A brief history of Yuen Kay Shan Wing Chun Kuen

by Rene Ritchie

Many of the early masters of Wing Chun Kuen were Guangdongese opera performers and Hung Suen (Red Junk) men. Among them were Wong Wah Bo, Leung Yee Tei, and “Dai Fa Min” Kam. Wong Wah Bo and Leung Yee Tei went on to teach the highly skilled Dr. Leung Jan (known as “King of the Boxers”), and “Dai Fa Min” Kam passed along his knowledge to a man named Fok Bo Chuen.

At the turn of the century in Foshan, Guangdong, there lived a wealthy merchant named Yuen Chung Ming. Yuen Chung Ming’s fifth son, Yuen Kay Shan, was an energetic and intelligent youth who lovedyuen-kay-san-3 practicing the martial arts. Yuen Chung Ming, sparing no expense in order to provide his son with an opportunity to nurture his talent, engaged Fok Bo Chuen to teach Yuen Kay Shan the skills of Wing Chun Kuen. Yuen Kay Shan studied for many years and learned all Fok Bo Chuen had to teach including the Kuen (Fist Forms), the Jong (Dummies), the Gwun (Pole), the Dao (Knives), and the Biu (Darts). He also succeeded in developing the Dit Sa Cheung (Iron Sand Palm). Through constant hard work and determination, Yuen Kay Shan eventually went on to surpass even his teacher in skill.

A relative of Yuen Kay Shan had, at one time, been in a position of considerable power in Sichuan province. One day, having reason to pay his relative a courtesy call, Yuen Kay Shan was introduced to the famous Bo Tao (marshal), Fung Siu Ching, who was renowned for his remarkable Wing Chun Kuen skills. Fung Siu Ching was quite old at the time and was in the process of ending his career, yet Yuen Kay Shan approached him, seeking additional instruction. Fung Siu Ching, noting Yuen Kay Shan’s sincere interest, decided to delay his retirement and to accept Yuen Kay Shan as his student. After a short time, however, it became apparent to Fung Siu Ching that Yuen Kay Shan’s foundation was solid and that his skills were already quite advanced. He realized that there was, in truth, little he could do to improve upon them. Nevertheless, the two practiced Chi Sao (Sticking Arms) together and Fung Siu Ching taught Yuen Kay Shan new methods for expressing power.

Following Fung Siu Ching’s tutelage, Yuen Kay Shan spent time studying the scientific principles of Wing Chun Kuen. Blending together and linking all the knowledge he had acquired, he developed a complete understanding of Wing Chun Kuen and went on to create an extraordinary set of theories encompassing its forms and functions.

While Yuen Kay Shan was quite well known in Foshan, he kept his knowledge of Wing Chun Kuen as private as possible. He used his skills only to defend himself and for practice. In fact, since Yuen Kay Shan was fairly wealthy, he did little with his time but practice his Wing Chun Kuen. Content, he neither sought out nor accepted any students for most of his life. Yuen Kay Shan would, however, from time to time drop by a local restaurant to take tea. At the restaurant worked a man named Cheung Bo who taught Wing Chun Kuen to a small group of fellow staff members. Cheung Bo was a large and powerful man and his Wing Chun Kuen was quite unique in structure. Chueng Bo found it difficult to keep his elbows closed (as was the method of many other Wing Chun Kuen practitioners) and instead used open arms, compensating for them with rapid and powerful stance changes. Furthermore, Cheung Bo’s Wing Chun Kuen was based on a number of short, ordered Sic (Forms) and not the more commonly practiced Three Fist Forms.

One of Cheung Bo’s students at the time was a hard working young boy named Sum Nung, whose family had recently returned to China from South America. Yuen Kay Shan, after dining at the restaurant, would sometimes remain behind and watch the staff practice their Wing Chun Kuen. While observing, he would stay quiet and never comment or criticize, but over time he grew to admire the dedication of the young boy and eventually asked Cheung Bo if he could take over Sum Nung’s instruction. Cheung Bo, knowing and respecting the quality of Yuen Kay Shan’s Wing Chun Kuen, happily agreed and soon introduced Sum Nung to Yuen Kay Shan. Sum Nung was hesitant at first, as the elderly and slender Yuen Kay Shan was a stark contrast to the young and powerful Cheung Bo. Soon, however, Sum Nung became his student and eventually his treasured disciple.

Over the years, Yuen Kay Shan and Sum Nung spent much time together, constantly practicing Wing Chun Kuen and contemplating and exploring its theories and techniques. Under Yuen Kay Shan’s guidance, Sum Nung continued to refine and polish his Wing Chun Kuen, developing an intelligent and practical synthesis, as simple and efficient as it was well-rounded and effective. With Yuen Kay Shan’s passing, shortly after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, Sum Nung named the style Yuen Kay Shan Wing Chun Kuen, in honor and memory of his teacher.

Sum Nung went on to train as a muscle and bone doctor and eventually moved to the city of Guangzhou, introducing Wing Chun Kuen and the teachings of Yuen Kay Shan to the region. In Guangzhou Dr. Sum Nung taught Yuen Kay Shan Wing Chun Kuen privately, not wanting to attract too much attention. Among his students was a man named Ngo Lui Kay (Ao Lei Qi in the Beijing dialect). Although born in Hong Kong, Ngo Lui Kay went to university near Beijing to study communications and, after travelling China and Korea as a both a teacher and an engineer, he settled down in Guangzhou. Ngo Lui Kay was drawn to Wing Chun Kuen by its practicality and its usefulness and in the mid 1960s he began training under Dr. Sum Nung. Ngo Lui Kay followed Dr. Sum Nung and practiced constantly for more than a decade and a half, devoting himself to the development of his Yuen Kay Shan Wing Chun Kuen skills.

In the early 1980’s, with the help of his uncle, Ngo Lui Kay moved his family to Canada. For a long time in Canada, Ngo Lui Kay kept his knowledge of Yuen Kay Shan Wing Chun Kuen very quiet and accepted no students, preferring to invest his time in his business, working hard and trying to secure a future for his family. Thankfully, in 1990 when his business grew more solid and he had some time to spare, he started to teach a small and tightly knit group of formal students. In honor of, and respect for his ancestors, Ngo Lui Kay is determined to share his knowledge and to help preserve the art of Yuen Kay Shan Wing Chun Kuen.

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