Wong Shun Leung has been called many things by people in the martial arts world. England's 'Fighters' magazine called him, "...a communicator and teacher of Wing Chun par excellence"; Jesse Glover, the first American student of the late Bruce Lee, wrote in his book 'Bruce Lee's Non-Classical Gung Fu' that Wong Shun Leung "...is one of the greatest Wing Chun teachers in the world"; Bey Logan, editor of the British martial arts magazine 'Combat' wrote that "...Wong Shun Leung is far more important as a Wing Chun teacher in his own right than just a figure in the life of Bruce Lee. He deserves better than to be in anyone's shadow"; America's 'Black Belt' magazine simply called him "...a Wing Chun phenomenon."
Which ever way you want to look at it, there is no denying that Wong Shun Leung is possibly the greatest living representative of the dynamic Chinese fighting art of Wing Chun, the man who put Wing Chun on the map in the late 'fifties and early 'sixties in his well publicised challenge matches against representatives of all the major combat arts in Hong Kong. He is the man who can rightly claim to have been the late Bruce Lee's teacher, and to have influenced the development of Lee's personal art of combat, Jeet Kune Do. His ego is such, however, that Wong Shun Leung prefers to be known simply as a teacher, a sifu, and he refuses to accept accolades such as "master" or "grandmaster", terms which he believes are worthless because they have been abused so readily in recent years.
Wong Sifu, in his own typical fashion, usually downplays his "deadly" image by stating that, "I can't fight very well and my Kung Fu is not very good." He decries the claims of other so-called "masters" by emphasising that it matters not whether one is the son of a grandmaster, or that one knows "every deadly move known to man." In his opinion it is far more important that one must practise hard, to "become the master of the art, not its slave." To Wong Sifu it makes no difference how senior you are, but how good you are. He considers that Wing Chun is a SKILL, not an ART, and he sees nothing wrong with using ones skills.
In comparing skills and art, Wong Sifu has been quoted as saying, "...if A and B have a fight and B gets knocked out, then everyone knows that A won. There's a winner and a loser. However, in music, you can like someone's guitar playing or not like it and it doesn't matter. Because it's an ART, you can't PROVE that one painting or piece of music is better than another. However, in Kung Fu, you can prove your skill in such a way that there is no doubt! This is the difference....in other ARTS, beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but in MARTIAL ART, the only judgement is whether or not it works!" Statements such as this one are characteristic of the very down-to-earth approach that Wong Sifu has to combat, and he certainly has the fighting record to back up such a beliefs.
Wong Shun Leung began his training in the martial arts while in his early teens. He tried his hand at several styles, including Western boxing, in which he developed a real interest, an interest which he still maintains today. Wong Sifu considers boxing to be very practical for the street because boxers learn to give and take punishment right from the word go, concentrating on attacking instead of "chasing the opponent's hands" like many of the classical Kung Fu styles do. He probably would have still been boxing now if it hadn't been for two particular incidents which changed his approach to combat once and for all.
Firstly, while sparring with his boxing coach one afternoon, Wong accidently landed a damaging blow to the face. In a rage, the coach began pounding Wong until, bleeding from nose and mouth, Wong managed to gain the upper hand, eventually knocking his coach out cold. After this event, Wong lost all respect for his boxing coach and never went back for another lesson. Wong's father and grandfather had both been doctors of traditional Chinese medicine and were well acquainted with members of Hong Kong's martial arts community so that from a very early age, Wong had heard hundreds of tales of the exploits of various local heroes. His grandfather had even been a good friend of Chan Wa Sun, the first of his future instructor Yip Man's Wing Chun teachers, so Wong was aware of the fighting art of Chan the "money-changer" (Jau Chin Wa) from Fatsaan.
