The history of the Wing Chun system

The legend of the Wing Chun System

There are many versions of the Wing Chun legend. We have tried to integrate all those different aspects into this report.

Usually one refers to the legend of Wing Chun as written by Yip Man. Today there are many interpretations of the origin of the Wing Chun System. Some maintain that secret Chinese societies invented and spread the Wing Chun System, others say that this propagation was due to the actors of the Chinese Opera, who travelled the rivers of China on their ships.

It will in all likelihood never be known which version is the correct one.

 The following story is probably at least in part based on the truth. Today many different variations of the story exist and we have tried to take them all into consideration. As for the era of Yip Man, we can no longer refer to a legend as historical facts can be verified.

The Sung Mountain Monastery

 

The roots of the various martial arts we know today can be traced back more than 250 years to the Shaolin monasteries of China. One of these monasteries was at the foot of the Sung Mountain in the Hunan province of central China. During the reign of the emperor K`anghsi, of the Ching dynasty, the monks of this monastery were practitioners of Siu Lam Kung Fu and they were very famous for their fighting style. The stories about the monks travelled so far as to reach the court of the Ching emperor and caused the government much concern. Thus they decided after much deliberation to destroy the monastery and all the monks living in it. They sent government troops to raze the monastery to the ground. But contrary to expectations the monks were able to hold the monastery against massive attack by the heavily armed government troops.

Shaolin monestryThe tenacity of the monastery’s inhabitants led a high civil servant to submit a plan to the government for destroying the Sung Mountain Monastery. This government official, by the name of Chan Man Wei, expected to thereby win the government’s favour. To execute his plan Chan Man Wei himself went to the Sung Mountain and conspired with some treacherous members of the monks’ community. One monk in particular, Ma Ning Yee, agreed to covertly set fire to the monastery buildings. A short time later, the conspirators put their plan into action and destroyed the monastery down to its foundations.

The survivors of the monastery fire fled to all parts of the country and hid to avoid government persecution. Among these refugees were Ng Mui (Wu Mei), a Buddhist nun, master Fung Do Tak (Fung Tof Tak), Master Chi Sin, Master Miu Hin and Master Pak Mei.  In some versions of the legend other individual pupils are named, who likewise had left the monastery. Some of these masters, and also the nun Ng Mui, had begun to develop new forms and techniques of fighting in the monastery. They had feared for some time that there were traitors among them. The new combat techniques were designed to defeat these potential attackers. The Nun Ng Mui fled to the Temple of the White Crane at the foot of the Tai Leung Mountain, also called Chai Hau Mountain, on the border of the Yunnan and Sichuan provinces.

Ng Mui

During this time Ng Mui thought about how she could develop a new combat system that would be superior to the old, better-known systemsMonks. The philosophy behind her new system resulted from her observation of a fight between a crane and a snake (other versions report a fight between a crane and a fox) during meditation. The behaviour of the crane, which always faced its opponent while defending the body with its wings and countering with its bill at the same time, gave Ng Mui the inspiration for her new system.

In some versions it is reported that Ng Mui thereby developed the method of the Bak Hok Kuen (White Crane Kung Fu). She is said to have travelled to the Guangxi province to train with the monk Miu Sun. The new system developed from the combination of their two combat styles. Miu Sun later taught this new system to Yim Lee.

Other completely different versions report that Ng Mui came from a Taoist temple in the Wudang Mountains of Hubei to the Shaolin monastery and that she brought the knowledge of the new system from there.

 
 
Yim Wing Chun

 

Yim Wing Chun lived with her father Yim Lee (Yim Yee) in the Kwantung province in China. Yim Wing Chun was to be the bride of Leung Bok Chow, a salt dealer from the Fukien province. Yim Wing Chun’s mother had died shortly after the engagement of the two and her father had been indicted in the Kwantung province for unknown reasons. To escape possible arrest, Yim Lee fled with his daughter to the Tai Lung Mountain and settled there. Yim Lee worked in the tofu commerce in this area. During this time Ng Mui and Yim Wing Chun first met, as Ng Mui often bought tofu in Yim Lee’s shop.

