Fighting arts have been independently developed all over the world, but the mention of Martial Arts automatically brings to mind the Chinese styles of Kung Fu. Although the Martial Arts in China have been recorded for thousands of years, the traditional beginnings of Kung Fu started with the Shaolin Temple, founded around the period of 500 AD by a monk called Bodhidharma who introduced Zen Buddhism into China from India. It was at this time that the Martial Arts became more of a secret knowledge taught only to family or a very few select disciples, so preserving the arts through the generations.
Bodhidharma found that his disciples were not physically prepared for the extensive form of meditation that was an integral part of his teachings. An example of this is that Bodhidharma himself sat in front of a wall and meditated for nine years. As a person he was said to be very strict and possessed a fierce gaze.
Bodhidharma then devised a set of exercises primarily to prepare his disciples for their lessons, and later these developed self defense principles. So over the centuries, the Shaolin monks through continual practice and progression developed a formidable fighting style of open hand and weapon techniques.
After the fall of the Ming Dynasty there came a period of oppression at the beginning of the 18th Century under the Manchu Emperors and so at this time the monks, became more politically involved and more into the attention of the Government, who rightly feared their Martial ability.
All attempts to destroy the Temple were repelled by the defenses of themonks, and the Emperor’s forces met with little success until they were able to engage the help of a renegade monk, Ma Ning Yee, who not only laid open the plans of the Temple, with its secret passages but helped by starting a revolt inside the Temple and setting fires within.
So the destruction of the Shaolin Temple was brought about and most of the monks and disciples slain: amongst those who escaped were four monks and a nun, elders of the Shaolin Temple and known late as the Venerable Five. They were Pak Mei, Fung to Tak, Mui Hin, Chi Shin and Ng Mui the nun who was the eldest and most proficient in boxing skills.
Ng Mui instead of leading the revolt against the Manchu Government, preferred to wander the country keeping out of the turmoil that existed after the destruction of the Shaolin Temple. Finally Ng Mui settled at the White Crane Temple on Tai Leung Mountain. It was during this period that Ng Mui reflected upon the Shaolin style, now being taught to the Government troops, with its long swinging movements, exotic stances, complex forms and imaginative names, developed for the performances in front of audiences rather than actual practical application.
One day while walking the countryside Ng Mui witnessed a fight between snake and crane, the direct striking of the snake and the simultaneous block and strike of the crane using wing and beak, always facing the opponent square on. Ng Mui instead of mimicking the animal movements, as with other styles, used more the concepts involved in the contest, directness, simplicity, conservation of energy, avoidance, never strength against strength, with more emphasis on technique than strength.
Ng Mui on visits to the local village for provisions became aquatinted with Yim Yee who sold the bean curd form a stall in the market but also happened to have been a disciple at the Shaolin Temple. On one such visit Ng Mui sensed that Yim Yee was troubled and upon inquiry found that a local warlord had made known his intentions to marry his daughter, forcibly, if necessary. Yim Yee’s daughter a beautiful girl by the name of Yim Wing Chun had already been promised to one from their home town of Kwangtung Province, from which they had to flee as Yim Yee had become involved in a court case, and being a Shaolin disciple, even though he had only upheld the law he would have been arrested. Ng Mui Decided to solve the problem indirectly by taking Yim Wing Chun with her to the White Crane Temple and there she became her first and only disciple and over a period of three years, with Yim Wing Chun studying diligently Ng Mui taught Yim Wing Chun the newly developed fighting style.
After her time at the White Crane Temple, Yim Wing Chun returned to the village and was immediately pestered again by the warlord, this time more seriously, but now Wing Chun was prepared and challenged him to open hand combat, which of course he accepted as all he could see was a frail young woman who would soon be his wife, or so he thought. Yim Wing Chun totally devastated the warlord and being troubled no more was then free to marry her intended husband, Leung Bok Chuuo who himself was a skilled pugilist and together they would practice this new fighting system, and it was in reverence to his wife that he named the style Wing Chun, or Beautiful Springtime.
Leung Bok Chau passed the techniques of Wing Chun onto Leung Jan Kwai, an herbalist who took a disciple called Wong Wash Bo who acted in an opera troupe and while working on the Red Junk encountered the poler Leung Yee Tei who had been taught the six and a half pole techniques by Chi Shin who was one of the Venerable Five most skilled in stick and pole work. Leung Yee Tei became the successor of the Wing Chun system and so the pole techniques were added.
Leung Yee Tei’s disciples who carried Wing Chun on was Leung Jan a physician of Fatshan in Kwangtung Province of Southern China. Leung Jan had two sons, Leung Bik the eldest and Leung Tsun, both of which were taught Wing Chun daily, but Leung Jan’s successor was Chan Wah Shun, though not well educated by his determination he mastered this sophisticated system, and being of the market place where life was tough he had the opportunity to refine his fighting skills and so it was to him that the responsibility of Wing Chun was rested.
During the thirty-six years of teaching Wing Chun, Chan Wah Shun only took sixteen disciples. The last of these was a young man of quick mind and inquisitive intelligence, his name Yip Man, destined to become the Great Grandmaster of Wing Chun. Yip Man can be considered t be the result of two great teachers, the first Chan Wah Shun the ‘Fighter’ and Leung Bik the ‘Scholar’ whom he met in Hong Kong while attending St. Stephen’s College.
Now the history becomes the present with the legacy that the Grandmaster Yip Man left behind him before his death on the 2nd December 1972 in the form of an eight millimeter film. So preserved in this fashion are all three forms and the 116 wooden dummy techniques, and left in trust with his two sons, Yip Chun the eldest Martial Arts Association and promoting the once secret style to a popular art known throughout the world. Extracted from the book, “The Path of Wing Chun,” by Samuel Kwok (with permission).