RECORD OF A MARTIAL JOURNEY

Martial arts are nothing but a farce today, because they are not really needed anymore.

The world has changed dramatically over the last couple of decades. We have different means of self-protection & weaponry at our disposal, we have become accustomed to fulfill different needs. The martial arts’ settings of today are just a reflection of this change, they have become entertainment instead of means for self-realization.
To pursue martial arts at their core as I did, is a luxury very few can afford. Masters of the past are gone, their knowledge forgotten. - It took me over 23 years of nothing but training and collecting enough remaining bits and pieces of the “forgotten knowledge of the past”, to be able to participate in the reconstruction of Wing Chun Kuen.

For further reading, please click on the titles below:

• Childhood & teenage years in Switzerland (Sept. 1968 - Aug. 1989)

Mr. Frank Häberlin, great grandson of the highest ranking politician in Switzerland (President of the Federal Council, Mr. Heinrich Häberlin) was born into the Family Dynasty of Häberlin as the family was referred to in its heyday, in September 1968. The Family Dynasty of Häberlin was influentially involved at the top of all three federal levels (Switzerland’s Federal Council, Upper & Lower House, Federal Court ) over the span of many decades, starting as early as the 1850s.

Needless to say, that Mr. Frank Häberlin’s illustrious ancestors were also holding many different important key positions in various organizations, unions and associations of Switzerland. Mr. Frank Häberlin is the last direct male heir of this particular family lineage.

At the tender age of 9, Mr. Frank Häberlin was sent to private boarding schools where he received his formal education. Degree in economics, followed by employment at a Swiss bank. Prior to being introduced to Wing Chun at age 19, training in Judo, Jujutsu and Shotokan Karate.

At age 18 came the turning point, when one day, all of a sudden he experienced the intensive and life-changing inner transformation of Quantum Change as the psychologist William R. Miller and research scientist Janet C'de Baca, Ph.D., co-authors of the book "Quantum Change" call this unique experience, and which sometimes is referred to as Mystical Experience by others. After that he started to have some serious questions about life in general, especially when observing how most people spend their lives aimlessly, without objective and purpose and mostly dissatisfied with the life they are leading. - One day when accidentally coming across the Three Pillars of Zen written by Philip Kapleau and reading the accounts of some people's experiences of Satori, it sounded very much like what he had experienced. Now knowing that there are other people out there who must have gone through the same profound experience like him, he decided to undergo Zen practice in Japan. - The reason for this decision was twofold: On one hand to get a better realization of the transformation he went through during Quantum Change, and on the other hand to experience the spiritual core of Wing Chun according to the Bodhidharma-Shaolin tradition of Chan as it is called in China and of which the Japanese equivalent is called Zen.

Here needs to be stressed out that the following journey - which has been spanning over the last 23 years - was only possible due to Mr. Häberlin's special socioeconomic standing which allows him to pursue his interests.

• Zen practice in Japan (Aug. 1989 - Sept. 1991)

At age 20, he packed his bags and left Switzerland and went to Japan to practice with the masters.

He entered a Buddhist temple and underwent rigorous Zen training for the next two years under the guidance of the prewar Zen master Ban Tetsugyu Roshi who was already in his 80s at that time.

Even while in Japan, Mr. Häberlin knew that eventually he would go back to Wing Chun, but he wanted to experience firsthand the connection of Zen and Martial Arts. However, before taking up Wing Chun again, he also wanted to immerse himself in a traditional Japanese martial art and decided to approach the essential core teachings from another angle and since Zen and the Bugei (martial arts) are traditionally closely linked together, he decided to take up Kyudo - The Way of the Bow.

