An INTERVIEW WITH ALAN ORR: MMA Wing Chun - by Bob Sykes
First published in UK Martial Arts Illustrated March 2007...
Alan Orr has become a well-known figure in the Wing Chun world over the last few years. Know as a teacher who trains as hard if not harder than his students, he has been earning respect for what he believes to be the future path of Wing Chun. Alan has travelled the world to become highly skilled in many other arts as well. He’s produced no less that 18 DVD’s on the ‘Body Structure Method’ applied within the Chu Sau Lei Wing Chu System. With the success of his students in Amateur and Professional NHB/ MMA competitions we thought it was time to get a full update on his progress of late:
MAI: Firstly, Wing Chun in the ring? It’s not known as a ring art. How has it worked?
Alan Orr: The answer is simple. Body Structure. That’s it.
M: I hope you’re going to explain.
A: (Laughs) … of course…. Body Structure is really the key to martial arts skills; it is an understanding of the correct way to use your body without being over committed. It’s also having an understanding of the skill required to change the levels of pressure control through contact with your opponent. It is a multi-layered skill. It incorporates understanding the correct vector power lines of the body, the correct linking and de linking skills of each joint, the kinetic loading and control of each joint, and how to root and store power.
As someone who has an extensive background in Wing Chun (from 1987) and grappling, I too, like you guys very much question most people's Wing Chun skill and ability in general. The system of Wing Chun I teach is very different to what is generally understood and practiced in Wing Chun circles. Our methods of body structure within our Wing Chun mean our Wing Chun has a more functional nature and is more realistic for self-defence than most. Now, I also believe, as I'm sure you do as well, that even if an art is based on street self defence or street fighting, it should still be able to hold its own in a glove sport environment, even though many of the tools are removed. Again these are my opinions only.
Alan Orr MMA Wing Chun : Body Structure Sparring DVD Fundamental skills 1
Obviously the important factor of any martial art is that the core of the art is robust enough to deal with many environments. Therefore, sport aspects are good at testing this side of the training. I believe that most Wing Chun falls down in this environment, that's why I produced my first DVD series ‘Body Structure Sparring’, to show a more functional application of the Wing Chun system that I practice and teach. My teacher, Robert Chu's methods are the best kept secret in Wing Chun, this is because many people don't really want to improve their Wing Chun, and they just want to pass on what they have been taught. I am not questioning the reasons or factors, but this is very common in Wing Chun circles.
I would say that from my experience in real fighting/Wing Chun/grappling and so on, that I would be one of the best people to introduce a different way of looking at training Wing Chun, as the system I teach is geared to that.
Alan Orr MMA Wing Chun : Body Structure Sparring DVD Fundamental skills 2
My new series is really showing the progressive nature of our Body Structure methods within different fighting environments. The ideas and concepts shown in this DVD are completely different to most people's current methods. From an outsider's point of view without really seeing a full explanation of the differences when using Body Structure, it may be hard to see the full picture.
Many people have come to realise that Wing Chun without Body Structure would have great trouble against a good grappler. As I also grapple, I have always known this and that is why after finding the Body Structure method, I thought others like me would be interested in strengthening their Wing Chun with these methods. Without the Body Structure methods I would not have continued training within Wing Chun.
Many talk of structure but do not really understand what it really means in the way we teach and use it. Boxing and Mauy Thai are great ring arts, but they have rules, which mean they have developed in the context of those rules, therefore, some aspects are emphasised whilst others are not really addressed. MMA (mixed martial arts) is a different sport. In boxing and Thai you will not have to think about a single leg takedown for example, therefore, you can punch with your hip power high and if you miss there is no danger of takedown. In MMA (mixed martial arts) or the street that’s not the case so to punch in that manner (if you miss) may leave you open.
That’s what we cover: how to have great power and to keep your full base at the same time (and you also have to know how to turn your pressure on and off). What we call linking and de-linking is central to this.
Sure, I know everyone thinks they have the best way but I’m not saying that. All I am saying is that I have seen both sides and this method will double your power and control of power at the same time. I studied Wing Chun for twelve years before I found this system. My teacher tried to introduce it to the Wing Chun world, but as soon as he said ‘What you are doing could be better’ there was an outcry in opposition to him. That’s why he didn't do much with it, he had the idea people would be happy to hear about it but egos often stand in the way. I started training with Robert Chu seven years ago and I have been hell bent since that first day to show the Chu Sau Lei System for what it is. In my opinion no other system of Wing Chun has an understanding of structure at the level of real application.
