History of Wing Chun

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The history of Wing Chun has been passed from teacher to student verbally rather than through documentation, making it difficult to confirm or clarify the differing accounts of Wing Chun's creation. Some have sought to apply the methods of higher criticism to the oral histories of Wing Chun and other Chinese martial arts.[1] Others have attempted to discern the origins of Wing Chun by determining the specific purpose of its techniques.

Wing Chun started to appear in independent third-party documentation during the era of the Wing Chun master Leung Jan, making the subsequent history of Wing Chun and its divergence into branches more amenable to documentary verification.

It is believed that a woman had been a spectator to a fight between a snake and a white crane and, from this fight, combined with her knowledge of Shaolin kung fu, she developed the key elements that is known as the Wing Chun kung fu. Over time, more famous names such as Yip Man and Bruce Lee made the martial art known worldwide.

Oral histories[edit]

Yip Man Wing Chun[edit]

The oral history of the Yip Man branch of Wing Chun dates its creation to the reign of the Emperor Kangxi (1662–1722). After escaping the destruction of the Fujian Shaolin Monastery by Qing forces, the Abbess Ng Mui fled to the distant Daliang mountains on the border between Yunnan and Sichuan. One day, she came upon a fight between a snake and a crane (or other animal). She took the lessons she learned from observing the fight between the two animals and combined them with her own knowledge of Shaolin kung fu to create a new style. Ng Mui often bought her bean curd at the tofu shop of Yim Yee (嚴二). Yim Yee had a daughter named Yim Wing Chun (嚴詠春) whom a local warlord was trying to force into marriage. Ng Mui taught her new fighting style to Yim Wing Chun, who used it to fend off the warlord once and for all. Yim Wing Chun eventually married a man she loved, Leung Bok-Chao (梁博儔), to whom she taught the fighting techniques that Ng Mui had passed on to her. Husband and wife in turn passed the new style on to others.

Yiu Kai Wing Chun[edit]

The oral history of the Yiu Kai lineage dates the creation of Wing Chun roughly a century later, to the early 19th century, and names Yim Wing Chun's father as Yim Sei (嚴四), a disciple at the Fujian Shaolin Temple who avoids persecution by fleeing with his daughter to Guangxi. Yim Wing Chun learned the Fujian Shaolin arts from her father and, from their raw material, created a new style after being inspired by a fight between a snake and a crane. She eventually married Leung Bok-Chao (梁博儔)—a Shaolin disciple just like Yim Wing Chun's father—and taught her fighting style to her new husband. The young couple began teaching Wing Chun's fighting style to others after moving to Guangdong Province in 1815, settling in the city of Zhaoqing.

Numerous variations on this story abound.


Other origins for Wing Chun have been suggested, typically involving connections to the Triads, revolutionary groups (often anti-Qing), or the Hakka people of southern China.

Almost all extant lineages of Wing Chun, with the exception of the Pao Fa Lien (刨花蓮) branch, and Hek Ki Boen branch claim to descend from the members of the mid-19th century cohort of the Red Boat Opera Company (紅船戲班).
Another legend has it that Wing Chun's lover, Leung Bok-Chao[2](who was a student of Choy gar) did in fact help to shape the style of Wing Chun. If so, then this is probably why the stances, and the short centred hand techniques have similarities in Choy gar and Wing Chun.

Espionage and assassination[edit]

According to one theory, opponents of the Qing Dynasty used the Red Boat Opera Company as a cover to disguise themselves as a troupe of travelling entertainers. Their identities as Chinese opera performers provided a cover for martial arts training; however, the flashy moves of opera style martial arts were not suited to the activities of espionage and assassination, which required specialized skills. Even though assassinations themselves would be carried out using poison or knives, their targets were usually protected by bodyguards who, on discovery of an intruder, would seize the person, call for help, and disable the person to be held for interrogation. Therefore, according to this hypothesis, Wing Chun was designed to deal with an opponent who seized rather than struck and to silence that opponent immediately. This would explain certain technical aspects of Wing Chun, such as its emphasis on close-range combat and its many strikes to the throat and diaphragm.

