When I first met my Sifu Mr Yip Man I did not know of him. I actually met him because I used to go to Zai Gung Fut (a Buddhist temple in Hong Kong) with my Suk Por (叔婆, Grand-Aunt). Inside there was a fortune teller who was from Futsan, called Chan Bik Sung.
He was good friends with Mr Yip Man back in Futsan. Seeing that we were so weak, he suggested we learn a martial art. He introduced us to Mr Yip Man.
You may notice that I refer to my Sifu as Mr Yip Man. This is because in Futsan they would greet him as “Yip Seng”, meaning 葉先 生 (Yip Sin Saang) as a sign of respect.
Mr Yip Man was very mild mannered. He was a well educated scholar and a traditional Chinese gentleman. As soon as we met him, we knew we were lucky to have been introduced to him. Shortly afterwards we Bai See (拜師) and I formally became his student. I studied with him for four years. In this time I did not see him being cruel or aggressive. But he definitely engendered our respect.
He was the kind of person that you would not dare to tell a lie in front of. We knew that his Gung Fu (功夫) was of a very high level, and with him as our teacher, we were very dedicated to our training.
“Mr Yip Man was very mild mannered. He was a well educated scholar and traditional Chinese gentleman.
What teaching style did Mr Yip Man use?
First you would learn Siu Nim Tau, for at least 3 months. Then Chi Darn Sau (Single Sticking Hands) for 2 months. Then Seung Chi Sau (Double Sticking Hands). After this you would practice on your own.
After around 9 months of practicing Siu Nim Tau, you would learn Chum Kiu. You would do this for 9 months. After this, it would depend on your individual aptitude. If it was not good, he would not continue to teach you. Some students only learnt Biu Tze after a few years.
It would depend if you were clever learning Gung Fu. Mostly it would take you four years to learn the Wing Chun system.
He would pair suitable students to train with each other. Students who were not clever did not receive attention, even less those who asked questions. Sometimes he would sit down and appear to be sleeping, but he could clearly see every single person in the room doing Chi Sau.
He would make comments like “Your Bong Sau is not good”, and you would have to figure out why. Or “Your stance, do it properly.” That’s all he would say. You would be lucky to have hands on teaching with him.
What was the most memorable part of your training under Mr Yip Man?
During the week, I used to go to training straight after school and trained for at least an hour every day, 6 days a week.
I recall one year during Hong Kong’s Monsoon season,class attendance was affected by heavy rain, and often, I found myself alone with Mr Yip Man. Mr Yip Man was very considerate and he spared some time to Chi Sau with me so that I didn’t feel neglected.
During these sessions, Sifu demonstrated a lot of things but I was only able to physically sustain no more than 15 minutes of it each day. This continued for three months during the rainy season, during which I realised Mr Yip Man was helping me develop my Jut Sau skills.
Each day I went home and analysed what had happened during Chi Sau with Sifu, how he managed to get past my defences and how I might counter his moves. Over time, I found out that the stance, coupled with fast footwork, was crucial for training Jut Sao.
The more proficient my footwork became, the less arduous those 15 minutes were for me.
“First you would learn Siu Nim Tai, for at least 3 months. Then Chi Darn Sau (single Sicking Hands) for 2 months. Then Seung Chi Sau.”
I heard the wooden dummy was taught individually to each student in private back in the 1950s; could you share with us how your wooden dummy training began ?
After I had learnt Chum Kiu, around one year into my training, Mr Yip Man advised me I was to start learning the Muk Yan Jong (wooden dummy form). The Muk Yan Jong was taught one-on-one and in private at the time, and I learnt it in the same fashion. To facilitate this, the wooden dummy was actually located in the kitchen as a hint to others not yet learning it to respect Mr Yip Man’s privacy.
There was no reason to go in there, say to wash your hands, for example, since the bathroom was available for that sort of thing.
I continued to train hard on the Muk Yan Jong whenever I was there but after one month, I wasn’t satisfied with my own progress so I asked Mr Yip Man what I should do since I didn’t have a wooden dummy at home. Mr Yip Man explained that there’s no need for a wooden dummy – train the Hoong Jong (Empty wooden dummy form).
Simply put a shoe in front of you and treat that as the wooden dummy. Thereafter, I continued to train hard in my Hoong Jong.
“The wooden dummy was actually located in the kitchen as a hint to others not yet learning it to respect Mr Yip Man’s privacy. “
During the time you were training, who did you see the most often?
I would see Hui Siu Cheung, Kan Wah Chit, Choy Siu Kwong and Chan Chee Man often. There was also the Bus Company group. Ng Chan, Wong Jok, Wong Cheung and others. There was a big group of them.
Siu Nim Tau is often translated as “Little Idea” – what is the meaning of this, and are there aspects of “mind intent” (Nim Lik) training within this form?
Let’s look at the first word of Siu Nim Nau, Siu (Chinese character 叔) . There is one straight stroke combined with two angular strokes.
