10 QUESTIONS WITH GREG LEBLANC – INTERVIEW
We take a personal, inside look at different Wing Chun enthusiasts from all corners of the world. Learn the insights, history, training methods and inspiration from the greatest proponents and supporters of Wing Chun. All lineages, any style… simple and effective.
This month, we profile Sifu Greg LeBlanc of LeBlanc Wing Chun. Sifu LeBlanc began training in the martial arts in 1979; he has been studying and teaching Wing Chun for 19 years. He spent 8 years (6,000 hours) learning Wing Chun directly from Sifu Gary Lam (Lam Man Hok). Sifu LeBlanc has also had the privilege to train with Sisok Gung Hawkins Cheung, Sisok John Smith and Sifu Dwight Hennings. He is honored and grateful for the friendship and support of these great teachers. Greg continues to deepen his knowledge of Wing Chun; he is in private practice for Chinese medicine and is a teacher of Soen (Línjì Zōng Chan, aka Zen) Buddhism.
Could you briefly talk to us about how you got into Wing Chun?
I was looking for a traditional martial art teacher that had a knowledge of what we call structure; this is sometimes also called bio-mechanics. These skills are what is referred to as internal power in old style martial arts, my teacher called it power point theory. When I met Sifu Lam I immediately recognized he had a deep knowledge of bio-mechanics and also was extremely capable of demonstrating the explosive power generated when the joints are aligned and used in unison to one point for striking power.
While training at Sifu Gary Lam’s school, were you encouraged to touch hands with Wing Chun people from different lineages?
Chi Sau is a drill to train specific automatic reflexes, namely to redirect an attack if blocked. It is unfortunately often used as a measure of fighting skill and in my opinion this was never the intention for the drill. The only true test is in actually using the system, either in a tournament or for self-defense.
You are Sifu Gary Lam’s first certified instructor. Was your initial goal to complete the system under him and teach, or did that naturally evolve over time?
I was asked by local students to teach in the South Bay area of Los Angeles and then later asked to teach when I moved to the Bay Area; I initially did not advertise myself and the class was promoted by word of mouth. Later Sifu Lam encouraged me to teach, so I got a website going and recently did a DVD with Cranes Production.
How different are your teaching methods from what you were taught? Unique ways of explaining concepts, supplements to drills etc…
I teach primarily in the same way that I was taught by Sifu Lam in the late 90’s and early 2000’s; I have gone on to be influenced by and work with other coaches and teachers in my lineage, specifically Sisuk John Smith and Sifu Dwight Hennings. I am also influenced by my previous background in martial arts, but generally stick to a defined core curriculum when teaching my students. Wing Chun should be easy to explain and not difficult to learn, the skill comes from being able to react without having to think and to gain experience using its methods vs. various body types, experience levels and responses. Wing Chun is not about doing a technique, the genius of Wing Chun is in using primary shapes (bio-mechanics) and concepts that direct the reactions and goals of the system; in Wing Chun we strive for a reflex set that is simple, direct and efficient.
In what ways have you made Wing Chun your own?
Making Wing Chun work for you is about need, experimentation and experience. My Sigung was a famous challenge fighter in Hong Kong, his approach to learning was taking what he learned from Yip Man and seeing how it applied in a real match (Beimo); he was committed to testing everything he was learning and that experience molded his later career as a teacher. We all have different body types, experiences and needs as students, Wing Chun’s strength is its ability to stay germane, adapting and changing when needed. WSLVT is a combination of the training methods of boxing with the skills of Yip Man Ving Tsun; I would also say that GLWC as I learned it is a combination of WSLVT with influences from Muay Thai boxing. My teacher Sifu Lam was also famous for challenge fighting and ring fighting and won a very well known elimination tournament in Hong Kong.
Wing Chun is in its essence more a way of training for fighting then a set of techniques or patented answers, this allows for an adaption of its skills (shapes, bio-mechanics, etc…) for new challenges not yet known in the older fighting environments and also allows for innovation based on need and experience to take place, adding to the systems vitality and resilience. I see some of the younger students in our lineage now training in ground fighting and doing tournament fighting, this is in my opinion all in the spirit of what Wing Chun promotes and teaches us, and that is to do what works and to always seek improvement.
How has being a practitioner of Soen Buddhism (Zen Buddhism) helped your understanding of Wing Chun?
