CHAN CHEE MAN IS ONE OF GRANDMASTER IP MAN’S SENIOR STUDENTS. CURRENTLY, 76 YEARS OLD, HE STARTED IN WING CHUN IN 1954 AND IS STILL ACTIVE AS AN INSTRUCTOR. CHAN CHEE MAN CAN ALWAYS BE FOUND TALKING PASSIONATELY ABOUT WING CHUN WITH A SMILE ON HIS FACE—WHICH WE WILL SEE IS HIS SECRET TO MAKING HIS WING CHUN SO EFFECTIVE.
Please tell me how you came to start in Wing Chun.
When I was young, I started to learn Wing Chun from Ip Man and it was a precious time. Looking back, I chose Wing Chun because I had met many people who practised it, which piqued my interest. At the time, the Restaurant Union was in Shan Shui Po district on Wong Chuk Street, and my home was near there. I went up there to learn Wing Chun—sometimes four or five days per week, training early in the morning and every night until about 9:30pm.
After training at the Restaurant Union, I would follow my Sifu and go to the local temple. I would carry an old lamplight for him because at that time there weren’t many electric streetlights like there are today, and the streets were narrow. Every night we were there with all my Sihings—they were elderly back then and most of them have passed away now. I’m very thankful for those times.
I like Wing Chun because it is simple, practical and straight to the point in regards to fighting. Simple doesn’t necessarily mean easy—if you want good skill, you must spend a lot of time training and work hard for it. It’s also very suitable for a weaker person to learn—once they know how to properly relax, not chase hands, etc. Even bigger and stronger people can learn Wing Chun, but they usually can’t relax as easily. Understanding how to link the hands with the footwork is important. As well, it’s important to notice that when the opponent faces with one side, as soon as they turn their body to face you again, they will show you how to enter.
Tell me about the teaching style Ip Man used.
Sifu started with Siu Lim Tao. He divided it into three sections and told me that each section must be practised in a relaxed manner. I was also taught how the elbow brings the handout and was shown the proper positions. I had to practice the first section for a long time with Sifu, insisting that I get the Fook, Tan and Wu Sao right—again, all using the elbow to bring the handout and back.
The waist and the stance were then taught, with emphasis on the knees because this is where the power comes from. Sifu then showed me the concept that each strike must use a six joint connection to create a powerful punch. The six joints are the ankle, knee, waist, shoulder, elbow and wrist. I was also taught to imagine my opponent in front of me, punching at the same place with lots of power. I was shown to hit the sandbag the same way. Sifu explained the different punches, especially the inch punch, inside punch and outside punch, and how to develop power with the sitting Ma.
Lastly, I was taught to put everything together. When either attacking or defending, to use Chiu Ying (Facing/Chasing), use the Ma to enter and link all the six joints together for maximal power.
What were you taught in regards to partner training?
Both parties must relax, stay calm and work together to make practice perfect. Sifu never let us trade hits and made sure we were following the Wing Chun method. I have memories of Sifu sitting on a chair to one side and watching us. He would say, “You can’t just hit each other and share your training partner by cutting his lip and making him bleed—then he’ll never learn Wing Chun.” Sifu never let us learn to fight by using any method other than Wing Chun unless we were imitating another Gung Fu style and our partner was practising proper Wing Chun.
You’ve written a book called Ving Tsun Keys. What are some of the key points the book is trying to make?
Each key that appears in the book is important. It offers nice exposure to the old times of Wing Chun. You have to pay attention to properly perform the actions, use the elbow to develop power, have the body connected and project the force across the six joints. To accomplish this you have to emphasise the position (Ma), use the centreline and face (Chiu Ying) the opponent—following his body, not his hands. If you don’t follow these points, then you are not doing proper Wing Chun.
Besides the sandbag training, how was the transition from Chi Sao to fighting taught?
We practised the following every day, again and again—sandbag training, empty punch, inside punch, outside punch and different kinds of footwork, kicking, Wooden Dummy form and footwork, Chiu Ying (Facing), Choi Ying (Keep the Facing), Sheng Ma (Step forward and attack), and Chor Ma (Turning Stance). Practice makes perfect. Then, sometimes we would go out with friends, or other people, to compare Gung Fu and see what we have learned. In those times, many people liked to compare what they had learned because Gung Fu was very popular.
What about the Wooden Dummy? What should a practitioner keep in mind?
When practising the Dummy, attention must be drawn to matching the hands to the body positioning and footwork. It’s important to keep the right position in mind—never too far away, nor too close. Developing the footwork on the Dummy will add to the Chum Kiu and Biu Je footwork to show how to achieve the fastest and straightest line to your opponent. Also, don’t use Big Power on the Dummy because it is not an opponent and can’t hit back. When hitting an opponent, you need to increase your hitting power, but on the Dummy you have plenty of time to train it correctly.
