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Cults: A Testimony & Case Study - Part 4

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

Last Updated: 20 May 2024

Analysis of Technique

Below I examined some of the concepts and training methods we used a the Wing Chun Boxing Academy in the early to mid 90s, and reviewing it based on my subsequent somewhat brief experience of 3 different wing chun lineages, namely William Cheung, Samuel Kwok (Ip Chun and Ip Ching), and Moy Yat.

Freefighting

After finally leaving the Wing Chun Boxing Academy at the end of 1996, I joined Glasgow Wing Chun after about a month's break. I trained there for a few months before relocating. It was a different style of Wing Chun Kung Fu, of the Samuel Kwok lineage (Ip Chun and Ip Ching). After some weeks of looking and asking around, I found this wing chun school and turned up to one of the classes one night, and the chief instructor was very happy when I said that I had done Wing Chun for 4 years and wanted to train, as my class was comprised of beginners. We did some chi sau and sparring, which I found very confusing, and he took me apart. I didn't understand what was going on as he was terminating his strikes, which is something we rarely did with the Sofos brothers in the interest of speed and keep a flow going. I then explained how I'd trained before, i.e. 'freefighting' and he said that yes we could do it this way and he started briefly doing very rapid freefighting, but then stopped and said there was no point as it was good for flow but wasn't actually achieving very much. Later in the class I was training Chi Sau with one guy who had been attending classes for just 3 weeks was almost bettered several times. We did not start chi sau at Shaoshan until after about 2-3 years from memory. Sid/Andrew's chi sau was lacking in break out moves and has a forward energy that rendered it highly detectable. It was clear to me at this moment how the structure and technique I had learnt was highly flawed.

'Counters' was the precursor to freefighting in terms of training, and new students would start with 'counters' and only ater after maybe 2 years move onto freefighting. If Andrew thought the students weren't making enough effort with their freefighting from lesson to lesson he would scold them about it and tell them they were to go back to counters again. In counters, each person executes one move in turn and waits for the training partner to execute their move, then they execute their move, and so on. This is not like a bong sau/lap sau drill or pak sau/punch drill, where you react to a strike before it lands. Here you wait for the strike to be terminated before making your counterstrike. The person who has landed the strike leaves it there in contact with your body in waiting for you to remove that arm from your person with a block and a simultaneous strike. The issue with this is that not only is there too much thinking time in trying to think of different moves, as often students will just keep doing the same 2 moves all the time, but that you are blocking something that has already landed which makes no sense in a fight. If someone was to hit you in a fight and leave their arm out then if you managed to recover from their strike quickly enough you would take advantage of the outstretched arm and go for a break or lock. So in my opinion, this way of training creates bad habits and a confused mind regarding wing chun concepts, which could result in hesitation in a real situation.

Freefighting, which Sid claimed to have created, is sometimes referred to by ex-Sofos students as 'slap fighting', is a style of sparring, initiated with an arguably abstract circling punch/pak sau drill for a few seconds, and which can be very fast and looks a bit like some of the fast grabbing moves in Steven Seagal films. The term was presumably used to be descriptive, but the use of this term is contentious as it is not quite free in the sense that there are definite rules about how to do it, and it is not all out fighting. Yip Chun uses the term 'free fighting' in his book 'Wing Chun Martial Arts: Principles and Techniques' (1993) to refer to full contact Hong Kong rooftop style fights, which is arguably a more descriptive use of the term.

The actual initiation sequence of freefighting involves the fist being pumped forwards to within the reach of the other person's guard hand where they will pak sau it to the side and pump their own fist forwards, and you do the same back to them. So both of your fist arms are going in a circle in front of the other person's chest and pumping forward and back. So you are not really trying to actually strike the other person in reality but occasionally you might exaggerate the fist motion to try to strike the chest, but it really has little power as you are doing so with little distance and with a nearly straight arm. So I don't think the start of the freefighting is very realistic but you can build up a lot of rhythm and speed, but to what end other that providing a means to allow someone to break out of it and go into freefighting.

What follows then is similar to sparring or the attacking moves in chi sau once you break out from the sticking hands, but is faster, and doesn't involve terminating many of the moves and is an exercise in presenting the forearm to the opponent and 'pumping the centre line' (using moves that encourage fast flow and the continuation of that flow), without actually really doing anything. The idea is to gain the centre line but not do anything with it, whereupon your training partner, then reacts to that move by whatever comes to the arms/mind, to regain control of the centre line. Etc. Often once you had gained the centre line, if the partner didn't respond instantly, you would leave your hand where it was and try to demonstrate that you had the centre line and signify that you could hit them, without actually doing it. Finally the partner would respond and the flow would continue.

Often during freefighting, the better practitioner will 'slap' the training partner around the face a few times, to indicate that they need to keep up their arms, maintain control of the centre lineor that their arm is still there and has not been stopped, rather than actually landing proper strikes and doing a logical sequence of range closing and pinning moves. But the person doing the slapping would leave their arm out extended or close to extended. As with counters, what the other person is expected to do is to connect with the forearm of the arm that has done the strike on them, counter it and carry on freefighting. A punch held out is no longer a punch and has no meaning, and it is chasing something that has already been and gone. If a strike has landed, the person attacking does not leave it there and there is no point blocking something that has just landed. This is not strictly true if it is a grappling move, but otherwise it applies. In a real fight, people jab, they do not punch and leave their arm out. No training I ever had at the academy involved dealing with people jabbing straight and direct punches. The only street fighting training involved predictable and wide swinging hooks, involving the same arm eact time (i.e. predictable, telegraphed). Most other schools I've seen, when performing chi sau, if one person lands a strike on the other then they stop and go back to chi sau, that previous exchange is now 'over'. Then start again. To me, that makes more sense. Other schools tend to either do chi sau, 2 or 3 onto 1, or proper sparring with sparring gear, but not freefighting.

Occasionally you would close the distance gap between you and your partner, land a few palm strikes on the face softly, often grabbing the neck, or with lap saus on the arm, and then moving in for a 'sweep', to 'finish' the freefighting. This sweep would be a basic trip where you balance precariously, move your leg to the back of theirs and yank your leg back to make them lose their balance. This is in my opinion a beginner's judo move. This is the only finishing move we were taught and which the instructors would use on us. However, for several reasons, this is bad training. Firstly, it is trying to mimic a training partner falling to the floor because you've hit them several times. So in other words, you don't need to trip them if they have gone down like a sack of potatoes after a proper strike to the head (in a real fight). Also, the sweep is crude and you lose your defensive position momentarily, although technically that shouldn't matter as the opponent should be incapacitated etc. A lot of the time, you would do a sweep in freefighting after closing the range slightly as you had been freefighting for a while and you didn't know what else to do. The concept of maintaining the range and exchanging so many blows, and finally sweeping, is abstract and not related to the reality of a fight. So after the sweep takes place and the other person allows you to put them on the floor without resisting (or you would be scolded), you quickly get up, dart forwards and present your pseudo-punch outside forearm to the partner again to continue freefighting without going back into the pak sau style drill unless you've totally lost it. If you don't get up quickly enough, the training partner would dart forwards and tap you a little with their front foot as if to say 'get up!'

