WHATEVER LINEAGE THEY COME FROM, EVERY WING CHUN PRACTITIONER IN THE UK WILL HAVE HEARD OF KAMON AND KEVIN CHAN. KAMON IS ONE OF THE LARGEST WING CHUN ORGANISATIONS IN ENGLAND AND KEVIN, ITS FOUNDER, IS JUST AS PASSIONATE ABOUT HIS PERSONAL TRAINING AS HE IS HIS COACHING.
Quite apart from his credentials in the Wing Chun world, he trains in Western Boxing and Thai Boxing and also holds a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. For Kevin, martial arts are an intrinsic part of personal development, a philosophy that underpins everything he stands for.
You state Kamon is progressive, what does this mean?
While I value the classical framework of Wing Chun and the foundation that it provides, I also believe very strongly in progress, improvement, reform and individuality. I see classical training as a vehicle for self-realisation and development, not as a hindrance or a restriction. As a martial artist, you should embrace creativity and personal expression. Through the resulting progression, both the student and the style grows. The style takes on a new identity, remains fresh and exciting, and in accord with time. If the system doesn’t evolve and improve, it will just eventually become watered down and no longer fit for purpose. Stuff will get lost and nothing new will get added. It amuses me how Ip Man cut what he thought was unnecessary or over-complicated out of the art and added in new elements, but for some reason, if anyone else does, it is considered sacrilegious! What point does the traditionalist think is the cutoff point of the evolution and change—Ip Man? It is ridiculous. They just contradict themselves. There wouldn’t be Ip Man Wing Chun or indeed any Wing Chun if evolution or progression did not occur.
Why did you learn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?
I practice BJJ for my own personal development in martial arts. Ground fighting isn’t something that is addressed in Wing Chun and I felt that it was one of the areas I needed to practise to be complete.
How have you integrated BJJ with Kamon Wing Chun classes?
Although I cover the clinch and takedown defence in Kamon Wing Chun, I always advise my students if they want to learn to grapple, learn BJJ. Wing Chun is primarily a stand up style. How I integrated BJJ with Kamon is more conceptual. It has reinforced my value of non-compliant partner training and live training. I try to reinforce the idea that making a mistake in training, like getting submitted in Jiu-Jitsu, is exactly that, a mistake, it is not a failure. Everyone makes mistakes; how you learn from your mistakes is how you grow and develop. You need to have the freedom to play and make mistakes and not to confuse mistakes with failure. Otherwise, you will live and remain within your comfort zone playing it safe and growth won’t occur or will be heavily restricted. The BJJ practitioner learns the value of evolution and deconstruction early on. I teach my Wing Chun students the same values as the BJJ practitioner: not to be dismissive of new ideas, techniques or concepts. I share the idea with my BJJ colleagues that the style should adapt to a person’s mindset, framework and natural ability. What works for one individual could be a hindrance to others.
Would you say Kamon is comparable to Jeet Kune Do in many ways?
Kamon Wing Chun is not comparable to JKD—this is a misunderstanding of what Kamon actually is. JKD was founded on an incomplete, partial understanding of Wing Chun. Bruce Lee was a legendary martial artist; however, gaps in his knowledge of Wing Chun were addressed through assimilation of other arts guided by his intelligence and artistry, as opposed to through the realisation and deeper understanding that can be attained through completion and dedication to Wing Chun itself. Answers to questions he was asking were already appropriately addressed within the system. Wing Chun is a complete stand-up martial art and Kamon is firmly rooted in the complete, classical Wing Chun system. I really value the whole system and ethos. It is a fascinating art to learn and I enjoy all aspects of it and enjoy sharing it with my students. The art, after absorbing the fundamentals, allows the practitioner to become creative. Like for all artists, this process should be dictated by passion and feeling. Rather like a painter you should paint according to intuition and let it come out from the soul, rather than trying to copy or imitate someone else’s work. The skills, other than Wing Chun, that I acquire have broadened my spectrum as an artist and allowed me to paint my Wing Chun picture accordingly. As with BJJ, their influence is more conceptual. Boxing, for instance, teaches you to get over the shock and fear that a fight induces. You begin to understand rhythm, timing and movement in a non-compliant way. It teaches what constitutes effective striking, and not just looking busy. Sparring and getting over the fear of it really accelerated my personal development and the development of my students, both mentally and physically. I teach my students to value and learn from within the framework of the Wing Chun system and am a strict disciplinarian when it comes to key aspects such as the forms, in which I pay particular attention to detail and instil this in my students. While I believe in the heritage and preservation of the art itself, and the philosophy and deep-rooted Chinese culture it originates from, I also believe that every practitioner should not only have the opportunity to appreciate the art but to participate in its ongoing development. What we do today forms what becomes passed into the future. Heritage preservation should be combined with progression and evolution.
With your mix of skill sets, it strikes me that you could soon have a large team of competition ready fighters. Do you have any ambitions in this direction?
While I do train with and teach MMA fighters, this is separate for the purpose of the school. My goal is not to teach MMA or build a team of fighters. I enjoy the development of the individual through the Wing Chun style. That’s what is gained most from learning martial arts overall. I appreciate more now than ever before, that Wing Chun is a complete martial art rather than just a fighting system. The last thing I want is to get into a physical altercation.
Not through fear, but because it isn’t conducive to being a balanced human being. The mix of skills has given me the creative scope to understand Wing Chun’s strengths and weaknesses and explore the art by deconstructing it. I find the more literal interpretations of Wing Chun to be rigid and inflexible. I think this stems from a constant excessive use of energy, an over-reliance on forward movement and an overly aggressive mentality. I don’t do Biff Chun! Instead, energy use should be sophisticated and direct, with the appropriate use of force for any given situation. This results from a balance between natural footwork, positioning, energy, structure and relaxation of mind and body. When you get this mix right and add explosiveness combined with appropriate timing, the results are extremely effective. This, in turn, develops the same mindset, to be a balanced individual. My students would struggle to hurt someone without good reason. They are not trigger happy but can handle themselves effectively when necessary. What I am trying to achieve is to bridge the gap between literal Wing Chun and natural movement. How Wing Chun fits the individual not the other way around through individuality and creative freedom. Ultimately, I want my students to realise their own Wing Chun. You can’t tell them what this is: you can only really help them with the journey. They have to realise it themselves. I don’t want to create imitators!
Kamon has a very commercial model underpinning it. Can you tell us something about your background in business and marketing?
The true success of Kamon is not because it has a commercial model; it is a commercial success because it appeals to people’s intellect. That’s why people join and stay. Kamon’s reputation has grown organically more through word-of-mouth than marketing and advertising. I have never watered down or adapted what I teach to appeal to or attract a wider student base. Much of what I do is through instinct and as such what I teach must feel right. I am, after all, a martial artist first and foremost. I believe in teaching honestly and professionally at all times. I detest time-wasting or just going through the motions. It is through these values that I have had commercial success. I value my students as individuals. I talk and listen to them respectfully and I give them my experience wholeheartedly. I really believe in treating people how you would like to be treated, then the win-win formula will happen naturally. I don’t hide behind a persona and have never used someone’s name directly to build my own reputation. I believe in myself and am comfortable in my own skin. That’s why Kamon is a commercial success.
What are the future plans for the development of Kevin Chan and Kamon?
Training and teaching Wing Chun and martial arts for me is a point in time. What Kamon Wing Chun will be in five years time will be different from what it is today. All the fundamental and classical elements will remain the same, but it will evolve and develop and take on an exciting new form. Ask any of my long-term students and they will tell you that Kamon always keeps developing and there is no doubt that today we are better than we were five years ago. Just like I am getting better than I was five or ten years ago. The school and I will keep developing in this way, moving forward because we do Wing Chun as a passion and a lifestyle, not as rule. It would sadden me greatly if the next generation, or the generation after, was not better and more rounded and evolved than the current.