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 ~

Monday, December 27, 2021

Levels of Bunkai

Below is an excerpt from a post that appeared at Okinawan Fighting Arts on the three different types of Bunkai: the study of applications found in karate kata. The full post may be read here.

In a recent posting the author mentioned that there were three types of bunkai, as follows:

  1. Omote [] (suitable for beginners), 
  2. Ura [] (intermediate) and 
  3. Honto [本当] (the real application). 

So, after reading it and the following article by the author I had to do my personal analysis of the three terms and their presented meaning. 

First, Omote [] (suitable for beginners). Using the character(s) involved, it translates into English as, “surface; face (i.e. the visible side of an object); front; outside; exterior; appearance; top; first half; cover; foreground.” Now, as to suitable for beginners as a definition we would have to assume the term when used with bunkai along with its intent in karate could mean that omote infers the face, exterior, surface or bookcover of bunkai. 

Second, Ura [] (intermediate). Using the character(s) involved, it translates into English as, “lining, inside; behind the scenes, hidden side, etc.” Now, as to being intermediate bunkai I am left wondering exactly what they mean because intermediate may be inferring something in the middle or a second stage/level of a three level artifact. I have a bit harder time validating the term as indicated. 

Third, Honto [本当] (the real application). Using the character(s), it translates into English as, “truth, reality; actuality; fact; proper; right; correct; official; genuine; authentic; natural; veritable.” If you stick to genuine and authentic it could mean real application but that left me considering “why.” Why real application and why begin with something that isn’t real. What reason is there to have a beginner and intermediate bunkai? 

Fourth, Bunkai [分解]. Using the character(s), it translates into English as, “disassembly; dismantling; analysis; disaggregating; disintegrating; decomposing, etc.” If bunkai actually does mean to analysize something then there can be no beginner, intermediate or real applications because bunkai does not mean application. Bunkai is a process whereby one creates, discovers or finds a real applicable method or methodology. Ouyou is a proper term, Ouyou [応用] translates into English to mean, “(practical) application; putting too practical use; applied.” 

As you can see, even if we switch out the less appropriate term of bunkai for the more appropriate term of ouyou it still does not warrant the breakdown of beginner, intermediate and real. Now, if you take a possible method, analyze it, then test it thoroughly to ensure it meets the standards of reality based adrenal stressors, etc., then we can say it has three stages of learning to achieve a real ouyou or practical application for self-protection in self-defense. 

So, to make the clearer and applicable to me I would rephrase it too: “

Theoritical (riron-teki [理論的]) Method (hoho [方法] [理論的方法])

Methodological analysis (bunseki-hoho [方法論分析])

Practical Method (Ouyou [応用]) (jissai-hoho  [実際方法])

Friday, December 24, 2021

Review of Wing Chun: A Documentary

Kung Fu Tea published a great in depth review of Empty Mind Films Wing Chun: A Documentary. An excerpt is below. The full review may be read here.

Empty Mind Films has produced some of the highest quality and most engaging martial arts documentaries seen anywhere in the last few years.  They are a small organization, and as a result they are selective about the projects they take on.  Luckily we seem to be on the same wave length.

They have also devoted substantial time and effort to documenting the Chinese martial arts.  It has been my personal experience (from traveling in Asia) that it is relatively easy to find interesting martial arts in Japan and they have shot some good stuff there.  China presents an entirely different set of challenges, and this is where they really shine.  Their film on the Chen village and Chen style taiji is a classic.  It is mandatory viewing for anyone interested in Chinese martial studies or the state of Taiji today.  I would not hesitate to use that film in a university level classroom.

I think they may have come close to the same level of excellence with their most recent martial arts themed release Wing Chun: A Documentary.  While filmed exclusively in Hong Kong and Foshan this study of the modern hand combat system sought to explore the diversity of thought and practice arising from the teachings of Ip Man.  He was an active instructor in Hong Kong from the early 1950s until his death in 1972.  All of the individuals who were interviewed for this film were associated with the Ip Man Wing Chun clan, either as direct descendants, students or grand-students.

