Grandmaster Lo Man Kam is Yip Man’s nephew and one of his original students. He has spent most of his life passing on his uncle’s teachings to new generations of Wing Chun practitioners. In this exclusive interview, he explains what training in those early days was like and how his Wing Chun has evolved over the years.
We are honoured to feature him in our 1 year anniversary issue and we hope you find this interview as inspirational as we did:
You started to learn Wing Chun from your uncle Yip Man in 1950. What was training like back in those days?
Initially, there were around 5 to 7 participants. Including Leung Sheung, Lok Yiu, Yip Bo Ching, Tsui Sheung Tin, Chiu Wan & myself. My uncle Yip Man was very, very enthusiastic in passing on his Wing Chun to us. We also were very keen to take on whatever he taught us. For me personally, I never missed even 1 single lesson. It was very enjoyable.
After class, Chiu Wan would cook us some sweet dessert soup (tong sui) which we all really relished especially after a great class. Yip Man truly taught out of a great sense of duty to pass on what he knew and our fees were not much. One Hongkong dollar per class. We would take turns to collect it after class, and respectfully and gratefully offered the collection to my uncle.
Do you see any differences between modern Wing Chun and the style your uncle taught you?
Even towards 1970, Yip Man never actually taught many disciples. Without infringing on the privacy of many casual students and without naming them, many came to learn from my uncle only very briefly. They learned superficially and only up to the Siu Nim Tau form. They quickly went on to open their own classes and openly promote Wing Chun.
Thus, we can safely assume that there is a vast chasm between what they passed on and what my uncle knew and continued to teach. You can say that it is not a case of deviation from Yip Man’s teachings, because they only got so little before leaving, but more of what these people made up, or mixed up with, which gave rise to the differences which we now see in the Wing Chun community.
Were challenge matches as common as movies make out to be back in those days?
It was not as common as everyone thinks. The Gong Sau (“talking hand”) were there for us to research, study and validate the effectiveness of the Wing Chun system. The experiences helped us to identify gaps within the system, and to improve our understanding and skills in Wing Chun. Of course, everyone knows, movies belong to the realm of art and entertainment, and do not necessarily reflect reality.
Why do you think Wing Chun has become such a popular Martial Art?
Wing Chun does not simulate any animal in appearance and form. It is a martial art system incorporating the principles of physics, mathematics and other sciences, constituting an integral body of learning. It is very appealing to ordinary folks and the impression Wing Chun leaves with people is one of sheer practicality and ease of learning.
Movies by Bruce Lee and those on my uncle Yip Man, no doubt, make a huge and lasting impact on the minds of so many aspiring martial artists. There is no doubt, many believe and act on the belief that Wing Chun is a martial arts par excellence.
Personally, I came from a military background, spending more than 3 years, learning military strategies and combative requirements. These contributed to enhancing my understanding of Wing Chun, giving my students even more substance to what they are learning, making Wing Chun even more attractive to the enthusiasts.
Your uncle has an awesome reputation in Wing Chun circles. What was it about his skills that impressed you the most?
My uncle Yip Man was a most remarkable man. It is not just his Wing Chun skills and prowess, which were already very impressive and inspiring, but his character and disposition. He had a unique and practical wisdom on Wing Chun and martial arts, which enabled him to become such an awesome teacher. I remember he told me that kungfu by itself is “dead”, human beings are alive.
We need to cultivate and bring life to this “dead” kungfu. He always encouraged us to seize the opportunity and excel in our training of WingChun.
Yip Man had foresight and could see the weaknesses of Chinese coming to learn from him. He identified that foreigners, referring especially to westerners, are not only bigger in stature, but have dedication and a scholarly mindset to their martial arts endeavor. Chinese, he lamented, lacked perseverance, being hot for 5 minutes, loved to show off and could be very presumptuous.
You have met Donnie Yen. What is your opinion of the Yip Man movies?
