Bruce Lee’s Southern Wing Chun vs Wong Jackman’s Northern Shaolin

By September 11, 2017Events

“Birth of a Dragon” is clash of two fighters specialized in different traditional styles of Kung Fu. Bruce Lee’s Southern Wing Chun versus Wong Jackman’s Northern Shaolin Kung Fu. Many regard the fight between Bruce Lee and Wong Jackman as the event that inspired Bruce Lee to create his own style of Jeet Kuen Do. It was after this fight that Bruce Lee created Jeet Kune Do, therefore, he could not have used Jeet Kune Do in the match. Bruce Lee did not use Jeet Kune Do because he had not yet created it. So what martial art style did Bruce Lee use?

Before this fight Bruce Lee had Wing Chun, and street fighting, as his sources of training, and experience. Bruce Lee had not yet begun training every style of martial arts he could encounter. At this time, Bruce Lee was trained in Wing Chun, and had been in street fights gaining practical experience, and was a Wing Chun boxer. Wing Chun, is a Southern Style of Kung Fu, and in many ways epitomizes Southern Chinese Kung Fu. Wing Chun is practiced, and beloved, by millions of people as a legitimate, and effective, style of Traditional Kung Fu.

Wong Jackman knew Northern Styles of Kung Fu including Northern Shaolin, perhaps, the ultimate Northern Style of Kung Fu. Wong also knew Tai Chi Chuan, Xing Yi Quan (Form and Will Boxing), and dozens of weapons.

So if this is a match between Lee’s Southern Wing Chun, and Wong’s Northern, Northern Shaolin, what does that mean?

What is the difference between Northern Kung Fu and Southern Kung Fu?

The climate in Northern China, and Southern China, is vastly different. Everything people do is influenced by the climate including their martial arts. In Southern China, rivers, lakes, and streams are the major methods of transportation. If you aren’t on a little boat, you were probably on a narrow rice patty path, or in a crowded city alley. In these conditions, stepping to the side isn’t easy. Neither is stepping backward. Moving forward, with stable, strong, steps works. Rowing, working in rice patties, and carrying, or laboring, in cities, built strong arms, that were developed further through training. The qualities of strong hand and arm techniques, stable, shorter stances, and few, or lower, kicks, are trademarks of Southern Styles of Kung Fu.

Another trademark feature is vocalizations, meaning the sounds made during training. Because the climate was so hot in Southern China, an important concern was to avoid generating heat during training, and how to dissipate the heat that is generated. Whenever your muscles contract, you generate heat. If you are in a hot climate, you can easily overheat, and get heatstroke. Heatstroke is a serious condition that can permanently injure, or even kill you. Regularly overheating can also injure your internal organs. This is why it is important to expel excess heat. One way to expel excess heat is with breathing methods. In such breathing exercises, certain sounds, and types of breathing, are used to remove heat from different organs. These exercises can be practiced as part of a health regimen. Or, they can be incorporated into your martial arts training. Often heat expelling sounds are combined with gestures to further assist in  removing heat, and strengthening specific organs. This is a specialty of Southern Kung Fu. Southern Kung Fu people often make a lot of sounds in their Kung Fu, and it can be quite impressive. So when Bruce Lee makes lots of sounds that really is a amplified expression of Southern Kung Fu that is really showy and dramatic. Perfect for movies!

Northern Shaolin, and other Styles of Northern Chinese Kung Fu, also show adaptation to the climate. In Northern China, there are few rivers, and instead, there are huge plains, and steppes. People walk and ride horses. Northern people eat wheat grown in fields. They have strong legs and are used to taking long strides. The use both high kicking, and longer, lower stances. Their method is to be much more mobile, and step agilely in all directions. The winters harsh cold drives people to move more, thus generating the heat to stay warm. Northern Styles of Kung Fu use large movements to generate heat. They also control their breath, avoid making sounds, often keeping heir mouths closed, and breathing only the nose. Their thick clothing makes smaller movements difficult. Trademark moves of Northern Shaolin include flying kicks, low ground sweeps, long range punching, and long, low stances. There is also tumbling, and  ground fighting in Northern Shaolin.

One part of “Birth of a Dragon” that I really liked was the fight choreography by Corey Yuen did show this clash of styles. Phillip Ng who portrays Bruce Lee studied both Wing Chun and Choy Li Fut, both Southern Styles. There are tons of classic Wing Chun techniques shown in this fight. On Wong Jackman’s side, Xia Yu does a great job of portraying the devastating kicking of Northern Shaolin. Xia Yu also had a few Xing Yi Quan, and Tai Chi moves in the fight sequences. These styles present a great contrast of techniques. In the actual fight in “Birth of a Dragon”, it is cool how Bruce Lee encounters Wong’s high kicks, and starts to develop his own counters, and even borrow kicks. When they fight the gangsters, this combination of styles starts to evolve, and the birth of Jeet Kune Do is happening, as the gangsters go flying!


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