So overall, flow and speed rather than actual practicality was the goal of freefighting. What you train, you will do 'in anger'. If you don't train something, you won't be very good at it (terminating moves in an unpredictable scenario). There was no purpose in the freefighting that made sense in practical terms. Very little progressive closing of the range. The purpose behind each move was missing and the structure of the move was flawed.

If one considers what series of moves would occur in reality, as soon as one strike is landed, a logical and rapid series of strikes occurs, closing the range culminating in a poweful close range strike (utilising the fact that the opponent is unable to strike you because of your positioning, range and how you have trapped their arms etc.), which will drop the opponent to the ground (if he hasn't dropped during the preceding strikes).

Good Wing Chun training is to drill in lightning reflexes for practical situations and reality. As freefighting was seen as dynamic and exciting looking, the practice of slowly practicing a preset series of moves was seen as boring and not performed. So the result is that freefighting resulted in one concentrating on easier to perform moves and not really gaining much proficiency in sets of moves that came less naturally. Sloppiness was therefore ingrained into most students. So rather than practising every conceivable permutation and practical sequences of moves (in a realistic scenario where the opponent doesn't keep regaining the centre line after repeated hard strikes), and building total confidence in them, the focus is on fluidity and 'freedom' and not paying attention to where one's real weakness are in move sequences. Perhaps the focus being on repeated strikes on expecting the opponent to continue fighting as effectively is based on the assumption that the actual strikes have very little effect on account of the impractical stance and the elbows being too far in. In a general sense, one had to acclimatise to 'freefighting'. When I first saw it, I thought it was rubbish and that I'd never end up doing that. And that I'd only land strikes properly and work on my structure. But ironically I did later on. It was only after leaving the academy and viewing other WC styles that I realised that my original (gut) impression was correct. Freefighting looks good only to those accilimatised to it in the school and to those people who have no idea about martial arts. Freefighting is performed with the concept that one is training with one's hardest opponent, and that anyone else one fights for real will be easy to tackle. Perhaps this is true for the most rudimentary of opponents but not for an experienced streetfighter or anyone with martial arts experience. In the latter scenario, one might wish one had actually trained to land strikes on the opponent.

Freefighting or chi sau only ever flowed when there was a 'spring'. This was Sofos speak for each practitioner exerting a slight force forwards in his arms that met with the other person's similar forward force, so that it anyone dropped an arm etc, then the other person's arm would 'fly' forwards (but to a point of course apparently) into a strike or other move. However, relying on this, and relying on the relaxation of the opponent to be able to actually shift his or her arms is a flawed way to train and divorced from the reality of a fight. The need for relaxation to actually shift the partner's arms at all showed a lack of using the body's actual natural structural strength. This was also evident in that sweeps never worked when one's partner was resisting, which was something virtually all students noticed in classes. If one resisted, then the instructor or practitioner would say something like 'Don't resist, as I can just hit you'. But if that was the case, why didn't they hit you earlier? Wasn't that the whole point of freefighting? If you are not going to hit the other person, just just make tiny moves to take the centre line but not actually do anything with it, then why bother freefighting at all. And indeed, the person resisting the sweep could equally 'just hit' the other person, as they were preoccupied with trying to make their sweep stick. Surely freefighting should be more like sparring, with constant attempts to land strikes on the training partner. If you don't practice this in class, it won't come out of your body when you need to use it in 'anger'.

Certain 'freefighting' strike moves were totally ineffective and lacked a sense of reality. For example, sometimes an instructor would land a (side) chop on your stomach. Whilst a chop is effective if striking soft tissue such as the neck, which has no structural protection, landing this move on the stomach would not be very effective! On occasion students would land a 'fook sau' on their training partner, as a terminating strike. This is a good way to break your wrist or to damage the veins on the top of your wrist. No one ever taught us what it was for. A fook sau is not a terminating strike move but a block to prevent an arm coming up, and precursor to a hoong sau (wrist roll - like a fencing move) and then a strike or a lock, for example.

There was a general trend in the last 6 months or so at Shaoshan for the instructors to really go excessively fast in freefighting, faster than you could cope with, just to slap you around the face repeatedly. The instructor would then tell you to relax and not to resist but to try to do your best to defend yourself, (but with relaxed and floppy arms that can be easily pinned or moved to help the instructor). You would possibly deliberately get struck in the face somewhat hard so you'd get a fat lip or nosebleed, and the idea was to get your mind used to be thrown about and struck, but without tensing up, so you don't lose any of your speed in your freefighting when under duress. However, the logic of this is questionable, if you are getting struck that might, tensing up is the least of your problems, if you aren't fast enough to stop the moves anyway. Also, it is in a way conditioning you to be a victim of abuse and to just take it without complaint, until later you can become the 'abuser' yourself. I think you'd be much better served doing the complete opposite and slowing it all down so you could break down the moves and keep repeating until you actually improve your blocks and counterstrikes, and drill in some great, solid combinations of moves that can come out effortlessly.

The general philosophy behind freefighting is for speed, but also to manhandle the opponent, move them around, slap them around the face, and encourage the training partner not to resist, but to keep using their technique to regain control of the centre line. One is not encouraged to think about attacking the instructor, but simply to passively defend oneself. The concept of surrendering oneself to blows and not resisting and stiffening up, but simply keeping a clear mind and using the techique is part of the 'zen' approach promoted. However, it is difficult to really relax when you are constantly being shouted at and being made to feel guilty about various things. And in addition, the strikes that the instructors land on the students are not real strikes, but rather soft, and in a sense quite pointless, as they don't really prepare the student for the reality of how a fight transpires and what it is like to get hit hard in the face, when you would likely freeze. And if the student was actually hit hard, they would be rather lost and not know what to do. Hitting people to 'toughen' them up is thus rather ridiculous, and instead it is better to give the student confidence through strong technique and stance. The concept of 'surrendering to whatever abuse is given' was certainly pervasive in freefighting training, but also in a general sense in the school, with students having to take whatever was dished out by Sid, Andrew or the instructors. And never being allowed to resist. Is this training in Buddhism? Or pointless bullying and brainwashing students not to question anything or think for themselves. Freefighting also only ever seemed to work when the other person was relaxed and allowed you to manipulate them physically. Students never sparred properly with sparring gear. This was reserved for special gradings for the instructors, like 4th Scroll etc. This really was a missed opportunity.

