Interview with Sifu Donald Mak

     

    First of all I want to thank you for accepting this interview.

1. For readers, what year you were born and when did you start practicing martial arts?

DM: I was born in 1961, the Year of Ox. I started practicing martial arts when I was in the early teens. However, the practice by that time was not under proper coaching of Sifu or instructor. Not until 1979, I met my most respected Sifu, GM Chow Tze Chuen, I started my proper Wing Chun martial arts training till now.

 

2. Why did you choose Wing Chun?

DM: Hong Kong is a mecca of Kung Fu but I did not practice any other Kung Fu style ever since I started learning and practising Wing Chun. Why I chose Wing Chun, firstly, it is because of Wing Chun’s characteristics of directness, economy of motion, using opponent’s force to against its own force, flexibility, close range of combat … etc, which is more suitable for my physical built. I am only five feet and six inches tall.

Secondly, I have such a good luck that I can study under my sifu Chow Tze Chuen. Chow sifu is such a respected master that I have ever met. Chow sifu is a devout Wing Chun practitioner and master. Ever since he started doing Wing Chun in the early 50’s and became teacher in the mid 60’s, he has never stopped practicing and polishing his skill. He teaches Wing Chun is not for money! He teaches Wing Chun is solely for spreading Wing Chun and keeps the family tree of Yip Man Wing Chun growing. He used to working in a Bus company in Hong Kong. He made use of his after working time to teach Wing Chun. So, he only teaches Wing Chun privately and never makes any advertisement for his school.

My relationship with my sifu, Chow Tze Chuen is not that “Buy-sell” relationship. It is really a master and student (SiFu & ToDai). That’s why I can keep the relationship with my sifu for almost 40 years. Even though there are so many Kung fu sifus in Hong Kong, it is not easy to find a good master in terms of his Kung Fu skill and integrity. Because of my sifu, I stick to my choice.

Third, it is not easy to practice and master well any particular style of Kung Fu. Since I have chosen Wing Chun, I want to dig out and master the most profound essence of Wing Chun and its relation to the Chinese traditional culture. So, I have devoted and committed myself to Wing Chun.

 

3. How are Wing Chun different from the rest of Chinese martial arts, it is something specific in Wing Chun and not found in the other Chinese martial arts?

DM: Martial arts are kind of combat system maximizing the capability of our limbs and body for attacking and defending. Thus, no matter from the perspective of techniques, concept or strategy… there are no big difference from different Chinese martial arts styles. So, if you asked what is the difference between Wing Chun and other Chinese martial arts, I would rather rephrase it as what are the focus or preference of Wing Chun. The focus of Wing Chun is:

  • Placing strong emphasis on the concept of Jee Ng Seen (Centerline);

  • Using triangle as the framework for our body structure and stance

  • Not using force against force, soft approach

  • Close range combat strategy

  • Applying Yin and Yang concept in the structure and technique

4. It is Wing Chun a chinese mix (mma) martial arts?

DM: I don’t think so.

 

5. It is necessary for a european for example, to learn chinese understand better the Chinese Martial Arts in particularly Wing Chun? Do you think it is a handicap for does who don’t know chinese language at all, but want to practice and study Wing Chun or other Chinese Martial Arts?

DM: Since Wing Chun Kung Fu is a Chinese martial arts style. Chinese martial arts are the carrier of Chinese traditional culture, which embody a great deal of Chinese philosophy and concept. So, knowing Chinese will certainly have the benefit for better understanding of Wing Chun. However, it would not be to the extent of “handicap”.

 

6. You think there is a difference between a contact sport (or sports in general) and martial arts?

DM: Contact sport or sport in general has certain rules while martial arts have no rules in combat. That’s the major difference.

 

7. What do you think about the influence of the master Chow Tse Chuen in your life ?

DM: My SiFu’s influence on me mainly on his attitude towards life which is simple and low profile.

 

8. Your Sifu, Chow Tse Chuen taught Wing Chun with Grandmaster Yip Man who was also the teacher of Bruce Lee, few people know (among those who do not practice Wing Chun) Bruce Lee start Chinese martial arts with Wing Chun. But also few of Wing Chun practitioners know something about Master Chow Tse Chuen, especially that he was the assistant of Yip Man in teaching the system for newcomers. Somehow Chow Tse Chuen was a colleague of Bruce Lee generation no? You know if they have met each other’s, have trained together?(Chow Tse Chuen and Bruce Lee)

DM: As far as I know, Chow Tze Chuen did meet Bruce Lee in classes but not very often as Chow was mainly doing Wing Chun during the Li Cheng Uk Estate period (1957 – 1961) when he did not meet Bruce very often.