Many individuals in the broader Wing Chun world will find this editorial direction limiting, and possibly offensive.  There was no discussion of non-Ip Man lineages, let alone non-Leung Jan lineages of Wing Chun.  The story of the art’s origin was told in a simple and direct way that supports the supremacy of the Ip Man Wing Chun clan.  Viewers are told that the art resided with Leung Jan who had only one student, Chan Wah Shun.  While many people taught Wing Chun in Foshan in the 1930s, what they did was different from the art that Ip Man spread to the world from his schools in Hong Kong.  Wing Chun as the world knows it today is a result of Ip Man’s innovations in the 1950s.

One can only assume that the makers of this film must have known they were bound to upset the Yuen Kay-San Wing Chun clan, among many others.  Nevertheless, I suspect that this editorial slant is largely correct.  While there are certainly lineages of Wing Chun being taught today that do not want to associate themselves with Ip Man, the truth is that he single handedly created the entire global demand for the art that we recognize today.  He did this by training hundreds of students, including Bruce Lee.

In a very real way Ip Man set the terms for the global discussion of Wing Chun that is still unfolding.  He codified the values, set the standards and decided which aspects of China’s complex martial heritage were best adapted to a modern, urban, middle class market.  Ip Man single handedly trained an entire generation of exceptionally talented martial artist that would bring his art to North America, Europe and even back to mainland China.  Without his innovations in Hong Kong in the 1950s, and the rise of Bruce Lee to superstardom in the 1970s, it is exceedingly unlikely that anyone would be interested in seeking out any of the non-Ip Man lineages that seem to be so valuable today.  In a very real sense they exist only because he existed first, and they define themselves in reference to the model he established.  So yes, the story of Wing Chun after 1949 really is the story of the social community that Ip Man gathered around himself in Hong Kong and its subsequent explosion on the world stage.

Overall the production values of the documentary are sound and the videography was always good, and occasionally great.  A few minor criticisms can be made.  I found the pacing to be a little slow in places.  The extra features were also quite brief and could have used more depth and development.  They appeared to be mostly an afterthought and contributed little to the overall presentation of the story.  I had hoped for more here.

On the other-hand, I quite liked how the documentary progressed and presented itself to the audience.  The director was not afraid to let the individual masters he interviewed tell their own stories on their own terms.  A majority of the screen time was dedicated to simply watching class room mechanics and instructions in a number of different schools throughout Hong Kong.  I am sure that this material will surprise a lot of martial artists used to more regimented and formal decorum of Korean or Japanese schools.

The exploration of modern Wing Chun starts off with a visit to the VTAA headquarters in Kowloon and includes interviews with both Ip Ching (the younger son of Ip Man) and James Jar (current Chair of the VTAA).  All of this information is very interesting.  Next they visited the school of Donald Mak (a student of Chow Tze Chuen) who discusses his own understanding of why Wing Chun is a principal based art.


Saturday, December 18, 2021

Zen and the Spear

Below is an excerpt from a post that appeared at Ichijoji blog. The full post may be read here.

Zen Secrets of the Spear

The letters sent by the priest Takuan are perhaps the most famous example of giving an explanation of bugei in terms of Zen (or vice versa). Of course, it is not the only one.

Here is another example, from Bankei Yōtaku (1622-93). A Rinzai Zen priest, he taught what he termed Unborn Zen, which emphasised direct experience of the human state and eschewed the use of koans or highly ascetic approaches. 

In later life, he became the most popular Zen teacher of his day and travelled widely and often. Among his students (and patrons) was the daimyo Katō Yasuoki, Lord of the Ozu domain in present day Ehime (Shikoku). Katō (whose Zen name was Gesso) was also a keen student of the spear, and Bankei gave him this advice. (For more about the spear, see an earlier post here).

