Martial Arts Illustrated Magazine – Feb. 1999
The style of Kevin Chan is Kamon – a derivative from one of the fastest growing martial arts, Wing Chun, which is characterised by its simultaneous attack and defences, incorporating punches palms, elbows and low to mid-section kicks. Efficient and simple, Wing Chun uses the most direct lines and angles to make it a pragmatic and explosive fighting system.
The Kamon Martial Art Federation, founded in 1992, is a dynamic organisation with schools and seminar classes throughout the United Kingdom. It is committed to the idea of being positive The aim of Kamon is to elevate the art of Wing Chun to its next evolutionary level.
Whilst the emphasis is on self-defense at Kamon, the martial art is also seen as a path towards physical and spiritual development. Its federation provides a supportive environment, enabling the development of not only fitness, stamina, co-ordination, balance, internal and external energies speed and finesse but also nurturing the development of self discipline, self respect and having respect for others.
Kevin Chan is the Master and Founder of this new branch of Wing Chun and one of the leading lights in international Wing Chun today. He studied various martial arts systems from an early age before finally devoting his life to Wing Chun, studying the style in its entirety and mastering all areas of this traditional martial art.
Geoff Thompson: Kevin, thank you for the interview. Could you give us a brief run-down on your martial arts career to date?
Kevin Chan: I started training in Kung Fu at the age of twelve, when I lived in Hong Kong for over a year. My Sifu was also my uncle and his name was Tam Fut. We are Ha Ka Chinese people and lived in the New Territories of Hong Kong. My uncle taught his exclusive Kuen Mo system in our village clan. He had a very fierce reputation as a fighter and a Sifu. He limited the number of students he taught for he believed that if you did not dedicate yourself fully then it was not worth it. My brother and I became his only students during that period. We practised five days a week for a year and so it was a great loss when I had to move back to England. He was a great influence in my life.
When I came back to England I trained with Sifu Mo under Dai Sifu H B Un in the Chinese Association in Portsmouth. He taught me Gung Lik Kune and Tong Long (Preying Mantis) which I studied whilst maintaining my uncle’s training with my brother.
I am thirty one years old now and it was not until the age of eighteen that I started to train in Wing Chun, when I moved to London to study. I had heard of Wing Chun and saw a poster advertising classes at my University, so I popped along and thought that I would do a few classes. My Sifu was Steve Mair and I can remember how relaxed and fluid he was. After a couple of years training I then trained with him ‘closed door’. He was very talented in practice and understanding, and to date I have seen very few martial artists as talented as him. He taught me the entire system and we completed a year of intense training before he moved to Denmark, in order to prepare me to take over the classes in London. We were in the Samuel Kwok Association during this period and I continued to teach under the banner for a couple of years. During this time I met and trained with people like Sifu Kwok and Master Ip Chun and received a life membership certificate for the Yip Man Martial Art Association from Sam Kwok which had been signed by Master Ip Chun.
When my Sifu left for Denmark, we had senior level students from other branches, such as Roy Fretwell, who was an instructor at Simon Lau’s before he transferred over, so I had training partners to work with if there were areas I wanted to work on. To date, Roy is still with me in the Kamon Federation and we still train together and throw ideas backs and forwards. I have also ‘played’ with Muay Thai and am currently training in Sombo.
Geoff Thompson: What was it that first attracted you to Wing Chun?
Kevin Chan: I first came across Wing Chun when I was practicing Gung Lik Kune in the Chinese Association. I saw a boy, who was a similar age to myself, practicing a form during a break. It appeared to be very strange in comparison to what I had learned at that time, but I was fascinated by it. Someone told me that it was Wing Chun and later I discovered that he was practicing the Siu Nim Tao Form.
I did not come across Wing Chun again until I watched a BBC television programme which was called The Way of the Warrior, featuring Simon Lau and his student. I thought they came across so well in comparison to the rest of the styles shown that I decided that Wing Chun was the system I wanted to practice. Of course watching Bruce Lee demonstrate Wing Chun also made me want to do it. I loved the Pak Sao the short range punches the way he moved, the trapping and explosive power, he had sold the martial art to me.
Geoff Thompson: Why do you feel that your system is so effective in a self-defense scenario?
Kevin Chan: The style emphasis is on simplicity, directness and basically getting the job done as soon as possible. It was really born in the back alleys and roof tops of Hong Kong in an aggressive street environment and in actual combat through trial and error. Lessons were learned in this environment that is why it is being called ‘the street fighting art of Hong Kong’. It has also been called ‘Gangster Fist’ because the people who practice the art do not care much for health or grace of a style. They want one thing from the art to beat an opponent up effectively!
Geoff Thompson: When and why did your style become Kamon?
Kevin Chan: It became Kamon because although I love Wing Chun, I felt that if I just practised Wing Chun alone, I would be limited too much and unable to explore and teach my students what I thought was needed for Wing Chun to evolve fully. By calling it Kamon it does not offend the traditionalist Wing Chun community, whilst allowing me the freedom to follow my path. The values of my uncle together with the influences of other martial art systems that I have studied, all combine to effect the way that I practice my style of Wing Chun. I teach classical Wing Chun in its entirety and I ensure that this is done well, but I believe that all arts evolve and develop. Whether it is a species, technology or a martial art, things have to develop. That is why, through research, trial and error and hard training, I am developing a style of Wing Chun that I believe in.
Geoff Thompson: What does Kamon mean?
Kevin Chan: It is pronounced ‘Kin man’ and is a derivative of my Chinese name Chan Kin Man meaning Athletic Grace.
Geoff Thompson: Have you ever had cause to use your skill in a real fight? If so, how did you fair?
Kevin Chan: On a number of occasions, although the most often were defending my family. They used to own a restaurant and take-away in the Portsmouth area and it was only my father, mother, sister and brother who worked there. My father and mother used to work all hours so that they could put clothes on our backs and make ends meet. Money was hard to come by and we used to live in two small rooms above the restaurant. There were many occasions when my parents would be threatened or taken advantage of by people who came into the restaurant. A typical example would be when a group came into the restaurant drunk, eat their food then make a scene and try to leave without paying for their meal. As my brother and I got older we would just fight these people rather than letting them get away with it and as we always won the confrontations the trouble stopped. In fact, the would-be trouble makers became friendly towards our family!
Geoff Thompson: Do you ever mix your art with other arts, or test your art against others to make it grow?
Kevin Chan: Yes. I am very interested in how all martial arts work and I enjoy the research and development of the arts. In order to evolve and grow you have to search, practice, mix and play. Because my association has many senior martial artists from other styles such as Muay Thai, Sombo, stick fighting and Jeet Kune Do, I am very able to get together with these people to practice, We play our arts against each other, not to prove who is better or which style is tops, but to exchange ideas, understand, develop and grow.
Geoff Thompson: You are the master of your art, Kevin. What does the word ‘Master’ mean to you?
Kevin Chan: Thank you, Geoff. That is a very high compliment coming from someone like you, who I regard as being a master. In martial arts a master is not only a person who has achieved technical superiority but someone who, through his dedication to achieve this, has learned about and understood himself in the process. He applies what he has learned to everyday life and is flexible in dealing with others. To be a master of techniques is not mastering yourself. A person who achieves only technical superiority is a technician.
Geoff Thompson: What is your training routine’? Can you give us a day in the life of Kevin Chan?
Kevin Chan: My training routines depend on what my goals are, so my day to day training regime is very varied. If I want to work on my Chi Sao I might do that for most of the day with forms and other reflex drills in between with a bit of punching to finish off with, before I teach a class in the evening. If I am going through intensive training, as I am at the moment, I start the day off with a three-and-a-half mile run before breakfast and then work on the bags, the wooden dummy and with training partners for about four hours.
Geoff Thompson: Are you still being taught, do you have a master or senior instructor?
Kevin Chan: I am still being taught in the sense that I am learning continually, but I don’t have one overall person who guides me at the moment. I find my students are some of my best teachers through their mistakes and behaviour I see my own. One student may lack speed or power but is very good at light Chi Sao forms; another may have the power and speed but lack confidence. Therefore, I can see each of these characters as a reflection of myself at different stages of my life. I also train with my senior instructors which is very important because we can really ‘go at it’ and we know that there is no question of ego or malice being involved.
I am learning Russian Sombo from one of my student instructors, Artur Lutkis, who with his brother is a former USSR Sombo champion, representing the state of Latvia. I meet with people in the Wing Chun community and invite them down
for training sessions and I have also promised myself that I will spend some time in Hong Kong in the next couple of years to visit my old Sifu Tam Fat and spend some time with him.
Geoff Thompson: In Wing Chun you talk a lot about using direct lines and angles in fighting. Can you explain this more for the readers?
