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Behind the Counter: Traditional Wing Chun

Tim Berkemeier has spent his life learning martial arts and now he's teaching the style he considers most essential at his Harford Road school.

After years of martial arts training, Parkville resident Tim Berkemier still felt like something was missing.

For Berkemeier, that something was an ancient Chinese martial art called Wing Chun.

Check out the video in the gallery above to see Berkemeier break open a coconut with his bare hnds.

"I grew up a big fan of Bruce Lee, so I looked up what he studied and found Wing Chun kung fu," Berkemeier said.

Berkemeier needed to find someone to teach him the ages-old art, and so he turned to William Cheung—an appointed grandmaster of the Wing Chun style and teacher to Berkemeier's idol Bruce Lee.

He honed his skills under Cheung's tutelage, and now Berkemeier is a Seifu—a Chinese word meaning teacher—to his own students at Baltimore Traditional Wing Chun kung fu, located at 7019 Harford Road in Parkville.

"All martial arts are designed for war ... and protecting your family," Berkemeier said. "I teach how to disable, how to remove your fear of physical attack, and how to have the confidence to know that you can survive a real life fight."

Berkemeier, a Perry Hall native, explains Wing Chun as a martial art that focuses on being defensive while being offensive. In other words, he says, you must always have a plan.

"It's like a chess game—the space between you and an opponent is the board and your arms and legs are like your pawns, rooks and knights," he said.

At the school he demonstrates how, by simply watching one point on an opponent's body, he can master a physical confrontation.

"If you're not in my space, I can just watch your knee or your elbow and know that you can only attack in a few ways," Berkemeier said.

"It's a style that anyone, any size, any ability [can use], he said. "It doesn’t rely on strength, age—if you’re a man, woman, if you're 90 years old."

That's because it relies on using quick, reliable attacks to strike at and disable an attacker—whether by striking at the eyes, knees or pressure points.

The style isn't just about combat, though. Berkemeier teaches breathing techniques to help keep calm during a physical confrontation.

"If your heart rate ever goes above a hundred and thirty beats per minute you're in fight or flight mode—you're either swinging or you're running—you've got to learn how to control that and a lot of other natural patterns of behavior," he said.

Like backing off to assess a situation when confronted, or blinking when a punch is thrown.

"One benefit is that once you learn to remain calm under that type of pressure it can extend to all aspects of your life," he said. "Whether you're in a fight, in your career or in a relationship, you never want to be reacting based on emotion—you always want to have balance, and have a plan."

Berkemeier said he regularly trains police officers, military personnel and other types of elite professionals; he might also train you too—but only if he thinks you're up to it.

"Because it's a deadly art, I won't teach people I think are going to use it wrong; you have to have the right frame of mind," he said. "I don't teach bullies."

Paul Edgeworth February 22, 2012 at 02:30 AM
I've been training with Tim Berkemeier for half a year now and am very pleased with the progress I have made in this amazing art. I very much appreciate his hands on and personal approach. If you are looking for an effective and realistic system that will work on the street, look no further than Traditional Wing Chun Baltimore.

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