Changing from the inside: An Italian's quest to understand Wing Chun

Antonio Bacino has dedicated his life to studying the martial art made famous by Ip Man

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 March, 2014, 7:04pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 March, 2014, 8:43am

Antonio Bacino is on his tenth trip from Italy to Hong Kong.

But unlike many other Europeans who travel to the Pearl of the Orient each year for business and pleasure, Bacino’s Hong Kong pilgrimages always involve Wing Chun – an ancient form of self-defence which achieved world renown in 2008 with the blockbuster film Ip Man.

In the film, Hong Kong superstar Donnie Yen Ji-dan played Ip Man, teacher of Bruce Lee and one of Wing Chun’s most famous practitioners.

Today, Bancio studies with Grandmaster Ip Ching, the son of Ip Man, and the 37-year-old Italian credits his 30 year Wing Chun odyssey as a major confidence booster that has changed his life completely.

Watch: An interview with Antonio Bacino

“I was the typical skinny guy that everybody wanted to beat up,” Bancio says, recalling the days when he began learning Wing Chun at the tender age of seven with his father, also a martial artist.

“I was shy, insecure… As I started Wing Chun, I stopped being insecure and began changing day by day.”

As Bancio grew older and graduated from various Italian Wing Chun schools, his passion led him to seek out advanced tutelage under Ron Heimberger, a senior master who dedicated his life to promoting Wing Chun as a director of Ip Ching’s Ving Tsun Athletic Association.

Heimberger left an indelible impression on Bancio before passing away from a brain tumor in 2008, and he was also the one who introduced his Italian pupil to both Ip Ching and Hong Kong – setting the stage for Bacino’s current schedule of regular trips to the city.

“Master Heimberger became like a father to me,” Bancio says. “He always tried to help me discover my potential and pushed me to get over my limits, which I now understand were things that I was putting in my own way.”

Conquering personal limits is one of the foremost benefits of Wing Chun, Bancio says, largely because the martial art places all students on equal footing. Rather than advocating brute force, Wing Chun teaches flexibility and intuitive reaction, making it possible for physically smaller fighters to defeat larger opponents.

“After I started studying Wing Chun, I was never frightened by tougher or bigger guys anymore,” Bancio says.

This unique philosophy may stem from Wing Chun’s origins as the only major martial art invented by a woman. Legend says that the self-defence mechanism was developed over 300 years ago by Ng Mui, a female Shaolin monk who was inspired by the movements of a snake and a crane.

Today, Wing Chun is practiced in an estimated 64 countries across the globe, and Bacino himself operates multiple Italian Wing Chun associations, including schools in Milan, Savona, Touscany, Arezzo, Parma and four in his hometown of La Spezia.

In Italy, Bacino notes that the craze of the Ip Man films has not necessarily created the most healthy atmosphere, and many schools have been “struggling to steal students from others”, while some have promoted warped interpretations of Wing Chun that have an emphasis on violence.

“Respect is only earned by respecting others…and students must search and find a master that is close to their point of view,” Bacino says. “You must avoid the masters that beat up their students and those who promise you miracles…

“Wing Chun must be learned step by step… If you study and apply its principles, they will drive you through a process of internal growth.”

With plans to open more schools in the near future, Bacino shows no signs of stopping this internal growth and has his sights set on following the footsteps of his teachers to inspire a whole new generation of practitioners.

“Wing Chun gave me the opportunity to become happy,” he says. “And to reach levels that I never thought I would reach.”