What Grandmaster Ip taught me about discipleship

It takes my wife to really talk about it, but I recently discovered a series of movies that I really enjoyed—Ip Man & Ip Man, 2. The movies star Donnie Yen as Ip Man, a kung fu grandmaster whose most famous pupil, Bruce Lee, went on to popularize the Wing Chun fighting style.


The movie depicts the historical narrative of Ip Man, who was born in the late 1800’s in Foshan, China and taught kung fu to a limited number of devoted pupils. In Ip Man 1, we learn that Ip is a devoted student of Wing Chun who spends hours each day practicing but seldom takes students—he is frustrated that they will not devote themselves to the art. Around town, it is commonly known that he is the best fighter in Foshan so when a band of bullies shows up to embarrass all of the local “sifus” (masters), Master Ip redeems the town’s honor. Later, the Foshan people are being bullied by Japanese solders until Master Ip revives their pride by defeating the occupying Japanese general which sparks civil revolution.

In Ip Man 2, Master Ip moves to the big city, Hong Kong to open a Wing Chun kung fu school. His presence as an instructor is opposed but his pupils are determined to learn Wing Chun and persist through ridicule, bullying and being kicked out of the place where they practice. Eventually, the Wing Chun discipline grows to become internationally acclaimed.

Interestingly, these two movies refreshed a couple of simple truths about discipleship for me. Discipleship is one of the principle tenets of the Christian faith—it is an idea that we must firmly grasp in concept and adhere to in practice if we are to be faithful Christians. However, “discipleship” as a term, a definition and as a practice is widely disagreed upon among Christians. Here are a few things Ip Man reminded me about as it relates to discipleship…

1. Everyone has a Master.
Master Ip chose Wing Chun kung fu as the thing to which he would devote all of himself. He ate, rested and exercised to excel at Wing Chun. He drew his identity and sense of self from his relationship to Wing Chun. Later, others would follow his example, pursuing mastery of this martial art form above all else.

We are all giving our lives to something. We are all deriving our identity from something or someone. We are all leaning in a direction. Sometimes it is a conscious effort as in Master Ip’s case. Other times, it is an unconscious reflex set off by our selfish hearts. James 4 says it this way: “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?”

“Passions” are pulling and pushing you through this life. If you don’t think so, try sustaining a new behavior that is at odds with your current behavior and you’ll feel the tension before long between what you should do and what you actually do.

2. Discipleship starts with me.
Master Ip’s wife often resented Ip’s dedication to perfecting his artform. His devotion to the practice of Wing Chun drove him to push his body and his mind. To put it lightly, Master Ip, gave careful attention to the source of his affection, Wing Chun. His careful attention led to proficiency. His proficiency qualified him to share with others. But don’t miss this—before he was teaching hundreds of students, he had to put in thousands of hours of practice.

What are you disciplining yourself to master? To what or whom are you giving careful attention so that you can become proficient—so proficient that you can lead another down the path you’ve taken. Even if no one else is going, will you go? Will you follow the sometimes lonely path of discipleship?

3. Discipleship costs.
Master Ip’s students would pay money each week to be disciples of Master Ip. But the money alone didn’t make them disciples. Master Ip’s students spent hundreds of hours with Master Ip. But spending time alone didn’t make them disciples.

You see, over the course of a year, it’s so easy to go to church and spend hundreds of hours in God’s house and even give thousands of dollars while there but the price of discipleship is nothing less than everything. Everything. EVERYTHING.

“If you want to follow me, take up your cross,” Jesus’ ancient challenge hasn’t changed. If we are to follow Christ as true disciples, we must give everything.

4. Discipleship is the pathway to multiplication.


Ip Man with Bruce Lee

How did Wing Chun grow from one humble man in Foshan to millions of admiring students around the world? Through discipleship. One sifu taught Ip Man. That one man taught other men. Those men taught other men and so it continued down to a young kid named Lee Jun-fan, who grew to be the man the world loved as Bruce Lee.

In similar fashion, Jesus had the most daunting task ever—redeem the world! Yet, during his 33 years on earth and roughly 3-1/2 years to accomplish his mission, he devoted most of his time to walking with just 12 men with whom the fate of his work rested. Sounds crazy but it worked. That’s why you and I are having this discussion. It’s because, if you were to trace our “spiritual family tree” back, back, back—you’d find one of these guys: Simon Peter. Andrew his brother. James. John. Philip. Bartholomew. Matthew. Thomas. James of Alphaeus. Simon the zealot. Jude of James. Judas Iscariot

Notably, for most of us, I suspect that you’d also find the Apostle Paul in our spiritual family tree and interestingly, even he was taught by other Christians. Yes, he met Jesus on the road to Emmaus but their interaction was brief. The Holy Spirit, through the lives of people like Ananias taught Paul the way of the Lord. Who are you teaching? Who are you learning from?

Discipleship is not something we Christians should ever get away from—it is in fact the way to multiplying the influence of the Kingdom on earth.

Cemented there in The Great Commission is the Master’s command: Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Teaching them to obey all the things I have commanded you. (See Matt. 28:19-20).

You may never be a kung fu master—but you can be a disciple of Jesus Christ who makes disciples.

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