MARTIAL ARTS ILLUSTRATED
INTERVIEW Oct 2006
Martial Arts Illustrated’s Bob Sykes talks to renowned Wing Chun Master, James Sinclair about Wing Chun politics, mixed martial arts and the journey that makes Wing Chun a lifetime pursuit.
Bob Sykes: Briefly, James, when and why Wing Chun Kung Fu?
James Sinclair: I started in martial arts around 1972 mainly because I’d always enjoyed sports of all kinds and at the time we were experiencing the Kung Fu boom and Bruce Lee did Wing Chun!
Bob Sykes: In what way did it seem fascinating?
James Sinclair: Well at the time I was intrigued by the journey, something you could get your teeth into and run with. I’d seen the films with the old masters training in their 70s and 80s and just figured that Wing Chun could be something that I could make last a lifetime and still pursue and enjoy.
Bob Sykes: So was Wing Chun the first martial art you studied?
James Sinclair: Basically, I began with Karate. I did Karate for a period of time with a Sensei called Alan White in Essex. He was a really genuine martial artist who did nothing but inspire me. And even though I was only a young boy, I wasn’t even into my teens at the time, he inspired me to continue to train in the martial arts and gave me the core values, which I still, to this day, value. From there I went on to train in Wing Chun with a particular London based instructor, after ten years of training, I had no choice but move on. Over a number of years I shared experience with many Wing Chun Sifu’s.
Bob Sykes: So your Wing Chun is from many different sources?
James Sinclair: That’s right, by doing so I’ve managed to amalgamate the information and use it to the best of my ability. Lots of different styles see things in different ways, or sifus do if you like. It’s always a bit more helpful than just having a one sided view.
Bob Sykes: Why does there seem to be so much in the way of political activity in and around the art of Wing Chun?
James Sinclair: There’s a lot of politics in martial arts full stop! There’s a lot of politics in everything in life, basically because of the human character. At the end of the day, there’s a lot of politics in Wing Chun because we don’t actually fight…..!
Look at the Mixed Martial Arts fighters, they get in there and do the job. And it’s plain to see what works and who’s the best in their chosen field. So they go for it, and are quite willing to fight hard.
Grapplers and stikers all lose to each other from time to time. In MMA matches the public don’t think the loser is useless, they admire his courage for giving it a go.
In Wing Chun everyone says everyone else is useless and yet they can’t prove it! Saying you’re the best is fine, saying someone else is useless is childish and slander.
For a period of time in Wing Chun, guys were challenge fighting each other and trying to prove a point. A lot were cowardly, people turning up at classes unannounced, fully peaked and basically bullying their own Wing Chun bretheren. Nowadays I’d like to think we are more civilized.
However, the truth is the fight is now with politics because there’s false ego, money and business involved. Please understand I see a difference between fighting mixed martial arts and training in a number of traditional martial arts i.e. cross training.
Bob Sykes: Does the rising popularity of Mixed Martial Arts mean that traditional arts finally have had their day in the sun? Do you see a future for arts such as Karate and Wing Chun?
James Sinclair: Of course there’s a future in traditional martial arts. The traditional martial arts values will always hold because the general public do not want to learn to fight to the extreme that the Mixed Martial Arts are taking it. That is something that just doesn’t interest a lot of the members of the public. The general public want to defend themselves against a person in the street who doesn’t even know that they potentially have some kind of skill. That might mean that we are guilty of ‘dumbing it down a little’ in that we are only training to beat Joe Bloggs, but at the end of the day we are not motivated by competition and glory. We are motivated by simply defending ourselves from a potentially life threatening situation. In the basic scheme of things it’s always best to be a stealth fighter, not let the other person know that you know too much and not to give your game away.
Is Wing Chun anything to do with Mixed Martial Arts? It’s not stictly Mixed Martial Arts in the modern sense! Wing Chun is an evolutionary system and let’s not forget that. Wing Chun is not the same as it was a few hundred years ago, and every single generation that has trained in Wing Chun has tried to adapt and improve the system and Isuppose that’s true of Karate and Taekwondo in that they are still evolving to accommodate modern society. One must understand that you can only train for what you’re exposed to.
Those who developed Wing Chun a couple of hundred years ago in a small town in Southern China wouldn’t have been exposed to what we nowadays are exposed to. Therefore, they only developed their art in a certain direction. But Wing Chun is clearly a synthesis of many arts that were present at the time, and it is this that made it unique, it is has not come from nothing, so it is a mixed martial art in another sense.