Wong recalled some of the stories he had been told about Chan Wa Sun, and of Chan's teacher, the legendary Fatsaan Jan Sinsaang (Dr.Leung Jan, a noted herbalist in the nineteenth century, renowned for his unrivalled fighting skills) and he decided to seek out a Wing Chun teacher to see what the system had to offer him. As it turned out, friends of his older brother were learning Wing Chun so it was arranged that he would go to see them train. To cut a long story short, Wong ended up having a match with the man who was to become his teacher, the late grandmaster Yip Man, after initially having "held his own" with a couple of the junior students at the school, and was very soundly beaten. From that moment onwards, Wong Shun Leung became a devoted member of the Wing Chun clan and within a year had single-handedly elevated the Wing Chun system from the position of an obscure, virtually unknown, southern Chinese martial art, to that of a real force to be reckoned with.
Now 55 years old, Wong Shun Leung has been involved in Wing Chun for over 38 years, constantly working to develop and pass on the skills of the system to literally thousands of students. These days he spends at least three months of every year travelling to various places around the world, spreading his interpretation of Wing Chun in an honest, effective and realistic manner. Wong Sifu is a realist when it comes to combat, advising his audiences that martial artists are not invincible, and that sometimes the best solution when surrounded by villains is "...run away!" It is foolhardy, he suggests, to believe that training in the martial arts will enable a person to dispose of a group of attackers without raising as much as a sweat.
"If someone practises any martial art," says Wong, "then that person must become stronger and more durable than someone who hasn't practised. So if you are punched you are able to take a lot more punishment than a normal person. I have been hit many times, as have all of the great martial artists that I know of. So we are not supermen, but we can take a lot more. Any martial artist who says that he does not get hit is lying to himself!" To him, fighting is like a game of chess; just as one cannot expect to win a game of chess without firstly sacrificing one or more pieces, so one cannot expect to be victorious in a fight without sustaining some kind of injury, even if only a few bruises. Several jagged scars on his knuckles, as well as scars from a knife on his arm and forehead attest to this belief. When it comes to combat experience, Wong Shun Leung could tell many tales, but with his usual modesty he tends to downplay this aspect of his career in martial arts.
It is a well-known fact in Hong Kong, however, that from around the time Wong Sifu was 18 until about the age of 24, he took part in countless challenge matches (referred to in Cantonese as bei mo) against fighters from virtually every style of martial art in the colony. Bruce Lee credited Wong with hundreds of victories, but conservative estimates suggest something along the lines of at least 50 to 60 such matches, with Wong always emerging as the winner. So successful was he that the local Hong Kong press picked up on his exploits and one enterprising reporter (now a resident in Australia) actually went out and arranged fights for him against non-Chinese as well, including a 250lb Russian boxer named Giko!
In the press reports Wong became known as Gong Sau Wong, meaning the "King of the Challenge Fight," the sound wong meaning both "king" as well as being the same as his surname (although a different written character). The term gong sau was actually coined by Wong during an interview conducted at the time and means literally "talking with the hands," a very apt description of exactly what he did. When pressed about these matches while being interviewed in Australia two years ago, Wong Sifu responded by saying, "I didn't actually learn Wing Chun just to go out and fight. Kung Fu should really be used as a way of protecting yourself in circumstances where you are physically threatened.
"After I learnt the skills of Wing Chun from Yip Man I often had the opportunity to test them. By experimenting with my skills I could discover their limitations and how they compared with other disciplines and so improve myself. After a time of this experimentation I learnt that I needed to rely less on the fighting part to get that self-satisfaction and feeling of achievement." It was also during this period of experimentation that Wong Shun Leung introduced Bruce Lee to the experience of the challenge fight. In the first of Lee's matches, Wong coached him between rounds, encouraging Lee to continue when it seemed that he was about to give up.
The result was a victory that possibly changed the course of Lee's life and certainly began the development of the martial arts superstar whom the world was later to discover. Grandmaster Yip Man, on hearing of the event, was said to have told Wong, "Fortunately you accompanied him to the venue and encouraged him to go on with the match. This trial of martial skill may be a decisive influence on him in the future. If someday Bruce Lee succeeds, the credit should rightfully go to you." In discussing this period in Lee's life, Jesse Glover wrote, "Wong was four years senior to Bruce in Yip Man's clan and Bruce studied privately for a year and a half under both him and Yip Man" and that Wong was "...the man most responsible for the development of Bruce Lee." Glover also wrote, "In '59 Bruce told me that Wong was the greatest fighter in the Wing Chun style, and that he had successfully defeated all challengers."
