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Master Siu Hon-Sung on Bruce Lee

September 29 2015 at 8:41 AM
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Response to The Jing Mo & Northern Styles Connections

Below is an excerpt from an article (edited) found in the issue of 70s HK JKD Club magazine entitled: “Meeting One of Bruce Lee’s Masters – Sifu Siu Hon-San."
Sifu Siu Hon-San was Bruce’s intimate friend, master, and at the same time, his uncle (Bruce called him 4th Uncle). Bruce’s father and Sifu Siu both have served in the film industry for many years, and they were good friends.

Exchanged Cha-Cha with Ching Wu’s (aka Jing Mo) Kung Fu
Siu Hon-San said, “Bruce was very smart in learning Kung Fu. He had a schedule for his training and he followed it step by step. He never rushed.”
Before Bruce learnt from Sifu Siu, he had followed Mr. Yip Man in learning Wing Chun Kune and had had a good understanding of the principles in boxing and force, especially the techniques of releasing one’s power at a short distance. As he was soon to leave HK for the U.S., he visited Sifu Siu one afternoon. They had a chat...

Bruce asked Sifu Siu, “Now that I have taught you how to dance, what will you teach me as an exchange of Cha-Cha? How about teaching me some Kung Fu?” So Sifu Siu taught him a simple boxing set in the basic boxing of the Ching-Wu (aka Jing Mo) school Kung Lik Kune. The Kung Lik Kune was not long, about ten steps and Bruce was quick in learning, so he mastered it after only three lessons. Sifu Siu stressed, “To say that ‘he mastered it’ doesn’t mean that he had the forms only, but his movements and techniques were absolutely accurate and up to the standard.”

Later, Bruce continued to request Sifu Siu to teach him some advanced boxing. It was 1958 or 1959 when the movie series “Wong Fei-Hung” was very popular, Sifu Siu had a lot of work to do. He was one of the actors and at the same time a martial arts director. He was so busy that he had little time. Hence, he had to refuse Bruce’s request and stopped teaching Kung Fu for a time. Siu recalled in those days, Bruce practised earnestly that set of boxing he taught him. In his spare time, Bruce would also visit Mr. Yip Man and further develop his Wing Chun Kune.

Bruce’s quest for more martial arts learning
Ten years later, Bruce's body was srong like Tarzan. On the screen, Bruce seemed to have a stout and strong physique. Moreover, he always showed his muscles before his friends and on TV. But in his younger days, Bruce was an ordinary kid. He was a bit tall but thin. In the U.S., he trained disciplinely, earnestly and daily. This hard training gave him a strong body and superb skills. From this we can learn a lesson, that is, without hardwork, there will be no achievement. This is an unchangeable and practical rule. You may doubt the depth in Bruce’s Kung Fu, but from his public performances, we can be very sure that he was an extraordinary martial artist. He had used ten years’ time to obtain his success through diligence and persistency. No doubt, we have to also respect his patience and confidence.

Two months before he went to the U.S., Bruce specially visited Sifu Siu. He solemnly and clearly stated, “Uncle Siu, I’m about to leave HK, I’m serious! First, I don’t feel that Wing Chun Kune is bad, but I want to increase my knowledge and learn the strong points of different kinds of Kung Fu. Moreover, I’m about to leave HK for the U.S. Over there, teachers of Kung Fu may be few, so I hope to learn some more so that I can practise by myself.”

Bruce was clever and tactful, and he knew the HK old masters well. Sifu Siu did not like “greedy” students and he hated students forsaking their former masters, and takes it as an expression of disrespectful. He thinks that if today you say that his school is no good, tomorrow you may say that his school is no good too. If Bruce had said that he did not like Wing Chun Kune, Sifu Siu would surely have rejected his request. However, Bruce was wise in the manipulation of language. His request was finally accepted by Sifu Siu.

Three-class-system: "Virtue, Knowledge and Inheritage of knowledge"
“In learning Kung Fu, virtue is of first importance.” Sifu Siu continued, “I’m a conservative man, and follow strictly the refined rules laid down by our previous masters. A Kung Fu student must respect his masters and their teachings. He should start with one school first, then move on to other schools. In this way, he will be able to know the strong points of different schools. This is a way to acquire more knowledge.”

“Personally, I prefer the ‘Three-class-system.’ I guided Bruce according to this principle before he went to the U.S.” Sifu Siu pointed out,”The so-called ‘Three-class-system’ is first, martial arts virtue --- this virtue find expression in politeness, cultivation in temper and respect for teachers. No matter, what achievement you will get, in China, you must not forget your masters who have helped a great deal in nurturing you. So, martial arts’ virtue is considered to be of first importance.”

“The second importance is martial arts knowledge.” He said carefully, “Do not take the martial arts knowledge as a fairly tale. It is very important to one’s cultivation of martial arts. Bruce achieved such glorious results because he relied very much on his efforts in seeking out martial arts knowledge. He understood all kinds of martial arts and knew their strong points as well as their weak points. In fact, every kind of martial arts has its strengths as well as some weakness. If one thinks that he has learnt enough and looks down upon other schools' martial arts, he will not attains greatness. Thus, one must have a vast knowledge of martial arts and understanding to cultivate one’s techniques.”
The last but no least is the "teaching or inheritage of technique”which does not need further elaboration.

