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Martial artist takes wing

MARTIAL arts instructor Wu Junhui remembers being surprised that when he first started teaching Wing Chun kung fu (Bruce Lee's style) almost all his students were expats and many had studied Wing Chun fighting abroad.

"It had always been more widely known and promoted abroad than domestically," said 32-year-old Wu, who cites martial arts legend Bruce Lee who uses Wing Chun kung fu in his films. Lee, who started learning Wing Chun school when he was 13, made it famous worldwide, less so in China where it originated.

Wu teaches at Jun Yong Center in Putuo District.

One of the major kung fu schools of southern China, Wing Chun is said to have been developed especially for women, focusing on close-range combat and fighting a larger rival.

Before 2006, nearly 85 percent of his Wing Chun students were from Australia, Europe and North America, plus a few East Asian countries. It's different today - two thirds of his 100 students are Chinese and a quarter of all students are women.

"In addition, many pupils of early Wing Chun masters like Yip Man, Lee's master, opened overseas training schools and classes almost everywhere," Wu said.

One German student telephoned Wu's training center shortly after he arrived in Shanghai.

"He didn't even know his hotel's location and he asked me my address and wanted to pay a visit as soon as possible," Wu said.

The German enthusiast had a new job requiring frequent travel between Shanghai and Germany. He practiced Wing Chun back at home and wanted to keep training during business trips.

There are several legends about the origins of Wing Chun. It is commonly said that a young woman named Yim Wing Chun went to a female martial arts master, seeking to learn some defense skills in a short period of time. She was being forced to marry a warlord who promised he would not pursue her if she defeated him in fighting. So the master developed Wing Chun (literally Praising Springtime). It was easy to learn, ideal for fighting a stronger rival and focused on close-range combat. The key is to hit the weakest spot with the greatest speed and strength at the same time.

Another legend says that an abbess developed it after watching a fight between a serpent and a crane, and modeled it on the snake's tactics.

"Many martial arts forms carried on for centuries have become more or less like a performance and lack practicality," said Wu. "But Wing Chun is different. It was meant for real fighting, that's why it was invented, and that's the way it has remained."

That's why Wu, a graduate of the Shanghai University of Sport, was attracted to Wing Chun when he first observed in Foshan, Guangdong Province, considered the center of Wing Chun today.

Wu, a Guangdong native, started to study martial arts when he was age 10. In 2008 he won first place in the 60 kg class of the International Wing Chun Championship, the largest on the Chinese mainland.

"It's very common to send sons to study some kung fu when they are little," Wu explained.

He learned a variety of kung fu styles including Shaolin, Wudang, Nanquan (Southern Fist) and went on to the Shanghai University of Sport to study kung fu. Then he saw Wing Chun. "I was very impressed by its practicality. It's different from other kung fu styles and Western defense skills. It's unique, with a complete system combining theories and drills," Wu said.

He said more and more women are drawn to Wing Chun, though many learn it because they want to lose weight. "We really want to promote it to women," he said "After all, it was invented for a woman. It's very useful as self defense and is good for the health."


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