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The lnfamous Rooftop Fight of Bruce on 2nd May 1958

May 2 2016 at 11:31 AM
LJF  (Login LJF)

 
The following is an article written by Lang Ngan in 1973. The article was published in the early 70s HK vintage magazine, “Superstar of The Generation – Bruce Lee,” titled “Bruce Lee’s real fighting account 15 years ago.” Lang Ngan is one the eye witnesses of this famous Bruce’s fight in 1958. As a matter of fact, what he described in his article matched exactly what Wong Shun-Leung said in “Death By Misadventure (1993),” Lee Chow-Kan in "Forever Superstar (2000)" and in Bruce’s 1958 diary. However, this is the account from a third party eye-witness who was neither from Bruce’s side nor the opponent’s side. Hence, this article takes a more neutral standing and allows reader to see for themselves what really happened in this fighting match and why it was so crucial for the teenage Bruce and how it changed Bruce’s mentality after his victory.

The Fighting Match Take Took Place 15 Years Ago (note: i.e. 1958, written in 1973)
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It happened 15 years ago. One day in that summer, I was passing by Junction Road (aka Union Way) with some friends and we saw a group of youngsters who were gesticulating while walking; most of them were in their uniforms, except for an older young man, who was about 22 or 23 years of age. I saw and knew this guy who had appeared in the paper before. He was Wong Shun-Leung from the Wing Chun Clan. Besides him were about 6 to 7 guys and one of them looked very familiar to me. Although I did not know who he was then but later found out that he was Bruce Lee who became a superstar a decade later.

My friends and I were very curious and went forward to find out what was going on. Then, someone told us that the Wing Chun Clan was going to have some “Talking Hand” (“Gung Sao” in Cantonese or Sparring in English) sessions with the Northern Shaolin Clan at one of the building’s rooftop in Junction Road. We were all hot-blooded young men then and thus, tagged along for the ride. We followed behind the Wing Chun group and upon reaching a building, the group escalated the stairs but I didn’t dare to hastily follow their footsteps. After about 5 minutes, my friends and I then slowly went up to the rooftop.

Once we reached the top, suddenly, I noticed there was more than a dozen pair of eyes staring at us. I was a bit frightened. After taking a deep breath, we pluck up our courage and went over to another corner of the rooftop and sat down. Someone took a second glance at us but after that no one bothered us. we waited patiently. After 15 minutes later, there were noises of rushing footsteps from the stairway and more than a dozen of people walked out of the rooftop’s door one after another. They went over to greet Bruce. I noticed they all knew one another. Under this circumstance, both parties might have thought my friends and I belonged to their opponent’s side. Some came over and sat on our right and left to check out our identities.

Soon, I saw Bruce went over to the other party and introduced Wong Shun-Leung to them. Then, I discovered that they were from Northern Shaolin School, and were all late Master Loong’s students. Except for 2-3 who were boorish, the rest were all well-behaved students. Subsequently, Wong Shun-Leung spoke up, “Both parties are here today to “Gung Sao” without ill-intentions. This means a lot to the younger generation like us. However, to be fair, I suggest let’s set the rules first and elect a judge by both parties.

Someone from the Northern Shaolin immediately said, “As for the choice of the judge, we trust Master Wong totally since you are well-known in the martial arts circle and have more experience than us. So, it would be best that Master Wong be the judge.” I observed from aside and found that this group of youngsters from Northern Shaolin were quite open-minded but were not vigilant enough. Maybe they were still young and inexperience about human nature.

Thus, Wong Shun-Leung was chosen to be the judge and spoke to the participants in the “Gung Sao” matches. He roughly said something like, “Thank you all for trusting and electing me to be the judge. Now, I’m going to set the rules. Firstly, both sides are not here for revenge and should anyone of you fall, the other one should stop the attack. Do you agree?” Both parties nodded their head in agreement. Wong continued, “You are all here to learn and verify your techniques by exchanging skills, and not to make enemies. This is what I thought it should be. If a party tries to avoid attacks by stepping out of the ring 3 times consecutively, then, that party is considered to have lost the match. Do you agree?” Again, both parties nodded in consent to this rule. Wong carried on, “If the match is one-sided, i.e. with only party striking all the way and the other party is down, then, the judge has all right to stop the fight. This is to prevent any excessive injuries. Do you have any objections?” Both parties acceded to the rules. Wong said, “It’s good that you have no objections to all the 3 rules, but I thought you all are amateurs practitioners in martial arts, thus, your physical condition cannot be compared to those professional fighters. Therefore, we will set 2 minutes a round and fight for a total of 2 rounds. Do you all agree?”

