Thinking of learning wing chun, but trying to figure out what to do and where to go? Here’s a first tip- it’s about your feet.
“Your feet should be like roots, grounded,” says Singaporean Wing Chun instructor Andy Chia to 16 students in a class in Selegie Road. “Your torso should be like a trunk, straight and solid. But your hands should be like branches, soft and flexible, to redirect any blows.”
A Wing Chun class is underway at the Dennis Lee Ving Tsun Martial Arts Association (Singapore), which will have its grand opening on Saturday.
The association is among at least five Wing Chun organisations here that claim to be linked to Ip Man (see below), the famed Chinese martial artist who popularised the fighting style and whose life has been the source material for a movie franchise.
The trilogy of Ip Man movies from 2008 to 2015 has brought widespread popularity to the martial art.
Hong Kong actor Donnie Yen has played the title character in all three movies and has said he will make a fourth Ip Man movie, with filming scheduled to begin this year.
Wing Chun is a form of gongfu noted for its economy and efficiency, according to practitioners.
With a focus on striking and trapping opponents, the martial art is said to be created by a legendary Chinese woman in the 17th or 18th century, and is a system that can be used by people with limited strength.
It is also said to help practitioners with their back problems and overall health and in building self-confidence.
The Dennis Lee Ving Tsun Martial Arts Association, which is headquartered in Hong Kong, is founded by Hong Kong Wing Chun master Dennis Lee, a closed-door disciple of Ip Ching, the younger son of Ip Man. A closed-door disciple learns moves not taught to other students.
Mr Lee, who is based in Hong Kong, is also the chairman of Ip Man’s Ving Tsun Athletic Association, as well as the vice-chairman of the Ving Tsun Ip Ching Athletic Association, which he founded with some fellow disciples of Ip Ching’s.
The school’s Singapore branch was started by two of Mr Lee’s disciples – Mr Chia, 41, and Mr Terrance Ho, 38, in 2016.
In its infancy, the association conducted lessons in Housing Board void decks. But when the class sizes grew, the association began to rent dance studios by the hour to conduct lessons.
With demand continuing to increase, the centre decided to operate out of a permanent studio space in Selegie Road at the start of this year.
It now has about 50 students, aged 14 to 62, from all walks of life. About 10 per cent are female.
According to the masters, about 30 per cent say they joined after watching the Ip Man movies.
Businessman Ken Tan, for example, started taking classes in June last year. The 31-year-old Singaporean, who does not practise any other martial arts, says his interest in Wing Chun was sparked by watching the deadly strikes and deft counterattacks performed in the movies.
He says: “They looked really cool and I thought of giving it a shot.”
He adds that he has been travelling more frequently in the last two years and wanted to learn to defend himself in case he had to do so.
Businessman Ken Tan explains why he started taking wing chun classes
Another student, aviation technical instructor Tan Jin Kiat, was drawn to Wing Chun because he felt it had an “efficiency” and “directness” that other martial arts lacked.
The 44-year-old Singaporean, who has a brown belt in taekwondo and used to practise taiji, started attending Wing Chun classes in January last year.
He says: “I like that, in Wing Chun, the one having power and strength may not necessarily have the upper hand. Wing Chun has also helped with my overall health. Since practising it, I have fewer back and neck problems.”
I like that, in Wing Chun, the one having power and strength may not necessarily have the upper hand. Wing Chun has also helped with my overall health. Since practising it, I have fewer back and neck problems.
Over at another school, the Wing Chun Ken Lau Singapore, instructor Ken Lau says he saw a doubling in enrolment after the first movie was released in 2008.
He says: “Martial arts change like fashion and are definitely influenced by the media.
“When the Ong-Bak movie was released, everybody wanted to learn muay thai. Now that we have TV coverage of One Championship martial arts events, everybody is also training in mixed martial arts.”
He adds: “My observation is that, in general, students learning traditional martial arts are on the decline as training is hard work, time-intensive and lacks the glamour and glitz portrayed in the movies.
“My recommendation is that students should sign up wanting to improve their health and mental well-being and, at the same time, learn some practical self-defence.”
