the school and do it myself.


3) How different was the interaction between student and teacher back then compared to today?

Back then, you mostly just practice, just do it.  If you get it you get, if you don’t you don’t.   Ho Kam Ming would correct you and give you a little explanation on your motion, but he hardly gave any kind of lecture.  Unlike today, if a student didn’t get it, he can ask for an explanation on how and why to do it.    But back then, because of Chinese custom, no one dare to ask or question the teacher, so basically I never asked a question.  But through practice, I bet you, if you can do it, you can figure it out.


4) How much training did you have prior to your famous challenge fight?

I had no training for that fight.  I had studied a couple of years, but at the time I was not suppose to fight.  At the last minute Ho Kam Ming made a switch, came to my house, and said get ready your fighting.  


5) How much of the art did you know at the time and was this your first fight ever?

I basically knew how to punch out and do sticky hands as well as the first form.  While this was my first challenge fight ever, I did have fights on the street before this.  At the time I was around 14 or 15.


6) Can you describe the events that took place at the time of the famous challenge fight?

Our school was on the 6th floor, and the event took place on the rooftop.   There were about 11 people that came in from their side, and our school had about 8 or 10 people.  Nobody told me about any rules, so basically anything goes for the fight.  However they made an area where you could not step out off, if you went beyond that you’d fall off the roof.  Supposedly 3 rounds was the length of the fight.  I was a kid at the time so I wasn’t nervous, I really didn’t have any idea what was going on, too me it was just another fight.  At the last round, I finally just did sticky hands; I stick to him and punch.  Whatever came in, block and hit, over and over again, overall the match did not last to long, maybe about 10 minutes. At the last round their teacher stopped the fight because their student was badly injured.  I had punched him and his head hit the dummy, after that the other side stopped it.  


7) What was the main thing you learned from that experience?

Not much experience, I just had a lot of fun.  Next day, every school and everybody in Macau knew what had happened.  I didn’t even know about it nor did I care.
 

8) Master Ho’s teaching was it more toward the art/theory or fighting?

He was more to the art and he wanted everything perfect.  He eventually changed his teaching much later when China started having tournament style fighting.


9) How do you transition from training in Wing Chun to using the techniques effectively in actual street fighting?

If you practice you’ll get it.  In a fight, if you have good skill and guts to do it you can win.  If you have the guts your calm and you can apply everything, if you have no guts, you’re nervous you cannot apply anything.


10) Do you believe Sifu, if you have the guts but not so much skill is that pretty effective?

Still effective, you will still be able to beat the guy who has no guts.


11) You’ve put your Wing Chun to the test against other styles, how were your fights different from rooftop fighting?

They are about the same.  You don’t even know what you’re doing or remember how you do it, you just finish the fight.  It’s so quick.  I think if maybe the fights were planned for me and I had to train for it, then maybe I’d be a little nervous.


12) How long did you train with Ho Kam Ming before going on your own?

I started in 1960 so about nine years.  It was an average school with allot of people coming and going and during that time I also helped to teach for my Sifu.  By the time I moved to the states, my Sifu said if you don’t teach you’ll lose it.  So, I would find people to workout with to be my dummy to maintain my skill.  When I had about 6 people practicing in the park, they said why don’t you open up a school.  Back then I didn’t even collect money for my teaching, just doing it for free.  That’s why I have difficulty when I have a school, I don’t ask people for money.  It took a long time to build my school up because no one paid me.


13) Did you ever meet Yipman, and if so what kind of interaction did you have with him?

Yeah, I met him. He was an older teacher; I don’t even dare say anything in front of him.  At the time I was a kid, I’d practice and go home and that’s it.  If I was older, I could go out with them to talk, but at that time I didn’t know any better.



14) Your Wing Chun has evolved from what you were originally taught, how and why did you come to these changes?

You learn allot from teaching, you see allot of mistakes that people make and you ask why do they that.  Also, allot of the form I learned originally is not completely balanced.  For example, many of the motions are only one sided or some of the motions don’t make sense.  If it didn’t make sense application wise or had no purpose for development, I changed it. 


15) Did you have any conflict at the time in making the changes to what Master Ho had taught?

No I don’t have that feeling.  I just change what I can do to show people and what’s common sense.  It makes sense to me I do it.  When I change things I didn’t worry about people saying, “he changes things.”  Whatever changes I made I had a principle behind it.  If you don’t believe me I can show it.  That’s why I believe in myself 100%; I don’t worry about other people.

