Wing Chun: How an elective became a career

As a high school student in Manatee County, Topher Mowry ’07 signed up for an elective that would end up shaping the course of his life. We asked Mowry to share his story in the hope that it would inspire others to explore new paths.

Q: What ignited this unexpected fire in you?
I went to high school at Manatee School for the Arts in Palmetto. Unusually, Tae Kwon Do was offered as an elective, so I signed up. I fell in love with martial arts right away. This was a life-changing moment that has resulted in a decade of training and travel around the U.S. and Hong Kong.

Q: What style of martial arts do you practice?
I’ve been fortunate enough to try several styles over the years, including Shaolin Kung Fu and Tai Chi, but I really found my passion with Wing Chun Kung Fu. It was the style Bruce Lee learned under Grandmaster Yip Man. Wing Chun is fast and efficient, a deeply layered method of martial arts that will have the practitioner discovering something new for their whole life.

Q: What has Wing Chun taught you?
Undertaking any martial art requires significant time and dedication. It takes tenacity to show up every week for years on end. I don’t think I would have made it through college if it hadn’t been for the discipline of my martial arts training. It taught me I can achieve any goal no matter how tough it may seem. Wing Chun in particular has taught me how to simplify much of what I do in life and strip away excess trappings; I’ve become more straightforward and direct with my work, communications, and teaching.

Q: How has Wing Chun shaped your professional life?
In my case, the teaching came organically. After about six years of training, I was asked to take over while my teacher, or sifu in Cantonese, took a break. From that point on, I kept teaching, adding classes, and updating curriculum. At this point. I’m only teaching Wing Chun part time. I’m hoping to expand that over the next few years.

Q: What would you tell someone who was new to martial arts?
It is not about you. Everyone comes to martial arts for different reasons. Some want to be good fighters, some want to learn self-defense, and some are just looking for a new hobby. All of them are looking for a community.

And, never stop your own learning. Just because you run a school doesn’t mean you can’t learn more about your style or teaching. Other instructors are not your competition; they are your colleagues. Treat them with respect, and you’ll be impressed with what you can learn.

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