Web Analytics

Cults: A Testimony & Case Study - Part 3

Sid & Andrew Sofos - Wing Chun Boxing Academy - Cult or Not?

Last Updated: 19 May 2024

Claims

The style of gradings was unusual for a kung fu academy, in particular the high level gradings. Wing Chun in many respects does not have a formal grading system. Certain schools use different coloured sashes to designate level, whereas others do not. The Wing Chun Boxing Academy used a system of scrolls, each scroll denoting a grading passed. Sid stated at various times that the scroll system was handed down to him, but never elaborated on who handed it down to him or how far back the grading system originated. I would assume that he created it himself. There were reputedly 17 scrolls in total. Sid claimed to have all 17. Andrew stated from memory that he had 5 scrolls. None of us ever saw these scrolls, and no one had ever achieved more than 5 besides Sid as far as I was aware. To claim to have 12 more scrolls than your brother who had been training a few years less, when each scroll seemed to take several years to obtain, seems highly unlikely in my opinion. Other than the first scroll, no one ever saw a syllabus for the gradings, and the scroll system was never explained.

Sid and Andrew would frequently boast to students that they never advertised, as news of their kung fu was spread by word of mouth and recommendation, so they didn't need to, and that they had to turn away students as they were so in demand. What they probably meant was that they didn't have to pay for advertising as the instructors forced us to go flyposting around North London for them.

Sid alluded to his self-healing and psychic abilities at various times. To what extent these stories are true and to what extent they are exaggerated or fabricated is a matter of debate of course. Sid stated that his eyesight improved because of his qi skills, and that his optician was amazed that he did not need to wear his contact lenses any more. Sid also recalled a story where he cut his finger and within seconds the cut had disappeared. Everyone has a similar story with thin papercuts drawing blood and clotting and seemingly 'disappearing' or not readily visible within 20 seconds because of clotting. Once, one of Sid's chief instructors told Sid that when he was in South Africa (as far as I can remember), he was praying to God. Sid retorted that he had felt the prayer and heard his words, at which point everyone was very impressed with Sid and paid their respects.

Sid and Andrew had always been critical of Traditional Chinese Medicine and particularly acupuncture over the years I trained with them. They would occasionally make negative remarks about acupuncture during the classes. I had started seeing an excellent Chinese Medicine practitioner whilst at the academy, the late Bernard Lee, in Golders Green, in the autumn of 1995, who gave me one huge bag of herbs to take every week or two, drinking the first half before bed and second half in the early hours of the morning. He didn't think I was unwell enough for actual acupuncture. Additionally, I was put on a very strict diet, cutting out all the processed foods and herbs that had a 'hot energy' in TCM terms, as I was keen on spicy foods. Nearly all foods had to be white also, plain and boiled, not fried. So it was difficult to really get enough calorific intake. Most TCM practitioners will suggest you fry foods in toasted sesame oil, for example, but not this practitioner. After one month, my PVFS symptoms virtually disappeared and I felt great all the time on only 6 hours sleep a night, and often I would choose to stay up late every night reading instead of getting an early night as I felt like I didn't need the previous 8 hours I used to need. Prior to that I felt exhausted much of the time even on 8 hours a night, would feel like falling asleep throughout the mornings, and would try to go to bed early whenever possible. I mentioned this to the chief instructor at Fatshan, would said that it was all down to the kung fu training and not the Chinese herbs at all. I think that was highly unlikely as having been training the entire time prior, I had no improvement in my symptoms at all. I did not pursue the point. Additionally, I was queried about the validity of the dietary recommendations I was given. I was told the diet was idiotic, and it would only work in ancient China - that we were living in the modern age, not ancient China, and that we need the modern processed foods, chocolate and sugar etc. because of all the toxins we are subjected to, to boost the body. I thought he was talking complete garbage. He did not appear to have any understanding of Chinese medicine regarding food nor any knowledge of sports nutrition.

