AS GRANDMASTER IP MAN'S FIRST DISCIPLE IN HONG KONG, MASTER LEUNG SHEUNG, WHO PLACED A STRONG EMPHASIS ON ACCURATE POSITION, STRUCTURE AND RELAXATION TO GENERATE ENERGY, WAS ONE OF THE MOST RESPECTED IN HIS DAY. ALL IP MAN'S STUDENTS LOOKED UP TO HIM DUE TO HIS SUPERIOR SKILL, MENTORSHIP. INSIGHT AND KNOWLEDGE.
Leung Sheung was born in 1918 in Ah Yiu, Nan Hoi County, Guangdong Province. By the time of his early youth, he was in the Macau area, a Portuguese Colony at the mouth of Pearl River, located near Hong Kong. From age 14 he began studying a variety of martial arts such as White Eye-Brow, Choi Lee Fut and Dragon Style. Leung Sheung became a restaurateur and would relocate frequently because of his work. This gave him the opportunity to learn from many well-known Martial Artists, but he was never able to study long under any of these instructors. By 1949, Leung Sheung had developed quite a reputation in several areas, one as a restaurateur, another as a lion dance performer, and as a martial artist.
As A Restaurateur
By 1949, Leung Sheung had been in the restaurant business for some time. In recognition of his abilities in the restaurant business, Leung Sheung was elected as an officer in the Restaurant Workers Union in Hong Kong. The Union owned a flat in the city of Kowloon. They used the flat as an office and for lodging for people coming from main land China. As an officer in the Restaurant Workers Union, Leung Sheung had some level of influence in the use of this flat. It is important to remember that, at this time, lodging in Hong Kong was extremely scarce. Typically, the Restaurant Workers Union would provide the flat as a place to stay for their restaurant workers, cramming 40 to 50 people into this small, one-room flat. So, when daylight approached, residents would then depart to their various restaurant jobs in and around the city of Kowloon and Hong Kong.
As A Lion Dance Performer
Leung Sheung was very fond of the Lion Dance. During this period in Hong Kong, merchants would extend a collection of vegetables from their second-floor balcony for the Lion Dancers. Attached to the vegetable bundle would be a red envelope containing "lucky money." Toward the conclusion of the Lion Dance, the "lion" would take the vegetable bundle and money. The performers, usually a three-man team, would be required to climb upon each other so that the "lion" could take the money in his mouth. All the lion dancers wanted Leung Sheung, a big man, probably 5'10" to 5'11" and weighing around 200 pounds, as the base.
As A Martial Artist
Leung Sheung was well respected for his proficiency in Dragon Style. He taught White Eyebrow in the flat. As workers left for work on shifts, there was room to teach and practice during the day and night. Leung Sheung had heard about Wing Chun since he was quite young, but as Wing Chun was quite secretive and well protected, he had never seen it; but, this martial art intrigued him, as did the stories about one of its instructors, Ip Man.
Training Under Grandmaster Ip Man
The thought that he would take Wing Chun at his first opportunity was beginning to emerge as a prominent thought in the back of his mind. Lee Man, also an officer in the Restaurant Workers Union, in 1949, found out that Ip Man was currently in Hong Kong. Knowing Leung Sheung's interest in Wing Chun and Ip Man, he informed Leung Sheung that Ip Man was in town. Leung Sheung urged Lee Man to introduce him to Ip Man. By the time they met, Leung Sheung had already decided that he wanted to learn Wing Chun from Ip Man. Being greatly impressed by Ip Man's Wing Chun skills, Leung Sheung urged him to accept the teaching position. He would provide the flat for Ip Man to teach in. Leung Sheung promptly introduced Lok Yiu and Tsui Sheung Tin to Ip Man, and the three of them became the first batch of Wing Chun students in Hong Kong. Leung Sheung then relinquished all his previous martial arts training to study seriously under Ip Man. It was therefore under Yip Man's guidance that Leung Sheung perfected his Wing Chun arts. Both Leung Sheung and Lok Yiu resided at the Restaurant Workers Union's flat during this time. Ip Man would now live in the flat, having no place to stay, and from 1949 until 1955, Leung Sheung and Lok Yiu trained under Ip Man intensively.
Leung Sheung and others were very supportive of Ip Man and encouraged him to teach the arts publicly. This is how Wing Chun was established in Hong Kong in the 1950’s and developed to its present worldwide popularity.
In 1956, Leung Sheung began to teach Wing Chun publicly, along with Lok Yiu, Tsui Sheung Tin, and Wong Sheung Leung. They formed the first generation of instructors from Ip Man's class and were widely recognized as the best students Ip Man ever produced. From 1956 through 1978, Leung Sheung taught Wing Chun continuously. During his entire teaching career, he maintained a very low profile, never advertising his school. His famous saying from this period was, "You find me, you are lucky."
