The New York VKVT Connection
The plan was for all to meet at 10:00am at Terminal 3, Heathrow, finally we met at 10:30am, not bad considering we were coming from the four corners of London. The flight got off without any hitches; the curry for lunch was good on the way in but not so good on the way out (sorry for the pun). The in-flight film was unusual, an Indian Kung Fu musical. The seven-hour flight gave us plenty of time for Chi-Sao at the back of the plane, much to the amusement of the cabin staff. On landing we took a cab through Queens from the airport. Our first sight of Manhattan was across the biggest cemetery we had ever seen (was this an omen and to who?). We arrived at our destination, New York, Chinatown to find the streets bustling with locals and the familiar smells of real Chinese cooking. At night it was hard to appreciate how big Chinatown really is. We arrived at the entrance to the New York branch of Victor Kan Ving Tsun (VKVT), our main reason for the trip. As we entered the school it brought back memories of the original school in Earlham Street, Soho, over 20 years ago. Our New York kung fu brothers were about to start training so we made ourselves scarce until after training. We all renewed our friendship over a meal in Shanghai Joes Chinese Restaurant before heading back to the school where we were also sleeping during our stay.
On Thursday morning we were awakened by the sound of a punch bag being given some abuse (the culprit was given some abuse thereafter). Everyone arose for an early morning training session before we set off for breakfast at the Moondance Cafe. As we went through Chinatown, it hit us just how big the area was. Everything is there, industry, street traders, stalls, tea houses, noodle shops etc. Apparently most of Chinatown was once little Italy. How times have changed. After breakfast we set off on some general sight-seeing before returning to the school to await the arrival of GM Kan and another evening training session amongst ourselves before settling down for the night.
On Friday the plan was to visit the World Trade Centre, but this was dropped in favour of visiting Times Square and the Empire State Building. One of our more travelled companions told us that in the 1930's movie King Kong, Kong id not actually climb the Empire State Building. After much ridicule and comments such as "of course he didn't, it was only a film" he explained that they did not use the Empire State Building in the film but actually used the Chrysler Building instead. What a lovely view, especially as the sun was setting - an inspiration for more training.
On Saturday evening we had a good time in the Sports Cafe watching the Lennox Lewis fight on the big screens.
On Sunday we had an early morning training session before breakfast, after which we went back to the school for a class taken by GM Kan. It was good to train with our American Kung-Fu brothers especially as their standard was good - a testament to GM Kan's teaching methods and to the fact that he travels to New York on a regular basis to teach, take gradings etc. How many Sifu's make that sort of trip to maintain the standards of their schools?
Later on Sunday was the time for the GM Kan seminar, attended by approximately 50 people. After a brief talk on the history of Ving Tsun, on GM Kan's lineage and how he came to join Yip Man and the time he spent as Yip Man's assistant, the seminar took a more practical angle with a talk/demonstration of the importance of the forms and their close links with sticking hands (Chi-Sao). Next on the agenda was a demonstration of single sticking hands (Dan Chi), with a discussion on its purpose and how some systems have the wrong ideas about Dan Chi and even how some systems do not have Chi Sao in them. This was followed by a short break in which one of GM Kan's junior students from London got into a session of Dan Chi with a visitor to the seminar. During this session the visitor complained that GM Kan's student was doing Dan Chi incorrectly and that it was causing his arm to hurt in the Tan Sao position. GM Kan pointed out to the visitor that he was twice his opponent's size and almost twice his weight and said to him "How is it that a much smaller man (5'6" and 134lbs) is causing your arm to hurt. It can only be that your position is wrong". After correcting his position there was not more complaints of pain.
Next up was double sticking hands (Chi-Sao), firstly a demonstration of basic Chi-Sao with one of his senior students from London during which GM Kan pointed out some key factors for good Chi-sao. This was followed by a question and answer session on Chi-sao, which included demonstrations to illustrate the answers. At this point one of the New York branch students asked GM Kan's London student why during the Chi-sao session with GM Kan did he not try to attack. His answer was that he did try but whatever was tried was neutralised almost instantaneously (even though the London student was some 15kg heavier than GM Kan and very powerful). Later during the session a visitor from outside of the VKVT organisation asked a question about Chi-sao. In order to answer his question, GM Kan invited him up to show what he meant with one of the New York students. After answering his question, he was invited to play Chi-Sao. The visitor eagerly accepted this invitation but soon realised the standard of Sifu Kan's kung-fu teaching. Each time the visitor made a mistake, GM Kan stopped the action and pointed out where he had gone wrong. GM Kan also asked if he agreed with his corrections, which the visitor said he did since they made good sense. What followed was a session of Chi-sao in which the visitor could only attack and the New York student could only defend. Needless to say he could not make contact even once! When the roles were reversed, allowing the NYC student to attack, the visitor was unable to block any of the strikes. Afterwards the visitor thanked GM Kan for opening his eyes. Later we found out that the visitor was actually an instructor in his own right and had been in another Wing Chun for some 20 years. He said that with his style, little emphasis is placed on Chi-sao but more time is spent on drills (which seemed very strange to us!)
The last item on the agenda was a Chi Sao demo that slowly developed into all out free sparring with only groin protection for the participants. This was to demonstrate how the distance is closed between yourself and your opponent and when it becomes Chi Sao. Most of the audience afterwards said they were amazed at how fast and powerful it was, but still with perfect control to avoid injury to each other. One very observant student stated it was good to see that the techniques from the first form (Sil Nim Tao), which he was learning, could be seen working in action. The seminar finally came to an end with everyone showing their appreciation for GM Kan and saying their goodbyes.
That evening was spent having a meal in the Sports Cafe and watching Mike Tyson in WWF.
The rest of the trip was spent training hard. It was enjoyable to train with our New York brothers, reinforcing points that GM Kan had made during his stay.
I would finally like to thank GM Kan for making this trip possible. I think I can speak for all who attended the seminar and especially those who made the trip from the UK.
Martin Bell, Assistant of Grandmaster Victor Kan, 1994