Yip Man (葉問 in pinyin: yè wèn; in
Jyutping: jip6 man6; alternative spelling Ip
Man; also known as 葉繼問; 1893-1972) was the first master (sifu)
to teach the Chinese martial art of Wing Chun openly. He had several
students who later became martial arts teachers in their own right,
including Bruce Lee.
Yip Man was the last Wing Chun student of
Chan Wah-shun when he was 70 years old. He was the second son of a very
wealthy family in Foshan, Guangdong, and received an exceptional
traditional Chinese education.
When Ip Man was thirteen years old he
started learning Wing Chun. Because of his sifu's old age, Ip Man
learned most of his lessons from his second sihing Ng Chung-sok. After
three years Chan Wah-shun died, but one of his dying wishes was to ask
Ng to continue with Ip's training.
At age sixteen, Ip Man went to attend
school at St. Stephen's College in Hong Kong, which was an upmarket
secondary school for wealthy families and foreigners who lived in Hong
According to one story, one day one of
his classmates challenged him to try his martial arts skill with an
older man. The man who Ip Man competed against beat him with a few
strikes. It turned out that the old man was his sibak Leung Bik (梁璧),
son of his sigung. After that encounter, Ip Man continued to learn from
Leung Bik. At age 24, Ip Man returned to Foshan, and his Wing Chun
skills had improved tremendously while he had been away. His fellow
students believed he learned a different kind of martial art and treated
him as a traitor to Wing Chun.
In Foshan, Ip Man didn't formally run a
Wing Chun school, but taught Wing Chun to several children of his
friends and relatives. Amongst those informal students, Chow Kwong-yue
(周光裕 (六仔)), Kwok Fu (郭富), Lun Kai (倫佳), Chan Chi-sun (陳志新) and Lui Ying
(呂應) were the most well known. Chow Kwong-yue was said to be the best
student among his group of pupils, but he eventually went into commerce
and dropped out of martial art all together. Kwok Fu and Lun Kai went on
to teach students of their own and the Wing Chun in the Foshan and
Guangdong area was mainly descended from those individuals. Chan Chi-sun
died young, and Lui Ying went to Hong Kong; neither of them taking on
During the Japanese occupation of China,
Ip Man refused several invitations to train the Japanese troops.
Instead, he returned to Hong Kong and opened a martial arts school. When
he initially began the school, business was poor because his students
typically stayed for only a couple of months before leaving. He moved
his school to Hoi Tan Street (海壇街) in Sham Shui Po and then to Lee Tat
Street (利達街) in Yau Ma Tei. By that time some of his students were
trained to a sufficiently high enough skill level that they were able to
start their own schools.
Some of Ip Man's students and descendants
compared their skills with other martial artists in combat. Their
victory over other martial artists helped to bolster Ip Man's reputation
as a teacher.
In 1967, Ip Man and some of his students
established the Hong Kong Wing Chun Athletic Association (香港詠春拳體育會).
Bruce Lee, Ip Man's most famous pupil,
studied under him from 1954 to 1957. When Ip Man retired, many of his
students were themselves teaching Wing Chun, including
Lo Man Kam (Ip Mans nephew), Moy Yat and his two sons Ip Chun and Ip
In 1972, Ip Man suffered from throat
cancer and subsequently died on December 2 of that year. As a fitting
obituary for the man, within the three decades of his career in Hong
Kong, he established a training system for Wing Chun that eventually
spread across the world.