Wong Shun Leung is not just a gifted fighter and excellent teacher, he is also a doctor of traditional Chinese medicine, and a self-taught calligrapher whose writing is greatly prized by those who appreciate such talent. He enjoys reading classical Chinese poetry, eating fine food, sipping a glass of good brandy with friends and sharing amusing anecdotes and jokes with his students. Bey Logan, in his article 'Bruce Lee's Teacher' wrote, "The first thing you notice is how normal he looks. He looks too short, too friendly to be the legendary Wong Shun Leung Sifu. It is only the way he moves, the way he watches, that reveals the nature of the discipline he has mastered.
"Next, you're surprised by his keen sense of humour. Many Westerners seem to cling to the idea that a Sifu must be a very old, very solemn man. There is none of the stereotypical Master Po-figure about Wong Shun Leung. He is very funny." But as well as being a very friendly, amusing and approachable man, Wong Sifu is first and foremost an exponent and teacher of combat with quite definite views on the purpose and function of Kung Fu. Being the one student of Yip Man to have taught for him rather than go out and open his own school, Wong was able to truly absorb all that his teacher had to offer, the result being that he, above all other pretenders to the throne, could rightfully claim to be the inheritor of the system. Instead, Wong simply gets on with the task of teaching, letting his skills and experiences speak for themselves.
On the subject of self-defence, Wong says, "If you learn Kung Fu, your purpose is to fight. If you can't fight and win, how can you defend yourself? Therefore, if you want to defend yourself, you must train until you can overpower others." In an article on him which appeared in 'Black Belt' magazine, Wong said, "Wing Chun Kung Fu is a very sophisticated weapon... nothing else. It is a science of combat, the intent of which is the total incapacitation of an opponent. It is straightforward, efficient and deadly. If you're looking to learn self-defence, don't study Wing Chun. It would be better for you to master the art of invisibility." Strong opinions indeed, but then Wong Shun Leung bases such opinions upon many years of experience in what could only be described as real combat. He views many of the practices of modern martial artists as little more than games. Although he realises that the days of the challenge fight are well and truly over, he looks upon their passing with an element of sadness, not because he is an advocate of violence, but because today's generation of martial artists are missing out on realistic training, and he sees the kinds of sparring exercises common to most styles as being a poor substitute for the realities of street combat.
Wong Sifu is constantly warning his students against the dangers of blindly following an instructor, copying every move he or she makes and accepting everything that they say as gospel. "You must become the master of your system, not its slave” is his often repeated motto. Using art as an example yet again, Wong Sifu says, "...Kung Fu is like painting a picture. When you learn to paint from your teacher you cannot be exactly the same as he or she because there are differences in age and experience, and so there must be personal differences.
"A person's nature and physique influences the way in which one does things. Besides, if you do things exactly the same way your teacher does them, you're just copying, not expressing yourself and will therefore not improve yourself." He is not suggesting by these words that the Wing Chun student should go out and invent his or her own way of doing things. On the contrary, Wong Sifu is a firm believer in passing on and practising the skills of Wing Chun exactly as he himself learnt them. However, he accepts the fact that all people are different, having different levels of ability and so on, and therefore adopts the more realistic approach of passing on the essence of Wing Chun in the form of its concepts and basic principles with which the students are then free to interpret and utilise in their own particular way.
Wong Sifu also enjoys dispelling the many myths that shroud the martial arts, myths that give martial arts a bad name and detract from their credibility. "Martial artists are not people who learn magical powers to become mystical monks like the movies portray them to be. A lot of Kung Fu styles have in the past lived off reputations of having some secret level that you can eventually attain and, unfortunately, some instructors have maintained these ridiculous ideas." He cites an example from his younger days when he was involved in a fight that had erupted between a friend of his and another man. He defeated the person in question and was about to leave the scene when the guy, still lying on the ground, called out, "Hey little fella, don't go! I've already given you the dim mak (death touch). You're doomed!" Wong then adds, "That was around thirty-five years ago and the dim mak hasn't worked yet..." Once, when asked by a journalist for an Australian magazine about the existence or non-existence of dim mak techniques in Wing Chun, Wong Sifu jokingly replied, "You might kill yourself if you touch yourself," and then in a slightly more serious tone, "Besides, if a person is moving very fast, it's almost impossible to touch some small areas with such precision."
Wong Shun Leung is indeed a rare breed of man. He doesn't try to exploit his reputation as one of Hong Kong's most formidable streetfighters, nor his influence on the career of the late Bruce Lee. He doesn't go around telling everyone how good he is, nor does he run down other instructors and styles. Despite his obvious skill he is not a pretentious man and his school in Hong Kong is small and drab, containing none of the mod cons found in most Western schools, just an excellent teacher who embodies all the qualities one could ever hope for in an instructor.
He has dedicated his life to the advancement and understanding of Wing Chun, "spreading the word" everywhere from Melbourne to Munich, establishing schools wherever he goes, teaching anyone willing to listen to what he has to say regardless of race, colour or creed. Wong Sifu is the enemy of all who make false claims about Kung Fu and the friend to everyone searching for the truth about combat and themselves. He has been described as "... an appropriate example of a man who has become his art and vice-versa. He started as a gifted fighter, studied both the physical and mental aspects of Wing Chun, and finally became Wing Chun spiritually.
"He's a man who can be either soft-spoken or out-spoken depending upon the situation at hand. He has learned to understand his own limitations and thereby the limitations of others. His demeanour is calm, relaxed, and his intent unwavering. He is philosophy without embellishment, like an old sword that doesn't appear dangerous at first, until you've tasted its razor edge." Wong Shun Leung Sifu is Wing Chun personified, a living example of what can be achieved by anyone willing to devote all their energy into the practice and understanding of their chosen field of endeavour. The fact that he refuses to accept such praise makes him all the more deserving of it. Why he has achieved the level of expertise that he has is due to a very simple philosophy:"My aim," says Wong, "is to better myself with each day of training."
Reprinted with permission from author David Peterson
(Unfortunately Wong Shun Leung has passed on since the above article was written about his amazing skill. To give the master his proper farewell, I have included another article by David Peterson that memoralizes the great Wong Shun Leung-Paul Bax)
WONG SHUN LEUNG: THE LEGEND BEHIND THE LEGEND
-Recalling the Life of Bruce Lee’s Teacher
by David Peterson
January 28th 1997 was a very sad day for the martial arts, and indirectly, for fans of Hong Kong cinema, specifically, for fans of the legend that is Bruce Lee. On that day, wing chun kung-fu master, Sifu Wong Shun Leung, 61, teacher and friend of the late martial arts superstar, lost his fight for life following a massive stroke and ensuing coma that had befallen him some 16 days earlier. Considered by many to be a fighter and instructor of unparalleled skill, Sifu Wong was renowned for earning the title of Gong Sau Wong (“King of Talking with the Hands”) after surviving countless beimo, or “comparison of skills”, throughout the 50s and 60s, emerging every time as undefeated and undisputed champion. These were not tournament fights as conducted in the West, with rules, protective equipment or time limits. Instead, they were full-on fights between representatives of the various schools of combat in Hong Kong, and Sifu Wong is said to have “let his hands do the talking” by winning the majority of these “contests” within just three punches! In one such match, arranged by a reporter working for a prominent Hong Kong newspaper of the day, Wong (who stood barely 5’6” tall and weighed in at around 120lbs) easily defeated a visiting Russian boxer named Giko, a giant of a man who weighed over 250lbs and stood some twelve inches taller than the dynamic wing chun exponent.
