The Beginnings of Wing Chun

The Wing Chun system of martial arts was developed in southern China approx. 250-300 years ago. Wing Chun Kung fu is just one of many martial arts whose origins are to be found in Southern China. Compared with other arts it is a relatively new style. Often interpreted as a soft style, Wing Chun is in fact a blend of both hard and soft techniques, owing to the fact that it was developed by a woman and refined in the main, by men.

It is relevant at this point to note that it is largely impossible to establish a definitive history of Wing Chun due to several factors. As with many art styles, particularly live arts such as the oral, theatrical, dance, and martial varieties it is difficult and presumptive to attribute absolute credit to any particular individual or group of individuals for the conception and development of any of the sub genres under these categories including Wing Chun Kung Fu. Although there are a group of figures who are widely acknowledged and revered in the Wing Chun community, and without denying their ample contributions to the art, it is prudent to suggest that such arts are developed and kept alive as a result of the wider unspoken group of people who practice them and pass them on to future generations of practitioners.

Additionally, Wing Chun Kung Fu is less rigid then other martial arts in terms of its practise and subsequently there are numerous interpretations of Wing Chun, each emphasising and accentuating various elements of the system differently. Another factor that contests the concept of a singular true interpretation of Wing Chun is that each practitioner has different natural and conditioned attributes and therefore each individual will favour the development of different skills and the use of different parts of the system specific to their needs in a self-defence situation. A female practitioner for example would not be likely to attempt to use hard striking shapes such as fists against a larger stronger attacker but would probably favour the use of the open handed strikes to the eyes and throat. Meanwhile it would be illogical for a male practitioner to disregard his natural strength completely in a self defence scenario and would be wise to employ it at the right time during the conflict. In short one interpretation of Wing Chun is not superior to another but rather caters to a particular set of strengths and weaknesses more then another. From this it becomes evident that Wing Chun Kung Fu has been designed to be flexible in its application and encourages the effective application and expression of the art individually by the individual (albeit within a certain specified structure of forms without which there would be no system to speak of).

Simultaneously, documented accounts of nearly everything in modern history share the common characteristic that they do not document every individuals experience or contribution leading toward a defining event and often harbour inclinations to lean in favour of particular parties. Subsequently these accounts cannot be qualified as absolutely reliable and representative sources of information.

In discussing the history of Wing Chun it is necessary to note the blurring of historical fact with myth and legend while equally noting that the cultural basis of many of humanities greatest endeavours have their foundations built on grand myths, legends and oral tales. In respect of this, what follows is not an attempt to purport a particular set of events or interpretation as the singular truth about the history of Wing Chun, preferring to present the reader with a brief overview of the historical context within which Wing Chun was developed and offer some of the stories which have attempted to account for the development of the style and introduce the philosophy, theory and biomechanical basis of the system and allow you to make your own judgements and conclusions.

In 1644 the Manchus invaded China concluding the Ming dynasty, and beginning the Ching (Qing) dynasty. As a minority population, the occupation force introduced a number of repressive measures to control the indigenous Han population. These included prohibiting the carrying of weapons, restricting their opportunities within the civil service, and binding the feet of women, rendering them totally dependent on the men, who were consequently also restricted in their actions and ability to undertake revolutionary activities.

As a Buddhist institution the Shaolin Temple was revered and regarded with religious awe by the invaders, hence it became both a sanctuary for Ming rebels and a centre for revolutionary planning and training. Ming soldiers and sympathisers donned monk’s robes and shaved their heads, but trained for war within the temple grounds and plotted to overthrow the Manchus.

The combat systems taught in the temple at the time were based on animal movements requiring the progressive mastery of tens and hundreds of long, intricate forms, over a fifteen to twenty year period. The Shaolin grandmasters recognised this approach was unsuitable for the rapid development of a fighting force. They began to develop a new system of Kung Fu based on human biomechanics rather than the movements of animals, distilling the enormous and disparate variety of techniques, some only marginally useful, of the animal systems into an essential core of techniques which would turn an average trainee into a skilled fighter in five years rather than twenty-five. Due to Manchurian weapons the butterfly swords, which were easy to conceal in knee-length boots, were chosen as the system’s only weapons.

Roughly translated Wing Chun means ‘Perpetual/Beautiful Springtime’ named after the training hall in the Siu Lam temple. Kuen means fist or fist fighting style. Some accounts have it that the system was named after Yim Wing Chun, but she may also have been given that name, after that of the training hall, by Ng Mui, the alternative meaning of the name being “Hope for the Future”.

During the reign of Emperor K’anghsi of the Ching Dynasty (1662-1722), the Shaolin monastery called Siu Lam of Mt. Sung, in the Honan province, had become very powerful through Kung Fu training. The Manchurian government was afraid of a revolutionary uprising and sent troops to destroy the Siu Lam. However, it was internal treachery that sealed the fate of the monastery, with traitorous monks setting it alight. Only five monks managed to escape the onslaught of the Manchurian army- Bak Mei, Fung Do Dak, Mui Min, Jee Sin and Ng Mui, a Buddhist Nun and Grand master of Sui Lam Kung Fu and the creator of the Wing Chun system was one of them. The five went their separate ways. Ng Mui later developed a system of Kung Fu designed to overcome the Sui Lam systems of the Manchurian army.



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