Interview with Sifu Armando Sainz, by BKO KungFu
BKO Kung Fu: What do you feel is the biggest myth about wing chun? How do you respond to people who respectfully ask you about it?
Sifu Sainz: There are a few myths surrounding Wing Chun. There is a generally accepted legend about a shaolin nun named Ng Mui, a master of Kung Fu that developed a system effective against men and her friendship with Yim Wing Chun whom she named her kung fu system after. However, there is a more believable account with some historic documentation of a man named Dr. Leung Jan, his Tai Chi roots and his development of Wing Chun by his encounters with western men with Pugilistic abilities. I'm not sure why Wing Chun became shrouded in legend but the fact remains that the Wing Chun system has been developed by some very intelligent individuals who took great care in making Wing Chun a highly efficient kung fu. One of the main differences between Wing Chun and other martial arts is Wing Chun is a concept based system and that changes everything!
BKO Kung Fu: In some of your articles you mention your style is a step beyond traditional wing chun and leaves no gaps in it's technique. What makes your style different than Jeet Kune Do?
Sifu Sainz: Without getting into too much controversy and at the risk of sounding like an arrogant 'know-it-all', I'll explain. Both WingChun³ and Jeet Kune Do come from Wing Chun - Jeet Kune Do to a lesser degree. What is not as well known is Bruce Lee only had about two and a half years of Wing Chun training, and not only that, but also the form of Wing Chun he learned was inferior to what Ip Man taught to his inner circle students. The fact is Ip Man never actually taught Bruce Lee himself but had two of his lesser favored, and therefore lesser skilled students, teach him. However, to Bruce Lee's credit he noted the deficiencies and embarked on a journey to create what he called a "formless" martial art. His intent was to develop the ultimate fighting system. Unfortunately, Bruce Lee died young and was unable to fully realize his vision. As a result, Jeet Kune Do is a technique based, sport-oriented system with a few Wing Chun moves.
On the other hand, WingChun³ comes from the inner circle. It comes from the less famous, but more skilled, line of students hand picked by Ip Man. After Wing Chun got into western hands, it was further optimized making it far better than Ip Man himself imagined. First of all, WingChun³ is free of any sport-oriented thinking, limiting tradition or ceremony. Although Bruce Lee curbed tradition and ceremony, he failed to free himself from the snag of sport-oriented techniques. Nothing has been more destructive to the idea of real world martial (war) arts than the influence of sport. Also, Jeet Kune Do is not concept based to the extent that Wing Chun is , therefore it uses preconceived maneuvers like the other martial arts from which it strived to break free.
Technique based systems work like this: someone throws a punch at you, you block it, and then you do a combination of punches or kicks at them. But if we think of self defense as a sophisticated communication such as a language, for example, then this method is too shallow. Language is fully concept based. When we speak we have no need of a preconceived script. We are free to speak in real time to each other. By the same token, WINGChun³ is fully concept based freeing the practitioner from combinations or preconceived maneuvers. It enables them to fight in the now or in real-time. WINGChun³ uses structure (skeletal alignment) rather than muscles to deliver devastating blows eliminating the need to be physically strong. It incorporates important ideas concerning preemptive positioning making one seem faster without actually being physically fast. It's the idea of already being there.
In addition, concerning empty hand fighting, and although there are hundreds of martial arts styles, the practitioner is taught that in actuality there are only three kinds of fighters out there. Because we all have two arms and two legs, the catagories are "the puncher, the kicker and the grappler". Once the student realizes that all martial arts fall within these three categories, he can know the simplicity of a universal method to beat them all. In addition, WingChun³ brings the practitioner into the modern world by merging weapons instead of adding them via the concepts already present in the system. Once again a world view facilitates this by categorizing weapons as "blunt instruments, edged weapons and firearms". On top of that, the student learns the different scenarios and situations and the laws that govern self-defense. WingChun³ is designed to recapture the ancient knowledge of those who fully understood life and death conflict, coupled with modern self-defense scenario awareness. It is the best of east meets west.
