In the 1930s, Foshan thrives as the hub of Chinese wushu, with various sects actively recruiting disciples. They often compete against each other to prove their strengths.
While Ip Man is an accomplished martial artist, he is unassuming and keeps a low-profile, and doesn’t run any martial arts school nor accept students. He only stays at home, quietly sparring with his compatriots in friendly competitions, swapping pointers with each other.
One day, Ip Man (Donnie Yen) is challenged by Master Liao (Chen Zhi Hui), who just set up a wushu school, in a closed match. Yip Man’s buddy Martial Zealot Lin (Xing Yu), who witnessed the entire fight, tells everyone about Master Liu losing. Seeing it as a public humiliation, Master Liao gets into disputes with Yip Man.
Henchmen of Jin Shan Zhao (Fan Siu Wong) are going around challenging various wushu schools in Foshan. In one fight, Martial Zealot Lin is mortally wounded. Yip Man comes to his rescue, only to be stopped by Jin Shan Zhao. Everyone gathers around to watch the match whereby Ip Man dispenses the latter with ease using four Wing Chun Forms: fist, footwork, blade and cudgel.
Ip Man becomes an instant hero and there develops a craze for Wing Chun in Foshan.
Following Japanese invasion in 1937, everyone’s life is adversely affected. Yip Man’s property is confiscated and his family is forced to live in a decrepit house. Being one with strong pride, Ip Man refuses charity from his wealthy friend Zhou Qing Quan (Simon Yam), owner of a cotton mill, opting instead to work as a coolie at a coal mine to sustain his family.
One day, General Miura (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi), together with his troops, arrives. As a fanatical practitioner in martial arts himself, he sets up an arena, offering rice as a reward. However, to another high-ranking Japanese officer Sato’s (Shibuya Tenma) mind, they cannot afford to lose, they must preserve Japanese superiority and dignity.
Eagerly taking up the challenge, Martial Zealot Lin makes use of the opportunity to demean the Japanese…