History is a record of the past. It is also a study of the present. It tells us of how we have developed and why we are what we are today.
History is also written in perspective from a writer's point of view. It can be debatable and rewritten.
Much of ancient history is theorized through archeological and anthropological findings. The accuracy of its content is arguable.
While history of a subject, maybe of importance to some and none to others, it is worth a mention in the case of Wing Chun Gongfu because of its uniqueness.
The following is a brief account of the history of Wing Chun, the person, and the gongfu system, passed down from generation to generation, from masters to students, and as recorded by Master Yip Man:
Wing Chun was born in Guongdong (Canton) during the reign of the Qing dynasty (1644-1912). Her mother passed away at a young age and so her father, Yim Yee, raised her alone. Yim Yee was a practitioner of Shaolin gongfu system. Although he tried to teach Wing Chun the Shaolin gongfu system, she found it difficult to learn and practise it, as it required physical strength and stamina. She soon lost interest.
When Wing Chun bloomed into a young, beautiful, and sassy woman, her father took her to live in the foothills of Daliang mountain, bordering Yunnan and Sichuan (Southwest China). There, they setup a stand, selling bean curd. The local warlord, an influential and wealthy man in the community, was also a renowned fighter, but the townsmen had little respect for him because of his arrogance and bullying ways. When he first laid eyes on Wing Chun, he decided that he must have her for his wife. He first sent a go-between to speak for him. To his surprise, he was declined in spite of his wealth and status. He began to threaten them.
A certain nun had befriended Yim Yee and Wing Chun during this time. She was a regular customer who came down from the White Crane Temple to buy bean curd from them. She learned of the trouble the Yim's were having and offered to take them to her temple for refuge. Lay people were not free to enter temples unless invited by a superior. Wing Chun was assured safety there. Unbeknownst to the Yim's, this nun was none other than the famous Ng Mui of Shaolin Temple.
Ng Mui was one of the escapees of the Shaolin fire incident. She was a superior nun at the Shaolin and an expert martial artist. During her years in Shaolin, she founded her own style of pugilism based on the movements of the snake and crane. She found the traditional Shaolin style too awkward for her. The wide horse stance, frontal charges, and iron palm training just did not do it for her. She concluded that this was a man's style and that she should develop one for women. When she did, she was able to overpower male fighters of considerable size and skill.
When Wing Chun learned of Ng Mui's true identity, she asked to be taught her style of pugilism. Ng Mui was happy to accept her as her pupil. She had itched to teach the local bully a lesson but did not want to expose her identity. She could now do it and serve two purposes. With this in mind, Ng Mui taught Wing Chun her style of fighting.
Wing Chun learned Ng Mui's form of fighting very quickly. Ng Mui was proud of her and declared after three years that she had mastered it and told her to return to town. When she did, the local bully approached her with the same proposal and threat. He gave her a deadline and told her that he would kidnap her and force her into marriage if she did not do it voluntarily. She made him an offer he could not refuse. She challenged him to a dual in public. If he wins, he could have her; otherwise, he leaves town. Having never been defeated by any man, far less a woman, he accepted it willingly.
On the scheduled day, the Wing Chun got on stage with her pursuer, with the townsmen crowding in to see the outcome. The bout began. The bully thought he would just clown around with this beautiful and petite woman to make a joke out of the event. At first contact, he was floored. Second attempt to contact her brought the same result. The townsmen laughed. He was furious. He got up with the intent of firing his best and teaching this brat and the townspeople a lesson. With every increase of force he applied, he was returned twice-fold and brought to his knees. He decided to switch to another fighting style. The result was the same. He was unable to hit her although he could see her clearly and had her in the line of fire. Just when he thought he had her in control, she would reverse the situation. The bully was defeated badly to shame. He did not have to be reminded to leave town. He disappeared and was never heard of again.
Wing Chun married Leung Bok Chau, the man she was betrothed to when she was at an early age. He was a fine martial artist himself. It was not until several years after their marriage that he discovered her skills as a martial artist. He was amazed at how effortlessly she could maneuver around and take control of men twice her size. Together, they worked to improve the style. When they developed it into a system, Leung Bok Chau named it after her.
Through the years following, the system was handed down exclusively to family members and very close friends, who in turn contributed to the development of the style. Wooden Dummy training, the 6.5 point staff and the butterfly twin swords were added as training tools and weapons.
In the gongfu system, when a system is handed down from a master to his students they are categorized as "generation" students. Therefore, the first group to learn from the originator is called "first generation" student.
Wing Chun stayed low key until it reached the 5th generation. Although there were great masters of Wing Chun in between, none of them made a name for Wing Chun as much as Master Yip Man did.
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