Father-son, kung fu team moves forward in martial arts training

By Tomi Morris Johnson, Digital animation by Kurk D. Johnson

tomij@wingcomltd.com

©2002 WingcomLtd. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

“In this era of Homeland Security issues, one has to prepare for the real world of defense, which often means the possibility of hand-to-hand combat.”

July 10, 2002…Although it is not uncommon to see African Americans practicing martial arts, it is extraordinary to observe a Black, father-son team successfully teaching and practicing Wing Tsun Kung Fu. Even in Chinese culture, it is uncommon for the son to become his father’s primary student. Kurk and Ayron Johnson of metro Atlanta, however, have broken the mold and are moving forward with their martial arts training. Perhaps their Kung-Fu relationship began when Ayron, the son, was still in diapers, following in his father footsteps, meeting and then training with some of the greats in the martial arts world.

 

Kurk and Ayron Johnson practice chi sau and footwork

 

In the Bible, Proverb 22:6 states:  Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” In other words, if you teach a child something of value, he will never veer from a good lesson.  Ayron has been trained to defend himself, keep his body fit, and his mind alert. Kurk and Ayron are living out this philosophy and fulfilling their dreams.

 

Kurk Johnson started his martial arts training years after he had been bullied in school while growing up in Lawrenceburg, KY.  His first teacher was Professor Ng, a Chinese doctor who frequently tells stories of escaping his homeland in a homemade boat crafted from bicycle tires. Dr. Ng, who has his degree in Pharmacy, encouraged Kurk to try Eagle Claw because of his long arms.

 

 

Kurk Johnson:  As a child, I would often find myself in racially motivated confrontations. Even when violence did not occur, there was always the possibility of violence. I was one of the first few students who went through school desegregation in Kentucky. Not having my dad around (he was killed in a fire accident while working as a mechanic at a local car dealership before I was one year old), I missed fatherly advice on how to deal with these situations. My mother was a strong woman who raised the eight of us, me being the youngest. Having missed my dad was the main reason I wanted to be the best father for my kids.

 

I grew fast as a youngster and stuck out from many of the other kids. I reached 6’2” while in middle school. I often found myself being the object of my peer’s goals of someone to beat up in order to satisfy their teen machismo. I was a skinny guy, too, and must have looked like a prime, bully target. I often got into fights before, during, and after school. My stuttering problem didn’t help matters either, and I became somewhat introverted. I was always pushed to play basketball because of my height and often criticized for not aggressively pursuing the sport. I finally played ball my sophomore year, but never learned to play properly. What I did enjoy was playing trombone in the band.

 

When I first started hearing about Karate and Kung Fu, I was fascinated about the idea of learning these arts. Being from a small town, I didn’t have access to an instructor or the financial means to pursue training while I was a youngster. Not to mention that at the time, information about such things was not available to the public. Neither PC’s nor the Internet existed, so I got my martial arts info. from comics, encyclopedias, and watching Ultraman and the Green Hornet on TV!

 

What convinced me to seek instruction seriously was Bruce Lee’s performance in Enter the Dragon. I had a brief introduction to Tae Kwon Do before going to college. I wanted to join the college team, but those guys were so cocky. They reminded me of the bullies I encountered in high school. I didn’t want to be a part of it. My cousin, Master Anthony Price of Cincinnati, Ohio, was training in Tang Soo Do and gained a reputation as a formidable tournament fighter. He encouraged me to keep trying to find a good school.

 

Anthony Price of Cincinnati, OH, encouraged cousin Kurk to practice martial arts. Price is pictured with Ayron and Anthony Price, Jr

 

I finally joined Four Seasons Kung Fu in Lexington, KY the same year I got married. The instructor, Dr. John Ng, taught Wu Shu and many traditional Kung Fu styles. There were many talented people in that school. I trained hard and had the opportunity to meet many great martial artists. I trained Eagle Claw, but could only be taught the basics and a few forms. I was starting to get a little disappointed because I wanted to learn a complete system and not just bits and pieces. A lot of times, I felt like I was being neglected when demo teams were being chosen.

 

Kurk holds Ayron after attending kung-fu seminar featuring Eric Lee (ctr.).  This was Ayron’s first introduction to martial arts. Kurk’s first kung-fu instructor was Prof. John Ng (third from right) of Four Seasons Kung Fu.

 

Wing Tsun (WT) became somewhat of a growing curiosity rather than a goal. Dr. Ng started to teach some Wing Chun concepts, and I fell into it since it was new. I guess I learned enough to start leading the class. I noticed that Dr. Ng would get us started and then asked me to take over. We always had visitors in our school, but one young Chinese guy always came to my class and just sat and watched. After a couple of weeks I got annoyed at this guy, and I went over to him and said, “I know what you are thinking…that you should be teaching this class and not me...and you are right!” He politely left and came back the next week, and Dr. Ng introduced me to my new Wing Chun instructor, Peter Lau.

