Wing Chun: Maier teaches martial art made famous by Bruce Lee
By Brent Johnson
The student’s fists pepper the tiny canvas bag with machine gun speed. The kwoon (training hall) reverberates with the tick-tock of concentrated power.
“Now Brian,” says Dr. Herbert Maier, standing behind his pupil, “don’t forget to breathe.”
His advice makes Brian smile. It composes him and he continues with his training.
“Sifu” Maier, 54, teaches a form of Kung Fu called Wing Chun, “an art of concept and principle as well as physical training” ó the art that Bruce Lee made famous. A fast paced, non-stop flow of close-range “sticky” punches and traps becomes a conversational exchange of body language.
The title “Sifu” means “teacher” in Cantonese. An overflowing fountain of knowledge, Maier has brought the tradition of the discipline from Houston and practices his wisdom daily.
“If you just use your sword, it will get dull,” Maier says. “You must take time to polish it.”
In 1974, Maier was skipping class at the University of Houston when he wandered into a martial arts demonstration. Maier remembers thinking that the instructors looked like Billy Jack and Delores Taylor.
After a year, his instructor was leaving him in charge of his physical education classes of more than 100.
Maier received his black belt after training and teaching Tae Kwon Do for six years, instead of the average three to four. However, teaching and parenting began conflicting with one another and Maier was left with the question “Do I keep my school or do I keep my family?” Maier asks.
He chose his family.
Tending to his priorities, Maier cut back on his hobbies for many years but was still able to teach privately one to two nights a week. In the meantime, he was able to discover an interest in computer programming and began connecting the dots between martial arts and mental procedure.
Twelve years later, Maier experienced a life-changing moment beyond coincidence ó a sign. He thought a majority of martial arts magazines were pretentious and were of little use, but one day he opened an issue of “Inside KungFu.” It fell open to the “Wooden Man” seminar, taught by Master Wang Kiu in Vancouver, Canada.
Unaware of Wang’s influence at the time, Maier decided to attend.
“There were more teachers than students,” Maier recalls.
Wing Chun exposed itself to Maier through Wang, one of Yip Man’s original students who witnessed the introduction of the art to Hong Kong in the late 1940’s.
Through Maier’s architectural education and Wang’s background as a civil engineer, the two bonded and were able to communicate on a level that brought their outside interests to martial arts.
Because Wang rarely taught in public, the seminar in Vancouver became a historical event.
Maier was hooked.
Upon his return to Texas, Maier wrote an article about his experience in Vancouver. Wang read the article draft and traveled to Houston to teach Maier privately, becoming Wang’s only American student.
“Wing Chun is an art for educated people,” Wang has always said.
Once Wang relayed the emphasis of education to young Maier, the pupil saw it best to go back to school in order to understand the discipline more fully.
His curiosity for the art enabled him to conduct and describe careful research, calling his project “Cognitive Load Dynamics in Training Tactical Decision Making.”
It describes the decision-making, memory, and learning that fascinated Maier about the mind and body harmonizing through Wing Chun.
“Sweat is never enough in life,” Maier saus.
His research was published and well received when presented by the time he graduated from the Texas A&M University with a doctorate in educational psychology.
According to emergency medical technicians, police and military personnel, a physical confrontation ends with someone down in four seconds.As in chess and tic-tac-toe, “you don’t win by waiting for luck,” Maier says.
Wing Chun’s concept of “economy” theorizes that everything wants to do two things at once. With this knowledge, one must neutralize an opponent’s assets while pushing against certain points.
Now that the chaos surrounding the new move to Salisbury has reached “a dull roar,” surrounded by an empty nest and the first in his bloodline to make it to his age, Maier is thrilled with new possibilities.
“I’m getting a second chance at everything,” Maier says.
On July 31, Maier happened upon his future Salisbury student, Brian Kepley, mowing the yard a few houses down. Kepley’s father-in-law was in the hospital at the time.
Kepley, 29, remembers running out of fuel. Kepley returned from the gas station to see Maier walking toward him. Maier approached Kepley and asked him if he’d like to train with him. Kepley said yes.
“I’ve never done anything like this before,” Kepley says.
Kepley’s father-in-law passed away that evening. His daughter, Kepley’s wife, had died just months before.
“It’s helped me mentally move on and get past those things,” Kepley says.
Between rotating 12-hour shifts for National Starch and Chemical, Kepley trains with Maier one-on-one, often in the “kwoon,” which means “training hall” in Cantonese. The small facility sits in Maier’s seven acres of woods.
“This place is kind of like being inside my brain,” Maier says.
Bamboo poles, butterfly knives, stringed tennis balls, heavy and not-so-heavy punching bags and the “wooden man” dummy are strategically placed throughout the kwoon, each potentially tuning a skill invaluable to Wing Chun.
The head of the room presents the philosophy of Wing Chun through statues representing balance. “But Tam Da” and “Chum Sin Gei” express concepts of opposites. Individuals studying need to discover a center path.
Symbols like the plum blossom, Maier says, stand for the prime of manhood.
“Bearing fruit is the purpose ó not to look pretty,” he says.
Kepley has come to understand the martial art.
“Wing Chun is not about showboating,” he says. “It’s not flashy.”
Although Kepley is still a new student, he is making admirable progress.
“Most of the time it’s so simple,” Kepley says. “It’s the small things that you have to get your body used to. It helps your mind to stay sharp.”
The discipline, though using fighting techniques, is not meant to be an activity in self-defense. Maier is not looking to train fighters.
“If you are training correctly, you no longer portray a victim image,” Maier says.
“BaiSao: Wing Chun’s Taproot,” is Maier’s first book in a series directed at “YumCha,” the time for relaxed discussion outside of training.
The emphasis is “a light and friendly manner, and intended to illustrate a discussion or explanation,” according to an excerpt in the introduction.
Wing Chun is a hobby for Maier, not a profession. He also indulges in the art of marquetry, aesthetic wood working. He continues to do research with educational psychology, has restored two old houses over the years, and is a father of four.
Maier and wife, Katherine, met through Mensa, a society including the top 2 percentile IQ levels among standardized testing. She is supportive of Maier’s work.
One of Wang’s famous quotes to a student says “You must surpass me. If the student does not surpass the teacher, then the art begins to die.”
With this in mind, Maier and Kepley see to the continuation of their training.
“I want to learn as much as possible,” Kepley says. “He’s a wonderful teacher.”
More information on Wing Chun can be located at www.wangkiuwingchun.com.nnn
Sifu Maier will present an introduction to the art of Wing Chun in two introductory sessions.
“Explore Wing Chun 1” will take place 7-9 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 14, and Friday, Oct. 17, at Looking Glass Artist Collective, 405 N. Lee St. The cost for individuals is $30 to participate, $25 to watch and for couples $45 to participate, $35 to watch.
Participants are asked to wear comfortable clothing. Students must be 18 or older. Advance registration only.
To register, contact email@example.com or call 704-640-2140.