Many systems have used the name Foshan Wing Chun Kuen in their marketing. This has come about in large part due to the popularity of Yip Man’s Wing Chun Kuen and its sometimes classification as “Hong Kong Wing Chun Kuen”. None of these geographical names, however, properly serve to illustrate their diversity of Wing Chun Kuen.
Foshan (Fushan or variously Futsan, Fatshan, etc. in Cantonese) is the modern birthplace of Wing Chun Kuen. In fact, almost all modern Wing Chun Kuen can be traced back to this town in China’s Guangdong province. How did Foshan come to be home to so many Wing Chun masters? The answer lies with the art’s origin aboard the Hung Suen Hei Ban (Red Junk Opera Company). The Red Junk performers were secretly members of revolutionary societies who’s goal was to overthrow the occupying Ching dynasty of the Manchurians and restore the Ming dynasty of the native Han people. Since the Junks had relative freedom of travel and the performers routinely wore elaborate make-up and costumes that could disguise their identities, they were an ideal hiding place for wanted revolutionaries. Their route would often take them through town like Guangzhou (Kwang Chow), Zhaoqing (Siu Hing), and Foshan. Later, they organized in support of the Taipin Rebellion and paid the price for the movement’s failure. The Ching destroyed the operan and the members who survived were driven into hiding. Many took Foshan as their new home base. Among the famous masters of Wing Chun who learned their skills in the Foshan area were Leung Jan (student of Wong Wah-Bo and Leung Yee-Tai), Fung Siu-Ching (student of Painted Face Kam), Fok Bo-Chuen (student of Wong Wah-Bo and Painted Face Kam), Siu La-Cheung (student of Tall Man Chung), Lok Lan-Goon (student of Painted Face Kam), and others. Over the years, this diversity of masters and methods lead to several distinct branches of Wing Chun Kuen, each legitimately a part of Foshan Wing Chun Kuen. It should be pointed out that geographical names used to distinguish the branches of Wing Chun are not unique, especially when a famed teacher had students in different cities or brought the art to a new location. Leung Jan, for example, taught Wing Chun Kuen first in Foshan where he worked. There he had students such as Chan Wah-Shun (Moneychanger Wah), Lo Kwai (Butcher Kwai), Lai Ying, etc. Later, he returned to his native village, a short distance away, and taught another version of Wing Chun Kuen for a few years before passing away. In this village, his students included Wong Wah-Sum, Leung Bak-Cheung, and others. To mark the difference, the San Sao (Separate Hands) art of this second group of students came to be called after the village- Gulao (Koo Lo) Wing Chun.
Perhaps the most well known example of this, as stated previously, is the art of Yip Man, the most widely known and practiced branch of the Wing Chun family. Yip Man learned his art in Foshan from Chan Wah-Shun and Chan’s senior students, Ng Jung-So and Lui Yiu-Chai. Yip Man did not teach in Foshan, however, for many years. Eventually however, due to the hardship he suffered under the Japanese occupation, Yip Man took a few students in order to repay the kindness of a man from Yongan (Wing On). These students included such individuals as Kwok Fu (Guo Fu) and Lun Gai (Lun Jie). Yip Man later left the rise of Communism in China to for Hong Kong where he gained far greater fame as a Wing Chun Kuen teacher, thanks primarily to the international attention brought on by his student Bruce Lee (Lee Jun-Fan/Lee Siu-Lung). This fame, fortified by the hard work and dissemination of his many other students, lead to the worldwide renown of Wing Chun Kuen. So popular, in fact, did Yip Man’s art become in the colony, that it came to be known as Hong Kong Wing Chun, despite the fact that many other branches of Wing Chun Kuen were also established there. This lead, of course, to the version of Yip Man’s art practiced by Yip Man’s students in his native town to be called Foshan Wing Chun Kuen. Of course, this distinction only works inside the Yip Man branch. Otherwise it, like the others, is just one piece of the Foshan Wing Chun Kuen pie.
Another branch commonly refered to as Foshan Wing Chun Kuen can be traced to Yip Man’s classmate, Yiu Choi. Yiu Choi was a large and powerful student of both Yuen Chai-Wan and Ng Jung-So. Yiu Choi passed this art on to several students, including his own son, Yiu Kai.