Instructions for the Layman Gesso, given at his request

In performing a movement, if you act with no-mind, the action will spring forth of itself. When your ki changes, your physical form changes along with it. When you’re carried away by force, that is relying on “self”. To have ulterior thoughts is not in accordance with the natural. When you act upon deliberation, you are tied to thought. The opponent can tell (the direction of) your ki. If you (try to) steady yourself by deliberate effort, your ki becomes diffuse, and you may grow careless. When you act deliberately, your intuitive response is blocked; and if your intuitive response is blocked, how can the mirror mind appear? When, without thinking and without acting deliberately, you manifest the Unborn, you won’t have any fixed form. When you are without fixed form, no opponent will exist for you in the whole land. Not holding on to anything, not relying onesidedly on anything, there is no “you” and no “enemy”. Whatever comes, you just respond, with no traces left behind.

Heaven and earth are vast, but outside mind there is nothing to seek. Become deluded, however, and instead this mind becomes your opponent. Apart from mind, there is no art of combat.

From: Bankei Zen: Translations from the Record of Bankei by Peter Haskel

What can we read into such a description? Is it instruction in the spear or in Zen? Or are the two linked at some deep level that makes them fundamentally the same?
If we regard it simply as instruction in use of the spear, it might be boiled down to the importance of not overthinking an activity, which doesn't seem particularly unusual. Today, it would be a common-place observation. Anyone involved in sports, for example, knows that thinking too much about any one part of it will likely result in a performance that falls short of their potential. In Zen terms, we are looking at something deeper, but let's stick to the spear for the time being.

Gesso must have spent years training in the use of weapons, so we might imagine he was aware of this – the importance of not thinking. Bankei, however, was a perceptive man. While he had probably never seen Gesso use a spear, nor used one himself, it would not be difficult to extrapolate from what he knew of his pupil that this would be an aspect of his practice that was holding him back. Bankei was known for his wit and intelligence and had built a reputation for being able to engage with a range of different people and overcome them in a kind of meta-physical debate. He was at the top of his field, and in feudal Japan, the ability to read people this way was, in any case, part of the particular skill set of Zen priests.

We might also consider that both these men were involved in their respective disciplines to the extent that they were dealing with far smaller tolerances than are allowed for in normal language (or, indeed, in everyday life). The hesitation they are talking about might be so small that it would barely register to the untrained eye. For those involved in serious training, the experience of simply being unaware of some aspect of the body’s movement until it is pointed out is probably common.

Although the skills and plausibility of Zen practitioners might lend credence to their opinions, there is a danger in applying this learning too broadly. This would suggest that traditional arts did not deal with these aspects of combat, and that Zen was necessary to enable practitioners to reach the highest levels of their arts. In fact, Bugeisha seemed to have turned to a variety of religious disciplines for any number of reasons: social, spiritual, and political. If deeply involved in a spiritual discipline, they might naturally have drawn parallels with the teachings of their martial studies, but Zen was just one of many disciplines.

An interesting example of Zen’s position as one amongst many is provided by Oishi Yoshio Kuranosuke, leader of the famous 47 loyal retainers (a.k.a. The 47 ronin). He received instruction in Zen from none other than Bankei. (According to Leggett’s book, ‘The Warrior Koans’, Bankei was said to have given him the koan of the paper sword to work on, but given Bankei's style of teaching, this seems unlikely). One might be tempted to see this as a prime mover in his actions to avenge his master, but he was also a direct student of Yamaga Sokō, a noted Confucian scholar and thinker, and it is Sokō who is usually cited as his major influence.


Sunday, December 12, 2021

Chinese Martial Arts and the Marketplace

Below is an excerpt from an article that appeared at Kung Fu Tea, which reminds us that at one time, Chinese martial arts was very much a part of the repertoire of street performers; and that this is a part of the history that shouldn't be overlooked. The full post may be read here.

When thinking about the emergence of modern Chinese martial culture I often speak about the “martial arts marketplace.”  I use the phrase as a metaphor for the subaltern space within Chinese society where hand combat ideas and philosophies competed for an audience, legitimacy and paying students in China in the 1920s and 1930s.  Still, it is worth remembering that there is a much older, and more concrete, association between martial artists and marketplaces.

Market days and temple festivals were times when large numbers of potential consumers came together in a single place.  More importantly, the peasants had just sold their produce and were walking around with money.  That made these gatherings a good venue for popular entertainment.  Common forms included storytellers, puppet shows, opera performances, acrobats, traveling patent medicine sales demonstrations and martial artists.

The martial arts were much more popular in the country side than in urban areas (with a couple of notable exceptions), and martial culture could easily suffuse all of these forms of entertainment.  Story tellers might recite the exploits of the great heroes from Water Margin, puppet shows would portray “Monkey” fighting various monsters with his magical staff, and I recently saw an estimate that up to 1/3 of all of the plays in the traditional repertoire of Cantonese Opera troupes were probably stories of adventure and daring do that focused on the exploits of famous martial artists.  These often features extended fight scenes.  In fact, opera troupes quite literally competed with one another to offer the most impressive martial displays and showcase the most exotic styles.

And then there were the straight up martial artists.  These seem to have come in three varieties.  There were local martial arts masters who put on displays, organized classes and recruited students at these events.  This sort of market organization was a major force in the growth of Plum Blossom and other styles in Shandong and northern China.  Secondly there were traveling bands of performers who attracted a crowd with their displays of strength, dexterity and hard Qi.  The resulting crowd was then plied with patent medicines, charms or cheap martial arts manuals.  At the end of the day the performers pulled up stakes and moved on to the next town.

Lastly there were the “lei tai” fighters.  A lei tai was a raised platform that would be erected so that a large audience could (for a small fee) watch a fight.  Professional fighters would come into town and set up the stage.  They would usually begin by issuing an open challenge to local fighters, and they would continue to perform for as long as they kept winning.  And the longer they performed the larger and more animated the crowd became.  Needless to say, big crowds were good for business.

There is a lot of loose talk and gossip about the “good old days” of lei tai fighting that still circulates in martial arts circles today.  Having a great grand-master who killed a man in a lei tai fight is seen (for some inexplicable reason) as the ultimate proof of the superiority of ones style.  I do not mean to disrespect anyone’s style or creation mythology, but such stories need to be approached with extreme caution.

Martial arts demonstrations could exist only when they were not seen as a threat to law and order by the government.  In practice that meant they were a lot more common in the countryside where there were fewer officials and it was easier for a snake-oil salesman to ply his wares.  Yet some of this stuff was seen everywhere and you always had to be careful not to let it go to far.  Why?  Because if the local government decided that you were a trouble causer or were “disturbing the peace” the typical punishment was to literally stake the offender to the ground, strip them naked and them beat them with switches until they bled.  If you killed someone in a fight, justified or not, the typical response was a short trial and a public beheading, also conducted in the market place.

Thursday, December 09, 2021

Reclaiming the Scapula

Below is an excerpt from an article that appeared at Thoughts on Tai Chi, regarding the scapula. The full post may be read here.

