History of Wing Chun
Wing Chun Kung Fu's history gives us insight into the way it is practiced today. As such, I am adding a summary from several different English and Chinese sources. Many thanks to Mr. John Di Virgilo of Hawaii for sharing many a story with me.
The history of Wing Chun Kung Fu prior to the Red Junk generation remains shrouded in legend. The most popular
account, which traces back to the famous Shaolin Temple, intertwines with the legends of several other styles of kung fu
such as Bak Mei (White Eyebrow), Wu Mei (Five Plums), and Hung Gar.
In 1644, Manchurian invaders from northern China penetrated the Great Wall with the help of a treacherous Chinese
general. Capturing Beijing, the Manchus ousted the ruling Ming, and established the Qing Dynasty. While they went on
to control the rest of China, anti-Qing sentiment continued over much of their 267 year rule. Renowned for its kung-fu,
the Shaolin Temple became a haven for many anti-Manchurian rebels. Enlisting the aid of a traitor Monk, the Government
sacked the Shaolin Temple in the mid 1700s (Other accounts say that it was the southern Shaolin Temple in Fujian
Province, and not the one in Henan Province which still stands today). Four monks and one nun escaped the devestation,
bringing with them their formidable martial arts skills; many styles of kung-fu trace their lineage to these "five ancestors."
The Shaolin Temple stands today in the shadow of Song Mountain
The legend of Wing Chun Kung Fu lies with the nun, Wu Mei (Cantonese, Ng Mui). Some accounts say that
she was originally a Ming Princess, who, at a young age, was sent to the Shaolin Temple to avoid capture by the Manchus.
With the sacking of the Shaolin Temple, she once again fled, this time to Sichuan province, settling in the White Crane Temple in the
Emei Mountains. On one occasion, she encountered a battle between a snake and crane, and, using her own profound
understanding of martial arts, created a style based on the two animals movements. The style would de-emphasize size,
strength, and speed, and instead use its structural superiority to defeat an opponent.
Resettling in the southern province of Guangxi, Ng Mui came to know a Tofu seller, Yim Yee. At the time, his
beautiful daughter Yim Wing Chun had caught the attention of a local bandit, who thought he could bully her into
marriage. However, Wing Chun had already been betrothed to a merchant and anti-Qing revolutionary Leung Bok-Lao,
who was away on a long journey.
A drawing of the nun, Ng Mui
Knowing the band to be ruthless and powerful, Yim Yee thought he would have to give in to the bandit's
demand. Ng Mui persuaded Yim to put off the marriage for 6 months, during which time she would train the young
Wing Chun to fight with the Snake and Crane Boxing that she had developed. After six months of hard training,
Wing Chun had reached a high level of skill in the art, and when the bandit came to claim his prize, she insisted that
he would have to first best her in a battle of unarmed combat. Thinking the challenge to be a joke, the bandit agreed. However, no matter how strong and fast his attacks, he was
no match for Wing Chun's simple and effective movements. Humiliated by defeat, the bandit would never show his
Yim Wing-Chun, as portrayed by Michelle Yeoh in the otherwise horrible
Hong Kong flick, "Wing Chun"
Troubles out of the way, Wing Chun went on to marry Leung Bok-Chau, himself an accomplished practitioner of Shaolin
Kung-Fu. Leung soon found out that his martial skills were no match for his wife's, and decided to learn the style from
her. After she died early, he named the system after her, and he went travelling through the country to teach Wing Chun
Kung Fu to revolutionaries. The style came to be practiced and developed by the Red Junk Opera, where the butterfly knives and staff
forms were added.
Donny Yen plays Leung Bak Chau in "Wing Chun"
Where Legend Ends and History Begins
Two of the Red Junk performers were the stout and powerful Wong Wah-Boh and the quick and nimble Leung Yee-Tai.
Both contributed to the training of Leung Jan, a pharmacist who owned a shop on Chopsticks Street in the
famous city of Fatsan in Guangdong Province. Learning
direct attacks from Wong and side attacks from Leung, Leung Jan became known as the "Kung Fu King of Wing Chun."
Besides his own sons, Leung Jan taught Chan Wah-Shun, a money changer in Fatsan. According
to some accounts, Leung's sons were smaller and learned the angling side attacks inherited
from Leung Yee-Tai; meanwhile, The enormous Chan Wah-Shun specialized in the direct and
punishing approach passed down from Wong Wah-Boh. After Leung Chan retired and moved
to his ancestral village of Gu Lao, Chan Wah-Shun began teaching in Foshan.
Wong Wah-Boh (Sammo Hung) and Leung Jan (Yuen Biao) in the HK classic,
Grandmaster Yip Man
It so happened that Chan Wah-Shun taught in the spacious Mulberry Gardens, the ancestral
home of the prosperous Yip family. Yip Man, the son of the Yip's, begged Chan Wah-Shun
to teach him, and became his 12th and final student at a very young age. After Master
Chan passed on, his senior-most student Ng Chung-So helped the young Yip Man continue
his training. At the age of 16, Yip moved to Hong Kong to enroll in school. Although
quite small, he could still use the Chan Wah-Shun's direct style to overcome bullies.
However, on one occasion, he was soundly defeated by an older gentleman, who was able
to redirect and neutralize all of Yip's powerful attacks. This man, Leung Bik, was the
son of Leung Jan. He later taught Yip Man the angling approach.
After Yip man moved back to Fatsan, the WWII broke out. His family lost much of their
fortune to the ravages of war. Despite ultimately winning the war, the Nationalist
Chinese government was defeated by the communists. Fearing retribution, Yip Man fled
to Hong Kong. It was here that he first started teaching openly, and it was the first
time that Wing Chun would be introduced to the public.
Grandmaster Yip Man
Sifu Lo Man Kam
Grandmaster Yip Man started teaching publically in Hong Kong in 1950 to Leung Sheung and Lok Yiu,
calling his style "Foshan Fist," since "Wing Chun Fist" sounded too feminine. When his
newphew Lo Man Kam joined the class as the third student, he was the first to point it out as "Wing
Chun." This first group of students, along with Yip Bo-Ching and Chu Shang-tin, became some of the
leading teachers of Yip Man's style. Other early students such as Wong Sheung Leung, Hawkins cheung, Bruce
Lee, William Cheung, and Duncan Leung were among the best fighters of the clan who helped Wing Chun become famous
in Hong KOng.
In 1960, Sifu Lo moved to Taiwan to work in the military. After retiring in 1975, he started to
publically teach Wing Chun there. His first students included Bruce Cheng and Chien Yen, both
now prominent teachers in New Zealand and Japan, respectivelly. This first group of students were
fighters, and proved themselves in full contact Lei Tai competition. Other famous students
include actress Bridgitte Lin Ching-Hsia, Singers Samuel Tai and Elva Hsiao, and the Sultan of Brunei.
Grandmaster Yip Man