Last updated: June 12, 2019
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Wing Chun Kung Fu

The History of Wing Chun Kung Fu

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It has been the common prcatice for most martial arts to pass on the history of their discipline through oral accounts instead of recording it in a written document however, despite having different accounts and not having a clear record to verify its history, those who practice these disciplines have tried to come up with the most consistent historical narrative and in order to come up with an official historical account that is agreeable to those who practice it, such is the case of the history of Wing Chun Kung Fu.[1] Without a verifiable written document to verify its roots, those who practice Wing Chun Kung Fu have tried to formalize the numerous oral accounuts of their history in order to come up with one consistent historical narrative. Nevertheless, despite great efforts to achieve one consistent story, with numerous organizations all over the world practicing this discipline, some details of the history of Wing Chun Kung Fu are still inconsistent.

According to the Nam Anh school’s historical record, the lineage of Wing Chun Kung Fu can be traced all the way back to the Shaolin Temple where Buddhist Kung Fu orignated.[2] Although there a certain differences in the details of the history of Wing Chun, it is consistent that this discipline originated from Master Ng Mui through whom Wing Chun is linked to the Shaolin Temple.[3] Ng Mui was among the five great masters: Jee Shin, Fung Tao Tak, Mieu Hien, Pei Mei and Ng Mui otherwise known as the  “Invincible Five.”[4]

According to history, the monks played an important role in helping General Li Shimin overthrow General Wang Shichong, who briefly ruled as emperor during the beginning of the Tang dynasty.[5] General Li Shimin later became the Emperor Tai Tsung, and as a token of gratitude, he gave the monastery more land and granted them to have their own army.[6] The Shaolin Temple continued to grew in power and wealth until it became a powerful center for learning in the martial arts .[7]

The Shaolin Temple remained the center of learning as it attracted numerous students from all over China most of which were rebels who intended to receive training in the martial arts in order to overthrow the Ching dynasty.[8] Being trained in effective combat skills, these rebels eventually became a serious threat to the government and since the Shaolin Temple was responsible for their training, the Emperor Chian Lung soon launched several campaigns to destroy the temple.[9]

According to certain stories, it was due to the betrayal of a certain Ma Ning Yee and others monks, that lead to the absolute destruction of the Shaolin Temple and the slaughter of many monks and nuns.[10] Despite the treachery, five great masters survived the destruction of the Shaolin Temple, they were later known as the Invincible Five and among them was Ng Mui.[11]

It was said that after the massacre Ng Mui fled to the White Crane Temple on Mt. Tai where she met Yim Wing Chun’s family.[12] At that time, Yim Wing Chun was being forced to marriage by a man who was said to be an officer in that village,[13] although according to other accounts it was said that he was a bandit.[14] Yim Wing Chun fled from the village in order to escape being forced to  marriage and it was during this time that she met Ng Mui.[15] In order to save Yim Wing Chun from her terrible fate, Ng Mui agreed to teach her the art of Kung Fu and after she completed her training, Yim Wing Chun went back to the village to challenge the man in a fight declaring that she would not marry a man that was not her equal in combat.[16] The man accepted Yim Wing Chun’s challenge and with the Kung Fu techniques that she learned from Ng Mui, Yim Wing Chun defeated the persistent suitor.[17] Yim Wing Chun later on became a well known Kung Fu warrior.[18]

Ng Mui and Yim Wing Chun eventually parted ways but before they did, Ng Mui told her to strictly honor the Kung Fu traditions, to develop her own Kung Fu even after her marriage, and to help the rebels defeat the Manchu regime and rebuild the Ming Dynasty.[19]

Yim Wing Chun then married Leung Bok Chau and taught him her Kung Fu.[20] Leung Bok Chau, who eventually mastered the Yim Wing Chun’s Kung Fu, called their art Wing Chun Kung Fu in honor of his wife and continued to teach others their Kung Fu style.[21] According to some text, Wing Chun means “glorifying springtime” or in other texts, “to sing spring,” which signifies the birth of a new art—the Wing Chun Kung Fu.

