SIFU SANTIAGO PASCUAL BEGAN HIS MARTIAL ARTS JOURNEY IN SPAIN IN 1978. IN 1985, HE STARTED LEARNING WING CHUN, BUT NOT UNTIL 1986 DID HE MEET HIS CURRENT SIFU, NINO BERNARDO. AT THE END OF 1987 AND UNDER THE APPROVAL OF HIS TEACHER, HE BEGAN TO TEACH WING CHUN, TOGETHER WITH TWO OF HIS SIHINGS, IN HIS OWN KWOON, WHICH HE CALLED “THE GARAGE.”
Sifu Pascual truly embraces the spirit of Gung Fu traditions. Wing Chun is not just a part of his life—it is his life! He teaches the Wing Chun system in a clear and comprehensive way, including the ethical and martial aspects of Wing Chun, as fighting or not fighting is not important, as he says, paraphrasing his Sifu’s words, “Fighting is a secondary effect.”
Why did you decide to devote yourself to Wing Chun, and what is it that made you so keen about it?
Everything I read and heard about Wing Chun, its fighting concepts, its training methods and its history, fascinated me. When I started, there was hardly any Wing Chun in Spain, so I got in touch with an instructor with some knowledge of the system and trained with him before I met my present Sifu, Nino Bernardo.
When I discovered Wing Chun, I was attracted to the fighting aspect, to the simplicity, to the direct way of engaging. Now, after many years of practice, I have a different view. Although those nuances regarding fighting remain valid, now I guide myself more by the ethical, not just the martial, aspect of Wing Chun.
I have a teaching responsibility, and this maturity makes me see the system in a different light. I’m not all that interested in the subject of fighting, essentially that of efficiency, but rather in everything Wing Chun can offer me in a more general sense. To know the roots of the system as much as possible, in terms of technical knowledge, is a satisfaction per se; fighting or not fighting is, in the words of my Sifu, “a secondary effect.”
How was training with Sifu Nino Bernardo like?
I met Sifu in 1986 at a seminar in Madrid. I was very impressed, not just by his technique, but also by his teaching methods. In 1987, at a second seminar held in Valencia, I sought to become his student, the requisite being that I had to train at his Kwoon in London, “The Basement.” Later that year was the first time I went to London. The Kwoon Sifu had was very genuine, because it was a basement, and his way of teaching and the atmosphere surrounding him was what I had perceived and seen in magazines in terms of what training in Hong Kong was like.
What impressed me the most about my Sifu was his teaching methodology; he knew how to combine technical instruction with his life experiences, which, when fused together, created a very interesting and special way of teaching. I remember the technical drills we learned were emphatically in the “technical tradition” of the Wong Shun Leung lineage. Nowadays, several practitioners from back then are recognised as world-class instructors in Wing Chun circles. I can say greatly talented practitioners came out of that little basement—that’s something that ought to be stressed, regarding my Sifu and the people who trained with him at that time.
How did you meet your Sigung, the late Wong Shun Leung, and what can you tell us about the time you spent with him?
Unfortunately, I didn’t spend as much time with him as I would have liked to since he passed away in 1997. He was a talented person, and we could have learned a great deal from him. I speak not just for myself, but rather, with a little sadness for my students, who didn’t have the opportunity to get to know him. I met him in Madrid at a seminar hosted there in 1988. His student, my Sifu, Nino Bernardo, assisted him.
We soon realised he looked ordinary and was of small stature but when he moved, he demonstrated great energy, and his execution of techniques was explosive. I was surprised and impressed by Sigung’s refined execution and comprehension of the applications and concepts of Wing Chun.
Later, I had the pleasure of hosting him as a guest at my home for a while, and during that time, he enriched me and my students with anecdotes about himself, about Wing Chun, Bruce Lee, and helped us improve our Wing Chun with some private instruction. I saw him in Hong Kong in 1994 at the Ving Tsun Athletic Association, where he also explained a few anecdotes about his life, and I got the opportunity to interview him.
Should Wing Chun remain traditional and unchanged, or should it evolve?
I don’t intend to appropriate it to give the impression I have something exclusive to offer or something others don’t have. People often ask me if I teach traditional Wing Chun, and I always answer I don’t, because what I consider traditional might not be what others consider as such. Many people searching for “traditional” Wing Chun are searching for genuine techniques taught many years ago. I think that with the passing of all these years, Wing Chun has undergone changes and improvements through which it has evolved and become more efficient and practical.
What I mean by traditional is tradition, and that’s important to me. I don’t want to leave behind an empty Wing Chun, reduced to the pure teaching and logic of the science of fighting. This definition, bequeathed to us by Sigung Wong Shun Leung, is fine. However, Wing Chun encompasses much more in terms of the cultural, technical and historical knowledge of the system, and knowledge of the Chinese tradition, since it’s the union of values that makes it most genuine.
The family atmosphere prevalent in a Kwoon, among the students, with the Sifu, to create a family atmosphere—I consider this a tradition. That’s the tradition maintained in the 1950s. Occasionally, Wing Chun has undergone developments that only sought the technical aspect of fighting, and that is fine, but along the way, profound and ethical aspects that I also consider important and that may educate the practitioner in more evolved ways have been lost.
How do you believe Wing Chun will develop?
Nowadays, there is greater access to information; practitioners can watch videos on YouTube, read and find new books easily; thanks to all this, Wing Chun will likely evolve in a positive manner. However, evolution may also have a secondary effect that may not be so positive. Perhaps, Wing Chun will become a little more commercial in its teaching, and perhaps, it may lose what I described before as a genuine family atmosphere. The Internet and films about Wing Chun have created many new practitioners, and perhaps, this mass expansion will not be so interested in maintaining this more intimate and profound tradition.
There will always be instructors that will maintain the techniques and ethical aspect of Gung Fu, which is what I consider most important, and even preceding practice, because if the practitioner has the ethics, I can teach him or her the technique, but sooner or later, the technique without the ethics will be a failure for me and for the student. Therefore, those ethical aspects must be maintained.
You’re a doctor in Traditional Chinese Medicine. how has that contributed to the development of your Wing Chun?
Traditional Chinese Medicine is part of my profession. I discovered many Gung Fu masters knew how to cure, and Sifus, such as Wong Fei Hung, and even the father of my Sigung Wong Shun Leung had this knowledge, and that led me to investigate this fact. That intensified my interest in studying Traditional Chinese Medicine, specifically acupuncture and Tui Na.
The world of Traditional Chinese Medicine is closely linked to traditional features of Chinese culture and overlap with features of Gung Fu. With this, I don’t mean to say that, to learn Gung Fu, one must know Traditional Chinese Medicine. One can be a good Gung Fu practitioner without knowledge of it, but if you know it, it will nurture your knowledge of the culture and of Gung Fu.
You have always maintained a “low profile”; you hardly ever advertise or try to expand your school. what motivates you to continue training and teaching?
I advertised initially, but now, it’s the time of those of my students who teach. They are the new generation. My goal with Wing Chun is to investigate it, develop it, and pass it on to my students. It gives me great joy to see my students evolve their Gung Fu, enjoy it, and be happy with it. Through Wing Chun, students of mine have been able to secure a livelihood. I feel very proud my teaching and their passion have benefitted their personal and professional lives. At the present, I have no grand projects for the future. I have my family, my students, and our Kwoon. My project is, and always has been, to be more useful to my students and to pass on my knowledge and experience.