Taiwan, also know as the Republic of China (ROC), is one of the most beautiful places in Asia. Living on this prosperous and beautiful island are some very interesting martial arts teachers and masters. In the recent past, before Wushu became a household word in the martial arts world, the term Kuoshu was a most recognized term in the overseas Chinese communities. Wushu and Kuoshu are just different terms having the same meaning – Chinese Martial Arts.
Some of the contemporary Kuoshu figures included legendary giants such as Gieng Man-Ching, Wang Shu-Chin, Chen Pan-ling to name just a few. Still others who have made a tremendous impact include Hung I-Hsiang featured in the famed BBC series Way of the Warrior), Liao Wu-chang and a host of others mentioned in Robert Smith’s bestseller “Chinese Boxing: Masters and Methods”. Somehow, in the background after Smith has come and gone, diligently contributing his skills, knowledge and experience is a figure who is now quietly recognized by the ROC’s International Kuoshu Federation and commands enough respect and recognition from scores around the world who travel the globe to his doors. His influence and stature are such that he features regularly in the ROC’s premier martial arts magazine “Vigor & Beauty Monthly“, teaches the ROC’s special tactical squad and frequently gets invited to lecture and teach at some of the leading institutions of higher learning in the country. His overseas students hail all the way around the globe from Africa to America, from Europe to Asia and from South America to Australia.
His name is Sifu Lo Man-Kam. His system the ubiquitous art of Wing Chun kungfu. Sifu Lo background is fascinating to say the least. He is the nephew of the legendary Grandmaster of Wing-Chun kungfu, Yip Man. Born and brought up in Hong Kong, Sifu Lo learnt his Wing-Chun direct from Yip and counted among his training brothers then are still some of the current leading lights of the Wing-Chun clan: Tsui Seung-Tin, Wong Shun-Leung, Lok Yiu, Chiu-Wan, Wong Kia, Ho Kam-Ming, plus Yip’s sons, Yip Ching and Yip Chun.
Having migrated to Taiwan more than 10 years ago, Sifu Lo was and still is the primary mover of the Wing-Chun system in Taiwan. In fact, it would not be farfetched to describe him as the country’s Mr. Wing-Chun. Through the years, Lo has taught countless thousands of students in his new home. In the Wing-Chun world, the media tends to concentrate on Hong Kong or focus on the United States or some overseas centers and personalities, in that sense, Sifu Lo is the unsung warrior of the system.
While travelling in the ROC the author has the good fortune of coming across Sfiu Lo and sat and chatted with him on a few things. This short write-up is my impression and results of our pleasant encounter. Although Sifu Lo’s system is Wing-Chun kungfu, his views, his experiences and knowledge may be just as applicable to practitioners of other styles as well. Since this is only a personal snapshot of the man, it may be subjective and errors of impression and recollection may exist. For that reason, all interested readers should refer queries directly to Sifu Lo.
The big guy just about dwarfed his slightly built partner. It was soon apparent that the smaller of the two was gaining the upper hand despite the size disparity. As the arms flashed in a whirl between them, the pace heated up and the risk of severe injury suddenly became very obvious. With a flash of very adroit interception the parties were neutralized by a genial and unassuming gentleman. It was part of another day at Sifu Lo Man-Kam’s training school. Since 1973, Sifu Lo has given of himself to the selfless promotion of Wing-Chun kungfu in Taiwan. Seemingly isolated from the rest of the Wing-Chun kungfu international community, Sifu Lo nevertheless survived and thrived through the years. The thousands of local and international students testified to Sifu Lo’s effectiveness as a teacher and the substance of his teachings.
Where Lo is concerned Wing-Chun is still quite misunderstood by many practitioners throughout the world. This, despite Wing-Chun’s ongoing growth and popularity since the heydays of the Bruce Lee’s martial arts era. As he sees it, Wing-Chun is an art which should continue to evolve all the time. From what I saw, it is more than apparent that Lo practices what he preaches. There are aspects of Wing-Chun kungfu as he does it which I have never seen before. It would be unfair and unrealistic for me, a later generation practitioner to compare Lo’s contribution and prowess with the other grandmasters of the system who I know of in Hong Kong and elsewhere. Lo’s creativity and capacity to adapt are reflected in some of the things he is now teaching in his Taipei class. While we chaffed he also demonstrated his prowess and skills with the short stick which are also taught to the Republic of China’s special tactical forces. In between anecdotes, Lo continues his justification of the obvious changes he has made to the system. According to him: “It is true that some of the things you now see me doing weren’t done by the late Yip Man, my uncle. That in itself doesn’t in anyway make the newer things less Wing-Chun or invalid. What is important is their compliance to fundamental Wing-Chun principles and their practicality. My students, from whatever background, all appreciate the integrity of what I teach“.
