Chan Wah Shun(Chen Huashun) (1833–1913 or according to some accounts 1849- 1913) , probably the most significant Wing Chun master of all times . Chan Wah Shun's birth place is Tung Ma Ling of Shunde. Since Foshan was one of the most important commercial & light industrial cities in Guangdong at that time at the age of 13 Chan was sent to work at a rice shop in Foshan., later he worked as a money changer (someone licensed to convert currency denominations- while silver was the official tender, smaller transactions were carried out with copper or bronze coins) and was hence known by the nickname Moneychanger Wah. His stall was located in the marketplace close to Leung Jan’s pharmacy on Fei Jee Street.
Chan was extremely strong and unusually tall for his time. He had over 180 cm in high and due to his profession, he had to carry very heavy loads of coins everyday, he developed very strong body over the years. Legend has it that he was able to split several copper coins by the grip of his palm. He had studied martial arts since his early age from others before learning Wing Chun and he had numerous fights as a result of his job (carrying loads of money in public was never safe ) . Chan Wah Shun was first taken on as a student by Li Wah or “Wooden Man Wah” who got his nickname from allegedly breaking the Mook Yan Jong(wooden dummy) during practice ,who was himself a student of Leung Jan. Chan studied with him until his death, at which time ,around 1858 or 1874 at age 25 depends of the source, Chan Wah Shun started his Wing Chun training under Leung Jan and went on to become one his most prized student. Chan had great talent for martial arts. As a result, he did Wing Chun better than his fellow students and he was the best fighter of the Wing Chun system at the time. Because of his profession, he had many opportunities to use his Wing Chun skill to defend his business, and got much more combat experience than anyone else in Leung Jan’s school. He was the top fighter of Leung Jan’s school and He represented Leung Jan and the Wing Chun System in challenge matches.Among the others he won two fights against legendary Wong Fei Hung .He earned the nickname- Bull Wah.
At age 35, Chan Wah Shun gave up the money changing business to work as an osteopath, a trade which he learned from Leung Jan. The exact time when Chan Wah started teaching is unknown. He was unable to publicly teach while Leung Jan was still active in the area. The older master had no desire to teach and so his student was constrained by social convention not to. Leung Jan may have retired around 1895, when Chan started to teach publicly
During his career, he reportedly trained 16 disciples. The earliest of these disciples included the Ng brothers, Siu-Lo and Chung –So, as well as Lui Yiu-Chai, Ngau Hong, and his own son, Chan Yiu-Min and Yiu-Min`s wife Lai Miu-Hin. Other students were said to include Ho Han-Lui (in alternate accounts listed as a student of Leung Jan), Lee Jit-Man, Ngau Jaw-Ting, Lai Hao-Po , Chan Hung-Dai, Chan Sik-Hao. Shortly before his retirement, Chan Wah-Shun accepted his final disciples, Lai Hip-Chi and Yip Man.
In 1911, Chan Wah-Shun, known as Grandfather Wah retired from teaching suffering a stroke and becoming partially paralyzed and returned to his home village in Shunde county where he passed away two years later.
So , why is the role of Chan Wah Shun so important in development of Wing Chun system ?Besides the fact that he was one of the most notorious fighters of the time and well respected ( and feared) in the martial arts community, Chan Wah Shun, was the first individual to attempt to open a public school .His school was the first of its kind, opened to anyone and everyone who can afford the tuition fee . Wing Chun was the first public martial art in Foshan and probably in China . On this foundation , Chan’s students continued to build good reputation of Wing Chun and today , as a result of Chan Wah Shun ‘s work, Wing Chun is not an obscure family art but one of the most popular and most widely spread kung fu styles on the world.
Today several different branches of Wing Chun trace their origin directly from Chan Wah Shun .
Chan Wah Shun’s students :