Thursday, October 26, 2005
Borders Wing Chun celebrates 10 years
When martial arts movie legend, Bruce Lee, first exploded kicking, punching and yelling onto western movie screens more than three decades ago, a generation was transfixed by his skill and prowess and I was one of them.
Attendance soared at judo and karate clubs across Britain, Europe and America as people joined in droves, desperate to learn what made Lee so special, and the Scottish Borders was to prove no different.
Combined with the popularity of the television series ‘Kung Fu,’ starring David Carradine, the 1970s also saw thousands wanting to learn the ancient secrets of kung fu — a generic name given to the countless number of Chinese boxing styles practised in the Orient.
I started out, aged about 11, with my brother, in a couple of old judo suits given to us by a neighbour serving with the Royal Marine Commandos, along with a 1950s copy of a handbook on judo techniques.
My brother and I used to try and work out what to do from the line drawings – without a great deal of success I seem to recall, but plenty of bruises and black eyes.
Since then, the popularity of all martial arts from judo and karate to aikido and tai chi has blossomed and waned with regularity.
And the Borders has been no exception, with the area’s martial arts clubs and classes experiencing both good and lean years as far as member numbers are concerned.
And, as the number of different activities on offer for people to spend their leisure time on increases, martial arts clubs find themselves competing to attract new blood. After all, why spend three or four years learning a martial art when you can instantly be Bruce Lee on the Play Station in five minutes?
However, there has always been a small hard core of dedicated martial artists in the Borders, determined to keep training and studying these ancient “Ways of the Warrior.”
Since those early days with hand-me-down judo uniforms, my own personal journey in the martial arts has taken me to explore jiu-jitsu, ninjutsu, tai chi, eskrima stick-fighting and for the last decade, it has been Wing Chun Kung Fu - the style first learned by Bruce Lee.
I now train and teach at the Borders Wing Chun Group, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.
We, in the Borders Wing Chun Group, are members of the Advanced Fighting Systems Wing Chun school run by Newcastle-based kung fu master, Paul O’Neal.
Master O’Neal’s credentials are unimpeachable. A student of Wing Chun Kuen for almost a quarter-of-a-century, he spent three years living and studying in Hong Kong with both Grandmasters Yip Ching and Yip Chun – the sons of the legendary Yip Man.
And for more than a decade now he has made his living as a full-time teacher of Wing Chun, recently opening a new gym in Newcastle’s vibrant Chinatown.
We have around a dozen people training regularly, and everyone gets the chance to train and grade with Master O’Neal, who also makes trips up to the Scottish Borders for seminars and classes.
So what is it about martial arts such as Wing Chun that make them so special? Well, they teach self-discipline, self-respect and self-protection.
You might start out with the goal of gaining a black belt or becoming a great competition fighter or a great teacher or simply hoping how to learn to defend yourself.
And all these things are worthwhile aspirations. Don’t get me wrong.
But ultimately, the deeper, hidden meaning of what martial arts are about is a journey of self discovery.
The longer you study and train the more you come to realise this and that the real battle is always with yourself.
In ‘A Book of Five Rings,’ the legendary Japanese swordsman, Myamoto Musashi wrote: “He who is master of one thing, is master of all things.”
Striving to master a martial art is striving to master ourselves. It is about overcoming our fears and in doing so, it sets us free from fear and gives us the freedom to choose what to do, whatever the situation.
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