• Kyudo training in Japan (May 1991 - Aug. 1991)

After having been introduced very formally to Dan DeProspero, the well-respected teacher - and author of the book Kyudo, written in English and published by Kodansha - of the most widely practised Kyudo style - the Zen Nihon Kyudo Renmei -, he was accepted and received instruction in Kyudo. However, almost from the start he had doubts about the approach because of all the excessive etiquette, ceremony and small number of arrows one was allowed to shoot per day. Of course, there is nothing really wrong with etiquette and ceremony, just that it should be in a healthy proportion to the training of becoming proficient in the art of the actual shooting itself. Moreover, he somehow couldn't help but to notice that with some of the Kyudo people there was an air of self-importance and to him it seemed not only against the spirit of true Kyudo, but also completely unjustified, because there was nothing really to be proud of, considering the poor shooting skills of the people practising at the Dojo of Toshima-ku. Even though there was not much importance placed on actually being able to hit the target, one day Dan DeProspero approached Mr. Häberlin and said, "You are hitting the target already more than me!", so it must have made a certain impact on Dan one way or the other. The longer Mr. Häberlin practised under the guidance of Dan DeProspero and the other seniors of that particular Dojo, he got the impression that it was more playing around and not real Shugyo which is a Japanese term and refers to a Warrior's Quest of Honing One's Skills.

• Meeting the last true lineage holder of the oldest Kyudo school (Aug '91-Oct '92)

Then one day, he had the good fortune to meet the last headmaster of Heki To-Ryu Insai-Ha which was the oldest archery school still existent in Japan at that time. Its headmaster, Inagaki Genshiro Sensei, was over eighty years old already and Mr. Häberlin was accepted and enjoyed the privilege of receiving personal instruction on a daily basis under Inagaki Sensei's tutelage. Trainings took place at the venerable Kyudojo of the Waseda university in Tokyo which is one of the most respected universities in Japan. For the next year he trained every day for several hours. It was a very rewarding experience for him to meet such an extraordinary individual as Inagaki Sensei, because he was one of the last of his kind. However, due to the expiry of his visa, Mr. Häberlin saw himself forced to leave Japan.

• Wing Chun in Hong Kong (Nov. 1992 - Feb. 1993)

After leaving Japan, he went to Hong Kong where he happened to meet some of the most well-known students of legendary Wing Chun master Yip Man, such as Lok Yiu, Chui Sheung Tin, Wong Shun Leung, Koo Sang and also Yip Man's two sons, Yip Chun and Yip Ching. By the chance of good fortune, Mr. Häberlin met accidentally his future Wing Chun instructor Jarry A. there and after having witnessed his superior skills while visiting together some of the established Wing Chun schools in Hong Kong, Mr. Häberlin asked him whether he would be willing to accept him as his private student. Jarry A. invited Mr. Häberlin to come to Canada and stay at his house for intensive Wing Chun training. And so he went to Ontario, Canada where he arrived on a freezing cold winter day.

• Fatshan, China (Jan. 1993)*

But before leaving Hong Kong and going to Canada, Yip Man's eldest son, Yip Chun, invited Mr. Häberlin together with Jarry A. to go to Fatshan, his hometown where he grew up and where Yip Man was originally from. Yip Chun showed them the locations of the former Yip family estate, famous sites in Fatshan and took Mr. Häberlin and Jarry A. to a martial arts demonstration which was held in a sports hall where they were invited and publicly announced as special guests of the PR of China. Yip Chun also arranged a meeting with Pan Nam - Black Face Nam as he was called due to his birthmark -, who was a well-respected Wing Chun master of another Wing Chun lineage and they had discussions and an exchange of Wing Chun techniques among them.

• Private intensive Wing Chun training in Canada (Feb. 1993 - Nov. 1996)

In Canada he lived and trained in the house of his Wing Chun instructor for the next for 3 1/2 years. Training was every day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, several hours per day. Due to the severe practice, his instructor had but a handful of students and was very traditional in his approach which was why most newcomers dropped out very quickly. However, due to his perseverance and discipline, Mr. Häberlin stuck it out and eventually completed the whole Wing Chun curriculum.

• One year stay in India (Dec. 1996 - Dec. 1997)

Having completed the system of Wing Chun, he went to the former British Hill Station of McLeod Ganj in Northern India to subject himself to intensive training of what he had learnt over the last couple of years. Mr. Häberlin lived a simple and austere life at the foothills of the Himalayas for the next year and trained without a day off. Towards the end of that year in India, his instructor contacted him and suggested that he should come back to Canada for further study and practice of Wing Chun. Mr. Häberlin followed his instructor's advice and went back to Canada for almost one more year to deepen his understanding and practice of the system.