In this article in his school magazine he holds the bart chum dao crossed in front of him and stares gratuitously into the camera - the caption below encouraging the reader to 'look carefully at his eyes in this photo, the eyes almost pull you towards him, they almost hypnotise you if you stare long enough into them - try it'. I can only guess that he wanted his students to gaze at his image, and cannot imagine being hypnotised by such a poserish photograph.

Sid made claims about his mystical and supernatural kung fu abilities, which his instructors were told to back up and verify. These abilities were often similar to those seen in martial arts movies, funnily enough, such as firing 'balls of energy' as in Big Trouble in Little China, hovering in mid air, making his knives disappear, lighting the air with flames when using kung fu knives or to punch at the speed of a bullet, bending light with his kung fu knives or hand techniques or even turning the volume knob on his car radio without touching it, using qi from his finger.

Sid and Andrew claimed they were amongst the few people to know the third form of Wing Chun, Bil Jee, as if it was an esoteric secret. In other wing chun schools, it is openly taught and it could be found in numerous wing chun books and VHS tapes at that time.

Senior instructors would frequently tell other instructors what to say and what to believe, without seeing any evidence or experiencing it themselves. This was also true for instructing students.

Sid's feat of 'hovering' could perhaps be explained by the temporary slowing in movement when one does a jump at the peak of the jump, perhaps prolonged by a shift of the centre of gravity downwards whilst maintaining a similar position in the air overall for a split second. Sid's description of chipboard being the hardest form of wood to break is probably grossly exaggerated. Sid cites his ability to cut through a half-frozen cucumber with his fingers as evidence of his skill, but it is hard to quantify 'half-frozen', and indeed hard to prove just how frozen a cucumber was unless it was examined by an instructor afterwards, and even then, you would probably have expected a little exaggeration. I'm not saying it wasn't an impressive feat but it's near impossible to verify either way. Perhaps some of the demonstrations performed by Sid and Andrew were reasonably good, but clearly the significance of many were grossly exaggerated and 'sexed' up and made out to be esoteric and much more than they were. Examples of such claims can be found in pictures from one of the school magazines from around late 1993, show below.

Andrew was a believer in past lives. Some people who believe in past lives tend to gravitate towards glamorous claimed past existences, as you would expect. People's beliefs are at the end of the day their own business. Most people keep their beliefs to themselves or only briefly reference them when relevant unless it can be determined by their actions and psychological make up. The only reason I was made aware of Andrew's belief in reincarnation was because after a lesson one night, he showed a small group of senior Shaoshan students including myself a series of photographs he had taken of himself, in one his rare 'close philosophical post-lesson moments'. The photos were of him dressed up as a Roman solider posing in armour, breast plate, helmet and sword, trying to look menacing. He stated that he firmly believed that he was 'either' a Roman soldier or centurion or an ancient Greek warrior. He was non-specific about which. I believe that this was another example of the overly-inflated, grandiose and romantic/glamorous opinion he had of himself. I felt a rather awkward about the situation but went along with it and showed muted enthusiasm. It's one thing to tell people what you believe you were in a past life, but quite another to do a photoshoot in costume. If he had taken the photos for personal use as a fetishist, a private act of fantasism, then fair enough, but I think he only showed us to impress us and show off. Later on he stuck one of the pictures on his wall, and several students commented to me that they thought it was disturbing and at the same time hilarious. Myself being an assistant instructor did not comment but felt rather embarrassed. I could not criticise my teacher in any way in front of my students.

Sid was probably also inspired by the example of Bruce Lee creating his own style, Jeet Kune Do. Sid thus coined the term 'Sijo' for himself, which is reserved for the originator of a style, (i.e. the original creator of Wing Chun style, Ng Mui at the Shaolin Temple), Sid did refer to himself as a Shaolin monk at one grading that I attended. In his new school, Andrew also started referring to himself as Sijo on his web site in the '10s. However, now it appears from social media posts that he has gone back to calling himself Master.

At one of his seminars, probably the Chi seminar, Sid was describing the history of Wing Chun and comparing it to other internal styles like Tai Chi, Bagua and Hsing I. Whilst describing the history of Wing Chun, he said that Wing Chun had to go underground with the practitioners now being in the Triads on the Triad junks/boats in the plural. This isn't historically correct. Wing Chun was never the sole preserve of Triads during its history. According to Yip Man, as quoted in Samuel Kwok's Mastering Wing Chun book, Wong Wah Bo was a member of an opera troupe on board junk, known as the Red Junk. Wong worked on the junk with Leung Yee Tei. Abbot Chi Shin, after fleeing from Siu Lam, worked on the Red Junk disguised as a cook. Chi Shin taught the pole techniques to Leung Yee Tei and both shared their kung fu knowledge with each other, incorporating the pole techniques into wing chun.

Andrew reputed to hold various world records in martial arts, including the most tiles broken in 2 minutes and the largest number of moves executed on the wooden dummy in a given period of time. The latter, whilst impressive, is perhaps not so as the angles and footwork were flawed and hence it was not really a proper dummy form. The way the Sofos brothers taught the dummy form was to not move around the dummy sufficiently, such that if the arms of the dummy were to extend, the body would be struck and not enough structural strength would be behind the defensive moves to prevent being pushed over backwards. If Andrew did indeed obtain a world record in tile breaking at the Sadler's Wells performance in 1996, it was not officially judged and hence has not been recorded in the Guinness Book of Records or anywhere else. No mention of Andrew's tile record on the internet either. I think that the tiles were pegged (tiles spaced apart and easier to break) as opposed to unpegged, but is not 100% sure. This should have been explained to students or the audience in any case.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breaking_(martial_arts)

Andrew made exaggerated claims regarding the attendance of the shows that were put on in official documents or press releases, including the attendance of the school's Sadler's Wells show. Andrew claimed it was attended by 1800 people. However the capacity of the theatre is only 1568. And I was there, watching it and helping out, and the theatre was much less than half empty, with a few hundred people or so in attendance. Also the Commonwealth Institute show, which I also helped out at and watched, was in no way full to capacity and was barely half full if that. Also the seating capacity if I am not mistaken is 450 not 500.

I have the distinct recollection that Sid claimed to be the actor in Raiders of the Lost Ark in the scene with the turban-wearing warrior in the market with the scimitar who Harris Ford's character shoots with his pistol. I am fairly sure he mentioned it in the class on at least one occasion. This claim being made seems to be corroborated elsewhere. The actor who plays that character was the stuntman Terry Richards, who was around 49 at the time of filming and who looks nothing like Sid.

Denials

Sid once asked me to procure some explosives for use on stage in at the Sadler's Wells kung fu show. I believe it is because of my physics and chemistry background and this former Shaoshan instructor friend of mine who was a biochemist. Sid was evidently not aware of stage pyrotechnics to mimic explosions and did not seem to realise the danger of using real explosives. A real explosive could have potentially blown off multiple persons' limbs and caused fatalities and would of course been illegal to have used live on stage and would have resulted in arrests. After briefly discussing it with this biochemist friend, I told Sid that I would not do it and Sid immediately pretended he didn't want them after all.

One time, Sid had just had some interesting photos taken of a senior training session, and implied that a punch through a block of wood involved the fist moving so fast that it virtually existed in both places at once, or rather, somehow appeared on the other side of the wood. Sid asked me to express this in terms of physics, and I came back the next lesson and did a brief presentation on how as an object's speed increases, it's mass increases by tiny amounts. As it approaches the speed of light, it's mass approaches infinity. Sid and the class liked the sound of it, but then Sid said that he wasn't saying his fist went the speed of light and denied the whole thing.

Relations with the Martial Art Community

Sid met a number of celebrities in his years, as well as other leading martial arts. He had a habit of falling out with virtually all of them. For example, Shadow from The British Gladiators, came to visit and it was not long before they were having a fight in the toilets at Fatshan. Lennox Lewis also came to see him. There was a photo of them both on his wall I believe. Sid later slagged him off.

People were told to believe that all other styles were rubbish in comparison and that they were really part of the martial arts elite, when ironically the complete opposite was probably true in my opinion. Sid and Andrew used to slag off virtually every other martial arts instructor under the sun, especially Wing Chun. Andrew and Sid had on many occasions implied that the McKenzie brothers were rubbish, whilst not actually mentioning their names. Sid would start mouthing off about a local rival school who had put up posters in the area, and someone in the class said 'the McKenzie brothers' and Sid nodded. On the basis of this moment during the class, I assumed the McKenzie brothers were either bad news or had bad or too basic technique. They had an excellent reputation and were UK representatives of Yip Ching. In 1994, I was seriously thinking about moving to Hong Kong after graduating to work and to train in solidly in wing chun, but I changed my mind as I assumed Tottenham had the best wing chun in the world and I would be better off staying in London to that end.

On his old SAS web site from the '10s, and in his current current blog site, Andrew claimed to have attended various martial arts seminars. I find this ironic as when I was at Shaoshan, one of my fellow students mentioned to Andrew that a Wing Chun grandmaster was coming to London from Hong Kong for a seminar - he thought he was doing a good thing mentioning to everyone - and Andrew scolded him in front of the whole class and stated that it was disrespectful to attend another Master's seminar and wanting to learn from someone else - which seems extremely possessive, controlling and jealous. Andrew never discussed his lineage with his students at the time, and who he trained with before Sid became his master, only publicly mentioning Simon Lau (Yip Man/Lee Shing lineage) as his first Sifu nearly 2 decades later.

On his previous SAS web site, Andrew claimed to have met James DeMille, who he says was a guest of his in 1989. He also states on his current blog site, that DeMille and Moy Yat both stayed with him for a week. However, I would be inclined to potentially take this with a pinch of salt, as he also states the Sadler's Wells show had a 'full house', which as discussed above is a gross exaggeration. He doesn't actually mention that he trained with either of them during this time. When I was in my late teens and early 20s, I'd often have people sleep over on my floor, usually friends or friends of friends. Many of them I knew in passing but we were not friends and I was just doing the mutual friend a favour having them stay over. So staying at someone's house or flat doesn't really mean anything necessarily. Any seasoned Sifu or even student will have likely met many different martial arts masters and grandmasters over the years, but when it comes to describing your martial arts experience and lineage, unless you actually trained with a particular teacher for a reasonable length of time, it really is not relevant and just 'pub banter'. He never mentioned it to me or my class at the time from memory. I was aware of the James DeMille book in his office and his DeMille training aids that we never saw him use, and he never taught us any of these techniques. Perhaps this was a response to The Basement in Stoke Newington, run by Nino Bernardo, UK representative of Wong Shun Leung, which was reputed to have been one of the best Wing Chun studios in London at that time, and according to Loukas Kastrounis in his book Wing Chun In-Depth (2023), Dan Inosanto (JKD), Gass Magda (Escrima), Larry Hartsell (JKD) and Bey Logan (film producer and former editor of Combat) visited and trained there. Wong Shun Leung used to give seminars there also. WSL also gifted Nino with a wooden dummy that was installed in the studio.

I have attended many seminars and touched hands with a couple of Grandmasters of Wing Chun, including William Cheung and Yip Chun (aka Ip Chun), and at each seminar was a wide variety of Wing Chun stylists and practitioners with a friendly atmosphere. Such seminars were a great learning experience and a chance to see other styles working and in action. The William Cheung seminar that I attended in May 1996 was organised by other Wing Chun teachers Brian Desir of the Yip Chun lineage and the McKenzie brothers of the Yip Ching lineage. Although their styles were very different to William Cheung's, they were open minded and decent enough to organise and arrange it and participate in the exercises. When I spoke to one of the McKensie brothers at the William Cheung seminar, I was initially nervous as I expected them to be hostile, but this was not the case at all. He was friendly and respectful, but looked a little bemused and asked me if all we ever did in my class was 'freefighting' to which I told him 'yes, that's more or less it'. He mentioned that I could come along to his class if I wanted but didn't push the issue. Brian Desir was also friendly, and after the seminar we started doing chi sau in the hallway of the sports centre with William Cheung looking on with a expression which was a mixture of bemusement (as his own style was different) and looking pleased to see wing chun training. I was looking very confused as I wasn't used to doing chi sau like this. Brian was a great character and gave me a lift back to the station after the seminar. Sid and Andrew it seemed tried to avoid and isolate themselves and their from their contemporaries in Wing Chun.

