Sifu Xuan's personal journey through life and the martial arts is an interesting one, if you have time and a cup of green tea on hand, sit down, cross your legs and listen to the master tell his story from his own writings below....
"I was born at the bottom of the Himalayas in India, in a hill-station town called Kalimpong, that shared borders with Tibet, Sikhim, Nepal and Bhutan. My father was part Tibetan and part Chinese; my mother a Vietnamese. The town, 1,250 meters above sea-level, was predominantly inhabited by Nepalese, Tibetans and Chinese, during my years there. It was a very small town (and still so). There were no cars to speak of. There were a few jeeps that took people out of town. Every New Year, my friends and I treated ourselves for a ride around the block, and vomited every time. There were no rickshaws or even public transportation. Everyone walked. We all had hefty legs.
For entertainment, there were two cinemas that everyone went to religiously. There were nothing else. Never mind video games, there were no televisions or telephones. What did we kids do for fun? Fight!
My elder brother and I fought so much that my father bought us boxing gloves to settle our differences. Even the schools had boxing in their curriculum to keep the fights controlled.
When my brother and I moved to the city of Calcutta, the first thing we did was challenge the boys in the neighborhood for fights. Actually, we didn't need to as we were often teased about our rosy cheeks that were chapped by the sun in the high altitude. That gave us an excuse to "scrap". We established our dominance there easily. We did the same in the missionary school we went to. The pastor's son tried my brother first, being that he was the same age. After a licking, he tried me. He was lambasted as well. Every school we changed to, we did the same. In fact, a priest from the Catholic school we went to enjoyed watching fights, as he was a boxer himself in his youth. He would never miss a fight that he heard was going to take place.
In the early 60's, after the first James Bond movie, there were a string of spy movies that came out showing Judo or Jiu Jitsu action. I was fascinated by it. When I found a Judo school in the city, I urged my parents to enroll me. They were happy to do so, knowing that the regular activity would keep me off street fights.
Looking back, I see how Judo built a strong base for my total martial arts training. I learned about balance and flexibility. I was just a lad of 11 training amongst adults. I could not use my muscles against them. I went to the library and studied every Judo books they had, and learned the science behind it.
The Judo school in Calcutta was setup by Kodokan of Japan. The master who was sent to teach us found the weather and lifestyle unsuitable for him, so returned to Japan. The solution Kodokan came up was to have traveling Judo practitioners train us when they visited Calcutta. We ended up with a lot of Japanese sailors.
What we initially thought was a poor solution turned out to be a great blessing. We were exposed not only to one master's teaching and style, but to a variety of teachers and styles. I was inspired by one particular young man, who, for a shoulder throw, squatted right down, butting his hip against his opponent's shins (instead of the thighs), and using his straight arm against the opponent's whole body to tossed him overhead. This was no ordinary shoulder-throw. The victim would fly straight out, in a nose-dive fashion. If you didn't know how to roll in mid-air, you would land on your face. After seeing how he toyed around with our heavies, I was determined to be like him. After intensive training for nearly four years, I was able to easily throw all but one two-hundred-pound man in the dojo. Since we did not have a regular teacher, we were not graded for belts. This was another blessing in disguise. I came to realize that it didn't matter what belt I wore, but what I had achieved for myself.
My family and I move to Canada in 1967. I wanted to learn Karate and tried to find books on it. There weren't much out there those days. I found an author, Bruce Tegner, who had a book on Karate. I bought it and dug into it like an archaeologist. Soon, I learned that he was an expert on Judo, Jiu Jitsu, Aikido, Kendo, and etc. It wasn't until I got hold of his Judo book that I realized he was a phoney. I learned the reality of the commercial world that day, and became a discriminating searcher for real martial arts teachers and books.
In my search for a Karate school, I was fortunate to walk into Park Jong Soo's Taekwondo Institute in the fall of 1968. I saw this superman sparring with three guys and blasting them against the walls of the school with his kicks. When he kicked the bag, it bent, jerked and bounced instead of swinging back. I had seen Bruce Lee as Kato in the Green Hornet, and read about him in the Black Belt magazines, and had much respect and admiration for him. However, Bruce's kicks were nowhere as powerful as Parks from what I saw. No one had heard of Taekwondo then. My friends urged me to join their Karate schools. However, without hesitation, I joined Park's school.
