The Wing Chun Kuen Masters of Foshan: Yuen Kay-San and Ip Man

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Wing Chun is a style of Chinese martial arts that originated in the southern province of Guangdong. It is known for its close-range fighting techniques, such as trapping, striking, and grappling. Wing Chun is also famous for its legendary masters, who have influenced generations of martial artists around the world. Among them, two of the most revered are Yuen Kay-San and Ip Man, who both lived and taught in the city of Foshan.

Yuen Kay-San was born in 1889 into a wealthy family that owned a firework monopoly. He began learning Wing Chun from his older brother, Yuen Chai-Wan, who was a student of Fok Bo-Chuen, a constable and martial arts instructor. Yuen Kay-San also learned from other Wing Chun masters, such as Wong Wah-Bo and Fung Siu-Ching, who were members of the Red Boat Opera Company. Yuen Kay-San developed his skills to a high level and became known as an undefeated champion of 1000 death duels during the 1920-1950s. He created three forms to organize the open hand techniques of Wing Chun: Siu Lien Tau, Chum Kiu, and Biu Jee. He also mastered the weapons of Wing Chun: the knives, the six and a half point pole, and the flying darts. Not only that, but he was nicknamed “Foshan Yuen Lo-jia” (Yuen the Fifth of Foshan) because he was the fifth child of his family.

Ip Man was born in 1893 into a rich merchant family. He started learning Wing Chun from Chan Wah-Shun, a disciple of Leung Jan, who was considered the founder of the Foshan branch of Wing Chun. Ip Man was only 13 years old when Chan Wah-Shun died, so he continued his training with Chan’s senior student, Ng Chung-So. Ip Man also traveled to Hong Kong to learn from Leung Jan’s son, Leung Bik, who taught him a different approach to Wing Chun. Ip Man returned to Foshan and became friends with other Wing Chun practitioners, such as Yuen Kay-San, Yiu Choi, Yip Chung Hong, Lai Hip Chi, and Tong Gai. Ip Man was respected for his skill and generosity in teaching Wing Chun to anyone who wanted to learn. He later moved to Hong Kong and opened his own school, where he taught many famous students, such as Leung Sheung, Wong Shun-Leung, Leung Ting, and Moy Yat.

Yuen Kay-San and Ip Man were both influential figures in the history of Wing Chun. They shared their knowledge and passion for the art with countless students and followers. They also preserved and enriched the legacy of Wing Chun with their own contributions and innovations. Furthermore, they were both true masters of Wing Chun and worthy representatives of the martial spirit of Foshan.

The two men also had a close enough friendship that Ip Man had Yuan Kay-San take on the early training of his son, Ip Chun. Being wealthy men of means, they spent time together in social situations, and you can almost guarantee they would not only trade thoughts about their chosen art, but also exchange skills.

Later in Leung Jan’s life, Ip Man’s Sigung, he taught Wing Chun conceptually. So that could mean that Wong Wah-Bo, taught Ip Man in the same way that he would have learned. No forms, just concepts and constant application. It could be that Ip Man received the three empty hand set structure from Yuen Kay-San. There were also other great exponents of Wing Chun Kuen there as well, such as Yiu Choi, Yip Chung Hong, Lai Hip Chi, Tong Gai and others.

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This blog post is just me thinking out-loud. I am merely postulating about the cross pollination between these two masters. Pride will never let anybody who put humans on pedestals will allow them to dig any further than what will satisfy their preconceived conclusions. X was great. X did Y all by themselves. X was perfect. No person is an island. Kung Fu, like anything else, requires a communal experience. Anybody who has ever taught it can tell you that they are still learning even while they are teaching.

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