Wong Shun Leung was born May 8th 1935, the oldest son of a Cantonese doctor, who passed his knowledge on to him. Now known as doctor and herbalist, Wong Shun Leung was crazy about fighting since his childhood. Because his father was well known in the Kung Fu scene, he often got the chance to watch and admire the different fighting styles. From an early Wong, was interested in the roof tops of flats and remote parking garages, as these were the places to witness gangs and individuals fight.

In witnessing such events, Wong learnt an important lesson early on: “Hit first, ask questions later”. Wong Shun Leung became associated with students of different fighting styles who encouraged him to enter the Kung Fu study and at the age of 15-16, Wong Shun Leung tried a variety of different fighting styles.

" Hit first, talk later!"

He started with Tai Chi Chuan but quickly moved on to western style boxing. Seeing good practical tips and manoeuvres, he started to train in western boxing. When Wong Shun Leung accidentally hit his former boxing coach too hard, the coach became irritated and attacked him nevertheless, Wong, with a bloody nose and mouth managed to drive his former trainer in a corner and knocked him out. Having lost respect for his trainer Wong stopped his boxing lessons, and decided to take up a new martial art that was barely know in Hong Kong at the time ‘Ving-Tsun Kung Fu’ that was not only barely known, but only boasted one recognised teacher at the time Yip Man.

On starting at Yip Man’s school at 17 years of age, Wong observed students training Chi Sau. Considering his boxing training, their movements seemed very impractical and he inwardly laughed at the Ving-Tsun. Shortly after joining he was challenged to a fight by one of the students at the school and after only a few seconds, Wong had his opponent on the floor. Yip Man, was somewhat surprised at this and asked him if he would like to fight one of the older students. Wong accepted and had no trouble winning the second bout. Yip Man saw this as a challenge and now took on a fight with Wong himself. Wong remembered what happened with his old boxing trainer and thought he would have an easy fight against the 59 year old Yip Man. With a lot of fancy footwork and fast movements he thought he could quickly tire him but Yip Man was very tactical and manoeuvred Wong into a corner. When Wong was about to kick, Yip Man caught him off balance. Wong fell against the wall and Yip Man covered the distance quickly and with a few strokes tackled Wong, showing him that if it had been his intention, he could have seriously hurt him. The body-control and speed of Yip Man took Wong by surprise and made him realise that he had met his master.

Perfectie en balans

The next day Wong fought again, this time against Yip Bo Ching, one of Yip Man’s best students. Yip Bo Ching won easily. Again, this convinced Wong completely and he officially became a student of Yip Man. The sixty year old Yip Man observed Wongs hard training regime and ambitious nature. He told his oldest pupil Leung Sheung, that he was convinced that his Ving-Tsun would make Wong famous in Hong Kong in one years time. However, Yip Man was proved wrong; it only took 3 months by which time Wong weighed only 53 kilograms. He accepted every challenge and came out a winner. Between the ages of 18 and 19 Wong fought more than 60 fights and was envied by many people who were paid to fight him. Due to his track record of success, Wong had made Ving-Tsun the main subject of conversation in Hong Kong and demonstrating that ‘Finally there was a style that was successful’ '

"Lee was lazy and a slow learner." 

De nog jongere Wong Shun Leung op de set met Bruce Lee, zijn leerling.

William Cheung, also a well known Ving-Tsun fighter, introduced Lee Siu Lung (Bruce Lee) to Ving-Tsun. Wong Shun Leung noticed that Lee did not take his Ving-Tsun study seriously; he was lazy and therefore learnt slowly. If he got into trouble with the law or an opponent, he assumed that William or his father would get him out again. When William, who had been a role model fighter for Lee, went to Australia, Lee felt abandoned in an aggressive environment. He turned to Wong Shun Leung to learn Ving-Tsun and because of this changed his approach to his training. Although Lee would have liked private lessons from Wong. Wong did not see much use in this. Nevertheless; Lee was resourceful and determined and after school, quickly arrived at Wong’s house before the other students. When the students arrived he sadly informed them that Wong was not at home. Everybody left and Lee returned to take advantage of the private lesson he so desired.

For a period of one and a half years Wong educated the clever and determined student Lee almost daily. Wong recognised that Lee’s strength was in Chi Sau. His reflexes developed so well, that he was capable of reacting to every attack from his opponent. His training would surely have continued until he learned everything in Ving-Tsun, if it were not for his parents sending Lee to the United States of America, because of his complicated course of life. The friendship between Wong and Lee weakened and was limited to letters or an occasional visit, when Lee was in Hong Kong for a film take or to visit his parents.

When Lee started to introduce Ving-Tsun in the USA, he turned to Wong Shun Leung to be clear about the different techniques. Wong, a seasoned fighter, was Lee’s idol; before a situation even occurred, Wong had the response already in his mind. Shortly before his death, Lee visited Hong Kong and had a long discussion with Wong about the theories and techniques of Jeet Kune Do, developed by Lee. The core of the discussion was that, except for Lee, nobody else could learn this system. Lee should never have developed this system. Without the ground basics of Ving-Tsun, a pupil would not be able to learn it. Lee himself learnt Ving-Tsun traditionally step by step and fought in the street to gain experience and to bring his knowledge into a new system. Chi Sau is an important element of the Ving-Tsun system. The new teaching methods of Jeet Kune Do seemed to be impossible to master; a link was missing in the chain. Wong tried to make Lee understand that he should have more patience.

‘Wong became one with his art.'

Tot zijn kunst verworden

Wong Sheng Leung died of a stroke on January 28, 1997. A shock to everybody who knew him. Wong was always very frank. His teaching methods seemed authoritarian and traditional, yet he was always prepared to advise his pupils and answer their questions. Contradictory to Yip Man, he also taught non-Chinese people. Wong Shun Leung was an exemplary human being that came to be an art form. He started as a talented fighter and studied the physical and psychological aspects of Ving-Tsun and truly became one with Ving-Tsun. He was a man who knew how to use his voice, soft or loud, in a certain situation. He knew his limits, therefore also the limits of others. He worked quietly, relaxed and very focused. His practical way of life could be compared to a sword; not dangerous until you touch the sharp edge.

Written by: Philipp Bayer


Dave van der Poel on Wong Shun Leung

In 1994 and 1995, I had the honor to participate in some of Wong Shun Leung’s seminars. I was still young, but I remember that the man made a huge impression on me. He would be the reason that much of my life today would be all about Ving Tsun. The man was exceptional and revolutionary. After these seminars the direction was clear. I remember his heavy voice and the flexibility of his movements. But also his smile, a cigarette outside and a glass of red wine ...


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