Yip Man, the master of Wing Chun

Yip Man, also known as Ip Man (1893-1972), was a master of the Wing Chun and the first to teach this style openly. He had several students who later became martial arts teachers in their own right, including Bruce Lee. Most major branches of Wing Chun that exist today were developed and promoted by his students. 

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Yip Man and Bruce Lee

Biography

Yip Man was born in Foshan, Guangdong province in south China. He started learning Wing Chun here When he was thirteen years old. Because of his master’s old age, Yip Man had to learn much of his skills and techniques from his master’s second eldest disciple.

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At the age of 15 Yip man moved to Hong Kong with help from a relative. At age sixteen, Yip Man attended school at St. Stephen’s College in Hong Kong. It was a secondary school for wealthy families and foreigners who lived in Hong Kong. According to Yip Man’s two sons, while at St. Stephen’s, Yip Man intervened after seeing a foreign police officer beating a woman. The story goes that the Police officer tried to strike Yip Man who used his martial arts to strike the officer down, at which point Yip Man and his classmate ran to school. The classmate is said to have told an old man who lived in his apartment block. Yip Man was invited to see this man and it turned out that the old man was his master’s elder fellow-disciple (and so, by Chinese tradition Yip Man’s martial uncle). After that encounter, Yip Man continued his training lessons from this man.

By the age of 24, Yip Man had returned to Foshan, and his Wing Chun skills tremendously improved. In Foshan, Yip Man became a policeman. He did not formally run a Wing Chun school, but taught several of his subordinates, his friends and relatives.

During the Japanese Occupation(1931-1945), Yip Man went to one of his students’ village house. He only returned to Foshan after the war, to once again take up the job of a police officer. At the end of 1949, he went to Hong Kong again.

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Yip Man

In Hong Kong, he opened a martial arts school. Initially, business was poor because his students typically stayed for only a couple of months. Later, some of his students were skilled enough that they were able to start their own schools. Some of his students and descendants compared their skills with other martial artists in combat. Their victories over other martial artists helped to bolster Yip Man’s reputation as a teacher.

In 1967, Yip Man and some of his students established the Hong Kong Wing Chun Athletic Association. In 1972, Yip Man suffered throat cancer and subsequently died on the 2nd of December that same year.

Within the three decades of his career in Hong Kong, he established a training system for Wing Chun that eventually spread across the world.


by Xiao Xiao xiaoxiao@interactchina.com

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