In terms of modern mixed martial arts it may be possible to see them as an amalgam. However the purer the original constituant parts the better the end product. Mixed martial arts needs it sources! Why re-invent the wheel all the time, when the technology to impove and build upon the wheel is there. Besides, from what I have seen all mixed martial artists appear to have a core strength in one particular area. If we lose the traditional arts we lose a refelction of human culture and development. Every martial artist has to review his basics from time to time, master or not!
Bob Sykes: Is it true to say that Wing Chun doesn’t have any grappling?
James Sinclair: Yes that is true. Wing Chun follows the human instinct to stand and walk. Other so called battlefield arts also tend to lack grappling to the skill level that people demonstrate today as it is easier for another of your opponents to stab you in the back. Part of wing chun skill development is to ‘clinch’ with people at a controlled distance, so you dont get bitten or headbutted and they don’t tie you up! The Wing Chun art has the arsenal to deal with grapplers, but it is the individual who must apply it.
Look at it from another angle, wrestlers couldn’t deal with a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu players at first, but the wrestlers improved and changed their game. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu have also learned from other systems and improved their game. Everybody can learn from one another, without having to change styles! You can improve your own experience only through experience. Theory is just the beginning. For the general public who really want to get away from a dangerous situation it sometimes it’s necessary to run! And the best place to be is on your feet, and we like to stay on our feet. This results in the general public backing off because who wants to fight an idiot? There’s nothing to be gained from it. It also rare to be one on one anymore. Grappling an individual and fighting on the ground makes it harder to escape the others.
If you want to go and fight in a ring or a cage for money, which is something that many people want to do these days I hope you get paid well. If that’s the situation then you’re not fighting for your health you are fighting for your ego. I don’t mean ego in the worst sense of the word, but how you see yourself and how you are prepared to push yourself. Furthermore you’re doing it in a civilized way, you’re wearing gloves and going in there against another willing trained athlete and skilfully testing yourself to the limit. I really do think that it’s an admirable thing. However, the average person learning self defence isn’t doing that. They are set upon by a person who potentially has a physical advantage, and certainly an emotional advantage because they’re coming from a place that most people don’t even know!
For example if a person’s being attacked for the colour of their skin or their faith, any normal person can’t logically draw any parallels from their life as to why an attacker would feel like that. I really don’t think that you can lose your self-respect by not fighting such an idiot. Unless you have low self esteem, unless there’s something within you which means you’ve got to fight back against someone who might make a flippant comment about your mother, who he doesn’t even know, then you should walk away.
World Class Judoka Brian Adams and James Sinclair
My opinion regarding real self defence is, you don’t want to get into the mind of the person who may be attacking you. Let cousellors and psychologists do that. What I mean is don’t lose your temper or values. If you abhor swearing and bad manners don’t reply in the agressors manner. He can pull you into a fight more easily. However, with experience you realise that most attackers are coming from a place you don’t even want to go. And you don’t want to stoop to their level, you want to be divorced from that. In a street fight a person may knock you to the floor and quite possibly stamp on your head. He will often cry real tears in court when the consequences hit him because he didn’t mean to kill you or make a vegetable of you, a bit late for you though! Whereas a martial artist would knock a person to the floor then back off, get away or whatever they need to do. They’re not going to go and stamp on another persons head because there’s no way that a martial artist wants to become like the very person they are fighting.
In MMA competitions you have to ‘finish the opponent’ following him down, repeatedly hitting until the referee stops the fight. However, in a street fight every punch you took after he was downed is a longer stetch in jail for you! Reasonable force… All the streetfights I have experienced are with idiots. They took a punch or two and I walked away. They did not search me out for the rest of their life desiring a rematch! They lost and moved on. One punch too many and their desire for revenge will eat them up, and they will just as happily hit you with a bat from behind as you beat them face to face. Sun Tzu said ‘give your opponent and honourable retreat’.
That makes it hard, it makes the journey much more difficult because you’re striving to be a better person. To take on that journey can be a very difficult proposition, it takes a certain amount of core values and an experienced teacher to impart that knowledge to you.
Are people forgetting that the martial arts isn’t about the end result, it’s not about whether or not you are a good fighter? It’s about mastering defined skills, and through that effort, finding out about yourself. Not everyone needs martial arts for this, but it helped me. Martial arts is about the journey. Every great fighter will have their day and lose. The ones who go on and on become what’s considered ‘legends’. All of us would like to become legends but realistically how many of us can? Very few. But, how many people can become better martial artists and, therefore, in some ways through training become better people?
The majority of people can…
UK Wing Chun Asscocaition can be contacted on via Tel: 07860 276923. Web: ukwingchun.com or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Martial Arts Illustrated Continues next issue where James Sinclair talks openly about self defence, self improvement and the intellectualization of Wing Chun Kung Fu. Don’t Miss It.