Some historians think that Wing Tsun was developed from several martial arts types. They dispute the most common story that says that Ng Mui, a female Buddhist elder invented Wing Tsun from her training in the Shaolin Monastery martial art system.
The story goes that Wing Tsun was developed by secret societies from the arts of Tai Chi Chuan, Praying Mantis kung-fu, and a mix of Shaolin animal styles such as snake and crane.
This story is, unfortunately, a simplistic answer to an old mystery. The answer may never truly be solved because those answers have disappeared with the practitioners who have long been deceased.
The story that keeps being repeated is that Wing Tsun originated from Shaolin kung-fu. The involvement of secret societies may have come from the Hung-Moon society which used the term Siu Lam Gee* which means Shaolin Monastery. It was used as a secret signal for communication. If a member of the society wanted to find out the real background of a stranger, he might ask “Where do you come from?” If he was a member of the Hung Moon Society, he might reply, “I come from the Shaolin Monastery.” In short, it became common to infer that if you knew some kung-fu techniques, your techniques came from Shaolin. The members of Hung-Moon all felt so proud that they could be members of the Shaolin Monastery.
Without research, guess-work has become truth, at least to a certain extent. Wing Tsun seems to have elements of several prominent martial art systems in it “therefore it must have come from the root of Chinese martial arts- Shaolin.”
However, if you take the time to read the heavily researched 402-page hardcover book Roots and Branches of Wing Tsun by Grandmaster Leung Ting, you will see that the history is much more complicated than that. Martial arts types such as Fukien White Crane, a Thai martial art called Ling Lom, a style called Weng Chun, martial arts of the Hakka people and much more, played a part.
-Sifu Keith Sonnenberg