Sifu Wong is the Founder and Chief Instructor of the Qian Li Dao Academy of Melbourne, Australia
Q: What got you interested in martial arts in the first place?
Sifu Wong: Like so many, I was a skinny kid, was living in Boston, and was one of the only Asian kids around – so I got picked on at school a lot, bullied daily. And, like so many others, saw this great TV show called the Green Hornet – my introduction to Bruce Lee.
Q: When did you begin training? How old were you?
Sifu Wong: I would have been around 9 or 10 years old, my uncle had the old Bruce Tagna books from the 60’s. One of the books was about the Mystical art of kung fu. I used to look at the diagrams and visualise I was doing the moves myself.
Q: Have you studied other martial arts? What attracted you into wing chun?
Sifu Wong: I had a school friend who did an Okinawan uechi-ryu karate. I remember so clearly sitting down by myself on the side of the training hall – no one talked to me. None of the students, or even the instructor, spoke to me. It was really intimidating at the time. I eventually joined, however only lasted 3 months – as I was already under confident, I really struggled with practicing the first form while the instructor or head student punched and kicked at me.
To sum up, as a kid I played a lot of basketball and ended up playing for the Boston Chinatown team, through a friend. As I was now part of the “club”, it opened up opportunities, one of which was to learn through the club Tiger Crane Kung Fu. I did this for about 2 years before the Sifu decided to open the club up to the public. I then did Praying mantis kung fu for about one and a half years.
One day, my very good friend Jimmy asks if I would be interested in learning wing chun. He had met someone named Gilbert though his weekend work who had learnt in Hong Kong. I said “of course!” It was around this time that Bruce Lee’s name was getting very big, and it was no secret that he had started out in wing chun. Jimmy told me to leave it to him.
Ten months past, and even though I wanted to ask him about it, I didn’t want to screw up. Finally, Jimmy asked me; “You still interested in learning wing chun?”. After what seemed like a nervous “interview process”, I was let into the group, and began to learn wing chun. That was 1967.
After we graduated, everyone seemed to go their different ways. I went to university, and let things go during that time. It was after I had finished Uni, and was working as a graphic designer that I suddenly felt that there should be more to life that just work. I began to research, and eventually wrote a letter to William Chueng in 1982, asking if he had any students or friends in the States that may be able to teach me. To my surprise, I got a letter back saying that he would teach me himself, and met William Chueng for the first time in 1983 where I hosted a seminar for him in Boston.
In 1988 I decided that I was going to commit to wing chun, and moved to Australia and became William Chueng’s full time student.
Q: Who (if any) are your role models?
Q: Do you have a favourite martial arts movie?
Sifu Wong: Was at one point Enter the Dragon... so many to choose from now!
Q: What advice can you pass on to other martial artists?
Sifu Wong: Always ask yourself “Why?”. Instead of asking your teacher a continuous stream of questions, if you take the time to ask yourself, you may gain further insights. Another would be, it’s okay to cross train!
Q: What are your thoughts on “modified” and “traditional” wing chun?
Sifu Wong: I try to stay away from these terms if I can. All wing chun comes from the same place, and that seems to have been forgotten. Back when there was no internet, nearly anyone could claim that they were a master of this or that. There was a huge division within wing chun as a whole when people noticed that someone like Bruce Lee could make a lot of money from it. People started changing how wing chun was spelt in order to be the traditional wing chun, or the only authentic wing chun, wing tsun, wing chung etc, etc.
Some people refer to the “pigeon toe” wing chun as modified, whereas others would call that the traditional. I now call it Hong Kong Wing Chun. What do I teach now? I tell people (tongue and cheek) that I teach “radically altered” wing chun.