When my husband Sifu Garry Baniecki first spoke of going to China to meet with specific Kung Fu Families and Wing Chun Masters to have a cultural exchange in Wing Chun, I found the idea very exciting. It is every Martial Artists dream to go back to the roots of their specific system and be able to meet and exchange ideas with different masters and practitioners. Wing Chun was developed by a woman and me being one of the very few women in Australia or China to be training the system, I felt it would be a great chance to show the inheritors of Wing Chun what a woman could do with a woman’s system. It would also be the chance of a lifetime to test our skill (Jee Shin Wing Chun) against some of the best Kung Fu practitioners in the world, the Chinese. This trip would definitely allow us to test our Wing Chun prowess on a grand scale.
Gulao village is ancient and very small; it does not exist on any maps, so trying to find where the village was and then someone who knew how to get there seemed impossible, let alone trying to find someone who could help us contact the famous Fung family, inheritors of Leung Jan’s final legacy. Said to be the purist, most unadulterated Wing Chun in the world. Over many months and hours on the computer Garry had compiled a lot of information on the china trip but was unable to find anything on Gulao. To his dismay his computer crashed and he lost everything on the trip. Disappointed at having to start again he got back on line, this time to his absolute joy, the universe opened up and he was amazed to find all the Kulo information he needed straight away, a guide that knew the area and a contact in Hong Kong who knew the Fung family well. After that I felt it was our (myself and husband Sigung Garry Baniecki) destiny to travel to the famous village of KuLo to meet the inheritors of Leung Jan’s final legacy.
Sifu linda will never forget the deafening sound of the Lion Dance drums, gong and symbols pounding in our ears and smashing the silence as we arrived at the KuLo Red Fortune ancestral eating house, where about fifty to sixty people had gathered to meet with us. KuLo is a Wing Chun village, where the majority of the men in this village train wing chun under different sifus, and they had all come here on this day for some interaction with our group. Everyone was very excited as very few westerners have been to KuLo and absolutely no Australians before us. Sifu Fung Keun is unable to be there, so his brother Fung Leung takes his place, alias the Tank.
After eating, the elders of the village decided that they wanted to start doing demos and Qi Sao outside. So a big circle was formed and we began exchanging demonstrations on forms, weapons and Qi Sao drills. Unfortunately we had been travelling for six days, visiting two schools a day and performing up to six hours a day so we were all fairly exhausted by this time. But the excitement and adrenalin spurred our spirits on, for it is not every day that one gets to perform or practice Qi Sao randomly with other Wing Chun practitioners, let alone in China. Finally the first challenge was put out for random Qi Sao, and then another and another, we were like duelling warriors and we were holding our own against some of the best in China, it was truly awesome, I was extremely proud of our school. The men did not challenge me to Qi Sao, I suppose no one wanted to risk may be getting beaten by a woman, so in the end I made my own challenge, as I had to do throughout our trip. To touch hands with someone whose skill is totally unknown to me and know that he is going to do his very best to beat me, made me feel totally alive, and brought forth all the skill and knowledge I have been learning for the past 16 years. It was thrilling and a lot of fun. The villagers found it very interesting and amusing that I had held my own, a woman doing a female’s system.
After two hours of dueling we headed off to see Leung Jans house, this was a spectacle in itself as most of the villagers jumped on our bus, in cars and vans and proceeded to follow us there. To walk through the ancient streets of Gulao Village, that Leung Jan would have walked and to enter his house, where he would have practiced, eaten, entertained, rested and slept was a very humbling experience, we were back in Wing Chun time. Later that day we would get to actually hold and use Leung Jans 200 year old Kuan, it was absolutely mind blowing to actually be holding this legendary masters dragon pole in my very own hands, knowing full well that Leung Jan had held it in his hands also. Wow, what a privilege. Could things get any better?
Well yes, and they did. We got a surprise visit at Leung Jans house from Grandmaster Fung Chun. This 86 years young grand master had come especially to meet us. He very humbly sat down with us and talked of Yim Wing Chun being the smartest women in the world to have developed the system of Wing Chun, as well as discussing other topics of wing chun history, concepts and theories. This made my day to hear him speak of Yim Wing Chun as many people are trying to denounce the very existence of this women warrior. To hear him speak of her was very rewarding.
On our return the following year (2007), after visiting Leung Jan’s house again, we were honored to walk around KuLo village and be taken to Grandmaster Fung Chun’s house. He remembered us from the previous year and after our hellos we all sat down and he began to talk on Yim Wing Chun, Wing Chun history and different masters, some who are still alive today. He said the system was developed by Yim Wing Chun, who had to be the smartest woman alive to have such ideas. He went on to tell us how her husband Leung Bok Cho was a master in a Southern Style, which used a big horse stance and made you very strong. She tried to convince her husband for a long time that he did not need muscle to win, all that was needed was the special techniques of position and movement that was in the Wing Chun System. He did not believe her technique could be more powerful than his, she was far too small and of slight build. Frustrated by his arrogance she grabbed a pile of tiles from the roof and showed him that with one blow she could break them all. He was so astonished and impressed with how his tiny wife could generate so much power that he began learning the Wing Chun system from her. GM Fung Chun also went on to say how her fighting prowess with both empty hand and with the Dao enabled her to become a Kung Fu legend. It was awesome to hear him speak of her. I found it hard to believe we were sitting in this famous masters courtyard listening to him tell us stories. The villagers were once again with us and they were just as keen to see GM Fung Chun as we were, for he is truly a living Wing Chun legend. It was interesting to see them flock around him, even touching him if they could, hanging on his every word just as we were. It was obvious that we were all in awe of this great man.
From there he unexpectedly joined us for lunch at an eating house, where he sat down in between Garry and I and conversed with us and our students for nearly two hours. Wow! His eyes glistened with the memories that must have flooded his mind as he spoke, he laughed loud and heartily it was easy to see he was enjoying every minute of the interaction with us, also. When showing technique it was quite clear that he had not lost any of his finesse. His hands were still so very fast. It was here that he asked everyone how long they had been training. He was impressed with the time our students had dedicated to the art, especially Sifu Garry with 22 years of training up his sleeve. He went on to say that even three years was a long time to put into training. This is from a man who trained from a very young age, until he was 72 years young. Now that is inspiring. When I explained that I was a Sifu in my 17th year of training he was very impressed, he looked me straight in the eye very intently and gave me the thumbs up. He asked for my photo to be taken as I was the first Wing Chun woman Sifu, to ever visit the wing chun village of KuLo. I felt so honored at this moment to be recognized by this man that every ounce of sweat and pain during 16 years of training had just paid off.
He was very humbled by our visit and touched that we were there, with a tear in his eye he expressed to us that he couldn’t believe we had come so far from another country and spent three hours on a bus just to see him again. We expressed that we were honored and we would look forward to seeing him again next year.
Finally the time to leave had come and we all got up. GM Fung Chun was still talking; we could have stayed for hours. As we were walking out GM started showing more technique and then he turned to Garry and faced up, touched hands and began doing Fook Fu with him. I could see the look on Sifu Garry’s face, he had a smile from ear to ear, he was over the moon. They then moved on to Huen Sao chi sao, Sifu Garry could not believe his luck; he was in Wing Chun heaven. Very few westerners have ever had the privilege of touching hands with GM Fung Chun, yet another great honour that had been bestowed upon us on this trip. The universe was definitely looking after our interests.
Wow what a trip!