Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Agility in Taijiquan

Below is an excerpt from a post at Taichi Philosopy on Agility in Taijiquan. The full post may be read here.

In Tai Chi Chuan there are, besides the slow form, a series of weapon forms and the fast form. These forms are conducted dynamically with many changes in pace.

According to Wu Yinghua and Ma Yueliang, in the slow form the aspects stillness (jing), lightness (qing), slowness (man), conscientiousness (qie) and perseverance (heng) need to be taken into account. The dynamic forms are different from the slow form with regard to the third aspect, slowness. Slowness means that the movements are conducted in a controlled manner, yet lightly, evenly and flowing smoothly without any interruptions. (see Ma Jiangbao, p. 41)

In the dynamic forms the aspect of slowness is substituted by agility (ling). Agility manifests itself in four different characteristics, which must be taken into account during training. Only then can the qualities of the slow form translate into the mastery of fast movements. Wu Yinghua and Ma Yueliang write:

“In order to develop lightness, agility, suppleness (yuanhua) and dexterity (ziru), one has to heed four characteristics:

1. Break and turn alternate (duncuo xiangjian)
2. Hard and soft support each other (gangrou xiangji)
3. Fast and slow are in harmony (kuaiman xianghe)
4. The front and the back are connected. (qianhou xianglian)
(Wu, Ma, p. 2)

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Great Sickness in Martial Arts Study

Over at Green Leaves Forest, Zacky Chan discusses the Great Sickness in Kyudo, which is really the great sickness in any budo study, trying to hit the target! It seems counter intuitive, but it makes sense.

When an archer is shooting for fun
He has all his skill.

If he shoots for a brass buckle
He is already nervous.

If he shoots for a prize of gold
He goes blind

Or sees two targets –
He is out of his mind.

His skill has not changed,
But the prize divides him.

He cares
He thinks more of winning
Than of shooting –
And the need to win
Drains him of power.

~Chuang Tzu

An excerpt is below. The full post may be read here.

The Greatest Sickness in Kyudo.

The Greatest Sickness in Kyudo is not a small technical difficulty like putting your elbow here, or your hand here, our your shoulder here, releasing too early (hayake), or not hitting the target.

The Greatest Sickness in Kyudo is “wanting to hit the target.”

If you’re at all familiar with kyudo, this isn’t the first time you’ve heard this. You probably heard it and thought, “Wow. That’s amazing. It’s all about the spirit and actually has nothing to do with the target.” perhaps along with lots of other mystical thoughts.

Then you probably thought, “That is the biggest pile of crap I’ve ever heard. What the hell is the point of shooting a bow and arrow then? All I’m doing is shooting at a target!”

Then maybe you start really trying to figure out how to hit the target and find a whole lot of cool techniques. Eventually you may realize that a lot of those little techniques are dependent on the form and structure of our body, “shizentai” (“natural body”), “kihontai” (“fundamental structure”), and the “tateyoko juumonji” (“horizontal and vertical crosses”) and find that the greatest skill is in found in the basics.

Then maybe you start to look around. You may see those with decades of experience and skills who are struggling to hit the target, and then you may see those with little experience shooting a wonderful arrow. How does this make sense? Aren’t we supposed to be getting “better” at hitting the target? “I’ve put all this time and effort into this tradition, why am I not hitting the target?”

There are lots of pitfalls and sicknesses in kyudo like putting your elbow here, or your hand here, our your shoulder here, releasing too early (hayake), or not hitting the target, but do you know why neither of these is the Greatest Sickness in Kyudo?

That is because “trying to hit the target” lies at the root of all of them.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Aikido's Koshinage

Below is an excerpt from a long post at Ellis Amdur's KogenBudo blog. It examines the source and history of a signature Aikido technique, Koshinage. The common wisdom that it came from Daito Ryu may not be correct.

The full post may be read here.

There are two inter-related questions regarding the history of the development of aikido: 
  • Does aikido owe anything to Yagyu Shingan-ryu, a classical martial tradition that Ueshiba Morihei studied before entering Daito-ryu? 
  • How much did Ueshiba Morihei take from Daito-ryu in creating his art?

