By Alexia Evripidou
THERAPISTS HAVE long counselled physical exercise rather than prescription drugs as the first port of call in coping with stress, anxiety, anger and depression.
While they probably don’t have the 250-year-old self-defence tradition of Wing Chun Kung Fu in mind, perhaps they should.
According to its disciples, Wing Chun Kung Fu’s focus on channeling difficult energies into developing body, mind and spirit makes it an ideal remedy to a host of psychological afflictions far too many of us are far too familiar with.
Based on Chinese martial art, Wing Chun was originally developed for survival, self-defence and self-preservation rather than aesthetics, sport or exhibition. The aim of Wing Chun Kung Fu (WCKF) however is to develop physical, mental and spiritual awareness. It prides itself on its simple techniques that can be learnt within five to seven years by any one, irrespective of sex, age or fitness levels.
“In fact though, you never actually stop learning, it’s a life style,” says Sifu (master) and owner of Wing Chun Kung Fu Nicosia school, Nektarios Efthymiou.
Unlike other martial arts, Wing Chun is not a sport; it’s a street fighting system. It does not, however, require brute strength or a high level of fitness to learn or reap the benefits.
“I have children as young as five and adults over 60, everyone is equal here,” says 40-year-old Efthymiou whose school has over 100 active members.
“There are accountants, bankers and lawyers etc who spend all day in the office, coming here after work to exercise and forget their problems.”
Through training and sparring in a controlled and safe environment people can physicallly release the stresses of the day. Practitioners attend Efthymiou’s classes for different reasons: exercise, stress and anger management, self defence or just simple friendships.
Efthymiou works to toughen them up physically and mentally, so they can build up confidence, focus and calmness. With patience, perseverance, mental focus, listening skills and a good attitude (respect is paramount here), it’s said that every practitioner can learn to be devastatingly effective regardless of size, gender or age, whilst achieving self awareness and respect for the self and others.
Efthymiou’s road to Wing Chun came when he was 16 after an incident at a night club. He and a group of friends were attacked and some of them ended up in hospital. This spurred him on to learn self defence, specifically street fighting.
“I was never one who wanted to hit people, it was never my philosophy. However once I started Wing Chun, I realised I was doing it for me; to ground myself, irrespective if I would ever use it in reality or not,” he says. He’s now a gold belt, having successfully achieved all 10 belts and is currently training to become a Master.
Attending class every day of the working week became a way of life for Efthymiou. As well as fitness, it gave and still gives him confidence and perspective.
Efthymiou has gone on to open his school door to many angry and stressed individuals who, after throwing themselves into the martial art, no longer felt the aggressive urge to hurt others or themselves and learnt to manage their emotions.
The focus of the school is on discipline, respect and self confidence. Efthymiou also strongly encourages people to get involved not only for the mental benefits but for health reasons, “the exercise helps keep the doctors away”.
Avid Wing Chun practitioner and lawyer Elias Erakleous has attended Efthymiou’s school for eight years.
“Once I started, I became hooked,” he says. Erakleous makes time in his busy schedule to attend practise three to four times a week.
Classes are very intense. Focus is essential as kicks and punches are flying at you every single second you are sparring, not perhaps the easiest of challenges after a long stressful day at work.
“You have to focus in order to block these attacks, which takes your mind away from anything that may have happened during the day. You have no choice; it relaxes you. You sweat, your body has worked and your mind has combined with your body to move it around. When you finish the class, you’re free from all your troubles.”
Erakleous’ most important learning though his training is the realistic danger of getting embroiled in physical combat with another. “Even someone seemingly weak can induce huge injuries.”
Erakleous explains how the focus required in learning to defend oneself in a controlled environment, makes people less hot headed and subsequently wanting to avoid conflicts in the ‘real world’.
“It helps people to think before they speak, control their temper, acknowledge dangerous situations and abstain from them, because you experience to a certain degree, what could happen. It’s kind of anger management I guess. It channels feelings,” he says.
Thirty-nine-year-old petrol station manager George Menelaou has been practising Wing Chun with Efthymiou for nine years. Following a car accident, he joined the school to improve his health. Like the others, he’s gained more than he had anticipated.
“Wing Chun is a combination of physical, mental and spiritual strength. To be able to stay calm in a difficult situation, you need mental and spiritual clarity. The more you learn, the more you want to learn,” he says.
It’s also helped Menelaou to grow physically stronger and escape the daily stresses of life. “It helps you shift perspective. Whereas once one might have suffered with impatience, the focus required with the intense one-on-one sparring contact forces the participants to focus on the present situation, leaving any other anxieties and worries at bay.”
Menelaou explains how he’s transferred the teachings of Wing Chun into daily life.
“You learn that with small steps and procedures, you can deal with bigger problems. Wing Chun is a simple system, with simple movements. A small woman can fend of a largely built and strong man using the simple steps. Taking small and deliberate steps to deal with life’s problems can give you confidence and a peace of mind.”
Wing Chun was devised by a nun during the Ching Dynasty who passed the teachings onto a young orphan girl named Wing Chun (meaning ‘hope for the future’). The practice was ultimately named after her. For many, Wing Chun is synonymous with the Hong Kong American martial artist and action film actor Bruce Lee. It’s suggested that the study of Wing Chun was the largest influence on Lee’s martial arts development. Lee began Wing Chun training in 1957 at 16 years old under teacher Yip Man. Man is known as being responsible for the global practice of Wing Chun. Man also taught William Cheung, now grandmaster of his lineage of Wing Chun, entitled Traditional Wing Chun (TWC). Cheung also heads the sanctioning body of TWC; the World Wing Chun Kung Fu Association.
Nektarios Efthymiou was taught and is still a student of one of the only three Wing Chun red belt masters in the world, Kypros Andreou. Andreou who brought WCKF to Cyprus in 1985 is also the founder of the Academy of Wing Chun in Cyprus, the only academy in Cyprus that is a branch of the WCKF association and teaches TWC, lead by the Grandmaster William Cheung. The academy was opened in 1985 by Andreou, who in 2000 encouraged the then 26-yearold Efthymiou to open his own branch of the academy. There are currently six schools in the Academy of Wing Chun Cyprus and its teachers often travel the world giving seminars on TWC.