Bruce Lee is, and perhaps will forever be, the international icon of martial arts. His seemingly superhuman physical prowess, seen in such feats as his famous one-inch punch, have inspired kids across the world, for decades, to take up martial arts classes, do more with their lives, and accomplish great things. Even though Lee himself never earned any official black belts, his skill and status were unparalleled: he was not just a fighter, but a philosopher, an artist, a movie star, and a teacher, who will go down as one of the most powerful figures of the 20th century.
Behind the legend of Bruce Lee, though, existed Bruce Lee the man. And as amazing as Lee may have been, nobody can teach themselves to be like water: someone older, wiser, and more experienced needs to show you the ropes. For Bruce Lee, that wise mentor was a fascinating figure known as Ip Man, an icon in his own right.
The story of Ip Man
Ip Man, whose name is something translated as “Yip Man,” was one of the most notable grandmasters of his era. According to Google Arts and Culture, a young Bruce Lee first approached Ip Man when he was merely a teenager in Hong Kong, and had recently been beaten by members of a gang. Lee trained under Man in the art of Wing Chun, and though he was a particularly gifted student, he was only one of the many youth whom Man trained at his school. Years later, as Lee grew into the world’s most famous martial artist, according to Biography, he and Ip Man became good friends.
That said, Ip Man was far more than a side character in Lee’s story. Born in Foshan, China in 1893, Man lived a turbulent life, in the midst of immense political unrest. Man first practiced martial arts as an adolescent. By his twenties, he worked as a police officer, against the stark backdrop of both the Chinese Civil War and the Second Sino-Japanese War, and he was eventually drawn into the conflict himself. This ended in 1949, when the Communist Party of China officially took over, and Man fled for his life to Hong Kong: it was in this stage of his life that he opened his famous school, training young students such as Bruce Lee and Leung Shung, as well as his own sons, Ip Chun and Ip Ching.
Ip Man passed away from cancer complications in 1972, in Hong Kong. According to Den of Geek, the grandmaster’s true story was loosely adapted into the 2008 film Ip Man and its sequels, starring famed martial arts star Donnie Yen.
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