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MARTIAL DIRECT- The Directory of Martial Arts Schools & Instructors

  David Peterson and Wong Shun Leung

David Peterson


         David Peterson is well-known as a student of the late great Wing Chun master Wong Shun Leung. (Wong Shun Leung being known for his fighting prowess and also for being a major influence on a young Bruce Lee during his formative years in the art of Wing Chun.) His accomplishments as a teacher and writer are equally well-known. Mr. Peterson continues to spread the philosophies and teachings of Wong Shun Leung as a lasting tribute to his mentor.

        He is the founder and head instructor of the Melbourne Chinese Martial Arts Club in Melbourne, Australia. He has also written numerous articles on Wing Chun kung fu and Wong Shun Leung's methods.

        Mr. Peterson is fiercely loyal to his late instructor and continues to share the teachings that were imparted to him. For more information on David Peterson and to purchase his book on Wong Shun Leung, Look Beyond the Pointing Finger: The Combat Philosophy of Wong Shun Leung, visit his website at The Melbourne Chinese Martial Arts Club.

[Martial Direct] How long have you been involved in the martial arts?

[David Peterson] I began training in the martial arts back in 1973, at the beginning of what people often refer to as the "Kung Fu Boom", which began with the release of the movie 'Hands of Death' and shortly after, the Bruce Lee films, to the wider audiences here in Australia.
[MD] Was Wing Chun your first art?

[DP] No, initially I was just messing around with friends who practiced Karate and Taekwondo, but my first formal style was "Shaolin Ch'uanfa" under Sifu Serge Martich-Ostermann. I was under his instruction for about two years before I was attracted to Wing Chun, or at least what I thought was Wing Chun...

[MD] How did you come to meet and train under Wong Shun Leung?

[DP] Well, the Wing Chun that I was attracted to back in late 1974 turned out to be less "authentic" than I had been led to believe. It was basically a hybrid system that incorporated elementary principles of Wing Chun, and combined them with aspects of Choy Lee Fut, Taekwondo, etc. I was young and naive, and foolishly believed all that the instructor (who had been introduced to me by a friend) said about his background in Wing Chun, and pretty much helped him to run his classes all over Melbourne for close on 10 years before it really dawned on me that there was more to Wing Chun than what I had been shown.
        The guy that had been instructing me (I won't give his name as he really deserves no credit at all because of his false claims and outright lies regarding his martial arts background, ...and he's STILL teaching and ripping people off!) had claimed to have studied under Sifu Wong Shun Leung, and I had read about Sifu in both Chinese and English sources (Rolf Clausnitzer's book for one), so after some pretty bad experiences with my former instructor, I gathered up the gumption to take the big step of travelling to Hong Kong to track him down and learn from the "Real McCoy", ...if he would have me.
        By then (1983) I had split from the other guy and a handful of dedicated followers and I met together for regular training in our search to uncover genuine Wing Chun, seeking out anyone who seemed to have an inkling of the system, and then pooling our collective knowledge. One of these students, John Maino, left for Hong Kong in the middle of the year, armed with Sifu's address and a letter of introduction in Chinese from me. John ended up living in the school and training day in and day out for six months! Sifu was so impressed with his attitude that by the time I arrived in late November of that year, he welcomed me into the school and the rest, as they say, is history...

[MD] What do you think was Wong Shun Leung's strongest attribute?

[DP] Probably his open-mindedness and his willingness to accept anyone as a student, regardless of race, color or creed, and his amazing talent as an instructor. He had an uncanny ability to look at you and know exactly what to tell you in order for you to overcome any weakness and improve your standard. On top of that he was, of course, an incredible fighter and his experiences made him the ideal teacher to learn from with regard to real combat.

[MD] What do you think is your strongest attribute?

