Gary King interview
1. Gary, I’d love to know and for all the readers out there, what has brought you to wing chun?
A: As a child I did judo and in my mid teens I did karate, but lost interest. Then during my late teens I found a renewed interest in martial arts. I initially couldn’t find what I wanted and was about to join a local boxing club when I came across an advert for Wing Chun Kung-Fu. The advert caught my interest with it’s direct’ approach to fighting so I went along to check it out. I was impressed by the instructors skills and decided this was for me. Though it was the last week of classes for the year, I joined up anyway in anticipation for the new year. I did return in the first week to start my training, and I have been practicing ever since.
2. What year was this?
A: That was in January 1986.
3. What was the first thing that formed your deepest belief about wing chun and why?
A: Probably the first thing that helped shape my deepest belief about wing chun was when I discovered that all the answers are in the forms. After several years of training I realised all the answers I needed were in in Siu Nim Tao. This was a big discovery for me. And when I say answers I don’t mean academic answers that can be written and spoken, but answers you can only really understand through physical practise and discovery. Once I realised this I began to practice the forms more. The more I practiced the more questions and answers I found.
4. Until today?
A: Yes, this is my main belief and practice today. I believe all the answers you need are in the forms. I’m discovering answers to questions I had years ago. and of course finding new questions. I still appreciate other martial arts and atheletes and am inspired by their skills. But these days I tend to see more similarities than differences to our art.
5. How has wing chun evolved for you today since the first time you embarked on this journey?
A: My first five years were all about being fast and aggressive and ‘out-shooting’ opponents. There was not much guidance or incentive to study the forms. It was all about applications.
Later I came across Sigungs theories and his seminars on circles, relaxing, and using body structure. Though at the time it was still difficult to find instructors or training partners that wanted to practice this instead of the old smash to win. But during the 1990’s, after several years of training, I did actually start to really appreciate the forms.
These days I practice all six forms, but still spend most of my time on Siu Nim Tao. I do like experimenting with applications, including sparring, but I’m long past the days of thinking we can learn wing chun by sparring. Some might say, “yes but you need to test your skills”. I might reply, “true, but no point in testing if you haven’t really studied.”
These latter years I have been concentrating on refining my structure, releasing tension, body connection and mindset. And I can see this will keep me busy for a while yet.
6. Gary tell us about the first time you met Sifu Jim and Sigung, what was it like learning first hand from them?
A: I recall sifu coming out to the branch were I regularly trained. It was an inspirational visit and I felt honoured that he came to the outer suburbs to teach us. I started to train in the city also after that. I found sifu to be very friendly and approachable. He would wander the floor helping everyone from the beginners to the seniors.
I was lucky to attend the first seminar in Adelaide by Sigung in 1986. I was only very junior at the time and most of it went over my head. But it was inspirational at the very least. I recall more from his many follow up seminars during the 1990s. It was amazing to see the senior instructors so ineffectual against him. I recall being corrected several times by Sigung during seminar-workshops in Adelaide, his tuition seemed so precise and personal.
Finally I made it too Hong Kong in 2002 and felt his intensity when teaching. He was setting up my tan-sau, this went on for about 15 minutes and I remember feeling like he was trying to suck my brain out via my shoulder, elbow and palm. And on that visit, I turned up at his school on my own. I had a letter of recommendation from sifu but felt I didn’t need it, because as soon as I walked in Sigung turned and looked to see who it was and instant recognition came across his face with a big warm smile. Sigung has a great memory for faces.
7. What do you feel from your experience wing chun changes one’s perspective on our ability to execute movement?
A: A big realisation for me was the way I use my mind to initialise and maintain movement. I think one of the biggest hurdles to get over is to initiate movement without purposely activating the muscles. It is not easy to get past old habits of moving or preparing to move. Throughout our lives we have used the ideas of bracing and then activating muscle to apply force to move something. To prepare moving something, by first deactivating muscle and then maintaining this state, is relatively simple in theory, but not so simple in practice. But those that can achieve this have a much greater ability to generate force. And just as importantly, if not more so, this force is invisible. It is very difficult to stop a force it you can’t determine where it is coming from.
Sigung feels like this to me, yes he can generate great force, but the greater thing is you can’t feel where it comes from, or when it started. It is impossible to stop.
8. South Coast Wing Chun your school, please tell us a little bit about your training with your students.
A: At the core I emphasize the importance of studying the forms, particularly Siu Nim Tao. I like to start with a particular form movement, we practice it and explore it. Then we look at applying the movement. When applying a movement I emphasize monitoring structure and unnecessary force or tension. I discourage worrying about the end result, the end result will take care of itself.
I try to teach using all the methods, ideas, and practices I have come across that have helped me, and are still helping me.
With the more senior students I occasionally like to explore applying practiced skills against other types of fighting arts. But I must emphasize my choice of words, ‘applying practiced skills’. If you haven’t practiced, you don’t get to play 🙂
9. In your future plans for wing chun what’s ahead please tell us.
A: Well firstly I aim to keep improving my skills. The more I practice the more I realise I need to practice.
I am also moving to Perth later this year and I plan to keep practising and teaching. So watch this space for a new school in Perth spreading our lineage.
10. Thank you Gary, it has been a pleasure to chat to you, just one more thing I’d like to ask you for our readers…What’s your favourite food?
A: Ooh, not an easy question. But after a good training week it’s hard to beat a big fat steak and a glass of shiraz.
Will that be on the menu at the next AWCF conference?