History of Wing Chun

Late in the 1600's, the Manchurians became concerned about the Siu Lam Temples' rebellious activities and their continual development of the fighting arts. Therefore, they sent spies (many of them Manchu military leaders) to infiltrate the rebels and learn the traditional Southern fist systems as taught secretly in the Temples. The rebel kung-fu masters, realizing this, clandestinely developed a new system that was two-fold in purpose: firstly, it had to be learned quickly and efficiently, and secondly, it had to be devastatingly effective against the existing fighting systems that the Manchus were learning and teaching to their soldiers. Thus, Wing Chun was born.

Their spy rings compromised, the Manchus decided to eliminate the threat of spreading rebel activity by simply exterminating the Siu Lam monks. Eventually, the Southern Siu Lam Temple was burned and destroyed.

Extensive research points to a generation of inheritors following the Southern temple's burning. Among them was a gentleman named Cheung Ng (referred to as Tan Sao Ng in other texts). Of this generation of inheritors, Cheung Ng is one to date that has proven to have historically existed. After establishing the Beautiful Flower Society Association (the precursor to the Red Opera and the public name for the Red Flower Society) and providing Wing Chun training to the secret societies, Cheung Ng went into hiding, disappearing from the public eye to escape Qing Dynasty persecution.

The Myth of Ng Mui and The Truth About Yim Wing Chun To protect the identities of the creators and the perpetuators of the Wing Chun system, a smokescreen was thrown up in the form of a story - the story of Ng Mui and Yim Wing Chun.

The legend was told that among the survivors of the Shaolin/Siu Lam massacres was a Buddhist nun named Ng Mui. Ng Mui was believed to have been the sole custodian of a streamlined, highly practical and effective martial arts developed within the temples. In turn, Ng Mui is said to have passed her knowledge onto her chosen disciple, a young girl named Yim Wing Chun. As Yim Wing Chun taught the system to others, it became known as Wing Chun. The story spread and today many versions of it exist around the world.

However, there are three important considerations to make when regarding the story of Ng Mui. Firstly, outside of the legend, there is no other evidence that Ng Mui - in her capacity as a kung-fu grandmaster or founder of a kung-fu system actually existed - no records, no historical documents - nothing. Secondly, it would have been forbidden for a nun to live in, let alone train within, a celibate monastic environment like the Siu Lam /Shaolin Temples. Thirdly, and perhaps the most important, after escaping from a life and death situation as a revolutionary, it does not make sense that Ng Mui would teach an advanced level fighting system to a local girl with romantic problems and no connection to the revolution. At that time in Chinese history, the Qing dynasty had devised a special form of punishment for traitors and rebels. After being made to confess his or her crimes, the guilty party was executed. Afterwards, Qing officials would hunt down members of the guilty party's family down to nine generations and execute them as traitors as well. Teaching Yim Wing Chun a martial arts would directly put her life at risk.

With regards to the Yim Wing Chun element of the legend, consider once more the relevance of secret rebel societies. `Yim' can be translated to mean `prohibit' or `secret.' The term `Wing Chun' referred to a geographic location - the Siu Lam Wing Chun Tong (Always Spring Hall), where the rebels perhaps practiced martial arts and orchestrated their seditious activities. The use of the term Spring symbolized the rebirth of the Ming Dynasty and Always referred to the reestablished dynasty lasting forever. After the destruction of the Southern Shaolin temple and its Wing Chun Tong, the survivors changed the character of Wing from Always to Praise. The term Praise referred to the fact that the revolutionaries had to spread the word about the revolution after the destruction of their base. Thus, `Yim Wing Chun' was actually a codename, meaning (protect) the secret art of the Wing Chun Hall.

If we now know that the destruction of the Siu Lam/Shaolin Temples occurred but that the story of Ng Mui was a diversion, the question remains: who were the real custodians of the Wing Chun system?

We do know that many (not the legendary five) monks and rebel leaders escaped the Manchurian massacres and that, to aid the secrecy of the system, historical material was passed directly from teacher to student. Thus, the elders told of two Siu Lam monks/rebels who survived the temple raids and were able to keep their Wing Chun system alive. One of these was a monk, a 22nd generation Siu Lam Grandmaster, Yat Chum Dai Si from the Northern Shaolin temple. The other was a rebel training under him in the Southern Temple, named Cheung Ng. Fleeing the Manchurian persecutors, Cheung Ng founded the Kihng Fa Wui Gun (Beautiful Flower Society), the roots of the (in)famous Hung Suen (Red Boat) Opera Troupe

Historically, we know that rebel activity flourished in the Red Boat Opera Troupe. The Red Boats allowed talented stage performers, accomplished in kung-fu and gymnastics, to form their own secret societies to overthrow the Manchu Dynasty. The Troupes provided the ideal sanctuary for fleeing rebels as the performers wore elaborate costumes and stage make-up, providing excellent but natural/plausible disguises for them. Additionally, the performers adopted and were known by their `stage-names', further cloaking their secret identities

When Cheung Ng founded the Opera Troupe he became known as Tan Sao Ng - not only a stage-name but also a sly nod to his skillful deployment of the Wing Chun deflection/striking technique, Tan Sao.

An important fact to note is that so suspicious of the Manchus and their spies were these secret societies, that the true identities of the leaders, members and real nature of their activities were known only to an inner-circle within the society. Thus, genuine knowledge of kung-fu was passed only from a master to select, trusted disciples, thus protecting the purity and origins of the system.