Part I: Ueshiba’s Koshinage

Is the koshinage of Ueshiba Morihei his creation, is it rooted in Daito-ryu,  or did he assimilate it from one of the other martial arts he previously studied?
Ueshiba’s koshinage is unique, at least in comparison to most ‘hip throws,’ as nage aligns his hips to the front of uke’s abdomen forming a ‘cross.’ (In Japanese this configuration is referred to using the Japanese kanji juji (十) for the number ten.)

The throw is effected by nage rotating his hips while shifting his weight from the leg closest to uke to the leg furthest away, combined with the use of gravity. The result is uke moves across nage’s loins and lower back, much like a seesaw on its fulcrum, with uke being thrown out and away from nage.
Saito Morihiro, who trained with Ueshiba longer than any other direct student, reinforces these points: “Step forward and position your right foot between your partner’s feet. Extend your left arm diagonally upward with feeling of pointing at the top corner of the wall and bring your partner’s stomach onto the small of your back in such a way that your two bodies form a cross.” (1) 
The overall effect of this technique is a hip throw that exploits the action of uke and gravity, resulting in little energy expenditure by nage, something Saito confirms,  reminiscing, “The founder once said jokingly that there were no better technique than koshinage and that he never got tired, even if he practiced it from morning to night.” (2)

Additionally, Saito explained that Ueshiba favored the koshinage of aikido over hip throws found in judo and other similar techniques, because koshinage as performed by Ueshiba affords nage the ability to move in any direction to address another attacker at any point of the technique.


Identifying the Potential Source of Ueshiba’s Koshinage

During an interview, Ueshiba listed the martial arts he studied as, “Tenjin Shinyo-ryu from Tokusaburo Tozawa, then Kito-ryu, Yagyu-ryu, Aioi-ryu, and Shinkage-ryu, all of them jujutsu forms.” (5)  (NOTE: He describes his training in Daito-ryu elsewhere in this interview).

Ellis Amdur in Hidden in Plain Sight, Tracing the Roots of Ueshiba’s Power, clarifies Ueshiba’s statement regarding his jujutsu training. Based upon Amdur’s analysis of historical records, the progression of Ueshiba’s training  began with Tenjin Shinyo-ryu, which Amdur believes was followed by ‘old school’ judo that Ueshiba, like many, identified as Kito-ryu to differentiate the training from modern judo (which focuses on competition, something anathema to Ueshiba). Next, while in the Japanese military, Ueshiba studied Yagyu Shingan-ryu taijutsu. Amdur notes the reference by Ueshiba to Aioi-ryu appears to refer to a period of the development his own martial art, a transitional period between Daito-ryu and aikido, and Shinkage-ryu is probably a reference  to a menkyo given to Ueshiba by Takeda Sokaku for symbolic reasons. (6)
If Ueshiba’s koshinage is derived from one of the arts studied, then it would have to be found in one or more of the following jujutsu schools: Tenjin Shinyo-ryu, Kodokan judo, Yagyu Shingan-ryu taijutsu, or Daito-ryu.

Thursday, October 19, 2017


The Tang Dynasty was a high point of culture in ancient China. Especially esteemed were poems. There was no home coming or leave taking; no event too small to not be commemorated with a poem.

Some of the best poems of that period have been collected into an anthology known as The 300 Tang Dynasty Poems. A online version of the anthology may be found here.Today we have #65, A DRINKING SONG AT STONE-FISH LAKE

I have used grain from the public fields, for distilling wine.
After my office hours I have the wine loaded on a boat and then
I seat my friends on the bank of the lake.

The little wine-boats come to each of us and supply us with wine.
We seem to be drinking on Pa Islet in Lake Dongting.
And I write this poem.

Stone-Fish Lake is like Lake Dongting --
When the top of Zun is green and the summer tide is rising.
...With the mountain for a table, and the lake a fount of wine,
The tipplers all are settled along the sandy shore.
Though a stiff wind for days has roughened the water,
Wine-boats constantly arrive....
I have a long-necked gourd and, happy on Ba Island,
I am pouring a drink in every direction doing away with care.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Martial Arts Lineage Snobs

Below is an excerpt from a recent post by Jesse Conley at Stone Tiger Xing Yi. The full post may be read here.