Shaolin monksAt the age of fifteen Yim Wing Chun was considered ready for marriage according to the customs of the time. The beauty of Yim Wing Chun attracted the attention of all the young men around. A boastful and arrogant young man who was particularly interested in Yim Wing Chun tried to force her to marry him. As her fiancé Leung Bok Chow still lived in the Kwantung (Canton) province, he was not there to help her and confirm that Yim Wing Chun was already promised to him. Her unwanted admirer did not let a day pass without letting Yim Wing Chun know that he intended to marry her, whether she was willing or not. His constant threats were a great concern to Yim Wing Chun and her father Yim Lee. One day Ng Mui heard of these constant threats as she bought some tofu in Yim Lee’s shop. Ng Mui wanted to help the young Yim Wing Chun and promised to teach her the art of fighting, in order to help Yim Wing Chun to see off her unwanted suitor and thus enable her to marry her fiancé.

From that day on, Yim Wing Chun trained with her teacher Ng Mui every day to learn the art of fighting. Yim Wing Chun was a good student and practised all the techniques Ng Mui showed her with enthusiasm. Soon she had learned all the movements of Ng Mui’s fighting system. The next time her suitor attempted to threaten her, she challenged him to a fight. He scornfully accepted her challenge, as he was sure he would win against such a weak woman and believed that his goal of marrying Yim Wing Chun was finally within his grasp. On the day of the fight, however, reality did not live up to his expectations. After a short fight Yim Wing Chun triumphantly defeated her opponent. Shame and humiliation forced him to give up his campaign to make Yim Wing Chun his wife, as he realised that he could not enforce his will upon such a competent fighter. Ng Mui heard about the fight and realised that her young student had perfected her art and could put it to good use. After this fight, the nun Ng Mui left Yim Wing Chun and resumed her travels as Yim Wing Chun no longer needed tuition. However, before Ng Mui left she made Yim Wing Chun promise to maintain their fighting style and teach it to all patriots wishing to bring about the fall of the Ching Dynasty and restore the Ming Dynasty.

All reports agree that the completed Wing Chun System owes much to the nun Ng Mui.

After Yim Wing Chun married her fiancé Leung Bok Chow she taught him the art of fighting she had learned from the nun Ng Mui. In honour of his wife he gave the system the name Wing Chun Kung Fu (other versions of the legend maintain the name comes from a training hall inside the Shaolin temple, which was called Wing Chun Hall).

Sifu Lo Man Kam told us some time ago that the basic movement structure of Wing Chun Kung Fu suggests that the system was developed by a woman, as all movements can be carried out in traditional Chinese women’s clothes. This is particularly clear with regard to the kicks, because they are exclusively used for low attacks and would have been feasible in the robes which Chinese women wore in former times.

Leung Bok Chow later taught this martial art to Leung Lan Kwai. He in turn taught Wong Wah Bo, who at the time was a member of an opera group living on board a Chinese river junk (It is reported that this refers to the legendary "Red Junk" opera group, whose existence from the beginning to the middle of the 18th century is historically documented). Among the people who lived and worked with Wong Wah Bo on board the junk was a man named Leung Yee Tai, who had learned the long pole fighting technique (Luk Dim Boon Kwun or six and a half point pole) from one of the ship’s cooks and was a true master in this style of fighting.

Later they found out that the ship’s cook was none other than master Chi Sin from the Sung Mountain Monastery. The close friendship between Wong Wah Bo and Leung Yee Tai and the innumerable training hours spent together brought them to exchange their knowledge of martial arts and to teach each other their different techniques. This is the reason why the long pole fighting techniques have been included in the Wing Chun Kung Fu System. It was probably at this time that the wooden dummy (Muk Yan Jong) and the art of fighting with butterfly knives (Cham Dao, form: Bard Cham Dao) were also included in the Wing Chun Kung Fu System.

