The Legend of the Man
Everyone knows Bruce Lee the Dragon. But fewer are aware of the Dragon’s Master- Yip Man (alternatively known as Ip Man). That is set to change when the first ever movie of the legendary Wing Chun master debuts in cinemas on December 18.
International action superstar Donnie Yen portrays the celebrated kung fu master Yip Man in this biopic set in 1930s Foshan at the height of the Sino-Japanese invasion. Ip Man also marks Donnie Yen’s fourth collaboration with director Wilson Yip (after SPL, Dragon Tiger Gate and Flash Point) and his reunion with SPL co-stars Simon Yam and Sammo Hung (who also serves as action choreographer).
But before Ip Man makes its way onto the big screen, here’s a brief biography of the legend of the Man- Ip Man, that is- to whet your appetite and get you excited about this latest martial arts blockbuster!
His Humble Beginnings
Born Ip Gai-Man in Foshan City, Guangdong Province, Ip Man first began learning Wing Chun in 1906 under the tutelage of Chan Wah-Shun, pupil of renowned Wing Chun master Leung Chun. Due to old age, Wah soon passed away and Ip Man continued his training under Wah’s pupil Ng Chung-sok.
At the age of sixteen, Ip Man attended St Stephen’s College in Hong Kong. It was in Hong Kong that he met Leung Bik, the son of former master Wah’s sifu, Leung Chun. Legend has it that when Ip Man first met Leung Bik, he did not know who Leung Bik was and arrogantly demonstrated his kung fu.
When Leung Bik was less than impressed, Ip Man was unhappy and challenged Leung Bik to a duel. Ip Man was however easily defeated. Discouraged, he stormed out- only to return the next day when his classmate told him who Leung Bik was.
Ip Man trained under Leung Bik for the next five to six years and acquired a complete mastery of the skill of Wing Chun. He returned to Foshan at the age of 24.
Back at Foshan
After Ip Man returned, he did not formally open a school to teach Wing Chun. Instead, he became a police officer and taught to several subordinates, friends and relatives. His connections with wushu practitioners and occasional combats in the city however made him a well known figure in Foshan.
When Foshan fell to the Japanese during the War, Ip Man remained faithful to his country and refused to join the Japanese militia. Instead, he started teaching Wing Chun in his good friend Chow Ching-yuen’s cotton mill factory. (Note: The movie Ip Man focuses on this chapter in his life- from his claim to fame in Foshan to his resistance against the Japanese occuptation.)
Return to Hong Kong
After the War, Ip Man returned to Hong Kong at the end of 1949 and opened his first martial arts school teaching the art of Wing Chun. Some of his more famous pupils during this time include Wong Shun-Leung, Chu Shong-Tin and of course Bruce Lee, perhaps his most well known disciple who trained under him from 1954 to 1957.
One of the unique ways of Ip Man’s style of teaching was his use of sport combats, or “hand talk”. He believed that such friendly sport combats could better help his pupils hone their martial arts expertise. It was through these public displays of “hand talk” that Wing Chun and Ip Man’s school grew in popularity and numbers.
Throughout his years of teaching, Ip Man was always humble about his skills and was instrumental in advancing Wing Chun. Many of his accomplished pupils have also established schools overseas, enabling Wing Chun to flourish in other parts of the world. Today it is a martial arts form that has millions of followers, and Ip Man is widely regarded as one of the greatest masters of Wing Chun.
One of Ip Man’s famous quotes is “It is difficult for a student to pick a good teacher, but it is more difficult for a teacher to pick a good student”. For Wing Chun master Ip Man, it appears that the teacher has picked more than a few good students; and that is perhaps his best legacy.
An Ip Man Special: The Legend of the Yen
Ip Man The Movie opens 18 December 2008