We all know a guy like this.  He spends his day on the internet telling and re-telling stories about how his martial ancestors were the toughest fighters in the world.  We hear a bunch of stories about the ancestors and they all seem to imply or outright assert that their awesomeness gives the lineage snob the right to talk trash about other arts.   These guys are universally despised and, as a general rule, suck at martial arts.  Too much time on the keyboard and not enough training. But what if we understood that, while those guys suck, the need for lineage is real and can provide fantastic yardstick to gauge a school or martial artist?

There are going to be 2 basic responses to that statement.  The first usually comes from people who have created their own arts or know that their teachers weren't totally legit.  Their response goes something like, "All you do is talk about lineage!  Why are you judging me??  Bruce Lee said to follow your own path!!" Etc. The other response is "I told you so!!!" and is almost as obnoxious as the first.  This response usually comes from the lineage snobs I mentioned before and, remember, we all hate those guys. But both of those people are wrong and both know it deep down inside.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Kids Who Are Bullied

At Tambuli Media, Dr. Mark Wiley writes about "the cycles of what happens to create a bully, of what happens to make one susceptible to being bullied, and how these interactions lead to substance abuse and suicide later in life, are related to how children are treated and treat others, and how parents raise their children."

An excerpt is below. The full post may be read here.

Bullying is dirty and inexcusable. The cycles of what happens to create a bully, of what happens to make one susceptible to being bullied, and how these interactions lead to substance abuse and suicide later in life, are related to how children are treated and treat others, and how parents raise their children. There’s just no excuse for the bully phenomenon in a humane world.

When kids complain of feeling ill, skip school, express fears about things that may otherwise seem benign, we need to ask questions.

I was bullied in elementary school and I was beaten up a few times.

Thankfully, my mother enrolled me in martial arts classes, which turned the tides and also led to my interests in Asian healing systems and spiritual traditions. By middle school I could defend myself a bit, but more importantly I had developed confidence, which allowed me to be more secure about myself and not care about what bullies would say to me. It made me less of a victim. By high school I had turned all the bullies into either friends of mine (and thus helped change their behaviors), or I stood my ground enough that they left eventually me alone.

But everyone isn’t that fortunate. The harm that bullying does can carry on into adulthood. That’s why it’s an issue for all of us.

The reason I decided to write about bullying today is because of several videos that were shared with me online featuring kids being bullied. Some found the bully roughing up the kid. Others found the so-called victim stand his ground and fight back. Other times it was imposing peer pressure, wherein the group mentality was the bully. A kid may not win every fight, or win every argument, but they can keep their self-esteem intact by standing up for him and others.
I felt disturbed by these videos. I had my own ideas about why kids bully others, and why some kids are more likely to be victims of bullies. But I wanted to get more information so I visited and learned more about the phenomenon, from which the next sections are pulled.

Kids Who Are Bullied

Kids who are bullied are at risk for experiencing depression, anxiety, sadness, and loneliness, changes in sleep and eating patterns, and loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy. These emotional changes become the new normal for kids, and tend to stick with them into adulthood.

Bullied kids also experience decreases in their academic achievement and school participation. Not only that, they tend to skip school, pretend sick, and even drop out of high school. The scariest part is that, according to the site, “a very small number of bullied children might retaliate through extremely violent measures. In 12 of 15 school shooting cases in the 1990s, the shooters had a history of being bullied.”

Kids Who Bully Others

Kids doing the bullying are at risk for substance abuse in adolescence and adulthood. Then tend to violent behavior, getting into fights and engaging in vandalism. Early sexual activity, dropping out of school, and spousal abuse and criminal convictions as adults are not uncommon among those who bully.

This is all very upsetting, so with this information I called my old friend Coach Kevin Kearns for some feedback and advice.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Review of Kendo: Culture of the Sword

Over at Martial Studies, Paul Bowman wrote a review of Kendo: Culture of the Sword.

Below is an excerpt. The full review may be read here.

