Interview: ShAWN 'Seal The Deal' Obasi the wing chun cage fighter
An Interview With The Wing Chun Cage-Fighter Shawn 'Seal The Deal' Obasi
Regular visitors to this site will have noticed the amount of coverage we have been dedicating to the crossover between Wing Chun and MMA lately. After watching many hours of footage on YouTube of Wing Chun fighters trading blows - one thing is clear - MMA has changed perceptions of how Wing Chun can and should be applied in full contact competition. This has not been an easy development for many Wing Chun teachers and students as it has exposed gaps in the art and provoked many questions about the applicability of Wing Chun's concepts in the street, ring and cage.
Now those questions are starting to be answered, and one man in particular is taking a leading role in this movement. His name is Shawn 'Seal The Deal' Obasi and in this exclusive interview he explains his training, experiences and successes in taking Wing Chun into the cage. With a 5 and 0 winning streak in the New York based Underground Combat League he could just be Wing Chun's first major MMA champion.
LWC: How long have you been training in Wing Chun and who have you trained with?
Obasi: I have been training in Wing Chun for 7 years directly under Sifu Jose Grados.
LWC: What attracted you to Wing Chun as a martial art and what other styles have you trained in?
Image: Shawn Obasi with the MMA's Greatest Heavy-Weight Fedor Emelianenko
Obasi: What attracted me to Wing Chun is its simplicity in comparison to other styles. What also attracted me was that this was the core style in which Bruce Lee was trained under by Grandmaster Ip Man. The only other style that I have trained in is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu under Professor Fabio Clemente.
LWC: You represent the Grados school/ lineage of Wing Chun - what do you like about this approach to Wing Chun and what do you think makes it unique?
Obasi: Grados Wing Chun is designed for street combat. Over the years I have modified the style in order for it to work in the ring; which in all reality limits and restricts the full arsenal of techniques that could be applied in the streets where no rules exist. What I find extremly unique is the ability to take what I have learned from Sifu Grados and fit it to my needs and capabilities.
Video: Sifu Grados Wing Chun Combat Demonstration
LWC: Apart from Sifu Grados Which other Wing Chun teachers interest you and why?
Obasi: Other than Sifu Grados I have been following Grandmaster Augustine Fong, Sifu Randy Williams and Sifu Emin Boztepe. Grandmaster Augustine Fong is of my lineage and he is also one of the original students under The late great Grandmaster Ip Man. Sifu Randy Williams is my personal favorite, I love the way he structures his lessons which I have experienced through his training videos. Last but not least Sifu Emin Boztepe; his system of maritial arts has influenced me from the beginning. He represents Wing Chun very well.
LWC: Why did you decide to start cross training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) and grappling - was it purely to develop your MMA career or was it for self-defence or pure interest in another fighting style?
Obasi: I decided to start training in BJJ because in order to be a well rounded fighter, one must know at least the basics of ground fighting and grappling. Without this additional training it is very difficult to be successful in the sport of MMA.
Video: Shawn Obasi vs Wrestler
LWC Video Commentary: In this video Obasi showcases his grappling skills against a wrestler, look out for his application of chi-sau like rolling to secure optimum positioning.
LWC: Some Wing Chun teachers and students say that mixing WC with other arts/ fighting approaches is a bad thing as it dilutes the purity of the style, and ultimately undermines its effectiveness - what are your thoughts on this?
Obasi: Everyone is entitled to thier opinion however mixing Wing Chun with BJJ has truly made me a well rounded fighter. My Sifu also trained in BJJ under The Machado Brothers and Marcos Santos. In no way shape or form has this additional training diluted the effectiveness of his Wing Chun. It all depends on the individual and how well they are able to adapt.
Video: Shawn Obasi BJJ Match
LWC: Do you feel that cross training has helped you to apply your Wing Chun more effectively?
Obasi: Cross training in BJJ has amplified my ability to apply Wing Chun techniques especially the chin-na aspects of the style.
LWC: Are there any other styles/ fighting disciplines that you would like to train in and if so why?
Obasi: If I had a choice I would train in boxing because of its great use of body mechanics and its ability to generate power.
Video: Shawn Obasi vs Anthony Rodriguez
LWC Video Commentary: In this video Obasi applies the Wing Chun straight punch to devastating effect and then dominates his opponent with sound grappling skills.
LWC: How important are the forms of Wing Chun to you, how regularly do you practise them?
Obasi: Wing Chun forms are very important and should be practiced daily both physically and through mental visualization. When I first began training I would practice forms about 25 times a day 7 days a week. Now I do them less often as meditation and cardio are more significant in my training.
LWC: Which is your favourite Wing Chun form and why?
Obasi: My favorite form is Bil Gee. It wasn't until I learned this form was I truly able to perform Wing Chun techniques with the proper timing,speed, and power.
