East­ern art, Western way

An un­likely teacher is help­ing to pop­u­larise the grace­ful mar­tial art of Wing chun in malaysia.

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THE world­wide pop­u­lar­ity of the mar­tial art known as Wing Chun has cer­tainly been felt in Malaysia, and the tremors of count­less punch­ing bags res­onate through the walls of train­ing halls and gyms through­out the coun­try. It is strange, though, that de­spite the cul­tural ties shared be­tween the Malaysian Chi­nese com­mu­nity and Hong Kong, the birth­place of mod­ern Wing Chun, a di­rect and ver­i­fi­able con­nec­tion with this fa­bled mar­tial art made pop­u­lar by Bruce Lee, has never been es­tab­lished. Un­til very re­cently. And in the un­like­li­est of forms.

David Peter­son ar­rived to live in Malaysia from Mel­bourne, Aus­tralia, al­most three years ago. He brought with him three decades of ex­pe­ri­ence in Chi­nese mar­tial arts, most of it prac­tis­ing Wing Chun, as taught to him by Sifu (mas­ter) Wong Shun Le­ung, a di­rect pupil of the leg­endary Ip Man (the sub­ject of world­wide hit biopics star­ring Don­nie Yen and An­thony Wong).

Bruce Lee may have been part of the Ip Man school in Hong Kong, but the ac­tor was taught di­rectly most of the time by Sifu Wong, Ip Man’s top fighter, who pur­port­edly never have lost an en­counter. Peter­son, who stud­ied un­der Wong di­rectly in Hong Kong, came to Malaysia with im­pec­ca­ble cre­den­tials, hav­ing taught around the world at sem­i­nars and coach­ing ses­sions.

With a pro­fes­sional back­ground as a teacher of the Man­darin lan­guage at pres­ti­gious in­de­pen­dent schools in Mel­bourne, Peter­son’s com­mand of the Chi­nese lan­guage along with the Can­tonese di­alect learned dur­ing time spent in Hong Kong, en­abled him to com­mu­ni­cate ef­fi­ciently and flu­ently with Sifu Wong. This grad­u­ated to the point where Peter­son ac­com­pa­nied the mas­ter on world­wide teach­ing tours, act­ing as trans­la­tor and demon­stra­tor for Wong. It was a tra­di­tional Chi­nese mar­tial arts stu­dent-teacher re­la­tion­ship in the clas­si­cal sense.

Peter­son’s aim now is to “teach Wing Chun to any­one who wants to learn it prop­erly, in the same way it was taught to me by Sifu Wong”.

While court­ing his now-wife Nor­in­tan, Peter­son made sev­eral vis­its to Malaysia be­fore get­ting mar­ried and set­tling here. The lo­cal Wing Chun com­mu­nity learned of his vis­its and in­vited him to present sem­i­nars, and with each visit, the num­ber of at­ten­dees grew.

“Even­tu­ally, we did a full-on pub­lic sem­i­nar in Kuala Lumpur which at­tracted some 70 plus Wing Chun afi­ciona­dos from all over the coun­try, many of whom are still train­ing with me to­day as my most se­nior stu­dents,” says Peter­son, who is in his 50s.

“One of them, Chua Jon Dep, who had been run­ning his own class in KL for a num­ber of years, and who’d been in­volved in Wing Chun for over 10 years when he met me, ba­si­cally handed over his keys and said, ‘Sifu, please run the class and teach me,’” says Peter­son.

Peter­son’s ap­proach to Wing Chun – or Ving Tsun, as it is spelled in the Sifu Wong lineage – takes the core tenets of ef­fi­ciency, di­rect­ness and ex­plo­sive­ness to what may be de­scribed as the most con­cen­trated ex­pres­sion of those con­cepts.

While most mar­tial arts styles and schools are called forms of self-de­fence, Peter­son prefers to re­fer to Wing Chun as a “per­sonal pro­tec­tion” sys­tem. This is in keep­ing with the art of Wing Chun it­self as a form of com­bat, first de­vel­oped at least two cen­turies ago in South­ern China as a way of quickly train­ing ef­fec­tive fight­ers to com­bat the Manchurian Qing Dy­nasty, by the na­tive Han Chi­nese.

When asked about the ob­vi­ous jux­ta­po­si­tion of a Western or white Sifu teach­ing Ori­en­tal mar­tial arts, Peter­son says, “Over­all, both WSLVT (Wong Shun Le­ung Ving Tsun) and my­self have been ex­tremely well­re­ceived in Malaysia by the gen­eral pub­lic and the lo­cal mar­tial arts com­mu­nity. There was some ini­tial neg­a­tiv­ity that brought on com­ments such as ‘What would a gwailo know about real Gung-fu?’, but that has pretty much died down now.

“Some who had claimed to rep­re­sent WSLVT be­fore I came here have mirac­u­lously dis­ap­peared from the scene while our school has gone from strength to strength.”

The main school is sit­u­ated in Serem­ban, where Peter­son lives with his wife, a doc­tor at a lo­cal spe­cial­ist hos­pi­tal. Jug­gling the roles of hus­band, fa­ther and pro­lific colum­nist, Peter­son also over­sees the train­ing of over 60 stu­dents at his school, or mo-gwoon, three days a week, and twice weekly in Kuala Lumpur at Ta­man OUG.

His flu­ency in Man­darin and Can­tonese means he can com­mu­ni­cate ef­fec­tively and with­out hes­i­ta­tion with the ma­jor­ity of the stu­dents who are Chi­nese, but the classes also con­tain a sprin­kling of the diver­sity that

Peter­son will ac­cept stu­dents of any age, as long as they are will­ing to com­mit to lessons.

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