From Martial Hero magazine
The Following interview comes from an old issue of Hong Kong New Martial Hero magazine it is one of the two ever published interviews with Yip (Ip) Man sifu.
It was originally posted in KFO discussion forum by user k gledhill and Phillip Redmond who has posted it on Facebook, so all credit goes there Like others, I’m just reposting the interview so more readers can enjoy it.
Firstly, Some History
When Ip Man was thirteen years old he started learning Wing Chun from Chan Wah-shun. Because of his sifu’s old age, Ip Man had to learn much of his skills and techniques from his master’s second eldest disciple Ng Chung-sok. Three years into Ip Man’s training Chan Wah-shun died. One of his dying wishes was to have Ng continue training Ip, which he did.
Ip later moved to Hong Kong and had a chance meeting with Leung Bik who taught Ip Man the rest of the Wing Chun system.
At around the age of 24 Ip Man returned to Futshan. Being from a well-to-do family, he didn’t need to work and was able to devote the next years to refining his Wing Chun skills and passing them to others. Yuen Kay Shan, who was from a different linage of Wing Chun spent much time training with Ip Man at this time. This interview presents a slightly different interpretation of history to the one laid out by his son with regard to meeting Leung Bik. Read a an alternative bibliography of Ip Man here.
When Grandmaster Yip described his past, he did so with great warmth. Here is a segment of the interview in its original format.
New Martial Hero: “Did Chan Wah Shun have the nickname Jau-Chin Wah (Wah the Money-Changer)?”
Yip Man: “This nickname does not represent my instructor’s character. Other than ‘Wah the Money Changer’, he had also a less graceful nickname. ‘Ngau-Chin Wah’ of ‘Wah the Bull’. He was the headstudent of Dr Leung Jan”.
New Martial Hero: “This name indicates that Wah the Money Changer was a very bad tempered person who liked fighting all the time, right? How many students did Wah the Money Changer admit? How were you ranked amongst your kungfu brohters?”
Yip Man: “Including me, Wah Kung only admitted 16 students since opening his kungfu school. I was 11 years old when I became his student during his latter years.”
New Martial Hero: “We Chinese have a saying that the last son is the most beloved one. According to the Chinese custom, since you were his last kungfu son, you must be the most beloved student of his. Right?”
Yip Man, smiling: “You’re right. When I learnt under Wah Kung, he was already 70. He was a bit weak at that time. However, he still corrected my mistakes with great patience. Futhermore, he also told his other students to teach me. As a result, my techniques improved at high speed.”
“It’s a good question. Let me tell you why. In olden days, people were very strict concerning the teacher/student relationship. Before they admitted a student, they had to know the character of this would-be student very clearly. This is what is called ‘to choose a right student to teach’. Secondly, it also depended on whether the student could afford to pay his school fees or not”.
Grandmaster Yip stopped for awhile. He then talked i a rather low tone: “The fact is, not too many people could afford to pay for such a high school fee. For example: at the time I paid, the red packet for the ‘Student-admitting Ceremony’ had to contain 20 taels of silver. And I had to pay 8 taels of silver each month as my school fee.”
A Lot of Money for Learning Kungfu
New Martial Hero: “How much was 20 taels of silver worth, in terms of your living standards?”
Yip Man, after thinking for a while: “For 20 taels of silver you could marry a wife, say if you did it economically. Also, with no more than 1 and a half taels of silver you could buy 1 picul [around 60kg] of rice.” The Grandmaster continued: “That was why, at that time, most of the people who learnt kungfu were rich people. These people could leave their jobs and live in the old temples in deep mountains for training. It is not the same as today when people can easily learn kungfu anywhere.”
New Martial Hero: “After the death of Wah the Money Changer, you left Fatshan and came to Hong Kong to study in St. Stephens’s College. Did you learn Wing Tsun kungfu again when you were in Hong Kong?”
Yip Man, smiling: “Of course I did! And I can say that it was because of a highly proficient Wing Tsun expert whom I met that I learned the most advanced Wing Tsun techniques.”
