An interview with Sifu Guerman Atanassov published in “Bulgaria” – newspaper for Bulgarian community in Chicago Metro Area, Issue 25, June 2012. The interview was taken by Veselin Andreev a Martial Arts enthusiast and Sifu Guerman friend.

The art of Wing Tsun

“The efficiency of Wang Tsun is not only based on force and speed but also on flexibility, pliability, the skills to adapt combined with powerful movements. “

Interview with Sifu Guerman Atanassov – Wing Tsun Instructor

IMG_9178Sifu Atanassov, how many years have you been practicing Wing Tsun, when did you hear about this martial art and when it became your passion?

I knew about Wing Tsun since the beginning of the 90’s when I was practicing Tai Chi in the school of my first sifu Stanislav Bagalev in the City of Plovdiv. The first real touch with this amazing art was in 1997 when invited by University of Plovdiv in the city arrived Grand Master Keith Kernspecht with entire pleads of EWTO (European Wing Tsun Organization) instructors. After their amazing lecture and demonstration I knew that this is what I’ve been looking for so long, something that has common principles with the another martial art I am practicing and teaching– Tai Chi Chuan. So Sifu Bagalev began to add Wang Tsun in our practice and in 1998 he established The Wing Tsun Club in the University of Plovdiv where I was practicing until my departure to United States.

What attracted you to this martial art and makes you practice and teach it for so long?

It is very hard to describe it with one or more single thought but I will try to outline some basic characteristics.

On one hand it is the amazing usefulness and relevance of what I am teaching and practicing and its use for self -defense, without the unnecessary training to learn and follow tournament rules and practices. Wing Tsun is a complete system for self-defense which is not based on tricks and show but on concepts and principles.

The efficiency of Wang Tsun is not only based on force and speed but also on flexibility, pliability, the skills to adapt combined with powerful movements. Something that is very close to the characteristics of one of the best fighters in the nature – the cat.

Wing Tsun trains not only the body by keeping it flexible and young, Wing Tsun trains the consciousness and improves our physical and mental body. The practitioner develops skills to control not only his/her body, but also his/her mind by not being easily influenced by the impulses of emotions.

The specificity of the exercises and techniques practiced in Wing Tsun develops a very important quality in today’s world – the ability to adapt to any situation without prior adjustment or the ability to change in motion, otherwise said: “go with the flow”.

The teaching method in our global Wing Tsun organization is also unique by its systematization, methodical dependency and following the principles of the modern methods of education. The aim is to build knowledge and skills for each student who attends training regularly.

Finally: Wing Tsun is not only skills for self-defense, but also a philosophy, a way of life.

What is the meaning of your title “ Sifu”?

Traditionally in the Chinese Martial Arts “ Sifu” means Teacher, Instructor, “Father” of the school. This is the person who introduces you in the martial arts and shows you the “Way” you should follow. In the Chinese Martial Arts (Wu-Shu) he is also your mentor who teaches you not only martial art techniques, but also philosophy and a way of life.

At IWTA (The International Wing Tsun Association), whose founder is Grandmaster Leung Ting, the basic meaning of the title “Sifu” is preserved but it is also a title granted for special achievements accompanied with official diploma. Since it is a large organization with schools in more than 60 countries around the world, it is possible for someone to start training with his/her first Sifu, and after a while to move to a different city or country, and continue training with other instructor who practically becomes his/her next Sifu. That is one reason the term “Sifu” is used in our global organization as a title.

Sifu Guerman recieves instruction from Sifu Mike Adams

For example , I started my practice with Sifu Stanislav Bagalev who is my original Sifu, but when I moved to Chicago I continued training with Sifu Mike Adams who is my current Sifu. Sifu Mike teaches in Bloomington, IL and he is head instructor for Illinois and Indinana.

What is the essential quality for Wang Tsun fighter or trainee?

I would not single out a quality that is necessary for the Wing Tsun fighter or trainee. The efficiency of Wing Tsun is a combination of various skills and abilities.

Personally I believe that one of the imperative qualities is the drive, the mindset of the trainee to comprehend in depth the meaning of the techniques, drills and training programs, and not just to collect a set of techniques. I would say that the flexibility and skills of the trainee to adapt are qualities without Wing Tsun would not be understood and utilized in depth. We should be able to change any already practiced technique if required to adapt it to any opponent’s attack. To be effective Wing Tsun fighter should be concentrated, collected, flexible and powerful as they move forward. Simply said, Should a fight occurs – fight with no mercy, or if you are not ready simply withdraw to avoid dangerous situation.

Sifu Guerman with part of his students, Wheeling class

Does the perception: “The winner is not the strongest, the biggest or the fastest but the one with most endurance” holds the idea of Wing Tsun?