I must have been the longest brown-belt wearer in the history of martial arts. I studied Taekwondo for six and a half years but never acquired a black belt. My interest was in mastering the art, not acquiring a belt. It didn't interest me to pay for a belt. For those who don't know this, students of martial arts pay for grading and tournaments. I never understood that. Boxers get paid for fighting. You acquire a University degree without paying for the exams. Anyhow, Mr. Park told me that it didn't look good that I wore a brown belt for so long and that I should take a test. I acquired a black-stripe, and quit Taekwondo.
Mr. Park is about 5'11; rather tall for an Asian. He trained in Taekwondo since he was a young boy of 14, in Korea. He was the Korean National Champion. He was groomed for international exhibition and promotion of Taekwondo by General Choi, the founder of Taekwondo, and Taekwondo International Federation. Park Jong Soo was (and probably is still) as good and tough as a martial artist could be. Although I did well in Taekwondo, I found the learning growth slow. There was a tremendous upward learning curve in the beginning but came to a screeching halt in about a year, when it began to move in a snail-like pace. The reason, I believe, is that in the first six to twelve months, you will have learned all the Taekwondo kicks, that is, front-kick, side-kick, round-house kick and their variations, front-twisting-kick, back-kick, and reverse-roundhouse-kick. That's what Taekwondo is about. The rest of the time, you spend improving and strengthening them. The hand techniques are far too few in numbers. You will notice in Taekwondo sparring or competition, how most practitioners hang their hands like dead meat, and employ their feet only.
From my experience, I found Taekwondo most effective if your legs were longer than your opponent's, and you weighed more, and you were physically stronger as well. That is, if you're you are fighting another Taekwondo man of the same calibre. In my prime, I could do incredible things with my legs and could take on most of my Taekwondo associates. However, the taller and bigger they were, the more difficult it became for me. I felt I needed something more than Taekwondo.
Within the years of Taekwondo training, I began to notice (through the movies) how much more Bruce Lee had improved in martial arts than anybody I knew or seen. My instructor was losing his speed and power. The physical hardship of Taekwondo was taking a toll on him as he gained more years. Bruce Lee, on the other hand, was getting faster and more powerful. He was more rounded as a martial artist than a stylist. I especially liked the hand techniques he applied on Robert Baker in the Fist of Fury, and on Chuck Norris in the Return of the Dragon. I had often heard that Bruce Lee had taken Wing Chun, but never knew that the hand techniques he had applied in the movies were Wing Chun moves. The Wing Chun hands were usually overshadowed by his Taekwondo kicks which looked more spectacular on screen.
One day, I was invited by a Chinese restaurateur to visit his 10-year old son's gongfu class. It was held in a small room at the basement of a house. When the class begin, and I saw the hands in action, I immediately knew that this was what I needed and wanted. I asked the instructor for information on the classes and tuition. He told me that this was not a gongfu school, but a social club for the Hong Kong boys who had come to Canada to study or work. They only "played" gongfu for past-time. I knew it was a just polite way to keep me out. I later learned from the restaurateur that I hadn't requested the master properly for acceptance to enroll. I had asked him about the tuition like I did with other martial arts schools, which usually ran a business, not a school (in a traditional sense). Wing Chun was only taught to those who ask for it, and to those who the instructor felt was of good character. I urged the restaurateur to put in a good word for me. He took me back another time, with instructions to offer tea to the master . This was the traditional way of requesting acceptance. If he refused, it meant he was not prepared to take me in. If he did, then I would ask him to please accept me as his student.
The teacher and the students drank tea during the training breaks. I offered to pour tea to the master. He said, he just had it and didn't need any. On the next break, I offered him again. He said his cup was still full. I hung around until the end of the class and offered tea to him again. This time, he stretched his hand out to accept it. At that point, I asked him to please accept me as his student. He reminded me that he was only running a social club for the Chinese boys who were away from home, but will accept me into the club as one of his boys.
