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Dave Wong-From Miners Hall to Hall of Fame

Bridgend’s Dave Wong is a busy man. On a daily basis, he juggles running his own business with teaching at his martial arts club as well as taking on increasingly impressive movie roles. This year has been good to him and the hard work is finally getting him the recognition deserved with Martial Arts Illustrated magazine enrolling him in to their hall of fame…twice!

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Dave is a fourth degree black belt in Sport Karate with the traditional base in Wado Ryu and he is now the founder of his own Sport Karate Club – Sen Martial Arts. Community Martial Arts News managed to catch up with Dave on his way between meetings. He wasn’t what I expected. Despite his manic lifestyle, he is a calm and quiet but charming man with a tendency to be self effacing despite his many accomplishments. Here’s how it went….

“Yes, I was enrolled in the Martial Arts Illustrated hall of fame for top instructor earlier in the year. I don’t know how they worked that out! (laughs) Also, I got the golden award. I had a letter through the post saying I was nominated for the award and so went along to the evening event. A bunch of my students went with me for moral support. It was great, not just because I got to meet other martial artists but because Lee Latchford-Evans was there. I used love the group Steps. He was one of the singers but I didn’t realise that he was also a martial artist and he was also there to pick up an award. I was a bit shy about doing a speech at first. I did do one for the second award because I was a bit more used to it then! I also enjoyed the opportunity to speak to different martial artists there and picked up some good tips.

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I feel that I always need to expand my knowledge and always make a point of talking to other martial artists and visiting other clubs even if I don’t have much of an idea about their style. I am always open to new ways to make classes interesting for the kids in our class, or to learn a new weapon. Haven’t said that, I struggle to find the times these days to devote the attention I used to, so just keep refreshing my knowledge of Wado Ryu katas as much as can. I have done a lot of research on the history of that style of Karate and tried to bring back a lot of the traditions as well as developing to it and adding the best aspects of the things that I have learned from other clubs.

Martial Arts has helped me in life but also with my acting career, however would like to be known as an actor through my acting. I am happy for one to promote the other and if martial arts helps me get to get a part then that’s fine. Likewise, I would like to be known as a martial artist through my martial arts. I believe that the acting as elevated me to a status in martial arts that in any normal circumstances I don’t think I would have got any recognition for.

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In films, I had to learn stage fighting mostly on the job. I did have some training on Bond (David played the Shanghai Art Collector that ends up getting assassinated in Skyfall). I rehearsed getting shot but on the day, they brought in a stunt guy. If it was a bigger scene, then I would have liked to have done it myself. I had a lesson off Zara Phythian after we were both on the same film together called Underground with Danny John Jules (Cat from Red Dwarf), Gary Webster (Minder and Eastenders) and Leonard Fenton (Dr Leg from Eastenders). We didn’t meet during filming but I later went to a few of her seminars. I am going to her wedding on the 26th (January 2015).

I was also in the martial arts film Out for A Kill with Steven Seagal. I remember that on set that I was told that Steven would like to discuss a fight scene with me, so they sent the car around and went to the studio where he had this huge trailer. I was invited in and there were about half a dozen oriental girls in there. In the middle was Steven, playing his guitar. We had a chat and during it, he mentioned that he was older than me. So I complemented him and said that he didn’t look that old. He said, “It’s these women, they keep me young.”

We had discussed at length what we’d do for the fight but when it came down to it, he changed it at the last minute! He changed everything. After all that discussion, it just came down to me throwing one punch and one kick. I get thrown around a bit and then the stunt double takes my place and gets thrown out of the window for me. For the car chase scene, I was just sat in the car pretending to drive while there were people either side rocking it back and forth. Hopefully it looked convincing. It would cut away then to the stunt men actually driving the car! At the beginning, I did get a bit star struck. I just didn’t realise how tall he actually was until I met him. On the set he was a bit quiet. I’m not sure if he was a bit aloof or what but he didn’t really socialise. I have only ever been star struck once since and that was when filming The Edge of Tomorrow (aka Live Die Repeat) with Tom Cruise. He was someone I really wanted to know but I didn’t have the opportunity to speak to him unfortunately.

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I did almost meet Jackie Chan after crashing his party! I was with a few movie friends of mine in the Cannes film festival. I can’t recall which year but Jackie and Jean Claude Van Damme were there. One of my friends had an invitation to the Jackie Chan party, so we followed him in. I couldn’t get close to Jackie because of all the people around him. In the end I was just happy to eat his food!

An experience that I will treasure was working on the Shaolin Wheel of Life tour with the Shaolin monks. They initially asked for an understudy to play the bad General. I got the job and through the tour, the lead had to drop out, so I played the general and toured with them. I really enjoyed it, it was really fun. It was bigger than any stage production that I had done before. I got on with a few of the monks and became friends. I’m still friends with a couple on Facebook. The kids are really into their stretching. Every time you went passed they were always stretching. They were playful and fun just like any other kids. They weren’t mystical as they are sometimes made out to be. Some of the kids used to get homesick and cry now and again when things got a bit tough. They were just normal children with extra ordinary skills. In the hotels, they all shared room, however, as the general, I had my own room! It was such a busy schedule, they were packed and ready to go at the end of the show to move on to the next town, so they didn’t really get to have much of a chance to get out and explore.