16) Did you ever discuss the changes with Master Ho?

No, I didn’t. That’s not my place to tell him what I changed.  Actually you cannot say that’s changing, it’s called evolving.   I evolved my system.  That’s why I call it Fong’s Wing Chun; I don’t call it Ho Kam Ming’s Wing Chun.  I don’t want anything I changed to reflect badly to Ho Kam Ming, that’s why I’m responsible for my own action.


17) Master Ho is an old school teacher, do you feel he looks favorably on the changes that you’ve made?

That I don’t know.  I did not ask him.  Could be a thumbs down.


18) Your Siu Lim Tau has a double punch in the 2nd section, can you talk about why this was added?

When I learned the double punch it was not in the form.  It was only in drills that we would do.  The purpose of double punch is to have 2 hands work together equally, then when you do tan and punch, pak and punch, etc everything easier to do.  The double punch was the basic foundation for 2 hands moving together, attacking and blocking, that’s the zero point of the technique.  But at the time it was not in the form, I dare not to ask Ho Kam Ming why it’s not in the form.  To me, in order to organize my teaching I put it back into the form.


19) How do you decide at what place do I put the double punch?

If you look at the 2nd section of SLT, it’s all 2 hands working together; all the motions have double hands except for the first Gum Sau part. So basically the 2nd section helps develop a square body while using 2 hands in different directions.  As for deciding its location within the 2nd section, it’s based on flow.  I decided to put it after Haan Jut and before Haan Sau motion because it didn’t interrupt the flow of things.  All the changes, I have very carefully thought about before I put it in.  I think about any argument that people might give before I put it in.


20) What is the process of doing that?

I put everything that is not into the form motion, back into the form.  From my experience I dare not ask Ho Kam Ming why it’s not in the form, but if I have those questions, in the future I feel my students will ask me as well.  So, if they ask me, how can I answer?  That’s why if I cannot answer that then I better put all motions back into the 3 forms.  So now there’s always a reference, that’s why up to today no on ask me, how come this motion is not in the form.


21) Can you discuss the additional kicks and moves that you added in Chum Kiu?

In the original Chum Kiu you just turn and do front kick.  All the forms have no sidekick, only the front kick I see.  But Wing Chun has all those different kicks, so where did they go.  Its exactly as I tell you, I put everything back into the form so you can see it; you have a reference for it.  Even the 8 kicks you can see in the form, all in the dummy and hand forms.


22) When Master Ho taught you did he teach you 8 kicks?

He taught 8 kicks, but I don’t think it was complete.  He said 8 kicks but at the time, only 4 kicks, but he counted both sides, so it was 8.  I dare not ask why.  I remember he’d show me a kick, but it’s not the form of the kick but another kick.  So later on I organize it and put it together into the form.


23) The original Bue Jee form that you learned ended with simply the huge emergency technique. Why where additional motions added to the end of the form?

When I look at all the forms, they have no single leg development, but the single leg develop you have to do by yourself.  So, I put the single leg, sidekick, and Bong Gur back into the Bue Gee form so you have no argument.  That’s my teaching purpose, I don’t’ want people to argue with me, that’s why I eliminated the problem.


24) Can you point out the uniqueness in your Mok Yang Jong form and 108 count?

The original dummy form was very short, but the last part of my form, you can say, allot of those are separate drills that I put back into it.  As for 108 count of the Mok Jong, I don’t think anyone ever count they just took the word for it.   If everybody’s changing it a little bit each generation, how can you say there’s 108.


25) When you originally learned the Bok Jaam Do (Sword) and the Lok Dim Bune Quan (Pole) from Master Ho, how exactly was it shown to you?

There was no pole form, but simply different drills that I would practice from one wall to another.  As for the sword form, Ho Kam Ming had his own sword form he put together, but before that it was only taught in drills also.  The reason for no set form, no one was concerned with the weapons, Wing Chun was only hands and legs.  People didn’t see how important the pole and sword form help to develop your body unity to develop your power and your stance.  By the time I came to the U.S. I put the pole form together already.  The sword form didn’t have much change; I placed some drill techniques back into the form, the 8 slashing motions.


26) You’ve been criticized about the changes you’ve made, any comments to your critics?

