Hello! My name is Ying Ge from Wing Chun News and I live here Beijing, China. Today we are going to talk about the relationship between Bruce Lee and Ip Man. With the popularity of movies such as “Ip Man” and “The Grand Master”, Wing Chun has once again become a popular martial art in the eyes of the public. Another successful thing for Ip Man was to train the world Kung Fu superstar Bruce Lee. Bruce Lee also plays a small character in the famous “Ip Man” series. It was not until “Ip Man 4” that Bruce Lee’s role was described in more detail. In real life, the relationship between Bruce Lee and Ip Man is also very delicate. Some people say that they had conflicts, but both of them deny it. Others say that they had a good relationship, but all the signs seem to show that doesn’t seem to be the case. Today we are going to talk about the real relationship between these two legends in much more detail.
Ip Man was originally a rich man from Foshan, China. He moved to Hong Kong in the late 1940’s to teach martial arts as a profession. He is gentle and generous, and his speech is elegant and reasonable. Many people who don’t know him regard him as “Mr. Shopkeeper”. He is not expected to be the famous “The Grand Master”. Ip Man is very particular about the choice of his disciples. He often tells his apprentices who follow his Wing Chun studies: It is certainly difficult for a disciple to choose a good master, but it is even more difficult for a master to choose a good disciple.
So how did Bruce Lee met Ip Man and become his apprentice? When Bruce Lee was 13 years old, he worshiped Ip Man as his teacher. Unlike film and television works, there is no evidence that Bruce Lee worshiped Ip Man as a teacher. According to the recounts of most of the witnesses, his apprenticeship was based on the recommendation of Ip Man’s apprentice, of whom William Cheung is the most likely. It is said that Bruce Lee decided to join Wing Chun after he lost a street battle and was later influenced by his friend William Cheung to learn Wing Chun. Bruce Lee felt that William Cheung’s martial art skills were very sharp and this was the reason he started to learn Wing Chun. Not much later under the introduction of William Cheung, he joined Master Ip Man’s school, and began to systematically learn Wing Chun.
People often ask how Bruce Lee was trained at Master Ip Man’s Wing Chun school? It wasn’t Ip Man himself who first taught Bruce Lee Wing Chun, but several seniors, including the famous Wong Shun Leung. It was with Wong Shun Leung that Bruce Lee trained the longest time with and as a half-teacher and half-friend relationship. The reason why Ip Man didn’t teach Bruce Lee himself was not because of a prejudice reason against him. In traditional martial arts teaching, it is very common for seniors to replace their masters to teach basic skills, which is a bit like the current postgraduate teaching assistant system in universities. At that time, Bruce Lee studied very hard and never skipped class. He never left his fist out of his hand. In many cases, although he was taught by his elder brother Wong Shun Leung, Wong Shun Leung was also a Wing Chun trooper, known as the “King Of Talking Hands” in Hong Kong. His character is very close to Bruce Lee, and Ip Man loves the smart apprentice so much that he has passed a lot of Wing Chun tips unto him all of which have enabled Bruce Lee to quickly grow into a Wing Chun master. Even though Bruce Lee created his own art of Chinese boxing and became a founder, his Jeet Kune Do still was not separated from Wing Chun. Some of the core techniques in Jeet Kune Do were still similar to Wing Chun, but Bruce Lee sublimated and reformed his Wing Chun technique.
Some people may ask, did Ip Man impart all the Wing Chun skills to Bruce Lee? In fact, Bruce Lee did not finish learning Wing Chun, because at the age of 18 Bruce Lee went to the United States to study at Seattle’s University. He didn’t even learn the entire wooden dummy set, Bruce Lee had only learned some Wooden Dummy sets and never studied it systematically.
No legend has ever truly had an ‘easy’ life without problems, and the same was true for Ip Man and Bruce Lee, especially after Bruce Lee became famous. Rumors about Ip Man’s feud with Bruce Lee have spread widely, and we can’t help asking whether this is true. Were they close? Did he attend Ip Man’s funeral?
In fact, the relationship between Ip Man and Bruce Lee is not at odds, but it is not a deep friendship either. This is kinda determined by the different values of each culture world.
After Bruce Lee became famous, he opened a martial arts school in the United States to teach foreigners kung fu. Many of his fellow martial-arts practitioners went to Ip Man and complained that Bruce Lee was violating the Chinese martial arts tradition. When Ip Man heard that these people came to complain, he just smiled. These complainants did not expect Ip Man to have this attitude. Ip Man is a very tolerant person. He does not object to his disciples learning martial arts from other schools. He also saw that Bruce Lee promoted Wing Chun while his tricks were indeed farther and farther away from Wing Chun principles. But he didn’t think it was apostasy, so it didn’t affect their relationship.
Regarding whether Bruce Lee attended Ip Man’s funeral. In fact, he didn’t. But later he participated in the funeral attended by the immediate family because he only wanted the master to leave quietly. The brothers at the time were still hostile to him, he didn’t want to cause unpleasant things with everyone.
Did Bruce Lee and Ip Man have a misunderstanding? What is going on? Because Bruce Lee wanted his master to record a video of the Wing Chun wooden dummy form and bring it back to the United States for research. It wasn’t a big deal. But at the time, there might be problems with communication between the two. Bruce Lee saw that Ip Man still lived in such a dilapidated house, and he was now able to make money. He intended to give him an apartment. It just so happened that these two things were said together, which made Yip Man’s heart feel wrong. After that, the master and apprentice did have some unhappiness, and Bruce Lee founded Jeet Kune Do in the United States, so he was regarded by some former fellow masters as a “Wing Chun traitor”, thinking that Ip Man would never recognize him as a disciple again.
No matter what the facts are, we can see from Bruce Lee’s own articles as a youngster his true attitude towards Master Ip Man.
“After four years of hard training in the art of kung fu, I began to understand and felt the principle of gentleness — the art of neutralizing the effect of the opponent’s effort and minimizing the expenditure of one’s energy. All this must be done in calmness and without striving. It sounded simple, but in actual application it was difficult. The moment I engaged in combat with an opponent, my mind was completely perturbed and unstable. Especially after a series of exchanging blows and kicks, all my theory of gentleness was gone. My only thought left was somehow or another I must beat him and win.
My instructor, Professor Yip Man, head of the Wing Chun school, would come up to me and say: ‘Relax and calm your mind. Forget about yourself and follow your opponent’s movement. Let your mind, the basic reality, do the counter-movement without any interfering deliberation. Above all, learn the art of detachment.’
‘The following week I stayed home. After spending many hours in meditation and practice, I gave up and went sailing alone in a junk. On the sea, I thought of all my past training and got mad at myself and punched at the water. Right then, at that moment, a thought suddenly struck me: Wasn’t this water, the very basic stuff, the essence of kung fu? Didn’t the common water illustrate to me the principle of kung fu? I struck it just now, but it did not suffer hurt. Again I stabbed it with all my might, yet it was not wounded. I then tried to grasp a handful of it but it was impossible. This water, the softest substance in the world, could fit itself into any container. Although it seemed weak, it could penetrate the hardest substance in the world. That was it! I wanted to be like the nature of water.’
From his essays, we know that Master Ip Man may have taught Bruce Lee the form and techniques of Wing Chun, but more than that, he taught him the philosophy of life. He taught him to be calm in the heat of the moment. He taught him to relax and stop stressing!
I’m Ying Ge from Wing Chun News…thanks a lot for reading, please share your comments, and have yourself a great day!
Train Hard, Fight Easy!