The Origins Of Kulo Wing Chun

Kulo Wing Chun originated in the Gu Lao Village (古勞村) in the late 1800s. Its creation is credited to the “King of Wing Chun Fist”, Dr Leung Jan 梁贊 (1826-1901), grandmaster of Ip Man. 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 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. At 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 version of Wing Chun in “Sansik/Sansau” — it consisted of individual movements instead of sequential forms. Some say the Sansau were new creations — others believe they were the original method he learnt prior to the creation of forms. In any case, the Sansau are Dr Leung’s distilled teachings.

While there are different Gu Lao lineages, as you practice the Gu Lao Wing Chun Sansau, you realise they are natural extensions to the mainstream Wing Chun practices. You are retracing Dr Leung Jan’s footsteps, moving forward as he did. In my 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 a 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 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, they are also 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, and 大捻手 Large Twirling Hands can be used as actual fighting techniques, they also stretch and condition the tendons in your 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 cultivate 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 specific attributes. In addition to the solo Sansau practice, a big part of the Kulo 22 Sansau is the partner drills (對拆). They are cyclic movements based on the solo Sansau, repeated until the pattern becomes instinctive. The purpose is to build 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 — beginners may find it easier to learn Sil Lim Tau first. Although, one can jump straight into the Sansau if the student is prepared to put in the hard yards. 

For students who already have experience in Sil Lim Tau, the Sansau break down the limits. They provide the freedom to fully utilise the structure you have built up in your Wing Chun training.

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 focusing 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. 

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

Actually, side body methods exist in every Wing Chun style, although they are not 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. 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 in order to enter his blind side and control his structure. When we enter the opponent’s blind side, we reduce their ability to generate power. Their defence and attack are compromised. 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 you use in Kulo Wing Chun?

How long is a piece of string?

Haha. My teacher, Master Leung Wun Zi of Guangzhou, outlined 42 partner drills, but it is limited only by your imagination.

If I have to narrow it down, there are twelve essential partner drills. They are: 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?

It is one of the methods. We want to develop “龍筋虎骨 Dragon Tendons, Tiger Bones”. Twisting cultivates this during solo training. In expressing and using the power, we also use spirals, twists and drills. When we twist, we coordinate 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 create 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. It is about training the opening and closing of your hips and centralising your centre of gravity. When we move into an opponent, we move in with our entire mass and perfect balance.

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

Interesting idea.

Back in old China, when people fought each other, they would 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 that was happening. Dr Leung Jan fought over 300 matches during his time — he might have incorporated methods from his opponents 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, we use a lot of mini-tornado spirals. We have throws and pins that are Bagua’ish as well.

We often see good Martial Arts sharing similar methodologies. After all, we all have 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 come from the four pillars: 封手、制腳、管勢、破中(重)— Seal (opponent’s) Hands, Control Legs, Manage (opponent’s) Structure/Momentum, and 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 and limbs that facilitate their control.

Leg control is achieved by 食馬 — “eating” into the opponent’s stance. We also use kicks, leg locks, or “sinking” into the opponent.

Managing the opponent’s momentum and structure is done by sealing the hands and controlling the legs. We must destroy the opponent’s ability to guard his centre and balance. If we strike a balanced opponent, he can counter. If he is out of balance, we destroy his ability to defend and attack. We will then have plenty of time to finish him with strikes, locks, and takedowns.

Are there any Weapons in Kulo Wing Chun?

Our signature weapons are 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 hands. After you train the 22 Sansau enough, you understand how the knives are applied. The staff form is also hidden within sections of the empty hand form. 

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

It 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 — 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 or punch harder than someone with bigger muscles — the “unseen” component that gives someone the “oomph”.

Every good martial art has a degree of both. Without the internal, the effectiveness of a technique would be mediocre. The bigger guy with more muscular force wins. But internal without an external delivery method is virtually useless in a fight. 

Wing Chun, I would say, has a good balance of both. Good Wing Chun has very effective 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. Real Wing Chun, in my opinion, is both Internal and External.

Are there any meditation exercises in the system?

Apart from making you a better fighter, Martial Arts should sharpen your instincts and senses. They should also build physical strength and improve your health, body awareness, and mind-body connection.

You must get into the “zone” — an almost semi-meditative state. You are not memorising techniques but building motor memory at a subconscious level. 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, and bone strength, promoting blood circulation and lymphatic drainage.

In Kulo Wing Chun, some methods require meditative processes — the invisible 取力點打法 Force Point Capturing Method and 渾圓勁 Primordial Cyclic Power, which require some meditation. Once you train correctly, you will discover the relationship between what Internal Artists called 神意氣 Spirit-Intent-Qi. 

There is nothing esoteric about it. It is how the mind functions and the body carries out your commands. When you reach this state, your mind-body becomes effective, and your training takes on a new level. Ω ​


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