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Sihing Tom McDonough – 1st Level Wing Chun Instructor

Tom McDonough

Sihing Tom McDonough started training in 1996 in Pong Lai Praying Mantis (seven star praying mantis) in Plant City, Florida. My son and I had been training for a while when my Pong Lai Praying Mantis Sifu had to move. He did not tell us much besides that he was leaving and he had done some intense research to find us a Sifu that would be up to the standards he wanted for us. At that time I did not know what Wing Chun was and my Pong Lai Praying Mantis teacher told us it was a close-range combat kung fu system and that was really all he said. I then met Sifu Och when he first came to our gym and Sifu Och told me a little about Wing Chun but he said that you have to train in it to really know. Wing Chun intrigued me, the idea of close-range combat as my training in Pong Lai Praying Mantis didn’t focus on as much practical applications of Kung Fu. Until then I thought all martial arts were the same, forms and little time spent on sparring and partner contact.

I didn’t realize the difference until I started my Wing Chun training in late 1997. Right off the bat I noticed a simplistic martial art that wasn’t complex and was extremely effective. It was at that time Sifu Och introduced me to the workouts before Wing Chun training. I began to see a great difference in my fitness level and my strength and speed improved. I realized at that point it was extremely important to my overall health and training in Wing Chun. My original reason for doing Wing Chun Kung Fu was for my son, I didn’t really see it as something for myself. But once I got into Wing Chun I realized it was something I want, it was something I desired to pursue. After a few years my sons homework and school work became to much for him to do both, when my son had to quit I considered doing the same. But my family encouraged me to continue because they could see how much I enjoyed it and I realized that this was something that was truly for me.

Classes are always different and varied, there are such a variety of training techniques that I didn’t get mundane and boring. In the beginning of my training under Sifu Och I noticed that it was much different than my previous training in Pong Lai Praying Mantis. Sifu Och pushes you to new levels and expects the best from his students, their training. From a technique stand point my previous teacher taught mostly forms but not the application of the forms in a realistic fighting situation. In fact my previous Sifu in Pong Lai Praying Mantis was very reluctant to teach the street applications of the Praying Mantis techniques. From the very beginning Sifu Och taught us the practical use of the techniques in street situations which kept me in class and kept me coming. In Pong Lai Praying Mantis there was not really any one on one contact or sparring (very little) which isn’t what I wanted. Wing Chun’s contact, training and sparring was early on and made me feel like I could defend myself.

Sifu Och had us sparring early on, which I really enjoyed, I could see the techniques I was practicing in actual use. I remember being exhausted from testing but exhilarated that even though I was fatigued I still able to spar and fight with Wing Chun, that really made me feel good. Ever test after that I felt like I was accomplishing skill and ability, it was the “new sash” I was loved training for, but the tests themselves. Sifu Och’s tests really make you push yourself and give you a feeling of true accomplishment. Sifu Och’s tests pushed you to limits I never expected or thought I could reach. I never thought I could pull that kind of determination out of myself.

I remember a gentleman coming into class and we did some fairly intense sparring, at this time I had been training for 3.5 almost four years in Wing Chun. We closed distance and right off the bat it felt like he didn’t have much hand techniques. There was no forward energy in his body or attacks, he was all over the place. He was throwing mostly hooks and I defend those fairly easily with Tan Sau’s and Biu Sau’s (Wing Chun specific medium level and high level forearm blocks with simultaneous punching techniques). Then quickly I followed up with strikes to the centerline hitting him in the face constantly with palm strikes. I kept control and I did not wish to hurt him or injury him as a new person coming in the door. I did not get much power from his attacks though there intent was clear on hitting me. I used Jum Sau’s (forward angled pressing forearm technique) as I trapped and palmed him some more. I was able to knock him off balance and defeat his structure which allowed me to move in and attack. I swept his structure and as he fell back dropping towards the ground I grabbed him and controlled his fall. We then shook hands at the end, he smiled and he thanked me for the exchange congratulating me on my skill in Wing Chun. We then got to talking after class and he told me that he was a instructor of Tae Kwon Do of over 8 years and had a school. Through a friendly exchange and encounter in the school we have remained friends in the martial arts. Today he continues his training in the martial arts at our school under Sifu Och’s Wing Chun. This experience really has stood out in my mind because it made me realize that Wing Chun really works.

I remember two Chinese guys coming to our school and they really tried to test Sifu Och, one of them in particular. The exchange was pretty intense and Sifu Och had to put him in his place. The guy came in and said that he had trained in Tai Chi Chuan (fighting Tai Chi also know as Ultimate Martial Art), Wing Chun and Jeet Kune Do or JKD from Orlando. The Chinese guy said he had given up on Wing Chun because his Sifu was taking so long to show him the art and that his Jeet Kune Do instructor in Orlando said that Wing Chun only had 3 to 4 “good movements”. He also said that he was coming down to see if our school and its instruction was better than what he was getting in Orlando at his Jeet Kune Do (JKD) school. Right off the bat he was extremely cocking and not open to instruction or help. He thought he knew better and that he was better, instead of getting together with me he got together with one of the girls in the class (she was new, no previous training either). At the beginning instruction of a new technique we were told to practice slow he was throwing at her pretty hard. It was then that I noticed Sifu Och. I don’t want to say Sifu Och got angry but he was intent on controlling the situation. After telling the gentleman to calm down on the woman, the Chinese guy started throwing punches at Sifu Och. Sifu Och quickly trapped and hit him knocking him to the ground, I remember him finally staggering up and apologizing, bowing and walking out. Sifu Och told him that no man should ever strike a woman and a student should always be respectful of the places he visits. That was pretty much the end of class and we never saw him again. I was amazed that someone would come to a school that cocky and challenge the instructor.

I feel regardless of how much experience a person has in a martial art or how much they think they have, one should always show respect to the schools they visit or train at. Sifu Och’s teaching’s reflect this respect and motto and even though he has visited schools abroad he always gives respect where it is due.

I like the art of Wing Chun, it has become my passion. For years I have been boating, fishing and all that but Wing Chun is something I can do on a daily basis with a lot of enjoyment. The classes are very welcoming and the friends I have made have become my second family. They are all very friendly folks, this is what keeps me continuing to train in Wing Chun. Me and Sifu Och don’t necessarily hangout on the weekends but he is still my friend and my mentor. Sifu Och is a tough but a caring instructor and wants us to be the best we can be and give the best you can.

If you are looking for a great place to train then I look forward to seeing you in class.

Tom McDonough
1st Level Wing Chun Kung Fu Practitioner