A Legendary History Of Wing Chun
When the Manchu's seized political control of China about three hundred years ago, a small group of freedom fighters who managed to escape the slaughter took refuge in the Shaolin Temple at Hunan. It was there, with the help of the sympathetic monks, that they formed a revolutionary movement aimed at overthrowing the Manchu's.
The Manchu Emperor Yung Cheng, in an effort to smash the rebel movement, sent troops with orders to destroy the Temple and kill the rebel leaders. A formidable task, but not all the monks were sympathetic to the rebel cause, and a treacherous novice monk, Ma Ning Yee, led a group of Manchu soldiers into the Temple by way of a secret tunnel. Most of the monks were killed, but one who escaped was the most skilful boxer of Shaolin, the Buddhist Nun Ng Mui. (Wu Mei).
The Buddhist Nun
Ng Mui settled at the White Crane Nunnery on Tai Leung mountain, which lies on the borders of Szechwan and Hunnan Provinces, where she studied Zen Buddhism. During this quiet period in her life she had time to reflect upon the various techniques of Chinese boxing, and how she might improve upon them.
The boxing skills of Shaolin were based on developed strength, low stances, and fixed patterns. These factors meant that it took years of training to develop basic fighting ability. New methods, she surmised, were needed to train an effective revolutionary force in months rather than years.
Further, the traditional Shaolin methods were impractical for the very people she believed needed protection from the Manchu's the most; the weak, the old and the vulnerable people in society. From a combination of these ideals, her experience in revolutionary matters, her knowledge of the human anatomy, and her unsurpassed skill and knowledge in Shaolin boxing, Ng Mui devised a completely new system of fighting. A system based on scientific principle instead of technique; mind force instead of brute force.
Yim Yee of Kwangtung, a novice monk who had escaped the destruction at Shaolin, operated a Beancurd stall in the local village. He was a former student of Ng Mui's, and on the occassion of purchasing supplies in the local village Ng Mui would take tea with Yim Yee and his very beautiful young daughter, (Yim) Wing Chun. They would discuss plans to "overthrow the Ch'ing and restore the Ming", and Ng Mui would coach them in her new theories and principles of combat.
A local gangster named "Tiger" Wong, who used to terrorise the villagers on occasion, came to take Wing Chun by force to be his concubine. Naturally Yim Yee objected, but he was too old and frail to protect his daughter. To avoid bloodshed Wing Chun challenged Wong to fight her for her hand in marriage. If he won she would marry him; if he lost, he was to leave with his gang and never bother the villagers again.
Wong quickly accepted Wing Chun's challenge. But he never stood a chance. With the fighting principles she had learnt from Ng Mui, Wing Chun beat the bully senseless, and sent the whole gang packing. Wing Chun eventually married her childhood sweetheart, Leung Bok Chau, and they settled in Fatshan County, Kwangtung Province.
Leung Bok Chau was a Master of Shaolin Kung fu, and he would train with a small group of his friends in the garden. Wing Chun would bring them tea, and observe the training. One day Leung caught his wife with her hand to her mouth, and believing her to be laughing at his training, he invited her to step into the class and do better. Try as he would, he could not best Wing Chun, while she easily controlled his every move.
So impressed was Leung with the boxing abilities of his pretty young wife that he became her student, and together they continued to refine their skill in this new method of boxing. As their fame spread the art became known as the Wing Chun Kuen; meaning, the Fighting Fist of Wing Chun.
One of the survivors of the treachery at Hunan was Miao Hin (Mui Hin), a master of knives. Miao Hin had taught his knife techniques to his daughter, Miao Tsui Hua (Miu Tsui Ta), who in turn taught them to her friend Yim Wing Chun. Wing Chun adapted the knife techniques to the Wing Chun principles, and so they became a part of the Wing Chun system. These knife techniques became known as the Erh Tzu Tao, or the 11-Shaped Sword Technique, after the Wing Chun pattern of footwork.
Thus three women form the foundation of the Wing Chun system; Ng Mui, the Buddhist Nun who perfected the principles upon which the art is based, and passed them on to her pupil, Yim Wing Chun; Miao Tsui Hua, who introduced the knife techniques to Yim Wing Chun; and of course the beautiful Yim Wing Chun herself. Kevin L. Earle
I chose to use the descriptive title 'Legendary' because I prefer the colorful story told of the young market girl, Yim Wing Chun, who beat up the gang boss and married her childhood sweetheart. Make no mistake, this was no mean feat, (if it really did happen), for in the China of the times gang bosses were often local warlords with up to ten thousand or so rogues and thieves under their control. On horseback they would swoop down from their hideouts in the hills to rape, plunder, and generally cause havoc in the villages and surrounding countryside. This guy who wanted the market stall maiden, the desirable Miss Yim Wing Chun, was one mean mother!
For those of you who don't have a romantic bone in your body, you may prefer to read some of the well researched historical versions, that nonetheless are just as colorful in the telling. (In fact many martial art historians do not refute that Yim Wing Chun was indeed an important figure in the early development of Wing Chun.
For some three hundred years Yim Wing Chun and her teacher the Buddhist Nun, Wu Mei, have been actively portrayed in theatre and film. As many important historical records were destroyed we may never know the truth about Yim Wing Chun's role in the development of this unique art. We do know that the political and historical events surrounding the legends, for example the political turmoil of the time, the destruction of the Shaolin Temple, the rebel movement etc., really did occur. And what can never be denied is the effectiveness of Wing Chun in combat.)
As I wasn't there, the source of my information was that verbally passed on to me by my teacher, Greg Tsoi. For further reading on the history of Wing Chun I refer you to volumes 1 - 3 of 'Secret Techniques of Wing Chun Kung Fu' by K.T. Chao & J.E. Weakland, & the book by Rene Ritchie & Robert Chu, 'Complete Wing Chun: The Definitive Guide to Wing Chun's History and Traditions', which features the history of 14 'styles' of Wing Chun. Many other Wing Chun books have their version of the history of Wing Chun kung-fu.