The Histories of Wing Chun

Wing Chun Crane Lotus

The Myth

During the long ago, around the 17th and 18th centuries, the Southern Shaolin Temple in Fujian Provence housed many great martial artists. One of these was the Nun Ng Moy. She received a lot of her Kung Fu training from her father, and honed her skills working with the other monks while she was at the monastery. Though she possessed a great deal of skill, she found it difficult to deal with the stronger energies of her male counterparts.

One day, while washing clothes, she saw a stork by the pond. The stork was squaring off with a snake. Ng Moy watched the encounter closely. Perhaps one of these rivals may reveal some hidden martial secret. She was familiar with snake and serpent techniques, and thought she might gain some insight by watching the reptile in action.

Much to her surprise, the real revelations came from the stork. It had the ability to block the snake with its foot while striking with its beak. The action was always simultaneous, as a single move – block and strike together. In the end, the snake slithered off. The stork was the victor.

Ng Moy took this lesson with her to the temple. In the coming months and years, she incorporated the idea of a simultaneous block and strike into her Kung Fu.

The Qing Dynasty was unhappy with the rebellious monks of the Southern Temple. Meetings and messages passed back and forth as the Emperor attempted to impose his will upon the monastery. Ng Moy was one delegate sent to treaty with his Highness. She pleaded for understanding, and tried to negotiation compromises and truce. In the end, the Emperor made the decision to do away with the unruly bunch and sent an army to Fujian to lay waste to the temple. During that final battle, five elder monks escaped. One of these was Ng Moy herself.

The elders wandered the countryside, each looking for a home. Ng Moy found herself in a village near the burnt out temple. There she was witness to an altercation in the marketplace. A brutish fellow, more than likely feeling the effects of some fermented drink, was giving a young woman a particularly hard time. Ng Moy stepped in and rescued the girl. The Nun’s unique style caught the bully completely off guard. After only a few volleys of the surprising simultaneous blocks and attacks, the brute begin to back off from his aggression. Quickly the market patrons stepped in behind Ng Moy. The brute had to accept his defeat.

People began to question Ng Moy about her unique fighting style. A few recognized she was a Shaolin nun. The renown of their fighting abilities were widespread, yet this Nun’s style was singular and clearly quite effective. Many asked for her tutelage, though she would not give it, and continued on her way.

The rescued girl followed Ng Moy, eventually catching up to her. She begged the nun for lessons. The young woman was very attractive. She would clearly fall victim to many ruffians like the marketplace brute, so Ng Moy agreed to teach the girl her unique style of Kung Fu.

For many years, they met at various places and trained. During one training session, the young woman asked where the techniques came from. Ng Moy relayed her tale of the observed battle between stork and snake. The young woman asked the name of the style. The Nun did not have an answer. It was the culmination of her own work, a blend of several Kung Fu styles with the addition of her own experiments and creations based on her observations of nature. Ng Moy decided, as the girl was the first person to have been taught the Nun’s unique art, she would name it after her. The young woman’s name was Yim Wing Chun, and so together, they chose to call it Wing Chun, as if to suggest it was going to be Wing Chun’s way.

For several years, Ng Moy and Yim Wing Chun trained. Often at night, the young student would practice in the back of her father’s store. One evening, a man a few years older than Wing Chun, was passing by. Hearing movement in the store, he crept to the window and observed Wing Chun practicing. The clever movements fascinated him. Some think the rare beauty of Yim Wing Chun was as much an attraction as the grace and insightfulness of her skill. Night after night, he would stop by the store’s back room and peek in through the window, watching her practice.

There are two stories as to how Yim Wing Chun passed on her training.

One suggests that on a cold and rainy night, as the passerby secretly watched Wing Chun, he sneezed or coughed and was discovered.

Another suggests a town drunk was threatening Wing Chun’s father in his store. The secret admirer happened by just as Wing Chun stepped in to protect her father. Quickly she dispatched the drunk. The secret admirer introduced himself to the inspiring woman, and asked if she would teach him.

In both cases, the admirer was Leung Bok-chau.

Years later, Wing Chun and Bok-chau married. Wing Chun taught Bok-chau everything she knew. In some accounts, Leung Bok-chau went on to teach Wong Wha-bo. Wong Wha-bo went on to teach Wing Chun. One of his students was Leung Yee-tai, who was proficient in the long pole. Leung Yee-tai modified the pole form specifically for Wing Chun. He taught Wing Chun and his modified long pole from to Leung Jan, who taught Chan Wha-shun, who passed Wing Chun on to his son, Chan Yiu Min. Chan Yiu Min taught both Jiu Wan and Ip Man. Jiu Wan left Chan Yiu Min. After Chan’s death, Jiu Wan located Ip Man and continued training with him, and under his tutelage.

Ip Man is considered the most recent grandmaster of Wing Chun. Most roads lead back to him, though Jiu Wan deserves credit in his own right. There are several branches of Wing Chun that lead back to Jiu Wan, who trained under Ip Man’s instructor. Sifu Francis Fong, for example, trained under Jiu Wan, while Bruce Lee trained under Ip Man. Bruce Lee trained Guro Dan Inosanto, who works and trains with Sifu Francis Fong. Essentially, the lineage paths split apart and then rejoin at several points throughout this history.

