“Relaxation is the key to the mastery of Wing Chun.”
Chu Shong Tin
Despite my having trained in Wing Chun since 1999, I have only recently heard of Chu Shong Tin. I actually heard about him from my current teacher, Sifu Bernard Langan, who specializes in teaching “internal” power development with Chinese Martial Arts. He is a teacher of such systems as I Liq Chuan and Chen Pan Ling Tai Chi (among many others).
I am not one of those people who thinks thing “happen for a reason” or according to some sort of plan. I know enough about history to be very suspect of such thinking (what was the plan for the people who died in various atrocities over the whole of human history?). But sometimes, you find yourself discovering certain things only when you are ready for them. In the case of Chu Shong Tin and his take on Wing Chun, I was much more knowledgeable about how Chinese Internal Power is developed (not that I’ve developed much of it!) than I might have been even a year ago, so I was open to seeing what he was teaching and how this fit in with the whole arc of the dispersal of Chinese martial knowledge over the last hundred years.
Sifu Chu Shong Tin (1933-2014) was born in Guangdong province of China and began his martial arts training at the age of ten. He moved to Hong Kong in the 1950s and became one of Ip Man’s early students, along with Leung Shung and Lok Yiu.
Here is where my theory comes in!
I’ve always heard that Leung Shung was a more “internal” practitioner of Wing Chun. This was linked to the story of Sifu Kenneth Chung’s development, which I heard was “hard” initially and then, under the tutelage of his Sifu, “softened” and became more “internal.”
I’m curious if anyone knows more about this, but my theory, based on reading The Creation of Wing Chun and other books on the history of Chinese martial arts, combined with my comparisons of the system’s practices and techniques with those of systems like Southern Praying Mantis and Tai Chi, I speculate that the system Ip Man was taught by Chan Wah-Shun and Leung Bik (which they learned from Leung Jan) had much more “internal” content. I think that when Ip Man was forced to leave Foshan due to the rise of the Chinese Communist party (Sifu Ip had been a Nationalist police officer under Chiang Kai-shek and so, was an enemy of the new state), he arrived with few resources in an impoverished post-war Hong Kong and found himself needing to make a living teaching martial arts. However, the post-Boxer Rebellion period involved a widespread adoption of more Western, “scientific” approaches to things and the kids in Hong Kong needed to get results fast in order to survive on the mean streets of Hong Kong.
From the Wikipedia entry on Ip Man:
“Ip began teaching Wing Chun in the early 1950s…His earliest students consisted mainly of “poor and uneducated” members of the Restaurant Workers’ Association and “restless and angry young men”, who were attracted to Ip Man’s charismatic personality and the prospect of getting tougher in order to survive the dangerous environment of 1950s Hong Kong. Initially, Ip Man’s teaching business was poor in Hong Kong because Ip’s students typically stayed for only a couple of months. “
So I think that Ip Man stripped away the more time-consuming (and confusing and abstract) “internal” aspects of the system and started teaching the parts that are more “mechanistic” and external. We find Wong Shun Leung training the system more like a Western boxer, focusing on drilling the movements and building external strength through activities like doing the stepping drills (step-tan da-punch and step – gan da – punch) with someone on his shoulders. He famously did hundreds of reps of these drills, having already found good results doing this sort of training with actual Western boxing. This is a quite different approach from the standing practices found in internal systems, where stand and feel and think and train internal flow and intent.
I think that Chu Long Tin, however, the “King of Siu Lum Tao,” as one of the first students, received the more “old school” instruction which emphasized the slow, relaxed, thoughtful performance of the basic drills. And when it came time for him to teach, he emphasized the sensitivity aspects of the system, asking his students to work on the development of a deep awareness and sensitivity in their bodies.
Watching the videos put out by some of his more recent students and grand-students (such as Sifu Charles Kauffman, Sifu Nima King, and Sifu David Lovegrove), there is a same sort of time spent on relaxing, raising the crown, and aligning and stretching the spine, practices one finds in the internal arts. I would be very interested if anyone else has opinions (or evidence supporting) of this theory of mine that Ip Man stripped some of the internal focus and practices of the system as he tried to find his place in the martial arts marketplace that was 1950s Hong Kong.
Chu Shong Tin quotes:
- “Relaxation is the key to the mastery of Wing Chun.”
- “The more you can relax, the more energy you can put into your opponent.”
- “In Wing Chun, we use the smallest movements to achieve the greatest effect.”
- “The goal of Wing Chun is to defeat your opponent with as little effort as possible.”
- “Don’t try to fight force with force. Use the principles of Wing Chun to overcome your opponent’s strength.”
- “The secret of Wing Chun lies in the sensitivity of your touch.”
- “To be a good Wing Chun practitioner, you must develop your mind, body, and spirit equally.”
- “Wing Chun is not just about self-defense. It is a way of life that teaches us how to overcome obstacles and reach our full potential.”
- “In Wing Chun, there are no shortcuts. Only through dedicated practice can you achieve mastery.”
- “The true power of Wing Chun lies in its simplicity and efficiency.”
Sifu John Kauffman:
A presentation from Chu Shong Tin student Nima King (who teaches in Hong Kong).
Sifu David Lovegrove: