HISTORY OF WING CHUN:
"WING CHUN ORIGINS AND PHILOSOPHY"
by SiFu Steve Crider
There are numerous stories about the origin of Wing Chun Kung Fu. At least one story attributes its origin to a man, named “Tan Sau Ng” who some
cite may have been either Shaolin Monk Jee Shim, or a disciple of his using a Pseudo name to hide his true identity. This idea has been recently
discussed by one of Yip Man’s son’s in a published book.
On the art of Wing Chun Kung Fu, Tan Sau is a hand that is unique to Wing Chun Kung Fu; and as “Tan Sau Ng” was famous for using the
Tan Sau hand which is unique to Wing Chun Kung Fu...so the conclusion has been drawn by some that he may indeed be the inventor of Wing
Chun Kung Fu. There is not much history or evidence about the man, save that he existed; was famous for his fighting skill; and known for using
the “Tan Sau” so well that it was incorporated into his nick name.
Some Origin stories suggest that the “Yim Wing Chun” story was not true, but a cover story used to conceal the truthand identities of it’s
practitioners, many of whom are known by history to have been part of the “RED BOAT OPERA” troupe. Even in the the origin stories that hold
that the art was created by A Shaolin Nun named Ng Mui (prounounced “Woo May”) and a young girl named Yim, there are variations of the same
story which while all having the same essence, by comparisons have varied details which contrast the others. But basically, for all the origin stories
out there about Wing Chun, they all fall under two camps:
- One camp in Wing Chun holds that the art was created by a woman, Abbess Ng Mui and then passed on to, and later restructured by and named
after another woman, Yim Wing Chun.
- The other camp in Wing Chun holds that Wing Chun was created by a man, the mysterious “Tan Sau Ng”, or Monk Jee Shim, and yet others
in the same camp who contend Monk Jee Shim and “Tan Sau Ng” were in fact one in the same.
I am here in this writing, not to compare all of the various versions of the origin story, nor to debate which is most authentic…only to note many
versions exist, and none have actual proof of authenticity, at least not in written terms. If such truth is out there and known today as to the ACTUAL
TRUTH OF WING CHUN'S ORIGINS, then it is held in secret by DAI GEE (Inner Chamber Disciples) of the Art. And is still being passed down
orally from one generation of DAI GEE, to another.
SiFu Crider lays no claim to being anyone's Disciple, only that he is a lifelong student of the art.
All said, noting that while there is the position of some who deny the “Yim Wing Chun” Origin story and prefer the notion that Wing Chun was in
fact created by a man, IT SHOULD BE NOTED THERE IS SOME MERIT TO SUCH POSITION. Usually the same who hold position Wing Chun
was created by a Man, assertively cite that Abbess Ng Mui (prounounced Woo May) never existed, and for that matter there have never been women
at Shaolin, let alone “Shaolin Nuns.” The last point those who dispel there being any truth to the “Yim Wing Chun” story, do so with the assertion
there is no written history of her prior to Yip Man writing of such; nor is there any written history of any Nun named Ng Mui.
This is true to an extent, for if one is referring to “Ancient Texts” alone, then such holds true.
In 2004 however, the ORDER OF SHAOLIN CH’AN published a work titled “The Shaolin Grandmaster’s Text: History, Philosophy, and Gung Fu
of Shaolin Ch’an.” In this work by SHAOLIN itself, they mention "Shaolin Nuns.” They also cite there is factual documented evidence of a woman
named “Ng Mui” having lived in the timeframe Wing Chun was created. They cite the evidence is in family records which shows she is a distant relative
of one they refer to as A Shaolin Elder Monk named “SiGong Po.”
So, The Order of Shaolin Ch’an in our modern generation not only own the idea that there have in fact been “Nuns” at Shaolin, but also cite there were
in fact two women who were 'Members of Shaolin' who were named Ng Mui, living about two hundred years apart. They credit the former as the creator
of Dragon Style Kung Fu within the Shaolin Order, and the latter as the creator of Wing Chun.
One cannot truly say whether or not The Order of Shaolin Ch'an is making such assertions in recent history, in the past decade for sake of such being their
actual belief and official position; or if not their actual position, if they are making effort to conceal the origin of Wing Chun going back to Monk Jee Shim
by telling what some noted masters and scholars of Wing Chun would call a "cover story." It can only be noted they are making such assertions.
The story I was originally taught about the History of Wing Chun, and the History as well of YIP MAN, is a story I have never read anywhere else, SAVE once,
and only very, very recently and from a Hong Kong Source. But aside from once in 30 years, and in just the last year or so, to my knowledge the story publicly
has never been told anywhere else, never seen in any movie, and a story I will not share here. If the time comes I share such with you, it will be done so in
person and in an Oral Fashion.
The following story is my own telling, and is a combination of several of the most popular versions of the origin story, including that told by The Order of
Shaolin Ch’an. In comparison to that I was originally taught, this story is not fully, but mostly (99%) close to that I was first taught, and it falls in line with
many current popular versions of the ORIGIN Story of Wing Chun Kung Fu found in modern literature and online.
About 300 yrs ago, during the reign of Emporer Qing (pronounced “CHING”) Long who reigned from 1736 c.e. to 1795 c.e., a Renegade Shaolin Priest
named Ma Yee Yuk (or Ma Ning Yee) who was also known as Pak Mei (White Eyebrow) led the Qing government on an attack against the Fukien Shaolin Temple.
The Shaolin were known allies of Ming Patriots who were rebels against the Qing Empire. The Shaolin Temple was burned to the ground, most all of the Shaolin
priests, monks, and jr. monks were slain.
There were 5 Elders, Monks/Abbots Jee Shim, Mew Hing, Hung Si Kwan and Fung To-tuk and Shaolin Nun/Abbess Ng Mui whom escaped with their lives.
At the time frame, it took approximately 15 to 20 years to produce a proficient Martial artist. These 5 elders, had a need to raise a very quick army, and so they
took the most advanced and best aspects from all the Arts of Shaolin and from each of their respective areas of specialty and created a system of Kung Fu that
could produce A proficient martial artist in as little as 3 to 5 years. These elders took refuge from the Qing Government by concealing their identities and taking
support amongst the Ming Patriots. Many of them found their way to the Red Boat Opera troupe.
Abbess Ng Mui took refuge in the vacant White Crane Temple atop White Crane Mountain in the province of Fat Shan (Pronounced 'Fo Sh'an').
In the valley below was a young girl who sold bean curd. Her name was Yim Wing Chun. She was known for being very beautiful. Some detail that
“WING CHUN” means “Eternal Springtime” or “Beautiful Springtime“…I have even heard some say the name means “VENGEANCE“… but my
belief, and my favorite definition of the name, is that which I was first taught it to mean, that the name literally translates “HOPE FOR THE FUTURE"
…and based on a detail not told in mainstream stories, that had to do with an interaction between the young girl YIM, and Ng Mui, that suggests the portion
of “WING CHUN” added to Yim’s Name, was given her by the Nun Ng Mui.
At any rate, we know the young girls name which was later certainly “Yim Wing Chun”, was at least known by “YIM” upon meeting Ng Mui.
And Yim was so known for her Beauty that she was nicknamed “Doufu Xishi” after her business of selling Tofu, and after Xishi, one of the 4 legendary
Maidens of Ancient China. A local warlord…(the equivalent of a modern Gang Leader, a thug) came to desire Yim for her beauty and made many unwanted
advances. Her father refused the advances and proposals of marriage by the young thug. This brought much trouble against Yim’s father and herself..
At some point the Nun Ng Mui took Yim under her wing, and accepted her as a student and passed along to her the new Secret art developed by the
5 Surviving Elders of Shaolin.
Yim Sought out a fight against the warlord and lost badly. She escaped, and one day, as she witnessed a fight between a snake and a crane, she had a vision,
and a moment of epiphany while watching the animals fight. From such, she shared her epiphany with Ng Mui and together they restructured the original art
taught her by the Abbess. In restructuring, the emphasis focused on "SPEED as a form of power rather than BRUTE STRENGTH."
The second primary emphasis was choosing the use of “MOTION AGAINST FORCE” rather than "FORCE AGAINST FORCE" in order to enable
a smaller weaker opponent, to overcome a larger, stronger opponent by striking very quickly and also using the larger opponents power against himself!
The PHILOSOPHY of WING CHUN, is wrapped inside THE HISTORY OF WING CHUN! So as we look at the History of the Art, let us pause at this point
in discussion of it’s origins to NOTE it’s PHILOSOPHY and then we will continue with telling of it’s history!
- Speed as a FORM of Power
- Motion vs Force rather than FORCE vs FORCE
- THE CENTERLINE CONCEPT
- Focus on the Natural movements of the HUMAN BODY!
Each of these 4 elements is Crucial to the Philosophy of the Art of WING CHUN! Failure to understand even one, is FAILURE to understand the art itself!
1. Using “SPEED” AS A FORM OF POWER rather than BRUTE STRENGTH has already been discussed as far as Yim Wing Chun focusing on such.
But there are different types of speed in Wing Chun. For further information about this subject, read the article
WHAT Yip Man Taught Me About Speed by Duncan Leung.
2. Using “Motion against Force” rather than FORCE against FORCE has already noted that such is to allow a smaller, weaker opponent to OVERCOME
a larger, stronger opponent. For this reason, women, and Shorter persons- male or female, in my experience naturally tend to excel in the Art of Wing Chun.
This does not mean the Art does not work for others, only
that those who are built in such manner, seem to excel more easily than those not, as the art was created for such purpose in the first place. This principal
of “MOTION vs FORCE” rather than “FORCE vs FORCE” focuses on USING the opponents force against him by choosing MOTION to redirect his
energy against himself. This is what is meant in the art of Wing Chun when it is said “We Borrow The Opponents Energy” or “We Steal the Opponents
Energy” ...as fighting in this fashion, the stronger one attacks us, the greater the damage they incur upon themselves when that same force is turned back
upon them. Thus, in Wing Chun we recognize that meeting the enemy head on force against force is usually very imprudent as in this manner,
if the enemy is stronger and we choose to match force against force with him, he will eventually if not immediately overcome us. However by choosing to
use MOTION rather than force to deal with the incoming force of the enemy, and by the motion chosen turning the enemies force upon himself, we use far
less effort and achieve far greater impact. All of this is summed up in one of the cardinal principals of Wing Chun:
“In Wing Chun Kung Fu, WE DO NOT FIGHT FORCE WITH FORCE.”
3. We have already discussed earlier in the section above labled “STYLE”, that Wing Chun is a *CENTERLINE STYLE! The CENTERLINE
CONCEPT IS CRUCIAL To understanding Wing Chun Philosophy! "Simultaneous Attack and Defense" is another key part of Wing Chun
Concepts, but any style can use techniques in such a fashion to both Attack and Defend Simultaneously! Wing Chun however employs with it’s
use of Simultaneous Attack and Defense, a focus on THE CENTERLINE! Wing Chun is one of the 3 “CENTERLINE STYLES”
(Pak Mei/White Eyebrow; Southern Praying Mantis; Wing Chun) which all came into being about 300 years ago! In further illuminating on
CENTERLINE THEORY we again consider the words of SHAOLIN CH’AN:
From Page 212 of
“THE SHAOLIN GRANDMASTER’s TEXT: History, Philosophy and Kung Fu of Shaolin Ch’an”:
“The CENTERLINE is most simply described as an imaginary shaft that runs through your body, starting at the crown of your skull, running down your spine,
and down to the ground as an imaginary tail.
If you see the centerline as a pole, then it is the axis around which your balance moves. Force that reaches your centerline unbalances you, dissipates force
from your attacks, and disorients your coordination in defense. It is therefore of primary importance to defend your centerline at all times.
These styles were all created (or heavily modified into their present-day forms as with White Eyebrow) at about the same time, but at different temples.
Centerline styles are either southern or refined largely in the south (as with White Eyebrow). As a consequence, the simplicity of hand techniques is supreme.
