Real people through the lens of Batman: Martial arts master Ip Man


by Jeremy DeFatta

Hello, everyone! I hope your week is going well. This has been a different sort of week for me, so today I’ll approach the Batman column a little differently. For at least a few posts, I’d like to use Batman as a historical and critical lens for viewing real-life figures.

Whether through their true deeds, through the mythologies that surround them, or through a combination of the two, there are many people the world over who are in some ways real world analogs of Batman. For my first foray into this effort, I’ll look at Ip Man.

Ip Man (or Yip Man, 1893-1972) was one of the greatest martial arts masters of the last century. He was grand master of the Wing Chun school, a fighting style originally created by a woman and intended to be learned quickly for self-defense. You’ve likely heard of him through one or more of the recent films based, with varying degrees of dramatic license, on his life and fights. You may also be familiar with the fact that he was Bruce Lee’s first master.

Along with other Chinese folk heroes like Wong Fei Hung, Ip Man is called one of the Dragons of Foshan, Foshan being his home village and one of the great cultural centers of kung fu in southern China. It is his status as folk hero and cultural legend, along with the several films and other stories dramatizing his life, that produce the urge to compare Ip Man with Batman.

Born into privilege, Ip Man was free to choose what he wanted to do with his life, and chose to focus on martial arts. He held a respected role in Foshan until the Japanese captured it during World War II. You can read more about his early years in his official biography. During his time in Foshan and after, he is also believed to have engaged in some fairly spectacular acts of vigilantism in defense of his students and fellow refugees, which, again, begs comparison.

Following these peaceful years in Foshan, the popular depictions of the character/person diverge in various ways, from the fellow masters he interacted with, to the number of children he fathered, to his exact age and his relationship with his wife.

Even the length of time he spent searching for work in Hong Kong after the war — the period when he truly made a name for himself and attracted most of his greatest students, including Bruce Lee — seems fuzzy. Though they can draw from the very real deeds of a man who lived less than a century ago, his myth-makers have created a convoluted, comic book-style continuity around him, wherein all sorts of adventures seem to have taken place within a very short span of years.

If you are a kung fu film aficionado like me, or wish to see for yourself what I mean in my mythical comparisons to Batman, do some reading on Ip Man and the principles of Wing Chun. Also check out Ip Man (2008), Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster (2010), The Legend is Born: Ip Man (2010), Ip Man: The Final Fight (2013), and The Grandmaster (2013), all of which are or have been available on Netflix.

It bears noting that no fewer than four actors portray Ip Man in these five films across five years, which is a testament to his popularity and appeal. For now, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite scenes from the 2008 Ip Man film starring Donnie Yen. Enjoy!

Be sure to come back next week and check out who I compare with Batman, and let me know your thoughts on this week’s post below, or tweet me @quaintjeremy.

My comic picks for this week:

Batman Eternal #6

Justice League United #1

Hellboy in Hell #6

Avengers #29

New Avengers #18

Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #1 (appropriately enough)

image: art by Chip Kidd, from Death by Design, via KungFuKriticism. Characters, their likenesses, and images thereof © DC Comics or original authors.


7 thoughts on “Real people through the lens of Batman: Martial arts master Ip Man

    • Jeremy continues to amaze me. The actual number of consecutive weeks this has gone on is disputed – he says 20, I say 21. That won’t be settled until I finally find the time to build a page for the series and see what we have.

      In any case, it seems that Batman is an inexhaustible trove of geeky pop culture goodness. And if we make it 26 weeks, well, that’s six months. We’ll be sure and commemorate it.

      This blog would have an entirely different character without these weekly Batman posts, and there have been times when they’ve been the only stability our content has had. It’s impossible for me to express their importance to our overall success.

      Liked by 2 people

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