 

9. Did it happened to need to use Wing Chun outside of training or teaching ?

DM: Yes, a couple of times

 

10. You wrote a book as far as I know, and have developed a curriculum. Tell me few words about it.

Yes, I completed a book called “Willow in the Wind – Wing Chun’s Soft Approach” over 10 years ago. It is pending for publication1. In the book, I talked about shoulder path. The shoulder path concept is a key idea and foremost mechanism within the Wing Chun system for yielding to a stronger force. This key idea calls for the Wing Chun practitioner to lead the opponent’s force to fall into emptiness by using the shoulder path. Its fundamental principle is to use body structure and footwork to divert an oncoming attack away from the vulnerable areas of the body and redirect it towards the relative safety of the shoulder path. This idea is first adopted within the Chum Kiu form during the pivoting motion from the Ching Sun Ma to Pien Sun Ma stance.

In addition, the Wing Chun maxim “Ying Siu Bo Fa” (Structure naturalizes and footwork dissolves) is also mentioned. It goes “Ying Siu Bo Fa, Ying Fu Sung Yung”, meaning Structure neutralizes, Footwork dissolves, and the opponents can be handled with less effort spent. This maxim points out the importance of having good body structure and footwork.

Good body structure calls for :-

  1. Static elbow positioning

  2. The use of the slanting body structure

  3. The single weighted leg distribution

  4. Waist springing

Good body structure allows the Wing Chun practitioner to yield like a willow in the following manner :-

  • Remain in the same spot while absorbing the opponent’s strength into the Wing Chun practitioner’s body through the creation of a force path vector directly from the receiving point to the ground where the opponent’s strength is re-channeled harmlessly

  • Pivot the body while controlling the centerline and guiding the opponent’s attacks to fall onto the neutralizing shoulder path defined by the two-dimensional equilateral triangle where the opponent’s strong force becomes harmless

However the dynamics of an actual combat is such that sometimes the Wing Chun practitioner have to step, more so if faced with an opponent who can move swiftly or is exerting much more power than what the Wing Chun practitioner’s static body structure is able to absorb. This is where the use of footwork in the second part of the maxim “ Ying Siu Bo Fa” comes into play.

In our Wing Chun the use of footwork enables the Wing Chun practitioner to remove his body totally from the path of the force or by following the direction of the opponent’s force vector.

The use of footwork requires the Wing Chun practitioner to move to a more strategic position from which to counterattack while keeping the body weight distributed 100% on the rear leg coupled with the shoulder path alignment.

The use of footwork in Wing Chun has other purposes. Its introduction expands the range of movements available to the Wing Chun practitioner not only neutralize but close the gap, chase, adhere, stick and follow the opponent’s movements in all directions. At the same time the opponent constantly finds his movements cut off, restricted or falls on empty space without having the opportunity to use his strength to strike back at the Wing Chun practitioner.

I am now also in the process of writing a book about Wing Chun’s kicking techniques.

 

11. An advice for those who are just beginning to practice Wing Chun style.

DM: My advice for the beginners is patience and dedication. Plus the understanding of the important attributes to be developed through Wing Chun training, i.e

Practical Aspect:

Reflexes & Sensitivity

Relaxation

Chung Seen and Jee Ng Seen concept

Simultaneous defense and attack

Footwork and stances

Philosophical Aspect:

Positive mind-set

Yin & Yang concept

Doctrine of Meridian

Multi-facets thinking approach

 

SiGung, thank you for your time.

I wish you success in everything you do and I hope to see you again soon.

 

Some of Sifu Donald Mak currently official titles:

Chairman of International Wing Chun Organization

Vice Chairman of World Wing Chun Union

Recognized Wushu (Wing Chun martia arts) Duan System – Examiner of Chinese Wushu Association

7th Duan of Chinese Wushu Duan Wei

for more about Sifu Donald Mak please visit IWCO Hong Kong website

 

Bogdan P. February 2015

 

1 In the meantime the book was published and can be purchased from here: Willow in the Wind: Wing Chun’s Soft Approach.