Ip Man Book The portrait of a kung fu master Book review

Article by David Jarrett added on 31 Oct 2012. Last updated on 31 Oct 2012.

By Ip Ching, Ron Heimberger & Translations by Eric Li

Review by Wing Chun coach David Jarrett

King Dragon Press.2001

The path to Wing Chun Book, By Samuel Kwok This book about Ip Man by his son, Ip Ching and one of Ip Ching's students, gives various insights into the life of one of the most respected figures in 20th century martial arts. After the introduction the book is divided into 15 short chapters, ranging in length from only a page to a few pages, with each chapter telling a story from Ip Man's life. In addition to these stories are a large amount of photos of Ip Man - many with interesting captions about the people the photos.

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The stories in the book cover various aspects of Ip Man's life, from how he began learning Wing Chun from his two different teachers, to Ip Man's conduct in confrontations, to Ip Man's nick-names for students. The introduction explains that the aim of each of these stories to provide a principle, or set of principles, for the reader to contemplate. The principles are not Wing Chun technique principles. In fact, there is very little about Wing Chun technique or training at all. Instead, the principles the reader is encouraged to contemplate are personal qualities such as kindness, loyalty, and compassion as well as clever ways to deal with confrontation. One story simply explains that Ip Man spent a lot of his time socialising with his students, drinking tea and eating. Another tells how Ip Man did not advertise his Wing Chun class, so that if someone approached him looking for lessons, and Ip Man thought this would be the wrong kind of student to teach Wing Chun to, he could tell the person that his class was full. The stories are introduced with quotes from various thinkers including Confucious and Sun Tzu, covering a range of topics. One states, "To win one hundred battles in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is supreme excellence." Another states that "If wealth and honour do not dissipate you, poverty and low status do not make you move from your principles, authority and might do not distort you, then you can be called a great man."

At first, this reviewer was surprised and slightly disappointed by the lack of attention to any technical discussion of Wing Chun, or training tips etc. The introductory quotes also seem very over-the-top at first. However, as the reader goes through the book (which can be done in 2 hours), paying attention to not just the stories but also the large amounts of photos, one gradually becomes enthralled. One becomes impressed by the image of an extremely widely respected and genuinely well-liked man who enjoyed just spending time drinking tea outside with his sons and friends. The reader is also given the impression that the author, Ip Ching, a top martial artist in his own right, feels that personal qualities are far more worthy of attention than martial arts ability. By the end of the book, the reader feels they have been taught far more than a lesson in Wing Chun. Rather, they have truly been taught a lesson in life. One elephant in the room is that photos of Ip Man with Bruce Lee (his most famous film-actor student) are omitted and there is no mention of this relationship. Other problems include that it is sometimes difficult to understand what the writers are getting at. This reviewer found aspects of a story about Ip Man attempting to goad a man in the street into a fight with his student particularly confusing. The translation from Chinese to English no doubt plays a major role in this problem. Nevertheless, this truly is a "loving tribute" (Kung Fu Magazine) and is well-worth a read.

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