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Trainer Team

Chief-Instructor Vancouver Bio - Go to Sifu Ralph Haenel

All current members of the Wing Tsun trainer team Vancouver & Victoria

Assistant Instructor Bio - Sifu Brian Yam, Read below

The love for martial arts came to me at a very young age initiating from the countless kung fu movies found on the multicultural channel. The idea of being able to protect myself, to disable an attacker, to strike with enormous powers was amazing! Mimicking moves from tv, and practicing from books, and reading anything and everything I could about martial arts-it was a total craze. I knew nothing could replace an actual teacher and at the age of eight, I stepped foot into a local recreation center to learn karate/kick boxing. It was a horrible experience. Being of a not so perfect physique (some would say ‘fat’), it was very difficult for me to keep up with the required exercise demands of push ups, sit ups, and jogging. It was incredibly discouraging, and not before too long, I decided to drop the course, even though I did succeed to yellow belt.

By the time I entered high school, I heard my cousin was taking Shito-Ryu Seikokai Karate and was very devoted to it. She invited her Sensei to the Christmas dinner that year and I was introduced to this Japanese man who was a “black belt”. It brought back memories of embarrassment and difficulties I had back at the rec center but I also thought that I had an opportunity to overcome this hurdle and attain a level of skill in the art of self-defense. I took the plunge, tried out the class and really enjoyed it. The classes were physically demanding but the instructors were patient as I was not of “perfect physique”. After every class I was dripping in sweat, winded, and I loved it! The classes emphasized stretching, warm ups, basics such as stance training, punches, kicks, and katas. Sparring was only practiced after hours, or if the instructor felt like it. I enjoyed my years there, but even now, I could remember calculating how fast I could become a black belt and listing the requirements: learn the basic techniques introduced at that level, learn the kata for that level, remember the previous katas, and learn the basic kumite drills for that level, pay the fees and I’ll have my black belt in no time. I saw nothing that could stop me. Even though I was hefty, I was still relatively fast, light on my feet, and could catch on the new moves relatively easily-it was simply a matter of time before I’d get that belt!

So progression was occurring as expected, however, I realized a few things that concerned me quite a bit. The dojo was very traditional in its teachings and beliefs; however, it heavily emphasized tournaments and competition. Kata competitions, team kata competitions, and point sparring were heavily focused on. Self-defense, unfortunately, was practiced rarely on Sundays and hardly emphasized. The novelty of this karate school was finally wearing off and I needed something else. There was no challenge, and as cocky as I may seem to appear right now, I just could not see the potential of difficulty in getting my black belt-all it consisted of was learning more techniques and more katas. The great big sign that read “Learn Self-Defense” did not mean anything to me at all. The instructors were great, the students were friendly, the atmosphere was traditional and I respect everything they have taught me very much, but I felt that there was no point in getting that belt and decided to leave in order to find that “something else.”

Finding the right school was quite a tiring exercise in its self. I was craving martial training, but I had to make sure I could find a school that would fulfill my requirements. I checked out aikido schools, hapkido schools, tai-chi schools, other karate school, and finally I rediscovered the beauty in kung fu. There was a huge selection of styles to choose from and I knew nothing about any of them. I didn’t care. I’ve heard of southern shaolin, northern shaolin, bak mei, temple kung fu, etc. I had to start somewhere so I enrolled myself into the Lee’s Association kung fu school in china town. The classes were similar to my karate school in structure-warm ups, basic techniques, stance training, and forms (katas). It was quite an adjustment to make your body move from the classical rigidity found in karate katas to the fluid and more flexible springiness in the wu-shu forms. When it came to actual fighting, the school would prepare the students for full contact tournaments, which in my opinion, was just a sloppy form of kick boxing which I was not interested in. In addition, the instructor, however, was not the best, as he would not take his class or his students seriously so I left that school.

After graduating high school, one kung fu club I checked out called me. There was a waiting list for enrollment and luckily I got in. It was a Choy Lee Fat Kung Fu club with a very well known reputation along martial arts circles as far as kung fu goes. The class was enormous with an age span from 6-55 years old. I’ve seen the Sifu train before outside on days where I would drive past the school and he was amazing. Very clean, soft, movements and could explode anytime into high spinning leaping kicks-for a guy in his 40’s, that’s not bad at all! Of course, this is all in forms practice and I could only wonder what his applied skills would look like in an actual confrontation. Classes were pretty much standard however, the drills and exercises were as grueling as ever. The style emphasized great training on the low horse stance. It was incredibly painful and I hated every minute of it. Stretching exercises weren’t that great either as the pain would just send you into outer space. Having said that, “no pain no gain, right?” So I decided to stick with it and see what potential treasures the style had for me. So nearly a year of choy lee fat training has passed and I finally expressed my interest to my Sifu about fighting applications. And more importantly, free style fighting. His answer was a kick boxing/swing wildly at the opponent approach. I was incredibly disappointed as all the forms, techniques, hand positions, stance training was useless in the end.

