A Martial Arts Treasure – MidWeek

A Martial Arts Treasure – MidWeek

Picture by Anthony Consillio

Fantastic instructors and expert martial artists are generally tricky to find. In Grandmaster John Di Virgilio, Wing Chun college students right here and abroad have the very best of each worlds.

When it arrives to training, John Di Virgilio is a organic at it. His lessons are always properly-researched, properly-structured and invariably perfectly-communicated. And even in people uncommon cases when his text are inadequate at producing being familiar with among the pupils or strangers, he’s often extra than prepared to instruct by motion, far too.

These kinds of was the situation years in the past when a considerably cocky stranger — after obtaining listened to of Di Virgilio’s background in kung fu — approached him with a issue. Especially, it associated the 1-inch punch popularized by Bruce Lee.

John Di Virgilio does baat cham do contact drills with Kalin Ito throughout a pay a visit to to Ko‘olau Wing Chun Academy in Kahalu‘u. Photograph COURTESY JOHN DI VIRGILIO

In spite of Di Virgilio’s mindful explanation of the method, the stranger refused to imagine his phrases. So, the veteran trainer chose to take a a lot more palms-on method to the question.

“I told him, ‘You know what? I’ll just strike you flippantly in the heart of your upper body. You can convey to me what you believe about the punch, Ok?’” remembers Di Virgilio.

The stranger agreed and braced for effect. Suffice to say, he was not on his feet for quite extensive since the quick punch sent him sprawling more than a close by hedge, where he landed flat on his back. Luckily, he was Alright — even though his ego was very likely bruised.

Di Virgilio (standing specifically at the rear of his seated sifu, Robert Yueng), began his training in Wing Chun in the mid-’70s. Photograph COURTESY JOHN DI VIRGILIO

As for his question about whether enough hanging electricity could be reached from an inch away, perfectly, Di Virgilio wound up answering that question in swift and decisive style.

Comprehension achieved. Lesson completed.

“I keep in mind him telling me afterward, ‘It didn’t seem tricky, but I sure felt the punch!’” recalls a chuckling Di Virgilio.

For the Wing Chun grandmaster and previous president of Hawai‘i Wing Chun Kung Fu Affiliation, encouraging some others attain better expertise in the Chinese martial art is just component of what makes him tick.

In 1980, Di Virgilio started learning underneath two of Ip Man’s most venerable pupils — (from left) Wong Shun Leung and Wong Chock. Photo COURTESY JOHN DI VIRGILIO

“But, information is for all those who dare acquire the opportunity,” adds the former Jefferson Award winner and community faculty instructor, who retired in 2016 after just about three many years of doing the job for the state Division of Training. “If you never reach out and grab it, it is going to pass you by.”

Tiny wonder why even in retirement, the 67-yr-outdated Di Virgilio is consistently approached by kung fu sifus eager to tap into his wide wealth of martial arts know-how and all unwilling to permit this Wing Chun treasure pass them by. As a outcome, Di Virgilio often spends his time with instructors and learners on the West Coastline to considerably-absent locales as Malaysia and Japan, where his software insights and keen ability to demonstrate the system’s sets and sorts are normally appreciated.

“I’ve never been a single to advertise myself,” suggests the small-critical Di Virgilio when requested about his escalating desire as a touring teacher. “Sure, I have absent close to checking out the other (sifus) and assisting them out, but it is only since I’ve discovered it most practical accomplishing it that way. I get to mentor right here and there and fill in the blanks where ever else there is require.”

Wing Chun is a hundreds of years-outdated, thought-dependent method known largely for its weighty use of the sticky arms approach termed chi sao and for remaining named soon after a woman.

“It’s a incredibly open-minded system in that there is no just one dimension that suits all,” clarifies Di Virgilio. “It’s not a battling method in and of alone, but one that presents you a core foundation with tools to assistance you obtain your very own way.”

The process first burst on the worldwide scene in the mid-’70s, thanks generally to the Bruce Lee phenomenon. At the time, lots of of those people caught up in the kung fu cinema craze wished to merely know who taught Lee to battle, and when it became crystal clear that the worldwide motion picture star had researched briefly beneath Wing Chun learn Ip Person, schools began popping up all around the planet to fulfill the expanding fascination amid martial arts admirers. Decades afterwards, Wing Chun would get an additional raise in recognition after Donnie Yen started portraying the legendary master in a series of Ip Gentleman videos.

This is the place Di Virgilio’s martial arts lineage allows explain — at the very least in section — why he’s this sort of an in-need teacher.Though he did not master instantly from Ip Male, Di Virgilio did analyze underneath quite a few of the kung fu grandmaster’s most noteworthy pupils. They incorporate Ip Man’s most senior pupil, the well known Wong Shun Leung, who earned the nickname “King of Speaking Hands” in the course of his youthful days due to his accomplishment in Hong Kong’s street combating competitions, and who was Lee’s most important instructor and perfectly-known practitioners Wong Chock and Wong Long.

Di Virgilio also worked closely with “Uncle Tommy” Yuen Yim Keung — a Wong Shun Leung disciple whom Di Virgilio credits with preserving the butterfly sword method recognized as baat cham do.

