Although seldom seen in the West, there are in fact several distinct styles of the popular Chinese Martial Art of Wing Chun Kuen. Unfortunately, many of these styles have over the years remained unseen or unreported to all but a few. The doors of Wing Chun Kuen were never as closed, nor the line as limited as many have come to believe. Some of Wing Chun Kuen's greatest strengths are its flexibility and adaptability, and many skilled masters of the past have learned Wing Chun Kuen, contributed enormously to its development, and passed along their knowledge. One such master was Yuen Kay Shan. Yuen Kay Shan Wing Chun Kuen (sometimes erroneously referred to as Guangzhou Wing Chun), is a rare and relatively unknown style. In many ways it is quite similar to, and yet strikingly different from its more famous cousins.
Many of the early masters of Wing Chun Kuen were Guangdongese opera performers and Hung Suen (Red Junk) men. Among them were Wong Wah Bo, Leung Yee Tei, and "Dai Fa Min" Kam. Wong Wah Bo and Leung Yee Tei went on to teach the highly skilled Dr. Leung Jan (known as "King of the Boxers"), and "Dai Fa Min" Kam passed along his knowledge to a man named Fok Bo Chuen.
At the turn of the century in Foshan, Guangdong, there lived a wealthy merchant named Yuen Chung Ming. Yuen Chung Ming's fifth son, Yuen Kay Shan, was an energetic and intelligent youth who loved practicing the martial arts. Yuen Chung Ming, sparing no expense in order to provide his son with an opportunity to nurture his talent, engaged Fok Bo Chuen to teach Yuen Kay Shan the skills of Wing Chun Kuen. Yuen Kay Shan studied for many years and learned all Fok Bo Chuen had to teach including the Kuen (Fist Forms), the Jong (Dummies), the Gwun (Pole), the Dao (Knives), and the Biu (Darts). He also succeeded in developing the Dit Sa Cheung (Iron Sand Palm). Through constant hard work and determination, Yuen Kay Shan eventually went on to surpass even his teacher in skill.
A relative of Yuen Kay Shan had, at one time, been in a position of considerable power in Sichuan province. One day, having reason to pay his relative a courtesy call, Yuen Kay Shan was introduced to the famous Bo Tao (marshal), Fung Siu Ching, who was renowned for his remarkable Wing Chun Kuen skills. Fung Siu Ching was quite old at the time and was in the process of ending his career, yet Yuen Kay Shan approached him, seeking additional instruction. Fung Siu Ching, noting Yuen Kay Shan's sincere interest, decided to delay his retirement and to accept Yuen Kay Shan as his student. After a short time, however, it became apparent to Fung Siu Ching that Yuen Kay Shan's foundation was solid and that his skills were already quite advanced. He realized that there was, in truth, little he could do to improve upon them. Nevertheless, the two practiced Chi Sao (Sticking Arms) together and Fung Siu Ching taught Yuen Kay Shan new methods for expressing power.
Following Fung Siu Ching's tutelage, Yuen Kay Shan spent time studying the scientific principles of Wing Chun Kuen. Blending together and linking all the knowledge he had acquired, he developed a complete understanding of Wing Chun Kuen and went on to create an extraordinary set of theories encompassing its forms and functions.
While Yuen Kay Shan was quite well known in Foshan, he kept his knowledge of Wing Chun Kuen as private as possible. He used his skills only to defend himself and for practice. In fact, since Yuen Kay Shan was fairly wealthy, he did little with his time but practice his Wing Chun Kuen. Content, he neither sought out nor accepted any students for most of his life. Yuen Kay Shan would, however, from time to time drop by a local restaurant to take tea. At the restaurant worked a man named Cheung Bo who taught Wing Chun Kuen to a small group of fellow staff members. Cheung Bo was a large and powerful man and his Wing Chun Kuen was quite unique in structure. Chueng Bo found it difficult to keep his elbows closed (as was the method of many other Wing Chun Kuen practitioners) and instead used open arms, compensating for them with rapid and powerful stance changes. Furthermore, Cheung Bo's Wing Chun Kuen was based on a number of short, ordered Sic (Forms) and not the more commonly practiced Three Fist Forms.
