The Origins Of Kulo Wing Chun

Kulo Wing Chun

Kulo Wing Chun originated in the Gu Lao Village 古勞村 , late 1800’s. It’s creation was credited to the “King of Wing Chun Fist”, Dr. Leung Jan 梁贊 (1826-1901), grandmaster of Ip Man. It is said that Dr. Leung started his training in Wing Chun in his early 20’s, fought over 300 challenges in his life and never lost.

Dr. Leung first started teaching Wing Chun in Foshan/Fatshan, where he ran his successful medical practice/pharmacy. Late Grandmaster and Ip Man’s teacher, Chan Wah Shun, was one of Dr. Leung’s top students. During that time, Foshan was the melting pot of Southern Style Kung Fu. Ip Man’s lineage largely came from Dr. Leung’s teachings in Foshan during this time. The Foshan line of Wing Chun became very popular because of Ip Man and the late Bruce Lee.

When Dr. Leung retired in 1885, he returned to his ancestral home Gu Lao (Kulo) Village in Heshan. In his village, retired and free, he started teaching a different form of Wing Chun in “Sansik/Sansau”; i.e., individual movements instead of structured sequential forms. Some say the Sansau were new creations; others believe they were the original method he learnt prior to the creation of forms. Whatever it was, the Sansau were the distillation of Dr. Leung’s years of training and fighting experiences.

While there are different Gu Lao lineages; as you practice the Gu Lao Wing Chun Sansau, very soon you will realise they are natural extensions to the more familiar Wing Chun practices. You are in fact, retracing Dr. Leung Jan’s footsteps, moving forward as he did. In my humble opinion, it is an invaluable component to completing your Wing Chun studies.

Kulo Wing Chun has none of the traditional forms such as “Siu Nim Tao” or “Chum Kiu”. What forms or exercises are found in Kulo Wing Chun instead?

Different lineages of Kulo Wing Chun have different number of Sansik/Sansau or “Points”. You may have heard of the 12 Points System and the 40 Points System. Our System, as taught to us by Master Leung Wun Zi of Guangzhou, comprises of 22 Sansau, plus the Sansau variations and extensions. We drill these 22 Sansau repeatedly instead of structured forms.

In my opinion, in the chaos of a real fight, there are no “fixed” techniques. Although the Sansau are themselves fighting techniques, more importantly they should also be looked at as exercises to develop attributes that can help carry you through a real fight. For example, while 豬蹄拜佛手 Buddha Palm, 小捻手 Small Twirling Hands, 大捻手 Large Twirling Hands can be used as actual fighting techniques, they also stretch and condition the tendons in you arms to make them elastic; in doing so increasing your 寸勁 Inch Power to be used in strikes. 

日字鳳眼捶 Phoenix Eye Hammer and 十字四門虎尾捶 Tiger Tail Hammer develop your spatial management. 撐雞腳 Pheasant Kick and 跪馬捶 Bowing Horse Hammer develop your leg strength and hip power. Palms such as 疊掌 Stack Palms and 攔撐掌 Obstruct and Prop are designed to manage the opponent’s momentum. 

​Each Sansau and its variations develop very specific attributes. 

In addition to the solo Sansau practice, a big part of the Kulo 22 Sansau is based on partner drills 對拆. They are cyclic movements based on the solo Sansau, repeated over and over again, until the pattern becomes instinctive. The purpose is to build up motor memory of the opponent’s structure and anatomy. So in a real fight, if you touch the opponent’s wrist, you know where his elbow is, then his shoulder, his head, his core, without having to look; the same way you can pick up a hot tea cup without having to look because you have been doing it repeatedly all your life.

Do you believe that this emphasis away from forms makes Kulo Wing Chun easier to learn?

On the contrary, no. I am a big fan of Sil Lim Tau. Sil Lim Tau is the grandfather of structures. Beginners may find it easier to learn the Sansau if the Sil Lim Tau is learned first; although,one can jump straight into the Sansau if the student is prepared to put in the hard yards.

However, for people who already have experience in Sil Lim Tau, it is a different story. The Sansau breaks down the limits and gives you freedom to fully utilise the structure you have built up in your Wing Chun training.

