28 January 2009
Before we went to China, my daughter had studied American Karate.
We promised her that she could continue these studies after we were in China. This was a bit ignorant on our part. For reasons that don’t need to be stated, Japanese martial arts are not popular in China. We were also hampered in our efforts to find a martial arts teacher by a couple of other factors. For one, there is the idea of just finding out where to go. If you don’t speak the language, how can you even find out where to study? Secondly, there was a factor involving safety.
Some of the places we visited were unsafe. Some didn’t use any safety precautions when they were sparring. Others used training methods which could damage the body. One place seemed safe enough, but nothing seemed to be taught, either.
Fortunately, we eventually found a man I only know as Shifu. Shi fu is the term which means "Master". His real name is Wong Nim Yi, and he is a master in the form of martial art called Wing Chun, or Ving Tsun (an alternate spelling). Here is the English version of his school’s web site:
(The pole he so deftly maneuvers in this video is about 10 feet long and weighs about 20 lbs., just guesstimating. About double the length and bulk of a bo staff.)
On a much more personal note, here is a collection of our family photos, along with some video clips, which I’ve made into a slideshow at the following link :
Finally, here is a bit more information. The Wing Chun school of martial arts has a long heritage that was almost wiped out during the civil war and, later, the cultural revolution. A museum devoted to Ving Tsun martial arts has been opened at the Wong Fei Hung Temple in Foshan. The museum has a room dedicated to photographs and history of the art, the Masters, showing as well some equipment. One of the most interesting things to me was an interactive video which had demonstrations of various forms such as the "crane" or the "tiger". Each animal has a characteristic which the practioner seeks to incorporate into the form. At last report, I was told that demonstrations are held every Saturday mornings at 10:00 A.M. The demonstration includes a Lion Dance. There are other activities at the temple on Saturday mornings, such as demonstrations of Chinese opera as well. Like many temples in China, the main part of the temple doesn’t seem to get much use but it has been generally rehabilitated to use as a public gathering place to demonstrate or preserve some shadow of pre-cultural revolution culture.
To get the temple, take the bus from Guangzhou to Foshan, and exit at the main bus station. It is just a five minute walk (East, I think) from the bus station to the temple. The temple itself is a fascinating Daoist place, so plan to spend several hours. One word of warning, however: do not go unless you are with someone who speaks Chinese. No English is spoken in Foshan, and this temple is not a well known tourist spot, so a foreigner attempting the trip alone could well run into difficulty. Taxi’s in Foshan are also not well regulated, and your taxi driver may try to cheat you (not that this doesn’t happen elsewhere, but my luck in Foshan has been particularly bad). A day trip to Foshan ought to also include a trip to the Nanfeng Kiln, the oldest continually operating pottery kiln in the world. The travel guidebook Lonely Planet has links to these places, but even with the addresses it may be hard to find them without a strong knowledge of Chinese. There is public bus service between the two locations.
If this has whetted your appetite, here are two more videos from YouTube. You can also do a web search for " mai kay wong wing chun kuen". If you do so, it’s likely you’ll find links to Bruce Lee, because he studied Wing Chun in Foshan (and then added in additional forms of kickboxing to his technique later). Notice the perfect balance and centering. When Shifu does a demonstration, at times his hands move so fast that it is not possible to follow them with the eye! This is a particularly suitable form of martial art for someone with a smaller physique.
An American version with American language explanations: