“…when fighting, one should fix one’s eyes firmly on the target with only one idea in mind; that of attacking the enemy most simply and directly. It is only if your attack meets with an obstruction that you have to change to attain your goal…”
Sifu Wong, quoted in Look Beyond the Pointing Finger: The Combat Philosophy of Wong Shun Leung
My opinion is that this is the first book anyone should get who wishes to study Wing Chun.
How can I make such a ballsy and sweeping statement? I used to be a big reader of fiction, until around 1998. I wanted to be a novelist and got a degree in Literature (mostly a waste of time and money probably – great place to meet girls!).
When when I decided that wasn’t going to happen, I needed to figure out some other career. That’s when I switched to reading non-fiction, to help learn to do things and to succeed more in life. Turns out books can be very useful for this purpose. I learned to program, to manage people, to use various software. I learned how to manage my money and invest, all from books.
So it was natural I would read books on fighting, especially once I moved to Oakland and really started training and trying to become a better fighter. I used books to supplement my training (Bruce Lee style) by trying to understand everything surrounding fighting: the psychology, both of fighting and of predators, the physiology, the history, and so on.
And I pretty much discovered that you couldn’t learn to fight from books.
But you can learn how to build muscle and endurance and you can learn about psychology and physiology and this will help you deal with the surprising effects of a real fight where you take real damage.
In Vietnam, they used to not learn the name of the new guys until they had survived the first battle, because the mortality rate of new guys in the first battle was so high. But some guys learned from their Dads and their brothers who had been in Korea or WWII. Keep your head down. Don’t be a hero. You may piss your pants – don’t let it throw you. Simple tips based on experience. Make sure the safety is off before you start shooting. Watch your six. Aim low. Don’t waste your ammo.
This is true of first real street fights too. Nothing can replace experience but you can learn from the experience of others. Its the best you can do until the real thing.
You can learn about real fighting from Wong Shun Leung.
Wong was a young man in the Hong Kong of the 1950s and he liked to fight. He took up Western boxing and when he got good, he went around challenging people to fight (a semi-acceptable thing to do there in those days, which they called “beimo” or skills comparison). One day, he showed up in Ip Man’s school and challenged them. Grandmaster Ip had one of his senior students fight Wong and the student lost. Then Ip fought Wong and kicked his ass (Wong was “very soundly beaten” according to David Peterson).
He joined up right there and then dove into Wing Chun in his typical hardcore fashion. He began training at Wing Chun as he had at boxing.
As soon as six months later he began his series of Beimo with other styles that would last for many years and leave him (reportedly) un-beaten.
“Wong Shun Leung (8 May 1935 – 28 January 1997) was a Chinese martial artist from Hong Kong who studied Wing Chun Kung Fu under Yip Man and is credited with training Bruce Lee. Wong reportedly won at least 60, and perhaps over 100, street fights against martial artists of various styles. Due to his reputation, he came to be known as ‘Gong Sau Wong’ (or’King of Talking Hands’).”
When I started studying Wing Chun in 2000, I rounded up all the books you could get at that time.
There was a book by James Yimm Lee (a student of Bruce Lee’s), one by Leung Ting, one by Keith Kernspecht, a few others. They had their points, but they were mostly about the basics and spent much of their space with photo essays on Siu Lum Tao(the first form).
But somehow, they didn’t explain the heart of Wing Chun or even its basic philosophy.
I learned a few things but was still confused about the big picture and how Wing Chun really worked in a fight.
“Wong Sifu considers boxing to be very practical for the street because boxers learn to give and take punishment right from the word go, concentrating on attacking instead of “chasing the opponent’s hands” like many of the classical Kung Fu styles do. …while sparring with his boxing coach one afternoon, Wong accidentally landed a damaging blow to the face…the coach began pounding Wong until…(Wong knocked the coach out)…After this event, Wong lost all respect for his boxing coach and never went back for another lesson.”
Wong Shun Leung: Wing Chun Personified
By the time I read Peterson’s Combat Philosophy, I had already been studying with Greg LeBlanc for a few years and by then more or less understood WIng Chun.
But if I hadn’t found Greg, Peterson’s book would have answered many of my basic questions, but most importantly, he captures the heart of Wing Chun.
In this book, he captures his teacher’s pragmatic and simple approach to Wing Chun (as well as his quirky fighter’s sense of humor). For him, Wing Chun was the skill of knocking people out. It was a skill you could learn, like carpentry. But it required hard work and training and it required the nerve to go and fight.
“You, as the fighter, have the responsibility to attack your opponent and to try to finish him off in the shortest time and not waste the time doing unnecessary, fancy techniques. If you don’t finish him, he will finish you.”
Sifu Wong in Combat Philosophy
Combat Philosophy is comprised of a small central core collecting his teacher’s words on Forms, Fighting, and Kung Fu in general. It’s supplemented by a number of prefaces praising the book (by Kung Fu stars like Gary Lam and Jesse Glover) and a sizable appendix with such classic articles as “What I Learned from Beimo” (some of which you can find online).
If you buy only one Wing Chun book, this should be the one. You won’t learn Siu Lum Tao from a book, but you can learn how to think about fighting.