Wong almost single-handedly put this previously low-profile martial art in the public spotlight, gaining great prestige for his teacher, the late grandmaster, Yip Man. Wong’s reputation as an invincible fighter also attracted the attention of the young Bruce Lee, who had only recently joined the Yip Man wing chun school after having been introduced to the system by his friend, William Cheung, who was later to become a prominent, some might say controversial, spokesman for the wing chun clan. Initially, Lee had trained with his friend Cheung, but when Cheung left for Australia to further his education, Lee became the protegé of Wong Shun Leung who, at almost six years his senior and assistant instructor at the school, commanded the young (around 16 years of age) Bruce Lee’s unwavering respect.
In the beginning of their student/teacher relationship, Wong found the young Lee to be quite lazy in his approach to training, consequently his progress in the art was relatively slow. It wasn’t too long, however, after witnessing first hand the devastating effectiveness of Wong’s skills, that Lee began to take his wing chun training far more seriously. In fact, Lee was so keen to learn from Wong that he even found devious ways of monopolising his sihing’s teaching time. Wong was, at the time, running training sessions out of his home (his father had helped him to set up a small area for this purpose), as well as helping his teacher Yip Man conduct the classes at the kwoon. After unsuccessfully approaching Wong for private lessons, the young “Little Dragon” found another method of getting his own way.
On more than one occasion, after school was finished for the day, Lee would rush over to Wong’s house in order to arrive before his sihingdai. Later on, Sifu Wong would often recount this story to his students, this writer included, saying how Bruce would check that he was indeed the first to arrive, afterwhich he would make up some excuse to leave for a while, whereby he would head downstairs to wait for his classmates to arrive. Sitting on the steps, looking dejected, he would greet his friends with the news that Wong was ill, out on an errand, or otherwise indisposed, then walk with them down the street, even going as far as to help them board a bus for home. Once he was sure that they had all departed the scene, Bruce would double back to Wong’s to take advantage of what was now a private lesson. Eventually, Wong became aware of this little ruse and, according to others of that era, gave his young disciple an especially realistic lesson, complete (so the story goes) with black eyes, split lips and a bloody nose!
Despite his awesome reputation as a fighter, Wong was not a violent man per se, but he revelled in the chance to test his skills and the effectiveness of Yip Man’s art. “I didn’t actually learn wing chun just to go out and fight. Kung-fu should really be used as a way of protecting yourself in circumstances where you are physically threatened”, he was quoted as saying in an interview conducted in Australia some years ago. “After I learnt the skills of wing chun from Yip Man, I often had the opportunity to test them. By experimenting with my skills I could discover their limitations and how they compared with other disciplines and so improve myself.” It was during this period of “experimentation” that Wong Shun Leung first introduced Bruce Lee to the experience of the beimo and in the very first of Lee’s matches, Wong (who was actually refereeing the fight) coached him between rounds, urging him to continue when it had appeared that Lee was about to give up the fight.
It could be rightly said that the resulting victory changed the course of Bruce Lee’s life, certainly it heralded the beginnings of the training regime that would see him become the martial arts superstar that the world was to discover many years later. It is reported that grandmaster Yip Man, on learning about what had transpired, took Wong aside and said, “Fortunately you accompanied him to the venue and encouraged him to go on with the match. This trial of martial skill may well be a decisive influence on him in the future. If someday, Siu Lung (Bruce) succeeds, the credit should rightfully go to you.” In writing about this period in Lee’s life, Jesse Glover (his first American student) stated, “Wong was four years senior (in training) to Bruce in Yip Man’s clan and Bruce studied privately for a year and a half under both him and Yip Man.” Glover also wrote that Wong was “...the man most responsible for the development of Bruce Lee”, and that “In ‘59 Bruce told me that Wong was the greatest fighter in the wing chun style, and that he had successfully defeated all challengers.”