There are many techniques, but none that are complex or would impress an audience thrilled by movie-style martial arts. Kicks are low, and stances are
predominantly upright horse stances.
These are the styles of masters, given to tactical superiority through good strategy; they are not the acrobatic, wild-barrrage styles preferred by many young
people. Centerline styles lack flash, but pack incredible punch. They are truly arts for practitioners WHO DO NOT WISH TO FIGHT!”*1
4. Wing CHUN, contrasts other Chinese arts, in that it is primarly based on the MOVEMENTS of the HUMAN BODY, rather than that
of Animals! While WIng Chun is represented by the symbols of the Snake and Crane, it is a misconception to deduce the art is therefore a combination
of the Snake and Crane Styles of Kung Fu. Wing Chun does include movements based on Snake Kung Fu and as well from Crane Kung Fu, but Wing
Chun also contains movements of other animal styles such as Panther, Mantis and even MONKEY KUNG FU, which is where the “GINGER FIST”
comes from! But in it’s usage of such animal style techniques, WING CHUN focuses primarily on the NATURAL MOVEMENTS of the HUMAN
BODY and applying these techniques in the same manner, rather than mimicking the Body postures and movements of Animals!
"WHEN drinking the water, CONSIDER the SOURCE!"-- Wing Chun Proverb
Remembering that after being defeated by the local thug/warlord, and after escaping with her life, later Yim Wing Chun after witnessing a fight
between a Snake and a Crane, had an epiphany which caused her to reorganize the Kung Fu System taught her by the Nun Ng Mui.
Yim Wing Chun went back a second time to fight the warlord, and she easily defeated him, instantly gaining regional fame as a martial artist.
She later married a Salt Merchant named Leung Bo Shan. Leung Bo Shan was already a martial artist, but his wife’s Kung Fu proved far superior
to his own. She taught him the art, and in honor of his wife, Leung Bo Shan named the art after his Wife calling it “WING CHUN KUEN” or
“WING CHUN FIST”.
The art was taught in secret and the “Grandmaster-ship” kept in the family for generations. And that is another story, for now, what is important is
that Leung Bo Shan passed the art to Liang Lau-Gui who added the Butterfly Sword form to the art. Leung Lau-Gui passed his art to his son,
Huang Ha Bo. Later Huang Ha Bo worked on the RED BOAT opera junk as an actor and a cook. He became very
Liang Er Di (Leung Yee Tai) worked as one of the Oars Man for the junk, steering the Junk, and traditionally this is where the Dragon Pole came
from, one of the poles used to steer Junks. Huang Ha Bo offered to teach Liang Er Di (Leung Yee Tai) this secret system of WING CHUN KUNG FU.
Liang Er Di (Leung Yee Tai) declined and Huang Ha Bo challenged Liang Er Di (Leung Yee Tai) to a fight, with the stipulation that if he won,
Liang Er Di (Leung Yee Tai) had to teach Huang Ha Bo his Pole form, and Huang Ha Bo would become Leung Yee Tai’s Teacher.
Liang Er Di (Leung Yee Tai) accepted the challenge and started executing his pole techniques against Huang Ha Bo who quickly closed the distance
between the two. Finally, even with Huang Ha Bo at close range Liang Er Di (Leung Yee Tai) executed a strike with his pole which he proudly thought
effective as a strike against Huang Ha Bo.
As he saw Huang Ha Bo smiling, he looked down to find the Blades of Huang Ha Bo’s Swords resting against each of his wrists, realizing had Huang
Ha Bo followed through with his strike, both of Liang Er Di (Leung Yee Tai)‘s wrists would have been slashed and he would have died. Leung Yee
Tai later after learning Wing Chun, modified his “6 and ½ point pole form” and re-structured it based on Wing Chun footwork and principals
and added THE 6 and ½ point Dragon Pole to the Style of Wing Chun Kung Fu.
Both Huang Ha Bo and Leung Yee Tai passed the art along to Dr. Leung Jan, who was known at the “KING OF FOSHAN” for his Kung Fu
Prowess as he fought many public challenge fights and won all of them. This of course made Wing Chun famous, and it finally became “publicly
Known” as an art under Dr. Leung Jan, though it was not yet publicly taught.