Sid had an association with a local Karate master in 1996 (who's studio we all helped to paint) - but it is unclear what that really meant beyond a PR stunt. It was not long before he was slagging him off and ceased dealings with him. I met this Karate master at his studio when we were painting it. He had a very large studio and seemed very friendly and relaxed. Sid had a habit of falling out with most people he had any serious dealings or associations with. It would have made sense to have had an association with another kung fu instructor or better still, a Wing Chun school. However, I strongly believe this would have been too threatening, as the other instructor or Sifu would have discussed technique etc. and probably would already have been aware of what his school was like. Andrew did something similar with his SAS Academy years later by adopting a local monk Cecil Cheng as their 'spiritual' head.

A local businessman who sponsored one of the brothers' kung fu shows was introduced at one of our classes at Andrew's dojo in the mid 90s. He was introduced as being a respectable local businessman. Funnily enough, I bumped into him purely by accident at King's Cross railway station, at WH Smith's and saw him standing in front of the shelves reading a pornographic magazine. He really laughed about it. I tried to pretend I hadn't seen what he was reading out of politeness, and he kept making eye contact and drawing my attention to the porn mag, inviting me to have a good laugh about it. He seemed like a funny guy. He had a falling out with the brothers shortly afterwards and ceased his involvement as a sponsor. Andrew from memory started unprompted to slag him off one evening in our class, calling him a complete idiot or worse.

Several times during our classes Andrew badmouthed a local wing chun school, but without mentioning their name, saying they had no discipline, and the students wore baseball caps and chewed gum etc. and said it was appalling, and we, the students, were agreeing with him based solely on what he said as we'd never been there. We thought we had a much more professional club and proper discipline. One day Andrew suddenly said that we needed to tighten up security as students from a 'rival' school might come around with clubs and baseball bats and try to 'raid' our school and beat us all up. He made some new rules for us instructors about managing security and we were required to be vigilant. I believe we had a baseball bat near the entrance to Shaoshan. I was told not to let anyone into the studio without identifying themselves over the intercom. The front door was at the bottom of the stairs with the studio at the top of the stairs and the intercom with at the top of the stairs, and you couldn't really see who was at the door from where you were standing by the intercom when buzzing them in. One time Sid turned up to the studio with 2 instructors and pressed the intercom and I greeted the person and they said 'hello' and I didn't recognise the voice, and I insisted that they tell me who they were. And then he just said hello again and one of the instructors in the background sounded angry and said 'it's Sid, just let us in'! So I let them in and when they came up the stairs and walked passed me, he gave me one of his looks, looking me up and down, and shaking his head. I believe I didn't apologise from memory. I thought it was quite funny and felt that I would do the same next time someone didn't identify themselves as I wanted to do a thorough job. They wanted tight security and they got it. Anyway, as I discovered a few years later, this 'rival' school was extremely laid back, just minding their own business and training hard, and Andrew's claims about it were preposterous.

Sid and Andrew did care about certain charitable causes, and did raise money for various charities over the years. According to one of the school magazines in the early 90s, several of his chief instructors went to the Balkans on some charitable related trip of some sort, I can't quite remember the details. However, it would not surprise me if they had to pay for it out of their own pockets rather than funded by the school. All these instructors all disappeared from the school shortly afterwards. The brothers did a martial arts show at Sadler's Wells to raise money for the Dunblane victims also, although I'm not sure exactly what this money would have been used for.

