by Andy Khong
WING CHUN (詠春) is a Chinese Martial Art founded by Buddhist nun, NG Mui from China’s renowned Shaolin Temple. It is a close-range combat system that emphasizes efficiency, practicality, and economy of movement. It is named after Abbess NG Mui’s female student, YIM Wing Chun. Her given name, Wing Chun means “eternal springtime” – not a Martial Art name that strikes fear into the hearts of opponents! Wing Chun was brought to Hong Kong by YIP Man, and then the rest of the world by his students with Bruce LEE being his most famous student.
Shaolin Monks had participated in many military campaigns, although they remained a peaceful order. Historical records mentioned that a small army of 13 Shaolin monks saved LI ShiMin, the future emperor of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) from a whole division of the Sui Army at the beginning of the seventh century. The Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) recruited Shaolin monks to fight in wars at least six times in recorded history. On numerous occasions, the Shaolin Temple in Henan, and Fujian province received favours, monuments, buildings, land, and wealth from the Tang, and Ming Dynasty. This contributed to the establishment of the legitimacy of Shaolin Kung Fu within the Martial Arts community.
When the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) came to power, the Imperial Court was concerned that the Shaolin monks would rebel against them. The Shaolin Temple in Fujian was destroyed by Qing troops around 1730 CE. Those who remained to fight were wiped out. Five Elders (4 Monks, and a Nun being NG Mui) escaped the sacking of the Shaolin Temple. After the sacking, practicing Shaolin Kung Fu was punishable by death, and much of the fighting techniques and Buddhist literature disappeared. The Five Elders and other monks and nuns secretly practiced and taught Martial Arts, continued to resist, and plotted against the Qing Dynasty by forming secret revolutionary societies called the Triads (Triads later became organized crime syndicates).
Legend has it that NG Mui got the idea to devise a more effective fighting method, which did not rely so much on brute strength or take too long to learn while watching a fight between a large rodent and a stork. The stork’s use of its wings and legs to simultaneously deflect and attack impressed her. She modified the method to create a novel martial art to defend oneself against a larger, and/or stronger opponents.
After escaping the sacking of the Shaolin Temple, and relocating to Daliang Mountains, NG Mui frequently purchased tofu from YIM Yee’s shop. A local warlord with a history of public sexual aggression was attempting to coerce YIM Yee’s daughter, YIM Wing Chun into marrying him. Seeing this, NG Mui taught YIM Wing Chun her modified Martial Art, which helped her to defeat, and drive away the embarrassed warlord.
Wing Chun emphasizes sensitivity, speed, and proper body alignment, and it places a strong emphasis on the use of the centerline, which is the imaginary line that runs down the center of the body. Practitioners of Wing Chun use a variety of techniques, including strikes, kicks, traps, grappling, and joint locks, to neutralize their opponents.
There are three empty-hand forms (or “taolu”) in Wing Chun Kung Fu, which are typically taught in sequence as part of a practitioner’s training. These forms are designed to teach the fundamental techniques and principles of the art, and to help develop strength, flexibility, and coordination. They are:
- Siu Nim Tau – The first form of Wing Chun, Siu Nim Tau (also known as “Small Little Idea”) is a slow and deliberate sequence of movements that emphasizes the basic building blocks of the Wing Chun system. It focuses on the development of proper stance, hand positions, and breathing, and it teaches the practitioner to generate power and precision through the use of body mechanics and proper alignment;
- Chum Kiu – The second form of Wing Chun, Chum Kiu (or “Seeking the Bridge”) is a more dynamic and complex form that introduces the practitioner to footwork, coordinated hand techniques, and the use of body rotation to generate power. It emphasizes the development of timing, sensitivity, and the ability to adapt to changing situations; and
- Bil Jee – The third and most advanced form of Wing Chun, Bil Jee (or “Thrusting Fingers”) is a highly specialized sequence of movements that teaches the practitioner to use extreme force and precision in close-range combat situations. It includes techniques such as finger strikes, elbow strikes, and joint locks, and it emphasizes the importance of improvisation and spontaneity in real-world fighting scenarios.
Performing the 1st form of Wing Chun, “Siu Nim Tau” (Small Little Idea). The practitioners’ right arm are in “Fook Sau” (subjugating arm).
One of the unique features of Wing Chun Kung Fu is its use of the “sticky hands” or Chi Sao drills, which are used to develop sensitivity, reflexes, and sensitivity to the opponent’s movements. The system also incorporates training in the use of traditional Chinese weapons such as the Butterfly Swords (or “Bart Charm Do”), the 6-foot Pole (or 1.8m “Look Dim Boon Kwun”), and the Wooden Dummy (or “Mook Yan Jong”). The Wooden Dummy is a wooden structure with arms and legs that can be used to simulate an opponent in training. The Wooden Dummy form emphasizes the development of power, accuracy, and timing, and it teaches the practitioner to use the dummy as a way to improve their techniques and fighting ability.
