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The Twelve Forms of Cheung Bo


by René Ritchie
Originally written 1994 – Updated 1998
The man stood, threatening, before the young boy, holding his knives tightly. They were large blades, the kind employed to chop watermelons, and the man was obviously skilled in their use. In an instant he attacked, swinging the knives savagely. The boy, in grave danger, did his best to avoid the blades’ sharpened edges. The stinging in his arms and wet trickle of blood told him he was not entirely successful. When his chance came, however, he struck back with lightning speed and thunderous power, using all the skills he had acquired in his short time of Wing Chun training. The man’s watermelon choppers were sent flying by the skilled attack, spinning through the air, and forcing the gathered onlookers, including the boy’s teacher, Cheung Bo, to scatter for safety. When it was over, Cheung Bo approached the young boy, Sum Nung, congratulating him on his success.

The Sup yee sik (twelve forms), sometimes referred to as the sup yee san sao (twelve separate techniques), descend from the Wing Chun teachings of Cheung Bo and were integrated into the Yuen Kay-San system by Grandmaster Sum Nung.


Dr. Sum Nung was born in South America in 1926 but returned to China with his family as an infant. Settling in Foshan, Sum Nung took a job at Tien Hoi restaurant in order to help support his family during the tough times preceding World War II. Sum Nung had always been interested in the martial arts and in the late 1930s began training in Wing Chun under Cheung Bo.

Cheung Bo was a large and powerful man with a great fighting reputation. His Wing Chun did not make use of any forms, but consisted solely of twelve separate techniques. The exact origin of Cheung Bo’s style remains unknown. Some have speculated that he learned from Nationalist army doctor Wai Yuk-Sang (rumored to have been a student of Fung Siu-Ching’s disciple, Au Si). Others have suggested that, due to their great similarities, the style shares ancestory with the Wing Chun passed down by Leung Jan in Gulao village (sometimes referred to as pien san, or side body Wing Chun) following his retirement.

In terms of structure, Cheung Bo’s size made it difficult for him to keep his elbows closed on the central meridian (a major consideration in Yuen Kay-San and some other Wing Chun branches). Thus, Cheung used wider arms and compensated with quick and powerful side body stance changes. Although the style was simple, it built in Sum Nung a very solid foundation.

Cheung Bo saw great potential in the young boy and so after a couple of years he arranged for Sum Nung to continue his studies under his good friend Yuen Kay-San. Yuen Kay-San was a highly skilled master who had learned Wing Chun first from Foshan Imperial marshal Fok Bo-Chuen (a student of Red Junk Opera performers Wong Wah-Bo and Painted Face Kam) and later under the famed marshal Fung Siu-Ching (a disciple of Painted Face Kam).

In the late 1940s, Sum Nung moved from Foshan to the nearby city of Guangzhou where he practiced medicine and taught Wing Chun Kuen. When teaching in Guangzhou, Dr. Sum Nung used some of the techniques as early training for his students, developing in them a powerful foundation. The remaining forms came later, serving as complementary exercises. Although the methods of Yuen Kay-San refined the sup yee sik to a great extent, a few still retain their characteristic wide detaining arms and defensive shifts, while some seem to possess hybrid qualities of both approaches.

Dr. Sum Nung also integrated some of the movements from the sup yee sik into the beginning sections of the Yuen Kay-San wooden dummy form.

The Twelve Forms

Compact in structure, yet containing many of the elements essential to a good Wing Chun foundation, the sup yee sik are ideal for early training. They can be loosely grouped into three broad categories. The first four focus on building body structure through basic punching, stance and step drills. The next four work fundamental arm cycles, firmly ingraining the cardinal tools for interception. The last four include sensitivity training and combination techniques that help bring the art to life.

Although perhaps not as detailed as the techniques of Yuen Kay-San Wing Chun proper, these same attributes make them quite valuable as a sort of crash-course in Wing Chun self-defense. For those who require simple skill, yet do not have the time or desire to delve more deeply into the art of Wing Chun, the sup yee sik can serve as great starting point.

  1. Jee ng choi (meridian punch) trains the fundamental yee jee kim yeung ma (trapezoid shaped groin clamping stance) and introduces the primary chung choi (thrusting punch) of the style, which pounds explosively along the central meridian. Its extensions include the concussive lien wan choi (linked chain punches) and the sam sing choi  (three star punches).
  2. Pien choi (side punch), also known as pien san choi (side body punch) adds pien ma (side stance) turning to the thrusting punch, and works on developing the connected power of the body. Its extensions include the kwai dei pien choi (kneeling side punch).
  3. Duk lung choi (single dragon punch) combines elements of the previous forms, training them in a complementary manner. It alternates a side projecting punch from the front stance and a front projecting punch from the side stance. It also integrates the linked chain punch and introduces the fundamental bong sao (wing arm) movement.
  4. Jin choi (arrow punch) adds basic linear jin ma (arrow stepping) and side stepping to the striking work begun in the meridian punch and the turning work of the side punch and single dragon punch. This completes the training of the first group of separate techniques.
  5. Sam pan jeung (triangle palms) drills a simple set of tan sao (dispersing arm), chang jeung (supporting palm), gang sao (crossing arm) movements that cover basic interception inside, outside, and downward. This set is usually matched in application with a partner performing three punches.
  6. Loi lim yum yeung jeung (inside/outside yin & yang palms), also known as tan fook sao (dispersing & controlling arms), weaves two of the primary Wing Chun intercepting tools into a short but densely packed set.
  7. Noi dap (inside join) also sometimes referred to as noi lim sao (inside sickle arm), the first of two related sets, cycles a basic interior controlling arm movement with the outside circling arm. Its extensions include the noi lop (inside grasp).
  8. Ngoi dap (outside join), also sometimes referred to as ngoi lim sao (outside sickle arm), the complement of the inside join, combines a basic exterior controlling arm movement with the inside circling arm. The ngoi lop (outside grasp) is an extension of the outside join.
  9. Kao dap sao (detaining joining arm) utilizes a Cheung Bo style wide detaining arm along with a vertically dominating kwa choi (hanging punch) and suffocating structure. This form can also be extended into the kao lop sao (detaining & grasping arm)
  10. Po yik jeung (flapping wing palms) combines turning power with horizontal palm attacks to strike or uproot an opponent. It trained in a variety of manners, both inside and outside, and while stationary or in conjunction with yee ma (moving stance).
  11. Na dan kiu (sticking single bridge) cycles a chum kiu (sinking bridge) technique with a punch in a set designed to train the dissolving of heavy force. Note: Some include the Seung Huen Sao (Double Circling Arms) in this position instead.
  12. Bak hok kum wu (white crane seizes the fox) uses chasing steps to maintain control of an opponent and saat kiu (killing bridge) and gok ma (angle stance) like scissors to cut them down.