Thus began my discovery of Wing Chun. My master's name was Wong Siu Leung. He was a student of Moy Yat and Wong Shun Leung, who were Master Yip Man's first generation student. My experience in this house was wonderful. I learned not only the Wing Chun art, but the Wing Chun culture. There was no belt system, no competition amongst the brothers. We respected each other, not because of belt ranks or skills, but because we were Wing Chun brothers. Those who joined before us, we called them Big Brothers. However, if someone was older than us in age, we called him Big Brother, regardless of when he joined the Wing Chun society.
One day, after a year and a half's training, a nineteen-year-old boy visited our class. I learned through my classmates that he was also Master Moy Yat's student.; not only that ... but that he was his God-son. He was taken in to lived and study under him. His name, I learned, was Nelson Chan. He had come to further his studies in Canada.
My classmate, Vasco Texiera (a Portuguese-Chinese), and I became friends with Nelson. We learned that he was packed with knowledge of Wing Chun. He knew it down to the minute details and was willing to share it. Vasco and I requested him to teach us. Being that we were already students of his Wing Chun brother, Master Wong, he could not accept us as his student. The only way he could teach us was to make us his brothers. We were not to call him "Sifu" (Master), but "Sihing" (Big Brother).
I decided to dedicate the next three years strictly towards Wing Chun training. I quit work, and began studying WC under Brother Nelson Chan. I attended Taekwondo classes in the afternoon and Master Wong's classes at night. In between, I learned WC from him.
The new life and school in Canada proved too much for newcomer Nelson. He played hookey and taught me instead. He enjoyed it more than going to Ryerson College, studying Business Administration. Nelson moved in with Vasco and taught him at night after Vasco returned from work. He taught me during the day. In the weekends, the three of us trained together. In those days (1972), there were no protective gear for training. We first made chest pads out of bags stuffed with the Yellow Pages. Later, we used Kendo head and body gear, and hockey shin pads for full contact training. Those were the best years of my training.
I was under Nelson's tutelage for three years, whereupon, I left Toronto for Vancouver. I regretted very much the discontinuation of Wing Chun training under him. I tried several Wing Chun schools and teachers; but it was a long time before I found another teacher of high standing, Master Winston Wan. He learned from Master Lok Yu, another first generation (and the second) student of Yip Man, and had a different approach to Wing Chun that I had not experienced. The added knowledge enhanced my Wing Chun skills tremendously. I spent three years under Master Wan's tutelage. Master Wan suffered from chronic back pains, and could teach WC no longer. He handed the school to his senior-most student. I became close friends with Sifu Wan, and went to his home in the weekends to learn privately from him.
I also kept up my Wing Chun by teaching a few individuals privately. Teaching itself is a learning tool. It makes you question what you teach. I did some Taiji and Qigong in the years absent from regular Wing Chun training. They were helpful in understanding Wing Chun as a whole.
Due to my own back injuries and motorcycle accidents, I had slowed down my Wing Chun training, and had added Chen-Style Taiji to my repertoire of martial arts. However, encouragements from my friend, brother and master, Nelson Chan, I began teaching Wing Chun again in 1999. What I now have to offer is many years of research and experience. It would go to a waste if I buried it with me. It should be passed on to true searching students of WC, so they may reach their goals sooner. If I don't have the answers to questions put forth to me, I have my resources to rely on. I'm still in contact with my masters. Hopefully, this website will help those open minded students see Wing Chun in a clearer and different light, so they can reach the goals they've set out to achieve.
Many are interested in my Wing Chun lineage. It is a humble one. My masters are not publically known, and are not first-generation students of Yip Man; they are second generation. My masters have chosen to stay low-keyed, and so have I. I have not jumped the hoop to become a second-generation student by going to a first generation master. It's a popular thing to do. You can claim to be a second-generation student after taking a week, or a couple of months' studies with one. I believe I'm fortunate to have top second-generation students as my masters. All first-generation students are not necessarily the best or even better than the generations after, as many have found out. Even amongst your peers, you will find one who will stand out, and others who are mediocre, or plainly bad. So, here is my humble lineage chart, not including masters who I've learned from for a short time."
July 24, 2004
Updated on July 15, 2007.