Another bad habit picked up by most practitioners in freefighting is the tendency to chase the hand and chase a connection/stick to the other person's arms. It is thus possible to outfox the training partner by drawing their arms out from the centre, as they seek to stick and 'cover' themselves against your moves. But as you draw the person's arm or arms out, you know what they are going to do, and you move around their arms as they make their move, or you just go straight for the centre with a strike. Training a person to stick to the other person's hands is not always wise and is a form of restrictive conditioning. It has its place clearly, but it should not rule one's technique.

A real fight only lasts a few seconds. A kung fu bout similarly shouldn't really last more than five seconds or so. Freefighting artificially prolongs the bout in a somewhat abstract manner. Sweeping is an irrelevant concept often, as the person who lands the first strike usually has the advantage as the person being hit loses their concentration or strength for a brief moment, enough time for the attacker to pin them or strike them again and close the gap. After being hit several times, the defender may well be unable to fight back with any conviction, and may drop their arms and open themselves up for a final strike. This is where the attacker can use their positioning to leverage their whole body weight into a very powerful strike, for example, to the ribs, which usually drops the opponent. Having the visually put the person on the floor during training with a sweep, because you can't hit them very hard, is rather abstract. Certainly, in some instances, you can use a person's momentum to throw them to the floor, but it should be not used all the time.

Table fighting and the practice of drawing a chalk circle on the ground to do freefighting within was portrayed by the brothers as being highly sophisticated and advanced a concept. The table was a DIY piece of apparatus, with one square side and one round side with some posts in between to hold it together and painted black. Adherence to the circle or table was often at the expense of realism and coping with different scenarios/ranges. Also, the concept of trying to stay within the circle with footwork, often if it meant leaning excessively backwards and executing moves which were not putting you in an ideal position in terms of defensive strength, is highly flawed. It is better to use footwork to make sure you are in the best possible position in general. The freefighting tended to focus awareness on the forearms only, without a general body awareness, so people were frequently going outside the chalk circle during freefighting, and on the table, students were often scared of falling off so they did not move around so much and occasionally became unbalanced when they put one foot on the edge. Quite frequently, when freefighting on the table, the Sifu or instructor would grab you if you were about to fall off, and pull you back in, so you could continue freefighting. If the are going to do that, it defeats the whole point of using the table in the first place. I believe that if students had not felt so unstable with such a small stance, leaning backwards excessively and being as side on as possible, then they would have felt more secure in their stance, and through having a stable base and really rooting into the ground could develop more awareness of their lower half of the body. If you feel like you are about to fall over with the slightest push, then you aren't going to develop bodily awareness. Fighting on a table is a bit like dancing on a table in a bar or nightclub when you are drunk, it is a way of being the centre of attention and showing off. So I am sure the Sifu would enjoy being on the table, almost like 'being king of the castle' and porbably enjoyed pushing students off the table, as if certain moments in freefighting necessitated pushing someone off because the bout was considered over. Pushing people off a table is probably a bit of a laugh, who isn't going to enjoy doing that. I recall instructing on the table with some of the Shaoshan students a couple of times. But whether the table has any benefit to improving your wing chun is debatable. Otherwise other schools would be doing it. So I believe it was partly done to be different from other schools and pretend to be sophisticated and partly for fun and to look dramatic. Having students draw circles on the ground after changing partners for freefighting was also an excuse for the instructors to order you about and act like they knew what they were talking about when they may not have had much to say otherwise, like a point of focus.

Sid and his instructors always used to tell the class that one should not miss a lesson, as the pace and workrate was so high, that non-attendance and lack of consistency could result in injury during freefighting. This is mainly because the philosophy behind freefighting was more about speed than working on drilling in strong technique. This is more of a disclaimer on behalf of the instructors to not take into account differences in speed of reaction between students so they would not have to pay attention to this and adjust according. Evidently if you slow it down slightly, no one is going to get injured. The whole way of training in freefighting seemed to be short-lived muscle memory, such that building up that speed in the arms over successive lessons, it would quickly wear off without training. To me, that illustrates half the problem with the method of training, as if you train something at a slower pace with more focus on landing strikes rather than pumping the centre line for the sake of it, then it will be better entrained into the body and you are less reliant on excessive amounts of training with slow progress just not to go backwards. In all of my time at the academy, I took occasion holidays with no problem. Ironically, a month or two before leaving the academy, I went away for a week's holiday, and upon coming back, expected the instructors to go slightly easier on me on the first lesson back, but they did not, and one instructor went harder than I had ever had (with the usual, high speed flow and attempts to slap the student around the face a few times if they don't respond and a pointless sweep at the end), and this resulted in me being thrown onto a wooden floor, landing on my knee, and having knee and inflammation problems for around 3 years afterwards, where I could not run, jog or do any kung fu on it. The academy had a habit of mouthing off on a variety of subjects but not always practising what it preached. What was annoying is that the whole thing was so unnecessary and I was about to leave anyway. Apart from that 'accident', from memory, the only other injuries I incurred besides a bloody nose and a fat lip were incurred from being thrown onto the floor and landing badly on my elbow or ankle.

Stance

In addition, most Wing Chun, e.g. Moy Yat, employs a fighting stance whereby the torso is more or less square on to the opponent, allowing the practitioner to use both arms at their full range if necessary. Bruce Lee's Jeet Kune Do used a fencing style stance, whereby the person was side on. The reason for this is that his attacks were based on speed and the element of surprise and comprised of a single strike that was designed to hit the opponent before he could defend himself, so less need to use the back arm which is further away when side on. Sid and Andrew however applied this to Wing Chun, and decided to create a bizarre stance.

The Sofos stance was officially 60/40 weight distribution, but in reality it was more 80/20. It meant the student was leaning back and almost falling over during footwork drills, was quite immobile, and had no power. It also meant that the stance was very narrow and unstable. Putting more weight forwards radically improves the stance, power, stability and manoevrability. A good strong stable stance should allow high manoevrability, but also provide a solid platform for which arm techniques can root from. It provides an ease and effortless of performing arm movements and provides nature structure and strength support to the arm movements. This is what is missing in the 80/20 stance where one has to try much harder to perform the arm movements and one has no power. Power often comes from tensing up in such cases or adopting a wider stance (and hope no one notices).

A wider stance with a more central weight distribution feels more natural, and when you perform it, it makes sense to the body and feels good. Any good martial arts style should feel good naturally and give you natural confidence. A narrow, unstable stance keeps you struggling and your body does not feel like one unit. One feels like the ground has been pulled from underneath one and the strike has little to push itself forward from. It is like trying to fight someone in a swimming pool who is standing on an underwater ledge or steps, whilst you are treading water. Not only was the student leaning back and off balance (in case someone tried to sweep his front leg) and less able to move than if he was in a more 60/40 or 50/50 stance, but also he was turned sideways with his back shoulder hunched down and the head tilted to the side. This was conducive to back and neck ache but also not conducive to allowing both arms to reach the opponent or to effectively defend. It made movement very difficult. Blocking with the back hand was only possible when a strike was almost on the body, and did not allow a wide range of defensive hand movements. The stance was almost like a sick joke, making life as difficult as possible for the students, so that presumably, when they were later 'allowed' to adopt a normal stance, it would seem much 'easier' and be very powerful as they were used to have an unstable base from which to generate power from. Why not adopt the correct stance from the beginning? Sid never practised this ridiculous stance, so why should the students?