For some odd reason, I’ve always had faith in kung fu. It originated so long ago with so many tales of greatness achieved from it. It has been tested along the many generations on battlefields and has been passed down from one family generation to the next. Of course, many of its true teachings have become non-existent but there has to someone out there teaching the real deal. I don’t expect to learn kung fu in a short period of time but as long as it can give me what I’m looking for then I’m more than willing to do what it takes to become proficient at it.
Sitting on my computer one day on ICQ, I receive a message from my neighbour about a “Realistic Self Defense” club in Vancouver teaching Wing Tsun Kung Fu. I read through the articles on the website and I found myself nodding in agreement at every second sentence! I quickly emailed the instructor of the club, only to realize that the club was (at the time) too far for me to get to on a regular basis considering costs and time limitations. I did keep in touch with the instructor on a semi-regular basis. As luck had it, I found myself attending Langara College, which is very close to the school.

It was September of 1999 when I actually stepped foot into the kwoon. It was not an open house event, but I dropped by to watch. I was blown away. Just amazed at the principles, the simplicity, the effectiveness and the teaching ways of the instructor. The instructor did not advocate training his students for tournaments but for real life confrontations. In addition, the moves in the forms were well applied in actual combat. It was exactly what I was looking for. I fell in love with it right there and then and knew that this is the art I wanted to do. The scary part was that this was all determined simply by watching and I was not ready for the experience of hands on training with my Si-Fu, Ralph Haenel. His skills blew me out of the water-at every stroke or attack I threw, I found myself in a helpless vulnerable position and was constantly bombarded with attacks at every angle. Sign me up!

The beauty of the art was in its true, unrehearsed, expression and not in some particular pose or pattern of movements. There was no expectation in the delivery of attacks from the attacker-I could do whatever I wanted to do whether it was to throw a right kick, a left punch, a spinning kick, or a full out tackle. It was at my discretion as to how I wanted to throw my attacks and my instructor would simply dissolve them in seemingly effortless movements and leaving me in a position where my face would be hit, my arms are tied, my body is off balance, and I’m only hoping that he does not truly hit me (and I’m wishing I could do this too!). The pressure, the feeling, the reflexive nature that I was submersed in was not like any other. Once contact was made, there was nowhere to go. Assuming that my attack is a true one, not some “tap-like” punch but a clean hit with weight and power behind it, it gave me nothing but problems-I was exposed at all times. It was truly amazing and eye opening..

So I pondered. Why can’t I do anything? First of all, the structure was amazing. It was solid, as if his lower half of his body was cemented to the ground, but was mobile as soon as he wanted to attack another part of the body. His arms were too “light” or “soft” in a way where you could not feel them coming when they were attacking once contact was made. It was like he was able to just feel your arms and know where they are for that split second only to leave them behind in order to gain proper positioning for that victorious blow. Having said that, his blows were heavy. They were not hard like an iron rod hitting you, but like a boulder falling from above and onto your chest. I realized I couldn’t even pass his arms to use my elbows, knees, or whatever I had in mind although he could use his weapons at any distance and at his preference. So I resorted to trying to keep my distance but I quickly realized that I was never going to get a real good hit in. Purely defensive is one thing, but winning fights would require an offensive game as well. This is not about “point hitting” the WT instructor (even though it really didn’t matter), but to launch attacks at him, and when you have that mentality to actually go in for the hit, it was a repeated nightmare on my end. I was quickly convinced of WT’s effectiveness by my Si-Fu.

Let me ask you, the reader, this: “Have you ever crossed hands with your instructor?” “Does it seem that he’s your instructor because he knows (preaches) more or because he can apply more?” You have to wonder why your instructor is “your instructor”-is it the trophies that he has? Or maybe it’s the colour of his belt or all the books he has written? Have u personally ‘felt’ the reason why he is your instructor? Through principles, ideas, and movements found in Wing Tsun, it is a system that is theoretically undefeatable when it comes to hand to hand combat. Now what about practicality? Sure the system is pretty impressive at a theoretical level but what about when the system is applied? Simply, it is not Wing Tsun unless it is applied. It is a true fighting system and that is why I’m in it. There is no resorting to kickboxing, thai boxing, jiu jitsu, or whatever happens to be the martial art flavour of the month because the system is complete and works at all levels. The system has all the answers and is unique in the fact that it does not require the need to incorporate other styles in order to deal with the numerous martial art styles out there.

Wing Tsun changes the way you view life and the training challenges you physically and mentally, tiring you out and testing your patience. It teaches you what you can do and what you can’t do in realistic confrontations. . Initially the training, the excitement, and the concepts all make you become a part of Wing Tsun and as you get better, Wing Tsun becomes a part of you and it is expressed by a particular and unique way defined by your personality all leading to the goal of self defense. I could not stop talking about the Wing Tsun Kung Fu system and I found myself in discussions, numerous times, with my friends and strangers only wishing to have even a small percentage of my Si-Fu’s skills just to demonstrate (a little) the effectiveness and power of this art when I first started.

Like a typical guy shopping at a mall, I just want to be “in and out” and the same goes for a fight. Why bother going for flashy kicks or tumbling falls? All I want, simply, is to defend myself in the most economical way, using as little time and energy as possible leaving the attacker unable to attack and myself free of harm. Is this so much too ask for? Wing Tsun can teach you to do this and do this well. And here I am, learning Wing Tsun Kung Fu.

Sifu Brian Yam,
3rd Technician Grade Wing Tsun Kung Fu (as of Dec 2012)

Read his Dec 2012 blog post!