by "Unicorn" Wong Shun-Leung, Wing Chun
The author of this feature is an outstanding disciple of Sifu Yip Man, the renowned Chinese master of Wing Chun Gung Fu. Nicknamed, "Unicorn" since he was a youngster, Wong was a highly respected Chinese fighter. He also became a famous martial arts teacher, very well-known in Hong Kong.
In his younger days, already a practiced student of Wing Chun, he befriended a child-actor from his neighborhood named, Bruce Lee. Wong, an assistant instructor, was a little bit older than Bruce when the Little Dragon first joined the School of Wing Chun Gung Fu. Although a follower of Yip Man, it was Wong Shun-Leung that became responsible for much of Lee's direct training.
Partly because they were near enough in age, the two became closer as they played and practiced together. Thus, they were a teacher and a student who became intimate friends. In the eyes of Mr. Wong, young Bruce was his "Little Brother". So, when Bruce earned his fame, he did not take him as a hero or some kind of superman.
As a young lad having studied at La Salle College in Hong Kong, Bruce Lee was a clever but naughty boy. However, because he liked to fight and cared not much about his school work, his academic results were not very good. His mathematics were the worst. Apart from English, he failed in all other subjects. Moreover, he always joked with his classmates and his teachers there. Thus, he could not graduate from that school. Later, he transferred to another school to further his studies.
It was in that period that we came to know each other well.
Back then, I studied Gung Fu in Master Yip Man's institute, I also helped my fellow-learners in their practice. At that time, Cheung, another member of the school brought in an "Elvis-like" youngster.
This newcomer had leaned his body to one side with a hand on the wall, while his other hand in the back pocket of his trousers. His body was supported by only one of his legs as he swayed his body continuously. His manner was very frivolous as though he thought he was smart. I really did not like his initial appearance. After he went away that day, I told Chang that I did not welcome this new young man very much.
Months later, he came for his second visit to the school. But, this time he dressed properly and was more polite. Master Yip seemed to like him very much, so he took him to be his disciple. Bruce immediately came over and greeted me. This was so sudden that I was surprised. Soon, we were fellow-learners and became friends. But, from then on, he began to bring me a lot of trouble!
At first, when Bruce learned the fundamental boxing form of Wing Chun Gung Fu, he seemed to have a sense of suspicion towards it. It was true that the boxing form was a bit dry in ways. So, he did not seem to have too much interest in it. However, he had seen how Cheung, who was the same age, won over his opponents using Wing Chun. Moreover, he knew that his history of learning Wing Chun was not long. Therefore, he soon began to develop confidence in the system. As Bruce began to better understand the principles, his interest grew simultaniously.
Cheung's father was a police inspector and enjoyed some special privilages, so when Bruce had troubles, he usually sought Cheung out to solve them. Thus, the two young men always came and went around together. A short time passed when Cheung had to go study in Australia. He asked me to continue to teach and practice with Bruce, so he then brought him over to my house.
It was around that time that Master Yip's health was not very good. Because I was about 5 years older than Bruce, our evident difference in age allowed Bruce to listen to me readily.
Although he was small, he learned many tricks.
I remember one day when we practiced, he said to me, "Leung, my classmates Chiang and Ken want to learn from you. They will come to class a few days later. But, I say, you should not teach them, it is enough for you to teach me." At that time, I thought I should not have any bias or predjudice towards teaching. After a few more days passed, Bruce strangely arrived at the institute around ten minutes earlier than usual. He had his own plan. In this incident, his true character was exposed entirely.
He seemed to have run a long way to my house. Without taking any rest, he claimed that he had to go out again. But, before he went, he said, "Leung, I have to do something immediately, but I will come back in a short time. Please wait for me! Don't go out! I beg you, please don't! Thank you very much!" So, he hurried away. After about ten minutes, he did come back.
This time he had a relaxed look. Moreover, he practiced diligently on that day. A few days later, I learned the inside story from the mouth of one of his classmates.
On that day, he did arrive earlier to make sure that his classmates had not arrived yet. Then, he went down the street to wait for his fellow students. When he saw them, he went down to meet them as if he'd just left my house. He said to them, "Hi! Leung has just gone out. I don't know when he will come back. His family said that he had something important to do recently and would not be free today. So, I think you have to see him on another day." After that, he pushed them down the road and got them into a bus, then he returned to my house for a private training session.
