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AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH TAM YIU MING – Combat Magazine, February 1998

Sifu Tam Yiu Ming has just immigrated to England from Hong Kong and in case you didn’t now it, he is one of the top instructors from the famous Leung Ting International School of Wing Tsun. This is his first English interview.

COMBAT: What is the history of Wing Tsun?

TAM YIU MING: According to legend, Ng Mui studied the White Crane style before ever she invented Wing Tsun. The name of course, comes from her first student, Yim Wing Tsun, who was also a woman. The story goes that she taught her system toYim Wing Tsun so she could defend herself against a local bully. As far as we know, Wing Tsun is the only kung fu system developed by a woman. It is more than two hundred and fifty years old.

In the beginning, Wing Tsun was taught from Fatshan, which is a town in Southern China. Most of the teachers there operated a closed door policy which has led to much controversy about the different Wing Chun styles practised today.

Sometimes different teachers use a different spelling to differentiate their specific style. This is why you find Wing Tsun, Wing Chun and Ving Tsun, though all are essentially the same.

COMBAT: If Wing Tsun was indeed originated by a woman, then it follows that it must be particularly suited to women?

TAM YIU MING: Yes, this is the case. Wing Tsun is concerned with conservation of energy, so you don’t need to be big and strong in order to overcome your opponent.

COMBAT: Why did you join the Leung Ting School specifically?

TAM YIU MING: There are many different Wing Tsun schools in Hong Kong and it can be confusing, so I bought some books written by Grandmaster Leung Ting and also read some magazine articles he had written. I was impressed with how he explained the teaching and grading systems whereas other articles and books offered no explanations about their teaching systems. I believed that a proper grading system would enforce standards of teaching and practice.

When I first visited the school, I was surprised to discover that people could just wander in from the street and watch! There were many students and the atmosphere seemed friendly, despite the arduous rate of training.

COMBAT: How long have you been teaching?

TAM YIU MING: Roughly ten years, I suppose. I began by assisting my Sifu, Cheng Chuen Fun. I have a slight hearing impairment and because of that, I had to concentrate harder than my kung fu brothers just to keep up with them. This led to attention to detail, which Sifu Cheng Chuen Fun felt assisted me to become a good teacher. And I must say, I love teaching Wing Tsun!

COMBAT: What are the principles of Wing Tsun?

TAM YIU MING: Wing Tsun is a very practical system. The basic concept is that to defend is to attack, and to attack efficiently requires that we use the shortest distance to the opponent’s body. For example, if I take up a face-to-face opening stance, my left hand will be closer to your nose. That is the shortest distance of attack. Even though Wing Tsun is actually very fast, we don’t normally talk about speed – we just go for the shortest distance, which automatically generates the effect of greater speed.

COMBAT: If the Siu Nim Tau form contains all the basic movements of Wing Tsun, why then are there three forms?

TAM YIU MING: Grandmaster Leung Ting investigated the history of Wing Tsun quite extensively and came to the conclusion that many years ago, there was only the Siu Nim Tau form. We can only assume that maybe Yip Man’s great-grandmaster must have introduced Chum Kiu and Biu Tze because they obviously came after Siu Nim Tau.

Some assume they were developed in response to experience gained in actual fighting. You see, there are no leg movements or turning of the body in Siu Nim Tay. As it is, all the movements in all three forms can be used for both attacking and defending.

COMBAT: What does the first form teach you?

TAM YIU MING: Siu Nim Tau (Little Idea Form) is easy to learn and remember because you don’t have to spend time remembering foot movements and turns. This frees your mind to concentrate on your movements and your breathing, so you think of nothing else. That’s why it’s called Little Idea Form. Siu Nim Tau’s movements are made slowly, which helps you to utilise abdominal breathing – loi kung – and to concentrate on developing the body’s internal force. If you perform Siu Nim Tau too quickly, then you will naturally start to breathe in your chest. Also, you stand quite still during Siu Nim Tau and abdominal breathing will eventually put you into a state of meditation.

Many years ago, people wondered how to develop the body’s internal force but the problem was: how to achieve this. Some said use abdominal breathing; others said use fast movements; still others said use slow movements. Well, in Wing Tsun we use all three.

Wing Tsun’s force is developed in the triceps and this being the case, if you can’t relax your biceps, you won’t be able to generate maximum force. This is because the biceps oppose the action of the triceps in making the punch – so they have to be relaxed, otherwise the biceps will put the brakes on.

To achieve this, we make a whip-like action when we punch, using both punches against the air and against a sandbag.

COMBAT: Give us your comments on sticking hands (Chi Sau).

