The Legacy of a Fighting Style
By Guillermo García Salmorán
Kung Fu Magazine year 1 num 2
Legend has it that Wing Chun was created by a Shaolin Temple Buddhist nun, Ng Mui, who developed this simple, quick, logical and scientific fighting art after witnessing the fight between a crane and a fox. The nun was impressed by the ability of these animals, because while the fox attacked, the crane intercepted the attacks and countered with its beak. The result of this observation could not be better: a complete and practical style at the same time. However, this story is not accepted by scholars because they say that most Kung Fu styles were created based on the observation of the fight between animals and state that Ng Mui changed her style of Shaolin which she had learned in the temple, and which consisted of low, strong stances, so that it could be used by anyone, even by those who were not very strong physically. According to a different version, the creation of this style was in the hands of the clandestine groups that gathered in a village called Wing Chun, and from there planned their strategy against the government of the time.
The tale says that Ng Mui was one of the five monks who escaped when the Shaolin Temple was attacked and burned by troops sent by the Manchu government, because they learned that many people were organizing in underground groups that were against them. Many who belonged to these rebel groups were practitioners of Kung Fu, and took refuge in the famous Shaolin Temple. This made the Manchus attack Shaolin, burn the Temple and kill all those who lived in it. But how were they able to do that? Of course, there had to be someone helping them realize their wicked plan, and that person was a Shaolin monk named Ma Ming Yee, who with the help of other monks betrayed his friends. This could have ended the tradition of Shaolin forever, but fortunately it did not.
The nun Ng Mui, after escaping the destruction of her temple, took refuge for a long time in the White Crane Temple on Mt. Tailiang. It was here that she met Yim Yee and his daughter Yim Wing Chun, a beautiful young girl who attracted the eyes of many men. The father of Yim Wing Chun was wrongly accused of a crime he did not commit, and to avoid going to jail, they decided to flee their homeland. They wandered for a while until they decided to settle at Mount Tailiang, where they began selling food to make a living. Ng Mui often bought food from them and with each passing day their friendship became closer and closer.
The beauty of Yim Wing Chun caused a local bandit to repeatedly harass her, to the extent of forcing her to marry him. Yim Wing Chun, who was barely 15 years old, had no interest in marrying a bandit. The bandit, hearing the girl’s refusal, began to threaten her to see if he achieved his goal. All this reached the ears of Ng Mui, who decided to help the beautiful young girl and began teaching her the style she created. The girl followed the girls into the mountains to learn the fighting style. She trained day and night ceaselessly, which turned her into a more confident person. Was not until she mastered the techniques that she decided to challenge the bandit who was harassing her. Confident that he could easily beat the girl, the bandit took the challenge. However, he was surprisingly defeated by the young woman he had been threatening so much. That was how the girl got her harasser to leave her alone. The style she had used had not been named when it was created, but in honor of her student, Ng Mui decided to call it Wing Chun, which means “Beautiful Springtime.”
After this, Ng Mui went on with her travelling and it is said that she traveled around the country as a wandering nun, but not before asking her student to continue training and developing her martial skills, so she could pass her knowledge to future generations. This was the wish of the nun and her student did not disappoint, because after marrying, she taught her martial art to her husband, Leung Bok Chau. Thus the style would not die and the tradition of martial arts would go on. Yim Wing Chun’s husband would teach the style to Leung Lan Kwai, who in turn taught a Chinese Opera actor of the Red Junk, Wong Wah Bo. It is said that there was another monk on board who had escaped the destruction of the Shaolin Temple was and posing as a chef to hide his true identity to avoid being captured by the troops of the Manchu government. His name was Jee Sin and it was he who taught Leung Yee Tai a long pole technique, which would afterwards be incorporated into the style of Wing Chun.
Leung Yee Tai subsequently transmitted his knowledge to Leung Jan. As the story goes, Leung Jan had many challenges and overcame all of them, because of his great skill in Wing Chun. It was so good that he earned the nickname “King of Wing Chun.” Besides being a great fighter, was a highly respected doctor in Fut Shan in the Guangdong Province. Soon after, Leung Jan would teach Chan Wah Shun, who was the first teacher of the legendary Yip Man. It is worth mentioning that Yip Man had other teachers who finished teaching him the style created by Ng Mui. Among them was Leung Bik, the eldest son of Leung Jan.
