Firstly I must take a moment to explain the nature of Wing Chun / Ving Tsun Kung Fu, as the spoken or indeed the written word does it little or no justice! Even the spelling of the words in English are different depending on accent and how it is percieved by the interpreter. Personally I will refer to the art as Wing Chun, although I have no chosen preference.
As with most martial arts you have to "See It, Feel it and Train it". Wing Chun is mostly passed from one set of arms to the other, using the sense of touch. Because of the unique way that this art has been passed from master to student, written historical facts are few and far between. The last hundred years has many documented accounts and the closer we get to the present day, the more accurate the information becomes. The story of Wing Chun kung fu system has aquired legendary status and has become deeply shrouded in the swirling mist of ancient Chinese mythology.
The fighting arts or, if you prefer, "the art of hand to hand combat" has been around for thousands of years. Mankind has a long history of war, within which many different fighting diciplines have had time to evolve and grow. The exact starting point of Chinese martial arts, as we know them, has been lost in time. Certainly the Wars of the Three Kingdoms would have had some form of fighting arts; some of the more well known officers from this time were said to posess great skill. The approximate time line unofficially starts around 184 AD, but officially the story really started around 220AD. Approximately 250-plus years later some say that a Buddhist monk gave martial practices to Shaolin monks in ancient China to improve their overall fitness.
The most common version of the story of Wing Chun (although still as yet, unproveable), starts during the reign of Emperor K'anghsi (1662-1722). At that time the Manchu goverment had outlawed all martial arts in an attempt to stay in power and quell any possible rebellion. It has been "suggested" that rebels would shave their heads to hide their identity and seek refuge within the temples as monks. Apparently during this period in Shaolin history, being a monk meant that you didn't have to give your name, when asked by the Manchu inspectors. The temples had a kind of impunity and this was being exploited by the rebel refugees. We may never know the true origins of the pre-Wing Chun fighting system, as all this activity eventually attracted the attention of the ruling Manchus, which resulted in some monasteries being burnt to the ground.
According to the legend a Buddhist nun named Ng Mui escaped the burning of Siu Lam (a shaolin monastery on Mt. Sung in the Honan province) along with four others, Abbot Chi Shin, Abbot Pak Mei, Master Fung To Tak and Master Miu Hin. They each went their separate ways to avoid capture.
Ng Mui eventually took refuge in the White Crane temple on Mt. Tai Leung. One day while out walking, she witnessed a fight between a snake and a crane. While observing this confrontation she gained an insight into a more direct and efficient way of fighting. She decided to adopt the core concepts of what she saw and developed a style based on our natural skeletal structure. Other versions of the story say it was a fox, not a snake. The truth is isn't really important, it was the style that she devised from this encounter that matters.
It is said that during this time Ng Mui met a Mr Yim Yee who owned a store where she bought bean curds. Mr Yim Yee was wrongfully accused of a crime and so he moved his family to an area at the foot of the Tai Leung Mountain at the Yunnan-Szechuan border. Mr Yim Yee had a beautiful daughter, Yim Wing Chun, who was betrothed to Leung Bok Chau, a salt merchant of Fukien. However Yim Wing Chun's beauty had attracted the attention of a local warlord. He made quite it clear that she was to marry him, by force if necessary. Ng Mui learnt of the situation and made haste to visit Mr Yim Yee. Upon arriving she quickly intervened by asking Yim Wing Chun to accompany her into the mountains to train in this new fighting system, in order that she could protect herself. Yim Wing Chun agreed and went on to master the techniques (some say this took one year) and eventually returned to her village. The day came when the warlord appeared, Yim Wing Chun challenged him to unarmed combat; if she won, he must never harrass her again. She won clearly and was then free to marry Leung Bok Chau.
Ng Mui left soon after but before she left she asked Yim Wing Chun to honour the Kung Fu traditions and to develop her Kung Fu after her marriage. Yim Wing Chun taught her kung fu to her husband, Leung Bok Chau, who named the system "Wing Chun" to honour his wife.
Some say that this story was a smoke screen, that actually there was a rebellion against the Manchus and that "Wing Chun" the system was devised by fighting monks to teach to the rebels hiding within their ranks. The style was put together to beat the other styles that the Manchu soldiers were being taught at that time. Anyone caught teaching martial arts would have been immediately put to death and so the story was fabricated in order to throw off the scent. There are many versions of this story and indeed the history surrounding it.
Our story however continues. Leung Bok Chau taught Wing Chun to Leung Lan Kwai, a herbalist who had a student by the name of Wong Wah Bo. He was a member of the famous "Red Junk", an opera troupe on board a large floating barge. On board was Leung Yee Tai who had been taught the Luk Dim Boon Kwun (the six and a half point pole form) by one of the other surviving monks, Abbot Chi Shin. Wong Wah Bo and Leung Yee Tai became close friends and they shared their martial skills. It was here that the long pole and most probably the Baat Cham Dao (Butterfly Knives) techniques became incorporated into the Wing Chun system.