Leung Bok Chau, then passed on his Kung Fu techniques to Leung Lan Kwai who passed it on to Wong Wah Bo.[22] Being a member of an opera troupe which was on board a junk known as The Red Junk, Wong Wah Bo was able to significantly develop the  Wing Chun Kung Fu.[23] While Wong Wah Bo was on on the junk he worked with Leung Yee Tei.[24] At that time, Abbot Chi Shin, who was a master of the Six-and-a-half Point Long Pole Techniques, was disguising himself as a cook on the Red Junk after having fled from Siu Lam.[25] While the three of them were on board the Red Junk,  Leung Yee Tei somehow became Chi Shin’s student and the Six-and-a-half Point Long Pole Techniques were passed on to him.[26] Being close to Leung Yee Tei, Wong Wah Bo eventually collaborated with him to develop and improve what they knew about Kung Fu.[27]

Leung Yee Tei later on encountered Leung Jan, a well known herbal doctor in Fat Shan and  Leung Yee Tei passed on the Wing Chun Kung Fu to Leung Jan.[28] Leung Jan was able to unlock the secrets of the Wing Chun Kung Fu, and was recognized to have achieved the highest level of adeptness.[29] Leung Jan, who was never defeated by the Kung Fu masters who challenged him, soon became a very famous martial arts practitioner and teacher.[30] He passed his Kung Fu on to Chan Wah Shan who in turn passed Wing Chun Kung Fu on to Yip Man.[31]

Grandmaster Yip Man, who faught against the Japanese invasion, eventually found himself in Hong Kong teaching Wing Chun Kung Fu in order to survive poverty.[32] While he never taught anyone who was not Chinese, his Chinese students were generous enough to share their knowledge of Wing Chun Kung Fu to the rest of the world.[33] Among his students was Bruce Lee, whom he met in Hong Kong.[34] Bruce Lee who was a well-known martial artists and movie star, was among the key individuals who introduced Wing Chun Kung Fu to the rest of the world. He used the concepts that he learned from Wing Chun Kung Fu and developed his own fighting technique which he called Jeet Kune Do or the Way of the Intercepting Fist.[35]

The Wing Chun Wooden Dummy

One distinguishing character in Wing Chun Kung Fu training is the wooden dummy otherwise known as the “Muk Yan Jong.” The Muk Yan Jong is made of hardwood which is designed to help a student grasp the importance of achieving the strongest angle of approach to apply pressure and, and to develop the correct use of strength and power when up close.[36]

Traditionally, the wooden dummy is referred to as Ching Lung Baak Fu Jong, meaning “green dragon/ white tiger jong.” Even by the name, the Shaolin roots of Wing Chun is clearly evident.[37] The green dragon and white tiger are the original warrior symbols of Shaolin Kung Fu.[38]

In Popular Wing Chun, movements on the dummy are repeated almost the same to both sides.[39] In other words, the training motions to the left side are then repeated to the right. Unlike the Hung Fa Yi dummy sets which are best described by the term Leung Yi Jong, meaning “both sides are different but remain in harmony.”[40] For example, if one side teaches the concept of inside, the other side teaches the concept of outside, if the one side teaches close-range, the other teaches long-range.[41]

The difference between the left and the right sides in Hung Fa Yi dummy training is meant to emphasize balance. Always accompanying the changes from inside to outside motions and close-range and long-range motions are strategies and tactics shifts that require efficient foot and body alignments that is carefully combined with elements of time, space and energy.[42] Essentially, while the two sides of the dummy is approached with different motions, these motions are complementary to each other.

Training with the Muk Yan Jong harnesses the techniques learned in  Wing Chun Kung Fu because the wooden dummy simulates practical application of the movements as it represents an actual opponent.[43] The motions that are exercised when training with the wooden dummy gives the trainee the actual feeling of striking, blocking, and countering in real life combat.

There are two levels of Muk Yan Jong training, the “directional dummy” and the “dimensional dummy. The directional dummy which is referred to as Ching Lung Baak Fu Jong is for beginners and it focuses on the use of angulation for achieving and maintaing a superior position.[44] This training involves footwork from a facing perspective by referring to the four directions of Wing Chung; left—dragon, right—tiger, front—bird, and rear—tortoise.[45]

The dimensional dummy training is for advanced students, although in Wing Chun Kung Fu it is still referred to as Ching Lung Baak Fu Jong.[46] This training focuses on time and space strategies with more than 150 moves as the skills get more advanced. There are eight directions involved in this training; North, North East, East, South East, South, South West, West. and North West, however, the approach to these directions has changed from directional movement to dimensional shifting.[47] On top of the eight directions, top and bottom dimensions of movement are also incorporated in training.[48]

The number 108 is significant in the “wooden dummy” or Wing Chun Muk Yan Jong training. It is taught in popular Wing Chun that 108 indicates the number of movements in the wooden dummy training while it is also taught in other disciplines of Wing Chun Kung Fu that 108 is perfectly divisible by three.[49] The number three represents Wing Chun Kung Fu’s emphasis on the triplets of motion—Siu Nim Tau, Chum Kiu,  and Biu Ji.[50]

A different version of Wing Chun Kung Fu, the Hung Fa Yi Wing Chun represents the number 108 in a different manner. This more advanced wooden dummy training, which focuses on space, time and energy control, represents the ten dimensions with the number ten and the eight directions with the number eight in 108.[51] The emphasis on the number 108 in training with the wooden dummy serves as a remind to the trainee to pay attention to each dimension and direction when executing the movements and employing the techinques of Wing Chun Kung Fu.