No, it don’t bother me, because who ever criticizes me is not my student.  He didn’t learn from me, so he doesn’t even know what I’m doing.   In Wing Chun it teaches you 3 aspects, physical, metal, and spiritual.  You learn how to detach your ego is #1, in spiritual.  Detachment is about control.  Everyone have ego, but if you can control your ego that’s called detach.  You don’t let your ego in the way, that way you can learn things better, observe things better, and teach better.


27) You’ve spent the last 40 years organizing your Wing Chun, do you see more significant changes to how you teach or do the art?

I think right now it’s easier for my students to achieve their goals, because they learn better, they understand right away.  In the end, its practice, practice, practice, I already laid out the road for them, they have to walk by themselves.  Before, there’s no road, I have to search for the road and walk on the road mindfully.    But that period of time is over, the road now is set, its up to them to move the pieces, just practice.


28) What makes Wing Chun both an internal and external system?

Internal and external art is also physical, internal art means without muscle, using your chi energy, anything soft, and more explode power.  External art is more muscular, it’s visible.  To me every art have 2 ways, there’s no separation, when you do externally your still breathing, however you may not know how to guide their chi into their muscle usage.  That becomes external.  In order to get maximum power you have to be generally from a relaxed position, that’s internal.  You can explode, that’s why internal and external have to be linked together, otherwise it won’t work.  If you use too much muscle or you’re too weak, you cannot hit people.  To me it has to be balanced, any art has to be balanced, there’s no such thing calling it internal or external art.


29) Is Qi Gong involved in Wing Chun system, and if so how?

Every exercise involves Qi Gong.  As long as your breathing it’s Qi already.  Allot of people think Qi Gong is so mystical, but actually any exercise can be Qi Gong.  Old people do exercise like Tai Chi, younger people do push ups or running, but its both Qi Gong.  Wing Chun exercise is Qi Gong, when you do sticky hands you’re already doing it, helping your breath already.


30) How is the Wing Chun punch different from Karate or boxing punch?

Wing Chun punch travels in a straight line, using the minimum amount of muscle to shot the power out, so when you hit with the straight line, without muscle holding the power, you hit something the power keeps going.  But, if you tighten your muscle when you hit something you are pushing the power back.  Both styles of punching can kill people, but Wing Chun has more safety for you.  Because when I punch my elbow is protecting, but karate punch you are exposing yourself.  As for comparing power, you cannot say one is stronger then the other.  One’s muscle power, it can be strong to contracting, twisting, and pushing the punch out.  Wing Chun is relaxed exploding power, this power you release.  You could say, the Karate punch will push you back; the Wing Chun punch will drop you down.  No way to compare.


31) Sifu what’s your opinion on weight training?

If you have the time and know what your doing its good for your martial arts.  If you don’t balance it properly then you hurt yourself.  First ask yourself, do you have the time to do everything.  If you do, okay, if you don’t pick the one you like first.   Be careful, if you make your muscle to bulky then you slow your motion.  When you do weight training your muscle contracts, when you do martial arts your muscle extracts.


32) Many believe Chi Sao and Tai Chi push hands are the same, is that true?

To me, it’s not the same.  Tai chi uses the hip the body to turn the stance is there.  Wing Chun the hip is not loose the knee, where you move the whole body move, Tai Chi you can move the upper body only.  And, the goals of both exercises are different, the pushing hands’ goal is to uproot the center of gravity, Wing Chun sticky hand is to lock you out.  We try to hit your center gravity and knock you out, Tai Chi try to make you lose your balance to hit you.


33) What are the most common mistakes you see when individuals practice Chi Sao? 

They don’t have structure; they have the motion but no structure.  But structure is the most difficult to do.  Most people don’t pay attention to structure they just learn the move and try to hit each other, that’s why allot of people become bullies when they do sticky hand attacks.  If you have the structure right your technique will be clean and clear with no muscle anymore.


34) Can you explain what cutting edge, send-back, and equalize/neutralize means in your chi sao terminology?

The cutting edge is just like shaving, I put the knife here shave my hand this way, that’s the angle I shave, where ever you come in I put the angle like that, then I shave you, right there, that’s called cutting edge.  I let you cut yourself into my knife, then I can stop you, when I stop you, I can control you anyway I want, and send the power back to you.

Send back, picture the apple cutting into my knife, the apple cannot come in anymore, otherwise it keeps cutting itself, the more you push the more the more the power comes back to you.  Its like pushing the wall, the wall don’t’ go no where your pushing yourself.