The twelve forms are drilled in the air or on the muk yan jong (wooden dummy) to refine positioning, alignment, and power. They must also be trained with a partner, while standing, turning, and stepping, in both bridging and sticking to develop their skills. As with all Wing Chun Kuen, the key is to understanding the underlying concepts behind the techniques and how they are combined spontaneously in application.


Over the years, teaching only those he felt were upright and trustworthy, grandmaster Sum Nung went on to train many outstanding students. Due to his tireless efforts, and those of his students and descendants, Yuen Kay-San Wing Chun Kuen has gained a great reputation in China and has spread to Hong Kong, South East Asia, the United States, Canada, South America, Australia, and around the world.

Among those fortunate enough to learn from grandmaster Sum Nung is a man named Ngo Lui-Kay (Ao Leiqi in the Mandarin dialect) who followed him from the mid 1960s until he relocated to Canada in 1982. As the twelve forms were passed from Cheung Bo to Dr. Sum Nung, and from Dr. Sum Nung to Ngo Lui-Kay and his many classmates (with apologies, far to many to list here), so has Ngo Lui-Kay employed them to train his own students. It is hoped that by introducing these techniques in the west, it will help to preserve the rare and unique style of Yuen Kay-San Wing Chun Kuen, and the teachings of grandmaster Sum Nung for future generations.


Wing Chun Master Sum Nung: Strong Inch Power and Iron Arms

During the last New Year’s festival an America knocked on a door in Guangzhou in order to give a gift to the owner of the dwelling. The gift was a picture of the U.S. President and his wife. The man who brought the gift came across the Pacific Ocean to do so. He was a body guard for the American President, and had come all this way to visit the famous Wing Chun teacher, Sum Nung. The man was named Henderson, and had followed a student of Sum Nung’s named Kwok Wan-Ping to learn Wing Chun Kuen. Sum Nung is famous in China, but how did he come to be so? This must be told from the beginning.

As a child, Sum Nung journeyed with his relatives from South America to Guangdong, China. Japan soon invaded, however, and cut China’s communication with the rest of the world. Over night, Sum Nung’s family went from a life of prosperity to one of poverty. At a young age, Sum Nung was introduced to the Tin Hoi restaurant in Foshan where he soon began working.

Sum Nung was a nice youth, but there were many bad people around. Time after time he was bullied and he desired to fight back. He thought he would have to make himself stronger, so he went out to the streets and watched the martial arts demonstrations. When he returned home, he tried to reproduce what he had seen. For conditioning, he tried to obtain the “Copper Skin Iron Bones” skill by striking himself repeatedly with a brick. His efforts did not lead to any great martial success, and ended up consuming his money to pay for the “Iron Hitting” medicine.

At the restaurant there was a Dim Sum chef named Cheung Bo, who was a famous Wing Chun teacher. Cheung Bo thought perhaps Sum Nung was dedicated enough to last a persevere and achieve good quality martial skills, so he took him on as a student. Sum Nung had a natural talent, understood the lessons quickly, and worked very hard, managing in 2 or 3 years to learn all Cheung Bo had to teach.

Cheung Bo thought Sum Nung had great potential and attain great things in martial arts, but he knew he had no more to teach. Cheung Bo decided to introduced Sum Nung to Yuen Kay-San, hoping Yuen could help Sum reach a higher level.

Yuen Kay-San was famous in Foshan, a wealthy merchant and lawyer for the county government. He was also a “center gate master” of Wing Chun and knew its principles at a very high level. Sum Nung, however, saw him as old and thin, and doubted that he could be any good. Yuen Kay-San saw that Sum Nung’s desire was great and thought perhaps that he could inherit his martial arts, so he decided to give the youth a lesson in his skills. Yuen Kay-San invited Sum Nung to use all he had learned to test him. Sum Nung took up the challenge and tried all his skills, attacking repeatedly, but each time, after only 1 or 2 movements, Yuen Kay-San would cut him off and leave him unable to continue. He then came to realize that Yuen Kay-San was very high quality.

Sum Nung followed Yuen Kay-San until Yuen passed away. Sum Nung will always remember his teacher, Yuen Kay-San. Yuen Kay-San liked Sum Nung and taught him the fists, dummies, pole, knives, flying darts, and medicine (which Sum Nung has previously been learning from Nationalist army doctor Wai Yuk-San). Sum Nung’s whole life became Wing Chun and medicine, When he soled Dim Sum, he would think of only Wing Chun and medicine and because of this, he often mixed up orders and the owner eventually fired him. Sum Nung was just over 20 at the time and he went to Guangzhou where he worked at some local Workers Unions, teaching some Wing Chun Kuen and practicing medicine until the Communists took over.

