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Wu Wei Gung Fu (translated as “The Spontaneous Movement of the Gung Fu”) is a Chinese non-classical Martial Art, based on the original teachings of Bruce Lee and on the martial art Wing Chun.
(It is important to note that the history of Wing Chun was passed orally, and therefore many versions exist as to the exact development of Wing Chun’s creation. Despite this, most versions concur on the existence of 3 major characters: Ng Mui, Yim Wing Chun, and Leung Bok-chau (Wing Chun’s husband).)
About 300 years ago, Yim Wing Chun lived in central China. In her youth she studied the classical Gung Fu system “Plum Flower Fist”, taught to her by the Buddhist nun Ng Mui. In the course of her studies, Wing Chun found this fighting system to be obsolete and ungainly, and proceeded to develop a Gung Fu system of her own: a system based on the concept of Wu Wei – that which fits the moment. This new martial art was then named after her: “Wing Chun Gung Fu” (Also known as “Wing Chun”, “Ving Tsun”, or “Wing Tsun”).
Wing Chun taught the new system to her husband, Leung Bok Chau, a performer, and the two traveled across China, passing the system on to students chosen by them. Many years later, the system was taught to a man who was to become one of the world’s renowned martial artists: Yip Kai Man (also known as Yip Man). Yip Kai Man, who was born in China, taught Wing Chun in Hong Kong, and was very renowned for his skills in Chi Sau techniques.
One of Yip Man’s students was a man who became very famous in his own lifetime: Lee Jun Fan, also known as Bruce Lee. After leaving Hong Kong and moving to the USA, in which he was born, Lee, who was one of Yip Kai Man’s most talented students, wished to carry on teaching the system he was taught. Due to Yip Man’s firm objection to teach the system to non-Chinese, Lee had to abandon the system’s name. Instead, he named what he taught “Jun Fun Gung Fu” (meaning, Bruce Lee’s Gung Fu). The revised system was to become the martial art: Jeet Kune Do (The Way of the Intercepting Fist) (today officially called “Jun Fun Jeet Kune Do”).
Amongst the first to study under Lee’s instruction on the lawns of Seattle University, Washington, was Joseph Cowles the founder of Wu Wei Gung Fu. After a few years of being Lee’s student in Seattle, Cowles – by then one of Lee’s most dedicated students – asked for his permission to teach Jun Fan Gung Fu. While Lee would not authorize the use of his name, he approved of Cowles’ wish to teach self defense. In 1970, Cowles moved to Dallas, Texas, and in the following year he began teaching.
In order to not encroach upon Lee’s name or the name of his art, he called the system which he taught Wu Wei Gung Fu, named after the Chinese philosophical concept that describes spontaneous action (Wu Wei): a concept highly regarded also by Lee himself, who, when once asked by Cowles which technique was “best”, replied “There is no best. That which fits the moment is best!”.
In 20 January 2006, Cowles retired and appointed Eyal Koren as his successor, awarding him with a 9th degree red sash and making him Jo-Si: the head of Wu Wei Gung Fu worldwide, with Soke Joe Purcell as his parallel in the USA.
A Chinese fable demonstrates the notion of Wu Wei:
The gray heron, sitting motionless and staring at the charging eagle, seems to be a helpless victim – but as the eagle is about to seize its prey, he often ends up impaled on the heron’s sharp beak due to the momentum of its own attack. The heron had but little choice. It chose the only path available to it: pointing its beak at the charging eagle. That was the right choice to make in order to survive. This is a classical example of the Taoist notion of Wu Wei: “Doing nothing, yet accomplishing everything”.
Wu Wei Gung Fu is based upon quintessential non-classical elements derived from Jeet Kune Do and Wing Chun. Joseph Cowles, named the system after the philosophical concept of Wu Wei, the principle of spontaneous action and of using that which fits the moment. Not inaction, but rather the effective achievement of a goal with minimal expanse of energy. As Lee wrote in his first book:
The system also incorporates techniques and concepts derived from western boxing, Jiu-jitsu, Aiki-jitsu, Aikido, Muay-Thai, Escrima-Kali and Sambo. The students of the system learn hands and footwork, holds and bars, trapping, grappling and the use of sharp and blunt weapons. Though the system doesn’t include the use of firearms, it does contain techniques against an aggressor armed with such weapons. Wu Wei Gung Fu training strives to develop its students’ mental and physical abilities. After several years of training, each student is encouraged to find his or hers own path within the system’s teachings.
Prof. Joseph Cowles, the founder of Wu Wei Gung Fu, was a friend and a student of Bruce Lee, and is a friend and a teacher of Jo-Si Eyal Koren, the current head of the system. Prof. Cowles was born in the USA on January 20, 1928. Following a two years service in the US Marines, Prof. Cowles started training in Judo in a YMCA branch in Seattle. In the very same year he met Lee, who was yet to open his first school, The Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute, and became his personal student. After Bruce Lee had taught Gung Fu in Seattle for several years, Prof. Cowles, who was by then one of his most dedicated students, asked his permission to teach Jun Fan Gung Fu. While Lee would not allow the use of his name, he did tell Cowles he could teach self-defense. Cowles moved to the Dallas area of Texas in 1970, and in 1971 began teaching a few students Wu Wei Gung Fu.