Both sides gave consent to Wong. Although the rules suggested by Wong Shun-Leung were agreed by both parties but in fact, they were all set by him. He was tactful and his reasons seemed very logical and complete. It made us felt that the objective of the match was to make friends by exchanging skills and Wong seemed to be very considerate about both parties. His words of sternness and justice made one have no excuse to object his rules. Recalling about that moment, it is no wonder that many reporters all agreed that Wong has very strong convincing power.

Wing Chun And Northern Shaolin Are “Gwok Shuk” (note: Chinese National Arts)
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After both sides have finished discussion, lines are drawn to act as the fighting ring without delay. The first match was about to begin. Wing Chun sent out a young man to be the first fighter. His surname was Chan, a slim built youngster about 16-17 years of age, at the height of around 5 ft. 9 and maybe weighed around 125 lbs. The opponent from Northern Shaolin was a youngster by the surname of Choy, around 20 years old and stood at about 5 ft 6. At this moment, Wong suddenly tried to stop the sparring match, reason being that Chan had only learnt Wing Chun skills for several days only and had yet to master his basic “Siu Nam Tau” completely, needless to say he was ready to compete in the “Gung Sao” session. Upon the repeated request of Chan, Wong finally said, “Since you are earnest to compete, I’ve not other choice.”

Wong then turned to Choi of the Northern Shaolin and explained to him that, “This match shouldn’t be considered a match. Whether it’s Wing Chun or Northern Shaolin, they are all “Gwok Shuk” (Chinese national arts) and both belong to the same family. As I know, Chan had previously learnt Choy Li-Fut and both Northern Shaolin and Choy Li-Fut are also closely related, thus, it can’t be said as a competition but rather, it’s just a demonstration and learning. Choi then asked Chan who his master was. Chan replied, “I’m not good enough to represent my master. Likewise, you daren’t to represent your master. If that’s the case, let’s not talk about our masters. I’m not going to fight you with my life, let’s just fight with reservation and have some fun.”

The match began. Both parties each stood at the corners of the ring. The time-keeper was from Northern Shaolin and he shouted for the match to start after pressing the button of the stopwatch. Both participants put one hand forward with their palms slighting bend outward and the other hand clenched into fists, and were placed near the other elbow; their legs slightly bend forward to form a ready stance. After moving around the ring twice, they started to attack each other with their punches. Both attempted right crosses and then back fists but without jabbing. Maybe, both were inexperienced, thus, their moves and strikes were not smooth enough yet it was still very exciting to watch as both were young and fought fiercely with their guts out. During the exchanging of blows, both of their faces were hit and covered with bruises. To avoid being hit on their faces again, they tried to keep low and landed their punches from high to low. Eventually, they started to hit blindly, the punches were like raindrops, shooting at each other until the time-keeper announced that time was up for the first round. To our surprise, there was no second round as the judge stopped and said that the match was over. During the match, Choy attacked Chan more and was much braver than Chan. On the other hand, Chan’s arms were longer and he hit Choy more and Choy had more bruises. Thus, it was a difficult decision on who won the match. Finally, it ended up in a draw.

Shun-Leung Coached Bruce Made Him An Unfair Judge
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The second match was between Bruce from Wing Chun and Robert Chung from Northern Shaolin. Bruce was about 5 ft 7, weighed around 125 lbs and nearly 18 years of age. Robert Chung was taller than Bruce by about 2.5 inches, weighed around 130 lbs and was about the same age as Bruce. Before the match began, the judge, Wong Shun-Leung spoke to both of them, “Both of you bear no grudges previously and would have no animosity in the future. Today’s “Gung Sao” should exclude the opinions of different styles and schools, and should treat mutual learning as the objective. Do not care too much on victory or failure, even if the fighting becomes serious sometimes where injuries maybe unavoidable, but remember, both of you shouldn’t have hard feelings. Most importantly, both of you are faithfully accomplishing a meaningful task. Perhaps, both of you did not know each other beforehand or might have some misunderstanding formerly but after this match, both should become good friends. Do you both agreed to what I’ve said? If not, I wouldn’t want the “Gung Sao” session to take place.