Since then, Sum Nung’s students have spread across China and around the world. Many professional fighters and wrestlers have come to him for lessons. Yuen Kay-San Wing Chun Kuen schools have been opened in New York, Washington, Australia, Canada, Columbia, Hong Kong, Macao, Venezuela, etc.by Sum Nung’s students, grand-students, and descendants.

Sum Nung retired from osteopathy and is now in his early 60s, but still looks like a man of 40. His “Inch Power” is very strong and he is known by the nick-name “Iron Arm”. He serves as an honorary advisor for the Guangdong Wushu Committee. If he were not so modest and did not refuse many interview requests, newspaper journalists have said that he would have been written about far more often.

This writer has a special relationship with Sum Nung and over the course of a year managed to get this story.

By Yuen Jo-Tong. Roughly translated from Chinese.


Sum Nung: Master of Wing Chun

Renowned for over a half-century in China, grandmaster Sum Nung (Cen Neng) has remained a well kept secret to most in the wing chun kuen family outside of the Bamboo Curtain. It is hoped that this article can help share with the reader grandmaster Sum Nung’s incredible legacy and his great contributions to the art of wing chun kuen.

Born in Peru, South America in May 1925, Sum Nung was brought to Foshan, Guangdong province, China by his father as a child so that their family name would continue in their native land. Originally from a well to do family, the Japanese occupation of the 1930s caused great hardship for the Sum’s, stripping them of much of their wealth and cutting them off from their relatives abroad. Eventually, to help support his family, Sum Nung took a job at Tin Hoi, a local restaurant in which his aunt was part owner. That is where it all began.

Due to his background, Sum Nung became a favored target for bullies. In order to defend himself, he developed an interest in martial arts. At first he tried to learn on his own by watching street performers, imitating their movements and conditioning methods. In 1938, however, when he was involved in a particularly violent encounter, his aunt asked the restaurant’s dim sum chef, Cheung Bo to take over Sum’s instruction.

Great Grandmaster Cheung Bo

Cheung Bo was born in April, 1899. He studied Hung ga kuen (reportedly from a monk) until an encounter with a wing chun kuen practitioner named Wai Yuk-Sang convinced him to switch over. Wai Yuk-Sang, a doctor with the Nationalist Army, was said to have been a grand-student of the famed Guangzhou marshal Fung Siu-Ching (a disciple of Red Junk Opera performer Painted Face Kam) who taught both medicine and martial arts in his spare time.

Cheung Bo had a fearsome reputation as a fighter. He taught wing chun kuen at the restaurant, at the Koi Yee Union, and from his home. In contrast to the types of wing chun kuen more widely seen today, Cheung Bo’s system did not make use of any boxing sets (kuen to, such as the siu lien tao or little first training). Instead, it was composed of separate forms (san sik), as well as a wooden dummy (muk yan jong) set, double-ended pole (seung tao gwun), and double knives (seung do).

Due to Cheung Bo’s large size and muscular frame, his wing chun kuen also differed in approach. Rather than keep his elbows closed on the meridian line (jee ng sin, an important point in the practice of other wing chun kuen boxers of the time), he used wider arms and compensated with quick and powerful facing and flanking methods.

Cheung Bo’s teaching methods were demanding and many found they could not last a long time under his tutelage but, seeing a great deal of determination in Sum Nung, Cheung knew he could give him a very solid foundation.

During workdays, Sum Nung would take every spare moment he could to practice, training his punches whenever his hands were free of the dim sum trays, and his forms whenever he found himself alone for a moment in the washroom. Even when he rested he would do so in a position that helped him stretch and better attain the demanding wing chun kuen postures. At night he would stay up past midnight to practice and wake up at dawn to continue.

Sum Nung’s dedication paid off and after a few years he learned all Cheung Bo had to teach.

More than just theory and training, even early on Sum Nung was forced to test his skills in real application. On one occasion, while he was carrying a heavily laden tray, Sum was attacked by a knife-wielding co-worker. Thinking quickly, Sum used the tray to block the attack and simultaneously kicked his opponent, sending the attacker flying across the kitchen.

On another occasion, Sum Nung was accosted by a man wielding double choppers–the large knives used to cut watermelons. While Cheung sat at a table a short distance away, Sum was forced to defend himself empty handed. As the deadly blades whipped by, Sum tried to protect himself as much as he could but received several nasty cuts along his arms. Luckily, he managed to find an opening and countered with lightning speed. Sum’s skillful response sent the man’s knives tumbling through the air, with one of the blades landing, point first, into the table in front of Cheung Bo.

Great Grandmaster Yuen Kay-San

Among Cheung Bo’s good friends at the time was Yuen Kay-San, the fifth son of the Zhenbei street fireworks merchant who was often referred to simply as Yuen the fifth (Yuen Lojia), who would often drop by to take tea at the restaurant.

Yuen Kay-San was born in 1889 and at a young age, his father arranged for him and his elder brother, Yuen Chai-Wan to study under the Foshan constable Fok Bo-Chuen (a disciple of Red Junk Opera martial lead actor Wong Wah-Bo and Painted Face Kam). From Fok, they learned the fist forms siu lien tao, chum kiu, (sinking bridge), and biu jee (darting fingers), as well as the wooden and bamboo dummy (juk jong), six-and-a-half point pole (luk dim boon gwun), and the double clamping yang slaying knives (yee jee kim yeung dit ming do), iron sand palm (tiet sa jeung) and other skills. When they had completed their lessons under Fok, the Yuen brothers invited Fung Siu-Ching, then just over seventy years of age, to retire at their home and followed him to learn close body (mai san) methods and advanced application until the old martial passed away at the age of seventy-three. Following Fung’s passing, the Yuen brothers went their separate ways. In roughly 1936, Yuen Chai-Wan moved to Vietnam while Yuen Kay-San stayed in Foshan and spent his time systematically analyzing his wing chun kuen, going on to became one of the first to organize and record its principles.