Alexander C. Bennett's monograph, Kendo: The Culture of the Sword (University of California Press, 2015) is an ideal starting point for students or researchers beginning to look into Kendo and other Japanese martial arts. It assumes no prior knowledge and walks the reader through a narrative arc beginning from kendo's relationship with other Japanese budō arts (1-25), into kendo basics (xvii-xxxv), through swordsmanship in medieval Japan (26-56) to early modern kenjutsu (57-85), the fall and rise of samurai culture and kenjutsu's nationalisation (86-122) to its place in Japanese imperialism (123-162), the passionate 20th century debates about kendo and/as sport (163-199) and the current vicissitudes of kendo's global diffusion (200-237).

As a principally chronological history, framed by statements of the author's personal introduction to kendo at one end and concluding reflections on kendo within the cultures of the contemporary world at the other, Bennett's work is reliable, accessible and to be recommended. Each chapter is informed by pertinent theoretical debates from the fields of sociology, anthropology and cultural studies, but none of these debates are centralised, nor are they allowed to dominate the historical perspective. So, although we frequently encounter concepts from the likes of Pierre Bourdieu (87, 195, 197), Dipesh Chakrabarty (232, 236), Eric Hobsbawm (87, 121), Joseph Svinth (206), Denis Gainty (23, 116) and Brian McVeigh (22, 182, 199, 219, 225, 229), these encounters are mainly brief and tantalizing. The theoretical dimensions of the work have the status of occasional descriptive stepping stones as we walk through the historical narrative.

Aside from a rightly recurring attention to nationalism, which Bennett approaches in multiple ways, perhaps the most frequently mentioned thinker is Norbert Elias (57, 69, 70, 73, 125), whom Bennett frequently cites on matters such as boxing (83), games of war as displays of warrior virtues (82), etiquette, rituals, protocols (120–21,152, 153, 184, 189, 191), and so on.

Bennett's use of Elias is exemplary of his use of perhaps all other theoretical concepts and arguments. That is to say, Bennett takes a reasonable, non-controversial interpretation of, say, Elias on civilizing processes, and deploys that interpretation descriptively throughout. The problem here is that sometimes the descriptive gain comes at the cost of an analytical loss. So, although approaching kendo in terms of a binary between civilizing and de-civilizing dimensions is interesting, it is based on a slightly reductive (binary) reading of Elias – a reduction that other recent studies of martial arts have fruitfully sought to challenge (Gong 2015). The point to be emphasized is that, sometimes at least, it could have been beneficial for the study if Bennett had done more with theoretical problematics than use them to add a richness of description.

Conversely, at other times Bennett makes valuable contributions to theoretical and analytical debates – albeit perhaps unintentionally. For instance, I am confident that Bennett's opening discussion of his own introduction to kendo, whilst visiting Japan on a study exchange as a child, is merely intended to set the scene and describe a 'baptism of fire', that started as trauma but ended in his love of and devotion to kendo. But whilst reading it I was immediately reminded of recent attempts in martial arts studies, sociology of the body and sociology of sport to describe and account for any kind of 'martial habitus' (García and Spencer 2014).

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Theory and Observation in Wing Chun

Over at Kung Fu Tea, there was a nice biography of Chu Shong Tin, one of the first disciples of Ip Man. He was a key figure in the early development of Ip Man's teaching in the 50's in Hong Kong.

An excerpt is below. The full post may be read here.

A few weeks ago the Wing Chun community lost one of its leading lights. It is hard to overstate Master Chu Shong Tin’s contributions to the emergence and preservation of the modern Wing Chun movement. Best remembered as Ip Man’s “third disciple” (and at the time of his death his most senior living student) Chu combined a very thoughtful approach to his art with boundless energy and an infectious smile.

Named the “King of Siu Lim Tao” by Ip Man, he pursued his own research into the softer, more structural, side of Wing Chun while immersing himself in the duties of a hands-on instructor. Students remember him for his openness in discussing every aspect of the art. Chu remarked on many occasions that in Wing Chun nothing is secret. He left both a written and visual record of his insights that will provide guidance to students for decades to come.