At that time, Chung’s attitude was sincere and mild. He nodded his head as he listened to Wong’s advice. On the contrary, Bruce folded his arms across his chest, standing on his left foot and bending his right leg with his heel half raised. He slanted his eyes towards the sky and slightly nodded his head in a carefree manner. This kind of familiar expression could be seen in his movies. At that time, I was paying more attention to Wong instead of the two “Gung Sao” participants because Bruce was not today’s Three Legs Lee but Wong’ was the person in the limelight back then. Therefore, the focus was on him. Although what Wong said was appropriate (maybe he has too much experience in this kind of occasions) and his attitude was very sincere, yet he was not old to have the ways of a venerable man. Nevertheless, in my opinion, I find his sincerity to be a bit pretentious and there’s a slight loathe and proudness concealed within and his pretentiousness seemed to contain some conspiracies. After he finished talking, the initial tensed atmosphere in the ring became more relaxed. His intention was actually to slacken enemy’s will of fighting and caused people to fall into his trap unknowingly. If I wasn’t afraid of trouble, I would dare to say his motive is execrable.

Wong tossed the coin to decide who should start the match first. It was Bruce who was supposed to stand in ready stance and Robert Chung should initiate the attack. The time-keeper announced the match to start upon pressing the stopwatch’s button. Bruce showed his unique Wing Chun’s “Bai-Zong” (pile stance) with his right hand stretching forward and bending his elbow slightly, and left hand stayed behind to protect (wu sao) the body. He stood in Wing Chun’s “Yee Chi Chien Yeung Mak” (horse stance) and lean slightly to one side. On the other hand, Chung stroke a front bow and rear arrow pose, with his left fingers acting like claws stretching forward and right fist placed at his waist. His body also leaned to one side, facing Bruce.

When the match began, Chung used his hand to tease and spy on Bruce’s techniques while Bruce turned towards Chung and used his Wing Chun’s “Wu Sao” (hand skills) to defend. After two continuous motions, Chung’s front claw blocked Bruce’s front hand and attempted to hit Bruce’s temple with his right fist. At this moment, Bruce changed his left hand to be the front hand and at the same time turned his horse stance, thrusting his right fist at Chung’s chest. “Pong!” Both hit each other and fell apart.

Bruce who was in defensive position waited for Chung to attack. He maintained his Wing Chun’s “Bai Zong” stance while Chung altered his attacking tactics. He launched his long fists at Bruce very rapidly. Both of his punches continue to hit from left and right at the same time. He was very strong and powerful while Bruce who seemed not to be as experience as Chung, soon was in a passive circumstances. He was forced to retreat and suffered beatings from Chung. Bruce might had been threatened and feared by the ferocious attack of the opponent. Though he did tried to pull back and counter attacked with some punches but the power was not strong enough to threaten the opponent and thus, was not able to turn the table around. Bruce had even once stepped out of the ring accidentally. From then on, he was more cautious and did his best not to retreat. So, when Chung tried to attack again, Bruce stood firm. Both exchanged punches and hit each other but their skills’ prowess was still not good enough, so, both were not badly injured. After a few times, Bruce used his left hand while Chung, his right hand to hold unto each other’s necks. Then, both applied the other hands to strike at each other. At that moment, the time-keeper announced that time was up for the first round.

Poor Reaction; Bruce Wanted To Give Up; Shun-Leung Taught Bruce To Persist
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Both participants returned to their corners of the ring to examine their injuries and review the result of the battle. On the Wing Chun side, Bruce’s left brow ridge and eye was bruised and his right side of his mouth was bleeding slightly. I then went over to the Northern Shaolin side and saw Robert Chung’s chest was reddish completely and there were slight bleeding on his lips but it was not serious and he only looked exhausted. Looking at the state of both participants, those who were present tend to think that Chung had the upper hand and was in a dominant position.

Then, I saw Wong Shun-Leung showed unpleasant expression on his face and reproached Bruce. He asked Bruce why he did not attempt to be offensive and was waiting for the opponent to attack first. Bruce replied, “Because just now the result of the coin-tossing says the opponent should make the attack first, that’s why every time I waited for him to launch the attack before hitting back.” Wong stamped on his own foot and told Bruce, “The so-called opponent attack first is actually referring to the first strike at the beginning of the fight! I won’t lay this rule next time,…really a greenhorn! Absolutely a greenhorn!” Bruce continued, “My reaction is poor today and my performance was not up to expectation, might as well cancel the match?”

