Note about history: The history of Wing Chun has been passed down through word of mouth over many generations. Often, this type of storytelling results in many different versions of the story appearing over time. Thus, the story of Wing Chun is not necessarily accurate down to the exact detail. Instead, it is a guideline for what generally happened. Recent history contains more accurate facts, due to the writings and recordings of modern society.
Shaolin Temple. Buddhist temple in China, the birthplace of all martial arts styles. Divided into chambers, or rooms, each chamber teaching a certain style, weapon, or skill. The temple was burned down by the Manchu government about 300 years ago, killing many of the monks and nuns. A few escaped, including the Five Elders: five who had mastered every chamber. Only one of the Five Elders was a nun; her name was Ng Mui.
After the temple burned down, Ng Mui traveled the country, hiding from the Manchus. She settled on top of a mountain in southern China, where she began to think about all of her martial arts knowledge. She realized that much of what she had learned was ineffective or impractical for a small, frail woman to use on a larger man. So she began to revise everything she knew, discarding those techniques that relied on strength or size, were inherently slow, were too flowery, or which wasted motion. She was left with a core of fast, effective, economic techniques that relied on things like the body’s structure for power; simultaneous defense and attack for economy; and angle, distance, and redirection of the opponent’s energy instead of strength.
One day Ng Mui made her usual trip to the village at the bottom of the mountain to buy food and supplies. While at a bean curd stand owned by a father and his daughter, Ng Mui noticed that the two seemed troubled. She soon found out that the girl, named Yim Wing Chun, was being pressured into marriage by a local bully who had threatened her father with physical harm if she refused. Sensing their desperation, Ng Mui revealed her identity and offered to train the girl in kung fu. She suggested that Wing Chun challenge the bully to a fight in one year’s time. If the bully won, the girl would marry him; if the girl won, the bully would leave her alone. Wing Chun and her father agreed and the bully, who was the best fighter in the area, laughed at the challenge and gladly accepted.
Ng Mui trained the young Wing Chun in her newly revised system. She trained diligently day and night for one year, learning the basic theories and techniques of the system.
When the year was up, Wing Chun returned to the village and faced her challenger. Each time the bully charged in at her, she would quickly drop him with a simple technique. The bully could not believe he was being defeated—much less by a young girl. He became more frustrated and charged in harder. Each time he was knocked down by Wing Chun until he stayed down.
The system became known as Wing Chun, after the woman who made it famous throughout China.
The following illustration shows the lineage of the Wing Chun system, starting with its founder, Ng Mui. For details, click the names on the lineage.