Back in August we talked about the many different versions of “Wing Chun” based mostly on ancient history prior to late Grandmaster Yip Man. Many of the forerunners of Yip Man must have had students who taught others. They passed what they knew onto their students the way they saw fit. It is easy to see how, in a country as large as China and how, in ancient times, with little communication, there could eventually be variations of Wing Chun.
Why then, do we see significant differences, even in the versions taught in the twentieth century in lineages from Yip Man?
The answer may be at least partly in that Yip Man’s art is primarily one of ideas and skills rather than on fixed positions, movement patterns and forms. Theoretically, an instructor can correct positions, fixed movement patterns and forms in a student so that the correct movements could then be passed down to the next generation. However, Yip Man only taught three forms, a set of wooden dummy techniques and two weapons. In other words, such teaching methods as positions, movement patterns and forms were not emphasized. Instead, ideas and skills were emphasized and, ostensibly, still are. A student’s interpretation of ideas and relative interpretation of appropriate skills has been subject to individual abilities and preferences.
Today we have the descendants of Yip Man all teaching different versions of the art passed to them by late Grandmaster Yip Man. Oh, there are similarities in positions. They look the same in photos. However, the order of the techniques in the forms, the teaching methods and even the ideas are often different.
When you get to the classes in the different lineages, you find that a whole lot of re-learning by you might be necessary. Instructors are faced with the task of re-training a student who has embraced something previously learned. Each descendant of the Yip Man legacy may, based on preferences and biases, emphasize something different. Each instructor may have had gaps in his or her training and may have forgotten the order of things taught and the exact nature of the power and performance required in sections of the art.
In addition, we have the life of Yip Man. He is said to have taught differently in the beginning, to his mainland China students and again in his early Hong Kong years. He is said to have made adaptations to his Hong Kong teachings owing to the different culture of the urban British Crown colony of Hong Kong compared to his country students on the mainland.
Again, in the last years, Yip Man is said to have altered his teachings a bit again. In the Leung Ting WingTsun® lineage, the teachings have come from the last period in Yip Man’s life, from a man with a lifetime of experience.
-Sifu Keith Sonnenberg