Wing Chun – the art of self-improvement
– An interview with Sigung DONALD MAK for ”Wing Chun Illustrated” Magazine –
Sifu Mak started learning Wing Chun in 1979 from Master Chow Tze Chuen,
a direct student of the late Grandmaster Ip Man. In 1987, he became an
instructor in Master Chow’s school, and in 1993, with his teacher’s
encouragement and blessing, he set up his own school.
During our meeting, Sifu Mak impressed me with his way of approaching
Wing Chun, giving me an insight into the philosophical aspect of the
system, seeing the three forms not just as physical training, but as a way
of “seeking a bridge” to reach a higher level of consciousness.
As in the system that follows a certain sequence for the forms, the same
happens on the path to reaching a higher self, mixing the three Chinese
treasures as the fundamental teaching behind the style: Confucianism,
Taoism and Buddhism. The first, as the discipline required for serious,
systematic training; the second, for the concept of effortless power and
yin/yang movements; and the third, as a way of clearing your mind and
being open to each new teaching that the system itself always gives to you.
In your opinion, what are the most important attributes to be
developed through Wing Chun training?
I feel there are two aspects: the “Practical Aspect” to develop reflexes and
sensitivity, relaxation, Chung Seen and Jee Ng Seen concept (centreline
and turning centreline), simultaneous defence and attack, footwork and
stances. Then there’s the “Philosophical Aspect” for creating a positive
mindset, Yin/Yang concept, the Confucian Doctrine of Meridians of not
loosing the centre, and a multi- faceted thinking approach to everyday
What would you consider to be the core essentials of Wing Chun?
For me, the core concept is the centreline, the moving centreline (when we
turn), static elbows and relaxation of the body.
What’s your view on whether structure is needed?
A maxim goes: “Ying Siu Bo Fa, Ying Fu Sung Yung”, meaning structure
neutralises, footwork dissolves, the opponents can be handled with less
effort spent. This maxim points out the importance of having good body
structure and footwork.
What do you see as the meaning behind the “three empty hands”
forms of Wing Chun?
Wing Chun is more than a fighting system. For me, the forms hide a
philosophical meaning. With Siu Nim Tau (meaning “Little Idea”) we start
developing a determination to change our actual status. With Chum Kiu
(meaning “Seeking the Bridge”) we seek the bridge to reach enlightenment
or a higher knowledge. Biu Ji, which is a name that originates from a
Buddhist book, where a disciple points the finger to the moon, as to say
that we are at a higher level of consciousness now, but we have to keep
looking forward since the path, as the training, is long and difficult.
Is there any logical sequence to the order of these three forms?
Yes, there is an exact sequence in the forms, following the development of
the body skills of the student during his training journey. In Siu Nim Tau
we develop the Jaam Jong (standing still) training the basic hands skills. In
Chum Kiu we start moving around and the basic footwork. In Biu Ji we
start developing circular movements. So it’s a very logical sequence.
Please explain the meaning of Chi Sau and what the emphasis
should be while practising it?
Chi Sau is an exercise unique to Wing Chun and is designed to bridge the
empty hand forms with real combat situations. Chi Sau training is divided
into three stages: Daan Chi Sau (single-hand Chi Sau), Sheung Chi Sau
(double-hand Chi Sau) sometimes called Poon Sau or Luk Sau (rollinghands
exercise) and Gwoh Sau (free-attack Chi Sau Exercise). Chi Sau is
not to be confused with fighting; it develops sensitivity (the ability to
assess an encounter without thinking) causing you to react instinctively
with the skill to sense your opponent’s vulnerabilities while assessing your
own weaknesses. The sense of touch is your fastest reflex, so if you react
on that initiative you will respond faster to an attack while increasing your
chances of gaining an advantage over your opponent.
What’s your opinion on the differences between the Mainland China
versions of Wing Chun and the Hong Kong version?
People are different so there will be different interpretations. It is not a
matter of Mainland China versions or Hong Kong version. The differences
just depend on people’s different interpretations. It’s more important to
understand what the differences are and the philosophy behind the
How worried are you that Wing Chun is being gradually watered
I don’t think it has been watered down. As I just said, I think people have
different interpretations and change the system to suit their own skills and
physical attitude, but sometime they don’t consider that what works for
them might not work for their students. I think Wing Chun was designed to
be for everyone, so I try to pass it on as close as possible to my Sifu’s
interpretation, telling my student what I would do differently but teaching
them the original form.
Do you feel that there’s a big difference between the students and
training methods in Hong Kong and elsewhere?
I’ve notice that students in Europe use a more systematic way of training
and are also more dedicated and hardworking than students in Hong Kong.
The Chinese students have easier access but might not appreciate it
enough, while in Europe it can be more difficult to find a good Sifu and
when they do, they are more dedicated and practise harder.
What has the Wing Chun training taught you in life?
Positive thinking, the concept of Yin/Yang and a multi-faceted thinking
approach to everyday problems.
How would you like to see Wing Chun develop in the modern world?
I’d like to see Wing Chun maintain its quality and its traditional aspects.