While a practitioner of the same style, I am not part of Chu Shong Tin’s lineage, nor was I ever lucky enough to meet him. My work on the modern development of Wing Chun made me aware of his many contributions to the art, and like other readers I have benefited from his various essays and books. My initial plan for this post was to compose a brief summary of Chu Shong Tin’s life.

Documenting the current history of the martial arts is just as important a task as delving into the deep past, and Chu’s career spanned an interesting period in the development and transformation of Hong Kong’s Kung Fu community.

I had expected this to be rather easy given the various publications and interviews that Chu has left for posterity. Yet as I began to review these works a complication arose. While he was eager to discuss the practice of Wing Chun, Chu rarely spoke about himself. Interviewers, both those interested in the practice of Wing Chun and its history, spent a great deal of time asking Chu about his associations with Ip Man and other illustrious practitioners from the past (Wong Sheung Leung, Bruce Lee…) but rarely about his own life story.

This results in a somewhat paradoxical situation. Chu Shong Tin was an important player in the emergence of the post-1949 Hong Kong Wing Chun scene. He left behind a richer documentary record than most other martial artists. While these sources shed much needed light on figures like Ip Man, Chu himself remains somewhat in the shadows.

In the following essay I would like to bring together some of the existing sources to paint a more detailed portrait of Chu’s life and career. Next I would like to focus our attention on some of the gaps that these discussions typically contain and to discuss why they are a problem for students of Chinese martial studies. Lastly I would like to offer some thoughts on how theory, either cultural or social scientific, can lead us to ask better questions and gather more important types of information as we engage in either interviews or archival research.

Too often students make an artificial distinction between “historical” and “theoretical” work when in reality these two approaches should complement each other. I doubt that it is actually possible to actually write anything substantive that is totally devoid of theory. We all approach our research field with certain questions and assumptions, and those are theoretically given, whether we realize it or not. Regardless of if one is engaged in “hypothesis testing” or delving into the sea of “thick description,” theories are useful precisely because they reveal our blind-spots. They allow us to ask better questions, and that leads to more meaningful discussions.

The individuals who took the time to interview Chu Shong Tin were not really attempting to do something like “martial arts studies,” even though a number of them were very interested in the question of Wing Chun’s origin and history. Still, the subsequent discussion of Chu’s life points to the importance of approaching this type of research with an understanding of (and curiosity about) the ways in which the martial arts fit within other larger social systems. I suspect that Chu’s career may be especially illuminating in this regard. While he has left us with a detailed record of his thoughts on the practice of Wing Chun, there is still much that he might be able to teach us about the evolution and development of the modern martial arts in Southern China.

Much of the information in this timeline came from biographical statements made by Chu Shong Tin in his dual Chinese and English volume The Book of Wing Chun (vol. 1).  Also available to the general public are a number of interviews such as those conducted by Darrel Jordan and Sergio Pascal Iadarola.  One of the most intriguing sources on the life of Chu Shong Tin is his profile at WingChunPedia. This essay contains a detailed account of his early years, but it is also totally unsourced. While this seems to be the normal state of things on the internet, it limits our ability to determine the reliability of this information and hence its usefulness within Chinese martial studies.

One suspects that there are more detailed sources of information on Chu’s biography that remain unpublished within his own lineage. My own background in Wing Chun lies in different areas and I do not make any claims to having special “insider” knowledge on this topic. Rather I have relied on what is generally available to individuals interested in the recent history of Wing Chun. Hopefully some of the questions that I raise in the remainder of this essay will inspire a fuller accounting of Chu’s life and career in the future.

Chu Shong Tin was born in Guangdong province in 1933. His childhood occurred during an era of rapid change within both Chinese society and the martial arts. There does not seem to be a lot of information about this period of his life, but we know from Chu’s own statements that he was considered somewhat sickly and at the age of 10 his father arranged for him to study Taijiquan.
Taiji itself was a recent import to the Pearl River Delta, first being popularized in region during the 1920s and 1930s by teachers associated with martial reform movements such as the Jingwu and Central Guoshu associations. It is also interesting to consider that his father was able to arrange for instruction in 1943, during the middle of the Japanese occupation of the region.