Often referred to as Foshan Siu Lam Wing Chun, the system of Pan Nam remained in its place of birth long after many others had spread to other cities, countries, and continents. Pan Nam began his martial career in the Southern Siu Lam and Hung Ga Kuen traditions, gaining a firm foundation under several teachers. He brought this with him when he began studying Wing Chun in the 1940s, following an interest in the Wing Chun of Cheung Bo under Sum Nung, he shortly gained tuition under Jiu Chao. Jiu Chao, alongside his brother, Jiu Wan (who later moved to Hong Kong and followed Yip Man) learned the art from Chan Wah-Shun’s son, Chan Yiu-Min. Pan Nam was also skilled in the Ng Jee Mui Fa Hei Gong (Five Petal Plum Blossom Qigong) of Ng Man-Long. Pan Nam later met Chan Wah-Shun’s second-to-last student, Lai Hip-Chi and further refined his Wing Chun Kuen. Lai Hip-Chi had begun his Wing Chun training with Chan Wah-Shun shortly before the Moneychanger retired back to Chen (Chan) village in Shunde (San Dak) and passed away. Lai had also trained under senior classmate Lui Yiu-Chai and later met the elderly nephew of Lok Lan-Goon (a student of Painted Face Kam’s) and learned more about Wing Chun. From these myriad sources, and his own encounters with people like Yip Man and Pak Cheung (a grand-student of Fung Siu-Ching), Pan Nam forged his own unique interpretation of Wing Chun Kuen.
Although better known as the Pao Fa Lien system Chu Chong brought to Macao, the Wing Chun of Lao Dat-Sang also hails from Foshan and has been classified in that manner in the past. Said to descend from the Tse brothers, Gwok-Leung and Gwok-Cheung, this branch of Wing Chun, with its larger then average curriculum, is also said to integrate Siu Lam and perhaps Taijiquan methods. While Chu Chong passed on the art in Macao, his classmates like Kwok Gai remained in Foshan.
The Wing Chun of Yuen Kay-San is also sometimes referred to as Foshan Wing Chun, since Yuen Kay-San learned and taught the art in his city of birth. Yuen learned the system from Fok Bo-Chuen and Fung Siu-Ching and combined his two teachers’ knowledge into his own system. He passed this system on to a young man named Sum Nung in the late 1930s. Sum Nung had previously learned the San Sao Wing Chun of Cheung Bo and like Yuen Kay-San, refined and integrated his knowledge. In the 1940s, Sum Nung moved to the nearby provincial capitol of Guangzhou to practice medicine. This has led the branch to become far better known as Guangzhou Wing Chun. This name, like Foshan or Hong Kong Wing Chun, is not entirely distinctive either as other branches, such as the Gulao derived Pien San (Side Body) Wing Chun of the Fung family later also came to Guangzhou, as did Lun Gai.
Branches from the Yuen Kay-San/Sum Nung tradition that have also gained such geographical monikers include Ng Mui Pai and the Wing Chun of Mai Gei Wong. Originally a student of Wong Jing (who had studied under Leung Jan’s student, Lai Ying, and under Yuen Kay-San), Mai Gei Wong furthered his knowledge with Sum Nung and some of Sum’s students including Pan Chao.
It should also be noted that following the departure of teachers such as Yip Man for Hong Kong and Sum Nung for Guangzhou, much of the Wing Chun in Foshan began to be integrated by the next generation of practitioners. Studying under different remaining teachers, the forms and methods began to resemble a blend of the Chan Wah-Shun (Chan Yiu-Min, Ng Jung-So, Yip Man, etc) and Yuen Kay-San systems, also sometimes integrating village Hung or Weng Chun (Always Spring) elements. This represents yet another art that can be referred to as Foshan Wing Chun.
About the Author René Ritchie is author of Legends of Wingchun: Embers of the Shaolin and Yuen Kay-San Wing Chun Kuen: History & Foundation, co-author of Complete Wing Chun: The Definitive Guide to Wing Chun’s History & Traditions, numerous articles for Inside Kung-Fu, Martial Arts Legends, Martial Arts Masters, Martial Arts Illustrated and other magazines, and is publisher of the Internet WingChunKuen.com portal site.
First exposed to the martial arts in 1980. In 1990 he began studying the Sum Nung system of Wing Chun Kuen under the guidance of Ngo Lui-Kay. He works and trains in Eastern Canada.