A Short Historical and Philosophical Examination of the Roots of Wing Chun Kung Fu

Discussion in 'Articles' started by SifuPhil, Dec 24, 2012.

  1. SifuPhil

    SifuPhil Lucky Cat Is Lucky

    Wing Chun – The History

    As it is with most Chinese martial art forms, it is difficult to determine a definitive history of Wing Chun Kung Fu.

    The mystical Ng Mui is employed by a goodly number of styles of kung fu in addition to Wing Chun to clarify their origins, and she may well be as much a mythical as a real figure. She figured substantially in the performances of the Red Junk Opera Company, in which Wong Wa Bo, Leung Bok Cho and Jee Sin played a vital position in the art's advancement. It is advisable to keep in mind that, as operatic artists, they were experienced in dramatic storytelling, and that a number of the best stories have their basis in fact.

    It may also be wise to remember that the cultural basis of humanity's greatest achievements is based on grand myths, fables and legends - often based on real individuals and events - rather than on the smaller but less exciting details of objective fact.

    I assume that the truth of history lies as much in each historian's interpretation as in the objective events.


    The Manchus invaded China in 1644, causing the end of the Ming dynasty and launching the Ching (Qing) dynasty. The occupation force, as a minority of the community, promoted a number of repressive steps and measures to manipulate the traditional Han population. These included forbidding the Hans to possess weapons, minimizing their opportunities within the civil service, and the procedure of binding the feet of females, rendering them totally dependent on their husbands, who were consequently also constrained in their actions and ability to embark on any revolutionary activities.

    The Shaolin Temple, which as a Buddhist organisation was honored and treated with religious awe by the invaders, evolved into a refuge for Ming rebels as well as a focal point for revolutionary preparation and training. Ming troops and sympathisers donned monk's robes and shaved their heads, but prepared for battle within the temple environs and plotted the overthrow of the Manchus.

    The varieties of fighting instructed in the temple were based upon animal movements and mandated the gradual achievement of expertise in a huge selection of long, elaborate forms, taking anywhere from fifteen to twenty years. The Shaolin masters understood that this strategy was inappropriate for the speedy growth of a combat force. They set out to formulate a new system of kung fu determined by natural biomechanics as an alternative to the movements of animals, distilling the massive and in-depth assortment of techniques, some only very slightly practical, of the animal systems into a vital core of skills that would transform the average newbie into a competent fighter in five years instead of twenty. As the Manchus had banned the carrying of weapons by the public, the butterfly swords that were easy to hide in knee-length boots were selected as the system's sole weapons.

    The system was called Wing Chun, which in turn was named after the “Springtime” (Wing Chun) training hall in the temple. According to some researchers Wing Chun was named after Yim Wing Chun but it's probable she also had been given that name by Ng Mui .

    The Manchus got word of the covert training role of the Temple and surrounded it, while a monk who had secretly taken sides with the Manchus set fires within the compound. The monks fought long and heroically but were heavily outnumbered. Only five escaped - Bak Mei, Fung Do Dak, Jee Sin, Mui Min and the nun Ng Mui. The five agreed to go their separate ways.

    Ng Mui bW.jpg
    Ng Mui​

    Ng Mui sought and received protection and refuge in the White Crane Temple in Yunnan. Every once in a while she would travel to a nearby village for supplies that included bean curd (tofu), which was purchased from a shopkeeper named Yim Yee and his daughter Yim Wing Chun.

    Yim Wing Chun and Yim Yee had escaped from Fatshan province before their eventual arrest by the Manchus and relocated in this far-away area, marketing tofu for a living. As subsequent events would prove, their lives were not yet entirely free from trouble. One day Ng Mui entered the shop to find Yim Wing Chun in tears.

    Wing Chun was a beautiful young woman, and had attracted the unwanted attentions of a brutal gang leader, who had sworn to take her as his wife.
    Yim Wing Chun.jpg
    Yim Wing Chun​

    Ng Mui's immediate inclination was to fight off the gangster herself, but realised that such action was likely to attract the attention of the Manchus, from whom she was still a fugitive. Instead, Ng Mui undertook to teach the girl combat techniques, thus allowing her to defend herself and her honor.

    Wing Chun told the gangster that she would fight him in one year and that if he could defeat her, she would be his. The gangster, a master of Eagle Claw kung fu, saw this as a fait accompli and agreed, laughing.

    Ng Mui took Yim Wing Chun back to the temple with her.

    Faced with only months instead of years in which to train Yim Wing Chun, Ng Mui focused on the most essential, direct and effective techniques and training methods in her instruction. The techniques would need to allow Wing Chun to overcome the gangster, who was bigger, stronger, and more experienced than she. Since the 108 dummies of the Shaolin temple no longer existed, Ng Mui developed a single dummy on which all 108 dummy movements could be practised. Yim Wing Chun trained day and night and, when the gangster returned, she was ready. Soundly beaten, the disgraced gangster left and never returned.

    A short while later a salt merchant from Shangxi named Leung Bok Cho visited the area. Leung Bok Cho had been a student of kung fu at the Honan Shaolin Temple. He stayed at an inn next to Yim Yee's shop, and witnessed Wing Chun practising her kung fu beside the tofu grinders. He fell in love with this beautiful and skilful young woman, and soon, with Yim Yee's approval, they were married.

    Ng Mui eventually departed from the White Crane Temple and entered into some far-flung travels. Before leaving, she made Wing Chun promise to adhere to the kung fu traditions, to continue to develop her kung fu after her marriage, and to help continue the struggle against the Manchus to restore the Ming dynasty.

  3. lee ying

    lee ying Initiate

    How do you dare putting a photo of Ng Mui ? it was 17th century when she lived and there was no photography invented yet.
    Please be journalistic and be correct don't post things that diminish this art with false facts.
    What you displayed is the photo of an actress playing her role in an old movie about martial arts.
  4. SifuPhil

    SifuPhil Lucky Cat Is Lucky

    I would hope that anyone able to read this article would have the good sense to realize exactly that.
    Master of Nothing likes this.

Share This Page