 

 

 

After training with Peter for a few months, I started to forget about learning Eagle Claw. Our class was getting bigger and more serious. Later, we left Four Seasons and trained wherever we could, including the computer store my wife and I owned, after hours. A few years later, Four Seasons closed its doors forever. That was unfortunate and a great loss to the martial arts community. One of Dr. Ng’s senior students, John Dufresene, opened International Kung Fu & Wu Shu Academy, and I enrolled my son Ayron there. When Peter finally had to go back to the UK for good, most of his students went their separate ways.

 

Kurk also trained with Peter Lau from London, England.

 

After we left Lexington and moved to Huntsville Alabama, I looked for a Wing Chun school and of course, there were none. I found an ad for Grand Master Leung Ting’s Wing Tsun system in Inside Kung Fu magazine. I had heard Peter positively comment on Grand Master Leung Ting’s system, so I thought it was a good choice. After talking to the US chief instructor, Robert Jacquet, I planned to attend my first seminar in Chicago with GM Leung Ting. Afterwards, we opened the first Alabama branch in 1990.

 

What is Wing Tsun all about?

 

Bruce Lee was the one who ultimately put Wing Chun on the martial arts map. Unfortunately, he did not learn the system in its entirety. Wing Tsun was developed in China, partially in the Shaolin temple over 350 years ago. Five elders, including a nun, fled the temple after the emperor’s army burned it down and went into separate hiding places.

 

One day the nun stumbled upon a fox and a crane fighting and studied the movements. After much thought, she developed a completely new martial arts system. She eventually met a young woman who was being bullied into marriage and taught her this new system. The young woman defeated the bully and married a skilled martial artist. After watching him practice daily for some time, she came to criticize his techniques and ended up easily defeating her husband. Her astonished husband then learned from her and named this new system after his wife, Yim Wing Tsun which means “beautiful springtime”.

 

 

Wing Tsun is a very practical martial arts system. Created by a woman, it does not have flashy or fancy movements and is as “soft” as Tai Chi. Wing Tsun is elegant yet simple. The essence of the system is comprised of four basic principles of force. You must learn to use your own force so that it augments the force of your opponent.

 

 

 

  1. Free yourself from your own force.
    You must learn to relax and not rely on brute strength to defeat your opponent, because there is always someone stronger than you who will defeat you in a contest of strength.
  2. Free yourself from your opponent's force.
    You must learn to give way to your opponent's force in a controlled and purposeful fashion rather than struggle against it.
  3. Use your opponent's force against him.
    You must learn to harness your opponent's force in order to use it against him.
  4. Add your own force to the force of the opponent.

You must learn to use your own force so that it augments the force of your opponent, which in turn is being used against him.

 

 

 

What this means is that it works very well for self-defense and real life situations. Not all martial arts systems are as effective as WT. In the Leung Ting WT system, the Student Grades are neither badges, nor status, nor standards of measurement between students. They exist only to ensure that each student learns all that he/she should in a scientifically optimal order. There is no competitiveness in the Wing Tsun class or in the training programs. A student's only goal is to better him/herself.

 

A few important things I learned in my martial arts career are:

 

Kids - Do not force sports on them. Introduce them to a sport, let them have fun, and let them learn the value of the sport and how it helps them to accomplish other things. You don’t want to give kids the wrong attitude about themselves and their abilities if they have not learned proper discipline. There is more to martial arts than fighting and winning. I encourage parents with young kids to introduce them to gymnastics before taking martial arts. The child will have a better opportunity to develop good flexibility and strength.

 

Marriage and family life - It is most important to keep a healthy balance with your spouse and your children. Do not let your Kung Fu brothers or an instructor upset that balance. I was lucky to have an educated and tolerant wife. These days, with both man and wife working and trying to raise children, you have to be able to be flexible and not too greedy with your time. (See WT principles of force #1 & 2!) It is not easy. There have been countless times when I wanted to train but had to attend to my family's needs. Remember, your training never ends!

 

Money and martial arts – Like any hobby or sport, it requires green stuff! Martial arts, in particular, can get expensive. Be honest with your instructor when things look like they’re getting out of hand. People will often push you into making unnecessary sacrifices when it comes to funds. Before you join a school, review the contract and other requirements, and do the math. Shop around as you would for anything else, but do your research first. Respect the Instructor’s time. Prospective students are plentiful, but only a small percentage will actually join and stay for any length of time.