Leung Yan

Leung Yee Tai passed this much broader system of Wing Chun Kung Fu on to an extremely well-known and highly esteemed doctor who lived in the city of Fo Shan in the Kwantung province. Leung Yee Tai taught him all the secrets of the art and after some time his pupil attainedLeung Yan perfection in the skills. The reputation of this pupil, named Leung Yan, spread throughout the whole country. Contenders came from all the different regions of China to challenge him. But none of those whom Leung Yan fought were capable of defeating him and indeed were usually easily beaten by him. This gave him the title "King of Wing Chun" (Wing Chun Wong or Yongchunwang). A journalist named Au Soy Jee even wrote a book about him.

Leung Yan was a rich and well-respected man in Fo Shan due to his profession (though other sources say he was not a doctor but merely a herbalist) and despite his success in the art of fighting he did not want to give up medicine in order to devote himself entirely to the Wing Chun Kung Fu System. He trained his two sons Leung Bik and Leung Tsun and only a few other pupils, as his profession only allowed him limited time.  Leung Bik, Leung Yan’s eldest son,did not possess the ability to perfect the skills of the Wing Chun Kung Fu Style sufficiently in order to pass them on, so this task fell to Leung Yan’s best pupil, Chan Wah Shun. Chan Wah Shun was an extremely hot-tempered fighter who achieved many victories, though he owed most of his successes to his tempestuous manner of fighting. However, he very much neglected the techniques of the system, and he did not have the necessary understanding required to analyse his own fighting style or the various techniques precisely. Leung Bik, Leung Yan’s eldest son, was better than Chan Wah Shun at this sort of analysis. In spite of this Chan Wah Shun gained greater respect in Fo Shan because of his many spectacular victories and as a result Leung Bik left Fo Shan and went to Hong Kong.

Chan Wah Shun did not have many pupils in Fo Shan, as his training fees amounted to several ounces of silver and only very rich people could afford such a sum. Pupils of Chan Wah Shun worth mentioning are: Ng Siu Lo, Ng Chung So, Chan Yu Min, Lui Yu Chai and Yip Man, whom he taught for two years.

 
Yip Man

Yip Man studied the art of Wing Chun for two years with Chan Wah Shun in Fo Shan, until the latter died. He then continued his studies of Yip ManWing Chun with one of Chan Wah Shun’s eldest students Ng Chung So for three further years. Yip Man left Fo Shan at the age of sixteen to go to St. Steven’s School for Boys in Hong Kong. At the time Yip Man was a troublemaker, always involved in fights, which gave him a bad reputation. One day a school-friend of Yip's suggested he fight against an elderly Kung Fu teacher. Yip Man agreed, as he was not used to losing fights and particularly not against men considerably older than himself. It was probably quite an amazing experience for him to realise that the older man had no problems in fending off his attacks and in defeating him within a short space of time. After having reflected on his defeat, Yip Man asked his opponent if he would instruct him. During the conversation Yip Man realised that the older man was nobody other than Leung Bik, the son of Leung Yan from whom his Sifu (master) Chan Wah Chun had learned the art of Wing Chun Kung Fu, and that he thus belonged to the same lineage within the combat system.

Leung Bik’s method of teaching was completely different to that which Yip was used to from Chan Wah Chun, due to his very analytical approach to the techniques of the Wing Chun Kung Fu System. He trained with him for another three years and brought his abilities to perfection. Thus the Wing Chun Yip Man later taught was a product of two very different teachers (according to information from some pupils of Yip Man, Leung Bik was never his teacher: Yip Man and Leung Bik were only friends and everything else is allegedly a jounalist’s invention).