Bruce favored Chinese Northern Kung Fu
Sifu Siu went on, “After Bruce learnt Wing Chun Kune, he came to ask me to teach him some Kung Fu. I chose to teach him the second set of the basic forms of Ching Wu school – Kung Lit Kuen. I chose this because it is easier to learn since it is short. Later, he wanted to learn some more Chinese Northern Kung Fu. He came to find me again. So, I taught him some Chinese Northern Kung fu that stresses in the use of kicks. This influenced Bruce’s kicks as seen in his movies. He had made some changes to make it more appealing. Moreover, Chinese Northern Kung Fu has larger movements. It is much more fanciful on-screen. In short, Bruce’s Kung Fu was based on Wing Chun Kune first and then followed by the influence of my Northern boxing.

“Later, I taught him a set of Jumping step-boxing. This kind of boxing is a basic boxing form of Northern Mantis Kung Fu. Its characteristics are jumps, tumblings, swift movements and the circular horizontal kick. Bruce was very smart. He learnt it in six or seven lectures. So, I taught him a set of Git Kune (aka Jit/ Jeet Kune), the fourth set of the basic boxing forms of Ching Wu School. Bruce had special interest in this boxing form. He liked it and spent plenty of time studying and analysing this boxing form.”

Not interested in long routines boxing forms
In many cases, boxing technique is very closely connected with one’s personality. According to one’s personality, one will have interest towards certain boxing techniques and tend to disregard other boxing techniques. Sifu Siu said,”I originally wanted to teach him Tai Gin Kune (aka Big Fighting Fist), the third set of the basic boxing forms of Ching Wu School but he did not want to learn it because it has over 120 steps. It is too long, so, I taught him Git Kune.”

Sifu Siu went on to explain,”Actually, it is a good thing for a student to think by himself, to be selective and to have good judgment. Learn what you want to learn. Every kind of boxing form is good. It depends on whether you like it or not.” Bruce not only learnt the above boxing forms, but I also taught himm 2 sets of weapon forms. One of them was Bak Gwa Dau (aka Eight Trigram Knife), it uses the broad sword; the other was Five Tigers Spear. However, he aimed not weapons as it can only be used in performing, and not in today’s society, so he concentrated mostly on boxing.”

After the morning training, Sifu Siu and Bruce would go for tea and share their martial arts knowledge and principles of boxing. In their tea time, they talked about almost everything. In this period, Bruce learnt a lot of knowledge about the martial arts world and boxing techniques. This knowledge was the precious experience of Chinese martial arts. It enlightened Bruce and helped Bruce to attain his success later.

Besides this information, Sifu Siu specially related to Bruce the biographies, sayings, virtues and success of the important masters of the Ching Wu School. He also analysed the essential points in the theory of boxing, the process and steps of training for Bruce.

Broadening the horizon of martial arts and accepting truths objectively
In the aspect of the scope of martial arts, Sifu Siu always gave Bruce's guidance. He said, “In today’s world, the development of martial arts cannot compare with the development some forty or fifty years ago. With the development of social civilization and progress in science, the older views of martial arts should be amended. We have to adapt to the new situation in our society and accept the judgement of truth objectively. We should have a wider perspective. We can’t say that this school is good and that school is no good, or this is a technqiue that can conquer everyone. Among all my masters, none claimed that they were the best. The success of boxing is based on principles, forces and hard training. The maxim can be reduced to four words: ‘Swiftness, power, accuracy and aggressiveness.’ No doubt, swift action is very important. But without power, swift action will not be enough. For example, you may hit five punches, but it is useless if they are weak. If your opponent is strong, one heavy blow will hurt you badly. So, ‘power’ is also very important. This is difficult to achieve. If you want to pass this difficult examination, you have to train hard and consistently. Apart from swiftness and power, you also need to practise your accuracy. If you can’t hit accurately, it’s very dangerous, you may be hurt badly, even up to the point of death!”

Sifu Siu explained, “What I mean is, if you can’t hit accurately, you leave space for your enemy to attack your vital parts, then you’ll be hurt. And if he hits you hard, you’ll die.” On the screen, Bruce’s punches and kicks are very accurate. He could use his hands and legs freely and with full mobility. But Sifu Siu humbly said, “This is not influenced by me and moreover, it is not discovered by me. It is the previous experience of our martial arts. I only taught them to Bruce.”

