Chinese kung fu masters battle over inheritance of Yip Man's Wing Chun legacy

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 August, 2014, 3:22pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 June, 2018, 5:15pm

A controversy has erupted in Chinese martial arts circles over who will be chosen as the officially sanctioned inheritor of the legacy of Wing Chun-style kung fu.

Nine martial arts groups from Guangdong province have signed a letter contesting a suggestion by the provincial department of culture to list Ip Chun, the son of kung fu legend Yip Man, as an official standard bearer of the martial art.

The 90-year-old Hong Kong-resident has to this day continued to give lessons in his fathers’ teachings.

Chinese provinces have been creating lists of “intangible culture heritage representative inheritors” ranging from practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine to opera singers and mooncake bakers.

This year’s list for Guangdong province was released for public consultation earlier this month until Monday.

Ip was among the 113 people included in the document. The two other Wing Chun representatives are Kuok Wai-jarm and Leung Wai-wing from Foshan.

Ip’s father Yip Man was the teacher of actor and Hong Kong kung fu legend Bruce Lee.

Two recent biographical blockbuster movies rediscovered the master’s story and introduced it to a global audience.

Though born into a rich family in Foshan, Guangdong in 1893, Ip later endured poverty and repression in the warlorlds' period and Japanese occupation until he immigrated to the then-British colony of Hong Kong, where he popularised his style of Wing Chun kung fu until his death in 1972.

Two days after a public review period ended, a leading Guandong newspaper said nine martial arts groups opposed the province’s selection of Ip and two other men as representatives of Wing Chun.

The choice was “completely inconsistent with history and the reality of the situation” the opponents wrote, according to their letter seen by the Southern Metropolis Daily.

Ip had lived in Hong Kong for too many years and had not contributed to the development of Wing Chun in its hometown Foshan, the report said.

WATCH: Ip Chun recalls how his father taught Bruce Lee

The groups named in the report on Wednesday could not be reached for comment.

A spokesman for the Guangdong provincial martial arts association also declined to comment.

A member of the Martial Arts Association in Guangzhou’s Conghua district, which signed the letter opposing Ip’s selection, said the Wing Chun style of kung fu dated back to imperial times and had by now developed into different styles.

He said he opposed the selection of Ip and the two other nominees, saying they could not represent Wing Chun in its entirety.

Ho Kay, chairman of Wing Chun Ip Chun Academy and a student of Ip for three decades, rejected the accusation that Ip had not contributed to Wing Chun in Foshan. He said Ip’s students had built an Ip Man museum on the outskirts of Foshan and have been teaching summer classes in the city for years.

An expert commission will study Ip’s nomination and objections raised by the nine kung fu groups, a staffer at the Guangdong Province Intangible Cultural Heritage Protection Centre said.