At some stage Yip Man returned to Fo Shan from Hong Kong. Later the Japanese occupied the Fo Shan province. The Japanese military police tried to persuade Yip Man to train their troops, which he refused to do. They engaged another Kung Fu master, of whom it is known only that his surname was Leung, to challenge Yip Man.  After a while he accepted the challenge and defeated his opponent without any problem. As a result he was forced to leave Fo Shan but he continued to help the Chinese government within the resistance movement. After the Japanese had left Fo Shan, Yip Man returned and became an investigator with the local police. As his career developed he became head of the military police. At that time Lo Man Kam was already spending a lot of time with his uncle Yip Man.

When China became communist in 1949, Yip Man had to leave his family in Fo Shan and went to Hong Kong once again.  There he began to teach Wing Chun once more. He held his first class in a back room of the Restaurant Association of Hong Kong. All pupils were members of this Restaurant Union. Among these first pupils were Leung Sheung, Lok Yiu, Yip Bo Ching, Chan Wah, Lee Wing, Tsui Shan Tin (Tsui Sung Ting), Lee Man and Lo Man Kam. Lee Man was furthermore a good friend of both Yip Man and Lo Man Kam’s father. They had known each other for a very long time, since they had all lived in Fo Shan. Soon the room was too small for the fast growing number of pupils. Yip Man then opened a second school in the Yim Wah Restaurant in Stanley Street. As the monks of the "Three Princes Temple" were also interested in Yip's martial arts this became a third training place, and here Lee Han should be mentioned as an outstanding pupil. The school in Stanley Street later had to be moved to the “Public Safety Union” again because of too many pupils, since the premises were larger.

Next Yip Man initiated the "Fu Shan Wing Chun Club" in an apartment in Hoi Tan Street. He did this to enable other pupils, who were not members of the Restaurant Union, to learn Wing Chun. Among the first pupils were Wang Kiu and Chiu Yau. Tsui Shan Tin and other pupils from the first school also trained here. Wong Shun Leung and Cheung Cheuk Hing (William Cheung) were later also admitted to this school.

The number of pupils constantly rose and the school moved from Hoi Tan Street into Lee Tat Street and later into the Shin Yip Building. The young Bruce Lee entered the school in Lee Tat Street, and took lessons with Yip Man for a cosiderable time.

Yip Man later brought his family over to Hong Kong and lived and taught there until his death in 1972.

Lo Man Kam

In 1956 Lo Man Kam’s uncle encouraged him to go to the “Republic of China”: Taiwan. There he represented the young people of Hong KongLo Man Kam and received personal support from President Chiang Kai Shek. On his return to Hong Kong his uncle berated him and advised him to go back to Taiwan. So in 1960 he returned to Taiwan and attended a military school there. After serving several years there, two options were open to Lo Man Kam. He could make a career in the army or open a Kung Fu school.

 

In 1974, following advice from his cousin Yip Chun, Lo Man Kam opened a Wing Chun school in the 31 4F Lane 12, Alley 51, Sec. 3 Pa Te Road, Taipeh, where it still is today. At the time of the opening Lo Man Kam was the only Wing Chun coach in Taiwan. Today he trains pupils from all over the world and trains SWAT (Special Weapon Attack teams) and the FBI in unarmed fighting techniques. Sifu Lo Man Kam visits his schools in many different countries as often as he can, and he has already visited the U.S.A. with his SWAT training programme and trained SWAT units there.

Many well-known personalities have trained under the direction of Sifu Lo Man Kam, including the nephew of Chang Kai Shek. He is at present continuing to train the King and Prince of Brunei.

The Lo Man Kam Wing Chun Association of Germany has been visited by the Sifu since 1996. During these visits Sifu Lo Man Kam mainly trains the school directors, but he also personally runs training sessions for the pupils in the individual schools. Here he endeavours to help beginners in the sport, as well as those more advanced in his techniques, to improve their Kung Fu. Open seminars are also run in co-operation with the German schools and can be attended by anyone interested in the Wing Chun System. Seminar dates and meetings in Germany can always be found on the internet site:

http://www.lo-man-kam.de


From the book

Siu Lim Tao - The little idea

by Marc Debus

Language: Englisch

ISBN-10: 3865821278

ISBN-13: 978-3865821270