Article by Billy Davidson. Originally written on the 14th January, 2007
Many students have said there Wing Chun has come direct from Ip Man and some say that they were his senior student or indoor disciple, which all seem to be very political and self promotional. Being political about Wing Chun was something Ip Man would not even consider within his world of Kung Fu. Yet so many have a very different way of teaching or even training a form from that which Ip Man taught as seen in the 8mm video footage but how cans this be?
In his dying days Ip Man wanted to preserve the Wing Chun system as he practiced it, and set about putting the Siu Lim Tao, Chum Kiu and Mok Yan Jong forms onto an 8mm film for his son’s to use as a point of reference and show the Ip Family system. With this unique piece of film Ip Man showed not only how he trained these forms but also how he wanted his legacy to be remembered and to also leave a template for future students.
His skill level even in ill health showed that with diligent training and correct understanding that these martial skills with stay with the practitioner until death, but this was the way in which Ip Man personally practiced and the way he wanted his students to practise.
The Meaning of Kung Fu
My understanding of the words KUNG FU and that of so many of Ip man’s students personally and as they pass on there understanding that KUNG FU means hard work! And that a teacher can only teach you what he knows of the system, but that only counts for fifty percent of the skills as you personally have to put the work in to get results.
Therefore it can be said your kung fu is fifty percent your teachers and fifty percent yours. From the stories told by senior Wing Chun masters, Ip Man taught each individual according to there level of education and the type of work they did, therefore his in depth explanation would be somewhat different to other students but it’s not what is said that makes the student develop it’s being able to understand the principles of the system and what makes it work. Their have been many good fighters in the Wing Chun system, some have been natural and some trained but what is it that developed the skill for them in the first place?
There is a story of one of Ip Man’s students getting into a fight and being hit during that fight with a low strike and when a defensive technique seemed not to work. So this student went back and asked Ip Man about it and was there a reason why it didn’t work and also if there was a way to make it better. Ip Man then showed the student how to adapt the movement so it would work better for him, thus showing a slight change in a basic movement from his hand form and that of other Ip Man students.
Many students forget it’s the words of wisdom given by the teacher, in this case Ip Man who seen the error on the technique the student used and corrected it for them hence the slight difference on the applications and the forms of senior students, but for many this part of training starts to fall down when a teacher says “this is the only way my way” yet when a student asked Ip Man if he could adjust a movement or position to make it work better for him Ip Man would say “does it work better for you? Is it still using the principles of Wing Chun? Then use it” What more could you ask from your teacher than the full backing to develop your skills and make it work for you.
There have been many stories told about the late grandmaster Ip Man and the promotion of the Wing Chun system. In fact it’s down to the hard times and his hard work in China and Hong Kong that prompted Ip Man to teach openly, also his ethics for tradition and also his ethics as a person not to be used by others or bribed into teaching what he thought the student was not ready for.
To be a good teacher you have to understand what your students needs are and help them to achieve them therefore you have to have patience, understanding, openness and the ability to communicate to others from any background what they need to help them develop, this is something Ip Man could do due to his educational background and at the time of Ip Man’s teaching this was something very few teacher could do.
Personally having had the opportunity to train with some of the most senior students of Ip Man I have been left with one embedded impression, Ip Man loved the Wing Chun system and the tradition that belongs only to the Chinese martial arts.
Today many teachers of Wing Chun teach only what is set by there teacher and not what has made it work for them. Many years ago I once said to my teacher “I want my Wing Chun and Skill to be just like yours” and he said to me “you will never be just like me, I’m Chinese and I’m taller than you, I have a different job than you. So don’t be like me, but understand the correct way of training, train hard and be the best you can be” words I have carried with me even in my teaching.