History of Wing Chun

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The history of Wing Chun has been passed from teacher to student verbally rather than through written 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.

Oral histories[edit]

Yip Man Wing Chun[edit]

The oral history of the Ip Man branch of Wing Chun is as follows: After escaping the destruction of the Fujian Shaolin Monastery by Qing forces (circa 1730), the Abbess Ng Mui fled to the distant Daliang mountains on the border between Yunnan and Sichuan. There, 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 Yim Wing Chun a summarized version of her Southern Shaolin Kung Fu, which allowed Yim Wing Chun to fend off the warlord once and for all. After completing her training under Ng Mui (circa 1790), Yim Wing Chun eventually married Leung Bok-Chao (梁博儔), to whom she taught the fighting techniques that Ng Mui had passed on to her. After Yim Wing Chun died (circa 1840), her husband Leung Bok-Chao passed the new style on to Leung Lan Kwai (circa 1840). Leung Lan Kwai taught six members of the Red Boat Opera Group (circa 1850). All Wing Chun today descends from these six Opera Group members: Yik Kam, Hung Gan Biu, Leung Yee Tai, Wong Wa Bo, Dai Fa Min Kam, and Law Man Kung.

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.

There are numerous variations of this story.


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, a student of Choy gar, helped to shape the style of Wing Chun.[2]

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 traveling 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 would be carried out using poison or knives, their targets were usually protected by bodyguards who, on the 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.

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 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 Wing Chun was created by the five elders of the Shaolin temple whose systems included white eyebrow, white crane, shaolin, hung gar, and choy li fut. 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 said, "[The] 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 center, their elbows in and behind the arm 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

All Wing Chun today descends from six Opera Boat Members who were taught by Leung Bok-Chao from 1845-1855: Yik Kam, Hung Gan Biu, Leung Yee Tai, Wong Wa Bo, Dai Fa Min Kam, and Law Man Kung.

Leung Yee-Tai was a poler, that is, he used a pole to steer the Red Opera 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. It was through Jee Shim that the six-and-a-half point pole was then added into the Wing Chun system. Leung Yee Tai and Wong Wa Bo both taught a single student named Leung Jan, whose students included his son 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.

"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.

Hung Gun Biu (紅巾彪) passed the art on to his son-in-law Yin Lee-Chung and the Wang (王) family.

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]

Ip 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, making Chan Wah Shun the first to teach the art openly on a school fee basis. However, Chan Wa Shun was military/security based and was employed by Yip Man's father. [4]

Several movies have been made about Yip Man, including Ip Man,[5] Ip Man 2,[6] Ip Man 3,[7] Wong Kar-wai's The Grandmaster[8] and The Legend is Born: Ip Man.[9]


  Chinese Pinyin Cantonese Yale  
Yim Wing Chun 嚴詠春 yán yǒngchūn yim4 wing2 cheun1
Yongchun 永春 yǒngchūn wing5 cheun1 literally "Everlasting 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
  4. ^ "Yip Man Biography". The Biography.com Website. A&E Television Networks. 
  5. ^ Elley, Derek (20 January 2009). "Ip Man Review". Variety. Retrieved 22 May 2010. 
  6. ^ Ebert, Roger (2 March 2011). "Ip Man 2". rogerebert.com. Retrieved 8 May 2011. 
  7. ^ Tsui, Clarence (17 December 2015). "'Ip Man 3': Film Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 18 December 2015. 
  8. ^ Lee, Maggie (2013-01-08). "The Grandmaster". Variety. Retrieved 2013-01-09. 
  9. ^ Lee, Maggie (October 14, 2010). "The Legend is Born: Ip Man -- Film Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved April 27, 2018.