When I learned this, I just answered with a smile and did not try to persecute him. That was Bruce Lee: competitive and aggressive. If he wanted anything, he would try to have it at any price.
Another time, he wanted to have the sun-glasses of his classmate Chen. He first offered him a good amount of money, hoping that he would sell them to him. But, Chen did not want to accept the offer.
Bruce then just took them from him by force.
As he practiced more, he made less trouble. Yet, sometimes he still insulted his schoolmates, and might even run into some rascals. I was milder, so I often tried to mediate for him. At times, I also persuaded him to develop the "right way" and make less troubles.
Hard drilling made Bruce a better fighter.
Because he had such the kind of character, he was more diligent in drilling himself. In those days, he had seen how I punched at a short distance (That was the "inch-power" he later performed so famously), and how I compared my wrist's power against others. He even bought two steel bars to assist him in his training of this technique. To strengthen the power of his wrists, he also used sand discs. In nine months time, he seemed to have surpassed me. Therefore, I really enjoyed practicing with him very much.
Bruce Lee often asked me whether he could win over Mr. X or Mr. Y. I frequently analyzed the strong and weak points of these imagined opponents of his, and told him the ways to win over them. Later, he asked me when he would be able to win over Cheung and me. He asked too much at times. I felt that he had fallen into a state of bewitchment. His competitive nature caused me to worry for him. I felt that he would lose the aim in learning Gung Fu.
I said to him, "To win over me is not difficult. I'm only the commonmost of the commons. My history of Gung Fu learning is only a few years longer than yours. There is nothing great in winning over me. I compare with other people not because I have good skills, rather only because I am not satisfied with the superstitious and mysterious elements people uphold in Chinese Gung Fu. I am young, I have an ideal. I want to alter people's attitudes towards Chinese martial arts in my own effort. In fact, Chinese martial arts is simply a kind of sport. Your potential is better than mine. Some day you will win over me. As to Cheung, it is difficult to say. You two are of the same age, but his physique and combat experience are better than yours. You will not be able to subdue him now. Whether you can win over him in the future or not depends on the progress of your training. Even our Master will not be able to answer this question."
"To practice Gung Fu, we need to have a firm will and a continuous drive for improvement. That is to say, we need to win over ourselves. For example, you want to win over Mr. A, and his conditions are more favorable than yours. If you two have the same kind of training, you may not be able to fulfill your wish. At that time, will you feel disappointed? Or, suppose you don't have any opponent, will you feel lonely? No. It is because you still should have one opponent, and that is you, yourself."
On that day, he did not seem to understand my meaning. But, later, from his theory of boxing, my words proved to be acceptable. Nevertheless, he still asked the same question, even though he soon stayed in the United States. I always replied and said, "If tomorrow's Bruce can win over today's, will it be fine?"
Wing Chun versus Boxing, emerging Bruce showed signs of pride.
After about 6 months of training, the time to prepare for an inter-school boxing match came.
It was held in K.G.5 School. Bruce asked for my opinion in joining the match. My opinion was to get combat experience was more important than any other thing. With the help of my limited knowledge in Western-Boxing, I practiced with him. I attacked his weak points and guided him to make full use of his strong points. Several months of training passed before he was finally ready to represent his school in the match.
In his first match, he displayed the form of Wing Chun, it did not look like any Western-Boxing forms. Many foreign students, both male and female, jeered at him. But, when he gradually took control of the situation, the attitude of the spectators changed. His opponent had been the champion of the match for several years, but he was knocked down by Bruce in the first round!
Bruce began to emerge that day. His interest in practicing martial arts also grew much deeper. On the other hand, when he first experienced public victory, his manner showed traces of pride.
Two months time passed. Under the influence of his classmates, Bruce challenged two tall and stout Kung Fu experts to a comparison fight on the roof of a building in Kowloon. One of them was Chung, an assistant teacher in a famous martial arts institiute.
Bruce invited me to be his trainer. Because of our close relation, I eventually granted his wish.
On my way to the appointed place, many meddlers stood here and there. The atmosphere was very tense and heavy as if a great thunderstorm was going to break out!
