Meeting Two of Hong Kong’s Wing Chun Masters

Meet two of Ip Man’s Best Students: Wing Chun Masters Chu Shong Tin and Wong Shun Leung

During the week of September 20,1990 we had the honor of meeting Wing Chun Masters Wong Shun Leung and Master Chu Shong Tin from Hong Kong. Master Chu Shong Tin was the third official student of the late Grandmaster Yip Man in Hong Kong and Master Wong Shun Leung was probably THE most famous fighter of the Wing Chun clan in the early 1950′s. Bruce Lee was a student of Yip Man but it was mostly Wong Shun Leung who taught Bruce Lee his Wing Chun.

Yvette Wong invited the two masters to visit the city of Victoria, B.C. for a holiday and at the same time arranged for them to give a two hour seminar. During their stay, she had frequent opportunity to clarify various points about Wing Chun. We hope some of these points will help the current generation of practitioners with their Wing Chun. After reading these points again, I am amazed at how many things these masters said in a very short seminar. They were literally overflowing with knowledge. These points were translated by Yvette Wong from the Cantonese talk that Master Wong Shun Leung gave. This means we may not have captured the true essence of all that was said.

Meeting Two of Hong Kong's Wing Chun Masters Chu Shong Tin and Wong Shun Leung
Wing Chun Masters Wong Shun Leung (left) and Chu Shong Tin (right)

Siu Nim Tao

The first set 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. Many of the concepts of the later sets already have their roots in the first set. For example the Jip sau (trapping hand) of the second set, is a combination of the first set Jut sau (jerking hand), and the first set Tok sau (uplifting palm; the movement performed after the Bong sau).

The Stance

The 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 structures. A wider different stance is not as flexible. Also when you get tired a different stance will cause you to collapse to the ground. The Wing Chun stance will still hold you up because of its triangular characteristic.

The Hands

Crossing the hands down and up in the first set defines your vertical center line. If 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 centerline. This line is the center of the horizontal line. All actions in Wing Chun are done through this centerline.

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 defense. 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 sau and Bong sau he could do the same thing. 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.)

The Punch

If you punch down your centerline when you are facing an opponent all of your force will go to the opponent’s centerline. It won’t be deflected to one side or the other. In this way he will receive the full 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. The same is true of the second set uppercut punch. If the elbow is out for the uppercut some of the force will be lost. In many movements,
you should analyze your line of force in order to maximize 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.

The Huen Sau and Tan Sau

The Huen sau or wrist circling 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.

Bong Sau and Gan Sau

The Wing Chun art has to do with economy. If we make a mistake, how can we recover our position? For example, if someone throws a right punch and you use a 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. 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.

Tan Sau, Bong Sau and Fook Sau

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 set, just relax and let all your force come out naturally. 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

The side Gum sau 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.

The backward hit in the first set 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 maneuver 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

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 center, to make the force of the opponent go off to the side.

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.

Master Wong Shun Leung’s Version

In Master Wong Shun 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 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 center position.

The third set: Wong Kiu’s idea of regaining the center does not really conflict with Wong Shun Leung’s idea of unusual situations or Augustine Fong’s idea of emergency situations.

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 Wu sau (guarding hand) is in the center, like we have it, then a hit can come to either side of the Wu sau. But with the hand towards the shoulder, which is actually your new centerline 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.

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 defense 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 a hard time me crushing you because you’ve created an extra circle around you (circular defense). 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 assumes you already have contact.

In the second set, Master Wong Shun Leung starts with the left low Gum sau, followed by a right low Gum sau. Tsui Sheung 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. Biu Jee.

The third set 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 makes 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.

The first and second set and sticking hand training 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 analyze those kind of situations.

If you are against a wall and your elbow is pressed, you can use [?] 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 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 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.

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 Bil sau structure combined with a straight punch or palm. His Bil 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 Tsui Sheung Tin used the Tan sau structure and sometimes the Wu sau structure against various parts of the arm to handle the force.

– Wong Shun Leung and Chu Shong Tin

Read also:

An Interview with Ip Man

About The Author

Grandmaster Chu Shong Tin
Grandmaster Chu Shong Tin

Chu Shong Tin trained in Ip Man’s school for 14 years and was the main teacher there, teaching for up to 12 hours on some days. The major focus in the early years of his training was the practice of “Siu Nim Tao” (meaning “Tiny Idea”). Which is the first empty-hand form and the essence of Wing Chun. This is because Ip Man used to say: “When well-versed in Siu Nim Tao, the other parts of Wing Chun training will all be well grasped and performed too.”

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