[1]    Wing Chun Origins and History, Gung Fu Martial Arts, 2008, retrieved 8 April 2008, <http://wing-chun.gungfu.com/>.
[2]    Origins of the Shaolin Wing Chun, the Shaolin Wing Chun Nam Anh Kung Fu School, 2008, retrieved 8 April 2008, <http://www.shaolinwingchun.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=34&Itemid=47>
[3]    Ibid.
[4]    Ibid.
[5]    Origins of the Shaolin Wing Chun, the Shaolin Wing Chun Nam Anh Kung Fu School, 2008, retrieved 8 April 2008, <http://www.shaolinwingchun.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=34&Itemid=47>
[6]    Ibid.
[7]    Ibid.
[8]    Ibid.
[9]    Ibid.
[10]  History and Principles of Wing Chun Kung Fu,  Stanford University Wing Chun Student Association, 2001, retrieved 8 April 2008, <http://www.stanford.edu/group/wingchun/in_memory_of_eddie_oshins/history.html>
[11]  Origins of the Shaolin Wing Chun, the Shaolin Wing Chun Nam Anh Kung Fu School, 2008, retrieved 8 April 2008, <http://www.shaolinwingchun.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=34&Itemid=47>
[12]  History and Principles of Wing Chun Kung Fu,  Stanford University Wing Chun Student Association, 2001, retrieved 8 April 2008, <http://www.stanford.edu/group/wingchun/in_memory_of_eddie_oshins/history.html>
[13]  Origins of the Shaolin Wing Chun, the Shaolin Wing Chun Nam Anh Kung Fu School, 2008, retrieved 8 April 2008, <http://www.shaolinwingchun.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=34&Itemid=47>
[14]  Wing Chun History, Wing Chun Kung Fu Training, 2005, retrieved 8 April 2008, <http://www.wing-chun-training.com/wing-chun-history.htm>
[15]  Ibid.
[16]  Origins of the Shaolin Wing Chun, the Shaolin Wing Chun Nam Anh Kung Fu School, 2008, retrieved 8 April 2008, <http://www.shaolinwingchun.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=34&Itemid=47>
[17]  Ibid.
[18]  Ibid.
[19]  Written by the Late Grandmaster Ip Man, Ving Tsun Athletic Association Ltd., 1990, retrieved 8 April 2008, <http://www.vingtsun.com.hk/Origin.htm>
[20]  Ibid.
[21]  Origins of the Shaolin Wing Chun, the Shaolin Wing Chun Nam Anh Kung Fu School, 2008, retrieved 8 April 2008, <http://www.shaolinwingchun.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=34&Itemid=47>
[22]  Written by the Late Grandmaster Ip Man, Ving Tsun Athletic Association Ltd., 1990, retrieved 8 April 2008, <http://www.vingtsun.com.hk/Origin.htm>
[23]  Ibid.
[24]  Ibid.
[25]  Ibid.
[26]  Ibid.
[27]  Ibid.
[28]  Ibid.
[29]  Ibid.
[30]  Ibid.
[31]  Ibid.
[32]  Wing Chun History, Wing Chun Kung Fu Training, 2005, retrieved 8 April 2008, <http://www.wing-chun-training.com/wing-chun-history.htm>
[33]  Wing Chun History, Wing Chun Kung Fu Training, 2005, retrieved 8 April 2008, <http://www.wing-chun-training.com/wing-chun-history.htm>
[34]  Ibid.
[35]  Ibid.
[36]  Wing Chun Wooden Dummy, United Kingdom Wing Chun Kung Fu Association, 2005, retrieved 8 April 2008, <http://www.ukwingchun.com/Wooden_Dummy.htm>
[37]  G. Gee, B Meng & R. Loewenhagen, Mastering Kung Fu: featuring Shaolin Wing Chun, Human Kinetics, Illinois, 2004.
[38]  Ibid.
[39]  Ibid.
[40]  G. Gee, B Meng & R. Loewenhagen, Mastering Kung Fu: featuring Shaolin Wing Chun, Human Kinetics, Illinois, 2004.
[41]  Ibid.
[42]  Ibid.
[43]  Ibid.
[44]  Ibid.
[45]  Ibid.
[46]  G. Gee, B Meng & R. Loewenhagen, Mastering Kung Fu: featuring Shaolin Wing Chun, Human Kinetics, Illinois, 2004.
[47]  Ibid.
[48]  Ibid.
[49]  Ibid.
[50]  Ibid.
[51]  Ibid.