Although never knew the man personally, we hope we can do the World of Wing Chun good by explaining who Chu Shong Tin was and his effect on the Wing Chun World.
The Living Legacy of Sigung Chu Shong Tin
With the rise of the early morning sun on the 29th of July, 2014, Sigung Chu Shong Tin passed away in Hong Kong. His death, though sad, has never been as important in the world of Wing Chun as the legacy that he has given to his students. Throughout his sixty years of martial arts experience in the classic Chinese school of Wing Chun, he has served as a joyous teacher and mentor for many of the world’s most renowned kung fu masters.
But what was the foundation of his legacy? For generations who may have never heard his name – who was Chu Shong Tin and why is he considered one of the most influential figures in Chinese martial arts?
Chu Shong Tin’s Training Began With Yip Man
To get a better perspective, it’s necessary to go back to the dawn of the 20th century. While Beijing was in the midst of political turmoil following the aftermath of World War II, Chu Shong Tin had the opportunity to study beneath the legendary Yip Man near Hong Kong. Yip Man had undertaken the task of training a Restaurant Worker’s Union in Kowloon where Sigung Chu was working as a secretary.
As auspicious as this was, it turned out to be the moment that Sigung Chu first developed a real interest in martial arts. Up until that point, he had largely found the world of Tai Chi – which his father taught him – to be rather uninteresting.
In brief interviews, Sigung Chu always referred to his father’s insistence on Tai Chi as more of a means to alleviate his chronic sickness as a child.
With absolutely no irony, Yip Man pushed Chu into the style of Sil Nim Tao – an extremely versatile form of Wing Chun arguably related to Tai Chi. It’s a style characterized by flowing movements which rely not on physical strength or prowess as much as the ability to harness the energy of the attacker to an advantage.
A much more artful rendition of this historical union can be found in Sifu Shaun Rawcliffe’s own exploration of the matter in Wing Chun Kung Fu: The Wooden Dummy.
Upon demonstrating mastery of the Sil Nim Tao form, Sigung Chu Shong Tin was then instructed in all the other basics of Yip Man’s Wing Chun. This included the classic martial arts characterized often in movies that includes wooden dummies and melee weapons. However, Sigung Chu Shong became quite at home in the world of Sil Nim Tao and it would become the basis for his academy when he opened his own school in Hong Kong in 1964.
Two Pillars of Chu’Shong Tins Teaching – Chi Sau and Nim Tao
Nim tao is the abbreviation of “sui nim tao”. The literal translation means little thought.
Why did Sigung Chu have his students focus so heavily on this?
It turns out, this form is imperative for a beginner. It reinforces the concept of the center line. Before a man may run, he must first walk. And in Wing Chun, before he may perform, he must learn the correct breathing and posture. The reason why Sigung Chu pushed his students to success in this form was nothing else could be taught in his school without this proper foundation.
The basis of power in an attack can often be derived by he who is able to maintain his center line while impeding his opponent’s center line. In order to successfully do this, automatic reflexes must be carefully honed and proper posture and breathing maintained.
These two pieces are the gifts of Master Yip Man – “little thought” and “sticking hands”. It’s amazing how two simple concepts can be developed to form a great short distance Wing Chun school of thought.
Chi sau – also spelled chi sao – is the “sticking hands” portion. It’s where students develop the automatic reflexes to strike and defend properly. This is a particular area that Sigung Chu pushed heavily in his teaching sessions in Hong Kong. It’s also pivotal in developing the reflexes to truly get to use this style of Wing Chun properly.
Sifu Jim Fung Branches Off From the Master
Watching any of Sigung Chu’s demonstrations of the Sil Nim Tao form, one is almost immediately overcome by the lack of aggressive movement. Methodical and almost whimsical, at no point does he appear to ever move his ground while his student or opponent always loses his.
This strange dynamic, having none of the theatrical, over the top jumping and hopping of other forms of kung fu, became an intrinsically unique curiosity for both Eastern and Western students.
Famously, Sifu Jim Fung would adopt this same style when he brought his school of Wing Chun to Australia. Unlike many forms of kung fu, this form can be practiced in close quarters and the basics – through practice – can be applied to almost any student and situation.
However, from his home in Hong Kong, Sigung Chu focused heavily on his students attaining a working mastery of nim tao and chi sau. Often times when both novice and expert students arrived to his academy, they would be struck how there was no adherence to strict uniforms but instead on honing and mastering the basics.
Sifu Jim Fung, one of the pioneers of bringing a traditionally structured academy system of Wing Chun to the Western world, studied arduously under Sigung Chu’s guidance. It was due to this steadfast adherence to the true spirit of Chu’s style of Wing Chun that Jim Fung was able to translate it for Westerners trapped in the mindset of theatrical mixed martial arts.
International Appeal of Wing Chun
Despite the popularity of Mixed Martial Arts styles such as Jujitsu and kickboxing, Wing Chun offers a completely different appeal. While considered a very deadly martial art, it nonetheless focuses instead on personal development and harnessing the energy of one’s self and the attacker to achieve success.
It’s for this reason that while the form is exceedingly gaining popularity, it can be rather difficult for a beginner to find an academy. At present, in the United States, the biggest Wing Chun academy closely associated to the art and form of Sigung Chu Shong Tin is the International Academy of Wing Chun. Mainly based out of the West Coast, it has footholds in eastern cities such as Atlanta.
For many students of this style, though, it becomes something of a pilgrimage – to not only learn the teachings of the former students of Sigung Chu and others but also the rich history and philosophy associated with it. Truly, the legacy of Sigung Chu is one of continued vital importance to schools of Wing Chun the world over as his students are still out there instructing others in this martial art.