Alan Orr MMA Wing Chun : Body Structure Sparring DVD Intermediate skills 1
I never thought Wing Chun would work in a ring until I found this method, so I just want to open people’s minds to what Wing Chun can do. Again, I’m not saying all other Wing Chun styles are bad, we all know there are good and bad in all systems, but, I can say from what I have seen the guys that are good fighters in Wing Chun would be good at any art. The system I teach, I feel, can improve the power, strength and control (via correct structure) of anyone. That’s what I liked about it and that’s why I am teaching it. I feel to be a good teacher you owe it to your students to look at your art inside out. It took me twelve years to find the Chu Sau Lei System, but I looked until I found a real art rather than just someone else’s method.
I know it still doesn't tell you much; you do need to see it and really feel it. That’s why I have been so busy teaching and developing a strong group of people to teach and spread the art with integrity. It’s taken the last five years to really produce the level that I require from people who want to teach, but it’s now happening. I had lots of guys from other Wing Chun styles come to train with me. It takes some to change direction and mind set, but they have all reached the levels they were looking for.
Wing Chun is my main art, but prior to Wing Chun and currently I have trained in others arts. I just see myself as a Wing Chun fighter/teacher, whatever way you would say it.
Alan Orr MMA Wing Chun : Body Structure Sparring DVD Intermediate skills 2
M: So, you have taken your Wing Chun into the ring environment, what has been the feedback from other Wing Chun?
A: Generally it’s been very good with lots of support and good feedback. Of course the main negative comments from others in the Wing Chun World are that they can’t see the Wing Chun in the fights. (Laughing) It does make a point to me, that most do not understand how Wing Chun really works if they can't see it within the fights that my guys and I have had.
It is hard to see the control of the system on a clip, I understand but you may just think the opponent is not doing his job. There is a reason why! They are getting hurt and also being controlled by our Body Structure system!
At first some said your guys are doing well, but it is only Amateur NHB, (by the way amateur NHB is harder if you are not a grappler because it is easier to tie up for the takedown) then we completed and won in Profession NHB and they said your guys are doing well, but that not really Wing Chun. So, I don’t really think about what people like that say. It is not for them that we do it. It’s really for our own schools improvement and development.
Good Wing Chun is a Chinese Boxing Art. Punching and Kicking. The hand shapes in the forms are for your own development of space control and understanding of timing. You should be so strong in your structure that all you need is to hit and control them.
Most Wing Chun is just basic training skills without the principles of correct structure.
Punch and Kick that’s the name of the game. How you do that is the art.
M: So you think Wing Chun is in fact a good art for the ring?
A: My fight team has had over 50 fights. We have also had three professional full contact NHB wins. I can only talk of the Chu Sau Lei Wing Chun System, as we have a structure to our Wing Chun that is functionally different to the other styles around.
This is one reason for us testing our art. I do agree that a lot of Wing Chun could not last in the ring from what I have seen. That does make me sad to say that. I have been busy filming my new DVD's to show that Wing Chun can work, but the structure has to be correct and functional.
Alan Orr MMA Wing Chun : Body Structure Sparring DVD Advanced skills 1
With this in mind, our method allows us to strike without a loss of base that is in most stand up striking arts. The striking power has been too much for most our opponents. This has caused most of our opponents to want to shoot for the takedown. Which in turn has made my guys work harder on their ground skills. So, the completing has pushed them to get even better. Which was also the goal.
In Amateur NHB fights we had two KO’s from body strikes. We have also had a student with one year’s grappling tap out all his opponents. Why? It was not due to his grappling, it was due to the striking power. They just gave him the submissions due to the pain of the hits. The guys he beat had good ground skills, but not when they were being beaten up! That’s why Wing Chun is a Chinese Boxing system.
Alan Orr MMA Wing Chun : Body Structure Sparring DVD Advanced skills 2
M: Does Wing Chun have any grappling methods?
A: The Chu Sau Lei Wing Chun I teach does have Chin Na, which is Wing Chun’s own grappling methods - this is mostly control to strike and to lock and break fast. It’s a great part of the system for stand up body control. It’s not a ground grappling method, but works well as a defence to being grappled.
M: You head up the UK Shark Tank. What’s your grappling programme and how does it fit into your Wing Chun training?
