Grandmaster Yip Man 葉問
The Wing Chun 詠春 Sifu
who would change the world
It all started in 1893…
In The Cantonese dialect speaking province Foshan in southern China. In the year 1893, Yip Man was born. Before he would die he would have two sons, and two daughters. And through his teachings, he set forth a set of events that would change the martial arts world forever.
Yip Man was born into a wealthy property owning family. Man’s father Brought Wing Tsun into his life when he agreed to let his friend. Wing Chun Sifu Chan Wha Shun (陳華順, Wah the Money Changer) teach Kung Fu in one of the Yip family buildings. And turn it into a Wing Tsun training hall. Chan Wah Shun owned a currency exchange business in Foshan and had been a student in Wing Chun under Sifu Leung Jan (梁贊). At the age of thirteen, Yip Man presented Sifu Wah with three tael (1.3oz) of silver from his own savings Pay for a month’s lessons. The Sifu agreed to take him in As a pupil. Yip Man attended classes with Si-Fu Wah until he was sixteen. When Sifu Wah fell ill and died.
A 2nd Wing Tsun 詠春 Education
Yip Man left for Hong Kong to attend St. Stevens College. He was a rambunctious teenager often getting to fights. Fights that he always won. It was at school when he heard from the pupil when he heard there was another Wing Chun Sifu in Hong Kong. Yip was introduced to the Sifu, where he subsequently challenged him to a duel. The Sifu found this amusing and invited Yip Man to attack any part of his body. He agreed to only defend and not to counterattack.
Yip Man attacked furiously to no avail. Finally, the Sifu floored the young challenger, he scoffed “do you even know Biu-Tze?” At this encounter, Yip discovered he’d actually challenged his Si-Sook (older kung fu uncle) Leung Bik. Leung Bik was the second so of his Sifu’s teacher Leung Jan. Yip Man wisely requested to become a student of Leung Bik. Leung Bik agreed and Yip Man’s studies in Wing Chun began anew.
At the age of twenty-four, Yip Man returned to Foshan. He began his training with his old Kung Fu family. The students of Chan Wah Shun, Ng Chung So & his student Yuen Kay Shan. And although he got along with them quite well. It was clear that he had passed them in Kung Fu skill.
One day during the parade in Foshan. A soldier accosted some female friends of Yip Man. Yip Man defended his friends and a quarrel between him and the young soldier ensued. The soldier not liking how the fight was going pulled his pistol on Yip Man. Quickly Yip Man knocked the chamber out of the revolver. And while the soldier stood dumbfounded. Yip Man and his friends made a hasty escape.
Challenges in Foshan
Time passed and Yip Man continuously trained with his friends. His family was wealthy and this lent a lot of time for him to train. He had earned a reputation as a skilled Kung Fu man. But this reputation brought challenges. Which he usually refused.
One day a respected physician in Fatshun, Lee Kwong Hoi. Convinced Yip Man to accept a challenge from a martial artist from Northern China named Kam Shan Mao. A stage was set up for the contest, and a crowd gathered to watch. They were disappointed when Yip Man won almost immediately. The show was over.
Ultimate Kung Fu Stance
Yip Man became a police officer, and later a captain of his own squad. During some down time one day discussing kung fu. Sifu Man was describing the character-two adduction stance or IRAS stance found in Wing Tsun. He challenged his four subordinates to pull his legs apart, two pulling on each leg. All four were impressed when they could not.
This stance saved Yip Man’s life one day while he was pursuing a suspect. He chased the perp into a building and up a flight of stairs onto the roof. The suspect attacked him with the door to the roof a Yip Man crossed the doorway. Attempting to push him over the side of the building. But Yip Man grounded his weight using his IRAS stance. The top part of his body swayed while the lower stayed glued to the ground.
Communists force Yip Man to return to Hong Kong
In 1937 when the Japanese invaded China they interrupted a Chinese Civil War. A Civil War that had been raging for a decade between the Chinese Nationalist party and the Communist party.
In 1946 Mao Zedong who had been a brilliant military strategist before the Japanese occupation. Rose and led his Red Army once again against the Nationalist Party forces. Mao declared victory in 1949. All China, including Foshan was under Communist rule.
This did not bode well for Yip Man. Who was wealthy, a Nationalist party police officer. Wing Tsun Sifu known to teach Nationalist party troops. It was time for Yip Man to return to Hong Kong.
Back in Hong Kong
In 1949 Yip Man found himself separated from his family and his wife alive but living in squalor in Hong Kong. It was time for him to do something he had never done before. Teach open to the public.
Sifu Yip Man found a friend Lee Man. A clerk at the Hong Kong Association. He became their private Kung Fu Sifu. A restauranteur Leung Sheung (梁相). Leung Sheung later took on a pupil of his own, who later Yip Man would share. A young man named Leung Ting (梁挺). In the meantime, Sifu Man had a job and a place to lay his head. It would be two years before he would open a brick-and-mortar Kwoon in Hong Kong.
Yip Man & Bruce Lee
Yip Man’s most famous disciple was a young Bruce Lee. Bruce Lee’s father, Lee Hoi Chuen was a famous Cantonese opera singer and a good friend of Yip Man. Hoi like Sifu Man was a refugee from Foshan. He took in his Bruce as a pupil. And instructed him for three years, until Bruce moved to Seattle to enroll in college at the University of Washington. In Seattle Bruce began teaching Kung Fu to Americans. Like some in the Chinese community in the U.S. Sifu Yip Man disapproved of teaching Wing Chun to non-Chinese.
In 1965 a year before Bruce’s big break on The Green Hornet television show. He returned to Hong Kong with his wife Linda and their children. Bruce approached his Sifu and asked for some lessons. He also asked that he be able to film Sifu Yip Man on 8 mil film for his own training. In return, Bruce offered to buy Yip Man a condominium in Hong Kong to live in. Yip Man could have used the apartment, but the transactional nature of the request offended the Sifu. He denied Bruce’s request, his mind could not be changed.
A Kung Fu life
Yip Man taught Wing Chun for many years in Hong Kong and developed a multi-generational student base. In 1968 he took on his students Leung Sheung’s fourteen-year-old pupil, Leung Ting as a private student.
Many of Yip Man’s pupils had become Sifu’s themselves so in 1970 the Grandmaster decided to close his doors. He was no longer teaching to the public, and he turned over his classes to Leung Ting to teach. This act of passing the torch to Ting. Who was lower on the rung than his older Kung Fu family. This caused a great schism the Wing Tsun 詠春 community that he had built.
He was diagnosed with throat cancer and finally decided to do what his pupil Bruce Lee had suggested years before. He decided to record himself on film doing the Wing Tsun 詠春 Forms. Yip Man spent out his last days spending much of his time with his pupils dining out or at tea houses. Surrounded by the people he loved and the community he created.