Lifestyle Kung Fu, Melbourne Australia
Lifestyle Kung Fu, Melbourne Australia
I will do my very best to maintain as much objectivity and honesty as is possible in this review, although in addition to each of my objective observations I will also be including some personal thoughts about various aspects of this school. I will not, however, be either recommending this school, or advising potential students against joining; I will only be describing my experience and observations at this school. I trained for approximately four and a half years at this school and thus believe I have adequate experience with LKF to write an honest review. All prices mentioned are in Australian Dollars.
I’ll start off with a bit of background information. Lifestyle Kung Fu (LKF) is a Wing Chun academy which operates in Melbourne, Australia, with two school locations; one in Oakleigh, and the other in Dandenong, both close to their local train stations allowing for easy access via public transport. Their lineage is that of William Cheung’s Traditional Wing Chun system, though with some slight changes made, and operating as a separate entity to William Cheung’s association. The head instructor is Bruce Corles, a former member of William Cheung’s association under whom he earned the rank of Master. There are a number of other instructors at this school who Bruce trained.
The two training locations are large enough to enable a decent-sized class of students to train without crowding each other’s space. At each location, one of the walls is covered in mirror panels. Placed on the interior walls of the school are various traditional Kung Fu weapons, which students never touched - presumably they were there to add authenticity to the academy’s environment. Air conditioning, several wooden-dummies, and an adequate quantity of focus-mitts and kick-shields are present at both locations. At the Oakleigh centre there were no striking bags, free-standing or hanging, whatsoever. There were several at the Dandenong school, as well as a boxing ring, though I never saw it being used. That said, I never attended any of the classes at Dandenong in which I might have seen it being used (ie, the 'Sanshou' classes).
The instructors at both locations are, for the most part, friendly and helpful, and there is always a good instructor-student ratio. They are government-qualified and all have been completely trained in the LKF Wing Chun system. Aside from a few minor cases, the instructors were not egotistic or arrogant. They are good, friendly people who I enjoyed training with and learning from. Bruce Corles is an excellent instructor who is patient, precise and clear, and with whom I had several enjoyable and interesting discussions about martial arts. Of all the instructors at LKF he is, from what I could tell, the most in favour of sparring and aliveness and comes from a boxing background. His wife Sarah was also extremely friendly and helpful and pro-aliveness. I therefore couldn't understand why there wasn't a whole lot more aliveness in LKF's training.
[In case any LKF members are reading this and wondering "what the hell is aliveness?", here is a video which provides an excellent explanation of the concept - MATT THORNTON, ALIVENESS - martial arts most important thing! Straight blast ]
The school requires that students wear a specific uniform, purchasable only through the school (approx $50 for pants, $30 for shirt), complete with a coloured belt which is given after an $80 grading (assuming the student passes). The shoes can be purchased either through the school or from an unaffiliated store, but they must nonetheless be of a specific style.
The system taught at this academy was that of William Cheung, characterized by numerous significant differences to the Leung Ting-style forms, different stance, different guard, different techniques. Lifestyle Kung Fu differs from Cheung’s system in that it incorporates what the instructors call ‘Northern Shaolin kicking’ into its syllabus. This includes the high roundhouse kick, front kick and side kick; in addition to the low side and roundhouse kicks of almost all other Wing Chun styles. LKF teach students to use the instep of their foot as the point on contact when executing roundhouse kicks. Chi sao drills were also conducted differently to those often seen in videos of Leung Ting-affiliated schools; in my opinion, for the better. There is less focus on chi sao ‘sparring’ and executing techniques from chi sao. The emphasis taught at LKF is that these are drills only for developing touch-sensitivity and not an actual simulation of combat. However, chi sao drills and sequences form a significant portion of the training at this school, along with forms. The appropriate form for the class, depending on whether it was a beginners or an advanced class, would be performed at the end of each warm-up, and in some classes repeated several times whilst examining and perfecting the form’s technical details and ‘breaking-down’ its techniques and drilling their potential combat applications. Wooden-dummy training also formed a large part of the syllabus.
The warm-up is decent; a good strength, flexibility and cardio-training workout. Students stand in lines and stretch, do push-ups, sit-ups, squats, etc… then students perform kicks, kicking patterns, strikes, blocks, and other techniques in their lines, constituting what I felt was a decent workout considering the wide demographic diversity of the students in terms of both age and fitness level. The social atmosphere was friendly and respectful, though I perceived it to be somewhat elitist – eg, the advanced students had cliques and beginners would be often be unspoken to before class or during the drink break after the warm-up. During my years at LKF and by the time of my leaving, however, the presence of cliques was relatively minimal, and there was no drama.
Almost all drills at LKF are completely compliant. There are some non-compliant chi sao drills, but for the most part training revolved around the following formula: two students pair-up; one throws a kick or punch, holds the strike in extended position, and remains relaxed and compliant while their partner performs the counter-technique on them. Even at advanced levels, students are not told to retract their fist after striking, or resist in any manner. Out of the fourteen classes per week at Oakleigh, one of these was designated for light-contact sparring. This class is intended for sparring, but depending on which instructor takes it, sometimes involves no sparring at all. Depending on the instructor, the ‘sparring class’ involves sparring, or just hitting focus mitts and kick shields. I did not train enough at the Dandenong school to know how much sparring is offered, but my assumption is one or two sessions out of the seventeen classes per week. Sparring sessions are totally non-compulsory and are attended by only a small handful of the students. During the regular classes there was sometimes (every few months or so) a tiny bit of sparring, but not much at all – ‘one-step’ sparring at best. Proper contact sparring was altogether nonexistent throughout my four years at this school.
