Sunday, December 28, 2008

Ip Man: Portrait of a Kung Fu Master


Ip Man: Portrait of a Kung Fu Master
By Ip Ching and Ron Heimberger
Translated by Eric Lee
Publisher: Cedar Fort
Published on January 2001
ISBN-13: 9781555175160
116 pages




When I first saw the billboard for the movie Ip Man starring Donnie Yen, I was intrigued by the title which is the name of the legendary Wing Chun grandmaster. I must admit that I was attracted to the fact that Donnie (my favourite martial arts star) is playing the role of the grandmaster. I decided that I must read the grandmaster's life story before I watch the movie so that I could appreciate it better. Then I found this book written by his son, Ip Ching, who is now the grandmaster; co-written with Ip Ching's disciple, Ron Heimberger. I also decided to write this review only after I watch the movie.

Ip Man: Portrait of a Kung Fu Master offers stories of the great Wing Chun Master's life. It provides a set of fifteen principles as a guide to mastery, but none of the actual Wing Chun moves.

Some of my favourite quotes found in the book are these:
Some are born with the knowledge of their duties; some know them by study; and some acquire the knowledge after a painful feeling of their ignorance. ~ Confucius

If wealth and honor do not dissipate you, poverty and low status do not make you move from your principles, authority and might do not distort you, then you can be called a great man. ~ Unknown
From the reading of the book, I could see that Ip Man is indeed an honorable man. He never exploited the art of Wing Chun nor take advantage of his students. He demonstrated the principles of loyalty and love: [...] loyalty gives rise to loyalty and love to love. If one desires loyalty, he must be loyal. (p. 83) In Ip Man's example, he was first taught by Chan Wa Shun whom he called his 'sifu' (or kung fu master) and later perfected Wing Chun through Leung Bik (his 'si pak' or kung fu uncle) after the death of Chan Wa Shun. Although Leung Bik was the one who actually taught him the most, he never addressed him as sifu. For Ip Man, Chan Wa Shun will always be his sifu. Through this, he demonstrated his unwavering loyalty to his master and earned the respect from the martial arts community. His students gained the spirit of Wing Chun's selfless service, complete loyalty and unfailing courage.

Another thing that struck me in the book is this: True mastery, true competition is a matter of the self. (p. 68) I agree with the thought that one faces competition with himself alone and should always try to be better. To be contented is fine, but we must not be lazy and complacent with our current successes. Sloth is, after all (in the Biblical sense), one of the seven deadly sins!

The short chapter on "What's In A Name?" sheds light on the romanization of Chinese writing and how it affected the spelling of the grandmaster's name. The correct spelling is Ip Man and not Yip Man as many people spelled it. It is an important protocol because to change a proper name is to change the person himself. Hence, the book advises that when dealing with Chinese art, literature, and culture, one cannot and should not assume readily no matter what.

I enjoyed reading about the grandmaster's life in Foshan and Hong Kong and viewing the many photos in the book. I also enjoyed reading about how he came to learn the art of Wing Chun and perfecting it. As the book says, without Ip Man, Wing Chun would be lost today (p. 91). He has touched many lives especially the lives of his students. He understood the tradition and honor in Wing Chun. He is also Bruce Lee's only kung fu teacher.

NOTE: While the movie Ip Man is about the grandmaster, it is not based upon this book. Donnie Yen, whose martial arts background began from the day he could walk, is fabulous for the role. The movie is a must-watch.


Ip Man is adapted from the life story of Ip Man, the grand master of the Wing Chun style of kung fu and sifu (master) of legendary kung fu superstar Bruce Lee. This movie will be the first important record of the master's life. Ip's persistent devotion to Wing Chun is a classic example of the love and respect shown to wushu and the freedom and spirit it represents. Ip Man is a concept, a spirit, a way of thinking - and it represent a new peak in Hong Kong’s wushu movies.
(Source: Golden Screen Cinemas)

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