Wing Chun Kung Fu -Greco Wong & Rolf Clausnitzer

This is the very first book about Wing Chun ever published. I have found two good reviews about it and I will put them here. Credits go the the original writers. The first one comes from Ben Judkins, a well-known Wing Chun historian.wingchun greco wong rolf

Magazines tended to be at the leading edge of the publishing industry. It is easier to get short articles placed in monthly publications than to create an entire book from the ground up. That is the reason why these sorts of resources are so important when researching social histories. They tend to be leading indicators.

Nevertheless, once the magazine industry hit on a successful topic, the book publishers were never far behind. In 1969 Rolf Clausnitzer and Greco Wong published the first book on Wing Chun Kung Fu to appear outside of China. This book is very interesting because of its early date. Again, at the time of its publication Bruce Lee was a known quantity to many martial artists, but the Kung Fu Craze of the 1970s was still three years off. Ip Man was still alive (though he had recently slowed down his teaching schedule) and his most important students were all still relatively young and active.

Wing-Chun Kung-Fu: Chinese self-defence methods (London: Paul H. Crompton, 1969) can be a challenging book to find. It was published in the UK and that’s where I ended up finding my copy. While a number of examples of this little volume did end up making it to North America, they tend to be relatively rare and to command a high price. Still, if you are interested in the early social history of the art, it is worth the time and the effort to locate a copy.

Wing-Chun Kung-Fu contrasts nicely with the foregoing Black Belt articles. It was widely distributed in a popular periodical and aimed at individuals who probably had never heard of the art before. Clausnitzer and Wong’s project, coming just one year later, was a vastly more detailed and substantive work. However, it was only aimed at a small audience, those individuals who were already looking for a source on Kung Fu and who may have even been familiar with Wing Chun. There were fewer copies of this book in circulation, but they were also targeting a more specific audience.

If the ultimate purpose of the Black Belt issue was to promote a new line of instructional books, Clausnitzer and Wong seem to be promoting the art of Wing Chun itself. I like this book for a number of reasons. Many of the discussions are good, the photography is clear and the authors went to some lengths to describe Wing Chun as a social system as well as a technical one. In addition to the normal discussions of the forms and “defensive applications” that you might expect to find in a book like this, they also recorded the earliest contemporaneous discussions of what a typical Wing Chun class in Hong Kong was like, Ip Man’s unique personality and why he believed that it was imperative that Wing Chun be taught as a “modern” art.

Clearly the authors were aware that change was in the air, and they wanted Wing Chun to be part of this new movement within the martial arts community. Further, they seem to have come to the conclusion that the best way to promote the art was to outline it in simple terms and let other people discover its effectiveness for themselves. This actually makes the book easy to read and less jarring than much of the highly self-promotional literature that would be produced in the coming decades.

Both of the books co-authors have had interesting martial arts careers in their own right. Rolf Clausnitzer appears to be the primary author of the volume. I have never been able to find a complete biography for him but apparently he was familiar with Hong Kong. At various points in the volume he mentions meeting Ip Man in person in 1960 and he studied intensively with Wong Shun Leung in 1964. In fact, he was Wong’s first foreign student. Clausnitzer also mentions that his brother Frank was a classmate of Bruce Lee’s at St. Francis Xavier College. He also seems to be aware of a number of stories and accounts of William Cheung’s early days in Australia.

After returning to the UK he continued his studies with Wong Wai Cheung (Greco Wong). Wong in turn was the first student and training partner of Moy Yat, an important early missionary of the Wing Chun gospel who we will be hearing more about in the second part of this post. Wong can be seen throughout the extensive photography that illustrates this book.

The outline of the volume proceeds as follows. After a brief introduction to Chinese Kung Fu the authors discuss the basic nature of Wing Chun training and the outline of a typical class (circa 1969). It would begin with forms practice, move on to applications and punching drills, and then finally sparring or “chi-sao.” They note that warm-up exercises or formal calisthenics were rarely part of Kung Fu training and don’t seem to have played much of a role in contemporary Wing Chun schools.
After that they move on to a historical outline of the art. They repeat the story of Yim Wing Chun with some historical reservations given the lack of evidence for the account and wide variability in how it is told. The authors do not dwell on the history but rather move on to a discussion of “Wing Chun Today.” This begins with a brief account of meeting Ip Man (whom Clausnitzer found to be calm and cheerful) in 1960 and his attitudes towards Kung Fu and Wing Chun training.

“Originally from Kwangtung province he migrated to Hong Kong where he still resides. An outspoken man, Yip Man regards Wing Chun as a modern form of Kung Fu, i.e. as a style of boxing highly relevant to modern fighting conditions. Although not decrying the undoubted abilities of gifted individuals in other systems he nevertheless feels that many of their techniques are beyond the capabilities of ordinary students. Their very complexity requires years if not decades to master and hence greatly reduced their practical value in the context of our fast-moving society where time is such a vital factor. Wing Chun on the other hand is an art of which an effective working knowledge can be picked up in a much shorter time than is possible in other systems. It is highly realistic, highly logical and economical, and able to hold its own against any other style or system of unarmed combat.” P. 10.

I quoted this section of the original text as I think it bears repeating. The memory of Ip Man has been appropriated by so many individuals seeking to promote so many visions of the art that I think his original thoughts (to the extent that we know them) are in danger of being lost. This is about the best short discussion of Ip Man and his approach to Wing Chun that I have seen. It is all the more remarkable for being made contemporaneously, when Ip Man himself was still alive and active in the leadership of his Kung Fu clan.

The book next turns to a discussion of the “Main Theories and Principals Behind Wing Chun.” I find the use of the word “principals” interesting. Over the years it has become somewhat axiomatic that Wing Chun is a “principal based art,” rather than one founded on techniques. Of course substantial differences remain as to what these principal are.

So far as I am aware this is the first extended print discussion of the “Principals of Wing Chun.” Briefly these are; straight line punches, simultaneous attack and defense, attack rather than defend wherever possible and always move forward rather than retreat (forward pressure as a strategic concept). I have seen other concepts added to this list over the years, but these basic ideas always seem to be present.

Next the authors review stances and shifting, Siu Lim Tao (with photographs included in an appendix at the end of the book), single sticking hand, double sticking hand and the lap sau (warding off hand) drill. The explanations are brief and only cover the basic exercise. The rest of the volume is dedicated to two man defensive drills, including some kicking.

Overall this book provided the reader with a surprisingly good introduction to Wing Chun. It is challenging to be the first example of anything in your field. When you consider the overall quality of information on the Chinese martial arts that was available to the public in the 1960s, it is hard to see this book as anything other than a gem.

Not only did they clearly illustrate many of the basics, this book managed to convey something of the “feel” or essence of Wing Chun. It captured the idea that this was a modern adaptation of an ancient art. I suspect that this dynamic tension between the ancient and modern really appealed to a lot of potential students in the global market place. As I have argued elsewhere, Wing Chun was well positioned to take advantage of both Bruce Lee fame and Ip Man’s modernist leanings.

In that light the following reflection on the social attitudes within the Hong Kong Wing Chun clan, made in 1969, seem almost prophetic.

“An interesting characteristic common to most practitioners of Wing Chun lies in their relatively liberal attitude to the question of teaching the art to foreigners. They are still very selective when it comes to accepting individuals students, but compared with the traditional Kung Fu men they are remarkably open and frank about the art. If any one Chinese style of boxing is destined to become the first to gain popularity among foreigners, more likely than not it will be Wing Chun.” p. 12.

You can by the book here 

The second review comes from John Crescione. Because I found it pretty informative I will post it also here.

Wing Chun Kung Fu by R. Clausnitzer and Greco Wong. Published in 1969 and reprinted in 1973! 80 pages and the first book ever written in English on Wing Chun.

Yip Man was still alive and Bruce was doing his thing. It starts with a brief introduction on Kung Fu, the difference between Wing Chun and Karate and then lists some other forms of Kung Fu like Praying Mantis, White Crane, Drunken style, Eagle Claw, White Eyebrow and “..lightning fast Wing Chun.” There is a one page historical outline on the system as mentions its forms, weapons dummy and history.

Clausnitzer talks about his meeting with Yip Man in 1960 and how Yip Man regarded Wing Chun as “modern Kung Fu.” He also shares some Wing Chun war stories about a Sydney, Australia Karateka fighting a Wing Chun man whom was blindfolded. The only proviso was that the karate man attack from the front. The fight resulted in the karate man being knocked out!
(I have heard the same story from other sources. Jessie Glover also mentions it in his first book about him and Bruce Lee. This has to have been either William Cheung or Wong Shun Leung.)

He then mentions other Wing Chun instructors like Leung Sheung, Moy Yat, Wong Shun Leung and Mak Po.

The next section is on Wing Chun Theories. Straight Line Punching, (he tells a story about how in 1964 Wong Shun Leung gave him a 9” punch through 2 cushions and it felt like an electric shock!), Simultaneous Attack and Defense, Attack rather then Block, Going forward instead of Retreating and various Stances. He uses 2 stances, the square horse stance and their “sparring” stance- a rear weighted stance that is used for leg propulsion.

He covers body shifting by sliding the feet over the ground equal distances and pivoting on the heels while having the soles of the feet maintain equal pressure on the ground. There are photos of the above demonstrated while using kwun sao to the left and right. Next, Punching is covered. He advocates the tilt up and hitting with the bottom 3 knuckles and discusses “empty” vs. “solid” hitting and the need to practice both. Single hand chi sao follows-“Dahn Chi”. He talks about the 6 position-tan sao, palm heel strike, bong sao, fook sao, depressing palm heel strike and punch. All with photos. He also adds tips as to be forward, but not too much and not use the shoulder.

He follows up naturally with double chi sao rolling and lap sao. In chi sao he shows the basic luk sao roll and comments on using circular, forward movement, no strength and getting a feel for close range. All with photos. The next section covers Wing Chun self defense techniques. He defends against hooks (roundhouse punch), high and low jabs, intercepting with the bridge and hitting/deflecting a full thrust to the body countered by huen sao/hit, punch to the face answered with lop dar and counters to wrist grabs with variations of tahn/pak dar. He briefly discusses kicking methods, kicking with the heel and kicking straight off from the floor. (I would surmise this is where Bruce got it from).

He concludes with a demonstration of Siu Lim Tao done by Greco Wong. All of the photos are of Clausnitzer and Wong in the back of a building in an alleyway, giving it a real Hong Kong fighting flavor.

The book has a rating of ★★★★ from me, given the indisputable historical value.

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