When Yuen Kay-San visited the restaurant, he often got a chance to see Cheung Bo’s students practicing and over time, came to admire the work ethic of Sum Nung. Eventually, seeing his friend’s interest and knowing he had already imparted as much as he could, Cheung Bo arranged for Sum Nung to continue his training under Yuen Kay-San.

Sum Nung was hesitant at first. He had been learning from Cheung Bo for a few years and saw Yuen Kay-San, older and thinner, as a stark contrast to his powerful looking teacher. This feeling led him to question Yuen’s skills. Yuen, however, seeing in Sum Nung a great desire and potential, was willing to indulge the youth. Promising that the youth could use all that he knew, and vowing only to defend in return, Yuen Kay-San invited Sum Nung to touch hands with him.

Sum Nung, his curiosity piqued, took up Yuen’s challenge. Sum attacked with all his vigor and the full range of his skills, but each time Yuen Kay-San calmly intercepted his techniques and after only one or two movements left Sum off balance, out of position, and unable to continue. Realizing that Yuen’s skills were of the highest level, Sum quickly became his student.

Fighting Spirit

Yuen Kay-San wanted to ensure he gave Sum Nung as encompassing an education as possible. In addition to one-on-one and group fighting, Chinese medicine, Chinese literature, and other pursuits, Yuen sought to give Sum confidence and a fighting spirit. Towards this end, he set up some public demonstrations for Sum and also some friendly tests of skill.

The first such test Sum Nung faced was against a famed local practitioner of one of Southern China’s “long bridge and big horse” (cheung kiu dai ma) systems. A stark contrast to wing chun kuen, Yuen felt it an important step in Sum’s training. The encounter was set to take place on a local rooftop. When the fight began, and the powerful roundhouse of his opponent came hurtling towards him, Sum Nung stood his ground, dissolved the attack, and promptly swept his adversary, knocking him into the roof-top’s railing wall and sending a few dislodged bricks clattering down to the street below. This led Sum Nung to realize that wing chun kuen was useful against a broad spectrum of other arts.

To further this idea, Yuen Kay-San next set Sum Nung up to face a well-known local wrestler. This opponent proved wilier and instead of attacking directly, he sought to fake out Sum Nung with feints. When their bridges finally touched, Sum was initially in a disadvantageous position and his opponent moved quickly to tackle him. Sum’s reflexes took over, however, and he cleared the wrestler’s grappling attempt and at the same time struck the man in the flank, sending him to the ground.

Sum Nung also had the chance to gain experience through touching hands with friends and peers. One man, much bigger and stronger, tried to use brute force to reach his flank but Sum changed quickly, gaining the advantage, and letting him fall to the floor. On another occasion, when a man told him he didn’t believe wing chun should contain any throwing movements, Sum made use of the wrapping arm from the chum kiu set to flip the man up and over onto his head. Yet a third time, on the restaurant rooftop where he worked, a man tried to use of a hard slapping movement to shock Sum’s forearm, but Sum reacted instantly by going with the force and leaking around it.

These and other encounters, in addition to making Sum Nung very grateful for having the fortune of studying under Yuen Kay-San, helped cement concept and application, forging him into a well-rounded, effective, and experienced martial artist.

Beginning his Career

By 1943, Sum Nung had made much progress and his reputation had grown to the point where people sought him out for lessons. This led to him accepting a few students whom he taught out of the Deep Village Temple. Among those early students was his uncle, Sum Jee who had previously been a well-known Hung boxer. He quickly gained other students as well, all experienced martial artists, many of whom were much older than he, attracted by the quality of his skill. Hard working and willing to test their knowledge, Sum Nung’s early students made his reputation for teaching as solid as it already was for fighting.

Alongside his wing chun kuen training, Sum Nung had also followed Cheung Bo’s teacher, Dr. Wai Yuk-Sang, in the study of osteopathy (ditda) and breathing exercises (heigung/qigong). Late in life, Wai Yuk-Sang experienced a profound spiritual change and became a Taoist priest. Deeply regretting that he had taught the martial arts, and thinking that someday his teachings, as they were passed down and spread to succeeding generations, may be used to harm or even kill someone, he wanted to make amend. With that in mind he taught Sum Nung the kidney breathing returns to source (sun hei gwai yuen) exercise and instructed him to perform it both before and after training, so that the martial arts would always be surrounded by the healing arts.

Moving to Guangzhou

Around 1945, with his devotion to wing chun kuen and medicine leaving him little time for restaurant work, Sum Nung decided to move to the nearby provincial capitol of Guangzhou to establish his medical practice. In the beginning, to help make ends meet, he taught wing chun kuen to members of local Iron and Five-Metal Workers Unions. When teaching his early students, Sum Nung
organized some of the separate techniques (san sao) that he had learned from both Cheung Bo and Yuen Kay-San, into the twelve separate forms (sup yee san sik), which included sections such as meridian punch (jee ng choi), single dragon punch (duk lung choi), inside outside yin yang palm (loi lim yum yeung jeung), flapping wing palm (pok yik jeung), and white crane catches the fox (bak hok kum wu), among others.

In Guangzhou, like in Foshan before, his encounters with other local practitioners helped grow his reputation and attract more and more students. Due to friction between the different guilds, many of which employed martial artists to teach their members, fighting became regular and eventually, hundreds became involved in almost weekly challenge matches at the nearby mountain. This, and concerns over wing chun kuen’s effectiveness in countering the seizing and holding techniques (fan kum na/ fan qin na) of the police lead to the local government’s banning of the teaching of wing chun kuen in the city.

