The Basement

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Read the article about Nino Bernardo Wing Chun on independent.co.uk

 

Nino Bernardo's school in London, The Basement, was open from 1984 and closed December 2000.

Loukas Kastrounis, joined "The Basement" some time after its opening. Here he presents a personal view and history of his time at "The Basement".

 

Sifu Nino Bernardo's famous Wing Chun Kung Fu school, "The Basement", opened its doors back in 1984. It was there that Nino Bernardo developed his reputation as one of Europe's most skilful and influential Wing Chun teachers. He was also Wong Shun Leung's senior UK representative until Sifu Wong's untimely death in 1997.

The school was located in the basement of a building close to a council estate on 60-64 Matthias Road, Stoke Newington, North London, NI6 8QD - not the most up-market area of London. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

The front gate of the building displayed a small, simple sign - the "Basement" logo. People went there only by word of mouth or if a person who already trained there had invited them. It was impossible to find the place unless you knew a student of the school or Nino himself had invited you.

 

With Nino Bernardo -Loukas Kastrounis at “The Basement” in 1996 0387p4

 

Nino had no secret techniques and no secret school, he had a training school that he called his "play pen" and it had very friendly atmosphere. Here, the Wing Chun training was hard, honest and efficient, and there were no colourful belts or uniforms. Very soon the reputations of the Basement and Nino started to spread fast all over the world. During the 80's and 90's everyone within the martial arts world was speaking about the Basement school but only a few people knew its exact location.

Over the years the Basement has gained an almost mythical status. People have even questioned whether it ever really existed. It was a simple place but it had a magical feeling. It is impossible for me to describe this feeling; however, if I were to attempt a description, I would say it was like magic without magic.

 

As soon as you walked past the front door you would see students sweating, working hard and intensely but always with harmony among them and a respect for the system and each other. The training was so intense at times that injuries were inevitable. However, the Basement was the only place where if you did get hit, you would start laughing at your own mistake. Back then we all accepted that what we were studying was a martial art and as such it carried the inherent risk of injury but at the same time people didn't deliberately try to injure each other. From time to time, Nino would make everyone laugh and relax by telling one of his good old jokes, which most of the time had a deeper meaning behind them.

 

Wong Shun Leung with Nino Bernardo in Spain 1986

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The Basement had four walls, no windows, and a small extractor fan. It did not have changing-rooms, chairs or sofas to sit down on; nor was it air-conditioned or heated. In the winter, you could see your breath as you did your forms, and during chi-sao training, the mirrors and walls would be dripping with condensation. The left wall had a drawing of a dragon, and in the middle of this dragon, the word "Basement" was written; however, you had to pay attention in order to be able to see it.

On the main wall of the basement was a wooden dummy (Muk Yan Chong), which had been given to Nino by Wong Shun Leung's brother. It was made by one of the most well known dummy-makers in Hong-Kong at the time. Above the dummy was a picture of Nino's teacher/Sifu, the legendary Wong Shun Leung. (Wong was better known as "Gong Sau Wong" (king of talking with the hands). Throughout the 50's and 60's he was undefeated in all of his challenges and known as one of Yip Man's best students as well as the foremost instructor of Bruce Lee.

On each side of the wooden dummy were two calligraphic scrolls, given to Nino by Wong. These scrolls, which were written in Cantonese, stated that the Basement was a kwoon (school) approved personally by Wong who had authorised Nino to teach Wing Chun in the UK.

 

On the left hand side of the wooden dummy I remember always seeing Nino's unicycle, which he would sometimes ride while simultaneously teaching. Sometimes, he would pick up and play his guitar. He even inventedLoukas Kastrounis training the long pole at the Basement 2000 a new game called 'sucker ball', which was demonstrated on BBC TV and in the USA. Make no mistake, the training was always serious but Nino always had a colourful, eccentric and unique style of teaching and delivery during the Basement years.

The Basement itself and all the senior students (Si-Hings) had class, style and a love for the Wing Chun Kuen Kung Fu system. Nino and his Basement students also had reputations for being intelligent, good fighters.

Over the years, many students from around the world and from a wide array of professions, including actors, musicians, professors, managers and doctors, came and trained at the Basement. In addition to this, seasoned martial artists, teachers and students from various disciplines including Wing Chun and Jeet Kune Do, as well as Special Forces from the UK and abroad also trained there.

Loukas Kastrounis training the knives at the Basement 2000Guru Dan Inosanto, Gass Magda, editor/reporter and martial artist – Bey Logan, and Larry Hartsell are just a few examples of the well-known martial artists that visited and trained at the Basement. Of course, Sifu Wong Shun Leung, who visited Nino, also gave regular seminars at the Basement, in London.

Nino, with his charismatic teaching and his clever ability to deliver the Wing Chun system, together with his students, placed the Basement at the centre of attention within and outside the martial arts world – in my, and many other's opinions, it was like the 'Mecca' of the Wing Chun schools.

 

The Basement no longer exists, having closed its doors in December 2000, but its legacy will live on forever. There will never be another place like "The Basement" but its name will shine for years to come and it will be remembered forever through each Wing Chun teacher and practitioner it has produced.

Nino has now moved to Ibiza, Spain where he has set up Europe's first alternative Kung Fu school. His emphasis in recent years has been on the importance of learning Wing Chun for health and personal development. I consider myself very lucky to be one of Nino Bernardo's students, and to have had the opportunity to train at the Basement. It was there where I learnt Wing Chun, about myself and in essence, was re-born. It was there where I made my best and true friends, who I am still in touch with and train with to this day.

 

Many thanks and acknowledgement to all the crew I trained with over the years at "The Basement" in London and especially to: Segun Johnson, Guy Cofie, Kevin Lyn, Franklyn Riley, Kenneth Robinson, Dougy, Johnny Turnbull, Marc Wallach, Lemmy Man, Franco Regalzi, Santi Pascual Martin, Steve Tabakin, Eddie Yuen, and Jason Lai. Finally, a special thanks to my Sifu, Nino Bernardo.

 

Loukas with his students visit  the Basement in 1990

 

 

 

Loukas Kastrounis (taught by Nino Bernardo at the Basement London)

Franco Regalzi (taught by Nino Bernardo at the Basement London )

Segun Johnson ( is one of the most senior students of the Basement London & taught by Nino Bernardo )

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Santi Pascual Martin ( taught by Nino Bernardo at the Basement London, and Wong Shun Leung )

Franklyn Riley ( taught by Nino Bernardo at the Basement London, and Wong Shun Leung )

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