Wong Shun Leung
Wong Shun Leung (1936-1997)
Wong Shun Leung in London at "The Basement" with Sifu Nino Bernardo in 1986
(1st Photo Wong Shun Leung in Australia with Sifu David Peterson)
Sifu Wong Shun Leung was better known as Gong Sau Wong (king of talking with the hands). Throughout the 50s and 60s he was undefeated in all of his challenges.
A young Wong Shun Leung first learnt boxing but was then introduced to Yip Man's Wing Chun school as a prospective student. His awesome reputation began at a time when challenges were held on the roof tops of buildings.
The reputation of Wong Shun Leung's skills were incomparable, but Yip Man was concerned that Wong would give a bad name to his Kwoon by challenging other Kung Fu schools.
There were no tournament fights as conducted in the west, with rules and protective equipment. Instead, there were full contact fights between representatives of various schools in Hong Kong. Wong Shun Leung was said to have "let his hands do the talking" by winning all the challenges.
In one such match, arranged by a reporter working for the newspaper of the day, Wong Shun Leung was set to fight a giant Russian boxer named Giko who weighed approximately 18-19 stone and towered over Wong by over 12 inches (Wong weighed in at around 9½ stone and 5foot 6inches). The outcome was Wong Shun Leung defeating the giant Russian with just three punches!
After the match the reporter asked Wong Shun Leung if he was the "best fighter in the world?" Wong replied simply, "No ... I am the second best." The reporter's response was, "then who is?" and Wong replied, "I have not met him yet."
Despite his awesome reputation as a fighter, Wong Shun Leung was not a violent man yet he revelled in the chance to test his skills and the effectiveness of Yip Man's art. He used to say that he did not learn Wing Chun just to go out and fight, instead "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."
With the approval of Yip Man, Wong Shun Leung begun teaching Wing Chun from his home as well as helping his teacher, Yip Man, conduct lessons at the Kwoon.
Although Bruce Lee started off learning Wing Chun at Yip Man's school, he also studied with Wong at his home, upon where the student / teacher relationship began. Bruce Lee as a young student was often cheeky and on more than one occasion after Bruce had finished training sessions at Yip Man's Kwoon, he'd rush to Wong's house in order to arrive before his "Si-Hing and Si-Dei" (elder and younger Kung Fu brothers) and so as to get Wong's full attention, he would say to the other students who'd turn up that Wong Shun Leung was tired and unable to do the lessons on that day. To make sure he was not caught out he would go to the extremity of walking the other students to their bus stops! Eventually Wong became aware of this and gave to his young disciple a realistic lesson (with black eyes, split lip and bloody nose).
For the next several years, apart from the occasional visit from Bruce Lee to Hong Kong for filming or family visits, his relationship with Wong Shun Leung continued through written correspondence. Wong Shun Leung carried a letter from Bruce Lee in his wallet saying that, "Even though I am technically a student of Yip Man, in reality I learnt my Kung Fu from you".
Over the years Wong Shun Leung's success was related to teaching Bruce Lee, but according to what Wong Shun Leung said "Bruce was nothing special in his class," so it is unfair for Wong Shun Leung to be remembered only as Bruce Lee's teacher.
Around 1967, a young Nino Bernardo, at the age of 20, begun his Wing Chun training under the guidance of Wong Shun Leung in Hong Kong. Nino Bernardo was informed about Wong Shun Leung through a Chinese monk in a monastery whilst searching for a good Wing Chun teacher. Nino completed the entire system of Wing Chun in Hong Kong and developed a very close relationship with his teacher.
In the 1980's Nino Bernardo opened his Kwoon, The Basement (situated in London), and became the main representative of Wong Shun Leung in Europe.
On January 12th 1997 whilst myself, Lucas Castrounis, founder and teacher of the Reading Academy of Wing Chun & Kali, was training at the Basement, Nino received a phone call from Hong Kong telling him that Wong Shun Leung had suffered a massive stroke and had subsequently fallen into a coma. Sixteen days later, on the 28th of January 1997, the Legend Wong Shun Leung passed away.
Wing Chun has gained a lot from Wong Shun Leung and his legacy continues today through his existing students all around the world. Wong Shun Leung has taken Wing Chun to a different level and was an extraordinary person and teacher.