Among the many lineages of the Chinese martial art of Wing Chun, the Wong Shun Leung lineage stands out as one of the most influential and well-known. Wong Shun Leung was one of the top students of Wing Chun grandmaster Ip Man, and helped spread Ip Man’s teachings around the world. This article will examine the history and techniques of the Wong Shun Leung lineage of Wing Chun kung fu.
Wong Shun Leung: The Man and Fighter
Wong Shun Leung was born in 1935 in Hong Kong. As a teenager, he originally studied boxing, but then began studying Wing Chun under Ip Man in 1951. Known for his intelligence and martial skills, Wong Shun Leung quickly became one of Ip Man’s top students.
In the 1950s, Wong Shun Leung made a name for himself by accepting challenge matches with other martial artists in Hong Kong. These challenge matches were known as beimo and took place privately or even on rooftops.
Wong reportedly fought in over 60 such matches against practitioners of various styles, including Western boxing, Karate, Jujitsu, Judo, Aikido, and other Kung Fu systems like Shaolin, Tai Chi, and Wushu. His prowess earned him the nickname Gong Sau Wong or “King of Talking Hands.”
Wong focused on realistic combat applications in his Wing Chun training. He emphasized sparring and chi sao (sticky hands) practice to develop timing, reflexes, and technique. This practical approach to Wing Chun influenced his teaching methods.
Key Students of Wong Shun Leung
Several of Wong Shun Leung’s students went on to become well-known Wing Chun teachers in their own right, spreading his methods worldwide:
-Bruce Lee- Certainly the most famous student of Wong Shun Leung. Although Bruce is frequently referred to as a student of Yip Man, although Yip Man ran the school, Bruce’s primary teacher was actually Wong Shun Leung. Although Bruce did not teach pure Wing Chun, he did incorporate many wing chun techniques and principles in his Jeet Kune Do.
– David Peterson – An Australian student who authored books and instructional videos on Wong’s Wing Chun. He heads the Wong Shun Leung Ving Tsun Combat Science organization.
– Philipp Bayer – A German practitioner who founded the European Ving Tsun Academy. Bayer teaches Wing Chun full-time around the world.
– Gary Lam – A California instructor who teaches Wong’s curriculum through the International Wing Chun Academy. Lam also competed in Muay thai and emphasizes realistic applications of Wing Chun.
– Nino Bernardo – A student from the Philippines who teaches Wong’s Wing Chun in North America. He runs a chain of schools under the name KHF (Kung Fu Federation).
Techniques and Training of Wong Shun Leung Wing Chun
The Wong Shun Leung lineage of Wing Chun is direct, efficient, and combat-focused in its approach. Key technical elements include:
– Centerline Theory – Controlling the space between yourself and opponent.
– Short Power Generation – Using hips and stance to generate force in short distances.
– Vertical Fist Punching – Striking with vertical fist alignment, which was used by early day bare knuckle boxers and in some Karate applications.
– Non-Telegraphic Attacks – Striking quickly without “loading” motion as seen in boxing and muay thai.
– Simultaneous Attack and Defense – Defending while attacking, and vice versa.
– Sensitivity Drills – Chi sao, lat sao, jut sao exercises to develop tactile reflexes.
– Sparring – Extensive free-form sparring for timing and distancing as done in MMA and kickboxing.
-Practical Footwork- Based upon numerous challenge fights, as well as his previous boxing training, WSL used footwork that is very similar to boxing footwork.
There is a strong emphasis on conditioning and contact reflexes. Training involves dynamic partner drills and sparring, including kick shields, focus mitts, and other equipment also used in MMA training. The curriculum follows Ip Man’s outline: siu nim tau, chum kiu, biu jee, wooden dummy, and bart cham dao forms.
The Wong Shun Leung system differs from other Wing Chun lineages in subtle ways. While traditional Wing Chun used a 70/30 weight distribution , with 70% of the weight on the back foot, (while Leung Ting uses a stance with 100% of the weight on the back foot), Wong Shun Leung, perhaps because of his early training as a boxer, used a fighting stance with a 50/50 weight distribution. This weight distribution promotes balance, which is extremely important in a real fight.
Wong Shun Leung also put much more emphasis on the development of punching power, and many of schools use the heavy bag in addition to the traditional wallbag.
A strong stance is also emphasized more, and the style prefers to turn the opponent rather than turning away defensively.
Additionally, many instructors in the Wong Shun Leung lineage teach a smaller curriculum of techniques, and emphasize mastery of a small number of techniques over learning a large number of techniques.
Global Spread of Wong Shun Leung Wing Chun
Thanks to sifu Wong’s students, his particular brand of Wing Chun has spread around the world. There are Wong Shun Leung schools across Europe, North America, Australia, Asia, and beyond. The International Wing Chun Academy alone has over 90 branches globally.
Other martial arts have also incorporated Wong Shun Leung’s theories and training methods, including Jeet Kune Do (which inherited much from Wing Chun). The emphasis on realistic sparring and divided power generation can also be seen in more modern, eclectic systems like MMA, Krav Maga, and other hybrid martial arts.
In conclusion, the direct and efficient techniques of Wong Shun Leung Wing Chun have made it one of the most influential lineages of the Wing Chun martial arts system. Its emphasis on combat application and sparring continues to impact martial artists and self-defense experts around the world. Despite its recent vintage, Wong Shun Leung’s take on Wing Chun has secured its place as a major branch on the Wing Chun family tree.