Sifu Ip Chun’s view on Martial Art in general

Ip Chun Theory葉準武学心得

The PDF above is Sifu Ip Chun’s view on Martial Arts, but in Chinese.  Here below is the direct translation in English:

My name is Sifu John Cheung 張耀明師傅, a Wing Chun Practitioner for nearly 20 years, and recently my Sifu Kwok Cheung張國雲 had asked me to translate a transcript written by Ip Chun 葉準師父(his mentor or my Si-gung). Si-gung = teacher’s teacher.

The content is really difficult to translate because it contains many complex metaphors about the way of  learning Martial Arts – an interpreter need to have the passion in this field, but also understands both the Chinese and Western cultures in order to convey a near exact meaning of its content.

I will do my best.  Here is the script that has been translated into English:

[Si-Gung Ip Chun’s view on Kungfu (Martial Art)]

” Some time ago, I turned over couple of pages of a magazine entitled ‘Chi Energy’ which was published 2 years ago and was written by a Western author and there were 12 large Chinese characters that caught my eyes: easily recognized and very distinguishable. This is 以有法為無法、以有限為無限 – 12 syllables, two sentences that consists very important aspects of any Martial Arts.  The late Sifu Wong Shun Leung (Ip Chun’s Kungfu brother as well as Bruce Lee’s Kungfu brother) also had written the same phrases and presented to Bruce Lee as a form of gift. The author of this particular magazine did not explain the meaning of the two sentences but merely mentioned that they were from Bruce Lee’s book and he regarded that it is the essence of his ‘The way of Intercepting Fist’ art.

Few Years ago, I came across another famous Martial Arts book and it also mentioned the same thing even though the writing was slightly different but the meanings (which I will explain later here) are virtually identical.


The above sentences has many different interpretations: the author of the magazine have been learning as well as teaching martial art for more than half a Century; with his knowledge and insight, had tried to explain the true meaning of the above phrases. In the hope that such explanation can help fellow Martial Artists and those who love Martial Arts (enthusiasts) could share and continue to progress further.


The word ‘techniques’ really refer to hands and feet and how to execute them effectively: i.e. have certain functions to achieve a desired result (pending on combative circumstances): whereas the word ‘forms’ refer to certain routine or pattern of movements for group or solo practices. In that respect, they shared the same basic identical fundamentals of the art. Simply, one for practice and one for application but shared the same values.

In the 70’s Bruce Lee was a guest at a popular family show in Hong Kong called ‘Enjoy Yourself Tonight’ and demonstrated his kungfu skills and he also mentioned the following:

‘Kungfu (martial art) in its application is not restricted by patterns or forms, if water is contained in a circular pot, then its form is circular: and if it is pour into a square container, then the form immediately change to square!’

Recently, a friend asked me about this and said ‘If what Bruce Lee said is true, does that mean if Kungfu really has no forms or pattern to follow, why bother to learn it ? Beside, how do we even begin ‘Jit Kuen Tao (Bruce lee’s art that fundamentally based on this formless notion)’? He clearly misunderstood Bruce Lee’s interpretation or perhaps Bruce Lee had not explained in details during that TV show.

In reality, when learning any Kungfu, an individual has to go through many tasks or stages and the journey is ongoing… You have to start with certain forms or set patterns first as a way to strengthen one’s foundation, then some days you will have the art in you: become formless and no need to rely on any patterns!  This is a mandatory requirement that all martial art practitioners have to endure, each art (be that is Hung ga, Wing Chun, Tai Chi, Judo,boxing, etc) would have their basic foundation or forms that the students need to adhere to.  For example, in Wing Chun – there are Tan 攤, Bong膀, Fook Sau伏. In ‘Choi Li Fut’蔡李佛- there are Kwai掛 (similar to our rolling punch), ‘sour’哨 (similar to our Lan sau) and ‘Chaat’插 (similar to our Biu jee). These examples, though basics, reflect the signiture of the art, if an individual practice them relentlessly (i.e. a third party martial artist can tell whether that individual is a Wing Chun practitioner or a Choi Li Fut one, just by looking at the way they guard themselves in combat/application).

Basic stuffs are most important to all beginners, these basic movements are the legacy from many generations of knowledge and combat experiences: such foundations survived through time to our present day: so it must have values and as a student, you should try to study them in depth.

My father (Ip Man) had said the following:

‘It is a man’s ability to execute kungfu and not the other way round’

The above phrase stressed that the practitioner should execute his/her skills, good techniques and fighting spirit according to ever changing combat situation: in short, be flexible. This flexibility is regarded as ‘formless’ and it is a way forward to excel or surpass one’s own standard and elevate to higher Kungfu level.

‘Limit’ – what does this word really mean? there are many different interpretation that relate to this particular word.

Another word, such as ‘Limitless’ – some people may draw a parallel to time and space, ever expanding; such an explanation is difficult to grasp, not realistic. It may put off people from learning martial arts. In truth, realistically this word has no bearing or does nothing in terms of practicing Kungfu.

‘Limit’ – this word should be interpreted as a series of controls (restrictions): to a complete beginner, initially there will be a lot of restrictions in learning the art. For example, in Wing Chun; both hands must not crossed, pak Sau(slapping hand) normally don’t execute within the inside gate area, hands that are free from contact, do not try to chase and force through, etc…  All these restrictions, the novice should adhere to, regardless.  These restrictions originated by past knowledge and combat experiences that survived through many generation (i.e. time) and if a novice do not follow them, he or she is likely to get injured. However, if you impose so many restrictions to an art, the novice/student can be forever learning within the confined space of these rules: as a result the art is restricted and cannot leap out of its boundary to the possibility of limitless application.

It is for this reason, that after certain amount of learning, the novice or by now the Practitioner should open up the restriction rule one by one and eventually achieve a deeper understand of Wing Chun (or any art).

****  In order to remove a restriction, the practitioner need to understand why a restriction was imposed in the first place? (i.e. what is its purpose?). Once he or she understood its purpose, then the practitioner will need to think of a way to replace or avoid them. ***

[In Chinese Martial Art – hand generally mean the whole arm or hand, it has no specific descriptive part until another word is added in front, usually a verb (e.g. guarding hand or Wu Sau – refer the use of the whole arm as well as the hand)].

For example:  restriction rule – ‘No crosses of hands’  Why not ? Well, when both hands are crossed, the bottom one is trapped by its own other hand and this provide a great opportunity for the assailant to trap both of your arms easily; hence a novice must obey this rule. However, if your turning stance is fast and sensitive(i.e. a seasoned Wing Chun practitioner), you can counteract your assailant’s move even if both of your hands are crossed(i.e. tide up). Can I cross my hands? For the seasoned practitioner, the crossing of hands or the rule is no longer an issue. So, if your reaction to touch is good, turning is fast, then crossing of hands will no longer be a restriction to you and may even turn into a great opportunity for counter action. In short, you have open up, no more restriction and got yourself to another level.

Any other restrictions works on the same principles, understand its purpose (strength and weakness), then able to find ways to eliminate or reinforce them, then to you they are no longer a limitation but an Assets.

In Chinese Martial Arts, most ‘restriction’ rules are recorded in Rhyme or metaphors or poems or phrases (sound like a formula) that has been passed down the ages. Almost all the kungfu practitioners regard these restrictions are set in stone – i.e. unchangeable.

Si-jo Ip man,when teaching kungfu (in his case Wing Chun) really disliked people using rhymes and formula: reason being that in his view, Kungfu’s formula should be subject to change and not like other formula that remained unchanged through time: e.g.  the normal times table is unchangeable.

Kungfu or martial arts does evolve through time, learning it require time and effort and later on, all ‘restrictions’ need to be lifted and digested. If a novice stubbornly follow each restriction and treated like as if it is a times table and believed it could take him or her to a higher level: then he or she is very much mistaken. If the novice chose this path, then in future it is very difficult to lift those restrictions.


‘ From something to nothing’, the phrase refer to a journey of learning Martial Art. This is a metaphor, DO NOT take it in literally. It means that there is a beginning and there is a need to understand the foundation principles which are valuable to all students (i.e. From something).

To ‘have’ nothing, means in this context – a practitioner would have reach a stage that he or she has some kind of martial art skills but unable to progress further (i.e. reached a plateau) and can not get free of such ‘restriction’. In order to excel, the practitioner should find ways to let go or feel with the art in depth (i.e. digest, research, knowledge, be calm, etc) and at this stage the Chinese Martial Art community refer this state of the mind as well physical skills as ‘nothing’. A term, loosely described the practitioner has a full detail knowledge of the art, the calmness in dealing with stress and able to execute excellent skills at a moment notice wherever and whenever he or she is.

When a practitioner reach this level of standard, then further progress is limitless! ”


By Ip Chun (Eldest son of Sifu Yip Man).


Please note that the above article did not includes any date, probably was written some years ago and Si-gung most likely could not remember the exact date. However, the date is not that important, though the content is!