LWC: When did you first start entering MMA competitions and what motivated you to do this?
Obasi: I first started MMA competitions in 2004. What motivated me was the fact that many people believe that Wing Chun can't be effectively used in the ring. Since the passing of Bruce Lee, there hasn't been any Wing Chun practitioner that has been able to prove to the world that Wing Chun can be considered one of the worlds most effective martial arts styles.
Video: Shawn Obasi 18 Second KO
LWC Video Commentary: Once again Obasi shows how powerful the Wing Chun straight punch to can be flooring his opponent with a single strike.
LWC: Wing Chun has been subjected to a lot of criticism by MMA fans, how do you feel about these opinions and does this ever mess with the psychological element of your fighting game?
Obasi: It does bother me that Wing Chun has been highly criticized by MMA fans. That has been what has driven me through the years. It never bothered my psychologically because mentally I'm solid. Besides, what better feeling is there than proven all these nay-sayers wrong.
LWC: Which aspects/ principles/ techniques of Wing Chun have you found most useful in your MMA training and fights?
Obasi: The principles and techniques that have been most useful in MMA is closing the gap. This is where the bridge is formed. For a Wing Chun fighter, closing the gap is one of the most important and crucial principles to master.
LWC: Is Chi Sau an important part of your MMA training and what does this bring to your fighting game?
Obasi: Chi- Sau is so important in that it trains one to be able to deal with an opponent once they are in fighting range. Once in this range I am extremly comfortable. This type of training is what seperates Wing Chun from an other stlye.
Video: Sifu Grados and Shawn Obasi Chi Sau
LWC: Do you think that being from a Wing Chun background has ever worked for or against you in terms of getting on fightcards - do the fight promoters that you have worked with have any preferences towards BJJ, Boxing, Grappling, Muay Thai based fighters?
Obasi: Being a Wing Chun fighter may have worked against me in the past but that will shortly change. Most people don't know about Wing Chun. It is man's natural instinct to fear or stay away from what they don't know or understand, however MMA is entering a new era. Many MMA fans that I have spoken to are eager to see the effectiveness and the way of Wing Chun.
LWC: Do you know of any other Wing Chun fighters currently working the same MMA fight circuits as you?
Obasi: Currently I have no knowledge of any other Wing Chun fighters whom are competing in the same leagues as I am. It would be great to have another Wing Chun fighter represent.
Video: Shawn Obasi vs Wrestler Cage Match
LWC Video Commentary: Fighting handicapped with no use of elbows or knees, Obasi uses his solid striking and grappling skills to contain his opponent and then end the fight.
LWC: Do you think that MMA will increasingly force Wing Chun fighters to reassess their style and redevelop it so that it can be applied in MMA type competitions?
Obasi: Well, I can't speak for other Wing Chun fighters but for myself its actually quite opposite. It is motivating me to stick to core Wing Chun principles. I actually plan on proving that pure Wing Chun can be used in the ring.
LWC: What are your goals as a fighter - are you currently trying to get on the major fight promotions?
Obasi: My goal as a fighter is to be a champion and spread Wing Chun in MMA worldwide. I have been in contact with Strikeforce, UFC, BFC, etc; however none of these leagues have yet to give me a fight.
LWC: Do you think that in the next few years we will see a number of Wing Chun based MMA fighters including you in the UFC?
Obasi: Well I certainly hope so. Im 27 now and not getting youger. Wing Chun based fighters need to come out of the closet. Its time for us to claim our stake in this MMA movement. I will fight in the UFC or I will die trying.
LWC: Which MMA fighters do you respect the most and why?
Obasi: I respect Fedor Emelianenko simply because he is the best. When I met with him he was very humble and warm-hearted. In some of his fights he was placed in some bad situations but his ability to remain calm is impressive. I also respect BJ Penn, Lyoto Machida, and Damian Maia because these fighters represent a core style and have been able to be successful using them.
LWC: When and where will you be fighting next?
Obasi: Im not sure when or where I will be fighting next. I am waiting for the day I get that call with a shot to fight in a top tier fighting organization.
LWC: What advice do you have for any Wing Chun fighters out there who want to take on the MMA challenge?
Obasi: The only advice that I can give to other Wing Chun fighters like myself taking on MMA challenges is to never give up. Eventually we will open the eyes just as the Gracie's did with BJJ in the early 90's. Train hard and always believe in yourself and what Wing Chun has given you.
Any London Wing Chun visitors out there who would like to follow and support Shawn Obasi can post messages on his YouTube channel here:
London Wing Chun would like to thank Shawn Obasi for taking the time to speak with us and to wish him all the best with his journey to the top of the world of MMA. Shawn Obasi is a true champion of Wing Chun whose victories will inspire all of us to fight and train harder.