A: I have always grappled, but especially in a purposeful way for the last eight years or so. From that point I have been grappling weekly. I studied with many different people, but never looked out for one main teacher as such. Due to my martial training I learned quickly, but I was happy playing with the basics over a period of a few years. I was not in a rush. I did a year of BBJ Gi training but I’m not a Gi fan (as I said that doesn’t mean I do not rate it, just not my cup of tea). I started my training with Eddy Millis (head of Shark Tank) as some of my guys wanted to start fighting MMA. It’s been a good few years now and I have learnt so much from him. Now I have always taught my Wing Chun in a real and functional manner I feel the structure methods I teach our something very important to an MMA style of fighting.
I have had many real fights, challenge fights and so on (not a proud thing, I was just growing up) therefore sport training was not my aim or goal. I always liked it and respect the guys that do it but never felt like the need to test my skill in that way. Last year I did compete and won my fight, but it was just for the fun of it. Now some of my guys have not had many real fights and would like to test themselves in this safer way with goodwill. So I contacted Eddy in LA and started training with him, as he is one of the top fighter trainers in the world. Eddy is a black belt in BJJ and has a great wrestling background. He’s been the perfect teacher for my NHB grappling. We work a lot of Wrestling, Shooto and no Gi BJJ. I see Eddy as much as I can. He’s comes over to the UK and I go to LA as much as I can.
I am lucky enough to have Pete Irving an excellent BBJ fighter as a training partner and of late I have been training with Leo Negao a Black Belt in BJJ from Brazil. I love grappling; it’s a great workout and an excellent art.
Alan Orr NHB Wing Chun DVD: Extreme Chi Sao 1
M: Not many people really know Catch Wrestling any more. Why did you become interested in it?
A: Since I started grappling years ago I always liked wrestling over Gi Grappling. I had read a lot on Catch and was interested to learn more.
My main goal has been to research the applications and methods of Catch Wrestling from all the known teachers of Catch. Number one in my mind was to avoid all politics and infighting within the art, this way I was able to train and cross-check all the concepts within the art with different teachers. My own grappling teacher Sensei Eddy Millis is skilled beyond most in many grappling arts such as BJJ, Japanese Shooto, Greco Roman, Freestyle and he has an array of Catch techniques within this endless knowledge. So I arranged to train with and check out Matt Furey’s methods of conditioning and various wrestling skills. He is great at what he does and I was able to take in a lot from him on Catch. I also met up in Chicago with Tony Cecchine, we talked a lot on Catch and I was able to cross-check a lot of information with him. He’s a real solid guy and very helpful. You also now have a group in the US call Scientific Wrestling doing a lot to promote Catch. My goal has been to complete my level system and bring the art back in the UK, which I am now able to do. My guys have had good success with Catch skills in the ring so far.
Alan Orr NHB Wing Chun DVD: Extreme Chi Sao 2
M: How do you find Catch wrestling differs from BJJ?
A: I like both and they really help each other in the overall game. Real Catch is a wrestling mindset. Stay in control on top and finish right away, the finishes are strong and twisting of the locks is all-important. BBJ has a lot of flow and a strong game from the back. I’m not a gi fan, but it is a good way to train I am sure. I like shooto as well, which comes from Catch. I feel with the right understanding of the body control then they all have strengths on offer.
I like the range of BJJ skills and the power of catch. I like shooto's arm bar and leg locks. The more I look at these arts the more I see BJJ guys wrestling and Catch guys doing BBJ moves, so I feel as I do in my Wing Chun if the understanding of Body Structure control is right then the way you finish is open for your own ideas.
M: You have a background in Grappling, is that to cover a weakness within Wing Chun?
A: Not at all. I think in a street fight Wing Chun is an excellent art. I think the Chu Sau Lei system is very strong and functional. If you trained in Thai Boxing and you were going to fight MMA then you would learn to grapple, you would still be a good Thai boxer, but grappling is necessary if you fight MMA. The same for us. We are stand-up fighters who have learned to grapple in order to be able to fight in an MMA environment. I do think not know how to grapple in general is a weakness if you come up against a grappler.
M: Let me ask you about the self-defence side of things. Not everyone wants to compete do they?