Movies are there to entertain and to make a lot of money. Wing Chun is not an artistic expression but a skillset. It emphasizes on practicality and has no allowance for any aesthetic appeal. The movies succeeded very well in promoting my uncle Yip Man as a veritable master in his own right, and also the good name of Wing Chun. Many have come to experience real life Wing Chun as a result.
We hope these people will gain all that Wing Chun can offer them.
You established your first school in Taiwan in 1975. Was Wing Chun well known in Taiwan at the time?
I opened my school early 1975 after discharging from the military. Wing Chun was not very well known in Taiwan at that time, although I believe the movies of Bruce Lee and his recent passing in 1972, exposed Wing Chun as Bruce Lee’s original core martial art and Yip Man, my uncle, as his teacher.
You have fused Wing Chun’s approach with joint locks, throws and takedown skills to form the foundation of the Taiwanese police defensive tactics curriculum. How did you first start to teach the Taiwanese police?
It was in 1990 during a lecture to the Taiwan Security Police, that I gained the attention and subsequent invitation to teach them. Later on, I was also Instrumental in the setup of the Taiwanese SWAT team.
What differences do you see between Wing Chun for self-defence and Wing Chun for police use?
Obviously there are some differences, as the police are there to enforce the law. They need the ability to arrest reluctant and highly resistant suspects and criminals without unnecessarily hurting or harming them. It is necessary to adapt Wing Chun to an extent, in order for the police to do that.
This, I was able to do successfully for them. As a self-defence protective system, the emphasis is on escaping a dangerous situation without hurting or harming ourselves. So, naturally, the emphasis is on striking to effectively neutralize the threat of harm to ourselves before quickly running away to safety. The characteristic Wing Chun strikes require no moderating adjustments for self- defence.
What are your memories of Bruce Lee back in the early days of training with your uncle? Did he like to fight?
I remember Bruce Lee as a fanatical Wing Chun student. He respected highly the Wing Chun skills of my uncle Yip Man.
He was very smart, very fit, very fast and very hardworking. I remember somehow later he was not coming to Yip Man for training, and mixed in with another lot, training mainly under Wong Shun Leung. Bruce Lee was a cool kid, very confident and extremely eager to learn as much Wing Chun as quickly as possible. I can’t recall him fighting a lot in Hong Kong, but what happened later in America, I don’t really know.
You have continued to evolve Wing Chun throughout the years. What changes have you made to the way you use the system compared to the way you used it when you were in your thirties?
Ever since I started teaching Wing Chun, I have consolidated and systematized all my knowledge and skills into a coherent system. It should be pretty consistent over the years. Like Yip Man said “a live person will bring to life, through proper training, dead kungfu”.
In your opinion, how does the Siu Nim Tao develop the awesome power generation that masters like you exhibit? As long as you train your skills correctly, rigorously and diligently, and don’t delude yourself, you will achieve the potentials inherent in Wing Chun and of course in the Siu Nim Tao form.
What is the most important piece of advice you would giver our readers if they want to master Siu Nim Tao?
This applies not just to the Siu Nim Tao form. It applies to the whole Wing Chun system. Learn the correct movements and be single- minded. Just like the ancients saying “Still, Quiet, Tranquil, Gaining”.
If you could only practice one Wing Chun form for the rest of your life, which would it be and why? Wing Chun is not about which form is best. Every form is related and inextricably linked. It is wrong to be selective and focus on any particular form because Wing Chun is a gradual step by step process. We cannot favor one form over another. Anyone focusing just on one form is lacking in true understanding of Wing Chun.
You were admitted into the Wing Chun Hall of Fame in 2011. Do you feel you have anything you still have to accomplish regarding Wing Chun? I am lukewarm towards fame. I have taught heads of state such as the Sultan of Brunei, members of American armed forces, as well as the descendants of the late President Chiang Kai-Shek. These are all part of my duty following Yip Man’s dream and hopes to transmit Wing Chun to the next generations. Ω