Here we print an excerpt from Ken Ing’s Wing Chun Warrior — the biography of Duncan Leung, a kung fu master who studied under the famous Yip Man. Scroll to the end for cartoons which illustrate the story!
Bruce Lee and I Beaten
Hong Kong, 1958
Subdue the dragon, tame the tiger — Journey to the West
Wu Cheng-en was an author of the Ming Dynasty who wrote Journey to the West, one of the four classical Chinese novels. In Buddhist mythology, there were two Buddhist arhats ( luo han – an eminent monk who has achieved enlightenment), one of whom subdued a dragon with incantations and the other who tamed a tiger with an abbot’s staff. The saying ‘Subdue the dragon and tame the tiger’ is often used to describe the ability of an individual to overcome powerful adversaries. In China, the tiger is considered the king of the animal kingdom, and the Chinese character for tiger is invariably associated with brave generals and warriors.
It may be hard to believe, but one day Bruce Lee and Duncan Leung were beaten one after the other on the same day by a seasoned pugilist. It did happen. It was when they were young and inexperienced – as the Chinese would say, when they did not know the height of heaven or the thickness of the earth (不知天高地厚). The following episode is a revelation of how two Wing Chun greats, the dragon and the tiger, were defeated by a Cai Li Fo (蔡李佛) master when they were both young and inexperienced, and how the tiger took his revenge when he returned two weeks later.
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After taking private lessons with Sifu for over two years, I thought I was pretty good. And indeed I was, although maybe not as good as I believed. Fellow students and I roamed the streets, looking for opportunities to fight. We had become bored simply because fighting against people who didn’t know much Kung Fu no longer had any appeal. We needed greater challenges.
We became bold and began venturing into Kung Fu studios to test our Wing Chun against different Kung Fu styles. Our ruse was simple. Still in our uniforms after school, we would go into a studio and ask to see the head instructor. Eager to recruit new students and anxious to impress, the unsuspecting instructor would glorify the effectiveness of his style and usually exaggerate his own expertise. He could not wait to demonstrate what he could do.
We’d pretend to be interested and say something like: “The forms look good, but I’ve heard about this Wing Chun. I wonder if yours is any good against that.” The instructor would invariably reply: “Of course. What is Wing Chun any way? Let me show you.” Thereby he fell into our trap, and a free fight ensued.
Sometimes we would just enroll in the school, pay the initial fee, and start learning. Usually it was the elder Kung Fu brothers who initiated us. After a couple of lessons we would question the effectiveness of the style and his expertise. And then a fight would follow.
We were never sure of the outcome. Some instructors were humbled for daring to pit their knowledge and expertise against ours. But we had our fair share of defeats. Our overblown confidence, arrogance, and contempt did not go unpunished. Against elder brothers we rarely lost. But, one time, Bruce Lee and I wandered into a studio and were given a lesson we would never forget.
At our school there were a couple of Eurasian brothers – twins actually – who were learning Cai Li Fo (Choy Li Fut in Cantonese). They were not good enough to give Bruce or me meaningful resistance, but they dared us to go to the studio to meet their Sifu, and we were more than happy to accept that invitation.
Bruce, another schoolmate named Caesar, and a couple more of us went to the studio. Their Sifu was in his forties and about my height and size, confident-looking and very polite. He asked who would like to try first. Self-confident and proud of himself, Bruce stepped forward.
Cai Li Fo, like Wing Chun, also comes from Foshan, the capital of Kung Fu. It is an established style, known for swinging fully extended arms and legs. Wing Chun attacks and defends along and from the centerline, while Cai Li Fo attacks from the sides and deliberately exposes the front to attack.
Unfamiliar with the intricacies of his opponent’s style, Bruce charged forward, throwing chain punches to the exposed chest. The seasoned instructor just took one step backward, easily avoiding the punches. Before Bruce’s right punch could reach his chest, the Sifu leaned slightly backward on his left foot, struck Bruce’s right for