This is probably the most important and meaningful post I have written and could ever write on this blog. Yet I know that not only the subject, but merely the title alone will make people ignore it, shun it. The scapula or shoulder blades will probably interest very few, except as maybe a trained physician for intellectual reasons. I know this even before I have publish it, that very few will read it. And with time it will be forgotten.
I know this not only because of my own experience of what interests people in general. The problem runs much deeper. Whatever we see, hear and experience, is understood in our own bodies through chemical reactions. Signals from the brain goes through the body and return with responses. The problem is that people have very little awareness in this area, the scapula, so when most people see or hear this word, there is very little response in their own bodies, in this very area. And therefore the probability that he or she will ignore it or find it uninteresting is very high.
But maybe if I have succeeded to pull your attention to this article by now, I might be able to keep you in here for a while. I hope so.
What it means by what I tried to explain above is that it’s very likely that you won’t understand the importance of this subject, this area in your own body, without proper guidance with a good teacher who can teach you specific exercises. You can only understand what you have missed by own practice, and by starting to regain what you have lost. Without learning how to actively use the scapula instead of just letting it hang there passively, you just won’t understand the advantage and benefits of actually being able to move and use it in another way.
Because this is an area of the body that most people don’t use. People tend to use their fingers and hands, most movements moving the hands and fingers comes usually more from the elbow joints and less from the shoulder joint. The whole of the back is usually mostly held passively. The activity going on in the back area is usually not about moving it, but instead about keeping it immovable and create tensions, as keeping the shoulders raised and the jaws clenched.
Even for people who exercises and deal with sports, they still make very little use of many core muscles in the back.
What happens for most people using the body, as people usually do in daily life, is that thick areas of fascia connecting the muscles together close to the spine, all the way from neck down to the tailbone, will contract, become harder and unmovable. This in turn will make the muscles in the back become stiff, tense and unmovable. The only way to reverse this negative development and to regain movability in the back is exercises that move the muscles in the back. The body needs movement to stay healthy. All of the body, not just the joints and limbs.
Some Tai Chi teachers regard scapula/ shoulder blades practice as secrets, or something kept for indoor students only, some teaches it openly and regard it as a natural part of the practice. But lets face it, basic IMA (Internal Martial Arts) movement is hard enough.  

Finding the correct balance and alignment, and dealing with body coordination moving from the core is hard enough. Before being able to make real good use of the scapula in IMA, or in martial arts in general, the practitioner needs to first have built a proper foundation. And this can take many years.
These principles we are discussing here are no secrets, and in fact they are here and there, and pieces of them are to be found everywhere. Many teachers have exercises and whole sets for activating the scapula and develop movability and movement. But the practitioners themselves rarely pay attention or understand the importance of these until they have reached a certain level of general understanding of body movement. And maybe also some degree of body awareness is necessary.

Monday, December 06, 2021

The Foundation Myths of Wing Chun

Every martial art has it's own folklore swirling around it's foundation. Some are in the far distant past and others are documented by newspaper accounts and newsreels.

Below is an excerpt that appeared at Kung Fu Tea concerning the foundation story of Wing Chun kung fu, as related by Ip Man. The full post may be read here. 

Many of the debates in the Wing Chun world today focus on the question of lineage.  People want to know which expression of Wing Chun best captures its essential essence?  Which is truly “authentic”?  Often it is assumed that authenticity must be expressed in terms of history.  Some individuals then conclude that the branch of Wing Chun which is the oldest must the most “true.”

Needless to say this entire exercise is problematic.  There are too many undefined terms and leaps of logic in the foregoing statement to count.  Yet this sort of reasoning is what is driving a lot of the public conversation on Wing Chun these days, lacuna and all.  Side stepping the issue of “authenticity” for a moment (a topic complex enough to deserve a post in its own right), I have real doubts that the pure expression of anything is really linked to its oldest form (or better yet, our best attempt to recreate it). 

The truth is that things change for a reason.  Historically speaking, all martial arts, almost without exception, have been forced to reinvent themselves in every generation in order to survive.  Every true Sifu or Sensei instructs his or her students not just to be a clone, but to rise to ever greater heights.  And occasionally this actually happens.  As a result our arts change, grow and evolve over time.  They adapt to new markets and new economic conditions almost continually.  What was done in the late 1700s or the mid-Ming dynasty can never truly be replicated today.  Deal with it, and consider some other ways of defining “authenticity.”

The Wing Chun Creation Myth

Of course one of the first things that we need to do when approaching the history of any martial arts is to actually separate fact from fiction.  For instance, how should we think about the oral folklore that gets passed down in almost every hand combat school?  Do we dismiss it out of hand?

That is probably not a good idea.  Folklore is passed on precisely because it is meaningful to the audience.  The folklore of Wing Chun, or pretty much any other kung fu school, reflects the actual lived experience of those who have dedicated their lives to this tradition.  This material has immense ethnographic value.

But that’s not really what most participants in the Wing Chun wars care about.  What they really want to know is, does it have any historical value?  Will it lead me to locate a Wong Wah Bo or Leung Yee Tai in the cemeteries of Guangdong if I just look hard enough?  Did these stories really happen?  Do they contain some essential grain of truth sufficient to justify my faith in the art?

The sad truth appears to be “no,” at least for the historical questions.  The orthodox Wing Chun creation story was first recorded by Ip Man sometime in the early or mid-1960s for a proposed organization called the “Ving Tsun Tong Fellowship.”  This project never panned out.  In fact, the process of creating a home organization for his brand of Wing Chun was a long drawn out ordeal with many bumps along the way.

This document, found with Ip Man’s papers after his death and now displayed by the Hong Kong Ving Tsun Athletic Association (VTAA), contains the basic Wing Chun creation story that everyone is now familiar with.  It talks about the burning of the Shaolin Temple, the escape of the Five Elders and Ng Moy’s instruction of Yim Wing Chun to beat the marketplace bully.  It then lists the subsequent transmission of the art through the Red Boat opera company to Leung Jan, Chan Wah Shun and ultimately Ip Man himself.  Interestingly enough, this 1960s era document is the oldest recoded version of this story that exists.  There is no physical evidence (actual documents, not simply a different lineage’s folklore which claims to be older) that this story was ever told in the late 19th century.

Many historical investigations of Wing Chun take this document as their starting point.  However, even a passing familiarity with the folklore of the martial arts of Southern China indicates that this will be a problem.  The burning of the Shaolin temple (either north or south) is a myth, it never happened.  The escape of the Five Elders is a motif drawn from gangster folklore.  Yim Wing Chun bears a suspicious resemblance to female martial heroes in both Hung Gar and White Crane legends (in fact I have argued elsewhere that she is probably derived from the latter).  Lastly is the issue of Ng Moy herself.

Situating Ng Moy in the Historical Literature

The famous story about Ng Moy (related by the sons of Ip Man) watching a battle between a snake and crane is identical to the older and better established Taijiquan tradition.  Taiji was first introduced into Guangdong during the 1920s.  The appearance of this story in the Wing Chun canon appears to be a clear case of borrowing.  That is important to Ng Moy’s origins for another reason as well.  The 1920s-1930s are the first time that she appears in local literature and storytelling as a heroine rather than as a traitor and villain.

Ng Moy made her first appearance in the written record in the last few decades of the 19th century in Guangdong province.  Unfortunately for those seeking to trace a lineage back through her, this first appearance was actually in an anonymously published popular martial arts novel titled Shengchao ding shen wannian qing (The Sacred Dynasty’s Tripod Flourishes, Verdant for Ten Thousand Years.)  Given its somewhat unwieldy title the story is usually simply called Everlasting in the English language literature.

John Christopher Hamm, in his study on Jin Yong’s martial arts novels (Paper Swordsmen 2005), spends some time discussing Everlasting and its impact on the evolution of the “old” and “new” school martial arts stories in Guangdong and Hong Kong (pp. 32-48).  Everlasting is of great interest as it was directly copied (often plagiarized) by a variety of other novels and it ended up providing almost all of the local Shaolin “lore” that ends up in subsequent films and radio plays produced in the region. 

This is a very important point to emphasize.  There is no evidence that there was ever a large body of Shaolin folklore that southern martial artists or story tellers drew from.  With the partial exception of the Triad story on the burning of the southern temple, these were not simply “folk characters” indigenous to the region.  Rather, one novelist wrote a book expanding on the escapades of the various Shaolin monks and the Emperor’s attempts to destroy them.  That book was so successful that it spawned dozens of copies.  It literally created a genera of storytelling that is still with us today.