Wing Chun City[edit]

Also of note is the existence of a city called Yongchun (永春) (literally, "Eternal Spring") in Fujian Province, China. In Mandarin, the pronunciation of the martial art and the pronunciation of the town are identical: Yǒngchūn. In Cantonese, the pronunciations are virtually the same: wing2 cheun1 (martial art) vs wing5 cheun1 (municipality). The name of the town is written with the character yǒng/wing "永" meaning "always", whereas the lineages of Wing Chun that descend from Yip Man, Yiu Kai, Yuen Kay Shan, the Cho family, Tam Yeung, Fung Sang, Yeung Fook, and Leung Kwok-Keung write the name of their martial art using the character yǒng/wing "詠" meaning "sing." However, the lineages of Wing Chun that descend from Pan Nam, Nguyễn Tế-Công, Way Yan, the Wang family of Saiquan, and Pao Fa Lien use the yǒng/wing "永" character, making the name of their martial art identical with the name of the town.

Several other Chinese martial arts come from Yongchun and the surrounding area, most notably the Fujianese style of White Crane, one branch of which is even called Wing Chun Bak Hok Kuen (永春白鶴拳), or Wing Chun White Crane boxing. Li Wenmao (李文茂), a historically verifiable opera performer and leader in the 1854–1856 Red Turban Rebellion in Foshan, is said to have been a Wing Chun White Crane practitioner.

There is a story that White Crane was created by Ng Mui after she was inspired by a fight between a snake and a crane, as in the Yip Man oral history of Wing Chun. Another White Crane legend states that the art was created by a young woman who combined her observation of cranes with the martial arts she learned from her father—in some versions a refugee from the destruction of the Fujian Shaolin Temple—and later taught her art to her husband, as in the Yiu Kai oral history of Wing Chun. Most stories name this young woman as Fong Chut-Neung (方七娘), to use the Cantonese pronunciation, but other stories name her Fong Wing Chun (方詠春) and the Shaolin disciple she marries as Hung Hei-Gun (洪熙官), to whom she teaches her Crane style which he combines with his Tiger style to create the famous Hung Family Tiger Crane style.

Oral history aside, the technical similarities of Wing Chun and Fujian White Crane suggest that the two are related. As Yip Man's student Leung Ting put it, "Wing Tsun System is derived from the Fukien System of kung fu. Their common features are that during fights, pugilists of these systems prefer short steps and close fighting, with their arms placed close to the chest, their elbows lowered and kept close to the flanks to offer it protection. Another characteristic of these two systems of kung fu is, unlike those of Kwangtung Province and Northern China, their boxing forms are rather simple".[3]

The origins of Wing Chun's branches[edit]

Wing Chun Lineages

Leung Jan (梁贊) is as far back as the lineages that descend from him—Yip Man, Yiu Kai, Pan Nam, Tam Yeung, Fung Sing—can reliably verify their genealogy. He was a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine in the city of Foshan in the 19th century. Leung Jan is said to have learned from Wong Wah-Bo (黃華寶) and Leung Yee-Tai (梁二娣), respectively the male and "female" martial leads of the Red Boat Opera Company, each of whom is said to have been an expert on different aspects of Wing Chun. According to legends from the Yip Man lineage, Leung Yee-Tai was a poler, that is, he used a pole to steer the Red Boat away from rocks and shoals, and was therefore chosen by the legendary Shaolin master Jee Shim himself to learn the six-and-a-half point pole. Leung Jan's students included his sons Leung Chun (梁春) and Leung Bik (梁壁) as well as "Wooden Man" Wah (木人華) and Chan Wah-Shun (陳華順) nicknamed "Moneychanger Wah" (找錢華), from whom the Yip Man, Yiu Kai, and Pan Nam lineages descend.

However, the Leung Jan lineage is not the only branch of the art. According to the traditions of the Cho family, Wong Wah-Bo and Leung Yee-Tai had as many as 11 peers in Wing Chun among their colleagues at the Red Boat Opera Company. For example, "Dai Fa Min" Kam (大花面錦), who played the role of the martial painted face, is the ancestor of the Way Yan lineage. The Yuen Kay Shan and Pan Nam branches descend from both Wong Wah-Bo and "Dai Fa Min" Kam. Gao Lo Chung ("Tall" Chung) and "Hung Gun" Biu (紅巾彪), also of the Red Boat Opera Company, both passed the art on to relatives, respectively, his son-in-law Yin Lee-Chung and the Wang (王) family. Outside the Red Boat Opera Company, a monk who had taken the name "Dai Dong Fung" (大東風) is named as its ancestor by the Pao Fa Lien (刨花蓮) lineage of Wing Chun.