TAM YIU MING: Actually there are seven steps in Chi Sau training. The first step involves learning to step together, as in the basic boxing concept. Once you learn how to do this, you can go on to spar. The second step is learning how to deal with your opponent if he grabs you (you can apply some hand movements from the second form, Chum Kiu, here). The third step teaches you the importance of feeling your opponent’s force. For example, if you push my arm, I will stay with your force, but if you move away, then my arm will follow you. If you suddenly leave my arm, I will attack you. In the fourth step, you learn how to use the Kwan Sau – the double punch attack. In step five, you continue to learn how to feel the opponent’s force, so you can block and defend against the opponent’s attack. Step six teaches you how to use Fut Sau (side palm) in a close-up attack. Finally, in step seven you learn how to cope with the opponent who attacks you from a distance.

COMBAT: How long might I have to learn Wing Tsun before I can use it to defend myself?

TAM YIU MING: If you study hard, you can learn how to fight using simple movements within six months. Some of my students are very quick and achieved a fighting level within three months!

COMBAT: How long does it take before you can grade?

TAM YIU MING: Every student grades every three months. Rather thatn using coloured belts to signify grade, we sew a flower on our clothes. The flower – Mooi Fa – has five petals, each representing a different element; kun (gold), mok (wood), sui (water), and chow (earth). The flower also represents the semi-circles of the Wing Tsun step.

COMBAT: Do you think that Wing Tsun practice improves health?

TAM YIU MING: All sports and martial practice improve health. When I lived in Hong Kong, I was always very busy and usually very tired – though never ill. I tell you this to illustrate the fact that Wing Tsun produces a healthy internal body, though it does not necessarily build muscles. Of course you will develop natural muscles through working your body, but your aim should be to get fit and to develop the body’s natural internal force. I don’t thin kit is healthy when people kick trees or hard objects! Wing Tsun does not teach this in the beginning but of course, later we use the muk yan chong (wooden dummy). However, the wooden dummy is not rigid – it is built on springs which give with each punch or kick – so it will not hurt your body. Actually, the wooden dummy was originally built for students who, having learnt all the Wing Tsun techniques, had no-one to spar with!

COMBAT: So where do the pole and the butterfly knives fit in?

TAM YIU MING: These techniques are usually learnt after achieving mastery of the wooden dummy. So the order of learning in Wing Tsun usually is Siu Nim Tau (Little Idea From), Chum Kiu (Arm Seeking Form), Biu Tze (Thrusting Fingers Form), Muk Yan Chong (Wooden Dummy), Luk Dim Boon Kwan (Six-and-a-half Point Long Pole Techniques) and Bart Cham Dao (Eight Cutting Broadsword Techniques).

COMBAT: What is your school’s philosophy?

TAM YIU MING: I think Bruce Lee probably said it all with “Borrow what is useful, reject what is not, and add what is specifically your own.”

COMBAT: Are you going to teach when you’ve settled here?

TAM YIU MING: Yes, I have already had some enquiries from prospective students and I am currently looking for venues.

COMBAT: Thank you for the interview.

TAM YIU MING: You are welcome.

NEW MARTIAL ART SUITS GIRLS – The Barnet Times, March 4, 1998

Martial Arts enthusiasts in North London are celebrating after the recent arrival of Wing Tsun Kung Fu expert, Sifu Tam Yiu Ming.

Sifu Tam is one of the top instructors form the world-renowned Leung Ting International Wing Tsun Association and he has decided to make North London his new home. He recently started classes at the Southgate Leisure Centre.

Sifu Tam teaches the 250 year old Chinese martial art.

“Wing Tsun’s basic concept is that to defend is to attack, and to attack efficiently, requires that we use the shortest distance to the opponent’s body,” explains Sifu Tam.

“Even though Wing Tsun is actually very fast, we don’t normally talk about speed – we just go for the shortest distance, which automatically generates the effect of greater speed.”

According to legend, the martial art was originated by a woman, making it particularly suited to the fairer sex.

“The fact that you able to defend yourself in small spaces, such as a lift or the tube, adds to its appeal for both men and women,” adds Sifu Tam.

“If you study hard you can learn how to fight using simple movements within six months.”

Sifu Tam knows only too well the meaning of hard work. Because of a slight hearing impairment he felt he had to work harder than his peers just to keep up. His dedication led to him becoming the youngest instructor at the association headquarters in Hong Kong.

“Wing Tsun embraces the mind-body-spirit tradition of all Chinese martial arts, including breathing techniques and developing the body’s natural muscles,” he adds.

“Many different styles of the same system began to appear. This lead to much controversy about the styles practiced today, but they are essentially all the same.”

Welcome to the Leung Ting System of WingTsun with Sifu Tam Yiu Ming – Combat Magazine, April 1999

As a regular reader of Combat Magazine, you may have met Sifu Tam Yiu Ming in the February 1998 issue and again at the WingTsun seminar on 26 and 27 September 1998 with Grandmaster Leung Ting and Professor Keith Kernspecht of the EWTO, Great Britain.