Communication

Instructors at Shaoshan were not really given any guidance on how to instruct in detail - only on the format of the classes, and sometimes (but not always) on the particular aspect of the technique that they wanted to emphasize. The lack of understanding of what concept to emphasize sometimes led to confusion in a class, where I was emphasizing one aspect and a senior instructor would come along and say something totally different. Where this left the students who knew less about what they were supposed to be doing is anyone's guess! Beginners students were not infrequently expected to know how to freefight and were told to 'get on with it', when they really only knew three hand techniques, a tan sau, a bong sau and a pak sau. Some senior instructors were keen to explain techniques and provide explanations (even if they were somewhat flawed in logic or one-sided), whereas the junior and assistant instructors had less knowledge and felt more insecure about being asked questions. When asked, they often responded aggressively with flippant responses and with attitude, as if this is some kind of substitute for proper information.

When I was an assistant instructor at Shaoshan, the way it operated I believe was that Andrew would tell the instructors what to focus on for each lesson, possibly several lessons in advance as he wasn't usually there at the start of the lesson. The instructors would then tell the assistant instructors what to focus on during the lesson or often not at all. I would sometimes be called over to demonstrate something by the other instructors and they would provide the minimum of information and I'd do my best to interpret what they wanted me to show. A few times it resulted in the 'wrong' concepts being demonstrated to the students or first time visitors, for instance, I was asked to demonstrate the footwork, so I showed the visitors the different footwork moves, and how you can turn, shift, pivot etc. to face any direction or to evade threats. The visitors then looked a little confused and said it looked very complicated, so I tried to show them some more. Later one of the instructors came over and said the purpose of the footwork is to move out of the way of a strike, which is one possible application of many. Another time I was asked to demonstrate the darting and walking backwards and forwards, which I did trying to put some power into the punches so it looked like they would actually do something. Afterwards the instructor said that I was focussing on power and I should have been focussing on speed, to show how fast the chain punches can be. So there were evidently communication problems between the instructors and assistant instructors on account of inexperience or just assumption, perhaps assuming I was on the same page despite not having been in the conversations with Andrew. Also whilst I saw Andrew about on Sundays, I hardly ever spoke to him. He seemed somewhat pleased that I was there, helping out.

Both Sid and Andrew were perhaps inexperienced in the best way to teach a martial art, accentuated by their style not really making so much sense in the body and being difficult to build a solid stance foundation upon which everything else is built. They both expected students to know what freefighting was all about, and when visitors came to the school or to shows, they expected them to understand what was going on too. A good martial art should not really require too much explanation and should include sparring and other activities where the realism and street fighting practicality can clearly be seen, rather than an implied potential for practicality that is never actually practised. Sid even expected a person from the audience invited up onto the stage at the Sadler's Wells show to know how to freefight with him and to know to let him sweep him. To me this demonstrates a complete lack of empathy. Sid and Andrew would often scold their students for not understanding what they meant and not practising what they had been told to do. The uncertainty and lack of clarity in freefighting was probably accentuated by the fact that students were taught to be light and fast, yet by doing so, the definition of the moves disappeared and the result was that too much grabbing the other person's arm was going on as well as just pumping the centre line on the other person's forearm with indiscriminate moves. As it was fast, then the student wouldn't realise what they were actually doing, nor would the instructor notice what was going on either (in terms of technique definition). Thus one often trained and really learnt bad habits which could be executed very quickly.

The senior instructors and even Andrew himself did not appear to understand all the movements properly and their meaning/energy/purpose in my opinion. It was not uncommon for different instructors to perform the Sil Lim Tao in a different manner, even after years of training. Students were told to copy the instructor who performed the form in front of them, but it was not a very good way to learn. One had to wait until a Sil Lim Tao seminar came around every 4 years before one would have some of the applications of the moves in the form explained, as if they were esoteric secrets only taught to the deserving. Contrast this with other Wing Chun schools where the form is taught in a clear manner, and where the applications and purpose of the move are usually clearly explained, and make clear sense even to beginners. A number of the moves in Sil Lim Tao were never properly explained to me in the 4 years I was there.