• Further Kyudo practice in Japan (May 1999 - May 2002)

Some unfortunate events forced him to leave his Wing Chun instructor and Mr. Häberlin decided to go back to Japan and practice Kyudo while continuing his Wing Chun practice. The next 3 years he spent with the study and practice of the Art of the Bow under the guidance of his former Sensei's top-student Mori Toshio Sensei, since Inagaki Sensei regrettably had passed away already a couple of years before. Mori Sensei is still holding the position of Professor of Kyudo at Tsukuba university which is one of the major sports universities in Japan.

Mr. Häberlin gradually intensified his training regimen and soon was shooting an average of over 300 arrows a day in the first and second year in order to consolidate the very complex shooting technique of Heki To-Ryu Insai-Ha into his body mechanics. The intensity of such a training is way beyond the capacity of even the university students who choose the subject of Kyudo as an official field of study. The fact that Mr. Häberlin is able to devote himself so wholeheartedly is only possible due to his unique social standing and position.

One day there was a European physicist visiting the Kyudojo who showed interest in taking up the practice of Kyudo and during the conversation with Mr. Häberlin, he asked about martial arts in general and when hearing about Wing Chun, its logic & efficiency, this person was so impressed that he asked whether he could start to train under Mr. Häberlin's guidance. However, Mr. Häberlin denied his request on two occasions due to the intensity of his own daily Kyudo training which didn't leave much free time. But on the third occasion when this person asked him once more about the possibility of learning Wing Chun, he accepted the European scientist as his student, because of his humbleness and sincerity and started to give him instruction in the art of Wing Chun, and later there were also some Japanese students Mr. Häberlin was giving Wing Chun lessons too.

• Kashima Shin-Ryu, Tsukuba, Japan (Nov. - Dec. 2001)

When mentioning the martial arts of Japan, one usually closely associates this with the sword culture of Japan and for Mr. Häberlin this was no different, since the sword is said to embody the Samurai spirit and had such a strong impact on the Japanese culture over many centuries. For this reason, he asked a Japanese friend if he knew of any Sensei who is still a true lineage holder of one of the many Kenjutsu schools in Japan. Mr. Häberlin was told that in actual fact there was a Sensei at this very university who is the 19th Generation Shihanke (Lineage of Headmasters as opposed to Soke, the Lineage of the Founding House) of one of the oldest sword schools in Japan, the Kashima Shin-Ryu.

Practice was held on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and on Saturday afternoons at the Budokan of Tsukuba university. Training was conducted in the style of an university club setting, but in a quite relaxed manner, compared to what he was used to. Mr. Häberlin attended a couple of trainings and liked the theory and application of the sword techniques. But when he attended trainings which were led by Seki Humitake, the present headmaster, and he had to do some empty-hand techniques, Mr. Häberlin wasn't too impressed and since it would have compromised too much of his Wing Chun body structure and mechanics to adapt to their way of body movement which seemed to him more like a relic of the past, he decided to leave it to others to practice those traditional arts.

Two of the most senior students were somehow very eager to have Mr. Häberlin join their practice, especially after he answered some of their questions they had about martial arts, but considering what he had experienced, he wasn't too thrilled about the idea of practising a traditional art which seemed too far off from nowadays urban reality. Nobody is carrying a Katana since the Meiji Restoration in 1868, nobody has a Wakizashi in their belt, a Tanto either and certainly not a Kusari-Gama.

Moreover, he had a Wing Chun student who practised Kashima Shin-Ryu three times a week on a regular basis and when he saw some more of the empty-hand techniques of Kashima Shin-Ryu, it became quite clear to Mr. Häberlin that it definitely wasn't worth the sacrifice to adapt to the body structure and mechanics of this school. In actual fact, this very student mentioned that the people at the Kashima university club are very impressed by his quick progress in the practice of Kashima Shin-Ryu and he credited the Wing Chun practice he was privileged to receive with Mr. Häberlin for it. However, he was only able to express this towards him, because otherwise this would have created big problems for this particular student within the Kashima Shin-Ryu organization. And for this reason - out of discretion - his name cannot be mentioned here.

• Daito-Ryu Sagawa-Ha, Tsukuba, Japan (Apr. 2002)

During this time, Mr. Häberlin did also have interest in Daito-Ryu Aikibujutsu. Nowadays there are many exponents of this traditional martial art in Japan who claim to do the Aiki of Takeda Sensei, but there are only very few noteworthy teachers instructing it and even less who can really apply it against a non-cooperative opponent.

