Discussions with Real Kung Fu Masters, Chu Shong Tin and Wong Shun Leung 

Discussions with real Kung Fu masters, Chu Shong Tin and Wong Shun Leung. Two of the most respected disciples of Wing Chun’s Kung Fu Grandmaster Ip Man (Translated by Yvette Wong).

During the week of 20th September 1990, while touring Europe and North America to conduct seminars, Wing Chun Kung Fu Masters Chu Shong Tin and  Wong Shun Leung were invited by Yvette Wong to visit the city of Victoria, B.C. for a holiday. At the same time a two hour seminar was conducted by them.

Real Kung Fu Masters
Real Kung Fu Masters; Wong Shun Leung (2nd from the left, standing) / Chu Song Tin (sitting next to Ip Man on the left)

Remarkable “internal” power called Nim Lik

Chu Shong Tin was the 3rd  official student of the late Grandmaster Ip Man in Hong Kong and was coined the King of Siu Nim Tao by his master. He was known for his remarkable “internal” power which he called Nim Lik and was arguably the most influential teacher at Ip Man’s school in the 50s since he actually lived with Ip Man and so was the one who was always present teaching at the school.  

Even though back in those days (50,60s and 70s) it was a common thing for all Kung Fu practitioners to take part in challenge fights which usually took place on rooftops and public parks in Hong Kong,  Wong Shun Leung was probably the most famous fighter of the Ip Man Wing Chun Kung Fu clan in the early 1950’s. And as many in the Wing Chun world know, Bruce Lee was a student of Ip Man but it was mostly Wong Shun Leung who taught Bruce Lee his Wing Chun. 

The below is a summary of the fountain of knowledge shared by the 2 Kung Fu masters during the 2 hours seminars and it is not clear which master mentioned which points. The translation was put together by Yvette Wong, so even though some points may be lost in translation, we believe there is much to be taken from what she has put together that can benefit the Wing Chun Kung Fu practitioners of today! 

Siu Nim Tao – Wing Chun’s 1st Form

The first empty hand form of Wing Chun is like your alphabet. It allows you to construct words and sentences. Without it you cannot construct anything. It is the basic foundation of the Wing Chun art of Kung Fu. Many of the concepts of the later forms already have their roots in Siu Nim Tao. For example the Jip sau (trapping hand) of the second form Chum Kiu, is a combination of the first form’s Jut sau (jerking hand), and theTok sau (uplifting palm; the movement performed after the Bong sau). 

Siu Nim Tau Stance

The Siu Nim Tau stance is done pigeon-toed in order to have a stable solid structure. It is like a camera tripod or pyramid. Triangle structures are the most stable of all structure A wider different stance is not as flexible. Also when you get tired a different stance will cause you to collapse to the ground. Wing Chun Kung Fu’s Siu Nim Tao stance will still hold you up because of its triangular characteristic. 

Crossing the hands down and up in the first set defines your vertical centre line. You draw a straight horizontal line and use a compass to mark a cross above and below the straight line, then by joining the two points, you get a vertical centreline This line is the centre of the horizontal line. All actions in Wing Chun Kung Fu are done through this centreline. 

Crossing the hand down and up doesn’t seem to have any apparent useful purpose because the action looks so simple. But if you perform this movement correctly, you will have the proper structure and use of force for applying a Tan sau and punch defence. For example, none of the strong students at the seminar could prevent Master Chu Shong Tin from lifting his Tan sau up. With the Tan sau he could unbalance anyone. With the Fook saw and Bong sau he could do the same thing.

Effortless Uplifting Tan Sau

When someone gave Master Chu Shong Tin a heavy punch, he applied an effortless uplifting Tan sau from the crossed hand position, to really whack that person’s force away. The person was really shocked by the explosive force. (Note don’t interpret this as Master Chu Shong Tin advocating hitting force away. He was just illustrating the strength of proper structure.) 

Bruce Lee’s one-inch punch

If you punch through your centreline when you are facing an opponent all of your force will go to the opponent’s centreline. It won’t be deflected to one side or the other. In this way he will receive the full triangulated impact of your force. The punch in the first set is done with wrist action, with the elbow down. In this way you use the ground for support. This gave Bruce Lee’s one-inch punch a lot of force.

If you put your elbow out, it twists your body and the ground is not helping support the punch. If the elbow is out, some of the force will be lost. In many movements, you should analyse your line of force in order to maximise that force. If for example you punch with your shoulder raised up, the force line goes from your fist, up your arm and out your shoulder. This is much weaker than if you had the force line come up from the ground. 

Huen Sau or Wrist Circling Movement

The Huen sau or wrist circling movement of Wing Chun Kung Fu is to train your wrist to have the wrist force you need for a strong punch. Also it helps strengthen the wrist so it doesn’t bend during the punch and injure the wrist. The circling hand is also used to change your position relative to the opponent once you have made a mistake. For example if your opponent throws a right punch and you apply a right hand high Tan sau, your head is open to his left punch. By circling the top hand you can change your position so you no longer create this opening. 

