Sun Devil Wing Chun Club: Teaching self-defense through relaxation

The Sifu instructs members on the fundamentals of this martial art

For most martial artists, it's all about punches and kicks. But when practicing Wing Chun, it's more about the balance of relaxation and tension. 

The gym room, despite the 20 or so people, was silent except for the calming voice of the instructor. 

Silence is the sound of the students exercising their mind and their body while learning Wing Chun.

Wing Chun, a form of martial arts, originates from ancient Chinese culture, passing along the ways of self-defense in the form of relaxation of the mind and the body. The practice focuses on preparing for situations where one must trap an opponent that wishes to attack them.

Sifu Jay Spain, an instructor for both the Sun Devil Wing Chun Club and his own studio, explained to newcomers why the martial art could be helpful to everybody, not just the big and bulky.

“These movements are designed because the woman is not typically stronger than the average man,” Spain said. “So it’s not based off a lot of strength. It’s based off redirection of someone’s power. So when the movement is coming at us like a punch or a knife, it’s easy to move their oncoming weapon.”

Spain told the legend of the inception of Wing Chun. When the government attacked monks and nuns at their Shaolin temple in the late 1600s, one of the nuns was in the middle of the conflict. She noticed certain techniques that were working among the monks fighting the soldiers. She escaped and created a new style of martial arts from what she saw.

Then she met an orphan girl and taught her how to fight, and together they named the art Wing Chun. A businessman wanted to marry the orphan girl and because of the ways of her culture, she felt forced into it. 

"She said ‘If I can beat you, I don’t have to marry you,’" Spain said. "And he laughs and says OK. She said one year. She knew she needed one year to beat this guy. So after one year, she goes and defeats him.”

Men learned the martial art over the years. When Yip Man, the martial artist who trained Bruce Lee, and his family escaped to Hong Kong during the Japanese invasion of China in the 1930s, he started teaching Wing Chun. When his students became teachers, they spread it across the world. Later Bruce Lee made it famous.

Eric Xue, president of the Sun Devil’s Wing Chun Club and computer information systems senior, wanted to use this organization to connect different martial art schools to create a modified traditional version of Wing Chun.

“I do believe this club to be an international organization to not only connect people but introduce martial arts in Arizona,” Xue said.

Wing Chun specifically has a soft spot in Xue’s heart because of its Chinese origin.

“I have this obligation, responsibility to promote this culture,” Xue said. “I’ve been a martial artist for a long time. I started off as a prodigy in Tai Kong in middle school. I’ve been doing taekwondo for two years and kickboxing for a year and a half. Right now, I’m trying Wing Chun because I see Wing Chun as more beneficial for myself.”

But the practice extends far past the University.

Sifu Julio Ferrer visited the Sun Devil’s Wing Chun Club to teach the members the more modified traditional way of Wing Chun. Originally from New York, he currently trains his students in Seattle. 

Ferrer has practiced Wing Chun for 40 years and received the position of West Coast Director for Integrative Wing Chun Kung Fu. He's currently the owner of a distinguished studio for martial arts in Seattle.

Ferrer made the journey to Phoenix for the weekend of Nov. 4 to 6 for the workshop. Spending an hour and a half with meditative exercises helped the class reach a point where their mind and body worked together. 

"After years of training and more to come, I find that I use Wing Chun theory in just about everything I do or participate in," Ferrer said. "It is my hope that I can facilitate that learning experience in all of my students and propel them beyond my own skill."

Then he focused on Sil Lim Tao which is a basic shifting form. He said to continue learning Wing Chun, the student must master Tao. Tao teaches stance and turning energy and tension on and off. 

“It’s not about power,” Ferrer said. “It’s not about muscle. It’s about releasing.”


Reach the reporter at anbuechl@asu.edu or follow @alexa_buechler on Twitter.

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