Mr. Häberlin got an introduction to Kimura Tatsuo Sensei who is also the author of the book "Transparent Power" which was first published in Japanese and then subsequently got translated into English. Kimura Sensei is considered by many to be the top student of Sagawa Yukiyoshi Sensei - who is said to have actually gotten the concept of Aiki from the legendary Daito-Ryu master Takeda Sokaku Sensei. This particular Daito-Ryu group is extremely reclusive and secretive about their training and for non-Japanese it is practically impossible to be accepted into their group and to study and practice with them. However, being persistent and by way of formal request, Mr. Häberlin was allowed one 'Experience Class' - as they like to call it - and got hands-on experience a couple of times with Kimura Sensei who is the head teacher there, and not just in the regular class, but also in his private office.

• Leaving the Far East and coming back to Europe (May 2002 - Oct. 2008)

Mr. Häberlin realized that his priority after all was Wing Chun Kuen and left Japan after 3 years and moved back to Europe and lived for the next 6 1/2 years more or less in Switzerland. During his stay in Switzerland, Mr. Häberlin trained a small number of people to improve his teaching methods and this gave him at the same time the opportunity to internalize the system more.

• Private intensive practice of Chen Shi Taijiquan in China (Febr. - May 2004)

During this time in Switzerland, he spent a couple of months in China to train privately - also as a live-in student - with the present Chen Family Taijiquan headmaster Chen Xiaowang and his eldest son Chen Jun. During his stay in China with the Chen family, he was Best Man at Chen Jun's wedding.

While in China, Mr. Häberlin also went to the Shaolin Temple and was introduced to one of the elder monks living in the old temple. Subsequently, he received some private teaching and training in Qigong from this elderly monk.

• Private training of Chen Shi Taijiquan in Canada (July - October 2004)

After leaving China, he went back once again to Canada to have his Wing Chun checked and to be able to train with his instructor Jarry A. the Chen Shi Taijiquan as handed down from Chen Fake to Hong Jun Sheng and then transmitted to Liu Cheng De. When seeing the differences already on a very fundamental level between Chenjiagou Chen Shi Taijiquan and Chen Fake/Hong Jun Sheng's Chen Shi Taijiquan, it looked very much like what is happening to Wing Chun and all its different interpretations. The very basic and essential exercises of Silk Reeling are already very differently done and some movements are simply against the very theory of Chen Shi Taijiquan, but nobody seems to really notice it, let alone be bothered by this very fact.

• Daito-Ryu Sagawa-Ha, Mannheim, Germany (Dec. 2007)

When looking through the book written by Kimura Sensei with the title "Discovering Aiki", Mr. Häberlin read about a certain Dr. Prof. of mathematics from the university in Mannheim and that this person was a longtime acquaintance of Kimura Sensei since they are both mathematicians by profession.

From many years of dealing with Japanese, and especially the type like Kimura Sensei, Mr. Häberlin knew that it will be comparatively much easier to deal with a Western person who was allowed into this Daito-Ryu Sagawa-Ha circle than a Japanese-one. For this reason, he contacted the German professor and it turned out that he was correct; the professor seemed open-minded enough and a meeting in Mannheim was arranged. This professor is holding the 6th Dan in Aikido and is also a longtime practitioner of Daito-Ryu Sagawa-Ha. And so it happened that shortly before Christmas Mr. Häberlin travelled by train to Mannheim to visit the professor

They met in the lobby of the hotel Mr. Häberlin was staying at and together they went to the university where they discussed Daito-Ryu Sagawa-Ha and practiced some basic Daito-Ryu partner exercises for a couple of hours. Somehow techniques such as Aiki-age and Kotegaeshi among others didn't seem to work particularly well on Mr. Häberlin and at the end of their training session, it was the professor who was getting interested in Wing Chun.

• Teaching Wing Chun in Tokyo, Japan (Oct. 2008 - March 2011)

Then in autumn of 2008, due to private matters, once again he packed his bags and left for Japan where he was teaching Wing Chun to a select group of people in Tokyo for the next 2 ½ years.