I wouldn’t say that this fully applies to the philosophy and the strategy of Wing Tsun.

sifu guerman elbowOne of the fundamental principles of Wang Tsun related to the single combat is to win the fight as quick as possible without engaging into the typical sparring or “game” – you hit, I hit. If you can resolve the situation with only one strike or use of one technique, that is the best. In a real time situation either on the street, in a bar or club we do not have the luxury to extend the fight especially if we have multiple attackers or the attacker is stronger then us. No matter how strong are you, believe me, you will always find someone who is stronger; tougher than you or you could be caught by surprise because you are not mentally prepared.

According to Wing Tsun philosophy the winner will be the one who well assess the situation preserving calmness, reacting faster, coordinates well his/her strength and movements and has the ability to adapt if the situation escalates and changes.

Those skills are developed with training and practice in class, at seminars, in private lessons ect. Here I would like to point out the unique for Wing Tsun system, the Chi Sao (“Sticky Hands”) training– the exercise for developing of tactical reflexes which are being determined by the sense of opponent’s pressure and direction of force. The Chi Sao defensive reflexes are being acquired immediately as a result of the opponents’ attack which are not based on visual perception and allow the Wing Tsun trainee to defend instantly. Chi Sao is the “glue” that holds together the basic moves into combinations that are not prearranged but are constructed to fit a specific situation. Chi Sao is the soul of Wing Tsun.

What are the personal qualities that the trainee develops? How would the training help him grow on a personal level?

Passion, confidence, concentration, control and team work – these are qualities without which one cannot train adequately because you would either hurt yourself or your opponent. Uniquely these qualities can be developed for just about a year of training because I think there is no other practice than Martial Arts where you could really experience these changes in such a short time. Those personal traits remain with us and help us not only improve our quality of life but also support us at work.

With Vasi and Ricardo

Anyone who is involved in Wing Tsun classes trains their mind and body. The body does not yield easily upon a change, therefore, the everyday activity develops its condition, and the lessons with the teacher give you the directions to practice. The mind is an important factor to discover the inner strength, to control the aggressive spirit and to motivate the person – extremely difficult but not impossible. By reading and understanding the Chinese Philosophy we expand our perception of the world which makes us more flexible and dynamic.

What distinguished Wing Tsun from the other Martial Arts?

The most important deference derives less from the external specific characteristics than from its new revolutionary concept Wing Tsun system is based on.

The Classic styles depend upon series and complexes of previously regulated progressive movements and techniques, in other words, depend on well-honed combinations.

Sifu Guerman in actionIn real conflict situation (unlike the ones in class) the opponent never attacks in a fashion to which we are trained. In other words the aggressor never “asks the question “to which the classic styles “has an answer”. Therefore, quite often, the answer (the defense) does not fit the question (the attack). Only by utilizing a lot of physical body straight a “classic” fighter can make those previously rehearsed techniques (answers) workable. In addition these situations depend to a great extend to a luck and speed which in term places a physically wicker person in disadvantage.

Personally, I’ve experienced such problems at the time when I studied and practiced Judo and Karate. At competitions I would win against less technically prepared competitors with similar weight and size, but I felt quite different in real life situation I had encountered at the time I studied for my engineering degree in Riga, Latvia (ex-USSR). It was almost impossible for me to apply the techniques in a manner I trained for in class especially when the attacker was physically stronger and bigger. And everyone would attack in his own way! It was combat situations with no rules. It was one of the reasons that made me search for something more effective which is not based only on raw power, speed and endurance. That’s how I first discovered Tai Chi, and later on Wing Tsun.

In Wind Tsun we construct our reactions (answers) based on the opponent’s actions. The Wing Tsun technique is a reaction that is tuned exactly to the initiating action of the opponent whose power and speed even feeds us further

In WingTsun we don’t see the two fighters as “opponents”, but rather see them in the Taoist sense of Yin-Yang as two forces that mutually complete each other and make up one whole. Simply said, instead of thinking of our opponent as an aggressor who blocks our way and our “clean techniques” (a concept used in the traditional styles), we regard him as our source of energy and as a supporter who provides our safety and ultimately, his own defeat. As I already mentioned, the Wing Tsun training system uses two methods that train us in that aspect – Lat Sao and Chi Sao.

I have not heard of any Wing Tsun competitions. Are there any?

Wing Tsun is practiced and taught as a system for self-development and self-defense. The principles and techniques of Wing Tsun are designed and are intended for real-life situations rather than being used at competitions where we have rules, judge, beginning and end of the fight. Also in the organized competitions there are safety rules which usually don’t exist on the street. Wing Tsun principles and strategy would be in contradiction with those kind of tournament regulations and that is way in Wing Tsun we have no competitions in the type known to the general public.

