TONY MASSENGILL IS THE FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR OF THE IP MAN WING CHUN UNION. HE BEGAN HIS MARTIAL ARTS TRAINING BACK IN 1966 AT THE TENDER AGE OF FIVE. IN THE MANY YEARS THAT HAVE PASSED, HE HAS EARNED THE BLACK BELT OR INSTRUCTOR RANK IN SEVERAL EMPTY-HAND AND WEAPONS-BASED METHODS.
Tony’s training in Wing Chun began in 1979 under Master Duncan Leung. He has trained and researched the system under a number of instructors and subsequently earned a Master Level certificating in 2005 under the Ip Man/Ip Chun/Ip Ching/Samuel Kwok lineage.
Tony is the author of two Wing Chun books and is featured in over a dozen instructional DVDs on Wing Chun, as well as recently being featured in the book Wing Chun Masters. He is now retired after a 27-year career in Public Safety where he worked as a Police Officer, Firefighter and Paramedic. Tony writes for Martial Arts Masters Magazine as well as doing the book reviews for Wing Chun Illustrated.
Why did you choose Wing Chun after so many years of training in other systems?
When I began training Wing Chun under Duncan Leung in 1979, I already held Black Belt rank in Taekwondo and Kenpo. Upon seeing Wing Chun, I found a method that seemed truly FIGHT FOCUSED. A method that seemed to focus its training methods on the way they intended to apply the system, with forms that were relevant to application in fighting—I simply fell in love!
You’ve been blessed to travel around the world and train with many in the Wing Chun lineage. Are there any moments that stand out for you during these visits?
On my first visit to Hong Kong, I had the opportunity to train privately every morning for an entire week with my Sigung Ip Ching—with Samuel Kwok providing the translations. I was already certified as a teacher of the system under another of Ip Ching’s students as well as by Samuel Kwok and had also trained with Ip Ching several times before (in seminars), but this was very different—as were the way he taught the techniques. I had the opportunity to go over the entire system and improve myself with corrections made by Ip Ching himself. This made some tremendous differences in my Wing Chun and was truly a dream come true for me.
With your background of being a former Police Officer, how did this affect your teaching style in Wing Chun?
Having been on the street as a Police Officer and then again as a Paramedic, I have been involved in violence for a long time. I have dealt with both bad guys and victims. I understand the psychology of the predator and have had to engage some physically in the real world. This has allowed me to move beyond what is mere theory for many martial art instructors. I know what a REAL fight is and what happens therein. This allows me to focus what I teach on the practical application of Wing Chun. The things I learned as a Police Officer have been truly invaluable to my career as a martial arts instructor.
We can’t get past the facts of politics. It’s not news to people in the Wing Chun community that you have had a fall out with your Sifu. Can you tell us about the fallout and finally set the record straight?
It’s unfortunate, but I have recently had a very public fall out with Samuel Kwok. The break was due to a serious breach of trust and abuse of the instructor/student relationship. In December of 2012, I received a copy of Kwok’s new book The Keys to Wing Chun and soon discovered that eight out of the twelve chapters were taken DIRECTLY from what I previously wrote for our book Mastering Wing Chun (published by Empire Media). The chapters in “his” new book that I didn’t write consisted of only 13 paragraphs, in addition to a single chapter by Ip Chun.
I originally wrote Mastering Wing Chun back in 2006/2007. I signed all of the royalties for the book over to Kwok. I made no money from that book whatsoever—I just did it for the writing credit! So as you can imagine my reaction to hear my work had been re-published, but this time, without royalties or writing credit… This guy is supposed to be my Sifu—my father/teacher. If a stranger visits my home, I always lock up my valuables, but if my dad comes over I should not be worried about my valuables being stolen. The student/teacher relationship is based on unquestionable respect and loyalty—but it is a two-way street. Being a teacher’s formal disciple is not a license for the teacher to steal anything from the student.
There was another incident that occurred that brought this book subject out to the public. The other incident is too long-winded to get into here, but those interested in the whole story can visit: www.efficientwarrior.com/TonyStatement.html
Since this came out, Kwok has attempted to discredit me in several different ways including putting out a statement that my Master Level Certification that he issued was given to me, not because I earned it, but ONLY as a thank you for writing the book for him. The funny thing is my certification was dated two full years before the book was written! It’s sad to see such deceit from a man who was at one time my honourable Sifu.
As an interesting side note to this, because of his plagiarism of my work, Kwok was recently stripped of the 2013 Sifu of the Year Award presented to him by the World Wing Chun Athletic Association. This is major news for me—I’ve never heard of this kind of action by any organisation before, and I must say it is refreshing to see an organisation take a stand and make what was certainly a difficult decision based on pure integrity.
You’ve been interviewed in the new book, Wing Chun Masters by Jose Fraguas. How does it feel to be nominated to be in this book?
I have now had two events in my martial arts career that are far beyond any dream I am ever capable of dreaming. The first was standing in Foshan, China, at the Ip Man Museum in 2007, watching Grandmaster Ip Man’s son, Ip Ching, signing copies of a book that I had written on his father’s system for those in attendance at the books induction into the museum.
The second is this. It is genuinely very humbling. To see my name listed in the table of contents with names such as Wong Shun Leung, Ip Chun, Ip Ching, Gary Lam, David Peterson, and so many more that I have such respect for—God has truly blessed my life.
What makes you unique in the way that you teach Wing Chun compared to other teachers or lineages?
I’m very conceptual in my method of passing on the system. I have had practical street experience—not because I claim to be some big tough guy, but because I have had a career that has placed me in those situations and circumstances, which have enhanced my overall understanding of the application of my knowledge and skills. These things I pass on to my students.
What do you look for in prospective students?
Good attitude and character. Integrity is something you either have, or you don’t! Skills can be taught, but character—that’s an entirely different issue altogether. Because I have these standards, I have been blessed with some absolutely great students over the years.
Do you think that the Wing Chun lineage, at least under Grandmaster Ip Man, will ever find any peace or unity?
Not as long as ego is the leading factor in teaching. A teacher should be 100% student focused. They should not be focused on building their own celebrity status. I have seen this attitude ruin a Master and a relationship recently. Politics and the need to look good at the expense of others is a spreading cancer in our art.
I understand that you are bringing Sifu David Peterson to the US for a seminar this coming March? What made you decide to host him with your student Jason Korol?
I have been impressed with the Wong Shun Leung method and I’ve been a big fan of David Peterson as a teacher for many years. With my recent emancipation, I now have the freedom to pursue lots of research into lineages other than the one I’m currently certified in. My student Jason Korol has a beautiful facility in a beautiful city, Greenville, South Carolina. I thought that was a good venue for the event.
Do you think that Wing Chun should evolve with the times?
I believe any system that has practicality at its base must evolve and change with the times. For instance, with the advent of the Internet, we have a lot more knowledge of the different approaches to fighting than the late Grandmaster Ip Man was privy to, so we should evolve in line with that knowledge.
Any last words or advice to our readers?
Wing Chun is a great system. There are some very good teachers to choose from, and there are some really awful ones as well. Do your research, find a good one, and then train diligently. Follow your dreams—I’m living proof you can achieve them!