 

Martial arts in general - When a person is inspired and wants to do something, they are looking at the end result. What they don’t see are the years of dedication and effort it took to achieve that end result. You have to realize that it will take time. With all the machines and diets on the infomercials promising quick results, it is no wonder that the only folks who are getting results are the marketing people. I don’t make promises to anyone except that if they come to class on a regular basis, they should improve. Everyone is different. I also am very skeptical of “masters”. Do you believe in magic? Don’t. Period. A man is a man. Some people have knowledge and wisdom beyond our own and skills that are impressive, but they are still human and can fail on any day. Look to your instructor as someone who can help you develop to better yourself, not to worship. The instructor should earn your respect and not use you as a footstool. When respect and trust are earned, you can concentrate on your art. Your mind should be clear, your spirits high, and your body ready to train.

 

Kurk likes to pose with celebrity fighters, especially Evander Holyfield.

 

What I really like about WT and our training is variety. Even though there has to be a certain amount of repetition, we strive to have interesting classes as well as to hone our bodies. The art itself is old, and we adhere to traditional forms, but we keep the training contemporary in that we strive to understand how our system works against other styles.

 

Our organization is international, and we get to train with people from all over the world, especially from Europe. Most of the people we’ve trained with in our organization are from Germany, and my current training partner is from there. We get calls all the time from people visiting the US who want to come and train with us. I always get a kick when people from other parts of the world have heard about us and tell us they know others who have been here, trained with us, and had a positive experience. You really have to keep in mind that you are representing the US when it comes to interacting with visiting foreigners.

 

“I have learned so much about other people from being involved in our organization.  I think martial arts are a very positive force in the Tao of human relations in the same way the Olympics brings people together.”

 

Kurk received his 1st technician rank in 2001.

 

A Kung-Fu legacy continues…from father to son…

 

 

Ayron Johnson:

I had the opportunity to train in martial arts at an early age, so it is a very big part of my life.  I think I was about five years old.  Some kids played sports, while I practiced martial arts.  The first martial arts experience that I had was when my dad enrolled me in International Kung Fu & Wu Shu Academy. There was a lot of talent in the school, and I was not the best student, but I remember trying very hard and having a lot of fun. 

 

I moved with my family to Huntsville, AL when I was in the second grade.  I did not train that much until my Dad started to learn Wing Tsun and became an instructor.  I attended classes regularly at the school, which had all adult classes. 

 

I did not take my training seriously until my family moved to Georgia.  I was in the seventh grade then, almost in my teens.  My Dad started to teach Wing Tsun in various gyms.  I became the assistant instructor and taught teenagers and adults.  Looking back at those times, I am very surprised that people even listened to me! Now that I am an intern with a major corporation, I realize that my leadership skills formulated while being a Wing Tsun instructor are paying off in the business world.

 

 

Ayron received his green sash from instructor John Dufresne and also trained with Emin Bostepe.

 

“Discipline and leadership skills learned in martial arts training are now being realized in my internship within corporate America.”

Ayron and Kurk have attended several seminars with Professor Leung Ting Grandmaster and founder of the International Wing Tsun Association

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Escrima instructor Grandmaster Rene Latosa (yellow shirt) also practiced

martial arts with his father in the Philippines.

 

 

By that time, I started to think more independently about martial arts.  I began reading books and thinking about techniques and strategies on my own.   I started going to seminars across the country with my Dad to train with higher instructors coming to America from overseas.  From then on, my Dad let other people teach me, and he became more of a coach.  I continue to train Wing Tsun and help instruct classes today.  Now I know that martial arts are a vital part of my life that I cannot live without.  Training has given me a lot in terms of discipline, self-defense, athleticism, and health.  It helps me succeed in other areas of my life, like school and the workplace.  I also encourage parents to teach their kids about money, business, or some other type of skill when they are young.  It pays off in the long run, and the kids learn good tools that will benefit them in their adult life.  I am very grateful that my Dad decided to expose me at an early age.  I plan to continue training Wing Tsun and expand my knowledge of other martial arts.  

 

Ayron has not forgotten his African roots and trained in Capoeira Angola with Brazilian instructor Mestre Moraes, co-founder of the Grupo de Capoeira Angola Pelourinho (GCAP).

 

Now the father-son duo continues to train.  Kurk is a primary technician, and Ayron is 12th student grade.  Their goal is to have Ayron reach technician level before he graduates from Southern Polytechnic University with a degree in computer engineering.  Kurk and Ayron also train in Escrima (Filipino stick fighting) and Capoeira Angola, a Brazilian martial art developed by African slaves. The Johnson father-son team believes it is advantageous to learn from other styles and appreciate other martial arts philosophies. They feel, however, that Wing Tsun Kung Fu is the best when defending oneself from physical attack.

 

After each seminar, Kurk and Ayron like to eat out with seminar guests.

They are accompanied by Phil Weathers, Daniel Enge, Sifu Jeff Webb, and Ilea Johnson.

 

For more information on Wing Tsun Kung Fu training, go to:  http://www.leungtingwingtsun.net/atlanta/ and http://www.leungting.com/

 

 This information is the opinion of the author and, therefore, should not be construed as libelous.  ©2002 WingcomLtd. All Rights Reserved.