image: Wikimedia commons (link).
The first of October is the date usually given as the date of birth of SiFu Ip Man (sometimes spelled Yip Man; traditional Chinese characters 葉問), born this day in 1893.
The Ip Man museum in Foshan (Cantonese FatSaan, 佛山) contains a plaque which states that Master Ip was born on October 10. A book by his son Ip Chun published in 1992 states definitively that Master Ip died on December 01, 1972 (on page 24), but does not say the day on which he was born. However, his date of death is often stated to have been December 02 online (although the Ip Man museum plaque also says December 01).
At the age of only seven years old, young Ip Man became fascinated by the martial arts training he saw being conducted at his family's ancestral temple. As it turns out, the master who had arranged to rent the temple area from his family was Master Chan Waa-Seon (also spelled Chan Wah-soon and Chan Wah-shun; traditional Chinese characters 陳華順), who had learned the art of Wing Chun from Master Leung Jan, whose youthful exploits are depicted (with some poetic license) in the movie Bai Ga Jai (released as Prodigal Son in for English-speaking audiences) which was discussed in the previous post, "Sacred ritual drama and the realm of the gods."
Master Chan was teaching Wing Chun, the traditional history of which is closely associated with the Cantonese "Red Boat" opera troupes of the Pearl River Delta region. Some believe that an accomplished martial artist who went into hiding among the opera troupes of Guangdong during the brought the system which would eventually become Wing Chun to the Red Boats, perhaps during the 1700s. In any case, it is well established that Master Leung Jan was a verifiable and historic person, that he was a traditional medicine doctor and bone-setter in FatSaan, and that he taught Chan Waa-Seon.
Young Ip Man asked Chan Waa-Seon if he would accept Ip Man as a student. Chan Waa-seon tried to dissuade the seven-year-old, but to no avail. So Master Chan told the boy that it would cost twenty ounces of silver to be accepted as a student -- thinking it impossible for a child to obtain such a sum. The next day, however, the young Ip Man arrived bearing the requested fee (an enormous amount of money, enough to purchase a house). Astonished, Master Chan asked to see the boy's parents, who informed him that it was their wish that Master Chan teach the child.
Thus began Ip Man's martial arts journey -- one which, it is fair to say without any exaggeration, would change the world.
Describing further, his son Ip Chun would say during an interview included in the above-linked book:
Grandmaster Yip Man started Kung Fu training in Fatshan province at the age of seven and continued until he was thirteen. His master, Chan Wah Soon, passed away when Yip Man was thirteen, and just before he died he told one of his seniors, Ng Chung So, to be responsible for taking care of Yip Man in order to make him a great master. Yip Man followed Ng Chung So for two years to further his studies in Wing Chun. At the age of fifteen Yip Man and a fellow classmate, Un Ki Sen, went to Hong Kong to study at St Stephen's College, and there by coincidence Yip Man met Leung Bik, the son of Leung Jan. Yip Man studied Wing Chun under Master Leung Bik for three years. This is roughly the history of his training, and according to Grandmaster Yip Man what he really learned about Wing Chun was obtained during this time in Hong Kong. (page 100)
Although not mentioned in that particular interview, it is said that the circumstances which led to young Ip Man's first meeting with Leung Bik (the son of Leung Jan, who had taught Chan Waa-seon) involved Ip's rushing to the aid of a Chinese woman in Hong Kong who was being beaten by a colonial policeman in the street and using his martial arts skills against the policeman. The story of this confrontation apparently made its way to the uncle of one of young Ip Man's classmates, who happened to be Leung Bik, and he requested that Ip Man come to see him to discuss martial arts (perhaps after Leung Bik inquired as to what style the teenaged fighter was practicing, and learning that it was Wing Chun).
It is fascinating to consider the fact that, had the teenaged Ip Man not confronted the policeman who was beating the woman in the street, he might never have met Leung Bik, and thus might never have caught the aspects of Wing Chun which (in the same interview cited above) his son Ip Chun says is difficult to grasp ("some theory that seems to be untouchable in Wing Chun," as Ip Chun puts it in the interview), of which Ip Chun says of his father: "when he was in his boyhood he was not able to catch the idea" (100).
During the period of the occupation of China by imperialist Japan during the Second World War, Ip Man refused to collaborate with the occupiers -- to his own great detriment and personal loss. Because of this, he was very well respected afterwards.
This aspect of Master Ip Man's life (his refusal to collaborate, even at great personal cost) is also worthy of deep contemplation and admiration.
The explosion in popularity of martial arts outside of the countries where they have traditionally been taught is attributable to the enormous impact of the films of Bruce Lee, who was Ip Man's student in Hong Kong during the 1950s.
Undoubtedly, the study of martial arts can be a tremendous blessing and benefit to the lives of men and women -- and anyone whose own martial arts journey has been made possible by the influence of the life of Master Ip Man can be grateful that he lived.
Whether or not one studies martial arts or has any interest in them, some of the the attributes which were clearly displayed by Master Ip Man during his life, and which are not generally disputed, such as the fact that even as a young teenager he rushed to the assistance of a woman who was being beaten, and the fact that as an adult man he refused to collaborate with the forces which had taken over his country (a decision which cost him greatly both during and after the war) are worthy of emulation and respect.
I personally believe that in this incarnate life, pursuing mastery in some area, among virtually endless possibilities including music, art, athletics, engineering, teaching, building, writing, cooking, designing, and a host of other fields can be greatly beneficial and may have much to with the reason we are "down here" in the first place.
Ip Man SiFu clearly manifested an extraordinary level of mastery in his own life, in the martial art of Wing Chun. In doing so, he also made it possible for millions of others to pursue martial arts around the world.