Chu’s introduction to the traditional martial arts was not particularly auspicious. He remarks that as a child and teenager he had no particular love for, or interest, in boxing. He simply followed the movements of his teacher in accordance with the demands of his father. All of this seems very unlike the adult Chu who would go on to demonstrate a profound appreciation for the conceptual basis of the martial arts.

The roots of this deepening emotional connection seem to lay in the traumatic events and displacements of the end of the Chinese civil war.  Chu, who was then 16, fled Guangzhou for Hong Kong in November of 1949, following the KMT’s collapse and the Communist takeover of the area. It is not clear to me how much of his family left at the time, but it does appear that he had an older sister who lived in Hong Kong.

In September of 1950 Chu got a job as a secretary at the Restaurant Worker’s Union in Kowloon. This proved to be a fateful development. Ip Man was already living at the Union offices and he conducted Wing Chun classes during the days when Chu showed up for work. Still, Chu did not join his initial class.

Instead he followed the urging of his father and found a new Taiji instructor. This individual was a friend of his older sister and took a different approach to teaching. Rather than just reviewing the movements of the form, Chu was introduced for the first time to the conceptual foundation and philosophy of Taiji, as well as its applications. This was a teaching style that seemed to better agree with him than what he had been exposed to as a child.

It also served to introduce Chu to the discussions that swirl around the Chinese martial arts. This turned out to be critical as every day at the cramped Restaurant Workers Union he would have to listen to Ip Man explain the core concepts of Wing Chun to his new students in the same communal space that Chu was trying to do his work in. Eventually the young man who didn’t actually “like” boxing found himself drawn into the unfolding discussion.

For a variety of reasons Chu decided that he preferred the parsimony and conceptual simplicity of Wing Chun, and at the urging of Leung Sheung (a more senior union officer and experienced martial artist), quit Taiji and took up this new style. On January 1st of 1951 Chu Shong Tin presented Ip Man with a red envelope becoming a formal student.

This decision was critical for everyone involved. In all honesty Ip Man’s initial forays into teaching at the Union were not all that successful. While he started out with about 20 students, retention was a serious problem. Chu notes that one after another these students slipped away.

Part of this no doubt stemmed from the transient and economically strained life of most of these individuals. At the same time we know that Ip Man innovated throughout the 1950s to find ways to make his art more attractive to his highly mobile student base. For instance, Chi Sao (sticky hands) came to be emphasized during this decade while long periods of stance training (common in the traditional arts) were scaled back.

By January of 1951 Ip Man had only two remaining students, Leung Sheung and Lok Yiu. This was a critical issue as the old master was totally dependent on his students for economic support. If the teaching experiment had failed it is highly likely that Ip Man would have looked for some other source of income and the modern Wing Chun community (to the extent that one might even exist) would probably be very different. It should be recalled that Ip Man was actually somewhat ambivalent about taking up public teaching in the first place, so this situation may have been more delicate than is generally realized.

Instead Leung Sheung (perhaps the first martial artist in Hong Kong to fully recognize Ip Man’s genius), Lok Yiu and Chu Shong Tin pooled their resources to support their teacher through a period of poor enrollments. Much of the later popularity of the style was subsidized by these sacrifices in the lean years of the early 1950s.

Chu Shong Tin stated that the order in which he learned the Wing Chun system was somewhat different than how most students approach it today. In fact, it seems closer to how the style was taught in the Foshan period. Initially he was introduced to Siu Lim Tao, the style’s first unarmed form, which he practiced for over 1 year. Next he was introduced to the concept of turning prior to the actual introduction of Chum Kiu (which employs both stepping and turning).

Sometime after that (probably during 1952) he seems to have started studying Chum Kiu. The following year he was introduced to the dummy, learning about 20-30 movements at a time. Rather than seeing the entire set at once, individual chapters were introduced throughout the remainder of his unarmed training as new topics or problems came up. In or around 1954 Chu was introduced to Biu Jee, and the following year he began to learn the Six and Half Point Pole.

Chu does not appear to have approached learning as a passive pursuit. One of the things that impressed me as I read about his life and watched various interviews were his keen powers of observation. Chu had been carefully observing Ip Man and his instruction for some time before he ever joined the class.

