Kung fu family I was born in Hong Kong in 1933, though for the past several decades I have lived in Taiwan, where I teach Wing Chun kung fu. In early 1950, when I was not quite 18, I started studying Wing Chun in Hong Kong under my uncle on my mother’s side, Ip Man. Ip Man came from a big family; he was the second son and my mother was the first daughter, a little older. Ip Man started studying kung fu when he was seven years old. At the end of 1949, he travelled from Canton to Macau and then on to Hong Kong. China had been conquered by the Communists in the civil war. Ip Man had been a police colonel, but felt he was in danger following the change of government, so he fled. Fortunately, he had a good friend in Hong Kong, Li Man, who was also a friend of my father. The three of them had history, going back to Foshan, in southern China, where my family is originally from. Who taught Bruce Lee kung fu? Foshan itself has a history of rebellion. When the city was under the control of the Qing dynasty, over a century ago, the emperor came from the north, and the southern people of Foshan hated him. So, they studied kung fu as a means of defying the emperor. That’s why kung fu runs in my family’s blood. Master classes During Lunar New Year in 1950, I went with my uncle to the Wing Chun Association for the first time. There were only five or six students in that first class. People always ask, “If Ip Man was so great, why did he have so few students?” The reason was that only members of the association could join classes, and to become a member, you had to pay. I wasn’t a member, but because Ip Man was my uncle I was allowed to take part. Every evening after we finished our kung fu training, we would all sit around a table and eat simple food together. In the early 1950s, Hong Kong people were poor. But we were still able to sit around the table like brothers and talk about what we had learned that day. Ip Man didn’t think of his school as a business but as a way to help his students, who he treated as family. There was no first or last in his class. Everyone was equal. Of those original students, I am the only one left. Enter the dragon Bruce Lee came to join my uncle’s class in 1956. He was 16 years old. At that time the school was in Li Da Jie (Lei Tat Street, in Yau Ma Tei). Lee had not studied Wing Chun before. He was fighting in the street a lot, but he never won. By then, I was teaching with my uncle. Lee studied hard, but he used it to hurt people sometimes and Ip Man would scold him, saying, “You are learning kung fu. You are not learning how to fight.” Lee listened. He would come every day for the morning class. One time, Lee stayed behind in the stairwell after class. When the afternoon students came, he told them that sifu had said it was a holiday and the class was cancelled. Really, he wanted to make sure the afternoon class would be empty so he could study with sifu alone. Ip Man asked him, “Where is everybody?” Lee just said, “I don’t know. Maybe they’re just lazy. You can just teach me, OK?” He was crazy about kung fu. But Ip Man also tried to teach him how to be a gentleman. Wing Chun ways Ip Man came to hope that Wing Chun would spread to every corner of the world, and that was a task he passed on to me. I came to Taiwan at the end of 1960, after 10 years studying Wing Chun under Ip Man. I entered university, studying electrical engineering at first, then went to the military academy. Every student who studied in the academy had to serve in the army for 10 years after finishing school. I stayed in the army until I attained the rank of first colonel. Wing Chun is not about fighting, it’s about avoiding the fight – if you don’t fight you cannot lose. A man is not judged by his strength or his ability to fight, but by his heart It was during that time I started to realise everything can be explained through kung fu, because the actions of kung fu boil down to physics and mathematics. Kung fu is not about hurting people, it’s the passing of knowledge from master to student. I read many books, combining their teachings with my kung fu training. Wing Chun is not about fighting, it’s about avoiding the fight – if you don’t fight you cannot lose. A man is not judged by his strength or his ability to fight, but by his heart. After leaving the army, in January 1975, I started teaching kung fu in the Songshan district of Taipei, and I’ve been doing that now for over 40 years. Man of the world People from more than 50 countries have come to study with me on my rooftop. I keep photos of my current students up there on a board. I take the pictures on their first day of training and write down their name and the date at the top. My oldest student is 78. He comes once a week, taking the train from Changhua to Taipei. My youngest student is seven years old. And one student has been studying with me since 1980. A few of my foreign students have gone on to open Wing Chun schools in France, England, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Slovenia. That is the mark of a good master. A great sifu wants his students to surpass him. I even taught the youngest grandson of Chiang Kai-shek. Many Taiwanese were not happy about that! Anyone who comes to me, I must teach them, whatever their background might be. My way is to open Wing Chun to the world. Old school Now that I’m 86 years old I don’t want to spend so much time teaching. I still have over 60 students and I still teach every morning. Some students come only once or twice a week. Few come every day, though I prefer that they do so they can learn quicker. I try to explain things to my students in a mathematical way, such as the way to move their feet using geometry to show when they might be in danger due to their distance from their opponent. Kung fu taught a boy to walk. That was 60 years ago. Look at him now In my method, there is no “suppose”, no “maybe”. There is only “because”. I teach them that a man will never attack and say, “Hey, I’m going to use my boxing. Get ready.” No. Why can the pickpocket steal your money? Because you don’t know he’s there or what he’s doing. Keeping up the good fight Two things keep me motivated. First, I still need to earn money to buy food and pay rent. This house does not belong to me. I also have an assistant for my classes who I pay a salary. And second, I need to take care of my body. I also want to pass kung fu on to all the people of the world, as I promised Ip Man I would. That’s a promise I must keep. People ask if it is hard to continue at my age, but I enjoy it, and I’m used to this way of life. Like Ip Man, I don’t think of kung fu as a business. I may be poor, but I pass the knowledge on to my students, and that makes me happy. I’m not special, but my way of thinking is special.