One kind of competitions we organized in Wing Tsun / Wing Chun community are the Chi Sao tournaments where for safety reasons of the trainees the use of certain techniques is not allowed. Also some famous Wing Tsun fighters, among which is Stefan Crnko, participate in MMA fights, but they go through additional training in advance to adjust their Wing Tsun skills to the system of rules and restrictions of that competition.

Is it hard or inconvenient to use Wing Tsun against certain Martial arts ?

Wing Tsun is not just another style of martial art with its own set of forms, techniques, drills and movements. It is a System a scientifically developed set of integrated concepts, principles and technical components that interact together as one unit. All possible distance, legs, hands, elbows, knees, body to body and ground fighting situations are being taught and practiced. The whole set of techniques, training methods and exercises are designed not so much to be memorized but to develop certain skills that could be used in real life situations. Very often the techniques we practiced in class don’t have the same appearance when applied outside in real life. They are being modified, changed adapting to the certain situation. The forms of the hand, the body or the movement itself depend and are shaped by the opponent’s attack. The important thing is always to follow the principals of Wing Tsun .

Practice Time 2

At the highest level of Wing Tsun philosophy there are four Energy Principles and four Fighting Principles:

1. Give up your own Force

2. Redirect your opponent’s Force

3. Use Your Attacker’s Force against him

4. Add Your Own Force

1. Go forward

2. Stick to the opponent

3. Yield to a greater force

4. Follow through

These eight principles form a system of self-defense that allows one to adapt immediately to the size, strength and fighting style of an attacker. They determine the way Wing Tsun trainee would react to any possible attack regardless of its nature. Flexibility is the essence of Wing Tsun. And WingTsun will continue to evolve and spread throughout the world, adjusting to changes in the society.

In conclusion I would like to point out that when two persons get in confrontation, it is not like two deferent MA styles are in a single combat but two different personalities with their individual qualities and momentary state of mind and body.

Practicing With Wooden DummyHow do you practice Wing Tsun without real opponent?

If you are on your own and don’t have partner to practice with, you can use sand bags attached to a wall or in a more advanced stage you can practice with a Wooden Dummy.

But I think these are just helpful methods, and the only way to gain real Wing Tsun skills is to train with a real person and with as many deferent partners as possible. In this way we could acquire the essential skills such as listening, following and adaptability to different situations and people. Everyone is unique and even some will have similar training they will use different power, pressure, and direction of force and most importantly always act in a different way – something to which we should be able to adapt, follow and react.

How many students do you have at the moment? Are they Bulgarians or Americans?

The School in Wheeling is relatively new. The beginning was in January when we started an entirely new class. The school is developing gradually and we currently have a core of 10 people and a small group that gets together every Saturday in Glenview. In class we have Americans, Polish, Russians, Chinese (second generation Americans) and Bulgarians. It is like a true international school.

Is this martial art attractive for women? How do they accept it?

The girls really enjoy practicing Wing Tsun because this martial art develops the sense and skills how to use the power of the opponent, to be adaptive and flexible which all comes natural to them and they enjoy great success in our classes and organization. It is proven by the women with high Wing Tsun ranks who train with us.

According to the story about 250 – 300 years ago, there was a Buddhist nun named Ng Mui. Reportedly she was a Shaolin disciple and also an expert of the “White Crane” kungfu style of the Weng Chun district in Fujian Province. Due to political problems, Ng Mui, together with a few other Shaolin members, were hunted down by the rulers of the Qing Dynasty. They ran from Fujian and dispersed to different parts of Southern China. Ng Mui was a kung fu enthusiast of great talents. She was constantly looking to improve on what she had mastered although she was already one of the topmost experts. It happened that in the area where she took refuge she came upon by some local martial arts techniques which were quite different, innovative and useful. She reformed what she had learned incorporating some of those new ideas and created a new style. Ng later taught all her skills to a young maid Yim Wing Chun, an outstanding and beloved student of hers.

What can people expect if they enroll in your training?

Our personal time is the time we can be ourselves; it is the time that we evolve, relax and recharge. Therefore workout is an important part of our everyday life.

In our school we train in a friendly atmosphere, and by following the Chinese tradition, the school is like a big family, where the trainees are like brothers and sisters who help each other and practice together, and the instructor is the “father” – Sifu, who takes care of his students by teaching and guiding them in their development. Please feel welcome to visit us in our school in Wheeling.

Why would someone join Wing Tsun when we know that here, in the United States, the physical conflicts are not recommended?