• Wing Chun, Hong Kong (Sept. 2009)

While living and teaching in Tokyo, Mr. Häberlin was also furthering his own studies in Wing Chun once again by getting in touch with one of the very few private disciples of Yip Man, Leung Shiu Hung.

First contact was established by means of e-mails and after a couple of weeks, a date for a meeting was finally set up. Then Mr. Häberlin flew from Tokyo down to Hong Kong and spent the next two days with SiFu Leung.

Lee Chee Kong, the last private disciple of the late Yip Man, happened to be in Hong Kong at the same time and was coming for a visit to SiFu Leung's office on the second day of Mr. Häberlin's visit. SiFu Leung introduced Mr. Häberlin to him. Since SiFu Leung is extremely occupied with business and other matters, he suggested that SiFu Lee would be able to give Mr. Häberlin daily private lessons during the remainder of his stay in Hong Kong. Mr. Häberlin accepted the offer and spent the next couple of days from mornings till evenings together with SiFu Lee. SiFu Lee's fee for private tuition was indeed considerable and probably out of the league for most common Wing Chun practitioners, but once again, thanks to Mr. Häberlin's special standing, he was able to afford SiFu Lee's Wing Chun tuition fee without it posing a financial burden on him.

• Wing Chun in Panyu, China (New Year 2010)

After having witnessed the knowledge and technique Yip Man transmitted to his private disciples of which there were only about five to six, Mr. Häberlin decided to further his training with SiFu Lee. For this reason he contacted SiFu Lee who then set up everything for a 10 day private intensive Wing Chun training in Panyu, Mainland China. SiFu Lee organized the apartment where Mr. Häberlin and he would be staying together, also some training partners, some of them were special undercover police. These police officers needed a martial skill that they could actually depend on, because part of their operations involved apprehending armed and very dangerous criminals and they also had to deal with Chinese gang warfare among other issues and thus their choice for personal protection was Wing Chun and nothing less. Practice was from morning until late at night, only interrupted by breakfast, lunch and dinner.

• Wing Chun, Mainland China (April 2010)

A couple of months later, once again Mr. Häberlin made the journey from Tokyo, Japan to Mainland China for yet another private intensive training course with SiFu Lee and a gentleman from Greece who SiFu Lee had come over from Athens as Mr. Häberlin's training partner. This was a three-weeks course with the same intensity as the ones before.

• Wing Chun, New York City (June - July 2010)

SiFu Lee invited Mr. Häberlin to come to NYC for further training in Wing Chun and to deepen his understanding of the theory & its application. And so Mr. Häberlin left Tokyo and went to NYC for the period of five weeks to train once more with SiFu Lee. During his stay in NYC, SiFu Lee offered Mr. Häberlin to stay at his apartment. They lived together and trainings were from late morning until late at night, every day, seven days a week.

In July Mr. Häberlin returned back to Tokyo to resume teaching and then went to Switzerland and back to the U.S. once again. But this time he went to Las Vegas to meet one of the first generation students from NYC when SiFu Leung Shiu-Hung started to teach Wing Chun in the Big Apple in the early 1970s.

• Wing Chun, Las Vegas (Aug. 2010)

Before going to the U.S., Mr. Häberlin went first to Switzerland, because a Wing Chun teacher in Bern who is running a school there, requested private instruction from Mr. Häberlin. After teaching this person over the course of ten days, Mr. Häberlin then went on to the United States.

Mr. Häberlin had arranged a private intensive training course with Mr. S. Leung. The main purpose of him going to Las Vegas was to have more training in the aspect of Chi-Sao and to get an even better understanding of how Wing Chun was and is being transmitted, what is there and what is missing.

• Daidojuku Karate, Tokyo (Febr. 2010 - April 2010)

Moreover, while in Tokyo, he enrolled and trained shortly in Daidojuku Karate at its
headquarters in Ikebukuro, Tokyo, but soon discontinued its practice, because it seemed too sport-oriented for his taste, with competitors wearing helmets and too many rules involved.