Also, when Sid or Andrew themselves were demonstrating the correct technique, they would use a wider stance and different arm shapes to the students, but the students were told to do it a different way (which would evolve and open up over time so we were told). In practice, their stance was wide (not pole stance wide, but shoulder width or so) and almost 50/50 or 60/40, but they made their students adopt a much narrower, 80/20 stance that made their footwork very difficult to the point of being very unstable and almost falling over backwards, and took all the power out of their arms. Most people would agree that any teacher who doesn't practice what they teach you is either a fraud who doesn't believe in what they are teaching or they are playing psychological games with you.

At the end of 1996 I think it was, I actually trained with one of Andrew's former instructors, after I had left the school. He had quit because of a knee injury, had not trained in years and we trained at his house was very impressed with my new found skills. I had attended a William Cheung seminar shortly prior, and demonstrated to him that using the same hand techniques as Sid/Andrew taught, but by widening the stance and making it 50/50, my power and stability were greatly improved. This he acknowledged at the time and found very interesting.

I attended at least one seminar with this former instructor, held by Grandmaster Yip Chun, in October 1996 in Luton, and was accompanied by a junior Sofos student. I must have gotten talking to this student about grandmasters at some point whilst still instructing - I would not have done so unless he had raised the subject with me as it would not have been appropriate and would have been too risky in any case - and come to some understanding. We both noted the footwork used by different practitioners being different to the Sofos style (i.e. more 60/40 or 50/50 with wider stance), and during the seminar, found that it really worked well. Later on, that former instructor rejoined Andrew's SAS school as an instructor. I believe this former instructor friend of mine also attended a William Cheung seminar down in Whitsable, Kent that I had been unable to attend, hosted by Sifu Dominic Bekes, which he told me he enjoyed, probably in 1997 from memory.

Andrew also relayed stories of schools where all one would do for the first couple of years is to do footwork or sit in a horse stance. Andrew was relaying the importance of stance work yet there was a distinct lack of leg strength in his students and little leg training was actually performed. Although footwork practice was a regular occurrence, it did not seem to be a practice that strengthened the legs, nor to build competence or foundation in students on account of the virtually 80/20 stance which rendered students unstable.

Sid evidently liked the concept of withholding the technique he wanted to practice to his lower students, allegedly secretly teaching his instructors a different style with a wider stance than anyone in the academy in lower classes. The style Sid allegedly taught his instructors according to my friend in the instructors class at the time was based on a presumably artificially constructed Wing Chun style combining his own 'modified Wing Chun' with more traditional kung fu moves mated to the wider Wing Chun pole fighting horse stance, rather than the normal wing chun stance for unarmed combat. This is not something I personally trained in my classes. This style was taught by Sid as a one off at a Street Self Defence seminar in 1995 or 1996 in London, which was I think open only to the instructors and senior students including myself. So we trained with a pole fighting stance and with slightly modified arm movements from our normal wing chun for a dozen or so techniques with our training partners simulating rather unconvincing hooks and slightly more realistic stabbing attacks with a rubber bladed knife. Sid claimed this was 'ancient Ng Moi' Wing Chun, but there is no historical information to back this up and is pure speculation, and in my opinion is something he came up with when thinking about the pole footwork. We never trained like that again, although I did once try out one of the moves on a student during a class I was helping to instruct one time. This horse stance in Wing Chun is only supposed to be used when fighting with a pole, to generate power. It is not very mobile otherwise and has no real purpose in unarmed combat from what I have understood from other Wing Chun masters when I posed the question. However, if they wanted to practice kung fu in this manner, because they liked it, there is of course nothing wrong with that, if everyone was enjoying it, regardless of its practical value as long as it is being presented in right context.

Footwork

Sid and Andrew's footwork was not very mobile, the weight distribution aside. With the exception of 'walking' or 'darting' forwards and backwards, the back foot never moved. In walking or darting, the back foot was supposed to remain on the ground and dragged as part of the movement. This resulted in a kind of inertia, accentuated by the fact that most of the body weight was over the back foot. It was therefore a real effort to try to drag this back foot along the ground. In would be harder still to do so on the street wearing grippy trainers on tarmac for example, and virtually impossible wearing trainers and standing on grass, compared with kung fu slippers on a well polished floor in the studio. This inertia would often lead to the upper body moving out of synch with the lower body, thus destroying the power generated from rooting into the ground and punching from the feet.

The concept of co-ordinated hand movements was a case of 'more is better'. A walk forwards move, where one would bring the back leg through the centre line and place it out in front, using the hips for power, and accompanied by three punches was not very powerful. This was partly because the weight was too far on the back leg, but also because there was no half step at the beginning or end, and because there was no power in the first two punches, as there was no stability of rootedness in the stance. The last punch is really the only punch that would count, and its power was sapped by having performed two punches just immediately prior in the middle of the move. Whilst training, practitioners often felt these 'machine gun' punches to be very weak and ineffectual, especially when hitting pads held by a partner. Other Wing Chun styles only perform one punch with a walk forward, making this punch count. A walk backwards move, where one would bring one's front foot backwards and place it behind one but keeping the other foot still, would be combined with three punches (to swap arms to feet the same arm same leg out in front) was even less powerful. It makes no dynamic sense to be punching whilst moving backwards as there is no power from the root of the stance and one is taking momentum away from one's punches with the body. In other Wing Chun styles, one simply swaps arm as one walks back (ending with a half step of the foot that remained still) in preparation for the next move. Clearly the three punches were included to look good, regardless of the reality and practicality behind them. Only the dart forwards and dart backwards had the correct number of punches, even though the weight distribution was wrong and the probably wrong hand was punching first (i.e. being side on, punching with the back arm first (the arm that is furthest away from the opponent), rather than being square on and punching with the front arm (closest arm) first.)

The shift forward or shift back - essentially a move where one steps out to the side at 90 degrees - always had one foot remain on the spot. The terminology has now changed in both Andrew's and Sid's academies. This restricted mobility and often put the practitioner too close to the opponent or wooden dummy and slightly at the wrong angle, making him unstable and likely to fall over and bounce off his opponent. I later re-learnt the footwork, and the shift forward and shift back was preceded by a half-step of the foot that is shifted from at the start of the movement, and a half-step by that same foot at the end of the movement. The half steps help to drive the momentum of the practioner forwards or backwards depending on the move, allow sufficient space to move around the opponent or wooden dummy to get the right angle and allow for a strong stable position, and also combine a turn of the hips with a thrust of the whole body, creating much more power and unity in movement of the stance/legs/torso and hand techniques. By keeping one foot still throughout the move one is effectively relying on a hip movement alone and there is very little forward momentum, especially as the weight is then almost soley on the now back foot (that did not move in the shift forward). The 80/20 stance also made the movement slower, weaker and more clumsy than it should have been.

A similar principle applies to the pivot in and pivot out. Having nearly all the body weight on this back leg that stays motionless, and relying on the hips to turn you around through 90 degrees makes one feel rather unstable and saps all the power from the move, as opposed to using a half-step forward at the end of the pivot which is more stable and has a dynamic forward motion and momentum, and is easier to perform.

The correct way to perform the shift and pivot described above make the dummy form better and provide stability and the correct angles. I often saw students always falling over and bouncing off the dummy, and not 'blocking' the dummy's arm properly as the footwork was wrong and not moving the position of the body out of the way of the 'strike' enough.

In hindsight, I do not think the footwork at Sofos was particularly sophisticated or nuisanced in terms of subtle details, when comparing it to the Moy Yat lineage (and probably others). For instance, a turn to go from front pigeon-toed 'front'/training stance to side on was only ever 45 degrees with the 80/20 weight distribution. In Moy Yat Wing Chun, it is known as 'shifting' and there are different weight distributions for the side fighting stance (when shifting from pigeon toed training stance) depending on the application, e.g. 50/50 for an attack coming from the front or more onto the back leg and facing square onto the opponent's attack if the line of attack is coming in at an angle. Also a step is not usually used in MYWC as it takes longer as is more easily detected. So I feel there was a lot missing from Sofos footwork both in terms of angles and hip/torso/foot technique but also in understanding how it can be applied in different situations with attacks coming from different angles and lines of attack (c/f Wayne Belonoha, The Wing Chun Compendium Vol.1), even if from a casual observer they looked very similar.

Front basic (front) stance, Sid and Andrew's footwork involved either a shift forwards, or a turn (relying solely on a hip movement for the power). Rarely was a side step incorporated into the footwork when performing punch/block drills, which is optional in other Wing Chun styles, nor was a simple step straight forwards (economy of motion - from one corner of the triangle to a point on the centre line on the opponent) - a proper shift had to be performed where one foot would touch the other or move to the centre line before moving forwards. This way is slower. Wing Chun should be as direct, fast and powerful/structurally sound as possible.

Arm Techniques

The Academy never really taught the concept of a feint or diversion in an opening attack. These are often used in fencing or martial arts like JKD. In Wing Chun, they can either be destabilising moves, like treading on the person's front foot as they move backwards (causing a wide stance and surprise etc.), or moves that destabilise (causing arms to drop or distract the person) by causing pain, for example running your leg down the front of their shin, kicking the shin. Once the person has experienced severe pain, they are usually much easier to engage.

The bong sau/punch drill was performed with a backfist rather than straight punch to target, rendering the direction of the punch upwards and not forwards and being totally useless in a fight.

I was taught to always keep both hands out even when doing the rapid punching or chain punching, so that the back fist was in close range, half way up the forearm of the other arm, to be able to execute the next punch quickly and reach its target quicker. However the problem with this is that there is much less power, as there is not enough distance for the fist or palm to pick up enough speed and power. If you were just going one single strike from that back hand, then you could execute it like a one inch punch, i.e. twisting the whole body and dropped your weight down to really generate that power, but if you are intending to deliver multiple strikes then you can't really do that. So you need to draw the back hand back slightly more to create enough space to deliver a compromise between fast reactions/short distance to strike and power. All other wing chun styles you see draw the rear fist back further roughly in line with the elbow of the other arm during chain punching. I initially thought this made them poorer styles until it was explained to me.

Sid and Andrew claimed to use the concept of a triangle, which all Wing Chun uses, but the application was flawed. The concept is keeping the arms in line with a triangle between the shoulders and the point of furthest reach in front of one (in the centre). However, in Sid and Andrew's Kung Fu, the elbows are not in line with the sides of the body and the sides of the triangle, but are kept in close to the centre line (so they cannot be used in an arm lock apparently). And often too close to the body. The disadvantage of this is that the arm loses its structure and the moves have no power. But shifting the elbow out slightly (in line with the actual triangle) and by ensuring the elbow is always at least a fist's length away from the torso, the power of moves can be greatly increased. This is what Bruce Lee did.

Miscellaneous

In 3 onto 1 practice, it would only work if you punched in a certain way (punching presenting the whole forearm, not really going for target). The persons attacking would all do the same style lunge, with a very wide stance and most of body weight over the front leg. Punches weren't aimed to strike as such but more was a presentation of the body to be swept or pinned. If the odd punch was aimed at the defender's head, the whole strike and lunge was so predictable it was very easy to block. If attackers weren't swept or dealt with immediately, they would often just stay in the lunge with their fist extended in the air and wait to be swept. Many people who were unfamiliar with martial arts or street fighting would see this as highly skilled. Practising 3 onto 1 at another Wing Chun school was totally different, as described elsewhere in this article. Instead of having to wait 6+ years to do it, we started after 6 months training of attending once a week only, with chaotic and unpredicatable attacks, aiming to land strikes and outwit the defender by any means available.

The dummy form was taught to be fast and flowing, but the footwork was fairly minimal with the minimum of stepping to the side to execute moves, with the result that students would often be almost falling over and being knocked backwards off the dummy when executing certain step/move sequences. The angles were also as a result not quite right. I had to relearn all the sections of the dummy form I had learnt from Sofos when I went to train at another school. In some lineages, the dummy is not used until one has learnt the first three forms.

I was up to Chum Kil at Sid Sofos' studio, although the meaning of the moves were never explained (this type of information was generally only revealed at infrequently held seminars), but I got the impression that I'd have to be there for many more years to start learning Bil Jee. I was doing private lessons with a William Cheung trained Sifu in London in around 2000, Angel Dobardziev, and we started off 'correcting' my Siu Lim Tao, and he told me he was pleased with my progress and he could teach me the other two forms over the next few weeks. Another ex-Sofos student friend of mine had a similar experience doing private lessons with a North London Sifu.

