When Kevin Chan grapples with a student, teaching the secrets and styles of his chosen martial arts, he is living a boyhood dream.
As a young lad Kevin hoped he would one day be a great kung fu expert, just like his hero Bruce Lee.
When the opportunity came for the 11-year-old to stay with family in Hong Kong and learn a system of kung fu under his uncle, Tam Fut, his life’s path was laid out.
These days Kevin is a 44-year-old martial arts master who has created his own system of Wing Chung kung fu and is a professor of Brazilian jiu jitsu.
His school – Kamon – runs classes all over the country, including several in Portsmouth, where he lives.
And while he might not be a movie star, he’s an internationally respected expert in Wing Chun – the form of kung fu popularised by Lee in his films.
‘I was definitely motivated by all the kung fu films when I was young,’ says Kevin, who grew up in Hayling Island. ‘I wanted to be like those characters, like Bruce Lee. I was just the same as a lot of boys and young men.’
He began to study the Wing Chun style of kung fu in London when he was 18.
‘I was fascinated by it, partly because it was Bruce Lee’s original style, but also for its compactness and directness.
‘A lot of styles have elongated attacks and acrobatic movements. Wing Chun addresses a problem directly. It’s basically self-defence at street level.’
Kevin went beyond black belt to become a master and devised his own system, Kamon Wing Chun, in the early ’90s.
He had been classically trained in the martial art, but felt held back by tradition.
‘I felt I wanted to move on and be flexible without upsetting classical practitioners,’ he says.
So under Kevin the art evolved and became inspired by his other interests, including boxing. In his classes students will sometimes put on gloves and learn a few boxing moves and strokes.
Wing Chun is also partly about striking and blocking but with certain stances and without the use of force in the classes.
Kevin has had his critics for the way he works. But he says he isn’t trying to teach MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) or move completely away from tradition.
‘A martial art evolves, it has to over time. I’m just trying to bring some realism into it and into how you would use it at street level. For instance, experiencing boxing gives you realism. It teaches you to get over the shock and fear which a fight induces.
‘Plus you understand a range of positions and movements and learn about rhythm and timing. It complements Wing Chun, we’ve enhanced rather than watered it down. But my students must learnt the classical style first.’
And he says he isn’t running a fight club. Moves are practised in a safe environment and strikes aren’t made with full force.
‘That’s not why people come here. They don’t want to go out and fight. My students are very balanced individuals,’ says Kevin.
‘I couldn’t wake up every morning and think about attacking someone, that’s too negative. It’s more about making friends and getting together for health and fitness.’
It’s also about style. Kamon is derived from Kevin’s real name – Chan Kinman – and means athletic grace.
Style is also very much a part of Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ) which Kevin took up more recently. This is a closer contact, floor-based martial art and also a combative sport.
The skill is in taking an opponent to the ground and using a series of positions to render them harmless.
The winner of a fight (or roll as it is known) is the competitor who gets his or her opponent to surrender. Kevin trained in London and became one of only four black belts in the world to be granted their status by Professor Mauricao Gomes, a legendary practitioner and teacher.
Kevin has won several medals and loves passing on his skills, as well as teaching Wing Chun. He says the two arts have several things in common. ‘They are both about leverage and technical ability rather than aggression. We hate the ‘biff mentality’. It’s about the intelligent and appropriate use of force and having awareness of your own body.’
For Kevin, who also sometimes teaches at seminars in Hong Kong, it’s also a way of living. ‘People get a lot out of this. It’s physically challenging and mentally stimulating and encourages you to be motivated and focused. It gives you the capacity to master yourself and deal with your mental battles in real life.
Kevin is a little outnumbered in his personal life. He is married to Sara and has three daughters aged between eight months and six years.
But they’re being trained early. ‘Yes they’re already training,’ he laughs. ‘But I’m not like a competitive father, I want them to have fun. So we just do about 15 minutes as a play around.’