Many of you have now been in touch with Sifu Tam to talk about the principles behind WingTsun. Below he endeavours to answer those questions most commonly asked by beginners and newcomers to WingTsun.

COMBAT: Could you give a little background information as to what exactly WingTsun Kung Fu is?

SIFU TAM YIU MING: The object of Kung Fu in general is to promote health and fitness, improve the mind, as well as for self-protection. It’s philosophy is based on the principles of the I’Ching, Taoism and Zen; the ideals of synchronising with nature and that of harmony between yin and yang. Thus the idea is not to dominate your opponent, but to achieve harmony with him.

To the Chinese, harmony is very important in all facets of life. It is regarded as the basic principle of order in the physical as well as the spiritual aspects of life, in which the forces of yin and yang are forever complementary and forever exchanging. (The yin-yang symbol illustrates this perfectly.)

In the Western world, however, these two forces are often mistakenly regarded as opposites of each other. But in fact, they are mutually dependent – one can’t exist without the other. For example, if you’ve never experienced firmness, you won’t know what gentleness feels like. The aim in Kung Fu is to achieve a perfect balance between yin and yang. Not only is this a challenge, but also possible, because yin and yang are continuously changing and mutating into each other, and Kung Fu is an endless interplay between firmness and gentleness. Just as gentleness alone can’t dissolve a great force, neither can sheer brute force alone work to overcome an opponent. They need to become one in order to achieve maximum efficiency.

In WingTsun, Chi Sau (Sticky Hands) illustrate perfectly this principle – each practitioner completes his opponent’s movement by accepting the opponent’s energy and defeats him by borrowing his energy. Thus, defence and attack are simultaneously producing one another. In the this way, the two practitioners are actually two halves of one whole – one practitioner can’t practise combat without the other. Every action and reaction is activated by his opponent’s action, but without resisting his opponent or giving way completely, both remain as pliable as a spring – not only physically, but mentally as well (Tai Chi also demonstrates this principle very well.).

COMBAT: So are you saying that WingTsun Kung Fu provides both physical and mental exercise for the yin and yang principle of harmony?

SIFU TAM YIU MING: Yes, remember that when you involve your thinking in the doing, your mind will stay in the moment and you will stop doing. The highest skill operates on an almost unconscious level. It is similar to the concept behind the first form in WingTsun, the Siu Nim Tau form. For this form particularly, you have to empty your mind of all great obstacles in order to achieve the maximum benefit from the Siu Nim Tau form, which is where the form gets its name from – Little Idea form, but if means more than that.

Grandmaster Leung Ting states in his book, Wing Tsun Kuen:

‘If a beginner in WingTsun Kung Fu cannot gain a good foundation in the Siu Nim Tau form, he will never be able to master the more advanced techniques that he will be taught in the future. Morally, if one’s own little iea is on an ambiguous, naïve or decadent foundation, then one’s very own lifetime deeds would be of dubious value.’

It can therefore be said that the complex interplay of the yin and yang principles of harmony more clearly visible in the Chi Sau training, starts right at the beginning, with the Siu Nim Tau form.

Emptying the mind of all focused thought is not the only important principle to grasp from the very beginning. In WingTsun training a most important principle is the elbows-in position; it acts as a backup deflecting force, should you fail to detect the sudden increase of pressure from your opponent’s attack, via your wrist. The elbows act as the hub from which your hand and forearm are easily and pliably able to adapt and change with your opponent’s force and actions. The elbows-in position also helps to continue more easily a straight, forward energy, ready to attack, should your opponent relinquish his spring-like force towards you.

COMBAT: How quickly can one learn the Siu Nim Tau form?

SIFU TAM YIU MING: In WingTsun, the Siu Nim Tau form comprises roughly 12 lessons depending on the ability and dedication of the student, but actually it takes much longer, because the training includes single-arm Chi Sau and other complimentary exercises of application, as well as exercises of the stance, steps, sidelong punching, air punching and sandbag punching.

In his book, Wing Tsun Kuen, Grandmaster Leung Ting says of the Siu Nim Tau: ‘Slowness is the key to the practice of the movement of this form and the highest attainment can only be obtained when one can carry out the practice of this form in such a slow way as to appear that the force seems stopped but yet it is continuing being exerted – the body ahs become motionless but yet it is moving.

‘One of the characteristics of the Siu Nim Tau form is that the practitioner does not move a step during the practice. Therefore, the performing of the exercise will provide good training to the lower portion of the body at the same time. This is one reason why a WingTsun student can start straight away to practise the Siu Nim Tau form without having to go through the training of setting the stance, as the student of other Kung Fu styles have to do.’