One of Cheung Bo's students at the time was a hard working young boy named Sum Nung, whose family had recently returned to China from South America. Yuen Kay Shan, after dining at the restaurant, would sometimes remain behind and watch the staff practice their Wing Chun Kuen. While observing, he would stay quiet and never comment or criticize, but over time he grew to admire the dedication of the young boy and eventually asked Cheung Bo if he could take over Sum Nung's instruction. Cheung Bo, knowing and respecting the quality of Yuen Kay Shan's Wing Chun Kuen, happily agreed and soon introduced Sum Nung to Yuen Kay Shan. Sum Nung was hesitant at first, as the elderly and slender Yuen Kay Shan was a stark contrast to the young and powerful Cheung Bo. Soon, however, Sum Nung became his student and eventually his treasured disciple.
Over the years, Yuen Kay Shan and Sum Nung spent much time together, constantly practicing Wing Chun Kuen and contemplating and exploring its theories and techniques. Under Yuen Kay Shan's guidance, Sum Nung continued to refine and polish his Wing Chun Kuen, developing an intelligent and practical synthesis, as simple and efficient as it was well-rounded and effective. With Yuen Kay Shan's passing, shortly after the establishment of the People's Republic of China, Sum Nung named the style Yuen Kay Shan Wing Chun Kuen, in honor and memory of his teacher.
Sum Nung went on to train as a muscle and bone doctor and eventually moved to the city of Guangzhou, introducing Wing Chun Kuen and the teachings of Yuen Kay Shan to the region. In Guangzhou Dr. Sum Nung taught Yuen Kay Shan Wing Chun Kuen privately, not wanting to attract too much attention. Among his students was a man named Ngo Lui Kay (Ao Lei Qi in the Beijing dialect). Although born in Hong Kong, Ngo Lui Kay went to university near Beijing to study communications and, after travelling China and Korea as a both a teacher and an engineer, he settled down in Guangzhou. Ngo Lui Kay was drawn to Wing Chun Kuen by its practicality and its usefulness and in the mid 1960s he began training under Dr. Sum Nung. Ngo Lui Kay followed Dr. Sum Nung and practiced constantly for more than a decade and a half, devoting himself to the development of his Yuen Kay Shan Wing Chun Kuen skills.
In the early 1980's, with the help of his uncle, Ngo Lui Kay moved his family to Canada. For a long time in Canada, Ngo Lui Kay kept his knowledge of Yuen Kay Shan Wing Chun Kuen very quiet and accepted no students, preferring to invest his time in his business, working hard and trying to secure a future for his family. Thankfully, in 1990 when his business grew more solid and he had some time to spare, he started to teach a small and tightly knit group of formal students. In honor of, and respect for his ancestors, Ngo Lui Kay is determined to share his knowledge and to help preserve the art of Yuen Kay Shan Wing Chun Kuen.
The current system of Yuen Kay Shan Wing Chun Kuen, as taught by Ngo Lui Kay, is composed of the Techniques of Cheung Bo, the Three Fist Forms, the Wooden Dummy and several other training aids, a set of breathing exercises similar to Qigong, the Six and a Half Point Pole, the Double Knives, and the Theories of Yuen Kay Shan.
The movements of Yuen Kay Shan Wing Chun Kuen are both linear and circular, each one complementing the other and always following the theories of the style. Many linear movements have circular counterparts, and vice-versa, which greatly enhance their flexibility and effectiveness. The lines and circles, the hard and soft, are used in combination in the form and in the application of the movements. They are relaxed and flexible, yet they can express an explosive and elastic energy which grants them considerable power while retaining maximum control and adaptability.
