My training with Sifu Lo Man Kam / by Marc Debus

My Training with Sifu Lo Man Kam

by Marc Debus


I began to be interested in martial arts in the middle of the eighties. At the time I trained a great deal with fellow students who had themselves been practising various types of martial arts for several years. The problem with the training was that we were not able to have regular sessions, nor did we have a particular location for our training.

Andreas Zernt, Lo Man Kam, Gorden Lu, Marc DebusI decided to attend a school of martial arts, so that I could have regular training sessions. And so I found a Wing Chun Kung Fu School in the city in which I was studying, and registered there and began my training. I quickly became fascinated by the combat style and therefore began a training programme to teach it myself. My teacher at the time soon encouraged me to open my own school. After a year of preparation I opened my own school in North Rhine-Westphalia with a colleague, and we ran it successfully together for three years.

Meanwhile I had been training for several years and also attending weekly sessions for teachers, lasting two to three hours each time. There we practised the Siu Lim Tao and the Cham Kiu Forms of Wing Chun, techniques, ‘feeling’ training and free combat. However the training basically remained the same over a long period of time, and my questions regarding techniques and applications could not be answered to my complete satisfaction. I therefore decided to find an authentic source to further my knowledge of the Wing Chun Kung Fu System.

My first contact with Sifu Lo Man Kam came during a seminar in 1996. The wonderful training methods and friendly attitude of this Chinese man encouraged me and three teaching colleagues and friends, who were also unhappy with their current training regimes, to renew contact with Sifu Lo Man Kam at the end of 1999.

Sifu Lo Man Kam visited us for the first time in the year 2000 for two weeks, and we used this time entirely for our own training purposes. SifuLo Man Kam with the double knives Lo Man Kam taught, to begin with, the Siu Lim Tao of the Wing Chun System. I experienced for the first time what it was like to have a teacher who could distinguish the tiniest error in practising the Form, and who was able to give advice regarding these problem areas which enabled me to correct my mistakes quickly and effectively. Furthermore for every mistake Sifu Lo Man Kam explained to us the dangers and problems which could arise in a combat situation if we continued in the error of our ways. He reinforced this by giving examples of the differences between the right and wrong forms of the exercise. It quickly became clear to us that the process of learning the first Form would demand more time and effort than we had until then imagined.

At the same time we also absorbed Lo Man Kam’s teaching methods, so that later we could pass on his tips to our own pupils. He showed us various teaching aids and gave us many simple examples which would be invaluable for tuition purposes. Simultaneously we learned the correct execution of the Dan Chi.

The tuition with Sifu Lo Man Kam during these two weeks solved the many questions which had plagued me over the preceding years of my martial arts training and to which I had never received answers. For these reasons we decided to intensify our contact with Sifu Lo Man Kam in order to extend our knowledge of Wing Chun Kung Fu.

The next step was to make contact with long-term students of Sifu Lo Man Kam, so that we could train together with them and build on our new knowledge. At the same time we planned with the Sifu (by telephone) both his next visit to Germany and our visit to the Association’s headquarters in Taipeh, as well as the founding of the German Lo Man Kam Wing Chun Association.

Sifu Lo Man Kam in TaipehBy contrast the training in Taipeh was completely different to the private training we had had in Germany. Many long-term students of Sifu Lo practise the Wing Chun Kung Fu System here daily, in two training sessions. During this first visit to Taiwan, contact with our mostly native fellow-pupils was not as difficult as we had previously imagined. Most of our colleagues spoke good English and were always ready to answer our questions or to give help when we had a problem. Sifu Lo Man Kam himself was always present during the training sessions and corrected his pupils or gave them new exercises when he was convinced that they had mastered the previous one. Many of the advanced students were a great help as one frequently found oneself in untried situations during the training, especially in the Chi Sao. Our colleagues were used to considering and repeating problematical situations arising during training, until one came up with a solution. Furthermore I always received tips from Sifu Lo Man Kam or indeed he would repeat a manoeuvre or procedure himself with me. Here I experienced for the first time a training exercise which kept me busy for many hours. Some fellow-students were quite prepared to practise with me outside the normal training sessions and so I quickly became used to an entirely different training regime.

Becoming familiar with both the living conditions in Taiwan and China and the oriental way of thinking helped me to better understand Sifu Lo Man Kam’s training methods and explanations. Kung Fu pupils in Europe or America behave in an entirely different manner to those of Sifu Lo Man Kam’s school. The pupils practise exclusively that which Sifu Lo has shown them or the exercise he has given them to practise. They then begin their particular training exercise after practising their ‘Forms’ for a short while. The pupils do not ask questions but leave the decision as to what they should practise entirely up to the master. I have rarely seen pupils plaguing Sifu with questions or asking him if they can practise something different. The quality of the Kung Fu which I have experienced in Sifu Lo Man Kam’s school speaks volumes for this style of tuition. One has the impression that the Chinese pupils, or those who have lived in China for a long time, approach their training with greater patience and stamina. The fact that the pupils invest two hours daily in learning the art of combat inevitably means that they learn in a much more intensive manner than in most Western schools.

The criticism and corrections Sifu Lo Man Kam makes are seen positively by his pupils; since they are always appear to be justified. Sifu drew my attention to my own mistakes so often that I began to work independently on the correction of these errors. However I received no praise from him for the success of my efforts. I only realised that I was carrying out my exercises correctly when Sifu stood next to me, watched me complete an exercise routine and then turned away without saying a word. I knew at once that I had performed the exercise correctly. About 10 minutes later Sifu criticised another exercise and then I knew what I should be practising next. At the same time it was clear to me that Sifu Lo Man Kam was keen that his pupils should constantly improve. He achieves this by continually correcting faults and inspiring the pupils in their training. Even small mistakes are not overlooked in his school. It was hard at the beginning, with my Western mentality, to accept this constant criticism. But I quickly learnt that this contributed to a more intensive preoccupation with my faults and helped me to carry out my exercise routines more precisely.

The organization of the school was such that the saying „Wing Chun is a family system“ seemed logical. The respect of the pupils was noLo Man Kam train a studentt limited to a silly greeting or meaningless ritual as one often finds in martial arts schools. The pupils addressed Lo Man Kam principally by the Chinese title „Sifu“(father-teacher). The true meaning of this word only struck me at the moment when I realised that the son of Sifu Lo Man Kam, Gorden Lu (Lo), also used the word „Sifu“ when addressing  his father. There was no sign of any competition between the pupils. My Sihings (older Kung Fu brothers) were always ready to give me help or to answer my questions: they never made a secret of anything. Even when I asked questions about ‘forms’ which I had not yet myself begun to learn, I received polite and informative answers which were always helpful to my later training.

After these experiences I found the teacher-pupil relationship in some European martial arts schools completely ridiculous. Even the interaction of the pupils in western schools was harder to understand in view of the training methods practised in Taipeh. In the past I have heard that one should not show a beginner too much and that as a teacher one must make sure that talented pupils don’t learn too much! (It must be mentioned here that there is absolutely no hierarchy or any belt system in Sifu Lo Man Kam’s school). The teaching method and the way of dealing with the pupils in his school made clear to me that a talented pupil is a gift to the teacher. The art of Wing Chun Kung Fu can only be furthered when we are prepared as teachers to allow others to be as good as or better than ourselves. If in our pupil’s generation there are none who reach our level of ability, this cannot be transmitted to the next generation and ever more knowledge of martial arts will be lost. Thus every teacher should try to encourage new talent in order to maintain the art of Kung Fu for future generations.

Due to the efforts of various western teachers and different associations there are ever more people trying to spread the art of Wing Chun Kung Fu, and undertaking longer training periods either in China or in schools run by pupils of Yip Man. Over the past few years it has been seen that some well-known and long-term Wing Chun teachers have sought contact with former Yip Man pupils, or invited them to attend one- or two-day seminars. They now wish to return to the roots of Wing Chun Kung Fu and forge links with Sifu Yip Man despite turning down such contact for many years. This is a very positive development, since it will lead to a more authentic assimilation of the combat art.