Profile- Alex Martell (by David Cutler)

New Zealand Chin Woo member Alex Martell has studied Wing Tsun Kung Fu for 12 years. In June 2008 he took time out to share some of his thoughts and experiences on training in Chinese martial arts with Chin Woo Reporter David Cutler.

*DC- What art(s) do you study and for how long?*

AM- Since 1996 I have been a student in Wing Tsun Kuen also spelt Wing Chun or Ving Tsun, which is one of the few arts thought to have been developed by a woman. Around 300-400 years ago a Buddhist nun from Shaolin called Ng Mui taught a young woman called Wing Tsun who was being bullied into marriage by a local town thug. This new art of fist fighting that she (Ng Mui) developed had particular techniques that were focused around the principle of the centre line which could be used to defeat a stronger opponent. This I believe is similar to the concept of Yin and Yang in which if they use force you will yield and if they yield you apply force (energy).

*DC- What made you decide to study this art?*

AM I had been involved with other martial arts for about 2 years previously that specialized in a lot of kicking. I loved it and would practice regularly, however one day when I was practicing a particularly difficult kick I unfortunately tore my knee ligament. I had to wear a splint for a month and had to gradually regain the strength in my leg over the next year. I needed something to help me keep up with my training and knew Bruce Lee had trained in Wing Tsun as I owned his book “Tao of Jeet Kune Do”. Previously I had mistakenly believed that Wing Tsun was all hand techniques so I thought this was a good way to improve my hand and fist techniques while my leg recovered. I may have also been persuaded by watching some of the fight sequences of Bruce Lee’s movie “Enter the dragon“, which when I was younger seemed very cool!

I had also just moved to Auckland from Wellington and in my lunch time would visit a Martial Art shop downtown and became friends with the assistant who had learnt Wing Tsun from Sifu Peter Yu. The assistant would demonstrate some of his Wing Tsun techniques to which I was deeply impressed with and eagerly bought some books about Wing Tsun which I read from cover to cover. After this, I sought out the Auckland Wing Tsun class and became a student of Sifu Peter Yu. I quickly found that even the basic training involved developing a lot of leg strength to help with balance and stance and I’m happy to say that my legs have now fully healed. Looking back I am very grateful that my Sifu accepted me as a student as I’ve learnt much from his guidance and teachings.

*DC- What do you enjoy in your training?*

AM- Funnily enough I have actually answered this question many times. I try not to boast that I train in kung fu but I am happy to talk about it with others who are interested (and need to be careful that I don’t talk for hours). I have found that a lot of people don’t initially understand that there are many concepts in kung fu and think that I am just into fighting but fighting is just one of many things I have learnt whilst training. The truth is that I actually hate fighting, but I have been involved in situations where I had no choice but to defend myself. For this reason I try to develop my skills and expand my knowledge so that I would have a greater chance of survival and can back myself if need be – this was the reason that I took up martial arts in the first place. I can see now that as kung fu practitioners increase in skill no matter what style or discipline they train in they find there are fewer and fewer reasons to fight.

What I enjoyed about Wing Tsun is the fact that it is not necessarily the stronger or more aggressive opponent that would win. It is all about balance, angles, body geometry, and centre line. This is what I try to keep in mind while I train as well as trying to avoid using too much aggression and force in my techniques but rather try to develop my skills and sensitivity. Because we are not so aggressive and don’t have (many) full contact fights we do avoid a lot of cuts and bruises, although I should mention we do have supplementary training which conditions the body and helps makes our hand and fist strikes stronger and our kicks harder and faster.

Whenever I find myself alone or at the loose end, I try to practice my kung fu moves and apply them into everyday situations. For example opening a door with my elbow while simultaneously turning the handle with my wrist creating a Lan Sau technique.

In the 12 years I have been training I have been caught out on a few occasions which can be quite embarrassing as I am sure it must have looked very odd. I remember one embarrassing moment when I was alone in the lift at work and I aimed a quick elbow strike towards the wall of the lift just as a colleague was about to enter, luckily I was able to stop and pretend I was just stretching. Then as we went down, he turned to me and said “lucky lifts don’t hit back”. We both laughed and I could see that he was also another Bruce Lee fan as he adopted a line from his movie “Enter the Dragon”.

*DC- What do you hope to have achieved in your training in 12 months time?*

AM- I hope to achieve more of a flow with a smoother transition from one technique to another. I want to be able to react without having to think based solely on what my opponent is throwing at me. Now that I am back in Wellington I really enjoy training with my Sifu more regularly and getting to know the Wellington students a lot better. I am still learning a lot at every training session even after 12 years, and to be honest I feel I am just scratching the surface. Fortunately this just motivates me to train more.

*DC- What does Chin Woo mean to you?*

AM- Much like my own art Wing Tsun, Chin Woo is structured like a family (albeit an extended family). It is an organization where various artists from different disciplines can share our experiences, promote our styles and assist each other in our common goals, whatever they might be.

*DC- What suggestions would you make to improve Chin Woo in New Zealand?*

AM- I have seen many good things happen in Chin Woo, and I am particularly looking forward to the end of this year when various Kung Fu masters and dignitaries are due visit from Hong Kong and China. I find one of the outstanding things about Chin Woo and something that I am keen to see evolve and improve is that we can promote our various arts in a friendly environment to all who might be interested. This is particularly good for people who might be a little apprehensive to visit a Gwoon or training hall by themselves. I think that if someone joined a club whether it was my art or another after seeing a Chin Woo demonstration, then that would be a success for me and Chin Woo and reiterates what we are all about.

I have also thoroughly enjoyed our Kung Fu Journeys to China and Hong Kong and have fond memories of our 06-07 tour. I would like to see these continue as I’m sure others would also find this great fun and a great experience. I would also like to take this opportunity to wish all Chin Woo members the best and good luck in their training.

*DC- Alex, I want to thank you for sharing your time with us.*

AM- You’re welcome.

Chin Woo Reporter David Cutler is based in Auckland and can be contacted on

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