Everlasting is very important to the question of Wing Chun’s origins as it is the very first time that Ng Moy is ever mentioned in print.  Unfortunately for us, this is not quite the same wise and loyal figure that Ip Man honors in his narrative.  The Ng Moy of the novel is crafty and prone to laying elaborate plans (a major point of continuity with her later figure), but she is also a traitor.  Along with Bakmei she betrays the Shaolin heroes to the state and ensures their destruction.  In fact, one of the underlying themes of this novel is the righteousness of Imperial authority against the lawlessness and chaos caused by the wandering, argument prone, monks of Shaolin.  Ny Moy is an agent of the order brought by the government.  She is quite literally the Emperor’s hand.  Clearly this is not the sort of character that a supposedly “revolutionary” art like Wing Chun would put at the head of its lineage.

Of course shifting assessments of “revolution” and its desirability run throughout any longitudinal discussion of martial arts folklore.  In the last few decades of the 19th century the Chinese Imperial government was actually pretty popular among most of the population.  Yes there were cases of corrupt officials and tax revolts, but for the most part the government was seen as standing up to landowners and hated foreign intrusions.  Neo-Confucianism was accepted as the official arbiter of public morality and order.  For instance the Boxer Uprising was not a rebellion against the government, but rather a massive popular uprising in support of it against foreign religious and commercial interests. 

Somehow in Kung Fu folklore “revolutions” is always a good thing.  Yet it is pretty clear that most people in China in the late 19th century didn’t actually think that way and had no plans to depose the Qing and restore the Ming.  Nor was aligning yourself with the hated Taipings or the criminal underground likely to improve your popularity around town.  That sort of rhetoric became markedly more popular and common around the time of the 1911 revolution.  It persisted through the 1940s due to the encouragement of both the Nationalist and Communist Party (both of which sought to use the social revolution to further their own political objectives).  Its ubiquity in martial arts folklore is really just one more piece of evidence that this is the oral culture of the 1920s-1950s that we are dealing with, not the 1820s-1850s.

While the stories of Everlasting were very popular, the end of the book (where Shaolin and the government simply could not be reconciled) seems to have troubled some readers.  Perhaps the destruction of the Shaolin Temple was too definitive.  It did not leave enough room for new stories or imaginative play in the here and now.  And that is what readers really wanted.  I suspect this is still what many martial artists actually want today, a chance to enter the story for themselves.  To experience what Mircea Eliade might have called “sacred time” in the guise of a Kung Fu story.

The novel was subsequently republished (or more accurately stolen) a number of times throughout the first few decades of the 20th century, occasionally without its bleak conclusion.  One of the most important of these rewrites was an undated novel published during the 1930s.  Jiang Diedie’s novel Shaolin xiao yingxiong (Young Heroes from Shaolin) put the foundations in place for the eventual creation of the Yim Wing Chun narrative. 

His work lacks originality.  Many sections of text are simply copied directly from the original book, published 40 years earlier.  However, in Young Heroes the story ends when Ng Moy is able to negotiate a truce between the various feuding factions of Shaolin monks.  Rather than destroying the temple and siding with the state (all of which happened much later in the original narrative arc), she is now left the savior of Shaolin.  More importantly, she comes to be associated with those values that the Shaolin monks of Everlasting stood for; independence, stubbornness, hubris, short temper, loyalty and a love of southern China.  In short, Ng Moy was for the first time transformed into a literary hero.  She became exactly the sort of figure who someone like Ip Man might have included in his narrative.  More than that, she became the sort of figure that martial arts students would have demanded in their pedigree.

To recap, Ng Moy is not an old figure in the regions folklore.  In fact, she never appears in the folklore record at all.  Instead she is a fictional character that was invented for a written novel in the late 19th century.  Originally she was a problematic figure and was associated with the domination of the state over Shaolin (and by extension local society).  It was not until the 1930s that this perception of her changed as authors began to rewrite the classic novel in such a way that the stories would appear to be more open ended.  Now Ng Moy was free to use her plans for good and she joined the ranks of Shaolin’s heroes.

The Wing Chun narrative recorded by Ip Man shows no knowledge of the older, original view of Ng Moy.  In fact, it is conceptually dependent on versions of the Shaolin story that were circulating in the form of novels and radio programs in the 1930s-1950s.  The established literary record forces us to conclude that Ip Man’s story must have been composed in the 1930s or later.  QED.