The movie Ip Man was set in Foshan in the years of 1930s. Foshan was known for various Southern Chinese style martial arts at the time. It was common for various schools to compete against each other to recruit new disciples. Ip Man is known to be the most skilled martial artist at the time in Foshan with his Wing Chun style. However, Ip Man is humble and lives a low profile kind of life. Ip Man is already a wealthy citizen thus he does not need any disciples. Rather, he spends most of his days meeting friends, personal training and spending time with his wife and child.
During 1937 the Japanese invaded Foshan. This drastically changed the lives of the people in Foshan. Ip Man's wealth was seized by the Japanese including his house, which was turned into a military headquarters. Ip Man family was forced to live in a house that is decrepit. At this time, Ip Man was getting desperate in providing for his family that he seeks work in a coal mine.
General Miura, a Japanese general and a karate master himself, established an arena where different Chinese martial arts masters try to compete with the general's military trainees.
Ip Man meets with his good friend Chow Ching-chuen who owns and operates a cotton mill in the captured city of Foshan. Chow Ching-chuen reports to Ip Man that there are highway robbers that are harassing the mill and its workers. Ip Man then trains the staff in the mill so they can fend for themselves.
An incident happened that led Ip Man to hide from the Japanese authorities. However, the Japanese eventually found Ip Man in the cotton mill. The Japanese offered to spare his life if he agrees to teach the Japanese his martial arts. Ip Man turned down the offer, and instead challenged Miura to a martial arts match. The general then accepted the challenge for the reason being that he also a martial arts practitioner and wants to prove that his style of martial arts is superior to Ip Man.
In the end, Ip Man defeated General Miura. However, General Miura's deputy, Sato, threatened Ip Man beforehand that he will shoot him to death if does not lose on purpose. Because Ip Man won the match, Sato shot Ip Man. However, Ip Man was not mortally wounded. The shooting event caused a riot within the Chinese audience. Ip Man was safely sneaked out of the square. He and his family were assisted in escaping to Hong Kong by friends of his.