By Stephanie Fox
About 20 men and women gathered at the Wing Tsun Illinois studio in Glenview this weekend for a 2-day seminar focused on the precision accuracy and timing of the Southern Chinese-style of Kung Fu.
Illinois residents from Chicago to Peoria had the opportunity to train under Master Will Parker, the highest-ranking instructor of Wing Tsun in America.
Wing Tsun is a traditional form of self-defense which emphasizes the technique of relaxed movement. This allows the defensive fighter to feel their opponent’s movements and use their energy against them.
Unlike Wing Tsun’s more popular cousin karate, it does not follow a belt ranking system. Instead, beginners wear white shirts and more advanced fighters wear black shirts. But color does not prevent white shirts from learning more advanced techniques or black shirts from returning to the fundamentals of Wing Tsun. It’s a fluid learning system in which the challenge lies not only in refining new skills, but also in continual repetition of the initial building blocks that allow fighters to improve.
Parker, who has been training in Wing Tsun for the past 30 years, has his own studio in Texas called the San Antonio Wing Tsun Academy. He is constantly traveling around the country to train fighters of different skill levels.
Those practicing Wing Tsun fall into four categories:
There are 12 student “grades” or levels, each of which have their own specific skills participants must become proficient at prior to advancing. Moving up a grade can take a minimum of 3 months. At a maximum it can take years.
Transitioning from student to the technician stage means that the fighter has been taught all the fundamental skills, but they may not come instinctively yet. There are four technician stages, which take a significantly longer time to achieve than the first 12 student grades. For example, Guerman Antanassov, the founder, lead instructor and host of the event at Wing Tsun Illinois, has trained in Wing Tsun for more than 20 years and he is currently a fourth level technician.
When someone becomes a practitioner, they have earned the title of “master.” There are four practitioner grades, but because they build on the four technician levels, instead of saying “level one practitioner,” those who have achieved this level start at “fifth level practitioner” and can go on to achieve up to eighth level practitioner.
Parker achieved fifth level practitioner in 2005 and sixth level practitioner in 2011.
Enlightenment is the highest level of Wing Tsun. At this stage, fighters understand the theories of Wing Tsun and other martial arts systems; they can explain and break down any fighting scenario.
A variety of levels attended the Illinois seminar on June 8 and 9. Beginners all the way up to Parker’s sixth level practitioner status trained side by side for 4 hours each day.
Parker’s goal in attending the event?
“To polish and refine Wing Tsun,” he said. “When I get on an airplane and I go back home I want to know that I did my best and that [attendees are] actually going to know what to practice and how to practice.”
Antanassov, who met Parker years ago at a Wing Tsun seminar and has taken private lessons from him wanted the same thing.
“He’s taught me a lot,” said Antanassov. “I hope [my students] improve and I hope that they get good directions from Master Will on how to train, what to look for and how to get better when they’re practicing.”
Between group demonstrations, discussions of techniques and Parker’s one-on-one attention, attendees certainly had the opportunity to absorb a lot of information.
Still, Parker knew the most important aspect of the seminar was maintaining relationships and showing attendees new to the fighting style that those who practice Wing Tsun are a family.
“It’s the friendships that I’ve had with the people for many years [that I like best],” Parker said. “I’ve known a lot of these people for many years. To see them become better. That’s success.”