The origin of Wing Chun Kung Fu can be found in the turbulent, repressive Ching (Manchurian) dynasty of over 250 years ago. It was a time when 90% of the Chinese race, the Hans, were ruled by the 10 minority, the Manchurians. The Manchurians treated the Hans unjustly. For instance, all the female Han infants were made to bind their feet so that when they grew up they would be dependent upon their parents or husband. Men were made to shave the front of their heads and were forced to wear a pigtail (queue) to distinguish them as Han males not Manchurian.
The work opportunity of the Hans was also restricted. They were not allowed to hold a position above a certain level in the Government. Heavy tax burdens were placed on the country, so that the Manchurians could have economic control of the Han people.
Kung fu training was also banned for the Hans, however the Manchurian Government was adopting the Han culture. The Manchurians respected the Shaolin Temple as a Buddhist sanctuary, since the Manchurians were Buddhists as well.
When all weapons were outlawed by the Manchurians, the Hans began training a revolutionary army in the banned art of kung Fu. The Shaolin Temple became the secret sanctuary for preparatory training of a classic style which took 15 to 20 years for each person to master. Five of China’s grandmasters met to discuss the merits of each of the various forms of kung Fu, in order to develop a form with a shorter learning period. By choosing the most efficient techniques from each style, they developed training programs that would develop an efficient martial artist in 5 to 7 years, one-third the original time. However before this new form could be put into practice, the Shaolin Temple was raided and burned by the Manchurians.
Ng Mui, a nun, was the only survivor of the original five grandmasters. She passed her knowledge onto a young orphan girl whom she named Wing Chun. The name means, “Praise Spring”, representing “hope for the future”. A future without Manchurian domination and injustices. In turn Yim Wing Chun passed her knowledge to her husband, Leung Bok Chao. Through the years the style became known as Wing Chun. Its techniques and teachings were passed onto a few carefully selected students. After Yim Wing Chun passed away, Leung Bok Chao taught his nephew Wong Wah Bo.
Wong Wah Bo joined the Red Junk Opera Company and taught Leung Yee Tai who was an actor in the company. Leung Yee Tai and Wong Wah Bo both taught Leung Jan who in turn became famous for his skill in Wing Chun kung fu. Leung Jan opened an herbal shop in Fatshan, where he practiced medicine. At night he trained his sons and Chan Wah Shun. After Leung Jan passed away, Chan Wah Shun took over the instruction of Wing Chun and Leung Bik left the province. In time, Chan Wah Shun accepted Yip Man as his last disciple.
Yip Man was born in the year 1898 in the town of Fatshan in Namhoi County, Kwangtung Province, in Southern China to a wealthy merchant family. The Yip family permitted Wing Chun master Chan Wah Shun to live and teach a small group of disciples in the family temple, since Chan’s local reputation as a fighter discouraged thieves and highwaymen from attacking the family businesses.
Yip Man would watch Chan Wah Shun drill his disciples in the ways of Wing Chun. Soon the boy’s visits became more regular until, Yip Man was about nine years old he approached Chan and asked to be accepted as a student. Chan Wah Shun was about 60 years old at the time and didn’t want to accept another disciple this late in life.
To discourage him, Chan told Yip that he would admit him as a student as soon as he could pay the tuition price of three taels of silver. But when Yip Man returned the next day with 300 pieces of silver, which was his entire life savings. So once Chan and Yip Man’s parents saw that this boy had such a strong desire to learn Wing Chun, his parents agreed to let him study. And Chan Wah Shun accepted him at which point, Yip Man became the last of Chan’s 16 disciples.
Yip Man studied with Chan Wah Shun for four years, until the old master’s death. Yip subsequently spent another two and a half years training with his senior, Ng Chung So. When Yip was 16 years old, his parents sent him to Hong Kong to attend St. Stephen’s College. There, he quickly fell in with a clique of classmates who liked to offer and accept kung fu challenges. He welcomed the opportunity to put his Wing Chun training to the real test.
Yip discovered that he liked to fight. He would accept a challenge on the slightest provocation. On one such occasion, a classmate named Lai dared Yip to go after an old kung fu practitioner who worked at the silk company of Lai’s father. The man was well into his 50s and very eccentric, but Lai insisted the man’s kung fu was very good.
That evening Yip Man found the man living on a fishing boat anchored near the typhoon breakers in Hong Kong Bay. Yip first performed the entire Siu Lim Tao form of Wing Chun. After that the old man agreed to a match. Yip promptly attacked the old man and quickly found himself in Hong Kong Bay. After repeated attempts and repeated soakings, Yip Man wanted to learn from the old man. Yip Man soon found out that the old man was Leung Bik. Leung Bik explained the difference in his Wing Chun compared to Chan Wah Shun’s and proceeded to take Yip Man as a student. Yip Man studied with Leung Bik for two and a half years.
Yip Man returned to Fatshan and told his seniors about the old man that he had met. When his seniors scoffed at him, Yip Man challenged them and defeated them with his newfound knowledge. Yip Man stayed in Fatshan where he was involved with the police and raised a family. In 1948 Yip Man fled to Hong Kong during the People’s Movement.
Bruce Lee with Yip Man
In Hong Kong, a homeless and penniless Yip Man was given refuge at a restaurant. Yip Man watched the instructor(Leung Sheung) there conduct a kung fu class. Leung Sheung at the time was a practitioner of Bak Mei and Dragon kung Fu. After watching the class for a time, Yip Man demonstrated his skill to Leung Sheung and Leung Sheung promptly became Yip Man’s first student in Hong Kong. After this Yip Man started teaching Wing Chun to the Restaurant Worker’s Association. Yip Man eventually moved his place of instruction.
Yip Man trained excellent fighters, chief among them are Wong Shun Leung, Grandmaster William Cheung, and Bruce Lee. After 20+ years of teaching in Hong Kong, Yip Man passed away in 1972.