Wing Tsun like all martial arts is not just a self-defense system; it is a teaching and practice for self-development. Our training is not only physical but also mental and spiritual. Practicing Wing Tsun makes us more balanced and self-confident in our abilities. This can be helpful in critical situations by finding a quick solution that would not lead to aggressive and violent acts. And Wing Tsun is a fun way to discover abilities you didn’t know you could possess.

Is this martial art used as training by the army or police? If so, in what countries?

WingTsun was demonstrated to the police, the special units and the army in many countries including USA and Bulgaria. In Germany, Austria and Italy WingTsun is taught in the police and the special military units. I know that in Bulgaria due to the complicated structure of the law enforcement agencies it is still very difficult for this martial art to be integrated in the training, but it is in a project.

Sifu Guerman with GGM Leung Ting in ChicagoWhat country is considered to be the Mecca of Wing Tsun?

Of course the Mecca of Wing Tsun is Hong Kong. The Late Grandmaster Yip Man lived there and worked on making it popular around the world. Now in Hong Kong there are many Wing Tsun/ Wing Chun organizations and schools. The Headquarters of our International Wing Tsun Association (IWTA) is also located in Hong Kong and its founder and chairman is Grandmaster Leung Ting 10 Level Wing Tsun. The association is one of the largest organizations of Chinese martial arts in the world with more than one million members and schools in 65 countries worldwide.

My dream is to visit Hong Kong and to train at the place where the spirit of Wing Tsun was born.

When did Wing Tsun become popular in Bulgaria? How many Wing Tsun schools are there and in what cities?

Sifu Guerman with Sifu Bagalev in Plovdiv Wing  Tsun AcademyIn Bulgaria Wing Tsun becomes popular in the 90s when the country rejects communism and everyone could practice martial arts not only military and police units. In that time the Bulgarian Wu-shu Federation contacted the International WingTsun Association (IWTA) and Grandmaster Leung Ting visited Sofia for a first time in 1990. Later he sends his instructors to teach, and in 1996 a team from EWTO guided by Grandmaster Kernspecht came to Plovdiv and established long term relations with Bulgaria by founding a new organization there. Currently the country has 12 Wing Tsun centers – Sofia, Plovdiv, Vidin, Montana, Rousse, Veliko Tarnovo, Varna, Burgas, Stara Zagora, Karlovo, Yambol and Haskovo and mian instructor and leader for EWTO-Bulgaria is sifu Stanislav Bagalev 4 Level Technician Wing Tsun which headquarter is located in Plovdiv.

How many schools there are in the Unites States and in what cities?

The Regional Organization for North America is IWTA – North American Section which has schools in Canada and the USA. There are 16 center in: Toronto, Arizona, Texas, California, New York, Iowa, Montana, Tennessee, Washington, Indiana and Illinois. Some of the biggest schools are in San Antonio, TX; Toronto, Canada; Mesa, AZ; Billings, MT and of course our regional center in Illinois with schools in Bloomington, Lisle, Chicago and Wheeling which leader is Sifu Mike Adams 5 Level Practician Wing Tsun. His main school and headquarter is in Bloomington, IL.

What about in Europe?

The largest organization in Europe is EWTO, with headquarters in Langenzenc castle, near Heidelberg, Germany. Its founder and leader is Grandmaster Keith Kernspecht, 10 Level Wing Tsun. Just in Germany alone there are about 1,500 schools plus many schools in Austria, Czech Republic, Italy, Slovenia, England, Spain, Denmark, Holland, etc. My first Sifu Stanislav Bagalev is the founder of the Bulgarian Wing Chun organization which is part of EWTO with headquarters in Plovdiv. Another big organization is the Eastern EWTO with headquarters in Hungary led by Sifu Maday Norbert 8 Level Wing Tsun with schools in Hungary, Poland, and Ukraine.

Did you ever use Wing Tsun as a self-defense in public? If so, what was the result?

Yes, I have used it but luckily without bloody scenes. On both occasions I was able to control the movements of the attacker, to suppress his aggression and to stop him from serious attack. Interestingly the more I advance in training, the less I have such experiences. The confidence gained by the skills and the ability to assess a situation knowing the consequences, as well as the calm and effective reaction seem to recede or extinguish aggression towards you. An old wisdom is that the victorious battle is the one that was won without violence or just avoided.

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What would you wish to all the readers of “Bulgaria” newspaper?

I would wish to all of them good health, good fortune and success in everything that comes their way. Traditionally said Have success on “the Way”. (Tao in Chinese philosophy).

PDF file of the interview in the newspaper

Translated by Ats Travel & Translation Services

Edited Sifu Guerman Atanassov

August 2012