A Look Into Leung Sheung’s Wing Chun Teachings
The following is an an article about Leung Sheung’s Wing Chun approach built upon the foundations of the writings of Sifu Jack Ling, a direct student of Leung Sheung. His original article was titled Reflections on Popular Notions of Wing Chun Kuen.
A controversial aspect of Ip Man’s Wing Chun is whether he taught and emphasized his relaxed approach to all his students, considering that apparent differences in approach and practice existed even between his earliest students. Many of his students, irrespective of physical size, practiced and taught a system based on speed, technique, and muscle.
But not all of his students! Ip Man’s first student in Hong Kong propagated a powerful but relaxed approach.
So who was Ip Man’s First Student in Hong Kong?
Initially, when Ip Man moved to Hong Kong, he had no job, students or place to stay. It was Ip Man’s first student there that was responsible for getting him his first teaching job and first place to live. Who was the first student of Ip Man? Leung Sheung! As the general secretary of the newly formed Hong Kong Restaurant Worker’s Union, Leung Sheung helped Ip Man get a job as a martial arts teacher at the union.
Leung Sheung’s Wing Chun: Powerful Yet Relaxed
With his powerful yet relaxed approach to Wing Chun, Leung Sheung is known for being different than many other of Ip Man’s students. Does this best explain Ip Man’s reputed ability to neutralize forceful attacks by small, relaxed and economic moves? Who, in the early days, would Ip Man have needed to (seriously) train and transmit his system to? Did By all accounts, Leung Sheung lived and studied earnestly with Ip Man on a daily basis for about five years. Being Ip Man’s first student in Hong Kong, and a significant conduit to future Wing Chun Kuen’s popularity, Leung presented the Grandmaster with sufficient reason(s) to train him, well.
Even though, Leung was known to speak about his learning from Yip in modest terms (elevating his teacher’s martial prowess), his fighting abilities did help his teacher “launch” the system in Hong Kong or Dah Tien Hah (Fight to Take Over What’s Below Heaven).
Thus, an explication of Leung’s approach may shed light on our questions about the source of power behind Yip Man’s economical and, reputed, effortless fighting maneuvers.
Tribute to Leung Sheung
Leung Sheung’s Wing Chun Teachings
Leung Sheung, the senior most of Yip Man’s students in Hong Kong, used a traditional mnemonic device for training.
This included a collection of sayings and descriptive verses he learned from Yip Man. Leung Sheung repeated them on a regular basis.
In fact, many of these iconic training guides are known and have been adopted by other Wing Chun teachers.
However, Leung Sheung’s specific framing of them may be unique. When teaching the first form, Siu Nim Tao, he used to emphasize the particular significance of ten (10) or so interrelated points for the long bridge (Tsuen Kui) Wing Chun stance (based on the recollections of several of his students):
- Turn in (Keem) the knees ( Sut )in Cantonese (with feet turned inward accordingly);
- Drop (Lok) knee-in stance (Ma) as low as possible without changing posture ;
- Keep head up (Tao) and level with eyes (Ng’an) pointing forward (Mong Tseen);
- Keep back (Eue) straight (Tingh) or Tingh Eue;
- Keep elbow (Zhang) turned in (Mai) or Mai Zhang as much as possible (with arm perpendicular to the center line);
- Keep elbow in front and away from the body about the width of a rounded fist (Cantonese: Tseung Kui Ma or Long Bridge Stance);
- Keep extended, arm (Cantonese: Tan* Sau) “relaxed” (Fong Song) and “flat” (Ping), parallel to the ground (my language);
- Relax or ease (Song) shoulder (Bok) muscles, keeping shoulders natural (not lifting in any way);
- Practice Under (Dai) Elbow (Zhang) Strength (Lik) or Zhang Dai Lik; and
- Relax breathing, and sink (Tsum) breath (Hay) i.e. don’t hold breath or hyperventilate, breathe with diaphragm.
* “Tan” means to open or to lay out and open e.g. opening a blanket.
Apparently, judging from a survey of books and articles, most Wing Chun teachers will talk about some of these training points. However, different interpretations and “weights” may be assigned to them. Only Leung Sheung emphasized the long bridge; and only he and his students saw an intimate connection between these training clues and the development of long bridge strength.
Later, Leung Sheung’s student, Kenneth Chung, extended the concept of relaxing muscles to another level, giving long bridge strength a Nei Gung (internal) quality. (Note: Even though Leung Sheung never talked about his powerful arm drops and thrusts as “internally” driven, his arm and upper body muscles were, paradoxically, relaxed when executing those forceful moves.)
Leung Sheung Wing Chun Siu Nim Tao by Kenneth Chung’s student, Wesley Lim
Leung Sheung Wing Chun – Florida Line
Karl Godwin, head of the Florida Leung Sheung line, uses the term Mok Lik, or eye power to help students keep their focus upon their centerline of the opponent (usually towards the ajna, aka third eye). This also keeps the head up as Leung Sheung perscribed. Karl has also taken Leung Sheung’s idea of long bridge energy further to extend long bridge elbow as far as possible towards the opponent. See his 4 elbow positions of Wing Chun.
Bill Graves, one of Karl Godwin’s top students, also focuses on long bridge and often states the words, “fight from behind the elbows”.