Thursday, 10 March 2005
The Birth Of A System
About 250 - 300 years ago, there was a Buddhist nun named Ng Mui. Reportedly she was a Shaolin disciple and also an expert of the "Weng Chun Bak Hok Pai" style of kungfu, or the "White Crane" kungfu style of the Weng Chun Precinct in Fujian Province. Due to political problems, Ng Mui, together with a few other Shaolin members, were hunted down by the rulers of the Qing Dynasty. They ran from Fujian and dispersed to different parts of South China. Ng escaped to the border district of the Yunan and Szechuan Provinces, and settled down in the "Bak Hok Koon" or "White Crane Temple" in the Tai Leung Mountain. There she accepted a few students.
Ng Mui was a kung fu enthusiast of great talents. She was constantly looking to improve on what she had mastered although she was already one of the topmost experts. It happened in the area where she took refuge she came by some local martial arts techniques which were quite different, innovative and useful. She reformed what she had learned with some of these techniques and created a new style. Ng later taught all her skills to a young maid Yim Wing Tsun, an outstanding and beloved student of hers.
Yim married Leung Bok Chau, a salt merchant from Guangdong. Yim taught the skills she learnt to Leung, and from then on the husband and wife team dedicated themselves to refining the art further. Leung later taught Leung Lan Kwai, a herbal physician of osteology. It occurred that the newly created style of techniques had never had a name when Ng Mui passed it to Yim and Yim to her husband. By this time when Leung Bok Chau passed the skills to Leung Lan Kwai, he decided to name it as Wing Tsun Kuen, in honour of the efforts of his wife.
First and Pole
Leung Lan Kwai was very selective in choosing his students, and throughout his lifetime, he only accepted two disciples. One only picked up a few fist techniques from him, whilst the other, named Wong Wah Bo, inherited all his learning. Wong was an actor in an opera troupe. In those days, opera troupes traveled by the river from one place to another to give performances, taking all the actors, workers and gears in a junk painted in red as a symbolic image. Hence actors in the opera troupes were commonly known as "followers of the Red Junk". Many of the Red Junk followers knew some art of fighting which was an essential skill in their stage performance. In the same red junk where Wong worked there was a sailor called Leung Yee Tai. In time Wong discovered
that Leung was an expert in fighting with the long pole. The technique which Leung used was the famous "Six-and-a-half point Long Pole" techniques. Leung learnt this from the Buddhist monk Chi Sin, a fellow Shaolin disciple of Ng Mui, and like Ng, had gone into hiding, trying to escape capture by the Qing government. Chi Sin once disguised himself as a cook in the Red Junk, and taught his pole techniques to Leung Yee Tai. Both Wong and Leung admired the skills of each other, and decided to exchange and compare their learning.
Grandmaster Leung Ting demonstrates the
Six-and-a-half Point Long Pole Technique
|Together they managed to refine and modify the long pole techniques and adapted them for the Wing Tsun System. This was how the "Six-and-a-half point Long Pole techniques" found its way into Wing Tsun, and naturally Leung Yee Tai also became a successor of Wing Tsun Kuen.|
Fighters of Fatshan
At an advanced age, Leung Yee Tai passed the art to Leung Jan, a herbal physician in Fatshan. Fatshan, being located at the junction of many traveling routes near the Pearl River, is a densely populated city and a busy commercial center in Guangdong Province. Leung Jan was brought up as a herbal doctor in a good family, being well cultured, gentle and polite. He kept a pharmacy and offered medical services to the citizens of Fatshan. He was profoundly skilled in his profession and the business he ran was flourishing as he was well liked by his patients. In his spare time, he studied literature, and surprisingly enough, also the art of fighting. He had learnt a number of different techniques but was far from being satisfied. All the time, he had been searching in vain for an ideal system and an ideal instructor, until he met Leung Yee Tai and his Wing Tsun system. Leung Jan was so intrigued by this unique style of kungfu, that he made it his lifetime effort to master and refine his skills. He soon became prominent with his attainments. Many kungfu fighters heard his name and came to challenge him but Leung defeated them all. In the end he earned himself the title of the "Kungfu King of Wing Tsun". Consequently, Leung Jan and Wing Tsun became household names in Fatshan.
Leung did not see teaching Wing Tsun kungfu as a profession, but his own interest in the art of fighting urged him to adopt a few disciples, including his two sons, Leung Bik and Leung Tsun. But the most outstanding amongst his students was Chan Wah Shun. Chan ran a money-changing stall and everybody in the neighbourhood called him Chan the Money Changer. Chan received very little education, but was naturally gifted, persevering and determined. He was a man from the market and thus was in close contact with the lower end of the society, where fighting was a common way in settling disputes. Chan therefore had a lot of opportunities to put his learning into practice. He made rapid progress and finally succeeded his master as the leader of the Wing Tsun style at that time. Before long, his fame spread far and wide and reached the ears of the high officials of the Qing government. The officials invited Chan to take up the post with the government as the chief kungfu instructor to the soldiers of the Eight Banners, as the Qing armies were called. Chan, however, stayed in the post only for some time and returned to Fatshan to pursue with his own kungfu interest. Like his master Leung Jan, Chan only regarded teaching kungfu as his pastime, not as his profession.
During the thirty-six years of kungfu teaching in his lifetime, Chan trained up sixteen students, including his own son Chan Yu Min, who later made his name as the "King of Pole of Seven Provinces". Another outstanding disciple of Chan was Ng Chung So, who had learnt all his skills and actually acted as his training assistant in the latter years of his teaching career.
