By Lewis Budden | 16 May 2020
From schoolyard fights to the Fretless Bass, how the Wing Chun Master, Trevor Ray, uses Jazz to further his practice. The following is an interview that Fighting Arts Health Lab conducted with Sifu Trevor Ray.
Where are you based?
I live in rural North Wales, United Kingdom
What Martial Arts do you practice?
I practice the Wing Chun system as taught by the late Wong Shun Leung and teach it independently.
What have you practiced in the past?
Karate (Shotokan) as a junior. Aikido (Tohei) in my teens. And then Wing Chun, first as taught by Ip Chun, (Ip Man’s eldest son), later transitioning to Ip Ching’s (Ip Man’s second son) version, before finally finding the Wing Chun system that Wong Shun Leung learned from Ip Man.
I was awarded my Sifu/Black Sash from the Wing Chun Association in the early nineties when I started teaching.
What influenced you to start Martial Arts?
Me and my brother were brought up in a single parent family. My uncles and grandfather helped with giving us a fatherly influence.
One uncle was a keen boxing enthusiast - he was like an encyclopedia of boxing. He used to teach us a few basics [and] I remember he liked that I was a natural southpaw.
My other uncle used to give me money if I won any fights at school. I had quite a lot of fights at school.
Later, my grandfather decided it would be good if we joined a karate class before starting high school, so we did Shotokan Karate for a couple of years.
When did you start playing music?
What drew you to the genres that you play in today?
The guys that introduced me to music were real “muso’s.” They were into high-quality music. I developed a real taste for technically skilled jazz-rock fusion players — complex instrumental music with varying time signatures and key changes, and, crucially, improvised solos.
I discovered Allan Holdsworth, and my musical universe changed forever. I wanted to be able to play over chord sequences and changes like he did, an impossible task that will be a lifetime struggle for me.
How does Martial Arts effect your music?
Wing Chun’s primary training method “Chi Sau” or “Gor Sau” is an improvising method of training.
Like improvising music, both involve using primarily the right-hand side of your brain. You can actually feel this right-side brain shift occur when you practice. When I start a guitar solo, I’m aware at first, of what I’m playing, the scales and patterns, etc. Then you keep playing searching and expressing and you suddenly “disappear” into the zone.
The left-hand side of your brain has been shut down, and the right-hand side is now predominant. It’s impossible to describe this feeling because describing anything needs words, which are a left-brain function, but we all know the experience. It’s the same feeling you get when you stare at one of those 3D stereogram pictures, and you suddenly can see the image.
This happens and improves my martial arts practice. Not surprising really, as we are concerned with spatial awareness and responding intuitively, rather than judging our actions.
What can you tell us about the Martial Arts scene where you're based?
It’s hard not to sound too negative, but martial arts in my area are the same as most places now. The teaching of martial arts has become a commercialized thing. It’s all about the money - it’s a business. Attracting members, and administering a syllabus that is nothing more than a conveyor belt grading system.
Not that there is nothing to be gained from this, to be fair, especially for children, but the realistic, practical elements of martial arts training are usually sadly lacking.
Even Wing Chun, which is supposed to be primarily a practical system, suffers from this commercialism.
Most people teaching Wing Chun now, simply do not understand how the system works, and more so, they are often completely unaware that they don’t actually know the system! This is because their teacher and their teachers’ teacher, had a superficial knowledge of Wing Chun, and didn’t actually learn how the system works.
So, what they did learn has been passed on and adapted and added to and modified like Chinese whispers. Consequently, Wing Chun, which once had a reputation for its effectiveness, is often ridiculed, especially by the MMA guys, and for a good reason.
There is still some good Wing Chun out there, passed on by a few who fully understand the system, but it can be hard to find. I was very lucky that after 20 plus years of practicing and teaching Wing Chun, I found such a teacher, who offered me the Red Pill.
How do you find your Martial Arts training effects your health?
As you get older, your training changes. For me now, I don’t teach classes, and just have a few guys who come to learn and train with me. My training isn’t as intensive as it once was, but it is enough to keep me moving and thinking. The Wing Chun system isn’t a natural method, so we have to keep practicing to keep it engrained.
Do you have any future plans to release new music or play it live?
My rather niche tastes in music and my rural location make it very difficult to meet up and play live with like-minded musicians.
However, with the globalization we have now via the internet, makes it possible for musicians to connect. We can share ideas and collaborate remotely. I have contributed a few guest solos on other people’s music this way and hope to continue to do that.
Do you have any future goals for Martial Arts?
I am lucky. I found the system I was looking for, and will simply continue to train and practice as long as I am able. I don’t look for more students, but if someone wants to learn and finds me, then I will teach them.