One particular of Wong Chock’s best pupils was the Kowloon-born Robert Yeung, an intense young fighter with a judo track record who, along with his wife, moved to Hawai‘i in 1971. (Yeung would go on to build the islands’ second Wing Chun faculty that could trace its roots back to Ip Man. The initial belonged to Stanley Au.) Less than two yrs later, Di Virgilio, then just 18 and thinking about a profession in school football, crossed paths with Yeung although doing work out at the YMCA in Nu‘uanu.

Their relationship wasn’t quick, but the come across turned out to be the to start with stage in an eventual lifetime partnership.

“I was at the Y obtaining all set for soccer when I satisfied him and one of Bruce Lee’s learners, James DeMile. They had been supplying a demonstration there and building a comparison among what Bruce Lee taught James and what a classical Wing Chun person like Robert would do,” explains Di Virgilio. “I assumed James DeMile looked truly very good with his a person-move actions, but Robert was ready to (string together) many techniques and his palms method was extra unified. I remember getting so impressed with what Robert was doing.”

Di Virgilio wound up learning below DeMile for about 6 months just before deciding that he needed Yeung as his instructor. Yeung, having said that, refused to acquire him in and Di Virgilio suspects it had to do with the instructor’s near marriage with DeMile and his unwillingness to poach students from a friend’s school.

What ever the explanation, Di Virgilio remained undeterred. Though other possible pupils inevitably gave up waiting around close to for an official invitation to be a part of course, Di Virgilio saved exhibiting up at Yeung’s faculty on Resort Street. He’d patiently wait around on the sidelines and quietly notice Yeung’s lessons, generating copious mental notes alongside the way.

Sooner or later, Yeung gave in and advised Di Virgilio to sign up for his class. Not astonishingly, Di Virgilio by now realized a lot more than many of the pupils who experienced been finding out with Yeung for months.

“I wasn’t just heading to sit there and do nothing, so I would master the sorts indirectly,” he recalls. “At the time, I was a young person on the lookout for anything that I felt I required as a core. My thing was to problem myself in a martial way and to see advancement.”

His expansion in Wing Chun was speedy and Yeung soon acknowledged that his most recent university student experienced a lot to provide the university. Just one day in 1975, Yeung asked Di Virgilio what he would do to improve the procedure of drills acknowledged as san sik if supplied the chance. Ahead of the university student could remedy, the teacher requested a specific system by the pursuing week.

Not seeking to waste a moment, Di Virgilio quickly went to operate. By breaking down the san sik measures to their bare necessities, he was capable to codify them into a extra great system. Currently, that method is enjoyed and practiced by scores of students the two in this article and overseas.

“Robert Yeung employed to say, ‘There’s imperfection just about everywhere — in oneself, in other folks and in matters. But a true grasp is aware how to perform around or with this,’” suggests Di Virgilio.

Indeed, the student — who would inevitably transform into the successor at Yeung’s school — was well on his way to turning into the learn.

Besides getting a instructor at heart, Di Virgilio is an ardent pupil of heritage — and most notably when it comes to armed service chronicles. In the very last seven years, he has cautiously investigated and co-authored three textbooks on the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (No One Averted Threat, This is No Drill and They Are Killing Our Boys). A fourth guide is scheduled to go to print later on this 12 months and a fifth one is tentatively slated for release in 2023.

“We’ve been doing the job challenging on the publications,” states the previous director for Pearl Harbor Heritage Associates, who was presented with the Emperor’s Award in 2015 for his initiatives in “creating acts of reconciliation and renewed friendship between Japanese and American veterans. “The publications have been a little something of a calming level for me.”

His army concentrate also would make sense thinking of his parents the two served in the U.S. Military, and just one of his master’s degrees was in American Record with an emphasis on American armed service record. His initial master’s was in Education and learning Curriculum.

“My dad was a main and my mother was a lieutenant nurse,” points out the oldest of 6 young children born to Louis Di Virgilio and Sadie Yoshida and lifted in Kailua.

Whilst he cherished the armed forces stories he’d hear in his youth, his eyes were being normally preset on the kung fu realm. Nonetheless, despite desperately wanting to review a Chinese-dependent design and style and find “Asian cultural enrichment through a martial art,” he was rebuffed at just about every convert till De-Mile and Yeung came together.

“Actually, my extremely Chinese grandmother tried to get me into (kung fu) courses, but they wouldn’t enable me in due to the fact I was not Chinese adequate,” recollects Di Virgilio. “So, I was form of enable down as a child and wound up shelling out most of my time seeking to get into large faculty athletics.”

Discovering results in football as a setting up middle and backup exterior linebacker at Kailua Significant, he was equipped to parlay that rugged gridiron demean-or and adept thoughts of his into a sound foundation crafted on brawn and brains.

Turns out it was his physical nature that produced Wong Shun Leung consider observe of him when the two 1st achieved in 1980.

“Wong Shun utilized to say that a large amount of Chinese practitioners have been a bunch of scaredy cats who did not like acquiring strike,” remembers Di Virgilio, who would commit lots of of his adult yrs coaching soccer at his alma mater. “When he found out that I was a football coach, he genuinely preferred that.

“I indicate if you never like finding strike, you are going to in no way be a martial artist.”

But with plenty of observe and patience, you may possibly just turn into like John Di Virgilio, a single of martial arts very best academics and rarest of treasures.