Leung Sheung's teaching philosophy in Wing Chun was to think of students as driftwood. As an instructor, figuratively, he lived on the bank of a wide river, and from time to time, driftwood came up on the bank in front of his house. Occasionally he inspected the driftwood, and from time to time, he'd find a piece that interested him. He'd drag the select piece up the bank a bit, so it wouldn't wash away. As the pieces accumulated higher on the bank, he would find one piece that interested him enough to take it into his shop and begin to shape it. As with all things, the external appearance does not always show what lies beneath. Some driftwood will not be molded, either because of too many knotholes or other various failings. However, he would keep the driftwood that molded at the master's hand. Deeming a student as appropriate, a piece of driftwood to be kept, Leung Sheung would then become very demanding on that student. It was back into the river for those students with "too many knots." Leung Sheung is worthy of note among history's famous instructors. He was widely acknowledged for his achievement and high skill in Wing Chun. Leung Sheung was further praised for his innovative experimentation, enabled by virtue of his prior training and experience, and a firm belief that only practical application can verify theory. His persistent and patient teaching process molded many skillful students. In those days, it was often said that one learning from Leung Sheung was certain to develop good skill in sticking hands (chi sau). Such compliments further demonstrated confidence in Leung Sheung's ability and excellence in passing down the arts.
In 1968, when Bruce Lee returned to Hong Kong to shoot a movie, he attempted to have a daily and friendly dialog with Leung Sheung. Bruce Lee always paid him "high respect" during their meetings. Bruce Lee referred to Leung Sheung as his older brother. In 1970, Leung Sheung had a kidney stone removed. After the stone's removal, Leung Sheung's health began to degrade steadily from that point onward. Leung Sheung passed away in 1978. Despite only limited historical materials and stories, Leung Sheung’s spirit has nonetheless continued to pass down the arts. Leung Sheung's contributions were instrumental in Wing Chun's worldwide growth, and the art's continuing growth for generations to come.
Check out this recent Wing Chun Podcast featuring Dr. Jack Ling, "The Sifu's Stories, Episode 22 - Sifu Jack Ling and Using Wing Chun for Self-Defense and Therapy."
By Kathy Jo Connors with Kenneth Chung
In earlier times before Yip Man opened Wing Chun to Hong Kong and the world, the wooden dummy, which is also known as the mook yan jong, was traditionally planted in the ground. This made the dummy quite stable, yet it also limited the dummy's movement. Yip Man’s arrival in Hong Kong sparked an evolutionary change which resulted in the wooden dummy mounting we enjoy today.
During Yip Man’s time, space in the huge city was at a premium, and outdoor ground area for planting the dummy was difficult to come by. In order to establish a wooden dummy for training indoors, Yip Man had to innovate. He chose to have the dummy mounted against a wall, suspended in an entirely new way by two horizontal and flexible wooden slats, or wang dam.
This new mounting method situated the wooden dummy a slight distance from the wall behind it. Combined with the flexibility of the wang dam, this spacing enabled the dummy to move and respond with a different kind of energy when in play, and provided Yip Man with a sensation that the older way of mounting could not. This new way of supporting the dummy allowed him to capture an opening and closing sensation, and a newfound resilience when working with it.
When the dummy is bounced back and forth, this resilience is similar to the springiness of rattan. This was mentioned by Leung Sheung and others many times in relation to chi sau, and how the ligaments and flexibility of the human arms also have a rattan-like characteristic. Synthetic plastics were not available until after wider distribution of oil, nor was rubber readily available in southeast Asia. Therefore careful selection of wood for the wang dam was important for allowing the dummy to properly yield.
Yip Man conveyed his fresh observations and his newly captured sensation with precision to his early students, Leung Sheung, Lok Yiu, and Tsui Sheung Tin, who in turn passed it to others. Kenneth Chung often reflects on the importance of this innovation and how, despite the distance of time, it is as though Yip Man still uses the wang dam to convey a specific idea about energy to us today.
Though Yip Man’s earlier students in Fatsan would not have experienced this rattan-like energy through the wooden dummy, we can nonetheless reason that they would have appreciated the new sensation, while recognizing the same old principles within it. On the surface, today’s work with the wooden dummy might seem quite different from its earlier form. However, it is not different in its essence. We still work with the same rattan-like energy and its interpretation, though that sensation is now enhanced for us through the dummy.
The tool we enjoy today was improvised based on circumstances of the time, rather than due to any shortcoming of the dummy itself. The new mounting and its rattan-like movement gave Yip Man a new feeling in his work, while at the same time remaining true to the concepts of Wing Chun. He ensured that his innovation did not sacrifice principles or resiliency. Yip Man gave us the same energy through a new medium. Ken reminds us that, for this reason, Yip Man was and remains the singular Grandmaster of Wing Chun.
Connors, K. J. B. (2017, January 22). Personal interview with Kenneth Chung.
Yip Man on the Wooden Dummy
Ken Chung (center) and Ben Der (center left) enjoying tea with the Doungguan Wing Chun group in May 2017.
Here is the next blog installment from Lau Yip of the Houston Wing Chun group, sharing observations on the Wing Chun stance, including some insightful vintage photos.
Many thanks to Ben Der, San Jose Wing Chun, and The Bay Area Wing Chun Student Association for sharing this vintage essay and photos of Leung Sheung and Lok Yiu demonstrating Wing Chun sets and practice.
The full set of images can be found on Facebook at: