What Led Me to Wing Tsun
Sifu Keith Sonnenberg was named by Grandmaster Leung Ting as his first American disciple in the book Dynamic Wing Tsun Kung Fu. His martial arts training stretches back to 1967 as a student of “Korean karate” – Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do – in Detroit, Michigan, his home town. He obtained his First Degree Black Belt in 1970 under Instructor David Praim.
Mr. Sonnenberg was one of the earliest pioneers in teaching Wing Chun in Phoenix, Arizona. Within a few weeks after moving to Arizona in 1975, he met a student of Wing Chun kung fu during a job search and became a student of Wing Chun in a new school on 15th Avenue and Indian School in Phoenix. This answered a desire that Mr. Sonnenberg had to find a Chinese martial art with real self-defense techniques and technical depth. Rising rapidly in his position within this school, he became a part owner of a branch on Thomas Road and 29th St. in a very short time and then became sole owner. He had also opened another branch school in downtown Chandler. He also had the opportunity to learn Chinese Iron Palm and the basic forms of certain Shaolin weapons: Kwan-dao, 完-到, Qiang, 强, Dan-dao, 丹道.
During this period, Mr. Sonnenberg had exposure to yet another Wing Chun lineage while in San Francisco. This gave him further perspective. His temperament was challenged there and later, he matched skills with one of the San Francisco students in Mr. Sonnenberg’s Phoenix school.
After several years of training and difficult business relationships, he discovered Leung Ting’s Wing Tsun kung-fu system in 1979 from reading Leung Ting’s Hong Kong published book, Wing Tsun Kuen.
Mr. Sonnenberg invited Master Leung Ting, who is a closed-door disciple of the late Great Grandmaster Yip Man, to the United States in 1979, not necessarily expecting the author of Wing Tsun Kuen to actually arrive in his city – at that time, a suburb of Los Angeles, CA. Mr. Sonnenberg met Leung Ting for the first time in January 1980, learning his system’s differences and interviewed him for a planned article in Black Belt Magazine. It was Grandmaster Leung Ting’s way to travel all over the world to spread his system. His next goal was North America. After his tour was over, Grandmaster Leung Ting decided to teach a group seminar in Tempe, Arizona and Mr. Sonnenberg learned at that time that he was considered his first choice as senior American disciple. During the 1980s, Sifu Sonnenberg taught everywhere including Clark Park in Tempe, the Salt River Project PERA Club in Tempe, The Center for Body Awareness, Tempe, C & C Dance Center in Phoenix, Heart and Sole Fitness, Phoenix, and Mesa Community College in Mesa. In the late 1980s, Filipino Escrima (stick and knife fighting) was added to the curriculum for a short while during which Mr. Sonnenberg reached his probationary Instructor Level. Sifu Keith Sonnenberg appears in the book “Dynamic WingTsun Kung Fu” by Grandmaster Leung Ting. He has taught in various venues throughout the years including out of state seminars. He attained the rank of 4th Level Technician in 2002 where he was conferred for the second time (the first time was in absentia in the early 80s) as a disciple of Great Grandmaster Leung Ting in a tea ceremony in San Francisco. This was on the occasion of Great Grandmaster Leung Ting’s 55th birthday celebration. Today he is a member of the management team of the International WingTsun Association in the marketing advisory role.