Yip was born to Yip Oi-dor and Wu Shui. He grew up in a wealthy family in Foshan, Guangdong, and received a traditional Chinese education. His elder brother was Yip Kai-gak, his elder sister was Yip Wan-mei and his younger sister was Yip Wan-hum.
Yip started learning Wing Chun from Chan Wah-shun when he was 7. Chan was 64 at the time, and Yip became Chan's last student. Due to his teacher's age, Yip learnt most of his skills and techniques from Chan's second eldest disciple, Wu Chung-sok (吳仲素). Chan lived three years after Yip's training started and one of his dying wishes was to have Wu continue teaching Yip.
At the age of 16, Yip moved to Hong Kong with help from his relative Leung Fut-ting. One year later, he attended school at St. Stephen's College—a secondary school for wealthy families and foreigners living in Hong Kong. During Yip's time at St. Stephen's he saw a foreign police officer beating a woman and intervened. The officer attempted to attack Yip, but Yip struck him down and ran to school with his classmate. Yip's classmate later told an older man who lived in his apartment block. The man met with Yip and asked what martial art Yip practised. The man told Yip that his forms were "not too great". The man challenged Yip's Wing Chun inchi sao (a form of training that involves controlled attack and defence). Yip saw this as an opportunity to prove that his abilities were good, but was defeated by the man after a few strikes. Yip's opponent revealed himself to be Leung Bik, Chan Wah-shun's senior and the son of Chan's teacher, Leung Jan. After that encounter, Yip continued learning from Leung Bik.
Yip returned to Foshan when he was 24 and became a policeman. He taught Wing Chun to several of his subordinates, friends and relatives, but did not officially run a martial arts school. Some of his better known informal students were Chow Kwong-yue (周光裕), Kwok Fu (郭富), Lun Kah (倫佳), Chan Chi-sun (陳志新), Xu He-Wei (徐和威) and Lui Ying (呂應). Among them, Chow Kwong-yue was said to be the best, but he eventually went into commerce and stopped practising martial arts. Kwok Fu and Lun Kah went on to teach students of their own and they passed down the art of Wing Chun in the Foshan and Guangdong region. Chan Chi-sun and Lui Ying went to Hong Kong later but neither of them accepted any students. Yip went to live with Kwok Fu during the Second Sino-Japanese War and only returned to Foshan after the war, where he continued his career as a police officer. Yip left Foshan for Hong Kong at the end of 1949 after the Chinese Communist Party won the Chinese Civil War because he was an officer of the Kuomintang(Nationalist Party), the Communists' rival in the Civil War.
Ip man and Bruce Lee.
Initially, Yip Man's teaching business was poor because Yip's students typically stayed for only a couple of months. He moved his school twice: first to Castle Peak Road in Sham Shui Po and then to Lee Tat Street (利達街) in Yau Ma Tei. By then, some of his students had attained proficiency in Wing Chun and were able to start their own schools. Some of his students and descendants sparred with other martial artists to compare their skills and their victories helped increase Yip's fame.
In 1967, Yip and some of his students established the Wing Chun Athletic Association (詠春體育會). The main purpose of the Wing Chun Athletic Association was to help Yip tackle his financial difficulties in Hong Kong.
Yip Man was said to have regularly used opium. One of his former students, Duncan Leung, claimed that Yip used tuition money to support his opium addiction.
Yip Man's gravestone
Yip died on December 2, 1972 in his unit at 149 Tung Choi Street in Hong Kong, from throat cancer, only 7 months before the death of Bruce Lee.
Yip's legacy is the global practice of Wing Chun. Ip Chun the eldest son of Ip Man is as passionate and relentless in keeping his father's Wing Chun kung fu legacy alive and in 2014 Ip Chun was selected to represent Wing Chun as the inheritor of the legacy of Wing Chun-style kung fu. His notable students include: Ho Kam Ming, Leung Sheung, Lok Yiu, Chu Shong-tin, Wong Shun Leung,Bruce Lee, Moy Yat, Victor Kan, his nephew Lo Man Kam, and his sons Ip Ching and Ip Chun.
Yip also left behind a written history of Wing Chun. Many artifacts of his life are on display in the "Yip Man Tong" museum in theFoshan Ancestral Temple grounds.
Ip Man, a Hong Kong film based on the life of Yip Man, starring Donnie Yen as the martial artist, was released in cinemas in 2008. The film takes a number of liberties with Yip's life, often for dramatic effect. Yip's eldest son Ip Chun appears in the film and served as a consultant on the production, which focuses on Yip's life during the 1930s to the 1940s during the Second Sino-Japanese War. The film is the first to be based on the life of Yip. The sequel Ip Man 2 focuses on Yip's beginnings in Hong Kong and his students, includingBruce Lee. Ip Man has taught many other people. Amid a surge of Yip Man–related film projects in production, Donnie Yen told the Chinese media in March 2010 that after Ip Man 2, he will no longer play the Wing Chun master. He stated, "I would never ever touch any films related to Ip Man. This will be my final film on the subject. Whenever something becomes a success, everyone would jump on the bandwagon, this is very frightening. Did you know how many Ip Man films are in production? Under such condition, we would not progress, it'd only lead to over-saturation of the subject matter." However a new film to the same series - Ip Man 3 - was released on 24 December 2015 having Donnie Yen again starring as the grandmaster of Wing Chun-Yip Man.