Wing Chun is a form of Chinese martial art which dates back to the 1800s. It is a technique that practitioners focus on getting into close range with their opponents. It enables them to bypass attacks and strike at close range.
This has made it a very popular martial art for those looking to learn how to defend themselves. As one single mother from London can testify, it can give people the skills and confidence to stand up to the most formidable of opponents and help them to change their life for the better.
Della O’Sullivan is 33 and comes from Peckham, a fairly rough enclave of south London. In her late teens, a stalker harassed and intimidated her and made her scared to go outdoors. She had family members who had been stab victims and her stalker was significantly taller and bigger than her. Della was a single mother at the time and her situation made her fear for the life of both herself and her son.
She told the Evening Standard newspaper what happened to her, explaining that the man in question would repeatedly telephone her. He would follow her when she left the house. “He cornered me in public once,” she said. “And no one helped me. Everyone just stood there and did nothing.”
It was this incident which made Della realise she had to do something to enable her to defend herself.
“[It] really shook me. And made me realise you can rely on no one but yourself. When I had my son, I thought: ‘There are two of us now, I have to protect him and myself.’”
In the end, it was Della’s brother who came to her rescue as he introduced her to Wing Chun. Della immediately took to it and her progress was rapid. She achieved an advanced level in just 12 months; most people would take around four years to achieve.
“I almost immediately fell in love with it,” she explained. “I felt like I could easily defend myself despite my small frame.”
The perception that martial arts are only something for tall, strong, and physically fit men is a common one. But as Della quickly found out, nothing could be further from the truth. “I didn’t feel like a woman trying to imitate a man doing a martial art. Or that a man could be more powerful because they are stronger or bigger,” she said. “It blew me away.”
Despite repeated complaints to the police about him, Della’s stalker never faced any action. But fortunately for her, he did eventually give up. Della didn’t use an excuse to walk away from Wing Chun though. Quite the opposite. By then, it was to become a bigger and bigger part of her life.
The turning point in her life came when they offered her a job as a legal secretary. After much soul-searching, she decided to turn the role down and instead focus on Wing Chun full-time. It was not long after this that she qualified as an instructor in her own right.
Today she works at the Dulwich Wing Tsun Academy (a variation on the name Wing Chun) in south London as a full-time trainer and instructor. She is also one of the highest ranked women in Wing Chun in the world and is blazing a trail for female martial artists in the UK and beyond.
Despite her own success, Della does admit that around nine in ten of her clients are still male. And many of them still fall into the trap of underestimating the petite female trainer.
“You occasionally get some men come in and i surprise them by being a small woman,” she explained. “But it’s soon clear that I know what I am doing and they respect that.”
These days her clients include professional bodyguards and security personnel. No-one would dare to trouble her in the way that stalker once did. And Della is also using her martial arts skills to help other women who find themselves in a similar situation to her.
She supports the Bede House community charity with a special focus being on vulnerable and disadvantaged women in south London. Della runs Wing Chun and general self-defence classes for the women and girls there. She hopes that her achievements will inspire others to take control of their lives in the same way she has.
Maybe just one or two of the women and girls who she helps and coaches will become world beaters too; just like Della.