субота, 11. јун 2016.

Yip Man between myth and reality

Yip Man :葉問 is probably the most famous Chinese martial arts master after Bruce Lee , after the recent movies about his life he can easily be the most famous kung fu master today. There are several biographies written by his sons and students and all of them are pretty much the same . Yip Man was portrayed as a hero, fearless fighter who never lost the fight and a person of highest moral and ethical standards .
Yip was  born on 1 October 1893   in a wealthy family in Foshan, Guangdong. He had one more brother and two sisters.
Yip started his Wing Chun  training when he was 7. His teacher was Chan Wah Shun , famous  Wing Chun master and well known fighter . Since Chan was 70 at the time, Yip was Chan's last student. Due to his teacher's age, Yip learned most of his skills and techniques from Chan's second eldest disciple, Ng Chan So. After Chan Wah Shun’s death Yip continued his training with Ng Chan So for couple more years.
At the age of 16, Yip moved to Hong Kong where he attended St. Stephen’s College .   During Yip's time at St. Stephen's he saw a foreign police officer beating a woman and intervened. The officer attempted to attack Yip, but Yip struck him down and ran to school with his classmate. Yip's classmate later told an older man who lived in his apartment block. The man met with Yip and asked what martial art Yip practiced. The man told Yip that his forms were "not too great".The man challenged Yip's Wing Chun in sticky hands practice. Yip saw this as an opportunity to prove that his abilities were good, but was defeated by the man after a few strikes. Yip's opponent revealed himself to be Leung Bik, Chan Wah Shun's senior and the son of Chan's teacher, Dr Leung Jan. After that encounter, Yip continued learning from Leung Bik.
Yip returned to Foshan when he was 24 and became a policeman. He taught Wing Chun to several of his subordinates, friends and relatives, but did not officially run a martial arts school  Yip went to live with one of his students during the war with Japan although later versions of Yip Man;s biography state that he took active role in a fight against Japanese .He returned to Foshan after the war, where he continued his career as a police officer. Yip left Foshan for Macao and soon after  Hong Kong at the end of 1949 after the Chinese Communist Party won the civil war  because he was an officer of Nationalist Party. the Communists' rival in the Civil War.

There are several stories about Yip Man’s fighting skill. At one occasion Yip Man arrested a wanted criminal who challenged him to a fight and Yip Man accepted . They fought in the police station and Yip easily defeated notorious killer and robber .
Another time a police officer argued with some civilians and Yip came to stop the argument . Not knowing that Yip was a police captain an officer pulled the gun on him. Yip grabbed the gun and got hold of the bullet-chamber of the weapon, meaning to stop the man from mis-firing. The man struggled to free his pistol from Yip Man's grip. However, Yip Man's fingers were so powerful that after a few pulls and twists the bullet-chamber of the pistol broke off to the astonishment of the on-lookers.
There are many more stories like these two ,where he risked his life on the line of duty ,accepted and won death matches ect. These stories mostly came from Yip Chun , Yip’s older son.
In Hong Kong , Yip started  teaching members of the Restaurant Workers Union with a help of his friend and first Hong Kong student Leung Sheung. At the beginning his business was not very successful but in time he built good reputation and became famous kung fu teacher in Hong Kong. From the time, Yip Man started to teach Wing Chun Kuen in Hong Kong around May 1950 until his retirement 20 years later, he attracted many students. The most famous student of his was Bruce Lee.There were many challenge fights by the Wing Chun students to the other Kung Fu styles to test their fighting abilities. These were bare-handed, no-rules fights, called either 'Kuo-Sao' or 'Beimo', and were mostly held in the back alleys of Hong Kong or on rooftops of apartment buildings. It was mostly through these matches that the fame of Wing Chun started to spread as a practical, efficient and no-nonsense martial art style which actually delivered results
Yip Man died in 1972 from throat cancer leaving the  legacy of global Wing Chun spreading and practice .
This is in short biography of Yip Man , most of the data came from his son, Yip Chun . As we can see , Yip Man was presented as the best fighter of his time ,patriot , selfless person ready to risk his life for public good , in one word a true hero .A lot of people quoting Yip Man lately ,looks like he is a kung fu hero of 21st century , just like Bruce Lee was a kung fu hero of 20st century. But if we look the real historical facts we can get a different impression about Yip Man (and some of his students).

