Origins of Wing Chun
By Yip Man
The founder of the Wing Chun style, Yim Wing-Chun was a native of Guangdong in China. She was an intelligent and athletic young girl, upstanding and forthright. Her mother died soon after her betrothal to Leung Bok-Cho, a salt merchant of Fujian. Her father, Yim Yee, was wrongfully accused of a crime and, rather than risk jail, they slipped away and finally settled down at the foot of Daliang Mountain near the border between Yunnan and Sichuan provinces. There they earned a living by running a shop that sold bean curd.
During the reign of Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty (1662-1722) fighting skills became very strong in the Shaolin Monastary of Songshan, in Henan Province. This aroused the fear of the Manchurian government, which sent troops to attack the Monastery. Although they were unsuccessful, a man named Chan Man-Wai, a recently appointed civil servant seeking favor with the government, suggested a plan. He plotted with Shaolin monk named Ma Ning-Yee and others who were persuaded to betray their companions by setting fire to the monastery while soldiers attacked it from the outside. Shaolin was burned down, and the monks and disciples scattered. Ng Mui, Jee Shim, Bak Mei, Fung Do-Dak and Miu Hin escaped and went their separate ways.
Ng Mui took refuge in the White Crane Temple on Daliangshan. It was there she met Yim Yee and his daughter Wing-Chun from whom she often bought bean curd on her way home from the market. At fifteen, with her hair bound up in the custom of those days to show she was of an age to marry, Wing-Chun's beauty attracted the attention of a local bully. He tried to force Wing-Chun to marry him, and his continuous threats became a source of worry to her and her father. Ng Mui learned of this and took pity on Wing-Chun. She agreed to teach Wing-Chun fighting techniques so she could protect herself. Wing Chun followed Ng Mui into the mountains, and began to learn fighting skills. She trained night and day, until she mastered the techniques. Then she challenged the bully to a fight and beat him.
Ng Mui later traveled around the country, but before she left she told Wing-Chun to strictly honor the martial arts traditions, to develop her fighting skills after her marriage, and to help the people working to overthrow the Manchu government and restore the Ming Dynasty.
After her marriage Wing-Chun taught martial arts to her husband Leung Bok-Lao. He in turn passed these techniques on to Leung Lan-Kwai. Leung Lan-Kwai then passed them on to Wong Wah-Bo. Wong Wah-Bo was a member of an opera troupe on board a Red Junk. Wong worked on the Red Junk with Leung Yee-Tai. It so happened that Jee Shim, who fled from Shaolin, had disguised himself as a cook and was then working on the Red Junk. Jee Shim taught the Six-and-a-Half-Point Pole techniques to Leung Yee-Tai. Wong Wah-Bo was close to Leung Yee Tei and they shared what they knew about martial arts. Together they shared and improved their techniques, and thus the Six-and-a-Half-Point Pole was incorporated into the Wing Chun style. Leung Yee-Tai passed his knowledge on to Leung Jan, a well known doctor in Foshan. Leung Jan grasped the innermost secrets of Wing Chun, attaining the highest level of proficiency. Many masters came to challenge him, but all were defeated. Leung Jan became very famous. Later he passed his knowledge on to Chan Wah-Shan who took me and my sihing, such as Ng Siu-Lo, Ng Jung-So, Chan Yu-Min and Lui Yiu-Chai, as his students many decades ago.
It can thus be said that the Wing Chun system was passed on to us in a direct line of succession from its origin. I write this history of the Wing Chun system in respectful memory of my forerunners. I am eternally grateful to them for passing to me the skills I now possess. When drinking of the water, a man should always think of the source; it is this shared feeling that keeps our brothers together.