Born Ip Gai Man in Foshan City, Guangdong Province, Ip Man first began learning Wing Chun in 1906 under the tutelage of Chan Wah Shun; pupil of renowned Wing Chun master Leung Jan. Due to old age, Chan soon passed away and Ip Man continued his training under Chan's pupil Ng Chung Sok.
At the age of sixteen, Ip Man attended St. Stephen's College in Hong Kong. It was in Hong Kong that he met Leung Bik, the son of former master Chan Wah Shun's sifu, Leung Jan. When Ip Man first met Leung Bik, he did not know who Leung Bik was and arrogantly demonstrated his kung fu. When Leung Bik was less than impressed, Ip Man was unhappy and challenged Leung Bik to a fight. Ip Man was shocked when he was easily defeated. Discouraged, Ip Man stormed out only to return the next day when a classmate told him who Leung Bik was. Ip Man trained under Leung Bik for the next five to six years and acquired a complete mastery of Wing Chun.
Ip Man returned to Foshan at the age of 24. While there he did not formally open a school to teach Wing Chun. Instead he became a police officer and taught several subordinates, friends and relatives. His connections with kung fu practitioners and occasional fights in the city made him a well known figure in Foshan.
When Foshan fell to the Japanese during the War, Ip Man remained faithful to his country and refused to join the Japanese militia. Instead, he started teaching Wing Chun in his good friend Chow Ching Yuen's cotton mill factory. The movie "Ip Man" focuses on this chapter in his life from his claim to fame in Foshan to his resistance against the Japanese occupation.
After the War in 1949, Ip Man returned to Hong Kong. He opened his first martial arts school teaching the system of Wing Chun. Some of his more famous pupils during this time include Leung Sheung who was Ip Man's most senior and skilled student, Tsiu Sheung Tin, Lok Yu and Wong Sheong Leung. Nonetheless, Bruce Lee is perhaps the most well known disciple who trained under Ip Man. Bruce Lee did not actually train directly with Ip Man. At Ip Man's request, Bruce trained under two of what Ip Man considered outer court students from 1954 to 1957.
One of Ip Man's unique training methods was to encourage students to take on challenge matches. He believed that such friendly challenges could better help his pupils hone their martial arts skills. It was through these public displays of what was known as "hand talk" that Ip Man's school and Wing Chun grew in popularity.
Through the years Ip Man became instrumental in advancing Wing Chun as a self-defense system. In addition, some of Ip Man's pupils established schools overseas, enabling Wing Chun to flourish in other parts of the world. Today Wing Chun has over four million practitioners. Ip Man is widely regarded as one of the greatest masters of Wing Chun Kung Fu.
Ip Man's fame has become so vast that three full length biopic films have hit the big screen starting with "Ip Man" which premiered in 2008. After this "Ip Man 2" came out in April 2009 with a prequel called "The Legend is Born: Ip Man" released soon after. There is now talk of producing "Ip Man 3" because of the huge popularity of the movies. There is no question that Ip Man, the man, has made a tremendous impact on the world of martial arts.