A: Of course you’re absolutely right. Only 10% of my group do so. It’s not really the most important part of the training for most people. As we do have a fight team people think that we are too hardcore and at first it may put people off training with us. In fact because we do have guys training at that level it means the class standard is much higher in skill development as they have a great feedback from those guys on what worked well and want didn’t. Also you find that in schools that test themselves you can get fewer egos as people respect the hard work and they put it on the line.
You know I hear all the time from other instructors that they don’t train hard as they are training for self-defence and health only. Now I’m not sure what world they live in, but in my world good conditioning and challenging training are good for your health. Also in terms of self-defence, I don’t believe teaching a woman to poke an attacker in the eye and run is good self-defence training. It has taken me years of skill training to have confidence in what I do. Training in a system, which you can see, works and gives you an advantage in power control no matter you size or weight. Now, that to me is a good self-defence system.
Alan Orr MMA Wing Chun Student Aaron Pro MMA Fight Footage
M: Alan you are known for your Wing Chun, but you are skilled in a few martial arts. How do you see cross training?
A: Cross-training is key to higher skill development. I myself teach Chu Sau Lei Wing Chun, Grappling, Eskrima and Qi Gong. But I did train each art for many years with top teachers in each area. Also I continue to train and develop my knowledge in each of the arts. The most important thing to me is that I achieved I high level of skill in one of the arts as my base system. Then you always have a core skill to work from more. Today a lot of students want to rush and train in everything, but they get good at nothing. In that case it would be much better to stick to one art until they are at a good level, then branch out you training. Most of my students train in the ‘body structure’ of my Wing Chun then move on to learning grappling or eskrima. The exception to this rule is teaching children, they seem to work better on a pure Mixed Martial programme. Learning to grapple, work stand up skills, conditioning, training games and so on. All in all that keeps their mind open and they get less bored. Importantly children have the learning capacity that adults often lack. Prove that having an open mind allows you to learn quicker!
M: Your new DVD’s series is focused on what areas?
A: I have guys fighting using the Chu Sau Lei Wing Chun system that I teach. So in the last few years I started seeing the link between old school bare Knuckle fighting and Wing Chun’s Chinese Boxing methods. Therefore I feel I have bridged the missing links to fighting without gloves and not breaking your hands. Also Wing Chun is a close range art, so we excel at clinch fighting, an area which is a must know for all martial arts. So I put together 3 DVD’s on this area. Then I decided to show our Chi Sao methods and Chin Na methods. Both have never been shown before. I thought it was time to put our system on show.
I for one would never pass opinion on something I had not completely seen first hand or fully understood. I share a passion for martial arts and I am merely trying to contribute to the Wing Chun community.
Alan Orr NHB Wing Chun DVD: Old School Boxing
M: So what’s MMA verses the traditional martial arts mean to you?
A: I think that all good traditional martial arts our Mixed Martial arts in some way. They where all developing and changing all the time. Once martial arts where used less in war they stopped developing as much. So, completion became a way to test the arts. But over time the rules of sport have moved the arts away from the application. The same for arts that didn’t compete, they also moved away from true application. With modern MMA/NHB fighting we have seen the arts change again. On the whole this has been in a good way. You can now see people looking at their arts again and thinking ‘can I deal with that?’ Now that’s what development is all about. I have seen some groups saying that their art is so complete that it can’t be added too or changed. That’s a joke to me. The principles and concepts are the art not the techniques.
M: What’s next for you?
A: Same as always, keep training and developing. I would like to start a Wing Chun Fight Event. More of an amateur style event, so full contact below the head and have Chi Sao/Sparring matches. If your interested as an individual or school do let me know and I will keep you posted.
Let me leave you with something my teacher wrote which is a great way to look at life:
You want to find truth? Here it is:
"Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumoured by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it. " - The Buddha
This also goes for WCK, and I will paraphrase and adapt the Buddha's words... - "Do not believe in WCK simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in WCK simply because it is spoken and rumoured by many. Do not believe in WCK simply because it is found written in books. Do not believe in WCK merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in WCK traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that WCK agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it. "
This way, you will see the falseness of many a tradition of WCK and the nonsense that surrounds it.
Alan Orr is a disciple of Robert Chu Sifu and the European representative of the Chu Sau Lei Wing Chun system.
He is also the UK representative for Guro Mark Wiley in the Filipino martial arts and Sensei Eddy Millis of Shark Tank in NHB/Grappling.
Tel: 07958 908 196 or
Republished with permission from Alan Orr