By Chris Davis | 1 September 2019
Bruce Lee inspired an endless amount of clones. In the years following his death, movie producers seemingly booked nothing but Lee copycats. You had to pose like him, yell like him, and try your best to move like him.
However, Lee falls second to another martial arts master when it comes to inspiring actual movies. Ip Man, the legendary kung fu master who taught Bruce Lee the basics of the intercepting fist, has more movie credits to his name than The Amazing Spider Man.
To be sure, Ip Man was hardly as famous as his student. The Lee family, however, controlled Bruce's image so tightly that producers could not make the movies they wanted - with the Lee image at the forefront. Many of these producers settled for the next best thing - Lee's prodigious teacher.
Ip Man had the underground credentials to win over crowds. Aside from teaching Lee, he was rumored to have almost superhuman abilities in Wing Chun. These abilities were likely more attributable to simple discipline, balance and honed martial instincts, but they were exaggerated in movies to mythic proportions. Ip Man is often portrayed as being able to balance on anything and proactively sense attacks from well beyond his periphery in his movies.
As with Wong Fei-hung, the name Ip Man is now more of a folklore character than real person. He is a staunchly nationalist Chinese hero that appeals to a great deal of the Chinese population.
Many have speculated that Ip Man's strict traditionalist tendencies in movies are supported by Chinese government, an entity that would certainly welcome a hero that influences the masses to traditionalist obedience.
None of this, however, says why a martial artist should study Ip Man movies. Or does it? Upon further study of Ip Man the MAN, one may find a bit of disconcerting information.
Bruce Lee's teacher, it seems, never found Bruce to be a particularly skillful martial artist. Bruce was incredibly fast, mostly due to his youth.
He was also a master of self-promotion, hence the difference in fame. However, most of Bruce's movies feature him defeating his opponents (and multiple opponents) with impossibly precise single strikes. Compared with other kung fu movies, Lee flicks are full of incredibly short sequences. One kick and the enemy is down.
Ip Man movies are the exact opposite. The fight sequences are long, acrobatic and textured. Ip Man gets hit when he makes a mistake. There is certainly a measure of movie magic, but the basis of the fight is there. You get the feeling that you are watching a true master, not a movie star.
Movie Star or Martial Artist?
Why watch Ip Man instead of Bruce Lee? You get less of a movie hero and more of a martial artist. This realism is the kind of grounding that many martial artists need these days, especially those who fully expect their opponent to go flying and give up after one lucky punch or kick. On the street, that's an attitude that can easily get you killed.