Kevin Chan: It is the classical Wing Chun theory in which the practitioner of the style will not use acrobatic or elongated movement in an attack or defence. You do not seek complex techniques. You would search for economy of motion, i.e. the shortest distance between A and B. You generally use straight line attack rather than circular motions and let your upper half deal with the opponent’s upper half and lower half deal with the lower half. Angles make each movement more efficient and direct. A practitioner may turn just enough to deflect an attack yet allow him to gain easy access to counter. By cutting off an opponent’s angle it allows you to hit without being hit.
Geoff Thompson: Your system is renowned for its short range power. How is it developed?
Kevin Chan: Skill, drilling and persistence. You have no choice but to sit in your stance and do a few thousand Lin Wan Kuen punches, a few days a week, week after week. With a combination of drills like Lok Sao which develops your muscles and trains them to relax and contract at high speed and at short ranges. Clap push-ups and centre line push-ups also help in the development of short range power.
Geoff Thompson: What about trapping? Do you think that some quarters of Wing Chun place too much emphasis on trapping?
Kevin Chan: The aim is to hit, not just trap and hit. Of course, trapping gives the ideal position which allows you to hit without being hit yourself but unfortunately, you may not be able to pull this off all of the time. It is misleading to assume that the sole aim of Wing Chun finish is to trap, but the misconception is maintained because in most Wing Chun books and articles you see pictures of people having their arms tied in front of them while the other person is punishing them with punches, elbow strikes, etc.. People responsible for such articles use these images to add interest to the piece in a magazine. I have been guilty of that myself. To see two photos of ‘before’ and ‘after’ a person gets whacked is not as interesting as seeing pretty complex shots of traps.
I agree that some quarters of Wing Chun do place too much emphasis on trapping, but other quarters may place too much emphasis on Chi Sao or the forms. We all place different emphasis in our quarters but respecting each one is the key.
Geoff Thompson: Some might say it is a manufactured range and that in a real situation it is unlikely to work. What are your thoughts on this?
Kevin Chan: Trapping is only a small area of Wing Chun it is what catches the eye. It is only unlikely to work if you place too much emphasis on it and do not train it efficiently. If you train to trap from guard to guard position with set techniques and combinations, then it would not work. Techniques and combinations will let you down under pressure but your reflexes will not. That is why I place more emphasis on building ‘body reflex’. To understand how to absorb energy and trap from an opponent’s body motion and movement rather than trying to dictate a trap technique itself is more important. Trapping should not be restricted to the images of having a person’s arm tied in front of them. What I mean by trapping, is being able to hit and not be hit. Bursting forward and pinning your opponent against the wall is trapping, moving the arm momentarily to enable a hit is trapping as well. In tight close quarters, if the chance for an elbow presents itself then I would take it. To me, trapping is grappling standing up. As I have said already, my overall aim is to hit and not get hit if this means trapping, then great, if it does not, I wouldn’t care.
Geoff Thompson: There seems to be an awful lot of bitching and back biting in Wing Chun, the Wing Chun Wars, etc.. Why, when you consider that martial arts are meant to make us better and more humble people, does this seem to occur so often?
Kevin Chan: Wing Chun, unlike many of the other systems around, has a more subjective approach to training. There is common ground between all schools of Wing Chun: Three Hand Forms, Mok Yan Joong, Bart Chum Doe and Luk Boom Dim Kun Forms, but how these are practiced can be different. The difference is who you learn it from and more importantly, how you interpret and justify motions and theories in Wing Chun. Wing Chun is an art. Like all arts it comes down to the eye of the beholder, and to argue that one art is better than another is pointless. You might like a Picasso whereas I might prefer a Monet to argue over which art or style is better is so negative. To be flexible when dealing with others and being able to accept differences is the key, as with all aspects of life.
When money, greed and lust for power come into it, then this adds another dimension. Wars are started for these reasons and the Wing Chun Wars of the past were no different. This is not purely a Wing Chun phenomenon, however, it also happened in the Karate, Aikido and, most recently, in the Jeet Kune Do, and stick fighting world. During the eighties Wing Chun drew attention to itself because the verbal bitching became physical in a struggle for power. The new generation of Wing Chun instructors are much more positive. They are more willing to meet, to train and to understand and accept differences, thus creating a more friendly Wing Chun environment in the late nineties.