Wong angrily told him. “No matter what, you ought to finish the second round otherwise you’ve to put forward the request yourself that you wish to drop out from the “Gung Sao” and that means you’ve lost. Ask yourself how are you going to answer to your Master and fellow Kung Fu brothers? No matter what, you have to break neck and fight on!” Followed that, Wong whispered to Bruce, probably giving him some tips on how to fight the game. But as from what I saw outside the ring, such a judge was in fact, not fair. Since one party did not want to carry on, the judge should not have the right to force him to continue the fight. Furthermore, this is just a friendly match, there should not be breaking neck in fighting as it did not match what had been said earlier. Most important of all, the judge unexpectedly taught him to fight by rendering some tips to him. It is really a bit overdone.

One minute up, the time-keeper got the participants to get ready.

Today’s Three Legs Only Use Punch Previously; Hard To Say Whether There’s Any Agreement
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The second round started and to our bewilderment, Bruce was like a crazy horse, dashing over to Chung. His right hand turned into Wing Chun’s “Yat Ji Chung Chooi” (straight hammer punch) and hit Chung’s mouth unstoppably and ruthlessly. Caught by surprise, Chung was injured and fell two steps backward incessantly. Before he could stand firm, Bruce took the advantage without giving the opponent any chances to retaliate, he instantaneously seize the opportunity and “Biu Ma” (turning his horse stance with jabbing concurrently) towards his opponent. His powerful right punch hit and broke Chung’s front tooth. Chung’s body lost balance and was slanting towards the left. Bruce went on to use his right punch to strike at Chung’s left eye. Since Chung’s body was slanting and falling towards the left, hence, this blow seemed extremely heavy. Chung’s canthus bleed profusely non-stopped and he totally fell to the side of the wall and collapsed. Bruce was almost mad and tried to continue with the attack. But the supporters from Chung’s side shouted to stop the fight. Chung covered his face with both his hands and after regaining his consciousness, he yelled, “Why the judge didn’t ask to stop?!!”

Wong went over and carefully examined Chung’s injuries. He explained, “Because you are not out of the ring then and still have the ability to fight back, so, I’ve no right to call for a stop.” Soon, the result of this fight was announced promptly. Bruce won! I heard there were some aftermaths upon this match. However, I have no knowledge of what really happened after that. Recalling this match, Three Legs Lee did not use his legs so were the other 3 participants. Was it because both parties had agreed not to use legs in the fight, I have no clue to that. It also puzzled me as to why Bruce was forced to continue the fight and if not it would be hard for him to answer to his master and his Kung Fu brothers? Why not just master alone but also Kung Fu brothers? What is the actual point of saying this? Although it looked quite cruel and irrational for Wong to force Bruce to persist on fighting the match but in fact, it actually inspired and motivated Bruce in his martial arts learning and made his belief firmer. Although Bruce Lee’s achievement is very great today, I wonder if he would agree to those last few words I say?

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Remarks:

The above account matches with what Bruce wrote in his 1958’s diary:

Against the senior student (trained for 4 years) of Master Loong Chi-Chong

Date: 2nd May 1958

Result: Big win (KO that guy, broke his teeth but my eye was hit and got bruise)

Place: Junction Road, Kowloon."

(Note: Bruce was crowned the HK inter-school boxing champion on 29th March 1958 and just a month later (2nd May 1958) he used his Wing Chun to beat the Northern Shaolin Style Kung Fu practitioner – Robert Chung in this 'crucial' rooftop match. Bruce won the match but as usual he was not pleased and satisfied with his performance. He thought he could do even better. This leads to his further development of his skills plus his belief becoming firmer, i.e. The best defense is a good offense and persistency is an important key to victory.)

Photos of rooftop scenes: http://postimg.org/image/p7ldgpc2p/


Rooftop Fight Wing Chun (Longest Un-Edited Version): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sgcjd38DMCQ


 
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Responses

  • Re: The lnfamous Rooftop Fight of Bruce on 2nd May 1958 - Fred on May 2, 2016, 3:35 PM
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  • Re: The lnfamous Rooftop Fight of Bruce on 2nd May 1958 - jkdragon on May 2, 2016, 4:58 PM
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  • Wing Chun v.s. N. Shaolin - shaolinguy on May 2, 2016, 8:44 PM
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  • Great article! Thanks! nt - DK on May 3, 2016, 6:16 AM
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  • Great read! - Suraj on May 8, 2016, 4:08 AM
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