Nima King, an overseas instructor, teaches Wing Chun techniques to his Chinese students at a martial arts school in Hong Kong’s Central district, where calligraphy scrolls and Chinese paintings adorn the walls, and incense hangs in the air.
Wing Chun is a style of kung fu that emphasizes close-quarter combat, quick punches and tight defense to overcome opponents.
Wing Chun an Intangible Cultural Heritage
In the 1950s, several renowned Wing Chun masters moved to Hong Kong, including the legendary Ip Man. They established schools to develop Wing Chun as one of the city’s most iconic traditions. Interest in martial arts has waned in recent decades, but in 2014, Wing Chun was designated an Intangible Cultural Heritage item.
King, born in Iran and raised in Australia, is committed to carrying on the city’s Wing Chun legacy.
In 2003, when he was 21, he attended a lecture given by Chu Shong-tin, an apprentice of Ip Man, who traveled to Australia from Hong Kong to promote Wing Chun. King was selected to engage in friendly competition with Chu, who was in his 70s. The confident King never expected to be swiftly struck to the floor by the elderly master, an action that left him stunned.
Despite not being able to speak Chinese, King soon decided to learn Wing Chun from Chu. He saved for two years, and in 2005, moved to Hong Kong, where he joined Chu in intensive training courses. He devoted up to six hours a day to Wing Chun and continued the courses for nine years until Chu’s death.
Opening a School in Hong Kong
In 2008, to pass on Chu’s dedication and popularize Wing Chun, King established the Mindful Wing Chun martial arts school in Hong Kong.
Departing from the traditional master-apprentice model, where the master admits only the most talented students, teaching them at home, King set out to introduce a modern and commercialized approach to Wing Chun education.
First, he developed a comprehensive curriculum system that split Wing Chun routines into different levels, each with increasing difficulty, to ensure a progressive learning experience.
King then introduced a skill assessment system, where students demonstrated specific moves at each level. Only after their performance meets certain standards can they progress to the next level.
He also introduced a reward system. Adult students receive certificates when they complete each level, while children are awarded different colored belts.
King’s school stood out with its emphasis on the importance of focused attention in every class. During classes, if he notices a student becoming distracted, King quickly redirects the student’s focus.
As concentrating hard has a meditative effect, those facing high levels of stress, such as senior executives, directors and white-collar workers, refer to King’s school as “a temple within a bustling and noisy city”.
“Unity of mind and body is a fundamental principle rooted in Wing Chun and Chinese philosophy. I just highlight this aspect in my curriculum to meet contemporary needs. This is also why my school is named Mindful Wing Chun,” King said.
The school has flourished, attracting thousands of students to become one of the largest kung fu institutions in Hong Kong. Many of King’s students come from countries such as the United States, Germany, Canada and Australia, and when they return home, some of them open their own schools to spread knowledge of Wing Chun.
How To Preserve Wing Chun Techniques in the Future
In 2012, King started to create Wing Chun videos online. He gave detailed explanations of his practice, edited the footage, and uploaded the videos to the internet.
The videos can be bought online, and the initiative has attracted more than 400 students from around the globe. “Now, even if I die tomorrow, the next generation can watch my channel to learn about Wing Chun techniques,” King said.
For him, the essence of inheritance lies in keeping up with the times. “If there is a need, I am open to incorporating advances such as the metaverse and virtual reality technology into my teaching,” King said.
Leung, from the Hong Kong Intangible Cultural Heritage Association, feels that while protecting cultural heritage is crucial, fostering its growth and evolution is even more important. There are numerous possibilities for innovation and advancement, and breaking away from traditional and rigid thinking is vital for embracing these possibilities, he said.