The history of our branch of the Wing Chun family begins in the Shaolin temple, but the legacy of Ng Mui and Yim Wing Chun is well known and will not be repeated here. We will start with what little is known of Chan Yu Mim, son of Chan Wah Soon (Chow Chin Wah), the head of the Wing Chun clan in the mid-1800's.
As is oft repeated, Yip Man was the youngest student of Chan Wah Soon and the last grandmaster of a unified Wing Chun family. But Master Chan Wah Soon had other students and disciples as well.
One of these students was his son, Chan Yu Mim. Said to be most famous for his abilities with the six-and-a-half point pole, Chan Yiu-Min earned the title of Chut Sang Gwun Wong (Qi Sheng Gu Wang, King of the Pole of Seven Provinces) by defeating all challengers in a great tournament. The trophy, an engraved pole as thick as an arm, was said to have been hung above the door of his own school. According to the Chan family, Chan Yiu-Min was also known by the nickname Kwai Sao Min (Gui Shou Mian, Ghost Hand Min).
Chan Yiu-Min taught several students during his career, including his sons Chan Ga-Wing, Ga-Chai, and Ga-Lim. He also taught Jiu Chao and, in some accounts, Jiu Wan as well.
Jiu Chao (Zhao Jiu) learned Hung Ga boxing and other systems before studying Weng Chun Kuen and osteopathy from Chan Wah-Shun's son, Chan Yiu-Min. Several accounts suggest he worked in law enforcement for a time alongside his junior martial uncle, Yip Man and took the opportunity to practice with him as well.
Group shot of Jiu Wan and some of his students
Among his students were several other members of the Jiu family, including his nephew, Jiu Wan (Chu Wan), as well as Wong Jing, Gao Jeung, Kwok Sing, Pan Nam, and others. Jiu Chao passed away in Zhongshan in 1972. One of his students was Jiu Wan (Chu Wan).
Jiu Wan had many students and even taught a couple of movie stars in Hong Kong. In his youth in Fatshan, China, he studied Wing Chun from his cousin (literally his father's elder brother's son] Jiu Tong, who is in the same lineage as Wing Chun Master Yip Man. Later, because he was quick to understand the martial arts, Jiu Wan established his own Wing Chun school in Fatshan. After the Communists took over China, Jiu Wan left Fatshan for Hong Kong where he met with Master Yip for continued advanced study.
Since, as it is said, "There can be no two teachers in the same style" or in other words no two teachers equal in skill, in his twenty years of following Yip Man, Jiu Wan always deferred to Yip Man as the head of the Wing Chun clan.
Jiu Wan emphasized practice sparring because Wing Chun doesn't have many forms and, in general, doesn't take too long to finish learning the system. But he also pointed out that "when you study the martial arts it should be practical, and young people in particular get easily bored. Sparring trains the reactions, and Chi Sao can help students understand the main points of the system. Diligently practicing chi sao drills gets better results than any complicated explanation."
"With sparring, a student can both increase their confidence to face an attack and give themselves a chance to use the offensive and defensive movements they have learned in order to protect themselves."
Grandmaster Yip Man, before he died, presented Jiu Wan with a plaque on which was written the four words "Wing Chun Jing Tung" which means "Wing Chun the Pure Tradition," thus recognizing the achievements of a true Wing Chun master. Jiu Wan was the only person thus recognized by Grandmaster Yip Man. At the time of his death in 1974, Jiu Wan was unofficially recognized as the new Grandmaster of the Wing Chun family in Hong Kong. He died leaving a great legacy carried on by his many students.
There are currently three of Jiu Wan's first generation students who teach in the suburbs in Atlanta, Georgia---Jason Lau, is located in Smyrna, Ga, at the Jason Lau Wing Chun Kung Fu Training Center; Richard Chen instructs students in Chamblee, Ga., and Francis Fong teaches from his school, the Francis Fong Martial Arts Academy, located in Johns Creek, Ga. There are other Wing Chun instructors located in Atlanta but not from the first generation of the Jiu Wan branch of Wing Chun Kung Fu.
The Francis Fong Martial Arts Academy has issued a number of black sash certifications to individuals over the years. The Academy has also produced sixteen disciples. The first disciple is Steve Bacastow, named "Jade Dragon"; second is Wah Lun Syn, named "Jade Tiger"; third is Charles Thawley, named "Powerful Bear", and the others were Robert Brooks, Gregg Hamilton (deceased), Peter Kwok, Randy Hewitt, Ali Mohajar, Denton Bragg, Mary Ann Bragg, Andy Peck, Ellen Teeter, Bruce Jolly, Lance McRorie, and Samuel Cushman.
Master Clark Thornton began his training in the martial arts in 1970 in the USMC. He was a 2nd Lieutenant in charge of the 106 Recoilless Rifle Platoon stationed at Camp Buckeley in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba where he studied Kempo for one year. Later, upon release from active duty in 1972, he studied Tae Kwon Do at the Black Belt Academy on Memorial Dr. in Atlanta, Ga., under the tutelage of 3rd degree black belt, Sensei Jack Johns. He received a 1st degree brown belt in Tae Kwon Do karate from Sensei Johns.
In 1984 he joined the Francis Fong Wing Chun Academy in Atlanta, Georgia, and began his formal training in Wing Chun Kung Fu. He received a Black Sash certification from the Academy in 1988 and taught at the school for several years.
During this time Master Clark Thornton created THE GREAT LION COMPANY in 1990, obtained a business license, and began manufacturing wooden dummies in a small shop in Chamblee, Ga.
He accepted two disciples in a bi-see ceremony held in Atlanta in 1998. His first disciple is Alex Wu, named "Fearless Lion." His second disciple is Ha Le, named "Courageous Lion."
After teaching at the Academy he later taught a private group before he opened his own school, THE LIONS ACADEMY OF MARTIAL ARTS, in Doraville, Ga. In 2005 he decided to close his school, "close his hands" to teaching Wing Chun so he could concentrate on the construction of quality jongs.