With Grandmaster Yip Man, the history of Wing Chun would see a major shift. In 1900 Yip Man moved to Hong Kong, where he had several outstanding students such as Wong Shun Leung, Moy Yat (both deceased), William Cheung, Bruce Lee, Hawking Cheung, Victor Kan and Leung Ting. The latter is perhaps the most renowned worldwide, and who has one of the strongest organizations in the world, not only in Wing-Tsun (as he calls his style) but in all martial arts. The most outstanding students of Yip Man slightly modified the style they had learned to suit their personal preferences, according to their own experiences in real fights or to how they assimilated what they learned from their master. They are different views of the same system and all are valid, because each modified style brings something different and interesting. This is also why there are different denominations of the same style. For example: Wing Chun, Ving Tsun, Ving Chun, Wing Tsun, but all have the same basic principles of the original system. In addition to the Cantonese pronunciation for this stylewhich is Wing Chun, Ving Tsun, etc, in Mandarin it is pronounced Yung Chun. However, the Cantonese pronunciation is more common in the world.
A Martial Art, Not A Sport
The martial arts were created in times of war and for that reason people developed them to learn how to defend themselves against aggressors who wanted to cause harm. Their main purpose was to survive in real combat. Martial arts were not created as a sport or as part of a show, but to defend oneself, one’s family or home if necessary. It is not the same to fight for a trophy or recognition in a tournament where there are rules and protection for the competitors as to fight in the street for one’s physical integrity.
Wing Chun remains a personal defense system, even thought more than four centuries have passed since its creation. It is fast, explosive, and more importantly, effective with economic movents for street fighting. One of its most important features is the consecutive attacks directed at what is called “central line,” attacking the most vulnerable points in the human body. In Wing Chun there are no fancy, complicated positions or pretty techniques that in a real fighting situation would be useless. Wing Chun has a realistic view of the fight in the street, and only the movements that are useful for combat are learned. Moreover, the practice does not require a person to have any special qualities, because it is a system that fits any person regardless of their sex, age or physical condition. In this style, high kicks are not necessary, as they are not useful in self defense situations. Therefore, Wing Chun puts all the emphasis on low kicks that are practical for real self defense situations.
Another important characteristic of this style is that you can apply it anywhere and anytime. That means it is not necessary to have a lot of space to defend oneself with Wing Chun. This style was created for close range fighting, and one does not need brute force to defeat the opponent. These are some things that make Wing Chun different from other styles of martial arts, which from my personal point of view are quite respectable and can be as good as Wing Chun. Because of these characteristics, this system enjoys great fame around the world and is among the most effective styles for self-defense. CIA agents and the most important armies in the world have learned this unique style to incorporate its techniques into their combat strategies.
Other additional benefits Wing Chun practitioners obtain with constant practice is that it helps them strengthen their heart, they increase strength, improve reflexes and self-esteem, manage stress and it makes them more confident people. Wing Chun, Ving Tsun, Wing Tsun… is a complete system that provides not only self-defense skills, but also physical benefits to lead a healthier life. I think neither the creator (or creators) nor the old masters ever imagined that this style would become so famous and that thanks to its characteristics it would be considered a truly effective method of defense. But although the style is excellent, it is does not make the fighter; you have to train hard and realistically so that if a real fight ever comes up, the style will be effective and you will be able to overcome the confrontation.
Because the style has been proved to be very effective in self-defense, several students of the most important masters have developed other branches or sub-branches of Wing Chun, and each teaches his own style according to how they believe it will work best. There are many examples of this, and I think everyday more will come, bringing something new for future generations who want to learn. One cannot be said to be better than the other until it has been proved. However, these new emerging branches are all based in a style that has proven to be one of the most effective in all martial arts. What is more important is not how many styles of Wing Chun there are, but the legacy that Ng Mui left for the world.