The Monks made an impact on me but Bruce Lee is my biggest martial arts influence. I also used to follow the Hong Kong action stars. There used to be a cinema in St Marys Street, Cardiff that played Chinese films after midnight for the Chinese community. I used to watch all of the Hong Kong martial arts stars in there. I thought it was great, especially as a kid going into the cinema when everyone else my age was at home in bed! There were mostly only people from the Chinese community and we saw so many stars on the screen, but I cannot recall all their names now.

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The first time that I saw Bruce Lee was on television. They had a clip of him from Way of the Dragon on ‘World of Sport’ on Saturday. I was blown away just by that clip. It was the fight scene with him and Chuck Norris. Ever since then I was interested in Martial Arts. I didn’t start Martial Arts training myself though until I was 28 years old. The year before, I had a few health issues and I thought that it was time that I should do something about it. I was quite over weight, about 17 or 18 stone and was told by the doctor that I had high blood pressure. So, I started running and kept it up for about a year. I noticed a poster for Sport Karate at the local YMCA so decided to give it a go. I didn’t necessarily pick that style it was just the first poster that I noticed and got me thinking.

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When I first joined it was under Clayton Larraine, a Midlands based instructor. Our club separated and became USKO. My instructor for this was John Robbins. I worked my way up to fourth Dan through that club. I’m not sure that I could get through that grading again, I would struggle I think! It is a really gruelling experience and at the end of it my kiai was more of a grunt! I had also had torn my right leg muscle. I was rushing and didn’t warm up properly. It was all bruised on the inside of my thigh and I couldn’t kick properly. I really struggled, especially through the sparring. After that, I thought ‘no more’ (gradings). I have been fourth Dan for over five years now and I trying to find out how I can grade for my fifth.

I surprised myself that I’m where I am now. I never expected to be doing it for so long and I certainly didn’t expect to open my own club. Me and my daughter Jess -who also trains – thought it was about time we set out and built up our own club. We left the USKO and developed Sen Martial Arts. Sen is my Dads name and so named the school after him. The Chinese character on the logo with the English doesn’t match. Sen was the English name that he’d had but the Chinese character is pronounced ‘Chi’ that means something like ‘pillar’ or ‘column’ or ‘support’. People often wondered why the difference. Both of those names are my Dads name. The English and Chinese name. I always wanted to make him proud. He would never say he was proud to me directly but I found out that he had been bragging to his friends amongst the Chinese community about the latest film I was in, so I think he was.

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Sen is a mixture of free style karate with our traditional base being Wado Ryu but I also incorporate weapons. It’s quite difficult to get the expertise in this area but I’ve learned the Okinawan Kobudo weapons. My favourite are the Nunchuks…..obviously. I wish I could do the fancy moves that they do in the XMA competitions but I can’t do the somersaults. It looks nice and I would love to do it but I realise how old I am and shouldn’t be dabbling with things like that! (Laughs)

We settled our club in to the Llanharan drop-in centre. It was good venue and the people there were great, however, as the amount of students in my class grew the hall became a bit too small. We’ve now moved to the Llanharan Miners Welfare Hall. The hall is huge with plenty of room for the students. I want to fill that one now!

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Jess is a blackbelt and my assistant instructor. She takes over when I have to go abroad for filming. She is definitely the disciplinarian. I just want to make it fun for the kids but Jess instills the discipline. I must admit that I am a bit soft. I try to train them in such a way that they don’t realise that they are actually being trained. We play games and I incorporate a kick here and there. Jess is much more traditional.

Teaching the kids is a constant challenge and although we always have a lesson plan, they always ask can we do this or do that and it goes out of the window. The most popular game is the sword fight (with foam training swords). They love that. (laughs) We’ve experimented in many different ways. It’s a challenge to keep them interested. I’m always trying to motivate them and we have a wide variety of ages starting from children from the age of 4. Adults are so much easier to teach but I am really proud of all my students. When we have enough numbers we are going to start entering competitions. I would encourage any of my students to enter. I am looking forward to seeing one of my students -Jeff- become a blackbelt soon.

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For the future, I would love to expand and open up a few more clubs. As for acting, I would love to work in a regular acting role. Casualty is just around the corner. That would be my ideal but I wouldn’t say no to a role in film though! Laughs. I love action films and think it would be brilliant to be in something like The Expendables. I don’t particularly seek martial arts roles as I love acting but I’m hoping to get some kind of role the The Crow remake that’s coming to Cardiff soon. If the producers are reading this, give me a call!”

About Gareth

Jack of all trades and master of none. Fully qualified and unrepentant M.A.G (Martial Arts Geek). Willing to bleed for your entertainment. Gareth- the original sofa samurai and editor of CMA News.