Besides Bruce and I, a friend named Chen also went with us. Chen practiced Long-Boxing. He had also practiced Wing Chun for a few months. On our way, many meddling youngsters pointed fingers at us. Bruce was very delighted and I sensed that he was very proud of himself.
At that time, not many people knew Bruce Lee. I only heard them talking about me. They said, "That man is Wong Shun-Leung. Here comes Wong Shun-Leung, we'll have something to see." Actually, I was not the hero of this comparison, the hero was Bruce.
The crowd seemed to grow larger and larger. I had a strange feeling, so I asked Bruce, "How come there are so many people? Did you tell them to come here?" Bruce denied it. He said, "Maybe they learned the news from the other side."
Soon, we reached the destination. Bruce wanted to go straight up to the roof, but I stopped him. In a low voice, I told him to walk on. I believed Bruce was smart guy, he had already understood my meaning. I wanted to divert the attention of those meddlers on the street so they would not rush up to the roof of the building.
We first turned round the corner, then went back to the entrance of the structure. We went up the stairs, but not directly to the top. Bruce had a friend who lived there, so we stayed there in his apartment for about ten minutes before we got up to the top of the building.
Twenty or thirty persons were already there to see the comparison. Although, we had avoided many of the meddlers on the street, there were dozens of spectators on that roof. Some sat along the wall, while others sat on the parapet. All of them came to see the fights.
After about five minutes, another group of people arrived. Bruce greeted them. I saw that one of them was slightly taller than Bruce, but relatively the same size overall. Then Bruce introduced them to me, I can still remember their names. One was Chung and the other was Choy. Because they chose not to represent their clans, Bruce did not formally represent Wing Chun. Their comparison was based only on a personal level that day.
After the introductions, I got directly into the subject. I asked the men whether they wanted to allow the comparison fight to go on or not. They said that they wanted it, they sounded sincere. So, I called both sides to come forward and said, "It is said, without fighting, is without knowing. I hope that both sides can become better friends after this comparison. This match should not hurt the relations of the two sides: otherwise, the meaning of knowing friends through boxing will be lost."
Knowing is by comparison.
Again, I stressed that this would only be a friendly comparison and not a duel. So, I suggested that the time of one round should be two minutes and the fight would consist of two rounds. The other side agreed with my suggestion, Bruce did too.
Then, I told the other side my role, explaining that I was Bruce's trainer, thus I should not act as judge of their match. But, Chung said, "Mr. Leung, we trust in you. We want you to be our judge."
They also said that they knew I was experienced in Chinese Gung Fu, and that I was capable to be the judge, insisting that I should take the role. I could hardly refuse them.
So, I gathered both sides and said, "A match must follow rules if it is to remain a friendly match. More important is to remember that this is not a duel. No matter which side wins, the comparison will end after two rounds. This is promoting your friendship, do you all understand what I'm saying?" They all agreed with my instructions, so I told them to rest a while to prepare for the match.
But, Bruce suddenly said, "No, Leung, it's Chen who starts first."
Chen was Bruce's classmate, they were of the same age. I was shocked, Chen was a new student, how could he fight with these people? I called them both to my side and said, "Chen, you are still green. You do not know how to fight yet." But, Chen claimed he had learned some other Kung Fu. He and Chung belonged to the same clan, they should not compare publicaly in this place. However, Chung said, "It doesn't matter, he is welcome."
I smiled and replied, "Since you two are from the same clan, it will be much more conveniant for me to judge."
As the first comparison began, at that time, I saw that Chen's form was very confused. Sometimes it looked like Long-Boxing, sometimes it looked like Wing Chun. But, Choy displayed the typical form of his clan. Both sides used short punches, which showed some of the characteristics of their clan. However, both sides were very confused in the usage of their skills. Choy appeared more brave, he ran forward to hit Chen. But, Chen fought back with his Long-Boxing. Because Chen was slightly taller, it was very advantageous though he was younger. Choy was only able to hit him at his abdomen.
Punches flew in the air. Both sides were being hit. Since Choy was more experienced, Chen began to fall back. Yet, as he retreated, he still attacked. His punches proved more useful, reaching their targets. Choy's face was bleeding. As Chen's body was hit superficially, he seemed to be alright.
It seemed that he seemed to have won the first round!
After resting for a minute between rounds, the fight went on. The way they fought was the same, but Choy was more fiery in this round. Young Chen seemed to have fear in him, so he drew back. Naturally, he was hit frequently, but the wounds were not as bad as his opponent's. In this case, Choy had taken the lead, yet he received more punches than Chen. This then ended the first match, it was difficult to say which side should be the winner. It seemed they tied.
The second match would be the climax of comparisons. The heroes were Bruce and Chung. At that time, Chung was the assistant teacher in a famous sports club, while Bruce was a child star in Cantonese films. So, this match was very attractive comparison to many.
I gathered the two and the time-keeper and repeated the rules for the second time. Both of the fighters showed me that they were clear. The area of the roof was about 18' X 18' of space.
They agreed to let Chung initiate the attack first. I asked Bruce to stand near the mid-line, then I signaled them to start.
Bruce's stance was a Wing Chun style. His left hand was in the front while his right one was in the rear. His stance slightly inclined to the left. On the other side, Chung's left hand showed a sword-finger, and his right fist was held near his waist. Chung circled around Bruce waiting for a chance to attack. Everyone fell silent. Not a sound was heard. Eventually, Chung took action. With a roar, he turned his fist towards Bruce's lower jaw. Bruce drew back a little, then used his left palm to push away the punch. However, he did not yet make use of the opportunity to fight back. Both then retreated and waited for the second chance.
After a while, Chung used his right fist to attack Bruce's left eye. Seeing this, Bruce took one step backward, then tried to hit Chung's chest with his own right fist. But, his step was a little slower, and his left eye was hit. His face became covered with blood. Chung was hurt too, but the spot was covered by his clothes, making it hard to determine the extent of damage.
Since, Bruce had been hit, he wanted to fight back! He immediately stepped forward and attacked with continuous punches. But, because he was two steps from Chung, his adversary had enough time to step back calmly. Chung was also punching back. Both were being hit, however, Bruce was not calm enough, his punches did not hit decisively. Moreover, his careless attack left open many chances for his opponent to attack, so, his nose and cheek were also hit.
As they were struggling, the time-keeper exclaimed that time was up, the first round was over.
Bruce was hurt, he was perplexed inside.
I went up hurriedly to see Bruce. He asked me at once, "Leung, is my eye swollen?" "Yes," I said, "It's bruised. Your nose is also bleeding, but it's ok." He claimed, "My performance today is bad. If I am hurt too badly, my father will notice it. I think we better take it as a draw and end the match."
"Bruce," I replied, "if you do not continue in the second round, it means you surrender. How can it be a draw? Moreover, you are capable to fight on, and your opponent is wheezing now. If you withdraw, how will you answer to your fellow-learners? You will regret it. As a matter of fact, whether you win or lose is not important, but you must try your best. If you fight on, you will win."
When Bruce heard, "you will win", he was refreshed. Solemnly, he asked me again, "I will win? Leung, are you sure?" I answered him, "Yes, why should I deceive you? When you feel confused, don't care whether your fighting method is correct or not for you are now in a fight, not a performance. When you are half a step from him, you must step up and punch only his face. Do not care whether you have been hit. Try to get close to attack and be calm!"
Bruce was very competitive by nature, it drove him to go on.
Bruce nodded his head to show that he understood my idea. The time-keeper then signaled that the rest period was over, so we started the second round.
Chung was ready to fight, his left hand bent a little and was stretched forward. His fingers were turned into a claw. Chung's right fist was placed beside his left elbow. He stood in a bow stance. In this round, Bruce was calm. He stretched out his left hand too, and his right hand was also placed beside his left elbow. His power was concentrated on his back leg. Bruce waited for his opportunity.
This time Bruce attacked first. Suddenly, he pretended to attack. Chung immediately jumped back a step, yet Bruce did not advance. Instead, he stood still in the same position and smiled. He repeated this action for two or three more times. Chung began to loosen his defense. At last, Bruce was about half a step from Chung. Bruce made a false attack again and Chung took half a step back, at the same time sending out a right punch. Making use of that chance, Bruce swiftly attacked.
His left punch hit heavily on Chung's lower jaw. Bruce then took another step forward and sent out a right punch, which hit Chung's mouth. Blood gushed from Chung's mouth and his teeth were also knocked out!
