Tom Kitchen

I started my career in martial arts age 11 with Shotokan Karate. I was awarded my black belt (shodan) by Sensei Keinosuke Enoeda and taught under the KUGB, and then the JKAE, at Goldsmith's SKC in New Cross for a number of years. I loved Karate and it taught me a huge amount. I owe a huge debt to my teachers and everyone at the school for starting me on my journey. Being honest with myself though I knew something was missing. Having been in a couple of fights over the years I realised I didn't feel as confident in defending myself as I should have given my rank. So in 2004 when I left London for university in Manchester I decided to try a new art in the hope that I could fill the gap in my skill set.

Like most people who have even a mere academic interest in combat, Bruce Lee was always a huge inspiration to me. The art that formed the foundation of Bruce Lee's career was Wing Tsun (read more here) so having the chance to study this new style was something I couldn't ignore. Although completely different to Karate, it made an instant and lasting impression on me. After 4 years under the EWTO, and now working back in London, finding the right school and teacher proved, let's just say challenging. After a few years training, and now teaching, at different schools under the EWTO and the EEWTO, I was tired of being sold the idea of 'authenticity'. I decided that if I was going to master this art I had to go to birth place of Wing Tsun. Hong Kong. I made that journey in 2013.

If you've ever had the privilege of visiting Hong Kong you'll have likely seen the countless Kung Fu schools dotted around. Among the many styles of Kung Fu there are also numerous Wing Tsun schools teaching under a variety of lineages. What I was looking for was a teacher that taught a Wing Tsun from my lineage, but more importantly, a Wing Tsun that worked for what it was developed for - functional combat. Let me quickly describe what I mean by functional.

The topic of functionality is one that is much debated in so called 'traditional martial arts'. The debate to me though boils down simply to whether or not it is pressure tested. Does what you know work against skilled and un-choreographed attacks. If you've ever listened to Joe Rogan's (himself a TKD and BJJ black belt) podcast, he often references a phenomenon called 'confirmation bias'. This refers to "the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one's existing beliefs or theories". This is particularly true in traditional martial arts where mysticism and the "my technique would kill you so I can't demonstrate it" mentality has, in my humble opinion, perverted the view of what actually works. Your teacher, who you rightly respect, tells you something works regardless of any pressure testing and because you respect them you believe whole heartedly in it's efficacy. You then teach it to your students and so on. Wing Tsun should and can be trained as a pressure tested system of combat.

The Sifu that I felt was the right person to help me on my journey toward mastery of a Wing Tsun that I could actually use in a serious combat situation was Sifu Chris Collins (hear Sifu describe his perspective here). After talking with Sifu Chris for a while I finally made my little pilgrimage to HK and arrived at the Hong Kong Wing Tsun Association HQ in Sheung Wan late in October 2013. Sifu Chris is by anyone's measure one of the most proficient exponents of the Wing Tsun system in the world. What struck me the hardest though was how good his students were. After a week training in Hong Kong I went home with a head swimming with information. I arrived in Hong Kong as a Wing Tsun teacher and left very much a student again. I have no doubt that I found the best Sifu, for me, and the right syllabus and training mentality for me to keep myself and my students on a path to proficiency and functionality.

Since that first trip to Hong Kong I have also started training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and have since earned my blue belt and hope to get my black belt some time in the next decade. If you train BJJ you know that I'm not under-playing the time and effort it takes. I now train at the Roger Gracie Academy in Farringdon. Sifu Chris is also a brown belt in BJJ under Clarke Gracie.

Sifu Chris also teaches the Filippino art of Pekiti Tirsia Kali which deals with offensive and counter offensive technical concepts against edged or impact weapon attacks (read more on Sifu Chris's site). I'm still learning. Watch this space.