[DP] I am definitely not in Sifu's league as a fighter, that's for sure, and many of my Sihing-dai (not to mention my own students) easily surpass my skills in that regard. However, I do believe that I have a gift for transmitting the knowledge to others, as a teacher of Wing Chun, and my communication skills are my real forte. I guess that having learned from my teacher in his native language of Chinese has made a great deal of difference to my level of understanding compared with some of my foreign peers, and having worked so closely with Sifu as his translator/demonstration partner in dozens of seminar situations has very much reinforced this understanding.

[MD] Why do you continue to train in the martial arts, and Wing Chun in particular?

[DP] For a start, I simply enjoy it very much, and I really enjoy passing on to others what I have been fortunate enough to learn. I guess that it's the constant process of refinement that I find both challenging and rewarding, not to mention the fact that I have met so many amazing people and had so many wonderful experiences courtesy of my Wing Chun and other martial arts practice over the years. I suppose you could say that it's in my blood and I doubt that I'll ever give it up. Let's face it, I've been training for more than half of my life so it is very much a part of who I am and what I do.

[MD] You have written a book on Wong Shun Leung and your training with him. Can you tell us a little about it?

[DP] When I decided to write a book, as opposed to the many articles that I have published on his life and system in recent years, I decided that I did not want to write yet another textbook on Wing Chun....there are plenty of those out there already. I wanted to do something different, something that would cross over lineages and styles so as to convey Sifu's ideas and legacy to the widest possible audience.
        You see, my Sifu was a very down-to-earth kind of guy, with a pragmatic approach to life as well as combat. He didn't worry about feeding his ego, but instead constantly sought to seek and share the best knowledge on combat that he could. Therefore, I felt that the best way to do him justice and to keep his goals and ideas alive, was to preserve the very words and ideas as he shared them with those of us who had the good fortune to train with him.
        Hence, what I have done is put together a collection of quotes from a variety of sources and situations that reflect his views on Wing Chun, on combat, on training, on his own teacher, and on life in general. I have organized these quotes into three main areas and where I felt it worthwhile, have added my own commentary or examples to further break down and explain what he was trying to say. There are also many photographs and illustrations to clarify points raised in the text, and photos of my late teacher "in action" so-to-speak, which I hope help to show the many sides to the man, both as a martial arts legend, and a regular guy.

[MD] Wong Shun Leung was probably the most influential Wing Chun instructor of Bruce Lee's besides Yip Man. Can you tell us his opinions, if any, on both the strengths and the weaknesses of Bruce Lee's art of Jeet Kune Do?

[DP] In simple terms, Sifu felt that all credit for Bruce Lee's amazing skill was due to Bruce Lee himself and the effort that he had put into his own training. Sifu didn't like to take any credit at all for those achievements, but it is quite clear that much of Lee's thinking was very much influenced by what he saw and heard of Sifu's own skills and approach to combat. His own student, Sifu Jesse Glover, puts it this way: "Without Wong Shun Leung, there would have been no Bruce Lee."
        As far as the strengths and weaknesses of JKD, perhaps if I might be so bold, can I say that JKD, that is, Bruce's expression of JKD, is very much grounded in his background as a Wing Chun practitioner, and that without that same grounding, without those same foundations, principles, and techniques, it is next to impossible to achieve what he was able to achieve, regardless of any particular attributes that he might have had. Sifu often said that in his opinion, the more that Bruce Lee explored the martial arts through the years, the more he became the Wing Chun fighter that he would have become had he remained in Hong Kong. He just went about it via another pathway and discovered many of the "truths" about combat by applying his Wing Chun foundation and excellent grasp of Wing Chun concepts (as influenced by Sifu) in his own training.
        I think that too many JKD devotees are trying too hard to be Bruce Lee, to do what might be best referred to as "University level" JKD, without having gone through the "Primary School level" of the JKD concepts. Instead of trying to be Bruce, they should be trying to discover how to reach their own true potential. This is what Bruce Lee himself was trying to teach, and this is exactly what Sifu Wong Shun Leung was teaching; to USE the system and its "tools" to express one's own potential, and not to mimic an individual or become a SLAVE to one's system. Like Wing Chun, the concepts of JKD are not in question,'s the way in which some apply them that creates any "weakness" as such.

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