Many other Sifus when asked why one performs a certain techique will be happy to show you why you do what you do, and how performing the technique differently, according to different styles of Wing Chun, would have its pros and cons. Ask the same question of Sid or Andrew or his instructors, and you got a rather defensive response, one that involved showing you that you would be hit - whereas you could be probably hit anyway using their suggested 'correct' technique - and no comparison with other styles would be made - presumably as they did not know.

During our first 3rd scroll grading, Sid had expected us to cheer on each student taking the grading as if we were at a boxing match. However, he never mentioned this to us prior, and no such thing occurred at the 1st and 2nd scroll gradings when everyone watching was silent to not interrupt or make the person lose their concentration. When everyone was silent when the first person up was being graded, he afterwards became very angry and scolded us and send us all out of the studio for 5 minutes to wait in the car park.

On a large number of occasions, Sid used to look at me and shake his head at me, in response to something I said, to express his displeasure at how clueless he thought I was being. Not on one occasion when he did this did he actually say what he thought I was doing wrong or foolishly. So he was being spectacularly unhelpful, inappropriate for being so judgemental and dismissive.

Sid used to struggle to find the words he wanted when explaining things saying gap filling words like 'yeah' and 'ok' frequently. He also used to make up words like 'stupidness' when referring to other people's stupidity, which some might say was ironic, but it sounded funny in a 'laugh with, not laugh at' manner at the time.

Sid would often try to talk like a Chinese person speaking English where English is not their first language, when imparting some anecdote to the class, in order to sound like a great Taoist sage presumably, for instance omitting the word 'the' frequently. It was rather odd and I often wondered whether it was his Tottenham way of talking or if he was trying to sound Chinese.

Andrew every once in a while liked to talk to us after the class telling us some goofy story from his daily life, 'you'll never guess what' type of thing. One time he asked us to guess what was the cause of his friend's ill health, and after what felt like 10 minutes of having us guess and him saying 'no' and looking quite pleased, he eventually told us it was his gold filling, and once he had it removed, he quickly recovered. Then he announced that the moral of the tale was never to have a gold filling. Another time, he was telling us about his friend who put his back out, and again he came out with the question 'can you guess how he did it?' and after what felt like a similar 10 minutes of having us guess, he told us that he was leaning forward to pick up the remote for the TV. That's where his story ended. Then he said the moral of the story was don't lean forwards to pick up the remote control, and was laughing as it sounded ridiculous. Whether he was joking or not it was not clear. Obviously you don't just put your back out from leaning forwards when your back is in good condition, but after years of poor posture, abusing your back and leaning forwards with a bent back or picking things up or pushing things without having a straight back. I don't think Andrew really understood this from the way he was telling it. So for someone in the fitness industry to have such little knowledge of physiology and sports therapy was amateurish in my opinion. Had he known the subject, he could have turned it into a useful lesson on looking after your back and doing relevant stretches, core exercises etc.

Andrew was never what I would call approachable, but sometimes he would come into the studio and seem totally preoccupied, and be even less approachable than normal.

On many occasions, students of Andrew's helped him redecorate his kung fu studio, and one occasion, a friend of mine was alone with Andrew helping painting. For a whole hour they were alone, Andrew didn't say more than one sentence to him.

Influences

I will stick to commenting on what influences I personally was aware of at the time, and public statements made by the brothers since. Andrew on his on his current blog site states that he first trained with Simon Lau (Yip Man/Lee Shing lineage), which was public knowledge in 00s. Sifu Simon Lau has a school and TCM clinic in South Kensington and is well respected and well known in the Wing Chun community. However Andrew states that he left the school to pursue 'authentic teachings from the original masters' which he does not elaborate on. Sid was Andrew's teacher in the early to mid 90s when I training with them both. In a school magazine which I received in 1993, it stated that Sid and Andrew started training together at the same school when they first started Wing Chun, but did not mention the name. It can therefore reasonably be inferred that both brothers started off training with Simon Lau, without having to rely on any third party sources of information.