Wing Chun practitioner practicing on “Mook Yan Jong” (Wooden Dummy). Notice that she is doing simultaneous blocking and punching. Known as “Pak Da” – Wing Chun’s concept of Economy of Motion in attacking and defending simultaneously.
Wing Chun is also famous for its one inch (2.54 cm) punch. This was demonstrated by Bruce LEE on Joe LEWIS (World Karate Champion) at the 1967 Long Beach International Tournament – video clip can be found on You Tube.
The expression “fight like a girl” embodies the idea that women are less powerful, weaker, wimpy, less inspired, and less effective than men. Engaging in battle when you are already outgunned, you can’t use brute strength against brute strength – you must find a tactical way. Not only are we doing a disservice to the incredible history of women in general, but we are also condemning the people of the future to think in this manner as well – the widespread belief that men are powerful and women are weak, and men are assumed to have the upper hand. However, if you teach a person (man or woman) to fight and live with heart, tenacity, and a certain determination, they will learn to fight against someone who is bigger, stronger, or more insane than they are. The stakes are higher, and weaker people have nothing left to lose. The legend of the Wing Chun system is based on this fundamental premise. NG Mui, Shaolin Temple Abbess came up with this brutal, smart, and effective style.
Wing Chun fighters overcome attackers with technique, principles, and a very ferocious attitude because you are always the underdog, the person who is not as strong as the person who is attacking you, and the person who is not as big as the person who is attacking you. This is the entire concept of the underdog, and students of Wing Chun fight with this mindset that you may not be as strong or as large as your opponent, but if you can train to defeat a giant, you can defeat anyone. Everything in nature has a weakness, and even the most formidable challenges can be overcome. If anyone ever tells you, “Don’t be a ‘Pussy’, you hit like a girl”, realize that it is awesome to “fight like a girl”!
Who is YIP Man and did he teach Bruce LEE Wing Chun?
YIP Man (also spelled IP Man) was a famous martial artist from Foshan, China, who is widely credited with popularizing Wing Chun Kung Fu in Hong Kong and around the world. He was born in 1893 and began learning Wing Chun at the age of 13 from his teacher, CHAN Wah Shun. After CHAN’s death, YIP Man continued to refine his skills and became one of the most respected and skilled Wing Chun practitioners of his time.
YIP Man moved to Hong Kong in the 1940s and began teaching Wing Chun to a small group of students. One of his students, CHEUNG Cheuk Hing (William CHEUNG) introduced his friend LEE Jun Fan (Bruce LEE) to YIP Man; LEE studied with YIP Man in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
YIP Man was initially reluctant and had to be persuaded to teach Bruce LEE because Chinese Martial Arts in those days was not traditionally taught to foreigners; Bruce LEE was born in San Francisco and is part German. Although YIP Man was the main teacher, he delegated most of his teaching to WONG Shun Leung. LEE adapted many of the techniques and principles of Wing Chun, and synthesized other Martial Arts into his own fighting system. LEE calls this, “Absorb what is useful, discard what is useless”, and eventually developed the Martial Art of “Jeet Kune Do” (The Way of the Intercepting Fist).
While YIP Man is not the only teacher who taught Bruce LEE, he is perhaps the most well-known and influential one. LEE often spoke highly of YIP Man and credited him with teaching him the principles of Martial Arts that he later incorporated into his own system. YIP Man’s teachings and legacy have had a profound impact on the world of Martial Arts, and his style of Wing Chun Kung Fu is still practiced by thousands of students around the world today.
YIP Man and Bruce LEE. On the left, they are practicing “Chi Sao” (sticky hands).
William CHEUNG claims to be the present Grandmaster of Wing Chun which is disputed by the worldwide Wing Chun fraternity.
CHEUNG Cheuk Hing (William CHEUNG) claims to be the Grandmaster of Wing Chun following the passing of YIP Man, but his claims are disputed by most seniors of the Wing Chun community. CHEUNG is a well-known martial artist who began studying Wing Chun in the 1950s under the tutelage of YIP Man, and he has since become a prominent figure in the Martial Arts world. CHEUNG set a world speed punching record of 8.3 punches per second at Harvard University in Boston in 1984.
