Bio of Bill Dowding
“The most useful piece of learning for the uses of life is to unlearn what is untrue.” ~Antisthenes, Ancient Greek scholar.
In the Beginning…
This is the bio of Sifu Bill Dowding, the author of the Ving Tsun Clinic and the head teacher of The Ving Tsun Centre.
I was born in 1957 and I’m still not dead. I didn’t discover martial arts until I was 13, and studied western boxing and judo briefly, to no serious avail. When I was 15, like a million other people, I saw some kung fu movies (funnily enough not Bruce Lee movies at first). Since I couldn’t find any kind of Chinese kung fu that was useful for fighting, I started formal training in a kind of sport Shotokan karate which I studied until I was nearly 18. I entered competitions, performing against and with black belts, which in those days were serious competitions. My best title was on a team that came 3rd place at state level. This is somewhere between good and pathetic.
Discovering Wing Chun.
When 17 I sparred against my very close friend Toni Bardakos who practiced Ving Tsun Kuen for only six months at the time, and I was easily beaten. I resolved to change to Ving Tsun Kuen but this style was extremely hard to find. I had to move to Sydney, but it was still my last year of school. Until the end of the year, I did a little exchanging of techniques with Toni Bardakos off and on for the rest of the year, then moved to Sydney on Christmas day 1975. I eagerly awaited until the studio opened for business after the Christmas break.
That was early January 1976. My first Ving Tsun Kuen teacher was Greg Choy, a direct student of Yip Man. I trained there for much of the year, but had to move back to Newcastle, and cut my training short, although I continued learning from Toni when I could.
Later I went to university in New England, and studied some Tae Kwon Do and exchanged techniques with a few other martial artists, such as white crane, Hsing I and Tong Long. I dropped out, since it was the seventies and therefore compulsory to do so.
Times, they are a changin’.
Over the coming years, I practiced with many teachers, still searching for the ideal style, toying with the Bruce Lee concept of “absorbing what is useful” (a concept and interpretation I now consider ludicrous. How can some beginner know what is useful?) Perhaps I was developing my own system? I don’t know, but I was developing my own approach, that is certain.
Toni Bardakos changed Ving Tsun Kuen systems to Chu Shong Tin’s Wing Chun system under Jim Fung. I moved again to Sydney and practiced a lot, for a few years, until I was able to teach, although sort of “unofficially” since I dislike gradings. Still don’t like them even now, but I had assisted Toni teach for some years by then. I taught Ving Tsun Kuen at Newcastle University, and taught self-defense and women’s self-defense classes for a couple of years, even having corporate contracts. I was complimented that I was a good teacher, and that my way of teaching Wing Chun was very clear.
Discovering real Ving Tsun Kuen.
Then, one day, Alan Au-yeung, a student of Barry Lee, walked into my studio. This was in August, 1989. Everything changed. Alan basically said “I don’t want to learn this crap, I already have a teacher. I just want to practice.” It took me aback. I asked who his teacher was, and he told me “Barry Lee”. I’d never heard of him. Alan said, have you heard of Wong Shun Leung? I said, sure, greatest fighter of Wing Chun. He said, Barry is his brother-in-law.
Now, I had heard that WSL had a son-in-law in Australia (I had heard wrong, or mis-remembered) who was awesome. I said “Introduce me.” After some difficulties, because Barry wasn’t looking for more students, Alan introduced me to Barry. I took one look at the Wong Shun Leung system, and was devastated. The first question I asked Barry Lee, my new and first real sifu was “How do you want me to stand?” (OK, it was more complicated than that, but it would take too much space.)
I started from scratch, learning everything anew, discarding the old as comparatively useless.
Over the next decade I trained hard, exclusively in the Barry Lee system. (That is, except for my insane hobby of medieval combat). I have trained extensively since then, including running schools in this method. I attended the first and second world conferences in HK in 1999 and 2005, and the opening of the Yip Man Museum in 2002. Also to the WSL students association conference in 2014. During this time I also obtained black belts in Arnis, and a bridging course in Jiu Jitsu that sort of lead up to an honorary black belt. (knowledge only). Traveling extensively in Europe, I have also exchanged ideas with other teachers in several countries. This included helping Barry Lee train some students in Germany and other European countries during the nineties. Several times over the past decade (a bit less at this writing), I return to Europe to teach our lineage.
