I recently read an *article stating that the currently accepted history of Wing Chun is false. That the history as we know it is entirely concocted from a line of previous fantasies. Upon reading this very compelling and researched article, my first human response was to distrust the author, feeling deceived, and at least let down. But were those feelings valid?
Certainly having those feelings at first is valid. I am only human. Histories of arts or sciences or countries provide a ground, a base from which our beliefs grow. More often than not, the histories are colored to highlight the core idea or belief. The history becomes a shorthand of a concept to which we have associated ourselves. Look at American history, full with rebellion against the King and glorious demands of independence and self rule. Undoubtedly the reality was a bit different. Certainly many of the key American concepts were present, but I would wager that many of the actual battles were more about avoiding a payment or hanging onto a local resource or power. Seen from the inside, many of the tiny battles were probably more petty than honorable. But as time passes and grander scales are perceived, the greater good conceal the local thuggery.
At times, histories become propaganda, complete rewrites of the truth in order to perpetuate the system currently in control. One day, General Custer is seen as a hero protecting the west from wild savages. Another day, General Custer is seen as a power hungry and misguided individual that slaughtered young men and women, and led good soldiers to certain death for no reason. It is that hard to relay the reality of something from the past. Suddenly Sargent Friday from “Dragnet” pops to mind. “Just the facts, Ma’am. Just the facts.” Can we identify a fact from a feeling, especially about incidents that have been relayed through many people from the past?
After reading the article and shaking off the feeling of being let down, I realized that it does not matter. Looking at the well-supported points of the author, I came to realize that the false history had indeed become part of the history. The story itself cannot die, as the creation of the story is now part of the actual history. In fact, it would seem that the story of Ng Moy instructing Yim Wing Chun was the creation of Ip Man, perhaps as an attempt to solidify the Ving Tsun that he was teaching. It may have been nothing more than an advertising ploy, based on previously made up stories of the Southern Shaolin and the burning of the temple, something that never really happened, but is used in many martial arts histories.
It does leave the question, what is the real history? But again, it doesn’t really matter. I and many others, find the core of Wing Chun to be valid, strong and useful. Bruce Lee certainly did. It probably was a bit foolish to believe that it was created by one individual. The reality, whatever it might be, is probably about tiny changes offered by many people over many years. Petty little differences to protect a local resource or power that ultimately, like genetic mutations, improved the art, and once seen from a distance reveal the overall power and sustain ability of the science. The falsehood of the relayed history, in light of this new reality go directly to an earlier post of mine about “Ch-Ch-Changes.”
It would be nice to know the real history. What specific art did it splinter off from? Who created that splintering and why? Who along the way added or took away what? These would be fun facts to know, but ultimately they have little bearing on now. We know what we know now. We use it here and now. Each of us modifies it in some way, to suit ourselves and what we are dealing with now. The real history may be unknown, but the validity of Wing Chun is not a mystery.