The two were too close for Chung's punches to function well. Being seriously hurt, Chung fell back. He could not stand properly. Seeing this opportunity, Bruce did not relent. Like a wild beast, he continued to send out heavy punches to Chung's face! Finally, Chung fell beside the water tank on the roof. Chung's friends at once ran forward to stop the match. Some of them complained that I should have stopped the comparison at an earlier time. But, Bruce was very happy, he raised his hands in the air in victory and was very delighted!
After this incident, some people blamed me. As I think back, I really feel that I was not right. I was the judge, I should not have let emotion control me. I also should not have forced Bruce to go on. But, at that time, I was too young. I did not know they would ask me to be the judge. Moreover, I was Bruce's trainer. I taught only Bruce. In fact, I really hoped that Bruce would win. So, when Bruce wanted to withdraw after the first round, I did not permit it. And, I believed if he had withdrawn, he would have felt shame and his history in martial arts may have ended right there.
His victory that day really strengthened his confidence and fighting spirit.
It taught him that one would not naturally become a successful man, one had to fight for it. Usually, a man's success was due to the stimulation of a comment or a reaction to an incident. At that time, Bruce was still young, I did not want to see him being knocked down. I did not want to see him feeling discouraged, so I encouraged him to fight on.
When Master Yip Man was still alive, he said this, "If some day Bruce can achieve anything, it is your labour." Bruce has also said this to me, "You are the person that influenced me most. If on that day, I did not have you to back me up, I think I would not be who I am today. If you ever need my help, I'll try my best to help." When I heard this, I just thanked him. Although, I did not ask anything from him, I still thanked him for his kindness.
Bruce's rooftop affairs brought along many troubles.
The former master of Chen and Choy learned that they had fought against each other, he thought that is was not right. He wanted to look into the matter, making things worse.
To find out the truth, the famous master and several youngsters waited for Bruce outside the school. They had brought along a basket, no one knew what was inside. It may have contained some weapons? According to my speculation, this may have been caused by Bruce's pride.
Seeing that the condition was unfavorable, he gave me a phone call telling me the names of these Kung Fu experts. So, in a hurry, I got to his school to escort him away. Because I knew these people, they still wanted to preserve our friendship and did not come over to cause any trouble. In addition, Bruce's father was also a friend of an elder Sifu (Teacher) of that clan, so they never took any actions at all. I continued to take Bruce home for the next few days, but nothing happened. In this way, the affair came to an end.
In our lives, many unhappy incidents are caused by some very minor things. I think this kind of thing is very bad. Originally, a comparison is not a bad thing. You need it just like you need to experiment with what you learn in a classroom. If they compare in a sincere and friendly way, it is absolutely good to do. A good comparison will give you more understanding about your fighting skills.
It will produce in you a deep impression. It will also make a contribution to Chinese martial arts.
However, many elders are too narrow-minded. They stress too much on winning, so when their pupils lose their fights, they cannot stand it. This results in a struggle between the two sides.
Frankly speaking, two young men will know each other better after a comparison and become good friends. On the other hand, whether one wins or loses is usually determined by the quality of the two fighters and not the quality of their clans. If not, there's no difference between two learners of the same clan. In other words, the winner should not have pride even if he is defeating the expert of that clan; the loser should never give up. The loser of a comparison should discover his weaknesses and develop them. It will help him alot!
If our elders are stubborn, our youngsters will find it difficult to behave. A good thing may become a bad one. It may also give rise to hostile feelings among different clans for long periods of time. This will give our people the wrong impression as to what martial arts is about.
For example, when Wing Chun Gung Fu and Choy Lay Fut Kung Fu have a match, the newspapers will publicize it to attract buyers. The propaganda will fan up the hostile sentiments among the followers of the two clans. Misunderstanding will make it even more difficult to solve the knotty problems between clans and individuals.
Heroes are still human beings when you know them well.
I have seen how Bruce Lee grew from a small boy to a mature man. In my mind, he will never be a superman, I only know that he was a very good friend. He was also a funny man, one whom you could expose your inner feelings to without any fear. You could be very frank with him in pointing out his short-comings. So, what I am now writing about is the Bruce Lee in my own eyes.
I believe that it will be more objective and may provide a clearer picture of the real man.