BKO Kung Fu: Why are all your lessons private? Why don't you do class training like everyone else?
Sifu Sainz: Private lessons are just better! One on one with a student is by far the best way to transfer knowledge and skills. Knowledge is transferred much quicker than in any group setting. You can completely customize each lesson to the individual and his or her particular needs. Each person learns differently. So once I know how they learn, I can hone in on making the most of each lesson. I've gotten some very good results this way. I will from time to time bring in a master level student of mine to help a particular student experience different energies and to help them hone their fighting skills. One of these experts is Robert Nunes who is a young master of Wing Chun and a high level Ju Jitsu practitioner. He is a sparring partner for a professional MMA fighter. On top of that he weighs 300 pounds and has vice grips for hands. If you can do well against him, you can do well against anyone.
BKO Kung Fu: If you don't have a belt system to promote people, what type of goals do you set to keep your students on track?
Sifu Sainz: Because I teach only private lessons, I am able to treat each student as an individual. Therefore, the use of uniforms and belts become irrelevant. However, I do have a complete syllabus with extensive notes that each student receives when they join. A student can easily see what level they are any time and make short and long-term goals within their training. I do not do any formal testing along the way because lessons are so hands-on. They are getting real time feed back every class. However, I do test them formally for black sash and beyond. Once my student is ready, I test them for black sash because of what it means. Black sash in my school means you can handle yourself against any attacker quickly, with ease in an almost effortless manner.
BKO Kung Fu: Can you tell us about your history of taking on all challengers to your system? Do you still accept all challengers? Why did you win?
Sifu Sainz: I ran a group class school for eleven years between 1998 and 2009. During this time, people would come in and challenge us to fights. For the most part, they were respectful with their challenges but some where not so respectful. In every case, since martial arts is war arts, either I or one of my higher level students would handle them quickly. The way I did it at my school was without the use of protective gear; just bare knuckles. These challengers were full grown men who had ten, twenty, twenty five years experience in the martial arts. We had Jeet Kune Do instructors, Krav Maga experts, Karate masters, Navy Seals, Special Forces and even other Wing Chun people. To determine the victor we used two methods. One was the challenger was unable continue due to being knocked out, or it was so obvious that they were beaten that the challenger asked to stop before it went to the next level. This is the old way. The way it was done back in Hong Kong in Ip Man's heyday. Different people and schools would challenge Ip's students so they would just go up on a roof and duke it out. There's even some old video footage of these events.
As an instructor, running a business I found one draw back to accepting challenges however. Once beaten, the challenger without fail did not join my school. Was it pride? Embarrassment maybe? I don't know. Over time I learned that the kind of person who would ask to challenge was not really interested in learning anyway. They were only interested in testing their fighting ability. Once beaten, I never heard from them again. Personally, I feel those challenges did serve a good purpose at the time for us. My students knew what I was teaching was good. But the challengers, since they went away and never learned why they were beaten so easily, did not benefit from the experience. So today, I view challenges as a good learning experience and somewhat of a stepping stone in my past. But now, accepting challenges doesn't seem prudent or productive anymore. I would venture to say today, for me, it's a waste of time. In addition, I teach private lessons now in a nonpublic setting. So, challenges cannot happen anyway. On one occasion not long ago I received a challenge via email. So I just ignored it.
BKO Kung Fu: Where did you learn your gun defenses from? How long would you suggest someone practice a gun defense move before they tried it in real life?
