In this exclusive interview, Steve Dickerson asked me (Jason Yost) about Wing Chun Kung Fu, Grandmasters Ip Man and Steve Swift, and much more…. Here’s an excerpt from that interview:
JY: What would you like to know? My age? (Jason laughs) Experience?
SD: Sure. That’s a good place to start.
JY: I’m 46. I began learning Kung Fu when I was six. I didn’t appreciate it, like I do now, at that age. But I started then.
SD: Was it Wing Chun, or something else?
JY: Oh. I’ve studied all kinds of martial arts. When I started, though, it was in the Taoist Kung Fu. During that time, I also studied some boxing, Okinawa Karate, Kenpo, kickboxing and Jiujitsu. I didn’t get into Wing Chun until 1996. By that time I grew out of my childish outlook of Kung Fu, and opened myself to be taught on a deeper level; something more real, practical, effective, efficient…. however you want to describe it, it became more of myself, my life.
SD: Were you learning from Grandmaster Swift at that time?
JY: Not immediately. No. I met Master Jack Roberts, and went to Montgomery, Alabama to learn. It was during my training with him that he introduced me to Grandmaster Swift.
SD: What were they like to learn from?
JY: Intense. Honest. Capable. In more ways than just fighting. It was like they could see through you, and they let you know it – when the time was right. Their students knew they cared about them, and were focused on what was best for them – even when we didn’t understand the direction they were taking us.
SD: Can you give me an example of a time where they were being honest about something besides martial arts?
JY: Yeah. I was in Master Roberts’ class when my pager went off. (Laughing, Jason described how they didn’t have mobile phones, then. Pagers were the thing.) And Master Roberts told me, “You need to get a new job. That job is going to kill you.” He was right. I was over-worked, at the time, and it was breaking me down. It hurt my Kung Fu, greatly.
SD: Now, a lot is made about lineages going back to Grandmaster Ip Man. Were your instructors descendants of Ip Man?
JY: Yes. Among others, Grandmaster Swift learned directly from Grandmaster Ip Man’s sons, Grandmasters Ip Ching and Ip Chun.
SD: How is your teaching style the same as their teaching styles?
JY: Ip Man’s? Swifts? Roberts?
Grandmaster Ip Man with Bruce Lee
SD: Yeah. How is it the same as their styles of teaching, and how does that preserve the Wing Chun tradition, or does it have to?
JY: Well, depending on who you ask, Grandmaster Ip Man taught differently to different people. Part of this was his patience and his mastery of Wing Chun. He would allow some space for the student to find errors, himself. This allowed the student to understand why the changes were necessary. It reminds me of something my first teacher told me, “I have all the answers, and I can hand them to you on a silver platter right now. But, you’re not asking for those answers. You’d take the platter from me, instead.”
JY: Anyway, one thing was consistent with all of Grandmaster Ip Man’s students: He expect them to come to him and spend time with him; not just come and leave for a single question and asnwer. Grandmaster Moy Yat put it like this:
Some students would come in and say, “Sifu, am I supposed to do it this way?” He would say, “You are supposed to do it this way.” But someone else would come in and say, “Sifu, is this all right?” He would say, “It’s alright.” If you asked, “All right?” he would say, “All right.” If you asked, “Right?” he would say, “Right.”…. The reason he would do this is because if a person wanted to find the true answer, went to his teahouse, had something to eat, found out the answer and left, it would be unfair. It is unfair for someone to ask a question, get the answer and walk away.
He expected you to come to him, spend time with him and serve him, then you might learn some kung-fu.
That’s how it was for me with Master Roberts and Grandmaster Swift. I spent time with them discussing all kinds of things about life, at their homes, over meals, at the gym, in their offices, everywhere I could. This is what has been traditionally called “the Kung Fu life”.
SD: Do you teach the same way?
JY: To a degree. Yes. You ask any of my students, and they will tell you that classes often begin with me asking, “Do you have any questions?” And, classes end with me asking, “Do you have any questions?” And, I’m always around talking and listening to them about various things. Those who come to me, hopefully, will benefit from that as I did my teachers. If they don’t ask, sometimes I let them go on doing what they’re doing. I won’t correct them immediately.
SD: Why is that?
JY: Like I said before, one has to understand the need for change to appreciate the change. Change doesn’t just happen because you want things to change. If you have a bad day at work and someone comes up to you in the parking lot to beat you up and steal from you, you can’t say, “I don’t feel like it,” and things just change. You, also, can’t say, “I want to beat this guy up,” and expect to be able to without proper preparations. You see: It takes work for change to occur. Some people invest in themselves and their quality of life, and some do not. If they won’t apply themselves toward proper awareness – question what they’re doing – they won’t change because you correct them. They have to want it bad enough to do it.
Stay tuned for more of this interview at another time. In the meantime, if you want to learn Wing Chun, come see us at the Yost Wing Chun Kung Fu Academy in Terre Haute, Indiana. We can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (812) 229-4097.
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