I do not have any evidence to back this up, but my suspicion is that when Dr. Leung Jan started teaching the Sansau method, he was more interested in incorporating all his fighting experience into the system than to focus on the mundane; the same way we often see top Kung Fu masters breaking their own rules. Perhaps he assumed the students already knew the basic Wing Chun structures. This is just my personal view.

Kulo Wing Chun is known for its side body methods (Pin Sun Ma – Side Body Horse). Can you explain how this method is used?

Actually, side body methods exist in every Wing Chun Style; although it may not be emphasised as much. Of course, in Kulo Wing Chun, we embrace the Side Body method.

No matter what Wing Chun we do, there are three ways to face an opponent:

1. 朝面追形 Square On, Chasing Structure: this is the most commonly seen Wing Chun Method. Basically, you chase the opponent’s structure to face him square on. ​

2. 迎面而轉 Rotating with the Opponent to face him: As your opponent turns, you turn in the same direction as him. If he rotates clockwise, you turn clockwise. If he rotates anti-clockwise, you turn anti-clockwise as well. In doing so, you are not exposing your weakness and continue to face him.​

3. 逆面管勢 Counter-Facing and Controlling Momentum: this is a counter-move to the opponent’s direction of movement, in order to enter his blind side and control his structure. When we enter the opponent’s blind side, he has less ability to generate power. His defence and attack are weakened. While this method exists in almost all Wing Chun lineages, we place particular emphasis on this. Hence we are sometimes called the Side Body Method.

Can you explain what type of partner practice is found in Kulo Wing Chun?

How long is a piece of string?

Haha. My teacher, Master Leung Wun Zi of Guangzhou, outlined to me 42 partner drills. To be honest, it is limited only by your imagination.

However, if I have to narrow it down a bit, there are about twelve partner drills that are essential. This includes the Circling Hands, Sticking Hands, Counter Punching with Phoenix Eyes, Darting Fists, Sticking Legs, Twirling Hands vs Dragon Pearl, Stack Palms, Obstruct and Prop, Lap Sau, Crane Wing vs Double Dragon, Combo Palms, and Pulling Eight.

There is a lot of twisting in Kulo Wing Chun. Is this the main method for generating power in the art?

This is one of the methods. We want to develop “龍筋虎骨 Dragon Tendons, Tiger Bones”. Twisting is a way to develop this during solo training. In expressing and using the power, we also like to use spirals, twists and drills. When we twist and drill, we are coordinating the opening and closing of our joints to create power. Drilling also deflects the opponent’s structure and power away from us while continuing our line of attack, achieving the ideal “simultaneous dissolve and attack 化打不分開”. When we spiral, we are creating multiple force vectors to break the opponent’s momentum and structure, and to sneak in attacks.

Another big part of our power method comes from our 二字拑陽馬 Yi Ji Kim Yeung Ma training. Yi Ji Kim Yeung Ma is not about squeezing your knees until you damage them, but training the opening and closing of our hips, and training to centralise our centre of gravity. When we move into an opponent, we move in with our entire mass and with perfect balance.

There are similarities between Kulo Wing Chun and some styles of Bagua. Do you believe it could have common roots with some of the Bagua styles?

Interesting idea.

Back in old China, when people fought each other, they would often incorporate bits and pieces into their training; sometimes without even realising it. Since Foshan was the melting pot of Kung Fu, I am sure a lot of it was happening then. Dr. Leung Jan fought over 300 matches during his time, it is possible that he might have incorporated methods from his opponents, as well as his friends, into his final incarnation of Wing Chun.

And yes, from what I see, there are similarities between our Kulo lineage and certain styles of Bagua. While Bagua uses large tornado like spirals, our lineage uses a lot of mini-tornado spirals. We have throws and pins that are Bagua’ish as well.

We often see good, effective Martial Arts sharing similar methodologies. After all, we all share the same physiology, psychology and anatomy; and we live in the same world sharing the same set of physical laws. There are only so many ways to be efficient.

What are the main fighting strategies in Kulo Wing Chun?

