The Wing Chun Kuen of
Yuan Kay Shan

By Robert Chu, 1990 (revised 1996)

I began the study of Yuen Kay Shan Wing Chun Kuen in 1981 where I met my instructor Kwan Jong Yuen through a mutual friend. I had already studied Yip Man Wing Chun for many years and was happy to have the opportunity to see the Wing Chun Kuen art straight out of China. Ah Kwan was a native of Guang Zhou and had studied with the local masters Chan Mei Shun, a master of Yuen Kay Shan Wing Chun and Tam Yeung, a practitioner of the Gu Lao Wing Chun system.

Ah Kwan explained to me that Wing Chun Kuen was popular in Fut Shan during the Ching dynasty (1644-1912). The characteristics of this style of Wing Chun have led others to refer to this style of Wing Chun as "Pien Sen Wing Chun" (slant body Wing Chun) due to the emphasis on shifting and slant body movement, or "Sae Ying Wing Chun" (snake form Wing Chun) due to characteristic snake-like movements of the hands.

The Yuen Kay Shan Wing Chun system is comprised of the forms Siu Lien Tao (little training set), Chum Kiu (sinking bridge), Biu Jee (darting fingers), Muk Yan Jong (wooden man post), Luk Dim Boon Gwun (6½ point staff) and Yee Ji Cem Dao (character two double knives). In my particular lineage of Yuen Kay Shan Wing Chun two additional forms were created by master Kwok Jin Fen, called "Sae Go Gen Ben Chuie" and "Lien Wan Gaun Kou Sao" (chained cutting hands). In addition, a short set of Qi Gong training called "Sun Hei Gwai Yuen" (Kidney Qi Returns to the Source) is taught.

I began my training in the 12 seeds of Yuen Kay Shan Wing Chun Kuen, which consist of the following:

These twelve motions train how to issue force and position the body for combat. These twelve motions were an integration of Cheung Bo's teaching of Wing Chun Kuen, as basics for the Yuen Kay Shan Wing Chun Kuen as taught by Sum Nung.

The entire system of Yuen Kay Shan Wing Chun that Kwan Jong Yuen taught me is based on just twelve principles which are embodied in twelve key words:

Ah Kwan taught me that these twelve principles are inherent in the system and in fact, Yip Man's Wing Chun also follows these principles except for the last two key words. Yip Man's Wing Chun follows the principles of Huen (circle) and Dim (point), rather than Tang and Dong. Throughout the years, I had the fortune of seeing other practitioners of the Yuen Kay Shan system and I have noticed differences in both the 12 keywords and 12 basics. I have concluded that the differences may reflect how Grandmaster Sum Nung has taught throughout the years, or differences in interpretation from his various students.

Yuen Kay Shan's Wing Chun at times appears totally different from Yip Man's system in form, but in application remains very similar. Both systems maintain the training of Chi Sao. The motto, "Lai Lau, Hui Sung, Fung Lut, Jik Chung" (As he comes you receive. As he leaves, you escort. Upon loss of contact, rush in.) is known to practitioners throughout Wing Chun.

The major difference between the Yip Man and Yuen Kay Shan Wing Chun styles is one of approach and terminology. For example, in the sets, Yuen Kay Shan stylists conclude a motion with a Lop Sao, whereas Yip Man practitioners conclude with a Huen Sao. Terms like "Bao Pai Jeung" (embrace the sign palm) from Yip Man Wing Chun is known as "Dip Jeung" (butterfly palm) in Yuen Kay Shan's. Similarly, "Bat Jam Do" (eight slash knives) and "Yee Ji Cem Dao" (double knives), "Siu Nim Tao" and "Siu Lien Tao" have been renamed in the former term. Yip Man's genius is credited here, for being a scholarly man, he renamed the terms in favor of more ideological concepts. Hence, the "Little Training Set" is renamed "Little Idea" in Yip Man's version. Yuen Kay Shan Wing Chun also retains the older name "Chum Kiu" as "Sinking Bridge" for the 2nd form, rather than "Seeking Bridge" as in the Yip Man art. With regard to the dummy set, the Yuen Kay Shan set concentrates more on the inside of the arms of the dummy than the Yip Man dummy set, whereas in the Yip Man set, it is more to the outside. The Yip Man set is comprised of 116 movements and the Yuen Kay Shan contains 140 movements. Both arts contain practically the same maneuvers and tactics, just juxtaposed differently. In application, both arts express economy of motion, the centerline principle and sensitivity training.

Yuen Kay Shan learned his Wing Chun originally from Fok Bo Chuen, a student of "Dai Fa Mian" (Painted Face) Kam, and completed the entire Wing Chun system from him consisting of the 3 forms, dummy set, pole, knives, Chi Sao and Fei Biu (throwing darts). Dai Fa Mian Kam is said to be one of the practitioners of the Hung Suen Hay Ban (Red Boat Opera) who developed Wing Chun Kuen. Yuen Kay Shan later studied with Fung Siu Ching, a marshall skilled in practical application of Wing Chun. It is known that Yip Man and Yuen Kay Shan were good friends in Fut Shan as they both were about the same age (Yuen being senior of about 5 years) and they enjoyed practicing Wing Chun and discussing the theories and principles of the art.

I was incorrect in a previous article when I wrote that Yuen Kay Shan had studied with Chan Wah Shun. The Yuen Kay Shan system lineage is completely separate from the Leung Jan lineage of Wing Chun, which includes Chan Wah Shun, Ng Jung So, and Yip Man.

Yuen Kay Shan later taught his successor, Sum Nung, who moved to Guang Zhou. Sum Nung is currently in his 70's and is the present Grandmaster of this system. He is also a noted Traditional Chinese Medicine doctor and taught at a local TCM college in Kwang Chou. It is interesting to note that many instructors of the Yuen Kay Shan system have either learned or claimed to have learned from Sum Nung. Sum Nung taught several outstanding students, of which there are Kwok Jin Fen and Pang Chou. Kwok Jin Fen, is responsible for the spread of Wing Chun throughout the military in Guang Zhou. A mutual friend of theirs, Wong Fen, learned from both Pang Chou and Kwok Jin Fen.

Wong Fen had a very close friend that was a snake collector in Kwang Chou named Chan Mei Shun. The young Chan Mei Shun was a snake dealer by profession, and sold snakes for food and medicinal purposes. One day while wandering about in the countryside, Chan Mei Shun accidentally trespassed on another person's property. The owner of this property forbade Chan to hunt for snakes while on his property. A heated argument ensued, which later led to a crossing of fists. The property owner was a Choy Lay Fut practitioner, and the young Chan, who knew little about martial arts suffered a devastating defeat. This incident led him to look up his good friend Wong Fen, and Chan then asked if he could learn his friend's Yuen Kay Shan Wing Chun Kuen. Chan Mei Shun learned quickly and mastered the art in a short time. After two years of practice, he went back and challenged the Choy Lay Fut practitioner and soundly defeated him. Chan's name became known throughout Kwang Chou as a result of this match and many asked to become his disciple.

My good friend and Sifu, Kwan Jong Yuen, followed Chan Mei Shun for many years before immigrating to New York City. It is fortunate for me that I met Kwan Jong Yuen and became his student, and that he openly shared the Yuen Kay Shan system.

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