What styles of Kung Fu do I teach, and why?

In this course, I am teaching my own style of Kung Fu. You could simply call it Kung Fu.

It’s the accumulation of everything I’ve learnt. It’s primarily based on Wing Chun and Tai Chi, but is also influenced by Jeet Kune Do, Xing Yi and other martial arts.

Having said that, practically every move I am teaching on this course was also taught very well by Bruce Lee, coincidentally, so I’ll be using his pictures & videos to supplement my own.

Bruce Lee

Bruce is a rare example of someone who I don’t see making any of the typical mistakes (since he started teaching, shortly after he moved to America, aged 18). Among other styles, he learnt Tai Chi as a child from his father, and Wing Chun as a teen from Ip Man & co. But he didn’t just learn them, he mastered their fundamentals and took ownership, not replicating the mistakes he saw his teachers making. Practically every demonstration Bruce Lee made in his 20s & 30s, is a perfect example of how to execute the given technique, so if you spot any differences between my style and his, I have no problem with you following his – both ways should work fine. His way was more aggressive than mine.

Having said that, his skill did dramatically improve between the ages of 18 (when he moved to America) and 32 (when he was murdered, in 1973). This mainly affected his move selection to optimise relaxation, power and inter-move fluidity – he was never prone technical mistakes on a move by move basis. So it’s worth paying extra special attention to any demonstrations he made in his 30s, such as those behind the scenes of Enter The Dragon (1973) with John Saxon and Bolo Yeung. His movies themselves were also great examples of legitimate Kung Fu, especially the later ones where he had more control over script and fight choreography.

Wing Chun

I teach Wing Chun empty handed fundamentals. Wing Chun is easily the best style of kung fu for learning practical blocking and counter-striking skills for one-on-one empty-handed combat. There’s an argument to say Tai Chi or JKD are better, but I’m talking about the skills acquired by the average student, not the uppermost percentile. Personally, I believe Wing Chun is the best mainstream martial art for practical self defence altogether. There’s an argument to say it could be Judo or Boxing, and I recommend you learn these too, but they have massive limitations where Wing Chun does not. Wing Chun is simple, it’s quick to learn, and it focuses on the most important aspects of empty-handed one-to-one combat. This is the base style I’ll be teaching on this course. Most of the core techniques I teach here are commonly taught in Wing Chun schools around the world today, albeit often slightly differently because they’re not so concerned with Wu Wei, Tai Chi and JKD principles as we will be on this course.

Click here to learn more about Wing Chun.

Tai Chi

I teach Tai Chi core principles & mechanics. Tai Chi is the glue that sticks everything together and fills in the gaps from other martial arts, especially Wing Chun. Because Wing Chun is a simplified system that focuses on the main things, so Tai Chi is added to smooth it over, plug in its gaps, extend its remit, and generally make it a more cohesive & comprehensive system, without undermining anything important to Wing Chun, because they are still fundamentally very similar artforms. Tai Chi alone is a comprehensive system, but lacks practical focus and training habits for self defence (in most schools). So Wing Chun and Tai Chi make a great combination – like Yin & Yang, they are each other’s missing link. Many of the top Wing Chun teachers around the world today combine Wing Chun with Tai Chi – there are even many doing this in the UK – this is testament to how well these two styles of Kung Fu complement each other.

Click here to learn more about Tai Chi.

JKD

I teach some Jeet Kune Do core techniques & principles. Because Tai Chi emphasises the graceful side of Wing Chun, which is ideal for a pacifist approach, for avoiding & de-escalating conflicts. It’s good to also consider the sharper side of Wing Chun, which is emphasised by Jeet Kune Do (JKD) – the style of Bruce Lee’s own creation which was originally based on classical Wing Chun but became increasingly divergent as he matured. JKD is more suited to assassination and battlefield tactics, as well as sporting competition. Bearing in mind, Bruce Lee was also one of the greatest ever exponents of classical Wing Chun (which he learnt from many teachers, initially Ip Man & co). Bruce was also well versed in Tai Chi (which he learnt from his father). He also did Fencing as a child, Western Boxing in High School, and Judo at Uni. He continued to practise all these arts until the year he died. So this course is packed with demonstrations and words of wisdom from Bruce himself – every style of Kung Fu taught in this course is supplemented by demonstrations by Bruce Lee. JKD restores the potency of the coiling & darting Snake side of Wing Chun, considering Wing Chun is said to have once been a combination of Snake and Crane systems from Shaolin. There are several prominent Kung Fu teachers around the world today who base their system on this great trio of styles – Wing Chun, Tai Chi & JKD – because they blend together so well, and the combined system covers all bases from pacifism to assassination.

Xing Yi

I teach the Five Elements theory of Xing Yi. This is not strictly a necessary ingredient of being a complete fighter – some would say it’s even a step too far – an unhealthy distraction – but it’s a nice brain tickler and an aid for reflecting to help you develop from another angle. This system of martial theory offers new insights into classic Wing Chun and Tai Chi combinations, answering some otherwise unanswered questions, and opening up a whole new world of mechanical logic to explore. There are very few schools in the world today, applying Xing Yi theory to Wing Chun mechanics – even fewer doing it comprehensively the other way round – but it makes so much sense I can’t not acknowledge it. If nothing else, the Five Elements theory from Xing Yi Quan helps to validate or criticise your favourite technique combinations to a level of detail & certainty that seems almost supernatural, like a reverse-engineered system of divination. And on the directly practical side, there are many classic Xing Yi techniques found in Wing Chun, Tai Chi and JKD – often not recognised as such, like the Drilling Fist (the corkscrew forward motion of the fist as the elbow sinks down) which is commonly trained in Lap Sau drills.