Chan admitted his last and youngest disciple when he reached seventy. The young boy was only thirteen years old then but was a fervent admirer of Chan and Wing Tsun. Chan taught the boy for three years and passed away when the boy turned sixteen. In the same year, the boy was sent by his family to study in Hong Kong.
When Chan accepted this young boy as his last disciple, he would not have dreamed that he would eventually become the unchallenged master of Wing Tsun. His name, greater than any of his forerunners, was known to all people in the martial arts circle. His fame was hard earned through his diligence and perseverance. He was no one but the great Grandmaster Yip Man.
Master of Masters
|Yip Man, the Grandmaster of Wing Tsun kungfu, was the eighth heir on the direct line of successors. He was brought up in a wealthy family that owned a huge farmland and a lot of property in Fatshan. One would have imagined that he should have been a pampered kid with life well provided for, and would not have taken to any physical labour. Yet, to the surprise of all, he showed a special liking for the art of fighting. He started to learn Wing Tsun at the young age of thirteen and practiced the skills under his master Chan Wah Shun for three years. Upon the death of Chan, Yip Man went to Hong Kong for schooling.There he received his secondary education in a reputable catholic school, the St. Stephen College of Hong Kong. By fate of life, Yip ran into Leung Bik in Hong Kong. Leung Bik was the elder son of Leung Jan and was the kungfu brother of Chan Wah Soon, Yip's master.Leung found that Yip |
Grandmaster Yip Man at the age of 72
possessed the necessary qualities, temperament and attitude, and unreservedly offered to teach Yip all that he had learnt from his father Leung Jan. Yip followed Leung Bik for a number of years and learnt all the secrets of Wing Tsun kungfu. Yet, Yip was not satisfied with his attainment so far. At the age of 24, he returned to Fatshan. There he spent much time in practicing with his elder kungfu brother, Ng Chung So as well as Ng's disciples, and refined his skills to the highest pitch. There are a lot of stories and anecdotes prevailing about the feat of Yip Man in Fatshan. It was told that he once knocked away in a flash the chamber of a pistol pointing at him by an evil soldier; that with a sweeping kick he broke a sliding door with bars as thick as a man's arm; that he had engaged in many duels and each time he managed to overpower his opponent in less than no time, etc.
Despite his peerless fame in Fatshan, Yip Man had not thought of teaching his skills to anyone, not even to his own son. During the second world war, when a great part of China was under the military control of the Japanese, the rich farmland of his family was ruined and he began to find life difficult. Later the Japanese arrived in the town of Fatshan, and Yip's name soon reached the ears of the Japanese commander, who invited him to take up the post as instructor to the Japanese soldiers. Prompted by patriotism for his own country and hatred towards the invaders, Yip turned down the invitation. After the war, Yip moved to settle in Hong Kong with his family. His self-pride and unusual temperament, coupled with the fact that he was born of a wealthy family, made it very difficult for him to find a suitable job, and for some time he and his family lived in poverty.
In 1949, through the introduction of a close friend, he was invited to give kungfu lessons to members of a Restaurant Workers' Association in Hong Kong. At first, members of the Association did not pay much attention to Yip Man, nor did they have much regard for what he was teaching, as Wing Tsun kungfu, unlike the "long bridges and wide stances" of other kungfu styles, was not very attractive at first sight. Besides, Yip Man, like his own master, did not wish to boast about his skills, not to mention taking part in public displays. That was why Wing Tsun was not well known at that time. After two years serving as instructor at the Association, where he had only a few students, he founded his own gymnasium and began to admit students other than restaurant workers. Many of his early students, who had followed him for the past two years, came to help with running the gymnasium. It was then that Wing Tsun Kungfu began to draw the attention of kungfu fans. Later, when more and more students came to him, he had to move the gymnasium to a larger site. The fame of Yip Man and his practical Wing Tsun Kungfu went fast and wide, and attracted admiration from an ever increasing number of followers, particularly from the Hong Kong police force.
As a major effort towards the propagation of Wing Tsun, he founded, in 1967, with the assistance of his students, the Hong Kong Ving Tsun Athletic Association, opened more classes, and took Wing Tsun to a much greater exposure. In May 1970, when the classes in his association were firmly established, he decided to retire from teaching himself to enjoy a quiet life, having first passed all the teaching affairs of his gymnasium to his favourite disciple, Leung Ting.
In his retirement, he was usually seen having tea, alone in a certain tea-house, in the morning, afternoon or even in the evening, or else sharing a laugh and a few jokes with his disciples, always forgetting that he was their master. "Why put on airs? You are in an important position if people respect you." That was his philosophy.
Between 1970 and 1971, Bruce Lee, one of Yip Man's disciples, became a famous superstar of kungfu movies. Although Lee was noted for his Jee-Kune-Do, it was known to many people that he had been a disciple of Yip Man for a certain period. Yip, on the other hand, never felt proud of having had this superstar as his student. Whenever people praised him for having taught Bruce Lee, he only replied with a smile. He seldom refuted people who made unjustified comments or erroneous conceptions about the theories of Wing Tsun. Truth was truth, and Yip Man was Yip Man. It made no difference to the standing of Wing Tsun whether he had taught Bruce Lee or not.
On the 2nd of December 1972, Yip Man the great Grandmaster passed away, leaving behind him a great style of kungfu and a perpetual mission to be carried onward by his disciples.
|Grandmaster Yip Man demonstrating a movement of the Bart-Cham Do techniques|
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