My Way of Wing Chun

The Learning Curve

Ip Chun

If you ever been lucky enough to meet Grandmaster Yip Chun you are sure to have noticed how happy and relaxed he is. It’s as though he does not have a care in the world. He is an example of how a martial art, when done correctly, improves and prolongs life

Most people when they are seventy years old have already retired. Most of the time they stay at home, get into a daily routine and are not very active. Perhaps this is because many of them are not in the best of health. They are not as energetic as younger people and so need to take it easy.

Grandmaster Yip Chun is seventy, and he is one of the exceptions. His attitude and movements are like a younger person’s, he has a healthy shiny face, walks very quickly, is quick minded and has very quick reactions. Each year he travels from one side of the world to the other giving seminars and teaching. All this is because of his Wing Chun Kuen training. He is the eldest son of Yip Man, who everybody knows taught Bruce Lee.

Yip Chun was bom in Foshan, Canton, China. At the time China was in a state of chaos. The land was controlled by many different War Lords following the overthrow of the Qing dynasty. Also, Japan had begun its invasion of China and many different provinces and places suffered from the effects of war and from starvation. One day one group of people ruled, the next another group ruled. The Chinese people learnt how to change their attitudes and welcome each new government. But still the enemy was Japan. However, the area of Foshan remained quite stable and did not suffer from the effects of war. Here daily life and customs went on as normal.

In Foshan, Yip Chun’s father was very rich. He had his own house and fields, and many people worked for him. The government belonged to Kuomintang, and some of the officials were corrupt and under the influence of the Japanese. As a result, many of the people did not want to work for them, and Yip Man was the Chief Detective in the Foshan police force. But after the Japanese took over Canton, he left his job. As his family was rich, he did not have to work, so he remained at home and enjoyed his life.

Yip Man was very well known. Everyone in Foshan knew he had inherited Wing Chun Kuen from the famous teacher, master Chan Wah Shun. Master Chan had used the Yip Family’s backyard to teach, and so Yip Man had had the best opportunity to study with him. Wing Chun was renowned as a very effective close range martial art, but it was a very secret technique, not open to the public. Its powerful strikes were so fast, opponents often landed on the ground not knowing what had hit them. Also since Wing Chun had developed in the Foshan area the local people were very proud of it.

However, Yip Man was only twelve years old when he leamt his Wing Chun, and he was too young to understand such an intricate skill. It was only when he was seventeen, when he went to study at Saint Stephen’s College in Hong Kong that he completed his Wing Chun. Here he met his Wing Chun Uncle – Leung Bik, the son of Leung Jan. Leung Jan was the teacher of Master Chan Wah Shun. Whilst studying with Leung Bik, Yip Man completed his knowledge and fully understood the philosophy and principles of Wing Chun Kuen. He realised he did not have to use much energy, not like other martial arts where you needed to be strong to develop.

When he returned to Foshan, his skill was a very high standard. His Wing Chun brother, Ng Chun So was very happy for him, and it also gave him an opportunity to find out more about the principles of Wing Chun Kuen. Later, one of Chiu Chou’s students, Pan Nan, asked Yip Man to correct his Sui Lim Tao (Wing Chun’s first form) as well. Yip Man’s Wing Chun Kuen became very famous in Foshan, especially after a confrontation were Yip Man helped some people with a local gang of thugs. Many rich people came to him and asked him to teach them, but Yip Man always refused. He still did not have to work, and he knew if he taught it would affect his Wing Chun brothers who had to teach to make a living, so he continued to enjoy his lifestyle.

After marrying, Yip Man had two sons: one named Chun and another named Ching. They began to leam Wing Chun from their father when they were very small. However the Communists then took over China, and began to persecute any rich people, so Yip Man left China and went to live in Hong Kong. However, his two sons stayed behind to finish their schooling. In Hong Kong, Yip Man began to teach to make a living. He taught many good students and Wing Chun Kuen became one of the most popular forms of Chinese Kung Fu. His students included Lok Yiu, Wong Shun Leung, Tsu Shun Tin, Leung Shun and Bruce Lee.