As fate would have it, circumstances arose that lead to Bruce having to leave for a new life in America, curtailing his opportunity to train with Wong. For the next several years, apart from the occasional visit by Lee to Hong Kong for filming or family visits, his relationship with Wong was restricted to a steady stream of letters between teacher and student. Many of these letters still survive today, and in one such letter Lee wrote, “Even though I am (technically) a student of Yip Man, in reality, I learned my Kung-fu from you.” Over the years, Lee would strive to be able to overcome the skill of his teacher, using Wong’s level of expertise as the yardstick by which he measured his own development as a fighter, but try as he might, Bruce Lee was never able to defeat Wong Shun Leung in combat.
Many of the personal fighting concepts by which Lee would eventually become famous for can be traced back to the lessons that he learnt from Sifu Wong and, even after obtaining both fame and fortune from his martial arts and film careers, Lee never forgot where his roots were, spending whatever time he could with his teacher when back in Hong Kong during the final years leading up to his own premature demise. Sifu Wong once spoke to me of an occasion when he and Lee began to discuss their favourite topic early one evening, retiring to the hallway while their wives sat with their children watching the television. At 7.00am the next morning they were still there, having talked, trained and tested their martial theories right through the night!
Lee was keen to involve Wong in his movies, offering him a part in “Game of Death”, specifically the role that was later to be played by basketball star Kareem Abdul Jabbar, that of Lee’s final opponent at the top of the “Tower of Death” at the end of the film. “My character was to have beaten Bruce,” Wong told Bey Logan in a 1986 interview for Britain’s ‘COMBAT’ magazine, “...but he would still have managed to kill me! I told him that I didn’t want to go and die in my first movie!” Wong also added that, “...(besides) I wasn’t in dire financial straits at the time, so I didn’t have to do the film (just) to make money.”
However, Lee wasn’t one to give up easily and, when shooting “Enter the Dragon” in Hong Kong, he invited Wong to come “on location” to discuss the fight scenes. Anyone viewing the documentary “Bruce Lee: the Man and the Legend” can briefly observe Wong on the “Han’s Weapon Room” set, “sparring” with an extra, and reacting to punches thrown by Lee himself. Over the years Sifu Wong was involved in a number of film and television projects, including the movie “Bruce’s Fingers” in 1976, starring Bruce Lee look-alike Bruce Le (Lu Hsiao-lung), in which Sifu simply played himself, the hero’s instructor. He was also the wing chun consultant and action choreographer for the film “Stranger From Shaolin” (aka: “The Formidable Lady From Shaolin”) starring Michelle Yim, and a Hong Kong television mini-series called “The Story of Wing Chun”.
Sifu Wong Shun Leung also “starred” in a training video on his style, entitled “Wing Chun: the Science of In-fighting” which was produced as part of a series of instructional tapes in the early ‘80s. He also occasionally authored articles on his beloved wing chun for a number of Chinese-language martial arts magazines, and was the subject of several articles and interviews in magazines all over the world. A number of these articles were concerned with his famous pupil, Bruce Lee, and delved into the relationship between the two of them, attempting to determine his role in the career of the superstar, and often attempting to extract controversial views on Lee and other wing chun practitioners. Always the diplomat, Wong would never allow himself to be drawn into such discussions, preferring to either restrict himself to positive comments, or else choosing to make no comment, dismissing the enquiry with a wry smile.
On the whole, Wong preferred to downplay his role as Lee’s instructor, not wishing to take advantage of someone else’s achievements. Instead, he just got on with the job of passing on the skills of wing chun which he constantly tested and refined over the years, adhering to the motto “To improve myself with each days training.” In addition to teaching Kung-fu, Sifu Wong was a practitioner of the ancient Chinese art of tit dar (“bone-setting”), the traditional method of treating sprains, bruises, dislocated and broken bones (a very useful skill, considering his line of work!) He was also an accomplished self-taught calligrapher with a profound knowledge of ancient forms of writing unknown to many modern Chinese, with which he would spend many hours writing classical poetry as a form of relaxation and self-improvement.