I was/am also friends with the people who learned Ving Tsun Kuen with Bruce Lee under Yip Man in Hong Kong, such as Chan Chee Man. I can include as friends some of Yip Man’s earliest students such as Kwok Fu and Lun Gai in Guangdong, Fatsan and Hong Kong, and continued these friendships until they passed away in recent times. Wong Shun Leung’s first student, Wu Chun Nam, was also a good friend, until he passed away. Many of the old legends are passing away. I find it distressing that so much knowledge and experience is being lost.
I am with Kwok Fu and Lun Gai, Yip Man’s earliest students, in Foshan, China.
During the nineties, I also spent some time teaching other martial arts systems how to defend against knives as a specialty. This is a skill far more difficult than most people realize. I traveled regularly, teaching in several European countries including Denmark, Germany, Holland and England, both teaching VTK and extensively studying Medieval European weaponry.
Actually, I studied European weaponry for more than two decades, beginning my interest during my university years, from early the eighties. I have also traveled extensively in China from the late nineties to date, living there for over 9 years. During this time I was exchanging teaching methods with many lineages of Ving Tsun Kuen and its related styles, as well as other martial arts.
Living in China, Teaching abroad
While living in China, I began studying my tenth martial art, Yang Tai Chi from a teacher in Hong Kong. I have students, and people I look after their VTK, in the UK, Holland, Germany, and Australia, as well as in China, where I lived until December 2013. I then moved back to Australia and have a small school there now, once more. All the current schools are small and “exclusive”. This is because I don’t advertise at all, but I will teach anyone who wants to learn. It is because I am someone who doesn’t seek publicity, nor do I seek to create large schools of poor quality students.
Real Kung fu is not about fame and fortune, but about the quality of the students. My school was quite large, and I began to feel that I didn’t want to teach VTK any longer. This was one reason I moved to China, The other was to be with my girlfriend, who became my wife and mother of my lovely daughter.
I have taught security forces in Australia, China, and several European countries, as well as police and military personnel in several countries. As part of my teaching, I travel regularly to Europe. There, I am a ‘consultant’ for several schools in keeping up their standards of training. These all belong to the Barry Lee lineage in one way or another, as I do not want to teach other lineages at this time. I have also been involved with security, teaching self-defense at universities and for private companies and security agencies. Along with this, I have been a martial arts coach to Olympic and Commonwealth Games team members. During my well-spent youth, I have also had opportunities (if that is the word) to test the system in real combat, as well as ‘contests’ with other martial artists.
At one time, I lectured on the psychology of violence at University level, being nominated as a research associate for my work in this area. My work and my kung fu have been published and/or filmed for tv in Australia, China, Hong Kong, Germany and other countries, in Chinese and German as well as in English. Recently, in Spanish in South America as well. I have lived and taught in China both VTK. (I am the only Westerner that I know of with permission to do so, and have done so for over a decade now). While there, I taught Writing, Western Culture, English and History at the Guangxi University of Chinese Medicine in Southern China.
Moving back to Oz.
Due to ill-health, I returned to Australia in December 2013, and live there with my wife and daughter, and I have re-opened a school there. However, at this time, I only teach a small group of people, mostly my old students, and a few of their friends and family.
Why the Ving Tsun Clinic?
I am starting the Ving Tsun Clinic. My students here and abroad requested it, along with many people in the industry, including my peers. This is due to the fact that Ving Tsun Kuen is in a terrible state. Even in China, the original home of this outstanding martial art. Too many people are learning from poor quality teachers, or on their own, or only from poor sources. “Facebook” seems the main source for most people’s training.
Therefore, I will begin publishing books and videos for sale on Amazon and Patreon. I hope to help students who can otherwise only learn from videos or under-qualified teachers to learn the true essence of Ving Tsun, before too much is lost.
This is the real kung fu.