The Kulo Wing Chun Sansau strategies are based on the four pillars: 封手、制腳、管勢、破中(重); i.e., Seal (opponent’s) Hands, Control Legs, Manage (opponent’s) Structure/Momentum, Destroy Centre/Balance.

To seal the opponent’s hands and neutralise their ability to attack, we enter through specific 關 Gates and 落點 Landing Points. These are anatomical points on a person’s body, arms, legs, head and neck that biomechanically facilitate the control of the person.

Leg controls is mostly done with 食馬, “eating” into the opponent’s stance; although we also use kicks, leg locks, or “sinking” into the opponent’s stance.

Managing the opponent’s momentum and structure is based on sealing the hands and controlling the legs, coupled with the sensitivity skills to correctly apply force and the direction of force.

And of course, to win a fight, we first destroy the opponent’s ability to guard his centre and balance. If we strike a well structured and balanced opponent, he can counter and even take a few hard knocks. If he is out of control and out of balance, we are also destroying his ability to defend and attack. We will then have plenty of time to finish him with strikes, locks, and take downs.

Are there any Weapons in Kulo Wing Chun?

Our signature weapon would be the 陰陽奪命刀 “Yin Yang Life Taking Knife”, and the 三點半棍 “Three and a Half Point Staff”.

Our empty hand form IS the knife form. The methods of strikes, controls and evasion are the same with knives and empty hands. After you have been training the 22 Sansau well enough, and when you see the methods and physics within the empty hand movements, you will see how the knives are used. The staff form is also hidden within sections of the empty hand form. Gates and Landing Points apply also to the opponent’s weapons once you see the parallels.

There is always much discussion on whether Wing Chun is an Internal or External Art. What are your thoughts on this?

It really depends on the definition of what is Internal and External. In my opinion, nothing defies the laws of physics and the function of human physiology and anatomy; although I am sure there are aspects that modern science has yet to discover.

External is about what you can observe; i.e., how fast one can kick, how strong one can punch and the physical technique of execution. Internal would be the method behind why one can seemingly kick faster than an average person, punch harder than someone with bigger muscles, and pull off a technique with ease while others struggle. It is the “unseen” component that gives someone the “umpth”.

Every good martial art has a degree of both. Without the Internal, the effectiveness of a technique would be mediocre; and the bigger guy with more muscular force wins. Internal without an external delivery method would be virtually useless in a fight. Some martial arts focus more on the External; while others focus more on the Internal.

Wing Chun, I would say, has a good balance of both. Good Wing Chun has very effective clever physical methods and techniques; Great Wing Chun should have an array of Internal training methods to back the techniques, making every move devastatingly powerful and effective. The real Wing Chun, in my opinion, is both Internal and External.

What benefits other than the ability to fight can be derived from Kulo Wing Chun. Are there any meditation exercises in the system?

Apart from making you a better fighter, any good Wing Chun, not just Kulo, should sharpen your instincts and your senses, build physical strength, improve your health, and improve your body awareness and mind-body connection.

To get the most out of your physical training, whether you are doing solo practice or partner drills, you need to get into the “zone”, an almost semi-meditative state. You are not memorising the techniques, but building motor memory at a subconscious level, so the techniques become a part of you. You are also training to cut down “noise” in your head, so that all your senses can talk to you without interference. Through the twisting and stretching of your muscles and tendons, and the opening and closing of the joints, you are strengthening your muscles, connective tissues, bone strength; promoting blood circulation and lymphatic drainage.

In Kulo Wing Chun, there are also many methods that cannot be trained without meditative processes. Such as the invisible 取力點打法 Force Point Capturing Method and 渾圓勁 Primordial Cyclic Power; which cannot be obtained without some meditation. Once you have been training correctly for an extended period of time, you will start to discover the relationship between what Internal Artists called 神意氣 Spirit-Intent-Qi. There is nothing esoteric about it; basically it is how the mind functions, how the body carries out your command and the feedback your body gives you. When you reach this state, your mind-body becomes effective and your training takes on a whole new level. Ω ​

3 thoughts on “The Origins Of Kulo Wing Chun

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *