QED International and Groundswell Productions have joined forces for Birth of the Dragon, which will focus on Bruce Lee’s career-defining 1965 no-holds–barred TKO battle with kung fu master Wong Jack Man.
According to Linda Lee Cadwell, Bruce Lee’s wife, Lee’s teaching of Chinese martial arts to Caucasians made him unpopular with Chinese martial artists in San Francisco. Wong contested the notion that Lee was fighting for the right to teach Caucasians as not all of his students were Chinese. Wong stated that he requested a public fight with Lee after Lee had issued an open challenge during a demonstration at a Chinatown theater in which he claimed to be able to defeat any martial artist in San Francisco. Wong stated it was after a mutual acquaintance delivered a note from Lee inviting him to fight that he showed up at Lee’s school to challenge him. Martial artist David Chin reportedly wrote the original challenge, while Wong asked Chin to let him sign it.
According to author Norman Borine, Wong tried to delay the match and asked for restrictions on techniques such as hitting the face, kicking the groin, and eye jabs, and that the two fought no holds barred after Lee turned down the request.
The details of the fight vary depending on the account. Individuals known to have witnessed the match included Cadwell, James Lee (an associate of Bruce Lee, no relation) and William Chen, a teacher of T’ai chi ch’uan. According to Bruce, Linda, and James Lee, the fight lasted 3 minutes with a decisive victory for Bruce.
Lee gave a description, without naming Wong explicitly, in an interview with Black Belt:
- “I’d gotten into a fight in San Francisco with a Kung-Fu cat, and after a brief encounter the son-of-a-bitch started to run. I chased him and, like a fool, kept punching him behind his head and back. Soon my fists began to swell from hitting his hard head. Right then I realized Wing Chun was not too practical and began to alter my way of fighting.”
Cadwell recounted the scene in her book Bruce Lee: The Man Only I Knew:
- “The two came out, bowed formally and then began to fight. Wong adopted a classic stance whereas Bruce, who at the time was still using his Wing Chun style, produced a series of straight punches. “Within a minute, Wong’s men were trying to stop the fight as Bruce began to warm to his task. James Lee warned them to let the fight continue. A minute later, with Bruce continuing the attack in earnest, Wong began to back pedal as fast as he could. For an instant, indeed, the scrap threatened to degenerate into a farce as Wong actually turned and ran. But Bruce pounced on him like a springing leopard and brought him to the floor where he began pounding him into a state of demoralization. “Is that enough?” shouted Bruce, “That’s enough!” pleaded his adversary. Bruce demanded a second reply to his question to make sure that he understood this was the end of the fight.”
This is in contrast to Wong and William Chen’s account of the fight as they state the fight lasted an unusually long 20–25 minutes. Allegedly, Wong was unsatisfied with Lee’s account of the match and published his own version in the Chinese Pacific Weekly, a Chinese language newspaper in San Francisco. The article, which was featured on the front page, included a detailed description of the fight from Wong’s perspective and concluded with an invitation to Bruce Lee for a public match if Lee found his version to be unacceptable. Lee never made a public response to the article. Wong later expressed regret over fighting Lee, attributing it to arrogance, both on the part of Lee and himself.
Written by Oscar nominees Christopher Wilkinson and Stephen Rivele, who worked on Oliver Stone’s Nixon and Michael Mann’s Ali, the film focuses on the aforementioned Oakland fight that launched Lee to martial arts stardom, which happened against the backdrop of the Hong Kong Triads’ criminal control of San Francisco’s Chinatown. The film will also detail a team-up between the two legends to take on the Triads. The fight with Jack Man was the last official one of Lee’s career before he headed into acting, competition and building his martial arts philosophy. “We’re excited to retell the fantastic origin story of the world’s most famous martial arts icon, which in the hands of Christopher and Stephen, lends itself to an action thriller we’re sure will enthrall movie fans around the world,” QED’s Bill Block said in a statement. The film will be produced by Block, Groundswell Productions CEO Michael London, Wilkinson and Rivele, and executive produced by Groundswell’s Kelly Mullen.
Yip started learning Wing Chun from Chan Wah-shun when he was 13. Since Chan was 70 at the time, Yip was Chan’s last student. Due to his teacher’s age, Yip learned most of his skills and techniques from Chan’s second oldest disciple: Ng Chung-sok. Chan died three years after Yip’s training started and one of his dying wishes was to have Ng continue teaching Yip.
At the age of 15, Yip moved to Hong Kong with help from his relative Leung Fut-ting. One year later, he attended school at St. Stephen’s College, a secondary school for wealthy families and foreigners living in Hong Kong. During Yip’s time at St. Stephen’s, he saw a foreign police officer beating a woman and Yip intervened. The officer attempted to attack Yip, but Yip struck him down and ran to school with his classmate. Yip’s classmate later told an older man who lived in his apartment block. The man met with Yip and asked what martial art Yip practiced. The man told Yip that his forms were “not too great”. The man challenged Yip’s Wing Chun against the man in chi sao (a form of training that involves controlled attack and defence). Yip saw this as an opportunity to prove that his abilities were good, but was defeated by the man after a few strikes. Yip’s opponent revealed himself to be Leung Bik, Chan Wah-shun’s senior and son of Chan’s teacher, Leung Jan. After that encounter, Yip continued learning from Leung Bik.
Yip returned to Foshan when he was 24 and became a policeman. He taught Wing Chun to several of his subordinates, friends and relatives, but did not officially run a martial arts school. Yip went to live with Kwok Fu during the Second Sino-Japanese War and only returned to Foshan after the war, where he continued his career as a police officer. Yip left Foshan for Hong Kong in 1949 after the Chinese Communist Party established the People’s Republic of China on the Chinese mainland. Yip was an officer of the Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party), the Communists’ rival in the Chinese Civil War.
Initially, Yip Man’s teaching business was poor because Yip’s students typically stayed for only a couple of months. He moved his school twice: first to Castle Peak Road in Sham Shui Po and then to Lee Tat Street in Yau Ma Tei. By then, some of his students had attained proficiency in Wing Chun and they were able to start their own schools. Some of his students and descendants sparred with other martial artists to compare their skills and their victories helped to increase Yip’s reputation. In 1967, Yip and some of his students established the Ving Tsun Athletic Association.
Yip died on 2 December 1972, from throat cancer. Yip’s legacy is the global practice of Wing Chun with his most notable student being the legendary Bruce Lee (李小龍). Yip also left behind a written history of Wing Chun. Many artifacts of his life are on display in the “Yip Man Tong” museum in the Foshan Ancestral Temple grounds.
Ip Man, a film loosely based on the life of Yip Man starring Donnie Yen as the martial artist, was released in cinemas in 2008. The film takes a number of liberties with Yip’s life, often for dramatic effect. The film focuses on Yip’s life during the 1930’s to the 1940’s during the Second Sino-Japanese War. The sequel Ip Man 2 focuses on Yip’s beginnings in Hong Kong and his disciples—including Bruce Lee.
Another film based on Yip Man’s biography called The Legend is Born – Ip Man was released in June 2010. Herman Yau directed the film and it starred Dennis To as Yip Man. Wong Kar-wai’s The Grandmasters, a film starring Tony Leung as Yip Man, is scheduled to be released in December 2012.
Amid a surge of Yip Man-related film projects in production, Donnie Yen told the Chinese media in March 2010 that after Ip Man 2, he will no longer play the Wing Chun master any more. He stated, “I would never ever touch any films related to Ip Man. This will be my final film on the subject. Whenever something becomes a success, everyone would jump on the bandwagon, this is very frightening. Did you know how many Ip Man films are in production? Under such condition, we would not progress, it’d only lead to over-saturation of the subject matter.”