Wu Wei

I teach The Way Of Fighting Without Fighting. We have Bruce Lee to thank for popularising this style, or at least this name for it. This is actually the greatest martial art of them all. It’s a form of Wu Wei (doing without doing). No physical kung fu needed. But knowing you can get physical if you need to – this may give you the confidence required to clear your mind and find a better way. To avoid the fight before it starts, and to de-escalate anything that may have started. Creativity welcomed – feel free to think outside the box, just as Bruce did in Enter The Dragon.

Five Styles

In summary, the five core styles of Kung Fu I teach, and the way I organise them collectively, are as follows:

  • Style Zero – The Way of Fighting Without Fighting – Wu Wei as a martial art
  • Style One – Tai Chi – The Way of Blending (yin & yang), incorporating Wu Wei
  • Style Two – Wing Chun – The Way of Conflict, incorporating Blending and Wu Wei
  • Style Three – JKD – The Way Of Reaching (for early interception), incorporating Conflict, Blending and Wu Wei
  • Style Four – Xing Yi – The Unholy Way – The Unnecessary Insight
JKD Symbols
Bruce Lee’s gym wall, displaying his JKD logo at the top, with three pictures beneath it, representing the three key stages of learning. These three symbols, plus the logo above them, correspond to the Core Four of the Five Styles I teach. The logo at the top represents JKD (Style Three). Then beneath it, from left to right, are Partiality (akin Wing Chun – Style Two), then Fluidity (akin to Tai Chi – Style One) and then Emptiness (akin to Wu Wei – Style Zero).

Other martial arts worth learning too

I encourage you to also train in the following martial arts, if you can. But take them with a pinch of salt in case anything they teach clashes with any of the vital Kung Fu principles we’re learning on this course.

  • I recommend Boxing and Kickboxing for generally developing techniques – just be careful not to develop a ‘point-scoring mentality’ or a ‘sparring mentality’ which is the wrong mindset for genuine combat – inappropriate for everything from pacifism to assassination. Also beware of neglecting techniques that work much better without gloves on, such as those that depend on grip, or knuckle contact, or two hands working closely together.

Bruce Lee tried Boxing under Queensberry Rules when he was a teenager in Hong Kong (guided by Brother Edward Muss, at St Francis Xavier’s College – a Catholic highschool in Kowloon). Without training much boxing – using mostly Wing Chun and street fighting skills, Bruce won the inter-school championship (between 12 schools), beating the 3 year reigning champion (a British boy called Gary Elms).

  • I recommend Judo for footsweeps, chokeholds and stand-up grappling – just be mindful of striking range boundaries & protocols that are forgotten by purely grappling systems – also be careful not to develop an overly sporty mindset here – on concrete streets against multiple attackers, it’s advisable to avoid ‘falling down with them for half a point’. Traditional Judo included striking and stay-standing principles that the modern Olympic sport does not.

Bruce Lee began learning Japanese Judo from Fred Sato, at Washington Uni in Seattle in his early 20s, and continued learning Judo through his 20s with the help of Gene LeBell and Wally Jay.

  • I recommend Aikido for multi-opponent footwork, wrist locks and pacifist tactics – just be aware that there is a lack of pressure testing in this discipline (for safety reasons) compared to sportier styles (where wrist locks are usually banned for safety reasons), and this can breed over-confidence in your ability, while leaving gaping holes unexposed.

Bruce Lee once saw a demonstration of Aikido and commented (paraphrasing) “that could be useful if someone is trying to grab you, but wouldn’t do well against punching & kicking”. Note also, the founder of Judo (Kano Jigoro) once saw a demonstration of early Aikido by its founder Morihei Ueshiba (at Mejiro dojo, 1930) and said “this is ideal Budo – true Judo” but he was already 70 years old, so instead of learning Aikido himself, he sent two of his best students (Kenji Tomiki and Minoru Mochizukio) to train under Ueshiba and report back.

  • I recommend Ninjutsu and Capoeira for broadening your range of techniques – there’s a lot of good stuff to find in these disciplines, just be mindful of anything that might contradict our vital Kung Fu principles. For example, rolling around on the ground contradicts the Kung Fu principle of staying on your feet, but still has relevance in certain contexts (there’s an exception to every rule) such as hyper humble conditions (major injury, slavery, etc) and super stealthy operations (military manoeuvres, etc) – plus it can be great for developing certain athletic attributes that benefit you in all scenarios.
  • I recommend Arnis for working with short blades and short sticks. Just be careful not to over complicate things, because Arnis is full of fancy rhythm & sensitivity drills which, just like Sticky Hands in Wing Chun, can encourage a point-scoring mindset, but it’s important not to forget the potential potency, efficiency and humility-nurturing properties of singular isolated movements, especially when working with blades.

Bruce Lee learnt Arnis from Dan Inosanto in return for teaching him Kung Fu.

  • I recommend Fencing for developing long-range principles.

Bruce Lee learnt fencing as a child, alongside his elder brother Peter who became a world-class competitor with foil and epee. In the same year that Bruce won his inter-school boxing tournament (1958), his brother Peter represented Hong Kong in the Commonwealth Games.

But you’ve got to start somewhere, and I believe there’s nothing better to start with, for practical self defence, than the Kung Fu in this course. If ever I believe differently, I will change the course to fix it! So let’s get started.

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