The Truth

While flowery and inspirational, the sad truth is most of the story is a fabrication. Several variations of the story exist, connected with other styles of Kung Fu and Chinese boxing. All involve the stork. Some replace the snake with a fox, some replace the snake with Ng Moy herself, stating they battled over her morning breakfast. Some variation of this story, with different names, is given for Taijiquan (Tai Chi Quan). There are similar stories for Hung Gar, White Lotus, and White Crane.

There is serious doubt the Southern Shaolin Temple ever existed. No archeological evidence has been found. There is indeed a Shaolin Temple however. It exists to this day, though it has gone through some shaky periods, especially during China’s Boxer Rebellion.

There is direct evidence Ip Man tried to start an organization, the Ving Tsun Tong Fellowship. The Fellowship failed, but its remains evolved into the Hong Kong Ving Tsun Athletic Association – the VTAA. As an introduction for the Fellowship to Ving Tsun (Wing Chun), Ip Man wrote a paper describing the origin of Wing Chun. The paper was somewhat like the outline above. It must be confessed, the story as given here is cobbled together – the result of oral and written versions. Nonetheless, the essence of what Ip Man wrote is intact.

The paper telling this tale was found in Ip Man’s possessions after his death, written in his own hand. There are no earlier mentions of the Yim Wing Chun character in any other stories or writings. There are earlier mentions of the nun character, Ng Moy – sometimes Ng Mui. She appears in a popular story dating to the late 1800s, “Everlasting”. It has a long, complicated Chinese name but “Everlasting” has been the recognized western name for more than a century. In that story, Ng Moy is a tool of the Emperor, a traitor to the monks, and aids the Emperor in the destruction of the temple. The story is a pro-government story. In later rewrites and outright plagiarized versions of “Everlasting”, Ng Moy becomes an independent, strong-willed, outsider – the kind of hero common for martial artists in tales.

One of these retells was very popular, Jiang Diedie’s 1930s’ story, “Young Heroes from Shaolin”. In Diedie’s story, Ng Moy is a savior. It is through her actions the five elders escape. This is the Ng Moy Ip Man called upon to sell his tale of Wing Chun.

The Yim Wing Chun story is marketing promotion and little more. It is a story casting Wing Chun in the most favorable light possible, with tales of women beating brutes, oppressive governments, and mystic temples housing great masters.

This writer’s research suggests Wing Chun is an offshoot or descendant of White Crane. White Crane and White Lotus are closely related Kung Fu styles. The White Crane story has similarities to Ip Man’s Wing Chun tale. The supposed originator of White Crane, Feng Chi Niang or Feng Qiang Liang, married and moved to Weng Chun County in the Fujian Provence, where she became a teacher of great renown. Draw whatever conclusions you wish.

Story telling aside, all martial art styles are the result of evolution over tens of thousands of years. Due to cross training – something not as new as some would have you believe – all styles are amalgams. All histories are designed to shed a bright light on the style, with omissions of both failures and adjacent style credits.

With that said, recent histories do have bearing. Where traceable records exist, they can shine light on what is currently being taught. However, it must be remembered even recent documented histories may lead down false or confusing roads. An instructor may have left their instructor at an early stage. Decades later, the senior instructor might be known for an entirely different style, making the junior instructor’s claim seem flimsy when it is indeed fact.

For example, this writer received his brown belt in Okinawan Shorinji Ryu from Sensei Logue. This was very early in Logue Sensei’s martial art career. A search of Sensei Logue would reveal him as 9th Dan in Ryu Te and Oyata Shin Shu Ho. One must recognize more than 30 years exist between the time this writer received his brown belt from Sensei, and the last things the late Sensei is known for. Associations and style names changed. This writer’s claim is true, though a quick and uninformed Google search might make it seem questionable.

Ip Man and Jiu Wan’s histories span the second Sino-Japanese war. The confusion and potential loss of records caused by the Boxer Rebellion, and the populism caused by the Sino-Japanese wars, can be weeded through as they both survived past these conflicts.

It is clear Jiu Wan trained under Ip Man’s instructor, Chan Yiu Min. We know he also trained with and under Ip Man, and with Bruce Lee. It is a matter of recent documentation that Bruce Lee trained Guro Dan Inosanto. Sifu Francis Fong trained under Jiu Wan. Sifu Mark Mills trained in Wing Chun under Sifu Francis Fong, and in Jeet Kune Do under Guro Dan Inosanto. Keith Mosher trained under Sifu Mark Mills in both Wing Chun and Jeek Kune Do. However, just as Jiu Wan split and rejoined the history, likewise, Keith Mosher also trained in Wing Chun directly under Sifu Francis Fong, and Jeet Kune Do directly under Guro Dan Inosanto. Of these, Keith Mosher’s experience with Guro Inosanto is the least frequent. However, he has more experience in Wing Chun under Sifu Francis Fong than under Sifu Mark Mills. The path splits, and reunites back toward its root.

This article is the result of varied research. However, to simply references, check out: “Did Ip Man Invent the Story of Yim Wing Chun” on “Kung Fu Tea’s” posting by Benjudkins.

About Sifu Keith Mosher

My new book, "Astro Boy, Sensei, and Me" is available now, as is my Sci-Fi joy ride, "On a Sphere's Edge". I have a Bachelor of Media Arts degree from USC. I have been an Audio Producer / Engineer, a Law Office Manager, and I am currently an Author and a Martial Arts Instructor.
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