We must examine this word carefully. It actually represents Wing Chun’s Yee Gee Kim Yeung Maa. When practicing Siu Nim Tau. if we focus on the Yee Gee Kim Yeung Maa, we can develop Gwaan Sing Lik . What I refer to as Inertia Energy. I personally do not use the words Little Idea, Nim Lik or mind-force. Siu Nim Tau is the key to developing the Yee Gee Kim Yeung Maa.
What is the logic behind the order of the 3 empty hand forms?
There are three empty hand forms, Siu Nim Tao, Chum Kiu, Biu Tze. The purpose of Siu Nim Tao is to develop Inertia Energy. The purpose of Chum Kiu is to develop Potential Energy. The purpose of Biu Tze is to develop Kinetic Energy.
These are three distinct types of energy which combined make Siu Nim Tao complete.
You have on your website a passage, written by Mr Yip Man, on the history of Wing Chun. Is the origin story of Wing Chun fact or fiction, in your opinion? Was the art really created by a woman?
The Ving Tsun Athletic Association was created in 1968. They requested Mr Yip Man to write a passage, and thus he wrote this piece of history. Without Mr Yip Man teaching us Gung Fu in Hong Kong, we would not even know Wing Chun existed.
So this is the history that he wrote and we should believe it. This piece explains the history of Wing Chun, how it came about, and gives important advice; to study hard and analyse our Wing Chun, to put our Wing Chun into practice together, and most importantly always to remember where our Gung Fu came from, to be loyal to our extended Gung Fu family, and don’t let arrogance get the better of us.
Many believe Leung Bik was a fictional character. What is your opinion?
Talking about Leung Bik, Mr Yip Man did speak of him. When my Sifu was young, he studied at St Stephen’s College in Hong Kong. During this time he met another student who said “I know another person who also knows Gung Fu, want to check him out?”
This happened to be Leung Bik, an older man who was Chan Wah Shun’s Si Hing. Being his Sifu’s Si Hing, Leung Bik was naturally better when they sparred. Mr Yip Man did mention that he understood from him that using brute force is not necessary
Not that no force is required, but that brute force is not required when dealing with an opponent.
So there was this person Leung Bik, but was he important? Who he was specifically was not important in this sense. He was simply one of Chan Wah Shun’s Wing Chun brothers. There were many of them, including Si Bak’s and Si Suk’s. You could not say that without Leung Bik, Mr Yip Man’s Gung Fu would not be as good.
One possibility is that given he was not as proficient as his Si Bak, it motivated himto analyse why and to train even harder.He would have been around sixteen or seventeen at the time. After going back to Futsan, perhaps eighteen to twenty years old, he had ample opportunity to continue to train hard to further develop his skills.
You have mentioned in the past that you participated in ”beimo” (bare knuckle fights) during your time in HK. What were these like? Were there any rules?
It was called Gong Sau (講手) in Hong Kong, not beimo. Gong Sau was not street-fighting. They were organised challenge matches between different schools and styles to see who was better. It was also called Chit Chor.
Rules were up to the individuals and arranged at the time of the match – some people would say only touch, some did not define any rules, others said no kicking, It was up to your own level of confidence. During a match, each side would have their own group of people to watch the challenge and give support. That’s what Gong Sau was.
The location was usually on the rooftops of buildings that were three to four stories high. The areas on the rooftops were large. There were no large open places like basketball courts or gardens in Hong Kong at the time, so we became accustomed to having Gong Sau on rooftops. You could choose to go up against any style, provided you had the guts to try. There were no such things as points in a match. It was up to each party to decide when to stop. When one side conceded defeat, the match ended.
What were the main styles that Wing Chun practitioners came up against back in those days?
At the time most of the matches were against a few particular styles. There was Choy Lee Fut, Long Ying Mor Kiu (Southern Dragon), but most often was Chu Gar Tong Long (Praying Mantis). This was because our school was located in Kowloon, and there were lots of Chu Gar Tong Long practitioners in the area.
Actually many members of the Kowloon Bus Company were learning Chu Gar Tong Long. They joined us after losing to us in challenge matches, and that’s why we had so many classmates from the Bus Company. So mostly Chu Gar Tong Long.There was also other styles including boxing, Judo, Tai Chi, White Crane. Many of them had simply not heard of Wing Chun before and they probably underestimated us.
Many of Mr Yip Man’s students only learned for a short time before teaching the system. Is modern Wing Chun today very different to what Mr Yip Man taught you back in those days because of this?
In the 1950s, we actually trained very hard; 6 days a week, resting only on Sundays. Since we trained at the Restaurant Workers Union at that time and many of the students were members or Bus Company Workers who were given only 2 rostered days off each month, they were always around to train whenever they had some free time.
I was the last student accepted to train at the Restaurant Workers Union before we moved to another venue on Lee Tat Street located in Yau Ma Tei, where Bruce Lee joined.
With intensive training, you could learn the system in four years. When I joined in 1954, Si Hing Leung Sheung and Si Hing Lok Yiu had already opened their own schools. They had started around 1950. As Mr Yip Man voiced no objection to this, it indicated he was satisfied.
