Despite having developed a deep interest in Asian culture since he was a boy, David Peterson, 60, never imagined that he would one day call Malaysia home. Originally from Melbourne, Australia, he worked as a Chinese language teacher at two of his home city’s most prestigious private schools for 31 years, and was on the side, principal instructor of Wing Chun kung fu (martial art) at the Melbourne Chinese Martial Arts Club for 28 years.
“As I was growing up, I had close Malaysian friends at school and in university. Even as I travelled throughout the region over the years to study kung fu and later as an invited martial art instructor or speaker, I always returned to my base in Melbourne.
“Life is full of surprises, though. In 2009, by chance I met my then-to-be wife, Dr. Norintan Zainal Shah in Melbourne, and later made several trips to Malaysia within a span of twelve months to court her, in the process meeting with a group of Wing Chun kung fu aficionados who later became my students.
“Settling down in Seremban was a given as Seremban is my wife’s adopted hometown of 28 years, although she hails from Ipoh. Besides, she is a much loved and in-demand doctor of obstetrics and gynaecology at Columbia Asia Hospital. I didn’t need a better reason to relocate to Seremban,” he explained.
Moving to Seremban in February 2011, Peterson decided to make kung fu his full-time job by establishing ‘WSL Ving Tsun Combat Science – Malaysia’. Regular classes were conducted in Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya. As interest grew, something more permanent was necessary. It led to the opening of a school in Seremban 2, where Peterson conducts both day and night classes several times each week, on top of running three weekly classes in Kuala Lumpur.
“Compared to Kuala Lumpur, Seremban is quieter and slower paced, thus less stressful on many levels. I find Kuala Lumpur tough to navigate at the best of times, due to its high population; therefore, I do not mind making the commute to my Kuala Lumpur classes, while I enjoy the daily life of Seremban.
“The overall appeal of living in Malaysia is the generally friendly attitude of Malaysians and the amazing range of food that one can choose from every single day. I am a big fan of noodle dishes of ANY kind, and I like local fares like nasi goreng kampung, nasi lemak, roti telur, and so on; there’s not a lot that I won’t eat, and if it’s spicy, then all the better! I have always been a fan of Asian food of all kinds, so where better to enjoy them than in Malaysia?” he asked.
Peterson practises and teaches ‘Wong Shun Leung Ving Tsun Kuen Hok’ (WSL Ving Tsun Combat Science), the Wing Chun kung fu lineage of his late teacher, Sifu Wong Shun Leung, who was a prominent student of the famed Wing Chun patriarch, Grandmaster Ip Man, famously portrayed in the Ip Man movie franchise.
Sifu Wong Shun Leung was known as the Gong Sau Wong (King of Talking Hands) due to his prowess as a fearless fighter who proudly and successfully represented the Wing Chun system of his teacher, Ip Man, in Hong Kong of the 50s and 60s. Sifu Wong was also the senior training brother-cum-mentor to the young Bruce Lee.
“Our fighting technique is named after my sifu in his honour to preserve his legacy for future generations, as accurately as possible,” explained Peterson, who is also a published author (Look Beyond the Pointing Finger: the Combat Philosophy of Wong Shun Leung, 2001; and WSL Ving Tsun Kuen Hok: An Overview in the Form of Essays, 2016), regular columnist for ‘Wing Chun Illustrated’ magazine and producer of instructional DVDs. He has also just completed two full-length documentaries, in collaboration with Canadian author, filmmaker and Bruce Lee historian, John Little.
Living in Malaysia for five years now, it still amuses Peterson to see the shock on the faces of his new students when they initially discovered that they would be instructed by a gwailo sifu. It amuses him even further when they get more surprised to hear him speak in Mandarin or Cantonese, which Peterson is relatively fluent in.
“All in all, Malaysia and her people have been very good to me and I am very happy to live here. I do my very best to give something positive back to society through my kung fu,” said Peterson, who was instrumental in organising the very first worldwide gathering of teachers and practitioners of ‘WSLVT’ (1st Annual WSL Ving Tsun Kuen Hok Worldwide Fellowship Gathering) in Seremban in October 2012. The event attracted more than a hundred participants from some twenty countries.
Note: An edited version of this article [Kung fu master proud to call Malaysia home] was published on 22nd October, 2016 in the now-defunct The Malay Mail.