Students are taught a large assortment of techniques at the beginner levels, as well as ‘advanced’ techniques at later levels. Techniques become progressively more complex and advanced as rank progresses. Despite this, many instructors said on many occasions things such as ‘stick with the basics, because those are the best’ or ‘the simple techniques are the ones you should rely on in a fight.’ As previously stated, these techniques were almost never drilled with any form of aliveness. All defences are trained against Wing Chun-style punching – which, by the way, is the only style of punching taught in the Wing Chun classes. Boxing-style punches are not taught at all, except in the Sanshou/Sanda class (more on this later). All punching defences are drilled against static, extended Wing Chun punches. Often the techniques are long and involve a variety of strikes, which rely heavily upon partner compliance. Elbows, kicks and knee-strikes are taught, and are practiced in both static drills and on focus mits and kickshields, allowing the student to go for speed and power on a physical target.
No grappling whatsoever is taught. In my fours years there we trained in anti-grappling (ie, sprawling) only once. The risk of a fight going to the ground is almost completely overlooked. However, some takedowns are taught (sweeps similar to a poorly-executed version of Judo's Osoto Gari), but these are drilled in a compliant manner.
One interesting aspect of LKF is that they teach some fairly decent self-defence techniques. During my time at LKF I regularly trained in defences against bear-hugs, shirt/collar grabs, wrist-grabs, head-locks, double-arm chokes, etc. Whilst these drills are fairly compliant, they are in many cases more alive than any of the other training, because at least one’s training partner is trying to resist the technique. For example, if I was practicing defences against wrist grabs, my partner would hold on tight and I would have to do the technique correctly in order to get any positive results; the same applies to how the other self-defence techniques are trained at LKF. Additionally, during the time I trained at LKF I used these techniques in various self-defence situations; once against a wrist-grab, another time against a choke, and on various occasions against bear-hugs. Each time I was successful, and I attribute this to the (relatively) alive method of training that LKF uses for these techniques, and the fact that all self-defence techniques taught at this school focus on efficiency and simplicity. Whilst the defences against punches and kicks are often complex and became more and more so as rank increases, the LKF defences against head-locks, bear-hugs and grabs to the neck, shirt, arm or wrist are always simple and, in my experience, effective.
Training for multiple-opponent combat situations is also frequent at LKF. This usually comes in the form of a drill called ‘zombies’, where a student must defend against the lurching attacks of several other students who move in a way similar to that of Sean of the Dead-type zombies. A similar drill is often done in which the zombies will be holding kick shields. The instructors stress the importance of staying to the outside of a group of attackers and not engaging in more than one attacker at a time. The only time I ever participated in a multiple-opponents drill in which the attackers were moving quickly and throwing proper kicks and punches was during a grading.
At advanced levels, LKF also teaches defences against knife and stick attacks, but these drills are very compliant and the attacks often unrealistic – eg, lunge attacks or downward stabs. Furthermore, this anti-weapons training was rare and I only saw it a few times (maybe three or four) during my two years in the advanced class. After black sash level is attained students train in the use of traditional Kung Fu weaponry.
LKF also offers training in Sanshou/Sanda, which they also advertise as ‘Chinese Kickboxing.’ These classes take place twice a week at Oakleigh and Dandenong and were the only sessions in which any sparring occurred (if it occurred at all). In these classes, when not engaging in light-contact sparring, students learn boxing-style jabs, crosses and hooks, some boxing-style defences, and practice basic combos including kicks. Shadow boxing and skipping were also done during these sessions. Whilst I greatly appreciated the chance to learn techniques similar to those of Western boxing, the ‘Sanshou’ offered by LKF is nothing like what is really considered Sanshou by the Sanshou community. At best it was kickboxing, without hard-contact sparring, and no bag work (at Oakleigh, at least). An integral element of Sanshou is its throws and takedowns, which I was never taught during any of the LKF Sanshou classes. The concept of catching an opponent’s kick and sweeping out the other leg was never mentioned at any of the Sanshou sessions I attended.
Students from LKF do not compete in tournaments other than the bi-annual LKF tournament, which only a small few students participate in. This tournament involves forms, point-sparring and continuous-sparring events for LKF students.
To conclude, LKF offers:
- decent unarmed ‘self-defence’ (referring specifically to defences against grabs to the arm, wrist, collar, shoulders, shirt and neck, as well as head-locks and bear-hugs) training with limited (but at least some) aliveness
- occasional weapon defence training, without aliveness
- basic multiple-opponents training often with very little aliveness
- basic kickboxing with opportunities (although sometimes rare) to engage in light sparring.
- good kicking techniques which are practiced with full speed and power on kick shields
- exclusively Wing Chun punches (except in the kickboxing classes) which are practiced on focus mitts.
- decent knee strikes practied on kick shields
- 'chicken-wing' elbow strikes practiced on focus mits
- basic takedowns drilled without aliveness
- lots of line-training; ie, students stand in lines in front of the mirror and practice their techniques in the air.
- defences against Wing Chun punches and Northern Shaolin kicks, trained without aliveness.
- traditional forms, with significant amounts of class time dedicated to practicing these forms
- wooden dummy sequences, with significant amounts of class time dedicated to practicing techniques and sequences on the wooden dummy
- chi sao training, with a lot of class time spent on these drills
LKF does not offer:
- grappling of any sort
- hard-contact sparring
- aliveness in drills and defences against punches or kicks, or any resistance to the techniques students practice on each other
- opportunities for students to test their skills against students of other styles or schools
- proper IWUF-style Sanshou, with throws and takedowns and contact sparring - despite what they [LKF] advertise
- training in techniques consistently proven to work in MMA or NHB fighting arenas.