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