Wing Chun is a southern Chinese martial art that was brought from Foshan, China to Hong Kong by Yip Man in the 1950s. Gradually, Yip Man transferred this knowledge to members of the restaurant workers union and then to now famous students of the art — Wong Shong Leung, Leung Sheung, Chu Shong Tin. Yip Man was taught by Chan Wah Shun and Leung Bik. The names are not important; but, they help to materialize the fact that a master results from a close relationship between teacher (or Sifu) and student where knowledge is transferred physically, socially, morally and spiritually. Many, today, focus only on the physical skill.
Yip Man is unique in that he tried to reduce Wing Chun to its core principles so today his type of Wing Chun appears to be shorter and less grand than branches from China such as that taught by Yuen Kay San. (This is due, in part, to the small living accommodations given to people in Hong Kon. ) The simplicity of the Yip Man’s art does not mean that it lacks practicality or effectiveness: Yip Man taught Bruce Lee! Wing Chun would never be the same.
Who taught Bruce Lee?
Bruce Lee (who was an American citizen by birth) brought the straight, short-range and direct punches as well as kicks of Wing Chun to the United States. Known mostly for his work in the television series “The Green Lantern” and the movie “Enter the Dragon,” Bruce became famous in the martial arts community for demonstrations of spontaneous and disruptive power from a distance of just one inch — “the one inch punch” — as well his own development of an art form known as “Jeet Kun Do or the art of the intercepting fist.” Many ideas from Wing Chun were incorporated into his new authentic art form.
After Bruce’s early death, many martial arts attempted to trace the development of his skill. While some attempted to study “Jeet Kun Do” further, others looked to the past and found Yip Man. He was not able to teach Bruce Lee directly due to Bruce’s German ancestry so other students were asked to help! Yip Man remained the Sifu; those in the room practiced with Bruce and helped him to develop further both in Hong Kong and in the United States.
The Structure of Wing Chun
Wing Chun, like many Chinese martial arts, is setup like a family. The Sifu (is the father) and your classmates become your brothers and sisters. Your teacher’s Sifu is your (Sigung) or grandfather and your teacher’s kung fu brothers are your uncles and aunts. Already a famous movie star, Bruce Lee visited Yip Man offering thousands to film the wooden dummy techniques. The request was denied.
Wing Chun is an unusual martial art that places you and an opponent at close (or striking) distance from one another and then asks you to feel relaxed. This is very difficult because often things are moving at high speed, and the person on the other side is quite strong. The majority of movements contained in the first form (or Siu lim Tao) attempt to prepare your wrists, elbows and arms to occupy this space between you and an opponent in a relaxed way. The form is done in isolation having no contact with another person.
Contact, usually, begins during “dan chi sao” (single sticky hands) and is expressed fully in “chi sao” (or rolling hands). Chi Sao attempts to teach the arms a new habit: how to respond to sensations (up, down, sideways, forwards and backwards) by moving so that you cannot be hit but you can hit an opponent. In some ways, the skill of chi sao is akin to learning to pick up a wet noodle in a Chinese restaurant using a single chop stick and then pass it to the center of the chest across from you where the stick is your own arm and the wet noodle is their arm. Often, the path is not a straight line because the opponent is alive and moving. The answer is not always speed. This occurs on both sides of the body. Sometimes, you may be the stick; other times, you will be the wet noodle.
History of Wing Chun
The root of this art occurs begins 300 years earlier at the Shaolin temple. Ng Mui and four other masters worked together to build an art that comprised the best features of Shaolin arts. The art was to be learned quickly so that people could be prepared to fight in about five years.
Observing the art from a distance, it should look like nothing because it comprises core movements or principles that can be utilized in many ways. The art has no meaning until there is another person present who intends to take an action. The perfect martial art becomes less useful as an opponent loses all desire to fight. It only becomes meaningful or practical as an opponent begins to attack.
Learning Wing Chun?
Mastery of any art takes time. Unlike Shaolin and other Chinese martial arts, Wing Chun can be learned quite quickly, and you will be quite effective against your friends in other fighting arts. The curriculum used in Wing Chun includes the following: (1) Siu Lim Tao (or “the Little Idea” which teaches you to move from a starting position to an ending position), (2) Chum Kiu (or how to use stepping, turn and the body), (4) the wooden dummy (or how to adjust with a moving opponent; (5) Biu Gie (or how to get out of bottlenecks); (4) bart dam (or different walking, stepping and power mechanisms), and (6) the the 6-1/2” pole form (or how to transfer power over a distance.)
Wing Chun is both a soft and hard art. While some schools may prefer one side or another, the ability to transition from one to the other in a relaxed way is key to being effective at close range. Wing Chun is an exciting journey that will test you both mentally and physically. It offers people who can understand it, an unprecedented advantage over people who practice other styles. Wing Chun is suitable for people of all ages, men, women and children.