We spoke with Wing Chun Master Randy Williams. Randy is best known for his Close Range Combat style of Wing Chun Gung Fu and his many videos. He has done bodyguard work for such stars as Phil Collins, Eric Clapton, and Steven Seagal. We talked about his art/training methods and future.
BS-Randy, Tell us a little about the style you teach and where you received your training.
RW-I teach WingChun Gung Fu, which is a southern Chinese system based primarily on the Shaolin animal styles of snake and crane. I call my own personal interpretation, which is a blend of techniques, concepts and principles I learned from Sifu George Yau, Sifu Augustine Fong in America and Sifu Ho Kam Ming in Hong Kong, along with years of experimentation, "Close Range Combat Academy Wing Chun".
BS-Have you ever dabbled in other martial arts?
RW-Although I started with Thai boxing in my early teens, I never trained in any other styles since I was thirteen until I recently began training in Jeet Kune Do under Sifu Ted Wong, who is among those considered to be Bruce Lee's top student.
BS-I noticed you do some speed bag work and iron palm.
RW-The speedbag work I do is based on Wing Chun hand, elbow, forearm and headbutting techniques, and only vaguely resembles a boxer's use of the bag. The iron palm I practice is pure Wing Chun hand techniques as learned from my instructors.
BS-Wing Chun is based on the center line theory..can you explain a little?
RW-It would take quite a bit of time to adequately explain centerline theory in detail as I have done in my books, video and various magazine articles, but in a nutshell, the centerline theory differentiates Wing Chun from any other art I've seen other than Sifu Ted Wong's JKD. The centerline is a vertical plane that intersects you and your opponent's axis of rotation-your "cores". The main idea is that, in order to correctly defeat your opponent's hand technique, which is viewed as a pyramid, you must get your own hand- also viewed as a pyramid-between the tip of the opponent's pyramid and the centerline plane. In other words, when he punches with his right, you have to place the wrist of your own right outward block (the tip of your pyramid) between his knuckles (the tip of his pyramid) and the centerline plane. The same thing goes for attack. You have to get the tip of your attack between the tip of his defense and the Centerline. It's really quite simple once you get the idea.
BS-Are your teaching methods very rigid or do you like to have fun in the class?
RW-I guess I like to keep a relaxed/fun atmosphere, but I don't want a total lack of discipline which would prevent the group from learning as efficiently as possible. As an instructor, you have to know when to be funny, when to be mean, when to praise a student or when to ride them for poor performance. It's a balancing act. Although you yourself may not want to be called "Sifu", your students need to have a person they can call "teacher", just as you did. So if you are going to try to be that person, you have to demand a bit of respect at times, if only for their benefit. But yes, I definately feel you have to have fun with it. Self defense is a serious suject has to be taken seriously, but let's face it, unless you're some kind of really antisocial personality or work in a bar, police or prison security type atmosphere, you're probably not gonna have more than five fights in your entire remaining life, and that's a probably a very high estimate for most people. So at the most, you may spend five minutes of the rest of your life in actual combat. Granted, a very important five minutes, but still a very minute fraction of your life. But you may spend 8-10 hours a week or more training for those possible five minutes. So you might as well be benefitting from that training, be it by getting in better shape, more self confidence, or by having a blast doing it.
BS-What's the difference between Wing Chun and other Chinese arts?
RW-Wing Chun is structurally a very fast style. It is characterized by short, snappy motions that capitalize on speed and "cutting angle" leverage. Unlike most arts, Wing Chun encourages simultaneous attack and defense, and principles like Economy of Motion, Reference, Facing and Centerline Theory. It is especially well known for its trapping techniques, which momentarily immobilizes a part of the opponents body-usually the hands or arms-long enough for you to hit him from a relatively safe position.
BS-The forms of Wing Chun are very different than other classical Chinese styles..
RW-Wing Chun has six forms: Siu-Leem Tau "little idea"-Chum Kiu "Seeking the Bridge", Mook Yan Joang Fat "Wooden Dummy form" Biu Jee-"Shooting Fingers" Look Deem Boon- "Six and a half Point Pole form" and Bot Jom Doh-"Broadsword form".
BS-Wing Chun seems like its a quick self defense system...
RW-It was designed to be just that--a shortcut method to self defense. But having said that, I have to say that you can spend a lifetime mastering its relatively few techniques.
BS-Is it easy for kids to learn?
RW-I myself would'nt recommend Wing Chun for small children because it can be extremely complex in theory and requires a great deal of concentration and patience that they might no be capable of for extended periods. I think you're better off putting them in a more sport-oriented art like Judo or some forms of Taekwondo at first to get a foundation.
BS-So you wouldn't consider Wing Chun a sport martial art?
RW-- Because of the way WC is designed to make incapacitating strikes to the vital areas in order to end a fight quickly, I believe that when you start fighting in an atmosphere where the danger of the fight has been removed through restrictive rules and/or safety gear, you have lost the true essence of what WC is all about. First off, you would then have to train yourself NOT to instinctively attack the throat, groin, eyes, knees or whatever vital area. This would entail undoing nearly all your training, or at least training yourself for the ring as opposed to the street - to instinctively respond with other strikes that are better suited to a gloved hand for example. In any case, what you would be expressing wouldn't be WC in the purest sense of the word. Secondly, if you wore gear that allowed such hits without their intended effect, you could technically score 5 or 6 blows in the first few seconds that would have severely injured and possibly incapacitated a larger, stronger opponent only to be knocked out by a haymaker that he never would have had the opportunity to land had it been a real fight. There are Chee Sau (WC sparring from prior arm contact) tournaments cropping up here and there, but they seem to work out better when they are intra-mural.
BS-We've been hearing so much about groundfighting these days, Is there ground fighting techniques in Wing Chun?
RW-Yes, there is a whole system of groundfighting in Wing Chun. These techniques are different than any other groundfighting system I know of. In particular, the use of the ground itself as a weapon. You're constantly trying to slam his head, arms, hands or legs into the floor, or else stepping on part of is body and wrenching the joing usng the ground for leverage. I wrote a comprehensive essay on Wing Chun groundwork in my book series in 1989. This was recently re-published in a martial arts magazine and was the subject of much controversy.
BS-You've worked on many videos in the past. Do you feel they are a good substitute for training in an art someone is interested in but not available in their immediate area?
RW-If I didn't believe in the effectivness of videos, would I have made 42 of them? Seriously, they are a good substitute because you can rewind it as many times as you want so you don't miss anything. You also get a great camera angle on each movement. You can even watch in slow motion to catch it all. You can't do any of those things with a real lesson. Of course, there's no substitute for a good teacher, but some people don't have access to one. I'd like to say it's impossible to learn from a tape alone, but I've actually met too many people around the world who did just that--and were pretty damn good at what they'd learned!
BS-You're videos are still available right?
RW-Yes, my videos can be purchased through Unique publications (800) 332-3330 and my European video series which was filmed at a completely different time and place is available through Cinturon Publications in Spain (34) 1 373-8265.
BS-You have schools around the world how do you find time to visit them and train.
RW-It's hard but I visit each of my academies at least once a year, usually more. At the moment there are Close Range Combat locations across America as well as England, Germany, Spain, Sweden, South Africa, Singapore, Austria, Canada, Austrailia and India. I've got a new one just opening in Switzerland. I train about three hours a day when I'm at home, much less when I'm on a business trip, and usually a bit more when I'm on a seminar tour. My training consists of weight training 4-6 times per week, running, sit-ups and other aerobic type exercise on top of my regular regimen of two man drills, "Sticky Hands", Wooden Dummy training, Sandbag and other punching training, 1024 kicks...
BS-I'm familiar with those kicks..(laughter)
RW-Oh yeah..and other torturous stamina-building exercise. Training in Singapore heat and humidity also adds about 50% more difficulty to any training you do as well.
BS-With all the training and travel you're doing, what's your next venture?
RW-Well, I've always been interested in film work and right now I'm scheduled to begin filming a movie entitled "The Vampire Master:St John and the Dragon" with Full Moon productions in September 1997. I wrote the script myself. It's a martial arts horror-comedy that will showcase the Wing Chun system and I hope will appeal to martial artists from all styles as well as non-martial artists who like scary movies, special effects and a good laugh.
BS-Will you be doing your own stunt work ane choreography?
RW-At the moment, I'm planning to work closely with my good friend Jeff Imada who choreographed all of Brandon (Lee)'s stuff. He is very knowledgable on the best way to present a technique for the screen and could really help accentuate the already impressive techniques of Wing Chun for the film. "Judo" Gene LeBell, who plays my father in the film will also play an active role in the fight choreography as he has been beaten up in film by everyone from John Wayne and Spencer Tracy to Bruce Lee and Bruce Willis. With guys like this on your side, how can you go wrong?
BS-That's got to be exciting for you. Is the future for Randy Williams film work?
RW-Well, I'd like to be optimistic and say that I'll be successful in this first film effort and go on to other Gung Fu films and projects. I'd also like to be able to have the freedom to train as much as possible in my various clubs around the world, making my living doing what I love. That to me is the true meaning of success.
BS-Thanks Randy for speaking with us and best of luck to you in your filmwork and your future.
RW-Thanks Ben...good luck to you and the Martial Arts Network.
About the Author: Ben Smith is a 20 year veteran of the martial arts having trained in Wing Chun as well as Washin-Ryu
Karate. He is also a radio personality and freelance journalist.
About the Author: Ben Smith is a 20 year veteran of the martial arts having trained in Wing Chun as well as Washin-Ryu Karate. He is also a radio personality and freelance journalist.
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