The Techniques of Cheung Bo are known as the Sup Yi Sic (12 Forms) and are composed of 12 main sets and several extensions, many of which retain their characteristic wide-arm movements and quick stance changes. The 12 Forms range from simple motions like Ji Ng Choi (Center-Line Punch) and its extensions Sam Sing Choi (3 Star Punch) and Lin Wan Choi (Continuous Punch), to combination movements like Bak Hok Kam Wu (White Crane Catches the Fox), to short routines like Do Long Choi (Single Dragon Punch). Some of these Techniques form the foundation of Yuen Kay Shan Wing Chun Kuen's early training, while others are the basis for many complementary exercises.
The Three Fist Forms of Yuen Kay Shan Wing Chun Kuen are Siu Lin Tao (Little First Training, also known as Siu Nim Tao, Little Idea), Chum Kiu (Sinking Bridge), and Biu Jee (Thrusting Fingers). These Forms contain the majority of the movements, theories, and concepts of Yuen Kay Shan Wing Chun Kuen. Attention is focused on each individual motion and although the movements are executed consecutively in the Forms, actual techniques (and the many extensions thereof) are separate and distinct. They are collected in the Forms, dictionary-like, to be applied as the practitioner requires, when, where, and how they are needed.
Yuen Kay Shan Wing Chun Kuen includes many training aids, the most famous of which is the Muk Yan Jong (Wooden Man Dummy). The Wooden Dummy is a very unique, yet effective method of training. It is constructed to match the size of its intended user and is composed of a body post, two high-level arms, a single mid-level arm, and a low-level leg. When originally developed, the Dummy was buried quite deeply in the ground and surrounded by loose earth. As apartments grew more common, this arrangement became impractical, if not impossible (especially if one lived above ground level), so the Wooden Dummy was redesigned to incorporate a solid metal base with heavy-duty springs. The movements of the Wooden Dummy Form help to build precision and accuracy and aid in the development of short-range, explosive energy. In addition to the Wooden Dummy, other training methods include: the Tun Huen Sao (Rattan Circle Arm); Fei Ji Gung (Chop-Stick Gung); Da Yeung Juk (candle punching), sand-bags, and large flat surfaces used to develop pressing power.
The breathing exercises are known as Sun Hay Gwai Yuen (Kidney Breath Return Invigoration). They are short, Qigong-like sets typically practiced after training to re-energize and revitalize the body. The Kidney Breath Return Invigoration includes exercises like San Hay (Yielding Breath) and Gong Hung (Expanding Chest).
The Lok Dim Boon Gwun (Six and a Half Point Pole), represents the long range weapons training of Yuen Kay Shan Wing Chun Kuen while the Sheung Dao (Double Knives), complete the short range weapons aspect of the style. The Long Pole uses techniques which require the practitioner to send power through the wood and into the striking point. In addition to the standard Yuen Kay Shan Wing Chun Kuen structure, Pole training incorporates postures which more closely resemble the classical Siu Lam styles. The Knives favor methods and motions which are quite similar to the Fist Forms and can often be seen to act as extensions of the hands.
Emphasis in Yuen Kay Shan Wing Chun Kuen is placed on sensitivity training and on practical use. Starting with simple excercises and applications from early movements, sensitivity training progresses through a wide variety of two-person drills. The drills develop the many levels of application, from the obvious to the subtle, in a steady, step by step, method. The most important and often used form of sensitivity training is a version of the dual arm Chi Sao (Sticking Arms) seen in many Wing Chun Kuen styles. These exercises serve to bridge the gap between practice and actual combat and aid in developing many of Yuen Kay Shan Wing Chun Kuen's different forms of power. As with other types of training, the initial exercises are simple and predictable, with more subtle, instinctive, and skillful changes being introduced as feeling increases. This helps to release the practitioners from pattern and repetition and allows them to apply their knowledge creatively and spontaneously.
Wing Chun Kuen, in all its styles and traditions, is an excellent form of martial arts and is something to be treasured by those who practice it. Yuen Kay Shan Wing Chun Kuen is a vibrant and important part of the past and the future of the Wing Chun Kuen family of styles. It is alive and thriving, both in China and North America, and hopefully its contributions have just begun to be felt.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rene Ritchie has been training in Yuen Kay Shan Wing Chun Kuen under Ngo Lui Kay since 1990.