Equalize/neutralize is the control of power.  When 2 forces hit together you have the ability to equalize the force.  After you equalize you just neutralize.  Neutralize means you don’t give him solid ground, you go with it.


35) How do you define sticky hands?

Sticky hands it not fighting, it’s only for development. It develops your skill to fight.  Whenever you touch something you can glue to the subject, or make him glue to you, just like the cutting edge.  If I touch you with the cutting edge, you can go nowhere, I can control you.


36) Bruce Lee stated, “Anyone who places so much time on Kata is wasting his time. How can you do 100 movements in an exact sequence and use them on the streets?” Why then is our forms, especially Siu Lim Tau held in such high value?

Just like everything that you develop based on the principle of SLT, just like English A,B,C you can say that’s waste of time to study A,B,C but you have to go through that period of time to get your skill to speak, now Bruce Lee says that coz maybe at that period he don’t need the form anymore.  However, maybe he doesn’t remember in the time he studied he still do A,B,C in order to develop his skill, but when he teach people, he may say do what I’m doing, forget the form, but his student cannot do what he does, because he never do the A,B,C.  he never develops his foundation.


37) Is it possible to cheat the system, instead of learning the whole form, learn the individual motions separately?

Maybe up to some degree, but depend on what you like to develop.  To me if you want to develop foundation, why would you want to cheat yourself, learn the whole thing, learn A,B,C all the way to Z, learn the whole alphabet. In Gung Fu, never can be fast, just like you grow from age 1 to age 10, you cannot be fast, you have to progress, you want to grow normally, you want to grow to fast, you just drop fast to.


38) What are the steps involved in creating new drills for students to aid them in their learning?

First, you don’t create a drill.  Say its Bong Sau he’s learning, show him what its suppose to be.  If they still cannot get it, then you have to figure out how to make his move into that pattern.  Like if someone punches you a certain way you need to create a drill for him to move in that manner.  But, first you have to understand the principle of any motion first.  If he doesn’t no the motion, no matter the drill he just does the motion, he doesn’t know what’s going on.


39) Can you explain the mental development in Wing Chun?

Okay, mental development like develop your mind, emptiness, quietness, sinking, softness, 4 things that can make your mind calm, then open minded to learn and observe everything.  For example, picture a room, in order to quiet the room you have to empty it.  A guard come in and kicks everybody out, and then you can be quiet.  SLT use one little idea, and kick all the big ideas out, then you empty the mind.  When its empty the room is now quiet, and now everything can sink.  All the air and dust come sinking down gently.  When the mind is sink, then all your motions become soft.  It relates to the physical you can develop better without muscles.



40) Mixing different styles of martial arts seems to be the trend, do you believe this works, or not? 

To me no, you learn martial arts, at least you know one principle, and then you develop that principle real good, but mixing martial arts you don’t know any principle, you just scratch the surface.  Just like climbing a mountain, there’s 3 mountains, and you climb ¼ for each on, you never go to the top of one mountain and see the whole big picture.


41) Let’s say you, you’re only doing Wing Chun, but different Wing Chun lines, is it possible to do?

I don’t think its possible, because everybody has different ideas of their own Wing Chun technique.  But you should be open minded, you should have a strong idea of what your doing and set in your line already, then when you listen to people talk, observe their opinion, then it can help your own line go faster.


42) How does Wing Chun approach different styles in a fight such as grapplers, kickers, or strikers?

No matter whom you’re fighting, you fight the same way; you play your own game not other people’s game.


43) What is the Wing Chun game?

I go in to punch and knock you out.  My purpose is to kill you.   A gun fighter, no matter his purpose is to kill you, if I don’t kill you, you’ll kill me.  Wing Chun carries the same philosophy in street fighting, either you punch me or I punch you, so why don’t I kill you first.  Maybe in the street, we may not kill each other, but the goal has to be set to the maximum.  If I want to punch out full force, that force can kill you, I have to have the guts to do it, otherwise you just play your opponent’s game.  Regardless if it’s a kid, old man, or woman, if they come up to a point where they’re a danger to your life, you have to have the guts to go forward.  My experience from all those years from fighting, if you don’t have the guts to do it, you better not fight.
 

44) What was the origin of your 13 Principles and can you list them?

The 13 principles is my digestion of the whole system.  Ho Kam Ming never talked about the individual principle, he just say, if you do like this it’s better then this way, and then show you.  They didn’t call it principles at the time, but they simply corrected your motion.  By the time I came to the states, I already know what’s going on, then I put them in principle and organize it.  6 physical – structure, timing, distance, power, positioning, aggressiveness.  6 mental – way, decision, reaction, storage, guts, control.  And adjustment.  

All the physical have a way of doing it, there’s a way of positioning, there’s a way of structure, etc.  The 6 mental are behind each individual physical.  You gotta have guts to do your technique, control to do the technique, decision to do your technique. The 6 individual physical linked to each other and must be adjusted to each other.


45) Can you pick one physical and mental principle and explain how it relates to fighting as well as everyday life?

In fighting, without timing, even if your punch goes out, you won’t hurt anyone coz you miss the punch.  Then in real life, if you find a job, but that day the boss have a fight with his wife and he gets so mad, and you try to get a job at that time, that’s bad timing, understand what I mean, you gotta know the timing to do things.
 
There is a way behind all the principle parts, everything you do there’s a way of doing.  Like structure, what is the most economical way to hold out your Tan Sau.  That’s called the way of holding your hand out, you can do it many ways, but there’s a right way for everything, the perfect way.  Just like the way you sit, if you sit right you feel comfortable, if you sit wrong your back is hurting.


46) Why do you believe there’s a difference in Wing Chun lines, from stance, forms, Chi Sao, etc?

I can see people’s mistakes, the right way and the wrong, but that’s my opinion.  If people are from another line, I don’t say anything, because I have no position to say.  However, if people learn from me, I can tell them.  There is a right way; if you do the wrong way you’ll hurt your shoulder when you do Bong Sau.  The difference lies in the foundation of learning.  Just think if you learn Wing Chun without learning all the foundation to build you up your punch, when you do a little bit wrong you will hurt yourself, because you cannot adjust to it, but if you develop Wing Chun all the foundation together, when you do it wrong the punch won’t hurt because you still be able to adjust to it.  That’s why the foundation is important the development is important. Otherwise become a bully.


47) All martial arts seem to claim a small person can use it on a bigger individual, what is it about Wing Chun that can back that claim?

Wing Chun can have the 6 physical principles (structure, timing, distance, power, positioning, aggressiveness) that you can apply; if they can utilize all those 6 together and adjust to your opponent you can win.  For example, if you are a bigger person, then my muscle cannot equalize your power, then I can use a little more structure then power, to compensate to equalize your force.  If structure doesn’t work, I can use distance to equalize your power.


48) What separate Wing Chun from other martial arts?

To me Wing Chun is more common sense, more based on human movement, not based on animal styles.  If you look at the big picture everything we do is based more on common sense.


49) Fighting is a small part of the art, what is the true path a Gung Fu man hopes to achieve with all his training?

Develop yourself, your personality, know what your doing and how to make it better.  You can say Wing Chun is just like religion, know and improve your own true self.


50) We live in a fast food nation that wants quick fixes and has short attention spans, how do you cater your teaching to deal with the majority of students that lack the dedication?

I’ve never changed the foundation.  I don’t care if people leave, because that’s the path, if people are suppose to learn from me, they will stick with me to learn the right thing.  I don’t change my system to fit into people.  For example, if you want a kid to come to you, you give him a candy, but afterwards the kid takes the candy and still goes.   I just leave the candy here for the taking, if he wants to get it, he will.   I don’t give the candy to make you come.  Every teaching generation will be changing, everything is evolving.  If you don’t evolve you will die out.   That’s why there’s no such thing as traditional.  Everybody does things differently, if I have 10 students, 10 different ways, no one can do it in such the same way.  No one can do what I do, and I cannot do what they do, they are all different, but as long as they know how to sharpen their tools to refine their product.


51) Do you have any future plans to do more videos or write more books on Wing Chun?

Yeah, I do.  When I have more time I’m going to put out new books and video with all updated material.  I’ve started planning doing a little at a time; by the time I retire from the post office I can do allot more.


52) What does the future hold for you in terms of teaching and the art?

As for what the future holds, I don’t know and I don’t care. I don’t have a plan; I deal with the now and whatever may come.

It’s detachment.  What happens if you think too much about the future, and then the next day you drop dead.  All the time spent worrying about the future is wasted.  Its detachment.


53) Sifu Fong, thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. Any last words of advice for Wing Chun practitioners?

Just practice.


Written by Sifu Ed Cruz
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