A warm up before each class got underway was employed by both Andrew and Sid. This consisted of a partner holding a large pad with both arms, and the other person closing in and doing three elbow strikes and three knee strikes. The person holding the pad would hold it out for the elbows then hold it facing down and lower for the knees. Typically they would try to time it so that they pushed the pad out to meet the incoming strike - if they did not then it would feel very awkward for the person doing the striking. After each set of 3 elbows and 3 knees the person would dart back then dart back in and repeat. There is no 'knee' strike in wing chun as far as I am aware, so I don't think this is actually wing chun. Then two punch pads were used for punching. This would typically transpire whereby the person holding the pads, one on each hand, would lift one up and the person training would do a back fist and straight punch with the other hand. There is no backfist in wing chun as far as I am aware. Also the back fist is generally a strike for softer parts of the body, such as the nose, as it is easy to damage the fist otherwise. However, this was never mentioned to us. Then the person holding the pads would lower the pad, then lift up the pad again to head or throat height but trying to confuse the other person by not following a sequence, i.e. it could be either the left pad or the right pad. They would typically either try to hold the pad as still as possible or to meet the incoming punches, and if the timing wasn't right, again it would feel awkward. The rapid punching was nearly always rather feeble and lacking in power, and the knees and elbows only felt substantial because the partner would push the pad out to meet the elbow or knee. If he or she did not, then the strike hardly had any impact at all. The last part of the warm up was pracitising kicks, with the other person holding an old tyre between their knees and holding it with their hands. Only one basic kind of kick was taught at the academy to most students. This used no knee action, but a nearly straight (slight bend in knee), and a combination of lifting the leg upwards and forwards and rotating the hips. The kick was not initiated from a bent knee to generate the power. There were three different variations on this kick, landing the foot the toes above the heel (vertical), or with toes pointed inwards (45 degrees), or with toes pointed outwards (45 degrees). During the warm up, the person kicking would kick the tyre repeatedly until told to stop, and the strength of the kicks, whilst not really powerful at the start would get progressively weaker as they tired. There was no real power in this kick, and the person kicking would almost bounce off the tyre if it wasn't a flexible one. Not very practical in self-defence and in a street fight.

No techniques for falling were taught. Nor for getting up or jumping back up again. Many other martial arts classes teach how to perform rolls and movement whilst on the ground, for example, an excellent Sulkido class I once attended. Sid and Andrew had no real knowledge here. Andrew would boast about a question he received once from a student about being taught how to fall, and his reply he said was 'I'm going to teach you how not to fall'. Which is quite ridiculous as all they ever wanted to do was 'sweep' the training partner, and you were encouraged to have 'no mind' and let the instructor slap you about and throw you on the floor without tensing up etc. (conditioning). After landing on your elbows and incurring painful injuries, one would not do it again and try to land on one's bottom/back, in a kind of roll. And get up facing the opponent, but with no fancy jumps or specific techniques. Korean martial arts for example spend much time on rolls on the floor, jumps and jumps off the floor.

Nor did the brothers have any significant knowledge about grappling - many techniques which I learnt after leaving the academy. Once the vice like grip of a grapple was executed at close quarters, all that would happen next is that a simulated punch would approach the face or one would be swept on the floor. There was really no concept of what to do at that point for the large part besides this.

Both Sid and Andrew taught that one should always keep one's eye on the training partner or opponent, even if one is 'swept' onto the ground etc. This is all good. However, it was taught to maintain eye contact at all times. This may be counterproductive as the opponent may try to distract you with their gaze or eyes, and in addition, one cannot tell what the shoulder or arm is doing by looking at the eyes! It is better to look at the top of the torso, and specifically at the shoulders, as any punches or moves are first telegraphed by the shoulders. This allows for the greatest amount of advance warning that a strike or move is going to be performed and by which arm. This is something I learnt at a subsequent Wing Chun school.

Sid and Andrew taught students to breathe through their mouth the whole time whilst training, as it was beneficial for 'qi'. There was no particular technique, just to breathe normally. All other Chinese martial arts teach the opposite, that one should breathe through the nose, usually with the tongue on the roof of the mouth, and to combine the breath with the movement, as a form of moving meditation exercise, to help to generate qi. There was no knowledge of combining breath with movement in Sid's Academy as far as I could tell.

Sid claimed that his movements were very small and imperceptible to the untrained eye. His butterfly knives practice was reputed as such, whereas he had little structure or technique and it was just wiggling his wrists in an undisciplined manner, wiggling the knives a little. This was reputed to be highly advanced. Any trained martial arts practice results in clearly defined, structured moves that flow perfectly, with fluidity and also stillness at the same time. Here there was no structure or stillness.

All instructors and students wore a sash tightly, as it helped with hip movement, and to keep the body as one unit. If one ever forgot to wear one's sash, then one would have no power at all and feel like one's kung fu had gone backwards a few years. Putting the sash on would cure this. Nowhere else have I experienced this reliance/dependency on the sash, as different technique and structure has natural strength and does not require it. In addition, in a street fight, you would not be wearing a sash in any case.

At a Street Self Defence seminar, I was scolded in front of the whole seminar for practising chi sau as a warm up before the seminar started. I did this as '3rd Scroll' chi sau training was practised to build up a 'spring', working on footwork etc. Most other wing chun styles use chi sau to practice actual fighting techniques which can practically be used in the street. If chi sau is not a good exercise for self-defence, what is the point of doing it at all?

If one thinks about it, many students left Sid and ended up with other Wing Chun clubs and schools because they wanted to upgrade. However, rarely if ever did anyone already studying Wing Chun, leave their school to join Sid or Andrew's class. On the one of two occasions this did occur, it was a case of someone geographically relocating and it was the first Wing Chun school they came acrossand they didn't seem to know much about Wing Chun. There were students joining who had trained in Japanese martial arts, and this is probably because they had no real experience or idea of what kung fu was all about. The majority of the students were those who had no previous martial arts experience or idea of fighting or practicalities of martial arts.

The only really good proponents to come out of Sid and Andrew's schools in the view of the students I discussed it with were those that were physically hard anyway and had had streetfighting or other martial arts experience and/or a military background prior, which they used to make their kung fu actually work. Also lack of physical work out (press ups, sit ups, running etc) made the students weak and puny and lacking fitness. Good wing chun requires strong triceps for pushing a punch forwards and also strong abdominal muscles. All good martial arts schools incorporate some form of physical training involving moving one's own body weight into their programme, e.g. press ups, sit ups, dips and/or chin ups. Most students of many years at Sid's and Andrew's schools had no power in their punches or moves. Funnily enough, the one or two students that were physically fit and did these types of exercises in their own time were able to land much harder strikes and had a stronger stance.

Many of the stunts at the kung fu shows were very 'showy' in nature, often with somewhat limited technical content. For example, one stunt for one of the kung fu shows was to involve Andrew performing a flying punch. This was a leap through the air, whereupon he would land a punch on a pad, being held by an instructor. As most martial artists will recognise, this has no basis in real practical street fighting, nor in traditional kung fu. A punch without a root in the ground is unlikely to be as powerful as one where one is rooted into the ground and using one's body weight, leveraging off the ground. The flying punch was a made up move to look visually appealing. Perhaps because it was not thought out or constructed so well, training resulted in severe injury, with Andrew's face landing on the instructor's knee. This resulted in Andrew breaking his cheekbone and not being able to perform at all for the academy's kung fu show.

