The History of Wing Chun

This story about the evolution of the Ip Man Wing Chun is the most commonly known version and is slightly varies between all the authors.

Portrayed with friendly approval of Grandmaster Samuel Kwok from his book ‘The path to Wing Chun’, 3. Edition, London 1998.


The origin and formation of Wing Chun

Martial Arts have developed independently all over the world, but imagining Martial Arts automatically generates images of Chinese styles of Kung Fu. Despite Martial Arts having been known in China for thousands of years, the traditional roots of Kung Fu begin with the Shaolin temple which was founded about 500 BC by a monk named Bodhidharma bringing Indian Zen-Buddhism to China. This was at a time when Martial Arts became more and more of a secret knowledge which was passed on within the family or to very little carefully chosen students, to maintain the arts through the generations.

Bodhidharma stated his students were not prepared for the extensive form of meditation being an important part of his tuition.

Bodhidharma for example sat in front of a wall and meditated for 9 years. He was known as a hard person with a fierce expression.

Bodhidharma developed a set of exercises to prepare his students for their lections, who later transformed them into self-defense exercises. This way, with continuing practice and improvement over centuries, the Shaolin monks developed an exquisite style of martial arts with open hand and weapon techniques.

After the fall of the Ming dynasty there was a period of repression of the monks in the early 18th century by the Manch rulers. This led the monks to be more politically involved drawing further attention from the government which rightfully feared the monk’s fighting abilities.


All attempts to destroy the temple were defended by the monks and the ruler’s troops had only little success until they managed to recruit a traitor monk, Ma Ning Yee, who not only told them about the temples construction and secret tunnels, but also started a revolt in the temple and set it on fire.

Instead of leading the revolt against the Manchu-government Ng Mui decided to wander the land and keep out of the turmoil in the aftermath of the destruction of the Shaolin temple. In the end, Ng Mui settled down at the temple of the white crane at the Tai Leung Mountain.

It was during this time Ng Mui reasoned about the Shaolin style which was now taught to the government troops, and its long swinging movements, exotic stands, complex forms and metaphorical names rather developed for demonstration to spectators than for practical use.


On day, while wandering through the countryside, Ng Mui observed a fight between a snake and a crane, with direct thrusts of the snake and simultaneous defending and hitting with wings and beak by the crane, always directly looking at the opponent. Instead of imitating the movement, common in other styles, Ng Mui used the concepts contained in this fight: immediacy, simplicity, using the energy, dodging, avoiding direct force on force, and rather stressing technique than strength.

Ng Mui visited a pretty town to buy supplies and got to known to Yim Yee who sold bean jurk from a stable at the market. He has also been a student at the Shaolin temple. During one of the visits Ng Mui felt that Yim Yee was upset and found out that a local military leader wanted to marry his daughter – by force if necessary.


Yim Yee’s daughter, a pretty girl named Yim Wing Chun was already promised to someone from their hometown in the province of Kwantung from where they had to flee when Yim Yee became involved in a court procedure; and because he was a Shaolin student he would have been sentenced to jail even if he had obeyed the law. Ng Mui decided to solve the problem directly, taking Yim Wing Chun to the temple of the white crane where she became the only student. For three years Yim Wing Chun studied hard and Ng Mui taught her the newly developed style.

After her time at the temple Yim Wing Chun returned to her town and was immediately harassed by the military leader, even worse this time. However, she was prepared by now and challenged him to a fight with bare hands which he clearly accepted; probably thinking it was a good way to demonstrate what a weak woman he would marry.

Yim Wing Chun defeated the military leader and was no longer harassed and could finally married the man chosen by her. Leung Bok Chau was a skilled fighter himself and together they practiced the new style which he named Wing Chun, or beautiful spring, honoring his wife.

Leung Bok Chau passed the techniques of Wing Chun on to Leung Jan Kwai, an herbs expert, who himself took a student called Wong Wah Bo. He played in a opera group and during his work on the red junk he met the long staff man Leung Yee Tai who was taught the six and a half staff techniques by Chi Shin, who was one of the honorable five that were most skilled with the staff and long staff. Leung Yee Tai became the successor of the Wing Chun system and this way the long staff techniques were added.

Leung Yee Tai’s student who carried on practicing Wing Chun was Leung Jan, a doctor from Fatshan in the province of Kwantung in southern China. Leung Jan had two sons, Leung Bik, the older one, and Leung Tsun, who were both taught Wing Chun every day. However, it was Chan Wah Shun who became the successor; although he was poorly educated he mastered the difficult system with his devotion. Because of his presence on the market, which was harsh, he was able to further develop the techniques and therefore it was him having to pass the system on.


During the 36 years in which Chan Wah Shun taught Wing Chun he only took 16 students. The last of these was a young man with extraordinary intelligence. His name was Yip Man, and he was destined to become the Great Grandmaster of Wing Chun.

Yip Man may be seen as the result of two teachers, Chan Wah Shun, the fighter, and Leung Bik, the educated, whom he met during his time in Hong Kong at St. Stephen College.

This story now becomes present with Yip Mans heritage he left on an 8mm movie before he died on december 2, 1972. This way he conserved all three forms and the 116 wooden dummy techniques and left them to his two sons, Yip Chun the older, and Yip Ching, trusting them to preserve the purest form of Wing Chun through the Yip Man Martial Arts Association, and to spread the formerly secret technique in the world.

Translation by Horst Drescher