As such he was able to demonstrate the entire Siu Lim Tao form on his first day as a formal student. This allowed him to spend his time perfecting the nuances of the movements and their applications rather than simply learning them. He is reported to have done the same thing with Chum Kiu.

It was during this early period that Chu first acquired his nickname, the “King of Siu Lim Tao.” Multiple accounts of how this came about have been given, though they all seem to be different aspects of the same event. All of the stories are clear that Ip Man, who enjoyed pronouncing light-hearted nicknames upon his students and friends, was ultimately responsible for this one as well.

Some accounts of the event begin by noting that Wing Chun received a certain amount of coverage in the local press during the 1950s and 1960s. In one of these stories Ip Man mentioned noted Chu’s dedication to the study and practice of Siu Lim Tao, beyond all of the other forms, and named him the “King of Siu Lim Tao.” The name stuck in large part as Chu’s own approach to Wing Chun emphasizes the importance of body structure, relaxation and psychological intent, all things that can be trained in, and explored through the practice of, the first unarmed form.

In a slightly different account of these events given in an interview with Sifu Sergio, Chu instead emphasized the role of his persistent questioning in the origin of the nickname. Following the urging of Leung Sheung, in 1951 he had moved into the Restaurant Worker’s Union to work more closely with his teacher. Ip Man and Chu shared a small room for some time. In addition to learning Wing Chun Chu attempted to help the older master with various household tasks, in effect becoming a live-in student.

The term “Siu Lim Tao” has been translated in a number of different ways. It means something like “the little thought form,” or the “small idea.” This had always bothered Chu as it is quite different from the sorts of names that are given to most other Chinese boxing forms. For him the name itself became a sort of paradox. Every day he would ask Ip Man what it meant, and his teacher would respond simply by telling him to continue practicing the form and to have faith in the process.
Chu did not abandon his quest lightly. Instead he continued to asked Ip Man about the meaning of the name daily. Each time he was told to simply keep practicing. And practice he did, almost constantly.

Eventually he began to feel as though he was able to unravel the mystery of the form on his own.
It was at this point that Ip Man, always sensitive to the power of names, began to call his student “Siu Lim Tao.” I don’t think that Chu ever got a straight answer to his question about the origin of the form’s name. Indeed, it is the sort of question that may not have any answer at all. But through his own persistence he acquired a new name for himself.

During 1955 Chu Shong Tin began to study the Six and a Half Point pole form. This was a period of sweeping transition within Ip Man’s growing clan. Sometime during the same year Ip Man’s relationship with a widow and fellow refugee from Shanghai (known within his school only as the “Shanghai Po” or the “Shanghai Woman”) became visible. This relationship, outside of the bounds of his initial marriage, while never publicly defined, became a crisis for a number of his students. It was a violation of their understanding of “martial virtue,” or perhaps the Confucian glamor that Ip Man often exuded to his younger students.

A number of Ip Man followers left him. This proved to be both a professional and personal setback for the now aging master. Ip Chun relates that he had been receiving remittances from his father’s teaching fees that were sent regularly to his family members still living in Guangdong. Due to his increased financial hardship these payments ceased after 1955.

At the same time a number of Ip Man’s senior students left to start their own schools. These helped to establish a strong base of Wing Chun instruction in Hong Kong, but they also competed directly with the master’s own efforts.

After living with his teacher for almost five years Chu Shong Tin also left during this same period. Having found work as a secretary with another labor group (the Association of Taxi Drivers in Hong Kong) he moved to Wan Chi in Central. However he continued to study with Ip Man and made the trip back to Kowloon as his work schedule permitted.

During 1957 and 1958 Chu, like others, took advantage of the growing popularity of Wing Chun and began to teach. At first this took the form of private lessons at the homes of individual students. Later a new job (this one with the Association of Textile Workers of Hong Kong) allowed him to move back to Kowloon. Much like Ip Man in 1951, he taught classes on the rooftop of the association headquarters until he found a more permanent location for a school.

