WELCOME TO SNAKE VS CRANE.
When I moved to Oakland, California in 2000 for a new job, I didn’t know anyone.
I had a lot of time on my hands in a new city with no friends, so I decided to really learn how to fight. Even though I was nearly 40, becoming a truly competent fighter had always been one of my unfulfilled goals. Although I had dabbled in this or that art (three years of Karate, some Boxing and Escrima), plus solo training (hitting and kicking the heavy bag a lot), I ‘d never felt really competent or capable. When I would get into hostile situations, there was always this doubt.
Back in High School, I’d read a magazine article about martial arts known to be effective for street fighting. This article for some reason lodged in my brain and in particular, the discussion of Wing Chun, which of course referenced Bruce Lee and Ip Man.
Between 2000 and 2008, I trained at 3 different Wing Chun schools. Oakland, like LA and New York, is a great place to learn how to fight. Whether it was me or them, the training didn’t really work for me. I felt like the Wing Chun ideas made sense, but I couldn’t use it against friends who were boxing. I couldn’t handle big guys or deal with their weight. I would get pushed around the floor. I wondered if I was just no good at it.
I did a month at one school, a year and a half at another, and then three years at the next. It just wasn’t clicking for me. I learned forms and drills but something was missing. Something basic and primal. Then I found Greg LeBlanc’s school.
Once I started learning from Greg, my education really began. I began discovering the true aggressive essence of this skill, which was both as simple and brutal as Western Boxing and as subtle and complex as Tai Chi. Yet it was a way of fighting that was virtually unknown in the West until the early 1970s. This was long before the Ip Man films with Donnie Yen.
In the 1950s, Ip Man had been forced to flee his privileged life in southern China due to the takeover by the Communists. Formerly a wealthy young man from a noble family, he found himself penniless in the British colony of Hong Kong. He reluctantly began to teach his secret art to make a living.
Wong Shun Leung was a tough young kid growing up in Hong Kong. Like some martial arts movie, Wong went around to various martial arts schools and challenged the students and teachers to fight. He used his Western boxing training to beat his opponents who were using Classical kung fu styles. He kept winning until he went to Ip Man’s school.
After defeating one one of Ip Man’s students, the master stepped in and beat him easily.
Right out of a 70s kung fu film, Wong went in and challenged the school. Master Ip let him fight one of the senior students and Wong beat him up. Ip Man stepped in and just controlled Wong – backing him into a corner and touching him him to show he could have hit him. This happened enough to prove the point. The defeated Wong instantly went from challenger to asking to be accepted as a student and within a year he was well-known as one of Ip Man’s best fighters.
Due to his preference for testing his skills out on the street, Wong won respect for Wing Chun through his many fights (“beimo”) with other Chinese martial artists using many other styles in illegal bare knuckle brawls on the rooftops and back alleys of Hong Kong. He even became the focus of a series of articles in The Star, a local newspaper.
His fights really helped to put Wing Chun on the map as an approach to fighting to be be respected. What was his “secret sauce?” He trained Wing Chun like a Western boxer. He put in the hours of training and he took his skills to the streets and tested it out in sparring that bordered on all-out fighting. He only stopped “sparring” after he accidentally blinded one of his opponents (detached retina), but this was after over 60 fights (some say over 100).
Wong was also the senior student who taught the young Bruce Lee how to fight, heavily influencing Lee’s fighting style and philosophy.
“After Bruce died, I had the opportunity to read some of (Wong Shun Leung’s) writings. It was instantly clear that many of the things that were attributed to Bruce were actually things that had come to Bruce through Wong.”
Jesse Glover (Bruce Lee’s first US student)
A few years before I discovered Greg teaching in East Oakland (right under my nose!), I had seen a DVD by Gary Lam called Five Elements. Sifu Lam was a true Wing Chun master who studied with Wong for 15 years and watching him in action on the DVD was illuminating.
He was fast, fluid, and easily tossed big guys around. His approach to fighting was the closest thing I’d ever seen in real life to the martial arts movies.
He didn’t just talk about fighting. He was able to respond to random, unrehearsed attacks with clean power and precision. He was a confident fighter who had a lot of experience in the real world, including time in the Muay Thai camps in Thailand.
Sifu Lam developed his amazing fighting prowess in Wong Shun Leung’s Hong Kong school in the 1970s and 80s, becoming one of his top students and eventually his assistant coach.
In 1978, he won the Hong Kong full contact elimination tournament, defeating all challengers in three elimination fights and winning the champion’s gold coin medallion, which you can still see around his neck.
Greg LeBlanc discovered Gary Lam in 1998, not long after Sifu Lam had moved to the US. The classes were in the back yard of his LA home. Realizing what he had stumbled upon, Greg was soon taking all the public classes as well as taking regular private instruction and working hard with his training partner.
This went on for over 7 years. When he left the school, he was Sifu Lam’s first certified coach, and one of his most respected students.
I trained with Greg from 2008 to 2019. I was taking a break to heal an injury when Covid hit. As you can see in my posts, I’m taking a bit of a break and trying to find a way around some of my deficiencies in learning Wing Chun. But over the last 13 years (being a researcher), I’ve also been conducting an investigation into fighting generally, as a science, art, and historical subject.
In my articles, I’ve tried to take examine the complex Wing Chun system one piece at a time. My goal is to try to explain the system as simply as possible, without losing the essence. For years, the hard part for me was understanding the system. But once you understand the underlying principles, then learning the system becomes much easier. Now the hard part is just putting in the time to embed the system into my body.
This website is about communicating the best and most distilled version of what I’ve learned.
I don’t want others to have to go through what I went through to figure out how to get Wing Chun to work for them. Although I still have a long way to go before I “master” this system, I have found the teachers who can show me how to do it. Now I just need to put in the work!
I would like people to benefit from my experience and research and help them get to their goals more efficiently, with less wasted time on dead ends.
So – welcome and enjoy the site.
Feedback helps makes this site better, so please tell me what you think in the comments or at [email protected].
Steve – June 2021