Master Wong Shun Leung is well known in the martial arts world. When he was younger he went out to try his Wing Chun against other styles of martial art. His intent was not to just fight, he wanted to see how Wing Chun. It is this search for perfection that has made him one of Wing Chun’s most famous ambassador
Wing Chun Kuen is said to be some four hundred years old. Its origins and early history are quickly becoming an area of a great deal of debate. Whatever the early history, today Wing Chun is perhaps the most popular Chinese style of Kung Fu.
The late grandmaster Yip Man is now a legendary figure in Chinese Martial Arts circles and the man responsible for bringing Wing Chun Kuen into the modern world. Yip Man taught many people and one of his most respected students is Master Wong Shun Leung.
In the final part of this exclusive interview Master Wong Shun Leung tells of some of his of experiences of Yip Man and a little about the challenge matches he is now so famous for and how they affected his skill.
Qi Mag: You were with Yip Man for a long time, did you notice that Yip Man’s style changed as he got older?
He didn ‘t change much, just got lazier! (laughs). When he first taught Siu Lim Tao, there was no Gang Sau in the 3rd section, but jum Sau instead. But after I had a serious fight, the jum Sau was changed into a Gang Sau. In the fight, the other guy was a lot taller. I’d hit him so badly in the face that he couldn’t see, so he knelt down and covered his head with one hand and with the other blindly hit out. I went to block with a Jurn Sou, as in the form, but the punch went really low and still connected. I was hurt and had to take a step back, even though the guy didn’t realise he’d hit me. Eventually I knocked his teeth out, and he collapsed, so I won the fight. When I went back and told my teacher what I had found out, he told me that when he learned from Chan Wah Shun, Chan Wah Shun taught Gang Sau in the form, this was because Master Chan was tall, but when Yip Man later learned from Leung Bik, Leung Bik taught him to use jum Sau because of the sequence in single sticking hands. But after this incident, Yip Man changed the jum Sau back into a Gang Sau.
Qi Mag: Do you have to adapt any techniques to suit western people?
The principle is the same.The actions and movements are secondary to the thinking. For example, “Hand free, strike forward” still applies, and if you push my hand down, I will go round and hit, so in this sense there is no difference. Wing Chun trains the mind.
Qi Mag: Do you have to adapt your own techniques when doing Chi Sau with a strongly build Westerner?
Again the principal is the same. The only difference that you might use certain techniques more than others. But that is not to say that the style is changed in any way.
Qi Mag: Yip Man lived for nearly 80 years. Would you attribute his long life to the practice of Wing Chun?
I can’t be certain, but because you practice Kung Fu, you move all the time, and you are happy. Obviously in this case it lengthens your life, and if it wasn’t for his cancer, he would definitely have lived into his nineties.
Qi Mag: Was he still very powerful up until his death?
If you compare like with like, say a 70 year old ordinary person and a 70 year old Yip Man, then Yip Man would be much more powerful. But say between Yip Man when he was 50, and when he was 78, then in this 50s he was a lot more powerful.
Qi Mag: Could he still control his younger students at that age.
It depends on who he was dealing with! Even with me, very few of my own students can deal with me. Yip man could play with a new guy, but with one of his experienced students, obviously he found it a little harder. Sparring with my students now, out of respect, some of my students won’t use too much force, but at the end of the day, very few of my students can match me. The same case is with Yip Man. A lot of people thought that Yip Man was powerful then, but he himself thought that he could never be as good as when he was 50.
Qi Mag: Do you think that you yourself will get better as you get older, or do you think that your Wing Chun has completely matured?
I travel a lot, I never stop teaching. I haven’t changed the principle. The way teach has changed to make it easier for others to understand. If I do make any changes, they are very small, so much so that I can’t remember all of them. Wing Chun is such a good system, there is almost nothing to correct
Qi Mag: Do you teach exactly the same as Yip Man, or have you made some changes?
Even if there is a change, it is hardly worth mentioning. My thinking might be slightly different to Yip Man’s. Even in Yip Man’s time, he fought a lot of challenges, but the challengers Yip Man had were different to the challengers I had. You see in Yip Man’s time, a lot of Kung Fu practitioners fought with the hands low, or open, like crane style for example, or to the side. In my time, everyone changed to a more front style, square on. In the old days, they didn’t do as much exercise, in my day they did, so the physique of my competitors was different to those of Yip Man’s time.
An example of a slight difference is in the last movement in the wooden dummy form. Most people say that you kick and then grind down the shin and stamp on the instep. I don’t agree with that move. From my experience, as soon as you kick the knee, they try to move away, so you can’t slide down the shin. Instead, I kick straight to the instep. A lot of people use the other explanation because they haven’t tried it in a fight.
Qi Mag: Do you do any other physical conditioning other than practising the forms and doing sticking hands?
I swim a lot. I used to swim in competitions as well, and my brother is a swimming champion too. Ifyou do more punching, then you will get a lot of exercise too. A lot of my students do a lot of running.