Zen as a meditation practice promotes concentration and fortitude; it is not directly related to martial arts, but I think can be a benefit to any type of sport or physical discipline. One thing that Zen has really helped me with is being a good self-starter when it comes to training and testing the limits of my endurance and dedication to training. No one makes you do a Zen retreat, you have to pay for it and it involves loss of sleep and often a lot of back and knee pain, to go through that willingly tests you in ways that are hard to replicate and also shows you that many of the barriers we encounter in life are self-made and can be surmounted. Zen not only helps us to see ourselves more clearly, but it molds character and helps people to face themselves, facing ourselves is in my opinion part of the philosophy of Wing Chun.
Your class environment is traditional Hong Kong style. One Hong Kong kwoon trait is that students are taught to work individually before starting two-person training. In your opinion, what is the importance of this?
Students learn in a systematic way and must learn the basic footwork and shapes of the system before going on to learn the drills. If a student is taught too quickly then they will not really learn the drills well and if a student is taught too slowly they can miss vital timing for growth. Kung Fu requires patience and hard work; everyone goes by the same road, each learns at their own pace. I teach as fast as a student can learn, my personal goal is to get the student though the bulk of the system in 4 years. Having said all that, one never really stops learning and growing; the refinement of skills and the impact of new experiences never ends, this is for me the most gratifying part of being a student of Wing Chun.
There are various perspectives in the Wing Chun community regarding the mechanics and purpose of Chi Sau. From your experience, how should practitioners implement the concepts of sticking, hitting, sensitivity and structure into their Chi Sau; and at what point do they risk “chasing” the hands?
Wing Chun is chiefly about striking the target with chained attacks (specifically the head); anytime this is done it is the implementation of a Wing Chun concept, in this case to attack the General. All Wing Chun training is in the service of this idea, all training in reflexes, in bio-mechanics and in recovering from a mistake or lost position, all of it is about doing the most universally significant act of self-protection that can take place. Having said that there is a small element of the system developed to standing grappling, which can be very useful if chained attacks to the head are not appropriate. Wing Chun also involves a small percentage of training involving kicking, pushing and pulling.
When developing reflexes all of the training should have as a compass the concepts and principles of the system in mind. Some of the most important are: Attack and defense together, Chase center, Hands on top, Take position, Ground power, to name a few. It has been said that the science of Wing Chun is to attack the attack (Lin Su Dai Da), to combine a defense and an offense together into the same action. This is in fact the origin of the JEET (interception) in Jeet Kune Do, Bruce Lee’s fighting system. Ultimately there is no such thing as advanced Wing Chun, there is only a greater and greater ability to implement the skills, concepts and structure of the system into a single reaction, what I call a Wing Chun action.
How do you describe the idea of “softness” in Wing Chun? What are the differences between hard and soft applications?
Hard and soft in Wing Chun has to do with using a pliable, forward energy to create the bridge against an obstruction; in application either the bridge is retracted and the limb rushes forward to the center of mass or the obstruction is dragged down or broken through and the balance and facing of the opponent is compromised with your attack. Much like how bamboo is very strong (hard) but flexible (soft), so is a bridge strong and yet ready to spring forward when the tension of the obstruction is either released or removed. We must be soft for power to move through the body and also tight so that the impact of out strikes are in alignment with the joints and the ground, the most important element here is the waist relationship to power.
Do you have any final words of wisdom to share with the community?
Wing Chun is unique in that it offers highly relevant and realistic skills for self-protection but it allows any age, gender or fitness level to participate. It can be trained aggressive but safely, and it can be trained in a part-time manner or like a professional. Its methods allow for a great deal of diversity in how people interface with the training, but we should not lose sight of the fact that to fight like a professional one needs to train like a professional. No martial art, no matter how well designed, can replace the strengths and advantages of training like a pro. Wing Chun traditionally was trained by people looking to be able to protect themselves and their families, but this does not prevent its methods from being developed and used in a professional manner, in my opinion its very important to understand the difference. This is perhaps the hallmark feature of WSLVT, that Sigung brought from his experience as a boxer the training habits and methods of western boxing and combined it with the skills, shapes and methods of Yip Man Ving Tsun; this allowed him to become the greatest challenge fighter in Hong Kong of his era.
Information and Contact
Want More From Sifu LeBlanc? Visit Sifu Greg LeBlanc’s website for class and scheduling info. Likewise, check out his recently released, full length instructional DVD, “Wing Chun Mechanics Vol.1”. You can also find additional info about Cranes Production and their Exquisite Martial Arts Products here.
Interview: Andy Martin
Layout / Design: Craig Allen
Photo: Christopher Hayes and Michael Oguro
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