Through the years while others talked and wrote about innovation in the martial arts, Lo was already very heavy into innovation. His unique perception and training methods are truly innovative and refreshingly interesting (this does not imply that other Wing-Chun grandmasters are lacking in initiative). It would not be unusual to see Lo’s students working out in tight stairways and in uncomfortable corners. Loa himself demonstrated some of these real-life techniques in many of his articles in the local popular Vigor & Beauty magazine. Lo’s penchant for realism is quite fanatical. In his rooftop gym I saw not only the traditional Wing-Chun training apparatuses such as the wooden dummy and the wallbag but also fairly uncommon and peculiar sensitivity training devices. One in particular reminds me of the springy hand training device used by the late Bruce Lee. I suspect that Lo and the late Bruce Lee, through their close association with the late Yip Man and their respective passion for Wing-Chun kungfu led them to arrive at the same logical innovations. While there was a great deal of journalistic write-ups and even books written on Lee?s training apparatuses, there was hardly any mention of Lo’s contribution in this area. This wooden arm mounted on a spring attached to a vertical board is an important training tool in Lo’s repertoire. Lo himself demonstrated the use of this very useful tool to me. In his casual friendly manner, Lo went into some fascinating details on how training with this and other tools in his rooftop gym contributes a lot to the practicing Wing-Chun students. Not surprisingly none of his students seemed short of things to learn and practice. It was also not surprising that while I was there his class resembled a small United Nations. There were Swiss, Spanish, some French speaking people who I couldn’t?t make out where they came from, an American and of course a few native Chinese. The atmosphere was one of harmony and goodwill and very comfortable. It was cool that evening but very comfortable. Winter in Taipei is like in Sydney, mild and training on the rooftop provides all the natural ventilation every earnest practitioner needs. It is not difficult to see why Lo’s rooftop gym has quite a natural “traditional“ feel to it.
Lo’s philosophy is very simple and basic. In his own words, “It is my duty to make my students better than me. In fact, I want my students to go past my achievements. Too many unethical masters deliberately save their best for their own sons, as if their sons will definitely be interested and be talented enough to assimilate and assume the legacy“. To be good in kungfu, Lo insisted:“It is a matter of feeling, sensitivity and touch. The progress in these attributes enable true progress in kungfu. Especially in Wing-Chun kungfu“. It is therefore only natural that with such a sound and simple philosophy, Lo attracts even students who have previously gone over to the Mainland China to study the martial arts there. As Lo sees it, too many styles lack the crucial ingredients as a genuine martial art. Many still insist on the ridiculous “one..two“ effect. That of having a separate beat between the defense as in a block or deflection, and the counterattack. Nowadays, it is common knowledge among all mature martial artists whatever their styles, schools or systems that real life situation cannot sustain a “one.. .two“ beat in technique execution. Wing-Chun in comparison with many martial arts styles is seductive in its simplicity especially in the concurrency of defense and counterattack. It uses the 1/2 beat and one beat cadence in all its applications. Everything then seems logical, direct, compact and clever. Of course, a close examination of Wing-Chun kungfu history will yield the rationale behind all these. It was a woman who devised this system (there are at least 2 versions of Wing-Chun’s origins, but significantly both versions insisted that it was a nun who first propounded the system), therefore it is simply inconsistent for a Wing-Chun practitioner to train like a red-blooded male warrior. In fact, we can very easily apply a fundamental key criterion to determine the authenticity of a Wing-Chun skill: can a not-so strong slightly built woman use the method successfully to overcome bigger and stronger opponents in a no-holds barred conflict. In one fell stroke the raw beginners can see the smartness of it all. It is also this unique quality about Wing-Chun which presumably sustains Wing-Chun kungfu’s phenomenal growth in popularity all these years. This combined with Lo’s willingness and zealous teaching spirit have managed to make Lo a household Wing-Chun name in the Republic of China, Taiwan. On my way out of his gym that evening, Sifu Lo was as usual in his amicable and friendly self. Somehow he has convinced me that he will continue to build on his success to date and may someday help spread Wing-Chun kungfu in Mainland China. This belief does not in any way reflect lesser my longstanding respects for the grandmasters in Hong Kong and those currently residing on the Mainland.