Yip Man, the Grandmaster of Wing Tsun kungfu, was the eighth heir on the direct line of successors. He was brought up in a wealthy family that owned a huge farmland and a lot of property in Fatshan.
One would have imagined that he should have been a pampered kid with life well provided for, and would not have taken to any physical labour. Yet, to the surprise of all, he showed a special liking for the art of fighting. He started to learn Wing Tsun at the young age of thirteen and practiced the skills under his master Chan Wah Shun for three years.
Upon the death of Chan, Yip Man went to Hong Kong for schooling.There he received his secondary education in a reputable catholic school, the St. Stephen College of Hong Kong. By fate of life, Yip ran into Leung Bik in Hong Kong. Leung Bik was the elder son of Leung Jan and was the kungfu brother of Chan Wah Soon, Yipˇ's master.
Leung found that Yip possessed the Grandmaster Yip Man at the age of 72 necessary qualities, temperament and attitude, and unreservedly offered to teach Yip all that he had learnt from his father Leung Jan. Yip followed Leung Bik for a number of years and learnt all the secrets of Wing Tsun kungfu. Yet, Yip was not satisfied with his attainment so far.
At the age of 24, he returned to Fatshan. There he spent much time in practicing with his elder kungfu brother, Ng Chung So as well as Ngˇ's disciples, and refined his skills to the highest pitch. There are a lot of stories and anecdotes prevailing about the feat of Yip Man in Fatshan. It was told that he once knocked away in a flash the chamber of a pistol pointing at him by an evil soldier; that with a sweeping kick he broke a sliding door with bars as thick as a man's arm; that he had engaged in many duels and each time he managed to overpower his opponent in less than no time, etc.
Despite his peerless fame in Fatshan, Yip Man had not thought of teaching his skills to anyone, not even to his own son. During the second world war, when a great part of China was under the military control of the Japanese, the rich farmland of his family was ruined and he began to find life difficult. Later the Japanese arrived in the town of Fatshan, and Yipˇ's name soon reached the ears of the Japanese commander, who invited him to take up the post as instructor to the Japanese soldiers. Prompted by patriotism for his own country and hatred towards the invaders, Yip turned down the invitation.
After the war, Yip moved to settle in Hong Kong with his family. His self-pride and unusual temperament, coupled with the fact that he was born of a wealthy family, made it very difficult for him to find a suitable job, and for some time he and his family lived in poverty.
In 1949, through the introduction of a close friend, he was invited to give kungfu lessons to members of a Restaurant Workers Association in Hong Kong.
At first, members of the Association did not pay much attention to Yip Man, nor did they have much regard for what he was teaching, as Wing Tsun kungfu, unlike the "long bridges and wide stances" of other kungfu styles, was not very attractive at first sight.
Besides, Yip Man, like his own master, did not wish to boast about his skills, not to mention taking part in public displays. That was why Wing Tsun was not well known at that time. After two years serving as instructor at the Association, where he had only a few students, he founded his own gymnasium and began to admit students other than restaurant workers. Many of his early students, who had followed him for the past two years, came to help with running the gymnasium.
It was then that Wing Tsun Kungfu began to draw the attention of kungfu fans. Later, when more and more students came to him, he had to move the gymnasium to a larger site. The fame of Yip Man and his practical Wing Tsun Kungfu went fast and wide, and attracted admiration from an ever increasing number of followers, particularly from the Hong Kong police force.
As a major effort towards the propagation of Wing Tsun, he founded, in 1967, with the assistance of his students, the Hong Kong Wing Tsun Athletic Association, opened more classes, and took Wing Tsun to a much greater exposure. In May 1970, when the classes in his association were firmly established, he decided to retire from teaching himself to enjoy a quiet life, having first passed all the teaching affairs of his gymnasium to his favourite disciple, Leung Ting.
In his retirement, he was usually seen having tea, alone in a certain tea-house, in the morning, afternoon or even in the evening, or else sharing a laugh and a few jokes with his disciples, always forgetting that he was their master. "Why put on airs? You are in an important position if people respect you." That was his philosophy.
Between 1970 and 1971, Bruce Lee, one of Yip Man's disciples, became a famous superstar of kungfu movies. Although Lee was noted for his Jee-Kune-Do, it was known to many people that he had been a disciple of Yip Man for a certain period. Yip, on the other hand, never felt proud of having had this superstar as his student. Whenever people praised him for having taught Bruce Lee, he only replied with a smile. He seldom refuted people who made unjustified comments or erroneous conceptions about the theories of Wing Tsun. Truth was truth, and Yip Man was Yip Man. It made no difference to the standing of Wing Tsun whether he had taught Bruce Lee or not.
On the 2nd of December 1972, Yip Man the great Grandmaster passed away, leaving behind him a great style of kungfu and a perpetual mission to be carried onward by his disciples.
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