Rather than standing up on his own personal soap box, proclaiming his own greatness as many of his contemporaries in the martial arts have tended to do in recent years, Wong made no such claims and rejected the many grandiose titles which others attempted to bestow upon him, preferring to quietly set about destroying the myths and “kungfusion” associated with the Chinese fighting arts. He taught a devoted band of followers who travelled from all corners of the world to obtain his instruction, and he regularly travelled to Europe and Australia where he conducted seminars and workshops for the students of his representatives there. Sifu Wong shared his knowledge with great enthusiasm, believing that anyone, regardless of race, colour or creed, was worth teaching. As long as a person was prepared to work hard, Sifu was more than willing to call them his student.
Refusing to cash in on his connection with Bruce Lee, or on his own formidable reputation as a fighter and instructor par excellence, Sifu Wong insisted that he was a simple man, with no special talent, and was never one to “blow his own trumpet”. You were more likely to hear of his past exploits from other people and on those rare occasions when he did speak of such events, he would always refuse to name names or criticise rival styles, his only real gripe being with instructors who wasted their student’s time with endless, useless techniques and combat drills. “You can always get more money (if you run out)” he would say, “...but you can’t get more time.” On the subject of wing chun, his most common advise to his devotees was, “You must be the master of wing chun, not it’s slave”, meaning that one must take the concepts of the system and make them work, rather than get bound up in unnecessary analysis and potentially dangerous limited thinking.
It appeared that, after so many years, Sifu Wong was finally about to gain the recognition and rewards that had long eluded him. All manner of book, film and video projects had been discussed in the months leading up to his untimely passing, the most significant of these being the proposed movie, “Story of Yip Man”, starring none other than comedic sensation Steven Chow Sing Chi, himself a former student of Wong Shun Leung and a lifelong Kung-fu fan and Bruce Lee aficionado. Chow had been in training with his former instructor in preparation for the upcoming role and had negotiated for Wong to be the technical consultant on the film. There was also a distinct possibility that Wong would have an on-camera role and would most likely be involved in the choreography of the action sequences.
At the time of Sifu Wong’s death, the 25th anniversary of Bruce Lee’s death was fast approaching, and there had been much talk of interviews and book projects, including one arranged by Steven Chow. Writers and producers from Hong Kong and around the world had approached Sifu with a view to include him in their proposed ventures and preliminary work had been done on at least two of these. Australian producer, martial artist and Bruce Lee aficionado, Walt Missingham, was already set to begin shooting at the beginning of April that year when I had the sad task of informing him of my teacher’s death. Sadly, this and all the other projects will now either not take place, or else will be completed without the input that Sifu’s vast knowledge and experience would have added to them. More disappointing still is the realisation that Sifu Wong will now not be able to personally enjoy the recognition which was long overdue.
The man whom was often referred to as “Wing Chun’s Living Legend” is now no longer with us, but his influence will be felt for many years to come through the efforts of his many students, both in Hong Kong and around the world. The members of the world-wide “Wong Shun Leung Wing Chun Martial Art Association”, this writer included, are dedicated to spreading the skills and knowledge that has been passed on to them by this outstanding teacher and exponent of the art. While Wong Shun Leung was not one to take flashy titles with any seriousness, always insisting that to be called Sifu by his students was sufficient recognition of who he was, in the hearts and minds of all who witnessed his awesome talent or benefited from his wisdom and instruction, he was one of the greatest Masters of wing chun (and the Chinese martial arts in general) in this, or any other century.
Tragically, like his famous student Bruce Lee before him, Sifu Wong left us far too early in life, but like Lee, those of us fortunate to have been touched by his greatness, whether directly as his students, or indirectly through the cinematic exploits of his famous pupil and friend, are all the more richer for having known him. The “Legend Behind the Legend” may be gone and will certainly be greatly missed, but Sifu Wong Shun Leung, father, teacher and friend to so many, will definitely never be forgotten. The next time that you enjoy watching your film hero Bruce Lee on the large or small screen, spare a thought for the great man who inspired him to such greatness.
Reprinted with permission from author David Peterson