Was Yip Man a superhero?

Yip Man – by the latest since the “Ip Man” movie-series – has always been depicted as a kind of superhero with incredible abilities.

But what do we actually know about the historic figure “Yip Man”?

You see, the Chinese have a great tradition of telling stories.


I hope you don’t believe in the story of Yim Wing Tsun observing two fighting cranes and then developing a sophisticated martial art out of nowhere.

Really, this is a fairy tale. It’s beyond ridiculous.

I am very much convinced that the founders of wing chun were a team of people with some profound knowledge of human physiology.

It is probably hard-wired into the human brain to listen to stories and memorize them well. Before we developed scripture, knowledge and myths had to be transmitted orally. In story-form it was easy to remember.

But of course orally transmitted stories would change after a while – just like in the telephone game. Suddenly an average Jane might turn into a superhero.

The Chinese understood very well the impact of telling a story – it’s no accident that nowadays storytelling is among the most hyped marketing tactics.

So what if all the stories about Yip Man are stories made up (or sometimes exaggerated with a tiny spark of truth in them). Just to sell the wing chun product better. To intimidate other styles and make the stories more memorable.

Yip Man as superhero – what’s the evidence?

If we take the actual evidence about Yip Man all at least I can see is an average person with hardly any understanding of Siu Nim Tao – at least no understanding that goes beyond what other “masters” do and show.

I am pretty sure that if you put Yip Man among other men in Hongkong’s Kungfu-Corner, let him practice Siu Nim Tao, and you didn’t know it’s Yip Man you wouldn’t recognize him as some the superhuman fighter he’s always depicted.

Yip Man in Kungfu Corner - not quite!

Just look at the videos of Yip Man practicing Siu Nim Tao. You could now argue that he was quite old and sick at this point. I get that. But I bet it would have not looked any different 30 years before.

Yip Man shows that he had not understood what Siu Nim Tao is about.

Just to set the record straight: I am not trying to belittle Yip Man or any of the other protagonists. All I am saying is that if we want to advance, we can’t believe made-up stories or just copy and do what has been handed down through the decades or even centuries.

We have to think for ourselves with the knowledge and the tools we have.

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Picture Credits: Udo Butschinek, Creative Commons BY-ND 4.0