In the mid-1950s Sum Nung made a short trip to Hong Kong to teach a seminar for the Fruit Market Union. Over a hundred people attended and the seminar was quite successful, especially his demonstrations of the counter kicking and fast throwing techniques of wing chun kuen. Despite requests to continue teaching by the union members, offers of partnership from other instructors, and warnings from old friends that China was getting ready to close its borders, Sum Nung was eager to get back to his family and thus returned to Guangzhou. Originally, he had intended to journey again to Hong Kong but before that could become reality, his friend’s warning came true and the borders were closed.

Sum Nung continued to travel back and forth to Foshan on the weekends to visit Cheung Bo and train under Yuen Kay-San until they both passed away in 1956.


Sum Nung was sometimes referred to by the nickname Tiet Bei (Iron Arms) Nung due to the explosive short power he could generate from his forearms with techniques such as the barring arm and center-cleaving arm. One encounter that helped fuel the nickname occurred during the Cultural Revolution. In those days, Communist China did not support the traditional martial arts and many practitioners were harassed, persecuted, and sometimes even killed. It was under these conditions that grandmaster Sum Nung was reportedly set upon one day by a gang of fanatics. In the course of defending himself, Sum Nung broke the arm of one of his attackers with a penetrating barring arm technique and managed to emerge unscathed. Shortly thereafter, Sum Nung was riding his motorcycle one day when he was cut off by a truck. When he confronted the driver, a knife-wielding compatriot attacked him from the side. Sum managed to deflect most of the attack with a half-dispersing-half-wing technique, but the blade was sufficiently long that it still stabbed slightly into his chest. Knowing that hesitation could prove fatal, Sum quickly threw his assailant to the side and simultaneously struck out with a tiger tail kick to the man’s ribs. The attacker limped away, badly injured from the devastating strike.

Other encounters lead to Sum Nung also establishing his reputation among the new, government schooled, martial arts experts. Another provincial wrestling champion, seeking something to bridge the gap between his long boxing and his Chinese (sut gao/shuaijiao) and Greco-Roman wrestling came to Sum Nung and proclaimed he could take Sum’s punch and then tackle him to the ground. Sum invited him to try and when the man came in, Sum flanked him and used a spiraling wing arm (bong sao) movement to knock him down. The man quickly became Sum’s student.

Guangzhou (Canton) Wing Chun

During the turbulent times of the Cultural Revolution, grandmaster Sum Nung continued to teach wing chun kuen but did so only privately, not wanting to attract attention. When some of his students moved to Hong Kong in the late-1960s and early-70s, they used the name Guangzhou Wing Chun Kuen to both distinguish their branch and to maintain the privacy of grandmaster Sum Nung, still in the Mainland.

Expanding the Art

Over the years, teaching only those whom he felt were upright and trustworthy, grandmaster Sum Nung went on to train many outstanding students (with apologies, far too many to list here). In addition to Sum Jee, Sum Nung’s students from the late 1940s to early 1960s included Ma Yiu-Moon, former dragon-shape boxer Lao Lo-Wai, former Ngok family boxer Ngok Jin-Fun, Pang Chao, and Leung King-Chiu (know as Dai Chiu, who moved to Hong Kong around 1970 and later to the United States).

From the mid-1960s, his students included the late Dong Chuen-Kam, Ngo Lui-Kay (who relocated to Canada in 1982), Kwok Wan-Ping (Fu family internal boxer who established the Guangzhou Wing Chun Taiji Institute in Hong Kong in the late 1960s), Lee Chi-Yiu (who moved to Hong Kong in the early 1970s), and Wong Wah (Tom Wong, who relocated to Los Angeles). Others also adapted his methods and spread them throughout the Pearl River Delta and as far as South East Asia.

Sum Nung has also endeavored to help keep wing chun kuen “in the family.” Honoring a pledge he made his first teacher, Sum Nung taught Cheung Bo’s seventh son, known as Ah Chut. Following Cheung Bo’s passing, those students wishing to continue their training followed Sum Nung either directly or through Ah Chut. Sum Nung and his students have also shared their insights with Yuen Kay-San’s grandson, Jo-Tong, who has written considerably on the art Martial World (Wulin), New Martial Hero (San Mo Hop) and other periodicals. In addition, Sum Nung is passing along the art to his own family, including his son, Sum Dek.

Sum Nung’s Legacy

Grandmaster Sum Nung has continued to develop and refine his art over the decades, concentrating on practical application. So great and lengthy have his contributions been, many of his followers around the world have begun calling their art Sum Nung Wing Chun Kuen, in his honor.

Originally published in Inside Kung Fu


An Evening with Kwon Wan-Ping

by Rene Ritchie

We emerged from the Prince Edward Station onto the crowded streets of Kowloon just as the sun was beginning to set. Working our way through the heavy traffic, both human and automotive, framed beneath a patchwork sky of ever-glowing store signs, With the smell of the many restaurants, cafes, noodle & snack shops, and food stalls filling the air, we headed towards Sham Shui Po.

“There,” my friend said after a goodly walk, “do you see his sign?”

Following my friend’s gaze, I looked down the street, straining to see what he had seen. I could read some Chinese, especially martial terms and those proper names I was familiar with, but there were simply too many signs, too much clutter, to sort out. “I see hundreds of signs,” I replied with a grin.

“The red one,” he added, pointing to a large mosaic of color down the street, perhaps wondering why I hadn’t caught it earlier.

As we got closer, I finally made it out – “Guangzhou Taiji Wing Chun Institute” and just below, standing out from the rest of the line by size of print “Kwok Wan-Ping”.

Kwok Wan-Ping was born in 1939 and as a youth studied at the Guangzhou and Wuhon Sports Institutes for 4 years. At the institute, he studied Mongolian, freestyle, and Greco-Roman wrestling and went on to win the All.-China lightweight wrestling championship. He also practiced weight lifting, fencing, and the martial arts. Later, he studied the taijiquan, baguazhang, and xingyiquan of Fu Wing-Fay, son of the legendary Fu Zhensung, Chen family taijiquan, among other systems. In Guangzhou in the mid-1960s, he was exposed to and immediately began studying Yuen Kay-San wing chun kuen under Yuen’s disciple, grandmaster Sum Nung.

During this period, China was in the midst of turbulent times and, thinking in terms of what was best for his family, in the late-1960s Kwok Wan-Ping moved from Guangzhou to Hong Kong. Settling in Kowloon, Kwok Wan-Ping opened the Guangzhou Wing Chun Taiji Institute.

Grandmaster Sum Nung had personally taught for a short time in Hong Kong in the mid-1950s, yet desspite lucrative requests from local unions and offers of partnerships from other established instructors, he’d been unwilling to remain away from his family. Thus it wasn’t until Kwok Wan-Ping’s institute opened that Hong Kong finally had long-term access to his teachings. Concerns over the conditions in China, however, caused grandmaster Sum Nung to ask his public followers to use the name Guangzhou wing chun kuen, instead of using his name, to avoid trouble in the mainland, where the teaching of wing chun kuen was still forbidden.

Other wing chun kuen practitioners had already established themselves in Hong Kong but having come from Foshan themselves, they had long term friendships with grandmaster Sum Nung and when Kwok Wan-Ping’s school opened, several stopped by to visit and welcome him into the community.

Although it was not always easy, and he would face many challenges over the years, Kwok Wan-Ping went on to become one of the most famous and sought after professional martial arts teachers in Hong Kong. In addition, several of his students and descendants have become highly respected wing chun kuen instructors in their own rights, spreading the art in Hong Kong and internationally, such as Tse Chung-Fai of British Columbia, Chow Gwok-Tai of Toronto, and Lee Chun-Ming of Virginia.

It was through the latter’s line, through one of Kwok Wan-Ping’s tosat (great grand-students) I had met online, that I’d gained my first insight into this branch. Of the next few years, I would meet (electronically), many others. Although my own teacher, Ngo Lui-Kay, had begun learning from grandmaster Sum Nung at roughly the same time, classes back then had been separate and private and the two had only met a few times on special occasions. Nevertheless, I had always heard great things about Kwok Wan-Ping, his skill and his warm and friendly nature. I had also been taught that our wing chun kuen family was important and that wing chun kuen was a great way to make new friends. Thus when I passed through Hong Kong on my way to Guangzhou, I could not pass up the opportunity to stop by and pay my respects to my martial uncle.

All this background flashed through my mind as we climbed the stairs up the half-dozen or so floors to Kwok Wan-Ping’s school. Joking that the stair climb was a good leg warm-up, we finally reached the gate before our destination and, opening it, we stepped in side.

Well-sized by Hong Kong standards, Kwok Wan-Ping’s institute was already alive with activity. We had arrived at around 6pm, half-way through the taijiquan lesson. Several pairs were deep into their push-hands practice, bending back and forth, turning and moving in the distinctive Fu family style. Above them, three large pictures dominated the room. On one wall, a portrait of grandmaster Sum Nung smiled down. On the other hung the father and son of the Fu family. Covering almost every spare inch around them were photos, large and small, of Kwok Wan-Ping in action, and of him posing with classes from throughout his long teaching career, visitors and celebrities, and other special events.

On the floor in front of us, a small group had begun practicing a fan sequence. In front of them, leading them, was Kwok Wan-Ping.

I had seen pictures of him from some 20 years previous. It appeared that not much had changed. 60 years of age and perhaps 5′ tall, he was only slightly less wide. In keeping with the saying “arms the size of thighs” his solid mass and well-defined physique would have been impressive on a man one-third his age. This was easy to see, as due to the humidity and the warmth generated by so many working so hard in so small a space, he wore only a pair of blue shorts and workout shoes. As I watched him go through the sequence with his students, I noticed immediately that he also possessed amazing flexibility and balance.

When he turned an noticed us, I saw the other attribute that had always stood out in the old pictures, his smile. Taking a break from his teaching, he approached us and welcomed us to his school. His reputation for hospitality was well earned. Kwok Wan-Ping shared old stories from his past and asked questions about our own. When my friend mentioned that I had been studying Mandarin (although he neglected, as usual, to point out that I was presently only at about a grade 1 level), Kwok Wan-Ping switched to that dialect and, despite my shortcomings in the language, we managed to have a short, yet very interesting conversation.

Over time, more and more students arrived, including Kwok Wan-Ping’s son, who has been learning from his father for several years, and practice began. Like most good teachers, Kwok Wan-Ping’s class stressed the basics, and lots of them. Students went through their boxing and paired up to do lots of partner work like chong choi (crashing punches), chai kiu (stirring bridges), huen sao (circling arms), and luk sao (rolling arms). While the students practiced, Kwok Wan-Ping moved among them offering corrections and instruction in new material. In between, sihing (elder classmates) helped the newer students review and drill what they had learned. After, some moved on to the practice of chi sao (sticking arms).

Kwok Wan-Ping’s students, even the beginners, were all remarkable for their stability (an area that even many long term practitioners have trouble with). No doubt the pressure they use and learn to adapt to early on in partner training accounts, at least in part, for their skill in this area.

As the hour grew late, and Kwok Wan-Ping’s wife began to get his dinner ready, we reluctantly decided we had better get on our way. I could not have hoped for a better welcoming to Hong Kong and start of my journey and would like to thank Kwok Wan-Ping and his students for their hospitality.

The sky above was dark as we left the building but the streets alight in neon. Slightly weary from the class yet exhilarated by the visit, we hurried off into the night. We still had a dinner date to keep and plans to make for our trip to Guangzhou.


Sum Nung Wing Chun Kuen Methods

by Rene Ritchie

The fifteen year old had been learning Wing Chun kuen for the last couple of years from a fellow Foshan restaurant worker. During those years, the he’d oticed that every once in a while, a slender sumnung1looking old man would come to the restaurant to take tea. Sometimes, following dinner, the old man would remain behind long after the establishment closed and watch their Wing Chun kuen practice. Although the old man looked on intently and was presumably quite interested in their activities, he always sat quietly, never criticizing anything he saw. Thus, it came as quite a shock to the youth when, one day, his teacher came to him and stated that the old man was in fact a Wing Chun kuen master of highly advanced skill. His teacher went on to tell the youth that the old man had been impressed by his dedication and hard work and had offered to take over his training. The youth was uncertain how to proceed. He turned his attention first to his teacher, large and powerful and then to the old man, who was small and thin and presumably long passed his prime. The youth’s observations led him to express doubts about the old man’s abilities. Nevertheless his teacher, Cheung Bo brought him over and introduced the youth, Sum Nung, to the old man, Yuen Kay-San. They spoke for a few minutes and Sum again stated his reservations. Intrigued by the youth and sensing his potential, Yuen decided to offer him a potential solution. The old man told the youngster that he was going to place eggs inside his pockets and then they would have a match. If, during the match, the youth succeeded in breaking even one of the eggs, the old man vowed he would admit defeat and be on his way. The youth quickly agreed to the simple sounding challenge and the contest was soon underway. Sum attacked repeatedly with all the power and skill his hard work and training had given him, yet each time he felt himself cut off and unable to continue after only one or two actions. Yuen remained calm throughout and hardly seemed to be moving at all. Nevertheless, when the match ended, Sum Nung stood back, confident that he had been victorious. It took mere moments for that confidence to shatter, however, as Yuen Kay-San slowly pulled all the eggs from his pockets. None were broken, not even so much as a crack.

Wing Chun kuen is not a technical style, it is a conceptual system. More than a set combinations of pre-patterned movements, it is an ingenious index and guide to the core principles of Southern Chinese martial arts. Thus, in the Wing Chun kuen of Yuen Kay-San, as taught by grandmaster Sum Nung, it is the yiu dim (yao dian, important ideas) that are vital, since from them come the many individual applications and implications.


Yuen Kay-San (Ruan Qishan) was born in 1889 to a wealthy family who owned a fire-works store. The fifth son of the family, he was often called by the nickname Yuen Lo Jia (Ruan Laozha, Yuen the Fifth). At a young age, Yuen Kay-San and his elder brother Chai-Wan (Jiyun) began studying Wing Chun kuen under a Foshan constable named Fok Bo-Chuen (Huo Baoquan). Fok had learned the art from Hung Suen Hay Ban (Hongchuan Xiban, Red Junk Opera Company) classmates Wong Wah-Bo (Huang Huabao) and Dai Fa Min Kam (Dahuamian Jin, Painted Face Kam). After completing their studies under Fok, the Yuen brothers sought out another student of Painted Face Kam named Fung Siu-Ching (Feng Shaoqing). Fung had worked as an Imperial Marshal and a guard for the Sichuan governor but by the time the Yuen’s approached him, he was just over 70 and ready to retire. The Yuen’s invited Fung to move into their family estate on Foshan’s Songyuan Dajie (Mulberry Gardens Main Street) where he taught Wing Chun kuen to them and a few of their friends. Since Yuen Kay-San was already accomplished in Wing Chun kuen, Fung Siu-Ching concentrated on teaching him practical application and close-body fighting (including joint locks and breaks, reverse locking, etc.)

Following their training with Fung Siu-Ching, the Yuen brothers took different paths. In 1936, Yuen Chai-Wan moved to Vietnam where he taught Wing Chun at the Nanhai and Shunde Expatriates Association. Yuen Kay-San, on the other hand, stayed in Foshan and worked on developing his Wing Chun kuen. Throughout his lessons, Yuen had always taken copious notes. He then spent time analyzing the scientific principles of Wing Chun kuen and became one of the first to document its formal concepts. Linking together and refining all the knowledge he had acquired, he developed a complete understanding of Wing Chun kuen and went on to found remarkable methods and principles encompassing its forms and functions.

One of Yuen Kay-San’s close friends at the time, Cheung Bo (Zhang Bao), worked as a chef at Tien Hoi, a local restaurant next to Kuaizi (Chopstick) street. Cheung, a large and powerful man, taught san sik (san shi, twelve separate forms) based Wing Chun kuen to a small group of fellow staff members at night when the establishment was closed. One of his students at the time was a teenager named Sum Nung (Cen Neng).

After a brief introduction and quick lesson in the skills of Yuen Kay-San, Sum Nung became Yuen’s student. Over the years, Yuen and Sum spent much time together, constantly practicing Wing Chun kuen. From Yuen, Sum learned the siu lien tao (xiao lian tou, little first training), chum kiu (chen qiao,sinking bridge), biu jee (biao zhi, darting fingers), muk yan jong (mu ren zhuang, wooden dummy), luk dim boon gwun (liu dian ban gun, six-and-a-half-point pole), yee jee seung do (er zi shuang dao, parallel double knives) and worked at developing his chi sao (chi shou, sticking arms) and other skills. When not practicing, Sum would sit beside Yuen Kay-San while Yuen discussed Wing Chun kuen’s concepts. Under Yuen’s guidance, Sum continued to refine and polish his Wing Chun kuen, developing an intelligent and practical system, as efficient as it was effective.

By the mid-1940s, Sum Nung had gained a great reputation in Foshan for his depth of knowledge and fighting skills. In the late 1940s, Sum Nung moved to the nearby provincial capitol of Guangzhou to pursue his medical career. In the early days, he supported himself by teaching Wing Chun kuen and providing medical services to members of the local Workers’ Unions.

Although Sum Nung, like Yuen Kay-San before him, did not boast of his abilities nor seek out confrontation, he did on occasion have friendly tests of skill with practitioners of other martial art styles. Although he seldom spoke of the encounters out of respect for his opponents’ reputations, it is said that in them, he never met with failure and his reputation in Guangzhou grew steadily.

Following Yuen Kay-San’s passing in 1956, Sum Nung renamed his system in his teacher’s honor in order to ensure Yuen’s name and contributions to Wing Chun kuen would live on. Due to the turbulent times of the Cultural Revolution that followed, Sum Nung taught his system privately. Over the last half-century, however, teaching only those whom he felt were upright and trustworthy, grandmaster Sum Nung has gone on to train many outstanding students.

Due to the quality of his training, and the many sources from which Wing Chun kuen flowed down to him, grandmaster Sum Nung was able to give his students not only his practical experience in application, but also his deep insight into the concepts and principles behind it.

Wing Chun Kuen Concepts

There are many important concepts in Wing Chun kuen such as “linking defense to bring in offense”, “techniques come from the heart”, “sticking hands is like asking the way”, and one of the most famous, the “meridian line”.

The jee ng sien (zi wu xian, meridian line), sometimes referred to as the central line, sagittal place, etc. is behind many of the major concepts of Wing Chun kuen. Like most Chinese concepts, it can be viewed in several different ways. Firstly, it defines the line that vertically bisects the practitioner’s body from the crown-point all the way down to the central point between the feet. Secondly, it indicates the same line through an opponent’s body. Thirdly, it encompasses the most direct root between the practitioner’s center and that of the opponent.

Wing Chun kuen seeks advantage by aligning its structure and weapons on the central meridian, striking the opponent’s center of balance, and maintaining dominance of the line between the two throughout combat.

In addition to the general principles, Yuen Kay-San left behind several formal written sets in poetic form, including the sup yee faat (shi er fa, twelve methods). Wing Chun kuen is based on these methods of joining, intercepting, sinking, darting, sticking, feeling, pressing, swinging, swallowing, slicing, stealing, and leaking. They are at the same time the simplest and yet the most profound of Yuen Kay-San’s written principles. Profound in meaning, the twelve methods provide a gateway to deeper understanding of the style.

Although each of the twelve methods can be interpreted and applied in different ways, basic explanations can help give insight into their potential. Joining is to make contact with the bridges. Intercepting involves the cutting-off the offense of an opponent. Sinking deals with the destruction of the opponent’s structure. Darting advocates the relaxed and accurate thrusting of power. Sticking relies on contact to gather information. Feeling uses contact to maintain positioning during the dynamics of combat. Pressing applies power like an iron on clothing. Swinging turns the reactions of opponents against them. Swallowing accepts an opponent’s power instead of resisting it. Slicing carves into an opponent to disrupt their center of gravity. Stealing fills the empty holes in an opponent’s defense. Leaking runs through an opponent’s actions.

Tactical advice is passed down in the system through sets of four character rhyming couplets such as the yiu ku (yao jue, important rhymed formulae) and the similar faat mun (fa men, methodologies).

These formulae impart advice including; as force comes, it should be received and kept. It is never resisted or knocked away but accepted and adhered to. As force goes, it is accompanied, escorted back, and added to. When a loss of contact occurs, or the body is crossed, a practitioner is advised to charge straight down the central meridian.

Wing Chun kuen does not prepare or plan out ahead of time and stubbornly enact these plans regardless of circumstance. It attacks according to current conditions and is alive and ever changing. Every offense is a defense and each defense is an offense. When changes are done skillfully, a practitioner can achieve twice the results with only half the effort.

Wing Chun kuen boxers must learn to apply their power in the most advantageous way, moving with the wind rather than against it. Its power is soft, calm, and quiet. Practitioners must therefore have faith in themselves to use it. Soft is employed to overcome hard, but both hard and soft are combined in use. Enemies are fought fiercely and attacks may be initiated in order to gain control. Once an initial attack is made, it is followed in succession until the target is no more.

Sets of five character rhyming couplets pass along training principles in the Yuen Kay-San system. They include the yiu jee (yao zhi, important ideas) and the ching yan (qian yin, introductions). These sets relate to working hard, being healthy, studying, being nimble, using the eyes, and being first.

Some of the training principles include that strength must be exacting in position, never overextended. It is aware, follows, and changes with feeling. During training, the eyes should be angry and look straight forward. Changes should be explored through sticking with a partner. A teacher must correct these practices. When there is no teacher and no partner, a mirror and dummy should be used to aid in this pursuit and one must imagine an enemy is present.

In addition, practitioners are advised to follow the methods of the ancestors, but to remember to change according to conditions. Lastly, it is said that if one works hard and trains, one is unlikely to meet with failure.

Preserving the Legacy

Among the better known individuals fortunate enough to have learned from grandmaster Sum Nung (with apologies, far to many to list completely here) are Leung Dai-Chiu (Liang Dazhao), Ngo Lui-Kay (Ao Leiqi), Kwok Wan-Ping (Guo Yunping), Lee Chi-Yiu (Li Zhiyao), Wong Wah (Huang Hua, Tom Wong), as well as Teddy Wong and many, many others.

Ngo Lui-Kay followed grandmaster Sum Nung from the mid-1960s until he relocated to Canada in 1982. As the concepts were passed from Yuen Kay-San to grandmaster Sum Nung, and from grandmaster Sum Nung to Ngo Lui-Kay and his many classmates, so have Ngo Lui-Kay and his classmates begun to share them with their own students and descendants. It is hoped that by introducing these concepts in the west, it will help to preserve the rare and unique system of Yuen Kay-San Wing Chun Kuen, and the teachings of grandmaster Sum Nung for future generations