THE FIRST TIME I MET GRANDMASTER CHU SHONG TIN, KNOWN AS THE “KING OF SIU NIM TAO”, WAS IN 2003. I HAD ALREADY BEEN AN INSTRUCTOR AT A WING CHUN SCHOOL IN SYDNEY OWNED BY SIFU JIM FUNG, A SENIOR STUDENT OF CHU SHONG TIN, FOR A FEW YEARS, AND HAD ONLY HEARD STORIES ABOUT CHU SHONG TIN’S ALLEGED “EFFORTLESS POWER”.
In those years, I was working as a bouncer at Sydney’s nightclubs including those in Kings Cross, which was the red light district of the city and well known for its roughness. Also, in my late teens, I was weight lifting consistently and believed that the stronger my muscles, the more power I could generate with my body. Therefore, even though I went along with the legendary stories and was proud to be part of the lineage, I was certainly a sceptic regarding the Internal Power of Kung Fu.
Grandmaster Chu Shong Tin entered the room wearing a very genuine smile on his face. We all bowed in respect as he waved his hand, seemingly embarrassed to receive such respect. After a few minutes of social engagements, he stood in front of the room with a serious posture and looked around as if waiting for silence. He began the seminar by saying, “Wing Chun doesn’t turn you into Superman, but it enables you to utilise your body as powerfully and most efficiently as possible.” I was impressed with such a striking opening. He went on to talk about Siu Nim Tao and how the form was a tool for the Mind to tap into and control the joints of the body in an extraordinary way.
Around 30 minutes into the seminar, he asked for a volunteer to demonstrate on and I quickly jumped up and headed to the front. He silently chuckled at the enthusiasm as he got me to hold out my arm and lightly placed his arm on top. He asked me (through the translator) to try and stop him from moving his arm down. I held strong but not as hard as I could. Suddenly, I felt as if a 40-kilo object was placed on my arm as he moved it down effortlessly with a smile on his face. I was in a bit of a shock because what I felt didn’t seem possible.
I adjusted my stance and held my arm out again in a gesture for him to do it again, and this time I held as hard as I could! He gave my stance a glance and then dropped his arm down, this time with a bit more speed. My legs buckled and I felt like I was being pulled down from the waist as I nearly hit the ground. There was a collective sound of “Aww” in the room, soon followed by laughter. I decided I needed to do whatever it takes to move to Hong Kong and learn from him directly!
I arrived in Hong Kong in 2005. My plane landed at 9am and I found a cheap hostel to rest in for a few hours and then was on my way to Grandmaster Chu’s home, where he lived with his wife and kids, which was also his school at the time. To say I was buzzing with excitement and anxiety would be an understatement. As soon as Grandmaster Chu saw me, he began to wave with a most sincere smile. I went for a bow but changed my mind halfway through and began to wave back, which turned into a messy and nervous hand movement. He, of course, laughed out loud as he shook my hand and then signalled for me to begin training.
I asked one of the local students what I should practice. He asked Chu Shong Tin and replied, “Whatever you want.” I looked around the room and saw that everyone was slowly practising Siu Nim Tao, so I stood in front of the mirror and did the same. He watched intently as I very nervously performed. When I was done, I looked at him as if to say, “Okay, so what’s next?” He just smiled and looked away, which made me realise that there’s no structure to his classes.
I went through Siu Nim Tao again and this time he started to enthusiastically talk in Chinese with the local students as he was pointing at me. The students surrounded me and started to touch around my shoulder joint and upper back. I was thinking to myself “Yeah, that’s right… feel the power lads!” One of the locals then translated what Grandmaster Chu was saying and it was something like, “Sifu says your muscular texture is the opposite of the condition we want to achieve in his system.” I was crushed yet I tried to keep a straight face. After all, I’d been a Wing Chun teacher for many years and held my own in Chi Sau against the senior instructors in Sydney, plus I had a lot of real fighting experience. Talk about having your ego’s head chopped right off! For the record, Grandmaster Chu didn’t mean to humiliate me in any way. That’s how he taught. Sifu was very blunt and straight to the point when it came to Wing Chun.
Fast forward two years and I established my Wing Chun school in Hong Kong. Initially, it wasn’t easy financially and for over a year, I had to live off cans of tuna, lettuce and rice as my daily diet. I was still practising six hours a day with Grandmaster Chu, on top of my teaching. Every day he shocked us with his tremendous Internal Power.
As the years went by, I became very close with him and he really became a father figure in my life. I know he was very appreciative of my achievements both in my personal practice and my school, which became the biggest Wing Chun school in Hong Kong. He even conducted three seminars at my school, which, as he highlighted, were the only seminars he had ever conducted in Hong Kong in his 60-plus years of teaching. He voiced his proudness of me often and even after he passed away, his wife and kids still talk about how much he valued my efforts. I spent over nine years training with him full-time during which he taught me the entire Wing Chun system including the weapons.
Knowing and training with Grandmaster Chu had the biggest impact on my life and I feel like I have found my purpose, which is to pass on his very unique and remarkable method of Wing Chun to as many people as possible. Before he passed away, while filming a DVD, he mentioned that his final wish is for his few students who have achieved a good level in the Internal aspect of the art, to find a way to pass it on to the entire world. This is the reason why I worked for years on developing our Online School so that his teachings can be accessible to and benefit the lives of everyone.
Grandmaster Chu Shong Tin’s method of Wing Chun is truly very different from any other system I’ve come across so far. I have, and will, continue to dedicate my life to fulfilling his last wish until my dying day.