“A pressman once publicly suggested that swiftness, power, and accuracy were discovered by Bruce. This is wrong. It is the rule of Chinese martial arts exercise. This is the target of every school and every kind of sport. Ping-pong is a good example. The problem is whether the practitioner can practise diligently and ‘develop’ it.” Sifu Siu explained its meaning: “I’ve mentioned before that there should be three stages in the learning of martial arts, that is (1) Have a teacher; (2) Practise; (3) Develop. ‘Develop’is change. The first point includes the reception of his teacher, his school and its regulations. The second point does not necessarily mean mechanical training. We can train according to our interests, like what Bruce said to Shek Kin, 'I can’t remember much about Kung Lik Kuen, but I can remember Jumping Step Boxing. However, I now use mainly Git-Kune and Wing Chun.' Of course, what you see on the screen is not the original kind, they have undergone changes. But to change creatively is not easy. You have to learn. When you learn it, you may practise hard if you like it. Practise hard until you are completely acquainted with it. Then you’ll have to assimilate the good points of other martial arts and fuse them. This is what we call development.”

Emphasis on tough physical training
“Bruce’s success is a result of his hard training. Everyday, he practised for three hours, one for swiftness, one for power and one for accuracy. He did it diligently and consistently. Thus, on the screen his attack is fast, powerful and exceptionally accurate.” Apart from concentrating on swiftness, power and accuracy, Bruce especially paid attention to two important points, that is, “Internally, practise breathing; externally, practise your tendons, bones and skin.” The training of the latter one is strking a pillar with your fingers, hitting sandbags or sparring. It hardens your forearms and fists. But breathing is very important. Even if you have become famous, you have to practise it every day. Bruce’s main method of breathing exercise was running.”

“Bruce practised in this way. From 1959-1965, the result was very outstanding.” Sifu Siu recalled, “In 1965, Bruce came back from the U.S. and was invited to an interview on radio. He performed the force of his punch before the microphone. The method was like this: He stood before the mike, stretched out his arm so that his fist was about four or five inches from it. Then he punched swiftly. The sound of the wind produced by the punch was clearly heard. At that time, some of my students doubted it. They asked me. I firmly answered them that it was real Kung Fu. For Bruce had trained long and hard enough, and had achieved a good result. He showed his audience his real Kung Fu.”

Good at reforming martial arts
“Bruce and I were intimte friends. I’m his uncle. I tried my best to explain the meaning of the Ching Wu School to him. Later, Bruce absorbed foreign martial arts, reformed it and formed his own unique school of martial arts. But he did not forget his masters. In 1965, when he came back to HK accompanied by his wife, he often came to visit me and we had chats. He had also remembered the boxing forms that I had taught him and gave us a demonstration. He not only made no mistake in his performance, but he was very acquanited with it. In 1967 (note: should be 1970), he returned again. Because he had to perform on TVB, he practised in my institute and his opponent was Unicorn.”

“After years of hard training, he understood the real meaning of martial arts. Two of his slogans were: “Using No Way As Way; Having No Limitation As Limitation” – this is a complicaed theory, but it was not discovered by Bruce. It had already been propounded by Chinese ancient martial artists a thousand years ago. But to understand it thoroughly and to put it into practice, it needed to have a man who had gone through hard training and numerous struggles.”In short, the higher state of cultivation in martial arts can be represented by a word, ‘Change.' To grasp this word is not easy. Without a deep-rooted foundation and persistant training, you can never understand it. My evaluation of Bruce Lee is that he was diligent, steady and could bear hard training; and he was able to reform his martial arts.”

“It was said that after Bruce returned to HK, our relation was not so close. This was not true. I had my own career and he had his work to do. We had to arrange our time. To spend two or three hours a day in having tea chatting would have been just a waste of time. We Chinese have a saying,‘The relationship between gentleman is like water.’Real friendship is not built upon tea and chatting.”

With superb skills he brings joy to the audience
“As to the idea of martial arts, although he did not entirely accept my philosophy, it is a fact that he never doubted it. In July 1969, he sent me a letter from the U.S., asking me for my philosophy of martial arts and attached photos. He sent them to be published in ‘Blackbelt.' This is proof that he understood and agreed with my philosophy. In spite of this, our understanding and views of martial arts were not entirely the same. I remember the panel discussion held in my institute in 1965. We presented our own ideas about martial arts. On that panel, there were pressmen, elder masters, some friends, a few of my students and me.”

“On that panel, Bruce stressed fighting. He praised swiftness and attack. And I thought that the aims in learning Kung Fu were to have a healthy body, to have recreation and to be able to defend yourself. Although Bruce upheld unarmed combat, his philosophy did brings people the importance of health and recreation. In his movies, his actions are swift and creative. When we see his movies, we have joy. This explains that though our opinions were not entirely the same, we were moving towards the same target.”

“In Chinese martial arts, every form contains attack and defence. When I taught Bruce Git Kune, I explained clearly the intention of every step. This is for defence, that is for attack and so on and so forth. I told him clearly so that he could practise at home.” In this meeting with Sifu Siu we could see the process of Bruce’s success and the reasons behind it. As Sifu Siu said, “Bruce’s success was based upon three points: Firstly, he was humble and willing to learn; secondly, he trained hard and was patient; third, he was able to reform.” Actually, the above factors should be found in every Kung Fu practitioners. However, many know, but few practise this. It is a test of patience and firm mind, really.

Bruce has passed away, but his diligence and patience are worthy of our emulation. -- HK JKD Club

Photos of Master Siu Hon Sung:

Video of Siu Hon-Sung’s interview:

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