His eldest son, Yip Chun was very fond of Chinese culture. He chose to study Chinese history and traditional Chinese music. He read many books and did a lot of research on Chinese philosophy. His favourites were Chinese poetry and Buddhism. When he finished his studies, he chose teaching as a profession. He taught Chinese history, music and even science. During his leisure time he helped the Chinese Foshan Entertainment Department organise Chinese operas. He was even chosen as the recipient of the award ‘The person with most potential in Chinese art’ for music research. Unfortunately, the entertainment system under the Communists was very left wing and people had to follow the government’s directions and they had to study communism. At that time, Mao Tze Tung had initiated many campaigns, such as: Training Metal’, telling the population to pull up all the grass because he did not like it, and another time he decided sparrows were ‘bad’ and the population followed him in killing most of them.

All these crazy campaigns damaged the balance of Chinese culture and original Chinese system of living. It was at this time Yip Chun was criticized. He was sent to a farm and forced to become a farmer and give up his interests and studies. Yip Chun found his studies and skill were of no use under this regime, so in 1962 he left for Hong Kong with his brother Yip Ching. The Chinese government were quiet easy on people who wanted to go to Hong Kong, since Mao believed the Chinese Communist System was the best system in the whole world and would make China stronger than all the Western countries, so anyone who wished to leave could go. Thousands and thousands of people left China, in Canton the local government even introduced an unofficial period for people to leave. During the whole journey. Yip Chun and Yip Ching had no difficulty in getting to Hong Kong, they were even directed on their way by the Chinese Revolutionary Guard!

On arriving in Hong Kong the two brothers went to live with their father. Yip Man. Yip Chun began a job as an accountant and newspaper reporter. With his excellent writing he was able to make a living and make use of Chinese literary skills. At the same time, both brothers were happy to continue with their Wing Chun Kuen studies. In the past whenever a family had a skill, the father would want his sons to keep it going and the skill would be handed down from generation to generation.

During the day Yip Chun went to work, and at night he continued with his martial arts training. He picked up the skill very quickly, even though he was now thirty, and had stopped for such a long time. It was probably in his genes as he picked up the skill quicker than many of the other students. He found his father had begun to change some of the exercises and movements to make it easier to study and more effective. He gave up all the complex terms that talked about yin and yang, five elements, and Bagua. In fact, he gave up all the old traditional Chinese names, martial art poems and phrases and adopted the use of western physics and mathematics so that modern people could understand the skill. He concentrated more on Sticking Hands, and so Wing Chun Kuen training became more interesting. He gave up much of the traditional training, such as only teaching the basic stance for the first three years. So many beginners, after only three months training could start to defend themselves, and then later after they had been taught the principles and philosophy, the students could pick up and develop their skills more quickly.

In 1972 Yip Man died. Yip Chun carried on his father’s teaching. He kept the skill he inherited pure, and whilst he saw many of his Wing Chun brothers change what they had learned, he did not. He just continued and followed the same principles. Eventually he found that his Wing Chun Kuen training was very good for his health and he did not have to practise any other martial art. When he performed his Sui Lim Tao, he found doing it properly, he could feel warm Qi flowing very strongly through his body, making the channels smooth and getting rid of any pain, and slowly he developed a very accurate skill and power. During Sticking Hands he trained his sensitivity, techniques and footwork and could understand the principles more clearly, especially the principle of the centre line.

Another thing he discovered was that when doing Sticking Hands he could tell what his partner’s nature was, and what illnesses they had. This was new, and his father had never mentioned it. If someone is aggressive, only concentrating on fighting and using too much energy, then their liver and heart might have a problem. If someone is too weak and nervous, with low energy, not knowing how to defend themselves, and always mistiming their movements, then they might have a problem with their kidneys and lungs.

However, he could see their health and nature change as they practised Wing Chun Kuen. When you train Wing Chun Kuen you have no time to think, so you must only rely on your sensitivity. In this situation then your mind will become quiet and relaxed thus allowing your mind and body to balance. A good Wing Chun practitioner should have a very calm mind and healthy body because the training develops these attributes. So Yip Chun realised that if a Wing Chun master did not have a calm mind and healthy body, then he might not be doing Wing Chun Kuen correctly.

Wing Chun Kuen training must cover both. This is a great treasure of Chinese skill. Master Yip Chun will keep teaching as long as he can as he wants more people to benefit from this skill.

[1] Michael Tse, Ip Chun, Qi Magazine no. 18, pp. 16-19 (Feb/Mar 1995)

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