This story begins like many others of the era with a young boy in 1950’s Hong Kong who met Great Grand Master Yip Man through the invitation of another. Bullies were causing problems in the schools and through the want of learning self-defence another Wing Chun legacy began.
It was at New Dong Goon St, when Grandmaster Choi first joined Yip Man’s Wing Chun School. The name of that street was later changed to Lei Dat St. Yip man had only been in that location for 2 weeks after moving from Restaurant workers union and Grandmaster Choi was soon followed by other notable students one being Lee Siu Long (Bruce Lee). On a side note, Grandmaster Choi also attended St Francis Xavier College with Bruce Lee at the same time.
Grandmaster Choi kept a low profile in regard to his training and there are very few photos of him from that time, as his father was a Hung Gar practitioner and he had to keep his wing chun training secret from him for 6 years, which is ironic because his father later practiced Wing Chun as a student of Leung Sheung.
Grandmaster Choi’s family owned restaurants and shops and he was lucky to be in a position at that time that he could help Yip Man financially during a period when life was particularly challenging for his Sifu. He would frequently accompany Yip Man at yum cha and dinner and pick up the bill. Sifu Choi recalls, “If Yip Man hosted Yum Cha for other masters, students or anybody else for that matter, he knew that the bill would be looked after by me, no problem. If he asked me for money, I would give it. I wouldn’t ask what it was for, I would just get it”.
There were other students who had similar experiences and looked after Ip Man also, but they may not have had the financial ability to be able to provide for him in the same way. Grandmaster Choi basically ensured that Yip Man did not have any worries with regards to this.
Yip Man taught him that a student must be able to open his master’s heart, so that he will then teach the student openly and without reserve. And that is precisely what happened, he built a relationship with his Sifu that had earned him a place in Yip Man’s heart
It was during these times over yum Cha & dinner that a lot more details of the system were discussed. (I myself can attest to the fact that so much more can be learned about Wing Chun over numerous yum cha with your Sifu because when spirits are high and conversation is flowing, many gold nuggets of wisdom and information are passed on in conversation).
During the years he trained, he would often accompany Yip Man as an assistant to the private lessons of 鍾錦泉 Zung Gam Cyun and 鍾永康 Zung Wing Hong, 2 brothers that were Justices of the Peace who lived in Sham Shui Bo, Kowloon, where many more “gold nuggets” were picked up. He continued his full-time training with Yip Man until he emigrated to Australia in late 1959.
After his arrival in Sydney he trained privately by himself and then with just a few friends. During a return visit to Hong Kong in 1969 to see family he also went to see his Sifu. During this visit Yip Man asked him to open a school in Australia to promote Wing Chun there. Reluctantly he agreed as he had no interest in teaching formally, but his Master had requested it and he diligently obeyed. He said that he would teach for 5 years then pass the school over to his students.
And so upon his return, the first Australian Wing Chun school opened in 1970 as the VCK Kung Fu Centre in George Street Sydney. He operated his school and taught his students in the same traditional style that he had learned from Yip Man. For 5 years the school grew and he always told his students that he would be leaving after that time. When the time finally arrived none of the students were willing to take on the responsibility of continuing the club, so it closed in 1975 and he moved north to Queensland settling in Brisbane.
From 1975 to present day he has continued to train, refine, and develop Wing Chun Ling Tung Gong from what he learned with Yip Man and also from the Wing Chun books that Yip Man had given him.
The Qi Gong that is contained within these texts has kept him in extremely good health and his mind is a sharp as a tack. He practices every morning and at 85 years of age has a vitality and energy that exceeds that of many people half his age.
This is where he has epitomized the phrase that he taught me,
紙包不住火 zi baau bat zyu fo – PAPER CAN’T COVER FIRE.
Meaning that it does not matter how good you say something is, or what certificates you hold. If your kung fu is no good, it will be self-evident.
We can help others to achieve this understanding by being healthy, happy, and abundant in energy ourselves. Our radiance and good health may cause others to wonder why we are this way and seek out the answer for themselves. Our own dedication to our training will serve as inspiration and compel others to continue should they lose focus and determination. With the right patience and persistence everybody has the chance to achieve the highest level within themselves.
Sifu is more than just an encyclopedia of techniques, he’s also a moral compass who only wants the best for his students and will do his best help them succeed. It is a great responsibility when he takes on a student and is not something that is undertaken lightly. He has told me in the past and reminded me again this week that the Sifu is a mirror, he will show you what you are doing right and also what you are doing wrong. He shouldn’t force you to change something, but merely make you aware of what needs to be changed to keep you on the right path. The better the training the better the reflection, and with a better reflection the training gets even better still. And when you think that your Sifu has taught you everything he has to teach; remember he will always be your mirror.
I have been blessed to be accepted as Grandmaster Choi’s final student and strive to ensure that the information that was given to him will continue to live on into the future. There is so much that I’d like to share and I will write more in future articles about the Wing Chun Ling Tung Gong system, the positive effects it has had on my health and also the way it has exponentially improved my Wing Chun Kuen.
Keep training and be kind to one another.
Sifu Dave Richardson