First thing that catches attention of careful researcher is time Yip spent with his first teacher . In older version of his biography it was statet that he spent two years with  Chan Wah Shun. In later version that time was a little longer until in most recent version he spend 4 years with master Chan.  Same thing goes with the age in which Yip joined Master Chan’s school . In oldest versions it was stated that he joined the school at age of 13 while in latest versions it is stated that he joined at the age of 9 or even 7 . Increasing the amount of time he spent with his first teacher has two purposes , first , to give more credibility to his knowledge and skill and second , to let others know that it is not possible to achieve high level of skill in short amount of time. In older versions of Yip ‘s biography we can find that he spent 2 years learning from Ng Chan So , Master Chan;s first disciple .So how much time Yip Man really spent learning from Chan Wah Shun? Not more than a year and if we examine evidence little further we can conclude that the real amount of time he spent with master Chan was around 6 to 7 months.
 It is also mentioned that Master Chan loved Yip Man more than all other student and on his deathbed he told his first disciple to continue his training . This is interesting little story , but besides claims came from Yip Man;s son we cannot find any other source that would verify this ever happened , so we can be pretty sure this is a lie.
One more interesting detail was dropped out of his biography . While in all version we can find that Yip was born in a wealthy merchant family there is no mention what kind of goods his Father trade with , which is common to be mentioned on this kind of biographies ,like in case of Yuen Kai San whose father was fireworks merchant. Yip Man’s father and grandfather were opium merchants , they had very successful business and they own couple of cargo ships . They were so successful that angry mob couple of times broke into their house searching for revenge . At those times Yip family found the refugee under roof of their neighbor , Yuen (Kai San’s) family . This detail will be significant later . Anyway , heroes do not come  from the family of opium merchants so that detail was carefully left out of all Yip Man’s biographies .
At the age of 16 Yip Man went to Hong Kong to continue his education and there he met Leung Bik who supposedly taught him the highest form of Wing Chun. The story how Yip Man met Leung Bik match classical plot from Wu Xia novels popular in republican China , a young hero is fighting for justice defending the innocent against foreign suppressor , an old master hears about him and decide to meet him and pass all his knowledge to him. If know just a little about traditional martial culture from that period it would be very strange for a teacher to search for a student , especially because that student beat up a foreign police officer and that could cause  great amount of trouble . Furthermore why would a teacher search for a total stranger and pass his praised art to , again , total stranger , for free !!!  Leung Bik himself is a mysterious character , there is no evidence he ever existed ,there are no pictures , documents ,tax records , birth or death certificates, no private correspondence neither is he ever  mentioned in a correspondence of the third parties. For a man who lived quite long he left no evidence of his existence ,not even one.
According to Moy Yat , Yip Man’s student and relative ‘Leung Bik “ was actually Fung Wah a student of Leung Jan. Interestingly enough , Yip Man himself never said Leung Bik was his teacher , that story was first launched by Leung Sheung and couple of other Yip’s senior students who thought that would be a good marketing move . Later , after Yip Man died , his sons and other students claimed  Yip said in several occasions Leung Bik was his teacher , but that cannot be verified .
It is mentioned before that Yip family and Yuen family were good friends . According to the sources from Yuen Kai San family , Yip’s father asked Yuen Kai San to teach Yip Man .Yuen Kai San was reluctant to do that but he couldn’t refuse .Recently that was confirmed by one of the Yuen Kai San students . If we compare Yip Man’s style with all other wing chun styles , the most resemblance it has with Yuen Kai San style , it can be said that Yip Man’s style is simplified and modified Yuen Kai San style.
Stories from the period of Yip’s police service cannot be verified . There are many stories about him using his skill in the line of duty but there are no official records to support these stories which is strange , police usually keeps detailed records of everything , especially records of criminals who resisted arrest .
There is a story about the kung fu master from the north who challenged and defeated all other masters from Foshan and eventually searched for Yip Man . The match was organized soon and Yip easily defeated the challenger . The truth is , this story appeared after the movie about Yip Man , before the movie , no one ever mentioned this story.
There are some stories that Yip Man took active role in fighting Japanese during second Sino-Japanese war ,again these stories appeared after the movie ,in reality Yip Man escaped from Foshan and spent the war in the house of one of his students.
Again , there are some stories Yip Man took active role in Chinese civil war , but that is not true , the biggest proof is that his family was not killed after the communists took over China . If there was just a hint of his involvement in Kuomintang in any way his family would be executed immediately .
Now here is the interesting part , something that people overlook but what bothers me the most . After communists take over power in China Yip Man took all his money and escaped to Macao , alone . He left his 4 children behind although it was known what communists do with people who do not support them. We don’t even know who took care of his children. Being a father I would never leave my child behind , even if that would cost me a life . That detail alone is enough to give us a pretty good picture about Yip Man;s character . Furthermore , in Macao he gambled away all his money and started to use opium , which he regularly used until he died . Opium can be a cause of his throat cancer as well . He spent all his money on gambling not even trying to save his family (which was possible with enough money and right connections , and he had both).
At the end , there are many stories about  ruthless fights on the rooftops of Hong Kong , many legendary fighters from .Yip Man’s school won countless fights against terrible fighters from other schools . Fortunately , we have a video of one of these fights , I am putting it here so everyone can see and make a conclusion for him self . What I see are some poorly trained  boys and the real and only danger is to fall of the roof .

I know many people worship Yip Man almost like he is a deity and I people need heroes, role models to upon . On the other hand the truth must be told and there are many real heroes of that time about we don’t know nothing .
The fact is , without Bruce Lee , Wing Chun and Yip Man would stay unknown to the world outside Hong Kong . If Bruce had practiced some other style , kung fu world would look much different today . The true irony lays in the fact that Bruce Lee made Yip Man famous , same Yip Man , who was a racist and expelled Bruce from his school because he was not pure Chinese ( Bruce’s grandmother was German).