Both brothers were reluctant to actually touch arms with students, as if trained with lower skilled individuals with stiff arms would 'taint' them, and they hid behind their instructors much of the time who did the 'dirty work' of dealing/training with students. If you go to other schools, Sifus and Masters are happy to touch arms with everyone. Sid and Andrew's view was that their art relied on total relaxation (allowing your partner to execute a move as there was little power), and anyone would resisted or had stiff arms would 'ruin' your arms and make you stiff. Presumably if the technique was more effective and efficient, this would not be the case.

Sid performed demonstrations of breaking concrete slabs, usually of around 1-2cm in thickness. These would be placed on his torso or his forearms which were rather large (muscular and body fat) and hit with a sledgehammer by an instructor, and broken. At the end of one show, he was driven over by a motorbike. A motorcycle only weighs in at a few hundred kilos at the most and by tensing the stomach muscles it could probably be achieved easy by an amateur. I have had my foot driven over by a car and trodden on by a horse, and whilst painful was not that bad. Whilst all this slab breaking looked impressive, was it really that difficult? Was this a show of Sid's skill in 'iron jacket' or a shield of qi around the body, or just the laws of physics? Most, but not all, of the energy of the hammer strike goes into the slab and breaks it, under the right conditions. Either way, it is not that impressive when compared to the touring Shaolin monks from China. I have witnessed demonstrations by the Shaolin monks of breaking multiple thick concrete slabs placed on a monk's head! And two monks bending an iron bar by placing the bar on the soft part of the throat where it meets the chest and walking towards each other. This is a truly impressive demonstration of 'iron jacket'. Perhaps Sid did have some genuine ability in this area, e.g. resisting very hard strikes, but it was not something that was really demonstrated or shown to students.

Sid and Andrew taught their senior students to break wooden boards, usually chipboard. They also did demonstrations themselves on occasions to students. The time at which this was taught to senior students seemed later and later as the 90s went on, from my experience, as if it was purposely being withheld. During demonstrations, when Sid or Andrew did not break the board on any one attempt, they would scold the instructor and blame them for not holding the board properly. They would also do this in an aggressive manner if the instructor was hit by a piece of board when it was finally broken. Instructors often looked scared afterwards.

Andrew once shared with our class (during class time that we were paying for not afterwards) a story about how he had a minor collision with another car in Tottenham, and how the other motorist got out of his car and was fuming. The first thing Andrew claims to have done was to punch this man in the face as he came up to Andrew! Andrew's advice about violence and the teachings of Taoism were rather contradictory. He often repeated to classes that one should maim not kill, hurt not maim etc. - meaning that it was acceptable to say blind someone in an extreme situation but not to kill them. Presumably if one's kung fu was good enough, it would not be necessary to resort to maiming or disfiguring one's opponent in order to immobilise them. Anyway, at other times, he and his instructors stated that if you knew someone was going to hit you, it was better to hit them first rather than the wait for them to launch their attack. This is also in contradiction to the teachings of Taoism and Buddhism and indeed much of the science of Wing Chun, which relies on waiting for an opponent to commit themselves to a strike, using their force against them, to deflect the blow and either throwing them onto the floor or delivering a counter strike. The whole concept of hitting someone first is contrary to the teachings of virtually all martial arts which are defensive arts in philosophy. This was however in tune with the overall bullying mentality of the school and the instructors and students were conditioned to become bullies themselves whilst armed with generally ineffective martial arts that only really worked amongst themselves.

I learnt from Sid and Andrew for 4 years (the same as my contemporaries who were roughly of the same standard). The fact that I felt out of my depth when training with beginners from a different wing chun school would suggest that what I was being taught was not of the same quality as what others schools were teaching.

If the kung fu was really that good, then the instructors wouldn't have needed to keep pointing out to the students how good it indeed was, or how good the Sifu was, and why they should be so grateful for every little piece of information shared. As if the school was doing the students a favour. Genuinely good kung fu is just that. You can tell when you are doing it or training that it really is practical, effective and devastating. The body recognises it intuitively. And it feels natural. It is only when one doesn't feel confident in the kung fu that one is learning or it inspires no or mediocre levels of natural confidence in unpredictable situations, that you need to compensate with over-aggression, power trips, and constant reminding that it really is good. You have a natural enthusiasm because every little thing you learn adds to your sense of the effectiveness of the art and body's understanding of the strength of the structure of the moves. You don't need to be forced to be enthusiastic if you art is genuinely good. Some egging on and encouragement is good of course in lapses of concentration etc, an inspiring sounding voice etc, but badgering and bullying is clearly ridiculous and reflects poorly on the actual content of the kung fu. Very rarely in freefighting did you really learn anything of substance, and you were made to feel grateful for every tiny piece of information or knowledge, as if it was expected to be given to you. If you did learn anything, then you'd be patronised by the instructors that you'd had a great lesson and that you should really appreciate it, and at Sid's school, forced by the instructors to 'cough up' for a present to show your gratitude. One would become conditioned to staying loyal in the school with a view that after years of attendance, one might pick up a few nuggets of secret techniques, at seminars etc.

During practice for kung fu show, along with other 4th scroll students, Andrew would practice with a partner with a knife, would would lung at him and simply hold their arm out, putting their weight on their front leg, just like 2 or 3 onto 1 practice. The opponent would be delt with rather slowly, and in a very stressed manner. And sent to the ground with a big grunt or shout. Not that impressive really. Not very realistic or relaxed. I can only recall a handful of times when Andrew was actually relaxed and looked relaxed. This was sometimes after a class when he was digressing about Buddhism or the meaning of life. He never looked relaxed during a class and it reflected in his kung fu.

Other people's injuries observed or heard about at the academy whilst training included one of the top instructors at Shaoshan, who broke his arm whilst training for a kung fu show I believe it was. From memory, Sid or Andrew had rented out an industrial unit to train in late at night without disturbing anyone, with enough room to perform the routines they were going to do for the show. The floor was concrete and I believe he fell onto the ground and broke his arm that way. He still turned up for lessons, with his arm in a sling and freefighting with his other arm until his break healed up properly. One of my former class mates who was promoted to the instructors class at Fatshan, was freefighting one evening with one of the instructors from Shaoshan, and the other guy did not gauge his range properly and stuck his fingers in my friend's eye and he had to go to hospital. I was not there to see the accident but saw his eye one evening in the changing room and it was all red and did not look good. He said he had done some serious damage to his eye and was warned by the doctor that if it happened again he might suffer permanent eye damage and have impaired vision in that eye. So the doctor suggested he wore a pair of goggles whilst training. There wasn't so much discipline in the training and with the fixation on speed, such accidents were likely to occasionally happen. And he told me that the other people in the instructors' class, including the guy who injured him, mocked him for wearing the goggles, so he only wore the goggles for a few weeks before feeling too humiliated and stopped wearing them. He was asking us for advice about what to do with the goggles and expressed his displeasure at being ripped on about it.