Qi Mag: The pole is physically demanding. Do you still practice it?
I teach it a lot, but I don’t practise it any more!
Qi Mag: Do you think that practising the pole is still useful today?
No, you can’t carry one, and if you get into a fight, then whatever you pick up is your weapon.
Qi Mag: Wing Chun has one inch power, “tsun ging’. Is this developed in the forms, or is their other training?
In every move in each form you are already practising one inch power. Whenever you do Huen Sau and jum Sau in the form, you are training the wrist for punching. On top of that you have to practise your punch by itself.
You can also practise hitting a sand bag from different angles so that you know how to hit from wherever your fist happens to be, without having to pull it back first. Boxing moves the head to dodge punches, but in Wing Chun we don’t, because the head can’t be faster than the hand. Rules in boxing prevent hitting with the hack fist, chopping, rabbit punching, etc. You can only hit with the front of the fist.
Wing Chun is not a game, it is fighting, so you can hit with anything and any part of the fist without having to draw it back. So if my punch misses because you move your bead, I can still hit you by following your head and chopping sideways without having to bring my hand back. But with boxing, if my punch misses, I have to bring my fist back before I can try and hit you again.
A mistake is to move your head during Chi Sau. If you do this, you will lose your balance. The head is heavy compared to the rest of the body, so if you move your head from side to side you are not stable.
Qi Mag: Is Wing Chun suitable women?
I have two famous female students that represent Southeast Asia. A lot of women are very good at the beginning, but later they become concerned about their looks. I teach a lot of film stars and actresses. They train Chi Sau, and after a while their shoulders become really muscular, and they start to worry so they stop.
Qi Mag: From the fights that you had, did you find that you needed to fight on the ground?
The situation where you need to wrestle is when both opponents want to grab. Western boxing is supposed to be hitting, but you still see situations where they want to hold on to each other. This is because one of them is scared. If you are scared then you will try to hold onto your opponent.
It is very difficult for someone to lock or hold on to you if you know Wing Chun. You can stop the other guy holding or grabbing. If someone grabs you, you will only try to grab back if you are scared. But if you are not scared, then he cannot force you into a wrestling situation.
Qi Mag: If you trip and end up on the floor, can you still apply the principles of Wing Chun?
This situation can happen to anyone. If you learn Wing Chun you can cope with it better than some one that doesn’t know Wing Chun.
Additional material from the seminar. Wong Shun Leung in conversation with his students and grandstudents.
Student: Do you always use a kick to bridge the distance to your opponent, or do you go in with the hands?
Move around until you are one step away and then you move in. It doesn’t matter whether you use a kick or your hands, just step in. By the time you have moved in, it is very difficult to use kicks.
Student: Where do you look to pick up the signals from your opponent so that you know when to move in?
Usually look at the centre of the chest. If you have a weak opponent, then you can look him in the eyes, and it might scare him away.
Student: What do you look for or go for if there is more than one person attacking you?
If there are many people, then you must keep moving. Don’t stand still. Don’t give them a target, and try to deal with them one at a time. If you keep moving, it is difficult for them to find a target. If you stand still, it is very easy for them. The worst thing you can do is to grab one of them, or let one of them grab you, because then you prevent yourself from moving.
Student: What if some one uses fake punches to confuse you?
Don’t worry about it. It doesn’t matter whether the punch is fake or not. There are hundreds of styles of attacking, and your can’t anticipate them all. Forget about what they do, and stick to what you know. If you do a fake punch, then that punch may actually connect, and then you do a real punch and that one may miss!
Which is fake and which is real? In other words, you don’t care whether it is a fake punch or a real punch, because when it comes you can still use it to close in. You do the same thing. If your opponent fakes to the left and the real punch comes from the right, I will go straight down the middle, between the two punches. He does one then two, but I just do one.
Student: Docs Wing Chun ever use fake punches?
No, Wing Chun will never use a fake punch.
Student: Often, when someone punches, you try to go on the outside, but it is very difficult to do. Do you go for the inside or outside?
Usually it depends on whether you punch first, or your opponent punches first. In Wing Chun you always face your opponent. If he hits you first, and you then turn to face him, you will be on the inside. But if you hit first, then you don’t want to go to the opponent’s front, so you go on the outside.
Student: Is it best to let your opponent to make the first move, or doesn’t it matter?
This is a very difficult question to answer. Normally I prefer to wait and let the other guy hit first. If you let him hit you, then he tells you what he is going to do.
Student: So you prefer to counter attack?
Yes, mostly, because there is less chance of making a mistake. They hit first, and you counter.
True masters are very difficult to find and it is always a fascinating experience meeting and talking to one. Hopefully this article will go some way in conveying this experience. Sincere thanks go to Master Wong Shun Leung and his representatives, Anthony Kan and Clive Potter.
 Daniel Poon, A Passion for Wing Chun, part 2, Qi Magazine no. 23, pp. 24-27 (Dec 1995/Jan 1996)