Geoff Thompson: What do you think of the current trend of extreme fighting? Is there a place in the martial arts for this kind of ‘no holds barred’ fighting?
Kevin Chan: Extreme fighting adds realism to a match fight scenario. It has shown how much an area like, for example, grappling was underrated before. It has opened a lot of people’s eyes to what might happen and could happen in reality. ‘No holds bared’ fighting is, I believe, part of the evolutionary process in the martial arts. It certainly opened my eyes and enforced the idea that Kamon Wing Chun had to continue to be flexible and adaptable.
We already practice milling, like in the parachute regiment, by having one minute of continually punching each other to build controlled aggression. After meeting you, Geoff, it was a natural development to adopt your ‘Animal Day’ style training to our training programme. It is not done often, but it reminds people of the sensation of adrenalin in their bodies and what it is like to punch and be punched back. We train like this not to fight in the UFC but to practice good Wing Chun under pressure whether it is stand up fighting or on the ground, still using our short range power and close quarter theories.
Geoff Thompson: I know that you have been studying Sombo lately. Can you tell us a little about that?
Kevin Chan: This comes back to your question about whether Kamon is all encompassing. By learning Sombo I am hoping to develop my style so that it is as efficient on the ground as above. The person I am training with is Artur Lutkis, a champion in the former USSR representing his state of Latvia. I train with him intensively. He is extremely humble about his skill and is a very genuine person.
Geoff Thompson: I noticed that your students are very respectful, a real credit to you. Is respect and humility an important part of Wing Chun? If so, why?
Kevin Chan: One thing I really do enjoy is to train or teach in an atmosphere of co-operation and mutual respect. It allows each student of the style to practice without arrogance. During arduous training students can practice in a safe and supportive environment, they can trust their peers and know that there will be no malice involved. Respect for one’s peers extends also to other arts and practitioners. Whether it’s Karate, Wing Chun or Jeet Kune Do, at the end of the day it does not matter because everyone is getting on with it.
Humility is absolutely essential in Wing Chun. During practice sessions like Chi Sao or sparring, people will get through no matter how good you are and one must accept this and let your ego go, which can be difficult, especially if your partner has only been practicing for a year and you may have been practicing for fifteen! To accept this as a learning process is not an option you must accept it if you want to grow.
Geoff Thompson: Your association brochure talks of developing spirituality through Wing Chun. Can you expand on this a little?
Kevin Chan: I don’t mean spirituality in the religious sense. Martial arts is as much about learning self development as it is about fighting skills. Through the continuous practice you cultivate your own individual spirit. I believe that spirituality comes when you begin to understand your own emotions and turn what sometimes is a negative emotion into a positive force.
Geoff Thompson: Do you think spirituality just comes, or do we have to look for it?
Kevin Chan: It comes if you put yourself out and extend the boundaries for putting yourself out. People who look for spirituality are similar to those who search for the ultimate meaning in life the answer is within, but they have to face themselves first. Individuals who constantly start new things and then give up when it becomes a little difficult tend to search for spirituality in others; whereas those who persevere and do not let the hurdles of life deter them, cultivate their own individual spirit.
Geoff Thompson: Have you found your ‘way’, Kevin? If so, what is it?
Kevin Chan: My way is constantly changing and evolving. Finding one’s way is an insatiable desire. You achieve one area, so you then look for others. One of my ways is central conformity, like Wing Chun, you can deviate either side of the path but you come back to your centre and balance in life.
Geoff Thompson: Your association seems to be getting bigger every time I see you. How big is it now?
Kevin Chan: The association is a few hundred strong now. Although we are predominantly London-based, we have classes in Bristol, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Guildford, Maidstone and Crawley.
Geoff Thompson: I can see that the standard is very high. Are you worried about losing standard as you get bigger?
Kevin Chan: No, on the contrary. The bigger the association gets, the higher the standard becomes. Each student knows they are part of a wider body and don’t just become a big fish in a small pond. Everyone in the association is getting on with it somewhere. When we have meetings it allows students to aim higher to reach the top. My instructors are the best around and leading by example is not an option. So all the skill, the discipline, etc., filters down to not only maintain the standard efficiently, but to raise it.
Geoff Thompson: I wish you all the very best with your training, Kevin. Is there any final message that you would like to give the readers?
Kevin Chan: All I would like to say, Geoff, is thank you for the interview, and the final message to the readers is to keep a sense of humour in everything you do!