Real Kung Fu masters, Chu Shong Tin and Wong Shun Leung

The Wing Chun art of Kung Fu has to do with economy of movement (and force). If we make a mistake, how can we recover our position? For example, if someone throws a right punch and you use left Bong sau, this is a good Bong sau because you aren’t worried about the opponent’s other hand. But if you use a right Bong sau against an opponent’s right punch, your head and lower rib area is left exposed to the opponent’s left punch.

Bong Sau and Gan Sau

Now suppose a low left punch comes. You can use a shift towards the right with a right hand high and left hand low Gan sau to recover your position. Likewise if an opponent punches with a left high punch and you use a left high Gan sau, your side and head are open to the opponent’s right punch. You can use a shift and left hand high Kwun sau (right low Bong and left high Tan ) to recover your position. 

Master Chu Shong Tin used the Tan sau, Bong sau and Fook sau structures very effectively to deal with all kinds of force. You could not lift his arm, but you could not prevent him from lifting his.
When you do the first form of Wing Chun Kung Fu, just relax and let all your force come out naturally directed by the mind. You can sometimes apply a small force but sometimes you have to apply a very strong force. The first set tells you how that force can best be applied. 

Gum Sau Movement

The Gum sau movement performed in Wing Chun’s Siu Nim Tao, can be used if an opponent grabs your wrist and elbow. In this case you can just use a Gum sau and shoulder hit to get rid of his force and counterattack. Even if your arm is twisted behind your back, you can escape with minimum force by straightening the arm, and turning the wrist in such a way that you can apply a Tai Chi or Aikido type of straight arm throwing action to throw the opponent over. You have to apply the technique correctly so that not much force is required. 

Backward Hit In Siu Nim

The backward hit in Siu Nim Tao could be a rear groin hit or grab. It is not often used. But if someone grabs you tightly from behind, you bring your hands close to your body and slide them behind you. This may cause your opponent, while still holding on, to bend his groin area away from your attack. This will give you some room to manoeuvre in order to apply another technique. 

The elbow up and chop to the side action should be done in a natural sort of way. If someone pushes your elbow, then by spreading out your hand in a relaxed way they will be unbalanced.

Kwun Sau Part

In the Kwun sau part of the first set, Master Chu Shong Tin brought his palm back to the side of the body, with the fingers pointing up. He used this if his arm was pressed to the centre, to make the force of the opponent go off to the side. 

Low Palm Movement

The low palm part of the first set is done differently by different first generation students. Master Wong Shun Leung and Master Chu Shong Tin said some do it this way, or this is how it was taught, but we prefer this variation much better.

The original version of the first set low palm movement is that a Tan sau comes out, followed by a Chum sau, followed by a circling hand, followed by a low palm hit then a grabbing hand, followed by the fist being pulled back. In Master Wong Shung Leung’s version, the Tan sau is followed by a Gan sau, which is followed by a Tan sau, followed by a Huen sau, followed by a low palm hit, followed by a grabbing hand and then the fist is pulled back. This change was incorporated as a result of some fighting experiences. Now many teachers of Wing Chun Kung Fu do it this way. 

Some people think that the first set brushing the arm action is to get rid of a strong grab on the wrist, but this does not work. The real idea is if you are controlled, like by the elbow, then you can use the idea from this action to regain the centre position.
The third set: Wong Kiu’s idea of regaining the centre does not really conflict with Wong Shun Leung’s idea of unusual situations or Augustin Fong’s idea of emergency situations. 

Chum Kiu – Wing Chun’s 2nd  Form

If you throw a left punch at someone and they use the right Bong sau, you can pull their Bong sau down with your right hand to pull them off balance and then hit with the left hand. If the guarding hand is lined up with the wrist, then the opponent will have no protection if he is really pulled down. He can’t recover with a sideways Pak sau. But if the guarding hand is held closer towards the shoulder, it will naturally block the incoming punch. 

Also, if the Wing Chun’s Wu sau (guarding hand) is in the centre, like we have it, then a hit car: come to either side of the Wu sau. But with the hand towards the shoulder, which is actually your new centreline when you are shifted, the opponent’s punch can only come to one side of your guarding hand. This makes the punch easier to deal with.

The second set has three quite different variations of the Bong sau. One is to really whack the opponent’s arm away. Another is if your Bong sau is already in contact with the opponent’s arm, and he is pressing you – for example, their left arm presses your right Bong sau. In this case you can change the Bong sau to a Lan sau The Lan sau is performed with the wrist higher than the elbow, not level, in the Wong Shun Leung version. This brings the opponent’s force down. 