What is the key to training the Luk Dim Poon Kwan?
First, one must practise the pole’s empty punch, the Chi Kwan Choi, with Sei Ping Ma (Riding Horse Stance) and Tui Ma (Cat Stance). Second, when holding the pole, strike back and forth with power. Lastly, stick your pole to the opponent’s (like striking, but pole towards pole).
What is the key to training the Bart Jam Dao form?
The form is for training the waist, footwork and Gung Fu spirit—it is also very helpful for the wrist. Playing the Bart Jam Dao is the same as Wing Chun’s empty-hand forms. Therefore, if the hand positions are correct, it will also help the Dao—the Dao is just an extension of the hands. Another thing that is the same is the way the Dao is used. One hand punches and the other hand stays beside it. Two hands go together—this is the same with the Dao. One thing that is different, is that you use the side of your body to face the enemy. Linking the waist, footwork and Gung Fu spirit together isn’t easy, and takes a lot of practice.
As the older generation passes on, where do you see the future of Wing Chun heading?
I believe the future of Wing Chun will be a lot different compared to the older generation. Truth be told, I like the old style of Wing Chun better. This is because the older generation was taught from the beginning to practice the proper way. For example, we were taught that Siu Lim Tao must be done as relaxed as possible, that each hand form must be done slowly and each hand position must not be rushed. The whole body must be relaxed—the mouth never closed tight in order to breathe the right way, the eyes always looking forward, etc. Also, each hand position must go out according to the proper line, especially the elbow part without putting power into the hands.
Later, when we got the right position, we started to put power into the elbow and then moved that power down to the wrist, and then finally combined the two. There was an emphasis on the footwork and stance, Lok Yiu Kim Ma (Low Adduction Stance), as well. We were taught the importance of imagining our opponent in front of us, such as when we played Siu Lim Tao. As the Fook Sao starts to go out, we must imagine the opponent’s Tan Sao coming in at the same time, so as to perfect the right position and control our opponent (elbow and wrist power can increase at any time by feeling).
When the Siu Lim Tao training was good, then we started with single-arm Chi Sao. Single-arm Chi Sao is to train Fook Sao, Tan Sao, Jut Sao, Bong Sao, and a strike with the fist/palm. These steps are very important. If any of the hand positions were incorrect, Sifu would not let us start trying to hit our opponent. He said, “You guys come to train Wing Chun, so you must learn to do it the right way. If you come to do Wing Chun, then you must hit the Wing Chun way, otherwise, you needn’t come visit me and you might as well just train at home!” You can be ambitious, only thinking of winning without using proper hand positions, however, although you win, since you’re not using Wing Chun, you’re not learning Wing Chun correctly.
Following the single-arm Chi Sao, we practised double-arm Chi Sao, focusing on the concepts of Chiu Ying and Choi Ying. You might have had to train just the Rolling Hands for a very long time because Sifu was careful to notice each hand in the correct position—if you were able to relax the whole body and if you were able to increase the power behind the structure, as well as your opponent at the same time. Sometimes, Sifu liked to put a towel over our eyes and then have us do Chi Sao. Of course, both sides must have reached a certain level in order to control their power, but he would get someone to stand in the middle to act like a referee—or he would do it himself.
Regarding Da Lat Sao, something like a free-fight, one person would act out another Gung Fu style, while the other partner would use Wing Chun. You know, Wing Chun very seldom moves the Ma. While fighting, there may be an opponent who is too powerful, punches too fast or enters too fast. In this situation, we have our Chiu Ying and backwards-moving footwork for the purpose of trapping the opponent. Stepping back also gives me the chance to get my two hands in the proper position, because I won’t be able to use Chor Ma. If the opponent isn’t so big and strong, then no matter how strong or fast their attack is, I don’t like to step backwards, instead I prefer to step forward and attack.
Therefore, learning Wing Chun skills can seem easy, but when you use it in a real situation you need to control your emotions. Staying calm is the only way to be able to demonstrate Wing Chun’s powerful side, therefore real Wing Chun isn’t easy. I know only a few of the new generation that can do this, but I have no comment on that because I like the ways of the older generation.
You are always seen smiling and very passionate about what you’re teaching. Can you comment on your teaching method?
My teaching method is simple—I just try to teach in the same manner as my Sifu did. I try to teach a very important Wing Chun principle—how to relax. Sometimes I might use smiling to relax my body to help create the six joint connection.