But the question today is do people still have the perseverance to truly live-and-breathe their Wing Chun in order to thoroughly understand Wing Chun’s underlying mechanics (拳理 Kuen Lei) and concepts in order to be able to apply their Wing Chun in actual combat? The only way to achieve this is through hard training.
Bruce Lee had a big impact on the popularity of Wing Chun. His fame as a movie star and a martial artist who had studied Wing Chun caused many people to want to learn Wing Chun. During that time, Wing Chun went through a period of explosive growth driven by the commercialisation of the art with lots of people profiting from this.
My view is that during that period of time, some Wing Chun was watered-down. But I leave it to the reader to look at the facts and make up their own mind.
What tips would you give WC practitioners regarding execution of the stance?
I remember back to when I returned to Hong Kong to visit Mr Yip Man, he gave me one piece of advice. One which I will pass on to readers. He said to me the most important thing is to train hard in Siu Nim Tau. The more you train, the better.
Could you please elaborate on the weight distribution in WC? Many advocate placing the weight on the balls of the feet. Others prefer the whole foot. Is there a “correct” method?
In the Yee Gee Kim Yeung Maa, the weight must be maintained on the front two-thirds of the foot. To achieve this, the Instep also plays a vital role. There is much Gung Fu involved in these two areas. The hip must also be upright. By focusing the weight on the front Two-Thirds of the foot and the Instep, it becomes possible to generate a lot of power quite easily. This must be developed through hard training in Siu Nim Tau. The stance does not move in Siu Nim Tau, so it is slightly easier to develop it there.
After much practice and time, Inertia Energy can be felt. When Inertia Energy has developed throughout your entire structure, it will compliment your stance and adapt to your needs. The most important thing in the Stance is this Energy. If you focus the weight on the whole foot, the weight will be focused on the ground.
If you focus the weight just on the balls of the feet, it is possible to be too far forward and you may be easily pulled. The key to countering this is in training the Instep.
Are there any differences in the pivoting methods of Chum Kiu and Biu Jee?
Neither Chum Kiu nor Biu Tze use pivoting. By pivoting I mean turning the left foot towards the right foot or turning the right foot towards the left foot. Chum Kiu involves mainly turning. Turning the Stance is like turning an entire car. The whole vehicle must turn. To compare this analogy to pivoting, pivoting would be akin to turning by twisting on a single tyre of a unicycle.
Biu Tze uses a method that requires 扭力 (Nau Lik). In English, this is called Torsion.
Torsion can also be found in Chum Kiu in conjunction with turning. It appears many people have been misled by the word pivoting (in context of Chum Kiu and Biu Tze) as pivoting is done about a point only. Hence, I do not share the view that pivoting is carried out in Chum Kiu and Biu Tze.
Please tell us about the wooden dummy. What benefits can practitioners derive from training the Muk Yan Jong?
In the Muk Yan Jong, firstly you must thoroughly understand the three forms as I explained earlier. You must have all of the different energies, including 扭力 Nau Lik (Torsion) and Inertia Energy.
After this, when training the Muk Yan Jong, while you are sticking to the arms of the dummy, you are training to project your stance’s power. Following this, one can use the wooden dummy to turn their own stance, since the dummy is bolted to the wall and cannot move.
This will allow you to develop 黐勁 Chi Ging. Chi Ging does not mean to do Chi Sau with your opponent. It means to develop sensitivity so you can upset your opponents balance immediately upon first contact. As soon as you touch, it’s there. This is most important.
Another benefit is that sometimes when you are training Gung Fu you might ask yourself, why is this particular hand not that good?
You can go to the wooden dummy and work it out. I call the wooden dummy the blind- eyed teacher. It does not say anything and it cannot see. But you can use the dummy to feel and adjust yourself into the optimum position to maximise your power. When you have done this, you will realise that there is so much you can train using the wooden dummy. If a person has not learnt Siu Nim Tau, Chum Kiu and Biu Tze, they will not derive benefit from the Muk Yan Jong. Some students really like the dummy, so you might let them learn the form a little earlier. But then they can only demonstrate its appearance on the surface.
Some clash with the dummy to toughen heir arms. But you could achieve that with other objects instead of a wooden dummy.
Yes, our Kiu Sau (bridge hands) appear to be hard. But what is the reason? Because they are developed through the training of Chi Sau every day. Just like how children naturally develop firm palms by touching things all the time. That is how it is built up. It is not necessary to purposely hit the dummy to toughen your arms. You might as well lift weights, or clash with other objects.
What message would you like to leave for our readers?
In learning Gung Fu, first you must be able to focus on your training. You must also have a genuine interest in it. If you are not genuinely interested and are only aiming for particular goals, once you reach that goal you will have lost your interest, and hence your Gung Fu will be limited.
Sometimes, it comes down to whether it is your fate to continue down the Wing Chun path.
My hope is, as my Sifu wrote, that Wing Chun can continue to flourish and grow. It is most important to always think of the source of water you drink from, to never forget that our Gung Fu came from our forerunners and to respect and honour them.
Finally, the most important concept in Wing Chun is that the Stance must be very active and adaptable. It is like a car, it can go anywhere.