Dr. Leung Jan was the next and 4th Generation Grandmaster of the art, and passed the system to both his son, Leung Bik, and Chan Wah Shan
(Money-Changer Chan) who became the next Grandmaster of the art. Chan Wah Shan, Grandmaster of the 5th Generation of the art, was the
first to open a PUBLIC Wing Chun School. He rented a hall from the Wealthy Family of Merchants, the YIP FAMILY, and this is how a Young
boy named Yip Kai Man (a.k.a. "Ip Man") came to be a student, and the Final Disciple of Chan Wah Shan. Much time later, after he went away
to College in Hong Kong, Ip Man achieved instant fame after seriously defeating local bullies in defense of one of their helpless victims. His fame
reached the ears of a local merchant, an old man who challenged Ip Man to a fight. Yip Man accepted and was quickly and easily defeated by the
old man, who turned out to be Leung Bik, the Son of Leung Jan. Leung Bik taught Yip Man Wing Chun and Yip Man rose to be the strongest fighter
“Chan Wah Shan, “Money-Changer Chan” Grandmaster of the 5th Generation of the art, was the first to open a PUBLIC Wing Chun School. He rented
a hall from the Wealthy Yip Family and Yip Man as a young boy became Chan Wah Shan’s Last Formal Disciple.”
Yip Man later attended college in HONG KONG where he met Leung Jan’s Son, Leung Bik. Leung Bik took Yip Man as a student and his ideas
revolutionized Yip Man’s Wing Chun. Yip Man later returned to Foshan. After the Japanese Occupation, and later the march of Mao Tse Tung’s
Red Brigade, Yip Man moved to Hong Kong.
It was in Hong Kong Ip Man finally opened a Public School and taught many students who themselves went on to become Sifu’s in their own right.
His most famous student, was BRUCE LEE.
Of all his students, Yip Man only accepted “FIVE” formal Disciples. At least two of these are, or at least were for a very long time, “SECRET”
and unknown to the rest. Of the three that were not, Shiu Hung Leung (Duncan Leung” who was introduced by his childhood friend Bruce Lee,
to Yip Man, is one of Yip Man’s most well known Disciples.
He was a “CLOSED DOOR” Disciple of Yip Man. The meaning of this is to say he trained in private with Yip Man and NO OTHER STUDENTS.
According to his biography by Dr. Ken Ing, he paid Yip Man "36 times more money"*2 for his Wing Chun Education than did any of Yip Man’s
other students. Since he did not have classmates to train with, he was encouraged to go out and actually fight to test his knowledge, which he did.
Before he moved to the United States, he was a veteran of HUNDREDS of real life Fights by the end of his training with Yip Man, in which
Duncan Leung came to the United States in the 1970’s and opened a school in New York City. He later moved to Virginia Beach and opened
a School there as well. Because he is the VETERAN of many real life fights, and has actually USED his WING CHUN and thus knows how to
APPLY his training beyond just THEORY; as such he decided to call the art he teaches “APPLIED WING CHUN”. For over two Decades
Duncan Leung at Virginia Beach, taught both the FBI and NAVY SEALS in Hand to Hand combat, and taught the Navy Seals in Knife
My original instructor in Wing Chun, Sifu Brian K. Edwards was taught by Duncan Leung, as was his Kung Fu Brother SiFu Doc Savage.
They are the primary influences on my Kung Fu. I have trained over the years under at least two former students of SiFu Doc Savage and along
the way I have also trained under Instructors of the Leung Ting Lineage as well, and one from another lineage. This as I understand it, is pretty
much the history of Wing Chun Kung Fu, and the Source of the waters I have drank from.
-SiFu Steve Crider
*1.) OSC (2004) The Shaolin Grandmaster’s Text: History, Philosophy, and Gung Fu of Shaolin Ch’an. Beaverton: The Order of Shaolin Ch'an
*2.) Ing,K. (2003) Wing Chun Warrior: Duncan Leung's True Fighting Episodes. Hong Kong: Ming Man Publications