Wing Tsun History
In the Chinese culture, a great deal of importance is given to legend and history, and the edge between the two becomes quite blurry if you go far back in time. It is especially so when it comes to the history of a Kung Fu school.
Even for such relatively modern systems as Wing Tsun, there is no single timeline that everyone would agree with. Described below is an account of events that is widely accepted in the Yip Man branch of Wing Tsun.
The Genesis Of The System
About 300 years ago, during the reign of Yongzheng of the Qing dynasty, it is said that there was a fire at the Shaolin monastery. Some of its disciples had to flee from the government to Southern China. The most notable among them were Ng Mui, Chi Shin, Miu Hin, Fung To Tak and Pak Mei, often referred to as the Five Elders.
Chi Shin was the master of the traditional Shaolin long wooden pole techniques. Before the fire, he led his numerous students to fight the Manchurian government, and so was wanted by it. After escaping, to avoid getting caught, he ordered them to disperse, and himself hid in the opera ship (the “Red Junk”), posing as a cook.
Miu Hin was an unshaved Shaolin disciple that specialized in wielding the butterfly knifes. After the fire, he went into hiding in the Yunnan and Sichuan provinces along with his daughter Miu Tsui Fa. They have later travelled around China and contributed to the many legends floating around.
Ng Mui was the only woman in the Shaolin monastery and was the eldest of the Five Elders. Following the escape, she travelled some, but was mostly spending the time in the White Crane Temple. She was a great enthusiast of Kung Fu, always thinking about how to improve it and seeking a way to overcome the traditional Shaolin arts. Eventually she created a whole new kung fu system, building upon the strengths of some existing styles while also removing a lot of unnecessary movements, making it very efficient.
She then taught it to one Yim Wing Tsun, her beloved pupil. Yim Wing Tsun also learned the butterfly swords from Miu Tsui Fa, who learned it from her father, Miu Hin. After Yim Wing Tsun married Leung Bok Chau, she taught him this new kung fu fighting system. He became fascinated with it and named it Wing Tsun Kuen, in honor of his wife. Later in his life, he passed on the knowledge to a herbalist named Leung Lan Kwai. He was very secretive about his knowledge and skills, and so passed it on in full to only one person: Wong Wah Bo, an opera actor.
At the time, the opera troops travelled on ships, called the Red Junk. It was rather common for the disciples of Shaolin to hide among the opera artists, as the heavy makeup offered a suitable disguise. As mentioned earlier, Chi Shin, one of teh Five Elders, also took refuge as a follower of the Red Junk. While there, he taught numerous students in the way of Shaolin kung fu. Among his disciples was one Leung Yee Tei, who was not an actor, but a sailor of the Red Junk. He was particularly fascinated by the “Six-and-a-half Point Long Pole Techniques”, of which Chi Shin was a master.
It so happened that Leung Yee Tei and Wong Wah Bo ended up on the same ship. After a while, they got familiar with each other’s kung fu techniques, and collaborated on incorporating them all in the same system. Together, they adapted the long pole accoring to the principles of Wing Tsun, and so Wing Tsun gained another weapon technique to add to the butterfly knifes.
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