Starry Starry Nights

"Starry Starry night Portraits hung in empty halls Frameless heads on nameless walls With eyes that watch the world and can't forget Like the strangers that you've met Ragged men in ragged clothes The silver thorn of bloody rose Lie crushed and broken on the virgin snow..."

Tonight I listened to an old song, an old song that always triggers my feeling about wing chun kuen, maybe because an radio station in Penang, Malaysia was always playing this song during the quiet midnight hour when I'd return to my dorm after having Siu Yeh (supper) with my sifu and sihengs after training. Quiet midnight with a soft song when the day was young.

During Siu Yeh, we'd talk about wing chun kuen, the history, the techniques, the other branches, who's who, what's what, and the roots of the system. On weekends, more people would usually join in for supper. On the weekdays, however, it was only sifu and me, since the sihengs had to go home earlier.

The topics ran on. The creation of siu lien tau, Ng Mui, Miu Shun, Yim Yee, Wong Wah-Poh, Leung Yee-Dai, Yik Kam, Red Boat Opera, Lee Man-Mau, the cover up and joining the Taiping Rebellion uprising, which tried to overthrow the Qing, the salutation from the opera, Japanese martial artists that challenged Cho Dak-Shing... A lot of stories. A lot of possibilities. For a boy and teenage, these all are good stories under the starry Penang mid-night sky with pleasent wind.

Years later, it seemed, as we got older, the once simple and beautiful stories became more and more complicated. Maybe due to personal fame or ego, maybe for personal benefits or greed or selfishness, maybe for hate or for ignorance, it became harder to see the clear starry nights and feel the silence of the tranquil midnight.

It is "what's in it for me" in the stories now? Can I be the only one who knows it all? Or the only one who knows the original story of wing chun kuen? One short-term student of my sifu goes as far as claiming that the siu lien tau was created from Shaolin's fa kuen. Some others have added Hung Kuen's hard geng (jing) practice into siu lien tau moves. More have created stories, more have created moves. Yes, it looks like a good busy party.

But, is this the result of researching into the source, or is this purposely distorting the name and the view of wing chun kuen for one's own benefit? For showing off?

I once asked my sifu why he didn't say something about all the new stories. "What is the use?" he replied softly but firmly. "Things have to be natural. Yan kok yau chee (every man has their own will). Keep everything simple. There is no secret."

That was over twenty-five years ago. Today even more theories have come out, more stories with more and more modifications. Slowly, after studying most of them, I have built my own personal view about the history of wing chun kuen, of where siu lien tau comes from, and of whether or not wing chun kuen is an internal art.

For me, wing chun kuen history can be simple or it can be complicated. It depends on what one wants to focus. In my personal opinion, one can get very complicated. One can get so complicated, in fact, they lose their track. They lose wing chun kuen's root.

If one places the Hung Mun and the Red Boat Opera as the dominant elements in the wing chun kuen history, one runs the risk of altering the art totally. When the root is dug out, the core is broken.

Shaolin? Taiji? Eagle Craw? More unanswered questions.

For my personal taste, I prefer the simple history. That is because, what good is a history that points to all different directions and processes but cannot pin-point to a "direction" or a "domain" for one's training? For me, that the a disaster of having a lot of things but not owning a single thing.

The older generation from different families such as Dr. Leong Jan, Cho Dak-Shing, Chan Wah, the Yuen brothers, Yip Man, they all shared very close, very simple histories.

"White crane, Shaolin's pole, connections to the West, be it Emei/Sichuen or Guangxi."

Right or wrong, they have proven themselves with their skill and maybe there are some truth in these simple histories.

"Now I think I know What you tried to say to me How you suffered for your sanity How you tried to set them free They did not listen they're not listening still Perhaps they never will..." - Vincent "Starry Starry Night"