Muscle Building & Nutrition

Sid and Andrew would not infrequently relay some form of wisdom from past kung fu masters or practitioners and it would sound very impressive. This would have the class really acknowledging this wisdom and paying their respects (with the palm and fist). However, the knowledge and lessons imparted were rarely actually practiced by the school! For example, Andrew would relay a story of how a wise student decided to wait 10 or 20 years before joining a kung fu Sifu because he wanted to prepare himself for it by training in a gym first. Virtually no stretching or (body weight) strength training was performed in classes and in many cases students of several years were very skinny, weak and unfit. Other schools who incorporated sit ups and press ups in their training regimes were frequently criticised by instructors and above.

I was unable to put on any muscle despite all the training, because I don't think I was eating enough on the training days, and it was only when I ate high calorie and high protein drinks immediately after training, in addition to a meal when I got home before going to bed, and having crash weight gain mix every day, that I started to get stronger. I think we were burning up our own muscle to use as calories in the class as we could not have eat during the afternoon or evening before class as we'd feel sick. Sid and Andrew ought to have encouraged us to bring in our own protein/calorie drinks or provided them given the high fees being paid. There seemed to be very little knowledge of sports nutrition.

Additionally, towards the end of my years of training at the academy, I was fed up with being so skinny despite all the training so I started going to the gym to lift weights once a week at least, keeping my gym days far enough away from the classes to not impact my 'speed'. The chief instructor at Shaoshan was also a gym instructor! And he was one of the toughest of the instructors. So it was odd that they were discouraging any type of weight training.

As mentioned in the Claims section, I was encouraged by the chief instructor at Fatshan to eat chocolate and cakes rather than more non-processed foods, as he said we needed them because of all the toxins in the Western urban environment, which is hardly the pinnacle of sports nutrition.

Gradings

Students would be training for several months before the first 3 scroll gradings and would be very nervous prior. The 1st and 2nd scroll gradings had more junior students there and were sober affairs. Sid would normally give a little talk at the start, which was either meant to inspire or to brag. The first and second scroll were basic moves only, e.g. demonstrating a single block and strike, or reacting to a bell with a block or strike whilst blindfolded, using footwork, etc.

The 3rd scroll was primarily demonstrating chi sau, with footwork and demonstrating the 2 main break out moves that the academy taught, and using freefighting when breaking out of sticky hands, rather than trying to just land a strike like with other schools. A certain level of enthusiasm and cheering was expected and required of the fellow students in the audience, nearly solely comprised of 3rd scroll students waiting their turn. When I first took my 3rd scroll, the first student up performed his techniques with his chosen training partner in near silence. Afterwards, Sid scolded everyone present as he expected us to cheer him on, and told us all to get out of the studio and stand in the car park for 5 minutes as a punishment. We were not briefed prior to the grading on what was expected of us as spectators, and I really think to have requirements of people watching is ridiculous. When we came back in, we were told to shout encouragement to the person taking the grading and to 'blow the roof off'. The gradings continued, subsequent students were given shouts of encouragement, 'c'mon [name]' and 'blitz him' etc. The cheers were a bit nervous at first, but then really got going with subsequent students where it became more and more intense, like a boxing match or football match. The training partner chosen by the person taking the grading would be expected or desired to make the person taking the grading look good, so perhaps not freefighting as well as they could be, to add to the lack of realism. When I was training with other students in training for the grading, they liked the way I was pumping the centre line with arm movements without really doing anything so several students chose me as their training partner as I made them look at their best in terms of controlling the freefighting and chi sau. As a result, I was called up to partner up with the students taking their grading on a number of occasions, to the extent that my arms were completely exhausted and when it came to my own grading right at the end, I could barely lift my arms up after a few freefighting exchanges, but was given a mark of 49.5 out of 50 which was the pass mark, so it was classed as a 'withholding scroll'. Several other students also were given a withholding scroll, and we felt scoring exactly 49.5 seemed rather odd and unrealistic, and thought that he had spoken to Andrew who had previously felt we weren't training hard enough prior and had mouthed off about it a few times, even though we felt we were training as hard as we could, and decided to punish the class. So we had to go through it all over again a month later, but then we all passed, much to our relief. Then we stopped going chi sau completely after that, which I felt was odd, and chi sau was then almost viewed with disdain by Sid in his classes as not being 'realistic' for fighting and having no further practical value for us.

The 4th scroll (only taken by students of 6-7+ years of training featured exercises such as 3 onto one and fighting off knife attacks, as well as breaking blocks of wood. 3 onto 1 was something I later practised with greater realism after 9 months of training - without attackers presenting their forearm to be grabbed and then be swept - it was dirty, messy and full on, different kinds of attacks etc. I went to a 4th scroll grading, where the school hired out a theatre in Turnpike Lane for one afternoon, in around 1995, and filled it with students who paid to attend and brought their parents and family members along etc. The instructors taking the grading were on stage one at a time and the crowd was encouraged to cheer loudly, as if they were watching a boxing match and the instructors were celebrities. A theme song was chosen by each person taking the grading when they would walk down from the audience onto the stage with the music playing. Then the students were strongly encouraged to cheer as if they were in a boxing match. Everyone passed and it seemed like it was more of a performance than a serious grading although those taking it did seem slightly nervous on the stage. We weren't told what was going to be examined at the grading prior, nor what the criteria were, so we had no idea how well they were performing during the grading but could only go by how good it looked according to what we were used to seeing from the school. However, the general atmosphere at this show was good in my opinion, probably as it was not really a show geared towards the general public, and was perhaps a trail run for the kung fu shows that followed in the subsequent years.

The 5th scroll was said to be 'spiritual'. The 5th scroll was said to be 'more spiritual' and very hard to attain. That was as much as we were told about it. We never heard any mention of scrolls 6 to 16 nor what they might be if indeed they existed.

I once received a certificate for a Seminar or Scroll grading that I attended which featured a Pentagram on it. In Chinese internal medicine and martial arts, the concept of the five elements is used, normally shown diagramatically with 5 objects with unidirectional or bidirectional arrows. The Western hermetic occult tradition as well as the Tibetan tradition uses a pentagram to represent the 5 elements of earth, water, fire, air and spirit, which do not correspond to the 5 Chinese elements of earth, metal, wood, air and fire. It is likely Sid chose to use a pentagram to make the scroll appear more esoteric.


© 2006-2024 Fabian Dee