New Martial Hero: “Who was that highly proficient expert?”
Yip Man: “It was Leung Bik, the eldest son of Dr Leung Jan. The story of how I came to meet my teacher Leung Bik was really quite dramatic. It’s a long story.”
After repeated requests by the writer, Grandmaster Yip Man started telling this story in detail:
At the time Grandmaster Yip left Fatshan to go to study in Hong Kong, was already very skilled in the basic wing chun fighting techniques. He always fought with his classmates at the school. Although Yip Man was not tall, he was very skilful in fighting techniques. Therefore, he could defeat all his classmates, even those that were much taller and stronger than he. For this reason, he became arrogant for he believed that nobody could match him.
Meeting Leung Bik in Hong Kong
After six months, one of Yip Man’s classmates, surname Lai, whose father ran a big silk company named “Kung Hang Silk Company” in Jervois Street of Sheung Wan, told Yip that there was a friend of father’s living in their house. He was in his 50s. This man knew some kungfu techniques. He offered a friendly sparring with Yip Man.
At that time Yip had never been defeated, and so he wasted no time in accepting the challenge. Lai made an appointment to introduce them to each other on one Sunday afternoon.
On that Sunday, Yip went to the house of his classmate. After being introduced to this middle-aged man, Yip looked at him appraisingly. To Yip’s eyes, he looked more like a typical slim-gentleman than someone who really knew kungFu.
After a short, Yip Man frankly challenged the man to a sparring match.
With a smile, the middle-aged man said: “Well, Yip Man, so you are interested in doing some sparring with me. Before your fight me, I can tell you not to worry about me. All you need to do is attack me to any part of my body with your full strength and that’s all!”
On hearing this, the arrogant Yip Man, though apparently still unruffled, was actually so mad that all he wanted to do was to beat this man up!
No sooner did the middle-aged man give Yip Man a hand-signal inviting him to attack than he was subjected to Yip Man’s aggressive rain of punches. However, this man was so quick that Yip Man could not match his counter-attack movements. In an instant, Yip Man was forced to withdraw into a corner. The man stopped at the same moment.
After the first contact, and already defeated, Yip Man could not believe that this man had gained the upper hand so quickly. Therefore, he asked the man if he could try again. Once again, Yip Man was completely controlled by this man. He could not do anything against him! This time, Yip Man knew that he had surely been beaten by a real kungfu expert. Without saying a word, Yip Man went away with great disappointment.
After that friendly sparring match, Yip Man was so depressed that he did not even dare to mention that he knew kungfu.
One week afterwards, Yip was told by Lai that the middle-aged man wanted to see him again. At that time, Yip Man rather afraid and too ashamed to see the middle-aged man again. He told Lai: “I feel too embarrassed to see him again. I am not his match at all.”
However, to Yip Man’s surprise, Lai told Yip that his father’s friend actually praised Yip’s kungfu techniques highly. That was why he wanted to see Yip and talk to him again. Lai started telling Yip Man the secret of his father’s friend. In fact the one who had fought with Yip Man was none other than Leung Bik, the son of Dr. Leung Jan!
After learning the truth, Yip Man thought to himself: “Gosh! That is why he is so good in kungfu techniques. Actually this time I w as fighting with a high-rank Wing Tsun expert!”
Immediately Yip Man’s realized what an opportunity this was. He was still not that highly skilled in the kungfu techniques taught to him by his si-fu Wah the Money Changer. This would be the best chance for him to learn the more advanced Wing Tsun techniques. Therefore, he wasted no time in asking Lai, his classmate, to take him to the Kung Hang Silk Company to meet Leung Bik.
Since Yip Man was a genius in terms of learning kungfu, Leung Bik was very happy to teach all he knew to Yip Man.
A few years later, Leung Bik got tired of living in Hong Kong and was thinking of going back to Fatshan. At that time Yip Man had already attained the highest proficiency in kungfu techniques.