For generations, the history of Wing Chun has been passed along verbally. Below is the history told by Late Grandmaster Yip Man and Grandmaster Ho Kam Ming.
A few hundred years ago, Manchurians took over the control of China and the Ching Dynasty was established. Many patriots from the previous dynasty (i.e. Ming Dynasty) joined the Siu Lum Temple as monks, in order to hide themselves away from the government. Meanwhile, they were preparing for the day when they could overthrow the ruling government. It was during this period of time that martial arts reached its peak in China.
Ng Mui was one of the five elders of the Siu Lum Temple. Instead of a nun as many people might suggest, Ng Mui was a male character and he was generally credited as the founder of Wing Chun. One day, after observing a fight between a snake and a crane, Ng Mui started to integrate their styles into a brand new branch of martial arts. He then refined the system further and it became the basis of the latter Wing Chun.
Although Ng Mui invented the style, Yim Wing Chun was the person who gave the system it’s name. Yim Wing Chun was a beautiful young lady who sold bean cakes in a village near Siu Lum Temple. She was very popular in the area because of her beauty, which caught the attention of a malevolent landlord.
During that time, marriages were usually prearranged between the two families before the children were born, and Yim Wing Chun was already promised to Leung Bok Chau. Rejected by Yim Wing Chun, the landlord decided to take her by force. A date was picked by the landlord when he would force her to leave with him.
Fortunately, Ng Mui knew about this and he decided to teach Yim Wing Chun this new system so she could defend herself. Being a smart student, she had learnt enough within a short period of time. Of no surprise, the landlord was turned away on the marriage day.
Yim Wing Chun then continued to study under Ng Mui, and later married Leung Bok Chau. During the years to come, she continued to modify the art based on Ng Mui’s principle. After refining the art significantly, she taught it to her husband. Impressed by her knowledge and ability, Leung Bok Chau studied her style diligently. The style was named Wing Chun since then.
Afterward, Leung Bok Chau taught the style to his uncle Leung Lan Kwai. Leung Lan Kwai then accepted Leung Ye Tai and Wong Wah Bo as his students. Although they learned from the same teacher, they interpreted Wing Chun differently. Leung Lan Kwai’s Wing Chun was softer, while Wong Wah Bo’s was harder.
Leung Ye Tai was a Chinese opera (also known as Red Boat) actor who played female roles. It is also during these so-called “Red Boat Years” that weapons came into the system. Wong Wah Bo invented and taught Leung Ye Tai the Look Dim Buan Gwan (six-and-a-half points pole), while Leung Ye Tai developed and taught the Baat Jaam Dow (butterfly knives) to Wong Wah Bo.
At that time, there was a famous herbal doctor called Leung Jan. He had a chance to know both Wong Wah Bo and Leung Ye Tai, and he learned Wing Chun from both of them. Leung Jan was gifted in martial arts and he was able to put the hard and soft elements of the Wing Chun system back together.
Leung Jan had two outstanding disciples: Leung Bik (his son) and Chan Wah Shun. Unfortunately, none of them were able to incorporate both the soft and hard elements of the Wing Chun system. Leung Bik’s Wing Chun was softer and he had a better understanding about the concepts and theories of Wing Chun. Chan Wah Shun’s Wing Chun, on the other hand, was relatively hard. Although he was a better fighter, he was not an educated man and he could not explain clearly the concepts and theories of Wing Chun to his disciples.
Late Grandmaster Yip Man, fortunately, had a chance to study Wing Chun under both Chan Wah Shun and Leung Bik. He was able to put back the hard and soft elements of Wing Chun together again.