Sid was certainly heavily influenced by the numerous movies with his favourite action movie idol Steven Seagal, copying movies and style, even though it was just movie action choreography and a different martial art Aikido. Seagal's on screen moves were choreographed to look good as opposed to being the usual/proper Aikido style. Sid had a photograph of himself next to Steven Seagal on his wall.

Andrew and Sid copied a number of ideas from Bruce Lee, often applied incorrectly. Andrew had a copy of the book Wing Chun Do by James W. DeMille, one of Bruce Lee's senior students, in his office on his bookshelf, I noticed, when I went in there on assistant instructor business (infrequently), and a few training aids that I recognised from this book, such as a set of dumbells with just one weight on the end for forearm training (Sid and Andrew would frequently make negative remarks about any type of weight training stating that it would slow you down). I never saw him use them or mention in front of students. How much of the techniques of the Wing Chun stance was 'handed down' to Sid and how much was copied from books or videos is a matter of debate. Another Sifu I had taught the use of such weights at a one inch punch seminar he held which I attended after leaving Sid Sofos' school, which I found very helpful at the time.

Sid and Andrew used a table to fight on, to promote close quarter fighting - this was likely inspired by The Prodigal Son martial arts movie. It was one of the USPs of the Wing Chun Boxing Academy and is still practised by Andrew's current academy. When fighting on the ground, freefighting was performed in a circle, in a similar fashion, to mimic the round table. This does not necessarily mean that this type of training had no value, but it was not derived from 'secrets' handed down by their previous teachers.

Aesthetic

Sid and Andrew liked the image of esoteric kung fu masters, taken from the old school kung fu movies. They frequently referred to themselves as Shaolin monks.

Sid liked the gangster image (much like a huge segment of the population), and would always dress in black. When he went out socialising with his senior instructors he would always insist they all wore black, and given their thuggish appearance, liked people to think he was the 'don' or mafia boss with his 'soldiers' accompanying him. Sid sometimes behaved as if he was some kind of gangster kingpin. He would send his chief instructor out to drive his girlfriend home. One time he instructed his students to go out in their car and tail someone, and have him feel intimidated and threatened. Sid would often sit upstairs in his big office, above Fatshan, like a Godfather in his private room, with his 'heavies' on hand. Perhaps he was influenced by 'Robert DeNiro' as well as a 'Steven Seagal'.

Sid's school brought out a school magazine every few years. The magazine in 1996, 'Everlasting Pilgrimage', featured Sid on the cover holding two Wing Chun knives (bart cham dao), superimposed on a fancy blue background. The photograph didn't look right and on close inspection, it could be clearly seen that Sid's head was out of proportion to the rest of his body and that there were faint cut out lines around the bottom of his head. His head was too big (pun not intended!) What had likely happened was that presumably an early photo of Sid's body had been used with a recent photo of his head cut out and placed on top of it, then sent to the printers like this. Sid had become a little obese in the 1990s, and made out that it was all muscle. Assuming this was correct, one would assume this was an attempt to make himself appear slim in the magazine. I mentioned the fact that it looked like Sid's head had been cut out and stuck on another photo, and that his head was out of proportion to the body, to his chief instructor, who did not deny it and looked slightly embarrassed before putting on his serious poker face and gave me an evasive answer. Sid always wore baggy clothes and long sleeves to cover up his shape. One wonders actually how fit he really was. Fatshan was covered with photos of his senior students, but mainly himself. Is this excessive vanity really the mark of a Master? The photograph of the magazine below was provided to me by a third party (having long since thrown my copy away) and the angle is not optimal, however, the line where the face was cut can be seen on his right jaw.

A certificate for a Seminar or Scroll grading that I attended featured a Pentagram on it, which is more in keeping with the symbolism of the Western Hermetic Traditition than the Chinese Alchemical Tradition, and was likely used for aesthetic reasons.


© 2006-2024 Fabian Dee