In this cohort of the Red Boat Opera Company, the role of the virtuous "female" was played by Yik Kam (翼金), better known as "Ching-Deng" Kam because of the role he played. Cho Shun (曹順), who played the "Little Martial" (小武) role, was a student of Yik Kam. By passing the art on to his son Cho Dak-Sang (曹德生), Cho Shun established the Wing Chun lineage of the Cho family of Panyu village.

Recent history[edit]

Yip Man was the first Wing Chun master to teach the art openly in "Hong Kong" on a school fee basis. His students and their students therefore make up the majority of the practitioners of Wing Chun today (see his article for the outline of a family tree). Yip Man died in 1972. However, there is also a story that Yip Man gave money to Chan Wah Shun so that he could learn from him. Officially making Chan Wah Shun the first to teach the art openly on a school fee basis. However, Chan Wa Shun was military/ security based who was employed by Yip Man's father.

Bruce Lee came to America to teach the non-Asian Americans. Bruce Lee was a student of Wing Chun.

Recently three movies were made about Yip Man starring Donnie Yen, Ip Man Zero, Ip Man and Ip Man 2.

Though he never started a school himself, Yuen Kay Shan's lineage of Wing Chun was continued by his student Sum Nung and the subsequent generations of students that descend from him.


  Chinese Pinyin Cantonese Yale  
Yim Wing Chun 嚴詠春 yán yǒngchūn yim4 wing2 cheun1
Yongchun 永春 yǒngchūn wing5 cheun1 literally "Always Spring," the name of a town and its surrounding county in the prefecture of Quanzhou, Fujian Province known for its White Crane boxing
Wing Chun Bak Hok Kuen 永春白鶴拳 yǒngchūn báihèquán wing5 cheun1 baak6 hok6 kyun4 the style of White Crane boxing associated with the town of Yongchun, Fujian
Fong Chut-Neung 方七娘 fāng qīniáng fong1 chat1 neung4 Minnan: hng1 chhit1 nia5
Fong Wing Chun 方詠春 fāng yǒngchūn fong1 wing2 cheun1
Leung Jan 梁贊 liáng zàn leung4 jaan3
Wong Wah-Bo 黃華寶 huáng huábǎo wong4 wa4 bou2
Leung Yee-Tai 梁二娣 liáng èrtì leung4 yi6 tai5
Leung Chun 梁春 liáng chūn leung4 cheun1
Leung Bik 梁壁 liáng bì leung4 bik1
Chan Wah-Shun 陳華順 chén huáshùn chan4 wa4 seun6 nicknamed "Moneychanger Wah" (找錢華)
"Dai Fa Min" Kam 大花面錦 dàhuāmiàn jǐn daai6 fa1 min6 gam2 "Painted Face" Kam
"Hung Gun" Biu 紅巾彪 hóngjīn biāo hung4 gan1 biu1 "Red Bandanna" Biu or "Red Turban" Biu; the red turban, or red bandanna, was initially a symbol of opposition to the rule of the Mongol Yuan Dynasty that was revived by opponents of the Manchu Qing Dynasty
"Dai Dong Fung" 大東風 dàdōngfēng daai6 dung1 fung1 "Great East Wind"
Pao Fa Lien 刨花蓮 pàohuā lián paau4 fa1 lin4 "Wood-Planer Lien"
Yik Kam 翼金 yì jīn   better known as "Ching-Deng" Kam (??金; pinyin: "qingdan" jīn) because he played the role of the virtuous "female"
Cho Shun 曹順 cáo shùn  
Cho Dak-Sang 曹德生 cáo déshēng chou4 dak1 saang1
  1. ^ Chu, Ritchie, and Wu 1998
  2. ^ http://www.choygar.com/texts/en/history.aspx, See history section.
  3. ^ Leung 1978:30