However, the title of “Grandmaster” is not a formal or universally recognized designation in the world of Wing Chun. While some practitioners of the art do recognize CHEUNG as a respected teacher and authority on Wing Chun, others have criticized him for promoting a version of the art that they feel has strayed too far from its traditional roots. CHEUNG claims that he is the Grandmaster as he knows the complete system of Wing Chun, having mastered all the techniques including secret foot movements, and ground fighting which he was sworn not to teach by YIP Man until after his passing.
There have been many controversies surrounding CHEUNG’s claims about his lineage and the effectiveness of his techniques. Some members of the Wing Chun community have accused him of misrepresenting his background and credentials, while others have criticized his teachings for being too focused on flashy techniques rather than practical self-defense skills.
It’s worth noting that disputes over lineage and titles are not uncommon in the Martial Arts world, and it’s up to individual practitioners to decide which teachers and styles they choose to follow. Ultimately, the most important thing is to find a teacher and a style that resonates with your own goals and interests, and to approach your training with an open mind and a commitment to hard work and dedication.
WONG Shun Leung is reputed as a Wing Chun practitioner who was delegated by YIP Man to teach Bruce LEE
WONG Shun Leung was a renowned Wing Chun practitioner who was known for his fighting ability and was widely respected in the Martial Arts community. He was a student of YIP Man and trained under him in Hong Kong during the 1950s and 1960s, along with other notable Wing Chun practitioners such as CHEUNG Cheuk Hing (William CHEUNG), and LEE Jun Fan (Bruce LEE).
WONG Shun Leung was reputed to have been delegated by YIP Man to teach Bruce LEE. LEE studied with WONG for a time in the early 1960s, and he later credited WONG with helping him to develop his skills as a fighter and refining his understanding of Wing Chun.
WONG was known for his pragmatic approach to Wing Chun, and he emphasized the importance of testing and refining techniques through sparring and real-world fighting situations. His approach to Martial Arts training was seen as a departure from some of the more traditional and formal methods of other Wing Chun teachers, and his emphasis on practicality and effectiveness made him a popular and influential figure in the Martial Arts world.
Today, WONG Shun Leung’s legacy continues to inspire generations of martial artists around the world, and his teachings are still studied and practiced by Wing Chun practitioners who value his emphasis on realistic and effective self-defense techniques.
Ip Man 2 (2010) movie. IP Man (Donnie YEN) using Butterfly Swords rescuing (on the right) his student WONG Leung (HUANG XiaoMing) from a gang attack.
Wing Chun Movies
Wing Chun is popular around the world and has been featured in numerous movies and television shows. It is known for its practicality and effectiveness in real-world self-defense situations. Some recent Wing Chun movies are Ip Man, Ip Man 2, Ip Man 3, Ip Man 4, Master Z: Ip Man Legacy, The Grandmaster, Ip Man: The Final Fight, The Legend is Born: Ip Man, and Ip Man & Four Kings. In the decade that followed (refer to as the “Ipsploitation” era) after the success of Donnie YEN’s Ip Man (2008), a number of other Ip Man films were released. YEN reprised the role of IP Man (YIP Man) in the sequels Ip Man 2, Ip Man 3, and Ip Man 4. Wing Chun is a 1994 Hong Kong Martial Arts movie starring Donnie YEN, and Michelle YEOH (former Miss Malaysia who won as Oscar at the 2023 Academy Awards for Best Actress). In the Wing Chun movie, Michelle YEOH used a “one inch punch” (2.54 cm) to defeat a bandit in a final showdown, forcing him to submit to her.
Ip Man 3 (2015) movie. Frank (former Heavyweight Champion, Mike TYSON) fighting IP Man (Donnie YEN). IP Man’s right arm is in “Bong Sau” (Wing Arm Block), and left palm is doing “Pak Sau” (Slapping Palm).
Wing Chun (1994) movie. Starring Donnie YEN and Michelle YEOH.
Today at least eight distinct lineages, and some minor lineages of Wing Chun have surfaced in China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Malaysia, and USA. The lineages differ, but they all follow the same fundamental principles and path to higher levels of mastery and self-expression. Regardless of its true origins, Wing Chun Kung Fu has become a popular and effective Martial Art that has been passed down through generations of practitioners and has gained widespread recognition and respect in the Martial Arts community. Maximize your capacity to effect change, to be the best human you can be. Learn Wing Chun, be the Hero or Heroine of your life, not a victim.
The Legend is Born: Ip Man (2010) movie. A young IP Man (Dennis TO) learning from LEUNG Bik (IP Chun – who in real life is the eldest son of IP Man, and is still teaching Wing Chun despite being 99 years old).
[YPT will be organizing tours to China as it has fully opened its borders after a three year wait– stay tuned!]