Double Bong Sau

The double Bong sau in the second set, is not really used in a double way. Also the wrists in Master Wong Shun Leung’s version are not together. This movement tells you how to use the Bong sau in combination with a moving stance in order to get rid of a force. For example, if someone tries to put his arms around you from the front (a front bear hug), you can create a circular defence by putting your left arm in the Tan sau position, and your right arm in the low Bong sau position.

At the same time, charge into the opponent to unbalance him. The opponent’s arms have hard time me crushing you because you’ve created an extra circle around you (circular defence). Also if your arm is grabbed, you can charge in and change to a step and Bong sau to get rid of an opponent’s force. Part of the second set assume’ you already have contact. 

Gum Sau

In the second set, Master Wong Shun Leung starts with the left low Gum sau, followed by a right low Gum sau. Chu Shong Tin does six sliding down hands (same as Wong Kiu) in the first set, followed by six punches.
The Bar arm (Lan sau) in the second set should not be done high (shoulder level) or else it isn’t a practical movement. The Lan sau should be performed at about the solar plexus level. The use of this movement is, for example, if your right arm has been grabbed and a left punch is coming, then your left bar arm jams that punch before the punch gets too far. There are a variety of these kinds of jamming movements. If the Lan sau is too high, then the Lan sau is not effective for Jamming any punch in application. 

Bil Gee – Wing Chun’s 3rd  Form

The third form’s elbow action can also be used to escape from a wrist hold. 

The first and second sets cover what to do in ordinary kinds of situations. The second set shows how to build up words and sentences with your vocabulary from the first set. The third set however is different in concept. It tells you how to deal with unusual situations (Augustine Fong says emergency situations, this now make sense). For example, if you have many opponents or if you are pinned against a wall or are on the ground, or the opponent has crossed your arms. Wong Shun Leung once told someone that the third set is for crowd fighting. Wang Kiu said this was not true because any set could be used for crowd fighting. However, the real meaning of Master Wong Shun Leung’s comment was for unusual situations. 

Chi Sau

The first and second set/forms of Wing Chun Kung Fu and the sticking hand training (Chisau) tells you never to cross your hands. The third set actions tell you to always cross your hands. To a beginner, this must seem very illogical and confusing. But the reason for crossing is to analyse those kind of situations. 

Biu Sau

If you’re against a wall and your elbow is pressed, you can use Biu sau to get the force off your elbow. But if your elbow is pressed, and your elbow is in a high position (Like over your head), you have to change the line of force towards the side (in the direction the opponent is pushing). For example, if the opponent pins your right elbow over your head and you are against a wall, you can get his left hand off your elbow by sliding your left hand from outside of your elbow towards the left because that is where his force is being directed. 

If you hold two hands in front of you and your opponent grabs them from underneath, you can bring your hand close to your body and use the third set downward pressing elbow to get their hand off. The leverage created with this movement is such that it is very hard for an opponent to hold on. This is useful for a smaller person being grabbed by a larger person. It’s usually not the case that a smaller person tries to grab a larger person. Also when the hand is open, it can get closer to your body. It also seems to twist in such a way that extra leverage is added to remove the grip. 

The 3 Set Foot Circling Movements

The third set foot circling movements can be used in two ways: one is if your opponent steps in, you sweep him to the ground with a circular crescent kick; another is if a kick comes in, you deflect the kick to the side with your foot. Use feet against feet and hands against hands. Don’t use your hands against feet because you want to save your hands for hitting high. 

Wong Shun Leung has a crossing down and up movement in the third set as well. Master Wong Kiu’s version does not.

The bending down and bending back up movement of the third set is meant to be used if you are smashed to the ground or against a wall. You recover from this position by using your hands first, not your head. The variations used by different practitioners don’t really matter. What matters is the concept and idea behind what you are doing. In the case where you are smashed against a wall and the person has a broken bottle, it is still better to come out with the hands first rather than your head. 

Circling Hand followed by a Fook Sau

Master Wong Shun Leung and Master Wong Kiu both perform the circling hand followed by a Fook sau as opposed to some variations which use a back of the wrist deflection followed by a pressing hand (flat Fook sau). This movement is used to recover from a bad position.
One use of the Man sau is to defend against an opponent from the side. The attack can be a hitting attack or you can simply be pressed from the side. 

Against a hook punch, Wong Shun Leung used a Biu sau structure combined with straight punch or palm. His Biu sau catches the hook punch near the elbow and really whacks your hook punch back. At the same time you are hit hard by the other hand. If you apply this technique incorrectly, then the punch ends up hitting your head. Master Chu Shong Tin used the Tan sau structure and sometimes the Wu sau structure against various parts of the arm to handle the force. 

Read also: Q&A With Wing Chun Masters Wong Shun Leung And Chu Shong Tin

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