Sifu Sainz: During my time in traditional martial arts I learned gun defenses from various instructors. Curiously, the occasions were usually student initiated. A student would ask about a particular gun defense and the instructor would give his answer and then go back to empty hands. Guns were never really considered part of martial arts back then. The attitude was that the empty hand was somehow better, even more noble than using a gun. Guns and gun defenses were low on the totem pole. However, in sharp contrast I view guns as a natural part of martial arts in the modern world. Firearms are good in the hands of law abiding citizens. But as we all know the bad guys have them too. So in the early 2000's, I began my quest to incorporate firearms into my system. I received basic and advanced instruction in concealed carry. From there, I began to develop concept based gun defenses that went along with the sum and substance of my system. I then did extensive R & D to make sure what I was doing was as safe, efficient and effective as possible. I did the same thing with edged weapons and blunt instruments and merged them all into WINGChun³. One hopes to never have to be in a situation where they have to defend against a life threatening attacker. However, the world doesn't seem to be getting any friendlier. I believe it is best to be fully trained and ready to defend yourself and your loved ones. I believe it's better to be a warrior in a garden, than a gardener in a war.
BKO Kung Fu: What's the best way to prevent a fight if the other person is insisting on it?
Sifu Sainz: I teach my students the reality of self defense. I try to rid them of the gladiator mentality that pervades martial arts today. Sport oriented thinking is actually dangerous. The gladiator mentality says the following: Two men, evenly matched, fight to the death while we watch. There is even a Bruce Lee movie that depicts him and Chuck Norris in a fight to the death in the Colosseum in Rome. This is not how real self defense goes and should never be thought of this way. The whole idea of two evenly matched men fighting at a specific time and place, mano a mano is counter productive for the real world self defense practitioner. A real self defense situation is never planned, never evenly matched, completely without rules and will come quickly and decisively. The reality martial artist will respond immediately with overwhelming destruction and will not stop until the attacker stops moving. What I teach is not an equalizer but the maximizer for the safety of my students and their families.
So to answer your question, one would asses the level of the threat. If the other guy is using menacing language, then I would respond with a verbal warning and perhaps try to defuse the situation with words. However, if this person goes from verbal to physical that changes everything. Then I would respond with physical communication finishing the fight in seconds. The idea is do the right thing; not for the attacker, but for your loved ones who need you and love you and want you to come home to them.
BKO Kung Fu: Why is lineage so important in Martial Arts? Doesn't it really come down to your skill and effectiveness?
Sifu Sainz: Lineage is more or less important from martial art to martial art. In Wing Chun, it seems to be important because there are so many forms of Wing Chun out there and not all are good. Some are really bad in fact. Since Ip Man had inner circle students and outer circle students, then it stands to reason the inner circle ones were better instructed. The fact is this is evident and true and may give credence to the idea that lineage is important for explaining why we fight better than the other guy. My Wing Chun lineage stems from Ip Man through Leung Sheung who was Ip's senior student and leader to Ip's other inner circle students. He was the most skilled and respected student until his death. Even Bruce Lee called Leung Sheung 'Si Hing' which means "older brother". That title was reserved for only the best of Ip's students and is where my line stems from. However, for me personally, I recognize all my teacher's contributions to my learning. It all was an indispensable experience, without which, my now world view martial arts system would be skewed. With all this said, on a day to day basis my lineage matters very little to the person standing in front of me receiving instruction. What matters most are my fighting skills and my ability to convey them to my students.
BKO Kung Fu: Is there anything else you would like to tell our readers?
Sifu Sainz: Well, first of all I would like to thank you for asking me these questions and giving me the opportunity to answer concerning my favorite subject. Also, it is an honor to help a fellow martial artist who really loves his craft and wants to make something of himself through it. I'm happy to help! To our readers I would like to say that in the martial arts world today you can find the full spectrum; from total sport oriented systems like Tae Kwon Do to complete reality self defense systems like mine. In all cases, it is important to decide what you want to accomplish within martial arts and then tailor your studies accordingly. If you want performance based systems, then Wu Shu might be good coupled with some stunt man seminars. If you like the idea of tradition and feel strongly about it, then maybe Karate with its eastern tradition and hierarchy is good for you. However, if you are not interested in sport and are interested in real self defense that works for you in real time, when you need it most, then call me.