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How did Wing Chun start in Southern Illinois?

wing chun kung fu Aug 29, 2022

Wing Chun Kung Fu is what Bruce Lee learned from Grandmaster Ip Man. Wing Chun received popularity world-wide because of Bruce Lee, and recently over the past 15 years due to the popularity of Ip Man movies. But, how did Wing Chun Kung find its way to southern Illinois from China?

Depending on where you travel to Wing Chun is not a household name that non-martial artists recognize. Martial Art history buffs and Bruce Lee fans can trace Lee's training back to Ip Man in the mid-1950s. Ip Man can trace his origins of Wing Chun back to its founder, and can be found in Grandmaster's Ip Man's discussion on the history of Wing Chun. Ip Man didn't introduce Wing Chun Kung Fu to Hong Kong, until 1949. Prior to 1949, Ip man lived and served in Foshan, China. Before the official birth of the People's Republic of China, Ip Man moved to Hong Kong and began to teach Wing Chun Kung Fu as a way to make a living.

In 1955, Bruce Lee had been learning martial arts from stunt choreographers on movie sets, and from his younger friend Duncan Leung. Duncan learned what he knew of Kung Fu before he moved to Hong Kong. He was Bruce Lee's friend, class mate, and first teacher. Bruce Lee (15yo) was introduced to Ip man, and subsequently introduced his younger friend Duncan Leung (13yo) to Ip Man as well. Ip Man (born in 1893) was 62 years old when Lee and Leung began training at his school. Ip Man's senior students taught all beginners, so most of their training was with their older Kung Fu brothers. Bruce Lee and Duncan Leung trained with Ip man from 1955 to 1959. During that time Duncan was also taken in as a private student of Ip Man. After 1959, Duncan Leung moved to Australia for school. In 1974 a year after Bruce Lee's passing Duncan Leung traveled to New York City on business, and stayed for two years teaching Wing Chun. In 1976 he was invited to Virginia Beach to teach Kung Fu.

In 1984, Donald Presto (13yo) began his training with Sifu Duncan Leung at his Applied Wing Chun school in Virginia Beach, California. Donald Presto trained with Sifu Leung through high school, college, and subsequent years while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps as a helicopter pilot. Donald traveled frequently with Sifu Leung teaching at seminars and demonstrations around the world.

In 1997, at 18 years of age, Ken Roberts enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. Prior to enlisting Ken was a martial arts fan, but never formally trained. The Marine Corps had a rigorous combative program taught to all Marines, but it was not until 2001 that the Marine Corps formalized a Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP). With the goal that all Marine should be versatile in unarmed combat, edged weapons, and weapons of opportunity. Ken became a martial arts instructor (MAI) in the MCMAP in 2003, and later became a 1st degree black belt Instructor-Trainer (MAIT) in 2005.

Several years later after earning his 2nd and 3rd degree black-belt in the MCMAP, Ken sought out more advanced training. In his research he learned of Wing Chun Kung Fu. Unfortunately living on Okinawa, the birth place of Karate it was hard to find a style other than Karate and Aikido. Aikido was a passion of Ken's, but he searched for months to find a way to learn Wing Chun until he found a school off the military installation on Okinawa. It was a Karate school taught by a man from Italy, who taught the class in Japanese, but he was also beginning to teach Wing Chun as a student of Ip Chun (Ip Man's son). Ken began learning Wing Chun Kung Fu from an Italian instructor teaching the class in Japanese with very little English. After several weeks of training a guest instructor visited the school. Donald Presto came in to provide insight into Wing Chun Kung Fu as he was also a Sifu, and had been training for 28 years with Duncan Leung. After a conversation, Sifu Presto agreed to teach Ken Applied Wing Chun Kung Fu in exchange for learning advanced MCMAP. Over the next year they trained a few times every week helping each other grow in the other's martial art.

It did not take long before Ken realized how much influence Applied Wing Chun had on his style of teaching MCMAP and his skill in martial arts. Ken decided to not continue his learning in MCMAP past 3rd degree, and to dedicate his time to learning and developing in Applied Wing Chun. In 2013, Ken moved to San Diego where he was stationed and lived and worked there for the next four years. There was a few opportunities to train with SiFu Presto's senior students, and eventually Sifu Presto moved back to Southern California where training resumed.


Retirement Ceremony

U.S. Marine Corps Master Sgt. Kenneth A. Roberts, center right, with Expeditionary Warfare Training Group, Pacific, Naval Base Coronado, poses for a photo with friends and family at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, Calif., April 28, 2017.


In 2017, both Sifu Presto and Ken retired from active duty in the Marine Corps. Sifu Presto stayed in Temecula, California and Ken moved to Southern Illinois for advanced college education and career opportunities.

After 14 years of teaching in the Marine Corps, Ken took on a few private students outside of MCMAP. Ken officially opened his school, Gibborrim Academy of Martial Arts in 2019. Ken continues to learn from Sifu Presto, and also teaches Applied Wing Chun at his school to all his students. In 2022, Sifu Presto officially recognized his student Sifu Ken Roberts as an instructor of Applied Wing Chun. 

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