My Way of Wing Chun

The Learning Curve

Wong Sifu – A Passion for Wing Chun (Part 1)

There are many who claim to be the true head of the Wing Chun family, however, the few that do have a genuine claim to such a title avoid all mention of it and regard each other as brothers. It is gratifying to know that with all the adverse publicity Wing Chun has bad, at the top, where it really matters, the skill is in good hands.

In the space of 30 years, Wing Chun has gone from a small but significant family style in Foshan, South China, to perhaps the most widely practised traditional style of Kung Fu in the worid. Sure,

Taijiquan is practised by millions, but very few people know the traditional training, and the different styles of Shaolin are all very separate from one another. But Wing Chun is a complete style, covering forms, internal training, partner work, weapons, and wooden dummy training. And all of the modern masters are direct descendants of Yip Man, meaning that there is a relative amount of cohesiveness between what one master practises and what another does. Wing Chun owes a great debt to Yip Man. Over the twenty or so years that he taught, many people studied with Yip Man, but few can claim to have inherited his skills. Wong Shun Leung is one of the few that can.

If there is one thing that comes across when you talk to him, then it is Wong Shun Leung’s absolute faith in Wing Chun as a means to defend oneself, and his sincerity in trying to pass his experience onto the next generation. He may not have the detached objectivity that some masters posses, but he does have a certain honesty, especially when it comes to knowing the limitations of yourself and what you study. Although he regards Wing Chun as the perfect system, he is at pains to stress that it will not turn you to, in his words, “superman”.

Exploding myths is one of this favourite pass times. He laughs at the machine like chain punching practised by many unenlightened Wing Chun schools, pointing out that such tactics would never work in a real fight. Equally frowned on are the elaborate techniques that some Wing Chun schools favour.

Like all Wing Chun practitioners, he stresses the economy of the style. Although Wing Chun’s economy might allow a smaller person to defend themselves, or for you to remain effective even as you grow older, Wong Shun Leung makes the point that, against a highly trained opponent, Wing Chun allows you to sustain your attacks for a longer period of time, thereby ensuring victory.

No piece on Wong Shun Leung could be complete without mentioning his influence on Bruce Lees development. Student of Yip Man, and someone who Bruce Lee respected as Sihing (elder brother), Wong Shun Leung is perhaps the missing link between Yip Man’s Wing Chun and Bruce’s explosive art of Jeet Kune Do.

But perhaps what he is known for most are the challenge matches he fought against other schools. He is said to have fought up to 100 times in secret matches with no rules, and never to have lost. Where as some champions fight for glory, you get the feeling that to Wong Shun Leung fighting was a scientific experiment. He simply wanted to know how good he was, and how he could improve his Wing Chun. You can see he gets his relaxed and easy manner – he doesn’t have anything left to prove.

Qi Mag: When did you first start practising Wing Chun Kuen, and what made you start?
When I was 17 or 18 years old I started learning Wing Chun. I love kung fu, and chose Wing Chun because I thought it was the most scientific style, and more reasonable than any other style.

Qi Mag: Did you have experience of any other styles before your started Wing Chun?
I did boxing and Taijiquan, but I chose Wing Chun because I thought it was a better style.

Qi Mag: Did you do any pushing hands in Taiji?
My uncle taught me some. But after taking up Wing Chun I stopped practising everything else. I only did Wing Chun.

Qi Mag: Did you findthat studying boxing and Taiji affected the way you practised Wing Chun. Did they give you any ideas about Wing Chun?
Boxing is a game and its ideas don’t apply to Wing Chun. Wing Chun is completely different and wont be affected, it is a more practical style. A lot of Wing Chun is in the mind. The actions or movements are not that important. What Wing Chun teaches is that it is more important to use what is in your head.

Qi Mag: Did you compete in any organised tournaments with rules?
Not in boxing. When I competed, it was secret. We went into a room, and the door was shut and there were no rules. The government did not allow them, they were illegal, but we didn’t care. We fought until the other guy was knocked out.

Qi Mag: When did you first meet Yip Man, and what proved to you that his Wing Chun was the best?
When I went to his class, it was near the new year, so there weren’t many students. When I first joined, I spared with his two students and beat them even before Yip Man had taught me anything. But then Yip Man fought with me, and I felt that the way that Yip Man beat me was so smooth, and so convincing that I wanted to learn from him. Yip Man controlled me without hitting me at all. He stopped my punches Taiji affected the way you and I recognised that I had been bettered.

Qi Mag: Was this because of Yip Man’s power, or was it purely skill?
In those days, Yip Man was very strong, but the way that he beat me was mostly skill. Then, I was very young and strong too, but I recognised it was skill that beat me.

Qi Mag: How old was Yip Man when this happened?
About 50.

[1] Daniel Poon, Wong Sifu – A Passion for Wing Chun, Qi Magazine no. 22, pp. 10-12 (Oct/Nov 1995)

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