Meet Benno Westra

I was recently guest at a Wing Chun seminar run by sifu Benno Westra organized by my friends at Cambridge Kung Fu.  Wing Chun is a martial art originated in the South of China and it’s predominantly an bare handed based system that was initially defined by a woman: advanced forms use butterfly knives and long pole but the majority of applications and demonstration are done empty handed.  Wing Chun is a martial arts that to my knowledge has no sport application and it is taught primarily as a simple, direct and no frills self defence system.

Wing Chun is in reality a family of different styles and I personally trained many different ones: it is intriguing to see how each of them is similar more or less to the others while it interprets various aspects in a totally different way.  In general emphasis on one or the other technique is due to the lineage, the master or grand master that defined the style and his/her personal taste for one or the other aspect.

The first impression of seeing and meeting Benno Westra is warm, friendly and encouraging: a big step forward compared to many high ranked people in the Wing Chun arena that like to look down to the common mortals and use intimidation and nearly mystification to justify their position.  His practical approach to Wing Chun is meant to enable any practitioner to have a good structure and a no non-sense preparation to situations that can happen on the street.

Given my exposure and years of training in other styles of Wing Chun I was some times performing instinctively in a way that was substantially different from what being practiced.  When he corrected some of my techniques he was explaining and justifying why in his style things work that way.  I appreciated hearing a number of times how there isn’t a right or wrong approach to one or the other situations: that leaves a great level of freedom to analyse and appreciate what works and what doesn’t for yourself.

Starting from a simple drill that was deflecting punches to the face we built in a number different variations of lat sau, using wu sau as a central, main technique for the day.

It’s difficult to measure results out of a 4 hours seminar, because it depends very much on what you expect to get out of it.  My approach is usually to go with the flow, experience and see what comes out, trying to be totally unbiased, objective and to learn something: I was happy to exceed my expectations in this occasion.

I liked Sifu Benno’s style of teaching: he uses many interesting metaphors and humorous stories and jokes while presenting top quality techniques and offering comparison to many other martial arts of which he has practical experience himself.  I am looking forward to the possibility of participating to another seminar.