While I have studied several martial art disciplines, my favorite style is Wing Chun. Wing Chun has grown in popularity within the last decade with more and more students showing an interest. At my school, I teach Wing Chun as a separate program and in conjunction with my own style known as the Calasanz System. I wanted to take this time to briefly explain the history of my martial arts training and how I developed my own philosophy to teaching Wing Chun to the modern day practitioner.
When I was a young boy growing up on a farm in the Dominican Republic, my parents sent me to the city to further my education. While I was there, I witnessed my first karate demonstration. I was hooked. It was at that point that I knew I had to study karate.
At my first class, I learned a series of basic movements-three blocks, a couple of kicks and a few strikes. I practiced them on my own for a whole month, perfecting each move. I went back to the school a month later and was able to defeat the other students. It was at this time that I knew I had found my life’s purpose.
My goal in coming to this country was to become a well-rounded martial artist. I spent many years studying with great martial art masters and learned a lot about the ancient traditions. I studied Okinawan Goju Ryu Karate in the Dominican Republic. Once in the United States, I focused on Korean Hapkido, Cheng Chuan Long Fist, Northern Shaolin Kung Fu, gymnastics, dance and my favorite, Wing Chun. I did not believe in limiting myself to one style or one way of doing things. I knew that there was a lot to learn out there and I wanted to find the best combination. This however did not mean that I moved quickly from one style to another. I took the time to master several of them and dedicated countless hours in practice in this pursuit.
My Wing Chun instructor was Moyat, a well-respected instructor based in New York City. Moyat was a student of Grandmaster, Yip Man, who taught the late Bruce Lee. I traveled every week to his school in Manhattan to learn a brand of very traditional, authentic Wing Chun. One of the first things I did at his school was to learn the wooden dummy, a training device used by Wing Chun practitioners. I had been studying Hapkido at the same time and I felt that the wooden dummy would help improve my grappling techniques. Until then, I had focused most of my fighting training in a standing position, but I could see how Hapkido, along with the wooden dummy training would improve my grappling and ground fighting skills.
It is not uncommon to have challengers come into a martial art school looking for a fight. On several occasions, I had to use the fighting skill I developed on the streets and in karate to deal with tough New York challengers who wanted to disrespect the honor of Moyat’s school. Many of my classmates looked to me for help because of my street experience, which many of them lacked. From then on, I earned the respect of my fellow classmates, as well as those who came off the street to cause trouble.
Progress in the martial arts is slow when you are limited to group classes. If you wanted to progress in Moyat’s school at the time I was training there, you had to take private lessons. Many of my classmates had been training for three years and had not touched the wooden dummy. In my opinion, training on the wooden dummy is essential to the development of a good fighter. It is equivalent is equivalent to a boxer conditioning on a punching bag. This may have explained why some of them had second thoughts about fighting. While their technique was beautiful and fluid, they were not at the point where they could use what they learned in real-life. Lack of training on the wooden dummy as well as lack of practical application contributed to this problem. Eventually, after many years of training, they would reach the point where they could apply their knowledge, but many people don’t have the time or the patience to wait this long.
I decided to pay my teacher for private lessons so I could learn the system at a faster pace. After six months, he required me to teach others Wing Chun. Any good teacher will tell you that if you want to learn something well, teach it to another person. I have carried on this tradition with my students and require them to teach in order to advance to other levels.
While many of my students have successfully competed in tournaments, I do not require their participation. I never cared much for competitive karate. I have always believed that fighting in a controlled environment on a long term basis tends to give you a false sense of security. There is no rulebook or referee on the street. Much of my “competition” took place on the streets of the Dominican Republic, where I tested my skill with the best competitors outside of the ring. I have also had to defend my name as a martial artist in countless situations, like the experience at Moyat’s school, where there was no one to stop the fight. I also fought without throwing a single punch by intimidating many of my opponents with demonstrations of skill.
While some of my students study Wing Chun as a solitary discipline, others choose the combination of Karate and Wing Chun. Some students can integrate the two styles, while others find it easier to focus on one, get their black belt or black sash, then move on to another style. Regardless of the path you choose when studying Wing Chun at Calasanz, both will immediately emphasize developing good basics that can be applied in a self-defense setting. Whether its karate, Wing Chun or a combination, all students learn to react with the use of practical techniques.
I offer a program at my school called the Calasanz System Combined. A student who earns a black belt in this program will have a good foundation in karate, kickboxing and boxing. Once the student has reached the black belt level, he may go on to study the basics of Wing Chun. I recommend that the Wing Chun basics are studied slowly and that the student focus on good technique. He has already developed power, speed, flexibility and the ability to remain grounded during his training in the Calasanz System Combined.
Even if my students want to take the traditional route with Wing Chun and study it without going through the Calasanz System Combined, I still require them to focus on power, strength, endurance and how to apply these techniques in a self-defense situation. This is required of all Wing Chun students in the first six months of training. While it is a bit unorthodox and contrary to the way it was taught at Moyat’s school, it is what has made my system very practical.
While I respected Moyat and all the other masters I had the privilege of training with, I felt that their methodology limited the modern day practitioner. Because of the demands of a busy lifestyle, most people do not have countless hours to spend training before they learn something that may potentially save their lives. Moyat however, was not opposed to my approach. In 1987, I was honored to have him visit my school. He was pleased with my method of teaching Wing Chun teaching method as well as the uniqueness of the Calasanz System.
After 25 years of martial arts training and teaching, I began the process of organizing my system. I created the Calasanz System after many years of training under exceptional instructors and teaching thousands of students. I don’t recommend starting your own style from scratch. You need the experience and maturity to know what works and what doesn’t with today’s student population. I didn’t really start organizing my modern approach to martial arts training until the year 2001.
While I believe in preserving some traditions, I have created a system that gives students essential skills in the beginning phases of their training. I don’t make them wait for years before I show them how to train on the wooden dummy. I don’t believe in making them wait for years before I teach them something they can use on the streets.
"I offer a program at my school called the Calasanz System Combined. A student who earns a black belt in this program will have a good foundation in karate, kickboxing and boxing. Once the student has reached the black belt level, he may go on to study the basics of Wing Chun. I recommend that the Wing Chun basics are studied slowly and that the student focus on good technique."