• Roppokai Daito-Ryu, Tokyo (April 2010 - June 2010)

He also contacted the well-known Sensei Okamoto Seigo of Daito-Ryu Aikibujutsu who is still actively teaching in the Tokyo area despite his advanced age and after sending a formal letter of request, he was accepted and Mr. Häberlin spent some time practising this traditional Japanese martial art. But after having experienced the inability of even the most senior students and Sensei himself of neutralizing even the most basic partner drills of this particular system against him, he didn't see value anymore in continuing to practice this system.

• Testing Wing Chun's theory and application, Tokyo (Oct. 2008 - March 2011)

While instructing Wing Chun in Tokyo, he had encounters with exponents of various different martial styles. One practitioner of over 30 years of practice in Aikikai Aikido became his student after not being able to make any technique of his work on Mr. Häberlin. Another student from Canada was an instructor for kickboxing in Tokyo and Karate practitioner. Yet another person, who was holding a second degree black belt in Shorinji Kempo and after having been invited by Mr. Häberlin to kick him and was not able to make any impact, enrolled on the spot. When experiencing hands-on training with Mr. Häberlin, that person was really impressed and said repeatedly "Kampeki da!", which roughly translates as perfect.

There was another foreigner, a longtime resident of Tokyo, holder of the second black belt in Judo and who was training regularly at the venerable Kodokan in Suidobashi, Tokyo, who sought instruction from him and subsequently quit Judo after witnessing Mr. Häberlin's Wing Chun. This person, when he notified his instructors at the Kodokan of his decision, despite encountering quite some pressure and non-understanding from their side, still quit Judo and threw himself into the practice of Wing Chun.

One student from the U.S. who was teaching some people Chin-Na and boasted of his skills was quite humbled when he wasn't able to apply any joint-locks on Mr. Häberlin. Other students included practitioners of styles as diverse as Yoshinkan Aikido, Kali, Yang Taijiquan, Krav Maga, Western Boxing, VTAA Wing Chun, IWTA Wing Tsun, just to name a few. - However, many of the students who enrolled with enthusiasm at first, all quit once they realized that there was actual work involved in gaining real skill in martial arts. This was due to the fact that Mr. Häberlin's teaching is not just about proper frame of mind and technique, but it is also about physical conditioning which is the only way to prepare a student for the ugly truth of a real-life encounter, where there are no rules, no judges, no protective gear. When one's life is hanging in the balance, one better has to be prepared for that one encounter, where it is not about winning points, but about being safe and survival. And some students due to their preconceived ideas about what a martial art is and how it should be done are not able to handle the truth about this reality.

• Reconstruction of the core of Wing Chun (July 2011 until present)

During the time he was living in Japan and teaching Wing Chun in Tokyo, Mr. Häberlin was in constant contact with Mr. Mitja Perat, his close associate from Ljubljana, Slovenia, for the purpose of being able to discuss Wing Chun and the state of the art nowadays. Through time it became more and more apparent that in order for Mr. Häberlin and Mr. Perat to be able to reconstruct the lost art of Wing Chun Kuen, they needed to be able to discuss, dissect, break down the theory & principles and practice the system on a daily basis. In order to do this in a reasonable fashion, it was of paramount importance that Mr. Häberlin would come to Ljubljana, because the future of Wing Chun Kuen depended on it. - And so after two and a half years in Japan, Mr. Häberlin moved to Ljubljana, Slovenia.

The time for the reconstruction of the core of Wing Chun Kuen consisted of intensive training, coupled with dissecting the system and assembling the bits and pieces Mr. Häberlin was able to gather over the course of the past years from different sources. These bits and pieces of information allowed Mr. Perat to reconstruct the matrix, the core of Wing Chun, of which there is no knowledge or coherent picture out there, yet alone understanding, because it was completely missing up to the point in time when Mr. Perat was able to reconstruct it.

Over the years and on numerous occasions various people when hearing about Mr. Häberlin's extraordinary life, the trainings, his experiences and travels, suggested that if he wrote a biography, it would make for great reading considering his unique lifestyle. So finally, Mr. Häberlin decided to write his autobiography which is in the process of being written now and will then be published. - Among many more topics, there will also be more detailed information on how the reconstruction of the lost art of Wing Chun Kuen was possible, its content and the implications of it.

* Please, note that the timeline is martial art-orientated, not chronologically-sequential, hence some events & dates overlap with each other.

back to top