The Evolution of a Modern Wing Chun Student

Modern folklore portrays Ip Man as a somewhat distant father whom his wife chastised for not being more involved with his children. The claim was perpetuated by a recent spate of vaguely biographical films (some of which benefited from the advice and input of his still-living family members). This incident suggests that there may be some truth to this portrayal. Pushing on a Wing Chun student to test stance stability is quite common, and turning is a crucial concept in the second form. However, leaving a child to practice a single movement alone for three months without supervision or guidance is not. 

With only three years of practice before moving to Hong Kong, followed by another one or two years of instruction from Leung Bik, it is clear that Ip Man must have progressed quickly through the entire system. Given the caliber and precision of his kung fu, this could not have been accomplished without the constant supervision and practice of an experienced instructor. While he desired his sons to follow in his footsteps, he did not appear to be interested in teaching them in the same manner he had been taught. Of course, reading too much into such accounts is also dangerous. From a modern Western perspective, traditional Confucian instruction often appears harsh or alien. Several areas where such a teaching strategy may have been considered the norm. Nonetheless, the convenient southern Wing Chun school “was not one of them.” At the time, Ip Man may have been more concerned with instilling “life lessons” in his son than teaching him the art’s specifics.

The initial examination of Ip Man’s early years provides a complete picture of both the individual and his surroundings than is usually provided. We have tried to reconcile contradictory timelines and shed as much light as possible on his true personality. Furthermore, when discussing Ip Man, it is clear that his insights into the essential nature of the art did not stem from his unique skills or the breadth of his knowledge of the Wing Chun system. His repeated attempts to learn Wing Chun were thwarted by the deaths of his teachers and the necessity of moving around to obtain an education. Ip Man most likely received less formal instruction than many of Chan Wah Shun’s other students or grand-students. What was most remarkable about Ip Man was his importance in the unfolding story of Wing Chun. He was near the center of the social network responsible for developing and refining this art.

He was uniquely able to know the specifics of both Chan Wah Shun’s and Leung Bik’s system insights. He knew most of the significant Wing Chun practitioners of the 1920s and 1930s and was well-versed in Foshan’s martial environment. Ip Man had an unprecedented vantage point from which to analyze not only what Wing Chun was but also how it worked, thanks to his dual traditional/Western education. This knowledge would come in handy later in life when he took on the “Sifu.”