Interview with Grand Master
Lo Man Kam
Published in "Inside Kung-fu" magazine
Inside: First, would you tell us a couple of words about your personal background?
L.M.K.: Yip Man was my maternal uncle. My mother told a lot of stories about Yip Man in China when I was young and I already knew that he was very good at Kung Fu. At that time he only taught some of his good friends and he didn't teach any young people. This way neither Yip Man's own sons, neither me had the chance to study from him. Yip Man emigrated to Hong Kong in 1950 right after the Nationalist Party escaped to Taiwan. This is where he first publicly started to teach Wing Chun and that was the time when I had the chance to learn from him, when I was 18 years old. Not many pupils were in the first group. Leung Sheung and Lok Yiu were the first two pupils and I was the third. Leung Sheung passed away many years ago, so only Lok Yiu and I remain from the first group. Although I wasn't in Hong Kong at that time but I know that Yip Man sons arrived around 1960. The groups eventually became bigger and bigger.
Inside: How was the teaching going on?
L.M.K.: When I first started training in 1950, the evening trainings lasted from 20:00 to 22:00. It was necessary to stand in a high stall stance for 20 minutes sometimes. Yip Man walked around and pushed us suddenly sometimes so to verify our position. You had to be reestablish yourself again and again if your foot moved away from its place. When we exceeded this level standing on a single foot followed. He pushed us or kicked our feet to verify our stability. After drilling this position we started to practice Siu Nin Tao, very slowly. Yip Man often verified the strength of the hand positions here with Wu Sao push-backs, our with Tan Sao strike-offs. These spontaneous tests also made us study at this level, besides watching, listening and imitation. Yip Man taught that nobody will ever tell you that "I will hit the right side of your stomach with my left fist now"; all of the fight is spontaenous, your Kung Fu has to "live" in order for you to be able to adapt to the changing situations steadily. We proceeded after the form onto a one-hand sticky hand then to the Lap Sao, repeating it again and again. Of course, we practised sticky hands next. The feeling of practice is different with every individual and because of this, everybody practised with everybody in the group. We practised until we got tired; if you stopped to read newspapers or similar, somebody showed up to practise Chi Sao with him. Yip Man was always there, and he told us which technique to apply in a given situation; use this technique if your adversary is tall, if he is low, use a different one.
Inside: How did you learn Wing Chun outside the trainings?
L.M.K.: The food was very cheap in Hong Kong at that time. For 1 HK dollar you could buy food for six men. All students remained together after the trainings, we bought a little rice soup or fruits, and discussed what we learned that day. Yip Man always remained with us, too and answered our every question, told us to improve our techniques or he simply told something interesting on which we may have reflected, thought about. At that time our thirst for knowledge as students was very great but our respect for our teacher was great as well.
Inside: What was your relation like with Bruce Lee?
L.M.K.: He studied in Kowloon from Yip Man. He did not study there for a long time since he later emigrated to America. I practised sticky hands with him. His knowledge of sticky hands was not that valuable but he had a very good feeling for the fight. His shoulder, his elbow and his arm were very loose and his directions were also very good.
Inside: What brought you to Taiwan?
L.M.K.: Some 30 years ago I arrived to Taiwan to enroll to the military school, then to the C.I.A. I worked to its Taiwanese version for ten years. In 1975, after I reached the rank of major, I retired and opened my own Wing Chun school.
Inside: Are you still in the service of the community?
L.M.K.: One of my first students was a police officers and he told his boss that I was a good teacher. We met personally afterwards. As a result, he invited me to teach martial arts to the special units. I wrote a book with the title "Martial Arts for the Police". This is a textbook that deals with Kung Fu, not only with Wing Chun.
Inside: What do you believe, how did Yip Man influence you in the forming of your teaching method?
L.M.K.: Yip Man had many groups in Hong Kong and sometimes Leung Sheung, Lok Yiu and I got the chance to teach these groups. Yip Man taught us, how to be a teacher. He put a great emphasis on the Chi Sao. If the kung-fu is dead, it becomes a sport. You may be able to execute a Tan Sao or a Bong Sao but it means nothing if the implementation of the move is not based on the feeling. It depends on your teacher, how you can learn to use the techniques. A woodcarver can prepare a bird. He may give the bird to you or may teach how use the knife. And your bird will differ from his because you are different, too.Yip Man said once: if you are good at Wing Chun that does not necesseraly mean that you are a good teacher. If your students are good that already proves your tutorial abilities. You may be first-class fighter but if your students do bad that means that you are a bad teacher. If the student has a good teacher then the student will surpass the master when he/she leaves the school. Some people believe that a student may never transcend his master. However, if the master shows him/her everything and the student carries on independently, he/she will has the master's and his/her own knowledge, too. I hope that one day all of my students will surpass me.
Inside: What are your teaching methods?
L.M.K.: I use my own feelings, to help the student improve. I have to try his/her feelings so I could see if they are good or bad. After Siu Nin Tao I go on to the one handed sticky hand technique and proceed to the two-handed Chi Sao and step by step we calibrate the proper feeling. It is not about the particular training time, some students to improve more quickly than others. The teacher is similar to the gardener - you have to take care of the flowers in order to be sure that they grow out. Some flowers tend to grow slowlier because of the soil, water and light factors. The teacher has to regulate these circumstances, like for example the student's own feelings, thoughts, physical specialties and boundaries. Some students want to hurry with the learning, but actually they are unable to learn everything. This is like when you pour a bucket of water to the flower. A rich man came to me once and demanded to teach him the wooden dummy form. He said that he would pay 200,000 NT (8,000 US$). I rejected it, so he offered 500,000 NT (20,000 US$). He asked me why did I reject him. I said: "If I would teach the wooden dummy form to you, I would steal your money. You wouldn't know what the dummy form actually mean; you would only move your hands and you would not be able to apply the moves. One needs to learn step by step. This is my teaching method.
Inside: How do you teach sticky hands?
L.M.K.: I believe in that sticky hands are the most important part of Wing Chun. Without these you only have techniques but you do not know when to use them and why is it necessary to apply them. When I do Chi Sao with a student, I always leave an opening for him/her.If the student doesn't take advantage and misses the possibility I always tell him/her. I tell which technique works the best in a given situation. Some people say that the teacher has to provide the best of his/her knowledge against the student. But this way the student never experiences the proper feeling. The teacher has to give chance to the student! The student may strike his teacher, and outsiders may believe that the teacher's Kung Fu is bad. No! He only gives chance to his/her students! He/she is not my enemy, but my student! Yip Man always left an opening for his students. I heard about students who were requested to sign a contract in some European schools and they had to start saying only "Yes, thank you Sifu" or "No, I'm sorry Sifu." The sifu is afraid that the student will be better than him and he will beat the student in order to frighten the student off with all potential questions that he could not answer. This kind of Kung Fu and sifu who teaches it is bad. If the sifu is good, why would is there a need for such a contract? The student asks how to use a certain technique, and "bam, bam, bam" (simulated punches to the student); and the pupil is afraid to ask another question. All they say is "Yes, Sifu" only. Yet if your sifu knows nothing, and you don't ask nothing, you'll believe that everything is fine.
Inside: So the sifu is afraid that he loses his authority?
L.M.K.: What is authority? If your students are good then you have authority, if they are bad, you do not have authority.
Inside: Some people say that Yip Man taught secret, special techniques to them.
L.M.K.: I wouldn't believe that Yip Man would have kept any kind of secret techniques. Why wouldn't have he taught them to me? Why wouldn't have he taught them to his sons? He did not teach them to his sons but he would teach them for you? (he laughs) Yip Man had private students but I don't believe that he would teach them something that he wouldn't have taught for others. I always teach in an open way. I answer you if you have a question. Maybe I don't have enough time today but I will answer tomorrow. Maybe some people believe that after education I simply go away and sleep. In the evening I would naturally think about the question. Since you are my student, and you ask for my help, I help you! All of my students are like as if they were my sons. I even tell my own son if he does something in an incorrect way, even in front of other students. Why would I keep any secrets? It is better if there are 20 good students who teach abroad than an old man on Taiwan! (he laughs) I teach in this manner. There are no first, second or third places in my school. Everybody is equal, although some people improve more quickly than others.
Inside: As a final word, what advice would you offer to the students?
L.M.K.: When you practise sticky hands do the techniques quickly not hastily. This means that you find the initative by feeling, not that you are quick but violent. Quickly means: To go to a school, to study and to find work eventually. To be hasty means: to rob a bank. You learn nothing if you fluster and you will have nothing in the end. Remember that Chi Sao is not free fight. You strike my chin in the fight, I strike yours though; you break my nose, and I will break yours. There is no winner or loser, if both of us lose some teeth! Free Chi Sao is going on between two friends, who want to learn from each other. You stop your hit with a couple of centimetres in front of the partner, and he/she does the same because you both afraid to strike each other. If there is a contact, only a small amount is allowed. Chi Sao is not about winning or losing - Chi Sao a device which revives your techniques.