Leung Yee Tai passed on his knowledge to Leung Jan, a herbal doctor who live in Fatshan in Kwangtung Province. Leung Jan grasped the system completely and acquired the highest level of true mastery. Some say that only two people in history ever achieved this. Leung Jan won many challenge fights and soon became very famous and well respected. Leung Jan had two sons, Leung Bik and Leung Chun, both were taught Wing Chun. He had one other student, Chan Wah Shan (the money changer). Chan Wah Shan taught sixteen other students including Ng Siu Lo, Chan Yu Min, Ng Chung So and Lui Yu Jai. He used to teach in the Ip family clan hall on Song Yuen Dai Gai, Foshan. Here he took on his final student, Ip Man.
Ip Man (1893-1972) Ip Man began training around 1902 at the age of nine. In 1905 Chan Wah Shan passed away and Ip Man's training continued with Chan Wah Shan's most senior student untill 1908. He then moved to Hong Kong to study at St Steven's collage. While he was there he met and subsequently began training with Leung Bik, the eldest son of the Late Grandmaster Leung Jan. In 1912 Ip Man returned to Foshan. Between 1914 and 1931 Ip Man served in the army and later took up the post of captain of the local police patrols. In 1937 the Japanese invaded China and occupied the country untill 1945 when they eventually surrendered. Between 1945 and 1949 Ip Man taught only a few students.
Political pressure forced Ip Man to move to Hong Kong and it was here in 1950 that he began teaching at the Resturant Workers Union Hall. Although having many students, Ip Man taught only a small handfull of them the complete system, Most notable would be the late great Wong Shun Leung. Wong being one of the most senior students within the school, meant that he eventually helped teach and coach. It wouldn't be wrong to say that even though it was Ip Man's school, Wong Shun Leung was actually doing a fair amount of the teaching, due in part to the simple fact that Ip Man was by this point in time quite old and during the latter part of his life not very well.
Wong Shun Leung (1935-1997) was one of Ip Mans earlier students from the Hong Kong rooftop era and indeed his skill and influence helped Ip Man shape the system into what it is today.
Wong admired the late great Leung Jan of Foshan; Leung Jan's legendary (Beimo) challenge fights were quite likely the initial inspiration for Wong's martial career.
Wong became very famous within the martial arts world because of his immediately obvious ability in these challenge fights (Beimo). Very quickly he emulated the hero of his youth, the great Jan, winning countless fights against other martial artists from many different styles and remaining undefeated. He obtained a level of understanding and mastery of the system through his first hand experience of combat that few, if any, would ever achieve.
It is a little known fact is that Wong Shun Leung went on to teach and mentor Bruce Lee, even though Bruce originally started his training with Ip Man.
In my honest opinion, no single person or family style should or could lay claim to the system, although I do believe that not all Wing Chun/Ving Tsun is the same and that any practioner (new or veteran) should seek out the truth and not become enslaved to ignorance.
What I do believe is that Sifu Wong Shun Leung was one ofthe world's true great grandmasters.
Wong Shun Leung passed on his refined and revised version of Wing Chun in its entirety to Sifu David Peterson (Malaysian Combat Science WSL VT). Sifu David is one of the world's leading authorities on the teachings and the way of the late great Wong Shun Leung. Sifu David's relentless quest to promote and preserve his Sifu's Gung Fu led him to the UK, where he now has an established base of coaches spanning the length and breath of the world.
Sifu David passed on his Sifus system completely to Ged Kennerk (Stockport and Manchester Ving Tsun)who actively coaches all of the Combat Science schools here in the UK and accross Europe. Ged is a seeker, he is always testing his Ving Tsun, constantly pushing the boundaries, the science and the truth, whilst remaining true to the core of what makes Ving Tsun what it is. Geds knowledge of body mechanics has allowed him to refine his Ving Tsun to another level. The next evolution of Ving Tsun is happening now, this very day, history is being written as you read this.
Knowing that Ged is my personal coach and friend, just fills my heart with all kinds of goodness. When I wake everyday and I think how lucky I am, I have a beautiful family, great friends and I know that I am a part of all this. I feel completely charged, almost dizzy with it all. If I can make another, feel good about themselves and their life, that is even a fragment of how others have made me feel, then I have achieved my souls purpose.
... and so the story continues.
(I feel that I must just say that this history is only a small part of the whole story.The characters I've mentioned are just the ones relevant to me and my school. There are many other great Wing Chun/Ving Tsun practioners scattered all over the world, some from the Ip Man lineage, some from pre Ip Man, some WSL VT, etc.)
"Hand against hand, foot against foot. There is no unstoppable technique".