CHINESE MARTIAL ART – WINGTJUN – GWA MAGAZINE, 2007

Master Yiu Ming Tam, who immigrated from Hong Kong to the UK in 1997, founded the WingTjun Kung Fu Academy. In 1999 Master Tam resigned his position as Instructor from the International Wing Tsun Martial Arts Association (IWTA) based in Hong Kong, but he continues to train at the headquarters each year, as he has done for more than twenty years.

The IWTA, formed in Hong Kong, decided to distinguish their interpretation of the style by changing the spelling from Ving Tsun to Wing Tsun. In the West, however, the style is known as Wing Chun, the spelling made famous by the great action movie star, Bruce Lee, who was the first person to export the style from Hong Kong to the USA.

WingTjun as a style does not demand great physical strength. It is a very skilful art, which teaches the students straight forward if the way is clear between them and their opponents. They are taught never to use force against force, but to “give way” before their opponent’s force in order to “borrow” the opponent’s force in a counterattack. This is called “hardness and softness used in harmony” in Chinese philosophy. Softness is able to overcome hardness. As such, WingTjun is suitable for persons of any age, gender or height to use in any situation, even in a confined space such as a telephone box.

Master Tam (43) is a very experienced instructor, having started his career as a Wing Tsun instructor at the IWTA headquarters in Hong Kong more than eighteen years ago: he was also an examiner responsible for grading of all classes. His qualifications can be seen in print in the “genealogy of the Ving Tsun Family” in 1990.

During his time in Hong Kong, he was chosen to represent the IWTA to perform demonstrations as their technical skills specialist. This led to many prestigious invitations from different institutions, including the all Chinese Martial Art Show, which included the Ving Tsun and Wing Tsun School in Hong Kong. Other invitations came from three of the major universities in Hong Kong, two TV companies in Hong Kong as well as Japanese and American TV companies. He has also appeared on the BBC’s programme, “mind control” where he was asked to demonstrate his short distance punch. However, his first public demonstration was when he was still in primary school.

Nine years ago, Master Tam, together with Professor Leung Ting (the founder of IWTA) met with Bob Weatherall, Secretary for the British Council for Chinese Martial Arts in the UK, when Master Tam’s WingTjun Academy was registered officially in the UK.

Master Tam has chosen to change the spelling of his style from Wing Tsun to WingTjun, firstly because it differentiates him from the IWTA and its associates in Europe. (Unfortunately, some European schools have adopted this spelling for themselves now and are using Master Tam’s original web address, but Master Tam wants to make it clear that they have never had anything to do with his school).

Master Tam would like to continue to open his mind to teaching this most popular and outstanding practical Chinese Martial Art to all the different races living in London.

SIFU TAM YIU MING’S LONDON WINGTJUN KUNG FU ACADEMY – Combat Magazine April 2001

Some of you may recall that Sifu Tam Yiu Ming three years ago emigrated from Hong Kong to live and teach Kung Fu in London.

After arriving in London, he was asked to join the EWTO in order to enable him to teach in London, but unfortunately, due to incompatibilities in the way the style is taught and studied in Hong Kong and Europe, he regretfully left the EWTO to set up on his own.

Thus, one year ago, the Tam Yiu Ming WingTjun Kung Fu Academy was born. In fact, the word WingTjun is phonetically closer to the Cantonese pronunciation of the Kung Fu style than any other and a token of Sifu Tam’s intention to be as authentic as possible.

Currently, in addition to his dedicated private students, Sifu Tam runs classes in North, East and Central London, as well as in Caterham – run by Sihing Daniel Kelly, one of Sifu Tam’s privately tutored instructors.

“Teaching WingTjun in London is an interesting experience,” says Sifu Tam. “There are so many different Wing Chun schools here that when students from those schools join our classes, it is always stimulating to find out the reasons behind why the forms they’ve learnt previously are all so different. It is exciting to find out how these movements are used in sparring sessions.”

Of course no matter what the pronunciation of this fascinating style of Chinese Kung Fu, the fighting strategy is similar.

Sifu Tam continues: “The most important difference generally between what they seem to be doing and what we do, is that we engage a lot more in flexibility. I always tell the students that if their movements are too stiff and tense, the energy will be held within their own bodies and therefore, their punches will have no actual effect on their opponent. In order to really let your opponent feel your punch, you have to be softer, more flexible, let the energy flow through your fist to his body – like a whip.”

Many of Sifu Tam’s students are serious martial artists who have practiced styles like Jiu Jitsu and Taekwondo, etc., for many years, and who regard WingTjun as a most advanced martial art, incorporating not only physical training, but also psychological and spiritual enrichment.

Unlike some of the students’ anecdotes about schools which participate in running and weight training, Sifu Tam teaches WingTjun in an energetic, one-to-one manner – even within the class setting – which enables the student to progress at his/her own pace.