Other groups, such as the Singapore Wing Tsun Training Centre and the Daryl Yeo Wing Chun Kuen Training Centre, have seen a general rise in the number of students since the release of the Ip Man movies.
Mr Ho, an instructor from Dennis Lee Ving Tsun Martial Arts Association (Singapore), says: “The movies definitely helped promote Wing Chun. But in reality, being skilled in the martial art takes hard work and practice, which some students are not prepared to invest in.
“So there are always students joining and leaving. But on the whole, more stay than leave.”
Wing chun instructor Terrance Ho demonstrates moves on a wooden dummy
WHERE TO LEARN WING CHUN
DENNIS LEE VING TSUN MARTIAL ARTS ASSOCIATION (SINGAPORE)
Started in 2016 by Wing Chun instructors Terrance Ho and Andy Chia, the association claims to be the only school in Singapore recognised by Ving Tsun Ip Ching Athletic Association to teach Ip Ching’s Wing Chun.
Mr Ho says: “We do not make unauthorised additions or modifications to the Wing Chun system. Choosing a school is like going to a doctor – there are general practitioners and specialists.
“We are Wing Chun specialists, teaching non-modified techniques. It is Wing Chun in its purest form.”
Where: Level 4, 145 Selegie Road
When: Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 to 10pm; and Saturdays, 10am to noon
Price: $144 a month for unlimited lessons
SINGAPORE WING TSUN TRAINING CENTRE
Founded in 2006 by Wing Chun instructor Joel Lee and his wife Pearl Seet, it has more than 100 registered students.
Mr Lee has been training in Wing Chun since 1987. He is an advanced instructor certified by the Wing Tsun Tam Hun Fan Martial-Art Association in Hong Kong.
He is also a law professor at the National University of Singapore (NUS).
Where: Various locations at NUS’ Bukit Timah campus, 469 Bukit Timah Road
When: Wednesdays, 6 to 8pm and 8 to 10pm; Saturdays, 9 to 11am; and Sundays, 11am to 1pm
Price: From $90 for four sessions, which are valid for a year
WING CHUN KEN LAU SINGAPORE
Instructor Ken Lau started teaching Wing Chun for free at Housing Board void decks in 2000. Around 2004, he relocated his classes to air-conditioned rooms at Safra Toa Payoh and started charging for the classes to offset the room rentals.
In 2010, he relocated his classes again and now teaches at various locations.
Where: Various locations
When: Thursdays, 8 to 10pm (Civil Service Club, 60 Tessensohn Road); Fridays, 7 to 9pm (Cairnhill Community Club, 1 Anthony Road); Saturdays, 9 to 10.30am, 10.30 to 11.30am, 11.30am to 1pm (Civil Service Club); and Sundays, 9 to 11am (Kampong Glam Community Club, 385 Beach Road)
Price: $90 to $100 a month
DARYL YEO WING CHUN KUEN TRAINING CENTRE
With the hope of spreading the art of Wing Chun to every household in Singapore, instructor Daryl Yeo started this school in 2010, combining traditional and modern forms of training. The school has about 50 students.
Where: Various locations
When: Tuesdays, 7.30 to 9.30pm (Block 326 Clementi Avenue 5); Wednesdays, 8 to 10pm (Block 202 Bedok North Street 1); Thursdays, 7.30 to 9.30pm (Block 107 Towner Road); and Saturdays, 10.30am to 12.30pm (Block 352 Hougang Avenue 7)
Price: From $100 a month for four sessions
SINGAPORE IP MAN VING TSUN KUEN
Founder Bertrand Lim, 44, started this school in 2010, which now has about 40 students.
Mr Lim, who is also the school’s chief instructor, is a registered Wing Chun instructor with more than 15 years of teaching experience.
He says he started the school because he saw potential violence in society and decided to empower others to protect themselves and their loved ones.
Having trained in martial arts since 1980, he is also a taekwondo black belt-holder.
Where: Level 3, Block 24 Ghim Moh Link
When: Thursdays, 7.30 to 9.30pm; and Saturdays, 9am to 11am, 5 to 7pm
Price: From $100 a month for four lessons
By Benson Ang. ST Photo: Ariffin Jamar
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 25, 2018, with the headline ‘Fight and get fit’.