History Of Wing Tsun

Make it happen

The martial art of Wing Tsun (pronounced ‘wing chun’) has a few different origin stories. There were no written records and so historical accounts are almost entirely verbal. Bruce Lee might have been the first person to teach it publically in the U.S. He is reported to have had his first private students in the year 1959 (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruce_Lee). Martial art schools that teach the Yip Man lineage did not open to teach the public in the U.S. until the early 1970s. For a very well researched account in detail, read the book Roots and Branches of Wing Tsunby Prof Leung Ting.

The Legend:

The history of Wing Tsun martial arts is the legend that says that a woman, a Buddhist nun, invented Wing Tsun from her knowledge of the Chinese Shaolin (Siu Lam) Monastery kung-fu system which was actually a vast array of complicated sub-styles base on the movements of animals.  Because of this complexity, learning became more a case of memorization of prearranged movements.  In reality, one’s attacker will not attack you in the way that was learned in the training hall.  Therefore, she decided to develop her own personal system based on the skills of Shaolin, incorporating the most economical movements that would also counter those techniques.

The most history is that of the Buddhist nun who escaped the burning of the Siu Lam (Shaolin) Monastery about 300 or more years ago. The Monastery was attacked by government forces. They feared the rebellious unshaven monks inside. The monks were against the ruling Ching dynasty, the Manchus, which had invaded China from the north, and they wished to restore the Ming Dynasty.

The nun, Buddhist Mistress #Ng Mui, found a hiding place on Mt. Tai Leung where she was able to meditate and, from her original Shaolin kung-fu system, develop a defense against the government forces, many of whom were also well-versed in Shaolin kung-fu. In order to counter the larger, stronger soldiers, she would need a method that overcame strength with technical skill. She was inspired one day by a fight between a fox and a crane. There have been other versions written in old Chinese kung-fu novels that describe a fight between a snake and a crane or even a monkey and a crane! The important thing is that Ng Mui adapted the techniques to suit the human limbs. The new system would borrow the force of an attacker and not clash with stronger forces, among other attributes.

One day on one of her trips down the mountain for supplies, she met the owner of the store, Yim Yee, where she bought supplies. She discovered that his daughter, Yim Wing Tsun was being harassed by the local landlord, Wong, and was trying to force her into marriage. Having sympathy for the store owner and his daughter, she suggested that the daughter would benefit by learning her kung-fu system. They would proceed up to the mountain top for her training. The father agreed, and this would put his daughter out of reach of the local landlord for a time at least and improve her self esteem.

A period of time went by, described variously as six months to three years. The day finally came when the daughter, Miss Yim Wing Tsun was forced to confront Wong, the landlord in the town square. She disabled him with one punch straight to the chest. Wong never bothered her again.  Self confidence often plays into such successful outcomes.

Eventually Miss Yim Wing Tsun married her betrothed, Leung Bok Chau. She taught him all the techniques of the system she inherited from the nun. The story that goes along with this is that Chau never gave his wife’s talk about her martial art much credence until one day she goaded him into a fight. She defeated him so convincingly, despite his martial arts skills that he began to learn the art from her. Eventually he decided to name the art after her. It became known as Wing Tsun from that day forward.

Leung Bok Chau taught an herbal physician named Leung Lan Kwai. Not much is known about this descendant. Leung Lan Kwai taught Wong Wah Bo who was an actor aboard the Red Junk. A Red Junk was the term used for a flat bottomed boat that acting troops used to transport themselves from coastal village to coastal village along the shores of south China. Wong Wah Bo met Leung Yee Tai on the same boat. Leung Yee Tai was a crewman, a “poler” who used a long pole to steer the craft in the shallow waters.

At some point earlier, Leung Yee Tai had approached another crewman, a cook aboard the Red Junk. His name was Chi Shin. Chi Shin was a practitioner of the Hun Gar kung-fu. Hung gar has a long pole fighting method and Leung Yee Tai wanted to learn this. He thought it would be opportune as a self-defense method in case the boat was boarded by the local pirate bands. Chi Shin agreed to teach Leung Yee Tai the long pole techniques.

Leung Yee Tai discovered that Wong Wah Bo was an expert in Wing Tsun kung-fu. After some discussion they agreed to exchange training and taught each other their knowledge. This is how, with some modifications to suit the Wing Tsun concepts, the long pole techniques became part of the Wing Tsun system.

Leung Yee Tai taught the herbal physician of Fat Shan (Fushan), Leung Jan. From this time on forward, there is much more written records recounting the life of Leung Jan which was, indeed, interesting. He had three sons. Two of them participated in the lessons from their father. In addition, one gentleman from outside the family turned out to be the key figure to pass down the art to our late, great Grandmaster Yip Man. That person’s name was Chan Wah Shun, sometimes referred to as “Wah the Money Changer.”

The young teenaged Yip Man only knew his Si-fu, Chan Wah Shun for a short time before Sifu Chan became too old and ill to teach. Yip Man’s Sihing, Ng Chung So took over the instruction of the young Yip Man. After a number of years, Yip Man moved to Hong Kong from Fat Shan. Circumstances led to his meeting one of the son’s of Leung Jan, Leung Bik. The interesting and also amusing story is recounted in two of the books by Leung Ting. Suffice it to say that late Grandmaster Yip Man had “two Sifus.”

The Research:

Since much of the above story reads like a fairy tale, Grandmaster Leung Ting set out to thoroughly research the history of Wing Tsun’s origins resulting in the bookRoots and Branches of Wing Tsun.” Read it to get a better understanding of the facts he uncovered. It is the result of 18 years of research, trips, interviews and photographic detail of “lost” versions and branches of Wing Tsun (Wing Chun) and Weng Chun, still being practiced by many of Yip Man’s descendents and contemporaries in mainland China and neighboring countries at the time the book was first published in the year 2000.

People in those olden times also needed to #manage stress, develop #self-confidence, become #physically fit as well as learn a martial art which saw them through the difficult periods.

The origins of WingTsun in the United States:

Grandmaster Leung Ting had a German student who introduced WingTsun to the U.S. in 1979.  An ambitious instructor, he became headman of the Philippine branch after that.  Unfortunately he died in a car accident 1981.

In 1980, Grandmaster Leung Ting, began teaching students in the United States, including his first American student, Keith Sonnenberg.  The first branches were located in Arizona, Texas and New York.

– Sifu Keith Sonnenberg