Ip Man’s sons, along with a number of other individuals who had been trapped in Guangdong when the border was unexpectedly closed in 1949, were able to return to Hong Kong in 1962. This period seems to correspond with something of a renaissance in Ip Man’s career and he once again took a more active interest in his teaching. In 1963 Chu Shong Tin began his study of the Bart Jarm Dao (“Eight Cutting Blades” or Butterfly Swords). Indeed, he was one of the few individuals to learn the complete form from Ip Man. His study of the subject took more than a year, and he was introduced to the final section of the form in 1965.

In 1964 Chu established his first school in a permanent space at the Four Five Six Building of Nathan Road in Kowloon. Three years later (in 1967) he moved about a block away to Cheung Sha Wan Road where he both lived and conducted classes for many years.

Chu was deeply affected by the death of his teacher from throat cancer in 1972. By this point the future of Wing Chun seemed secure. Ip Man had personally trained a generation of instructors who were running schools across Hong Kong (and eventually in a number of other cities) while his student Bruce Lee went on to ensure the lasting fame of the art throughout the global system.  This was also the start of a new era for Chu whose son Horace was born in 1974.

Chu remained busy teaching Wing Chun at his own school and with the VTAA throughout the following decade. Later he began to commit the fruits of his deep research into the principals of Siu Lim Tao to paper. In 1993 he published The Book of Wing Chun (in three volumes). This Chinese language project examined the unarmed forms, the wooden dummy and both the pole and knife sets.

The text was accompanied by line drawings. The author of the 2013 edition’s preface states that while Chu was happy with the content of these volumes, he felt that they failed to achieve their full potential as they never received sufficient promotion.

He also took other steps to document his understanding of the Wing Chun system in other ways. In 2002 he released a DVD titled “Chu Shong Tin Wing Chun.”

The next decade of Chu’s life was not without incident. He was involved with a number of projects as Ip Man’s growing stature in popular culture increased the profile of Wing Chun. At the same time a 2011 article in the South China Morning Post revealed that Chu had been diagnosed with late stage cancer earlier in the decade and had been told to make his final preparations.
Luckily he managed to beat the odds and went on to enjoy another decade of teaching and exploration of his beloved art. His family attributed his long and relatively healthy art to his dedication to Wing Chun.

After a period of extensive preparation Chu’s earlier books were rereleased in a new edition in 2013. Not only has this been an invaluable resource for martial artists, but the form that these new volumes took seems to speak to important changes within the world of the traditional Chinese martial arts. To save both time and resources the previously planned three volume set was condensed into just two books. The first focused on the three unarmed forms, while the second combined a discussion of the dummy and weapons.

The overall production values of the new books are excellent. The original line drawings and diagrams (while helpful) were replaced with new photos featuring a still vital Chu presenting his own arguments about the nature of the art in visual form. Perhaps the most significant aspect of these books is that they were published as bilingual texts in both English and Chinese.

This is an interesting point as Chu himself did not speak English. While he worked with foreign students, in the West he was never among Ip Man’s best known disciples. There are probably a number of reasons for this. His own association with Ip Man predated that of Bruce Lee and his cohort. Nor did Chu leave Hong Kong to pursue a career abroad like so many other Wing Chun instructors. Lastly, Chu appears to have been a genuinely humble individual who did not get caught up in the various public disputes that characterized the Wing Chun community during much of the 1980s and 1990s.

The revised editions of these books and DVDs will make his understanding of the Wing Chun system available to a much larger and more diverse group of students. At the same time it seems to be a tacit acceptance of the fact that Wing Chun is no longer a Hong Kong, or even a southern Chinese, phenomenon. It has become a truly transnational movement. Most of the individuals who now study, teach and transmit the system are no longer located in China.

On the one hand this speaks to the surprising success of Wing Chun in establishing itself as a quintessentially modern (and highly accessible) fighting system. This is a fulfillment of Ip Man’s vision of what his school could become. At the same time it begins to pose difficult questions of what it ultimately means to be a “Chinese martial art” in the current era.

In the end time catches up with all of us. Chu Shong Tin died on July 28th, 2014. Wing Chun practitioners the world over are fortunate that he was able to so fully articulate an understanding of his beloved style. I suspect that his books and videos will be studied and discussed for decades.