The History of Wing Chun – Story 1.
Wing Chun is a form of Chinese Kung Fu and is approximately 300 to 400 years old. Wing Chun is said to have originated from the Shaolin Temple of Mt. Sung in the Honan province. There are many stories of how this martial art was spread, but the most popular one is about the Abbess (Female Nun) Ng Mui.
During the Qing Dynasty the Manchus (who were in power at the time) grew wary of the influence and fighting skills of the Shaolin monks, even though the Shaolin Temple was a passive bystander during the Manchu’s invasion. The monks were known to help out anyone who was in trouble – this included members of the resistance (who were against the Manchu reign).
The Manchus put a stop to this by attacking and destroying the Shaolin Temple in 1647. They believed they had killed every single monk inside the temple, but legend has it that 5 elder monks managed to escape. One of these escapees is said to have been the Abbess Ng Mui.
Ng Mui was well skilled in the Shaolin arts, but often found that her Kung Fu brothers would overpower her with their superior strength. To counteract this she used her martial arts knowledge and devised a new system that used the attackers strength against them.
After her supposed escape she came across a young lady called Yim Wing Chun. Yim Wing Chun was being pursued by a local bully who wanted to force her hand in marriage. Ng Mui taught Yim Wing Chun her new system and Yim Wing Chun used her newly found skills to fight off her attacker and evade the marriage.
Yim Wing Chun later married a salt merchant by the name of Leong Bok-chau. She taught him the Ng Mui system, which he then named “Wing Chun Kuen” (Wing Chun Fist) in honour of her.
History of Wing Chun – Story 2.
As human beings we all love a good conspiracy theory and these work best when punctuated with widely accepted historical facts. In this alternative story it is said that Wing Chun was a new system invented entirely by the Shaolin monks for the purpose of training their members quickly in order to overthrow the Machus and restore the Ming family to the throne.
Shaolin monk training traditionally took decades to perfect. If the Shaolin monks were to be successful against the Manchus they needed to condense their art and vastly reduce the initial training period. The destruction of their temple sadly prevented most of the monks continuing the Wing Chun system, as they were all believed to have been killed during the attack.
Somehow though, the art of Wing Chun lived on, and it is said at least one of the original Shaolin monks managed to escape on that fateful day.
A secret society was created with the purpose of overthrowing the Manchu Government and Wing Chun was then passed down through these rebel factions. One of the fronts used by the rebels was the Red Boat Opera Company, which was based in Guangdong province.
The Red Boat Opera Company was ideal cover for the rebels as it meant that they could move freely from city to city without raising suspicion. This is how they managed to recruit and train new members of the resistance and this process is credited with the eventual spread of Wing Chun. Coincidentaly (or perhaps not) there is a place in the Guangdong province (home to the Red Boat Opera Company), called Futshan which is well recognised as the orignal birth place of Wing Chun.
What does Wing Chun mean?
Wing Chun has no specific fighting related meaning. It actually means ‘eternal spring time’. So how did these words become synonymous with a fighting system?
If we return to the temple we can possibly find the answer to this question. It is said that during the formation of the art of Wing Chun, there was a hall of wooden dummies at the Shaolin temple that were used for practising techniques. This hall was referred to as ‘Wing Chun’, possibly because the fighting system being taught there gave hope of a new age or beginning (once the Machus had been overthrown by these newly trained rebels).
If we now think back to the first story described above, the part when the escaped monk met a girl called ‘Yim Wing Chun’ now sounds rather familiar. Some people believe that whole story was fabricated in order to hide the real truth behind the origin of Wing Chun. The fact that ‘Yim’ is also a Chinese verb meaning “discrete” or “secretive” lends more weight to this idea. Perhaps Yim Wing Chun wasn’t a young girl in need of protection, but was in fact the rebels themselves.
Grand Master Ip Man
We will never know the complete story behind Wing Chun, but we do know about the more recent history behind the art.
The Wing Chun system was gradually passed down through the ages and generations. The pole form and butterfly knife form being incorpotared along the way. Many years later this same system was taught to Grand Master Ip Man.
Grand Master Ip Man, who is known to many as the father of Wing Chun, brought the art to Hong Kong in around 1918. Until this moment, Wing Chun had usually been taught behind closed doors, but Grand Master Ip Man changed all that.
Among Ip Man’s many student was the legendary Bruce Lee. Interestingly, it is said that Bruce Lee never completed the full syllabus of Wing Chun, and that his training only reached so far as the Chum Kiu Level. But, he is most certainly the most famous of all Wing Chun practitioners, and can undoubtedly be credited with the spread of Wing Chun throughout the western world.
As we know, Bruce Lee later went on to develop his own style of Martial Art called “Jeet Kune Do”. This new system incorporated many new techniques and different styles, but Jeet Kune Do remained largely loyal to the core concept of Ip Mans Wing Chun, namely to avoid what is useless and flowery and to always rely on direct, workable techniques.
With this in mind, if you’ve seen his films you may disagree with this point! But the martial art he actually taught was very different from his flamboyant on-screen techniques.