Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Birthday of Master Yip Man (October 10)

October 10 is the birthday of Master Yip Man (1893 - 1972).  His mastery of Wing Chun Kung Fu is unquestionable.  

This passage from Wing Chun Warrior by Ken Ing describes some of the details of Yip Man's life:
Yip Man was born in Foshan in 1893, during the reign of Emperor Guang Xu (1875  - 1908).  His family was well off, and he was raised and educated in the traditional manner.
By the time he was 13, he was accepted as the last disciple of Chen Hua-shun [Guangdongwa: Chan Wah Soon], who was the most outstanding disciple of Liang Zan [Guangdongwa: Leung Jan].  His Sifu was in his seventies when he was accepted, and it was Wu Zhong-su, his second elder Kung Fu brother, who undertook the responsibility of teaching him.
In 1908, when he was 15, Yip Man became a boarder at St. Stephen's College in Stanley in Hong Kong.  It was his good fortune that, while in Hong Kong, he met Liang Bi [Guangdongwa: Leung Bik], the son of Liang Zan [Leung Jan].  By the time he returned to Foshan, he had plumbed the depths of Liang Bi's knowledge of Wing Chun. The superiority of Yip Man's Wing Chun led to speculation that secret Kung Fu knowledge had been passed from Liang Zan to Liang Bi to him.
Yip Man witnessed the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911, the birth of the Republic of China under the presidency of Sun Yat-sen, and the Kuomintang regime under the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek.  He survived the Second World War and the occupation by the Japanese Imperial Army betwee 1937 and 1945.
After Japan was defeated in 1945, Yip Man served as a police chief in Foshan, from which vantage point he witnessed the failure of the Kuomintang regime and its retreat to Taiwan.  Before the birth of the People's Republic of China on 1 October 1949, he escaped to Hong Kong without his family to avoid an expected purge by the victorious Communists led by Mao Zedong.
To earn his livelihood in Hong Kong, Yip Man began teaching Wing Chun Kung Fu.  Considering the state of Hong Kong's economy at the time and the huge number of refugees flooding across the border, establishing a school was a formidable undertaking.  However, as a result of Yip Man's efforts, Wing Chun rapidly became recognized in Hong Kong Kung Fu circles as a legitimate system of martial arts.
At different times and at different places throughout his career, Yip Man had accepted students.  However, it was the students he taught in the 1950s in Hong Kong who built the reputation of Wing Chun.  Collectively they were known simply as the Wing Chun fighters.  103-104.

It is no exaggeration to say that the Sifu Yip Man's teaching changed the world.  Through his students, and in particular through the exceptional career of his student Bruce Lee (pictured above with his Sifu, Yip Man, during the 1950s in Hong Kong), the West came to know about kung fu in a completely different way than ever before.

In fact, it is not an exaggeration to suggest that those who came to study Chinese kung fu outside of China since the 1960s and 1970s owe a debt of gratitude to the teaching of Master Yip Man.  His decision to teach kung fu in Hong Kong beginning in the 1950s led directly to the incredible explosion of popularity of the martial arts around the world beginning in the 1960s.

It is also no exaggeration to say that, through the study of the martial arts, many people of other cultures and backgrounds have been introduced to the profound culture of China and its neighboring cultures and countries, and their lives have been made richer by this contact.

You can learn more about the life and teaching of Sifu Yip Man at the website of the Yip Man Museum in Foshan.  The website contains a virtual tour feature in which you can click on almost all of the photographs and artifacts at the museum itself, and see them on your computer screen.