History of Wing Chun

Mid 1600s

A small group of monks from the Shaolin temple known as The Five Ancestors started to develop the principles of a new art that could be taught in a shorter time compared to other existing Shaolin styles. Before this martial art could be put into practice, the temple was raided with the loss of many monks. One of the escapees was a Buddhist nun named Ng Mui. She was the eldest and the most proficient in boxing skills and with her acquired knowledge and with the aid of some documentation written by the murdered monks, she taught a young girl with the name Yim Wing Chun the new art that the monks have developed. The system was later named after her and she is said to have used it to successfully repel an unwanted suitor.


As the years pass by, Yim Wing Chun got married and shared her knowledge with her husband Leung Bok Cho who became a very proficient exponent of the art. He passed his skills on to a herbalist called Leung Lan Kwai who in turn taught Wong Wah Bo who worked with an opera troupe called the Red Junk. Legends abound about the Red Junk and it was there that Leung Yee Tai was introduced to the art. He was the pole man for the Red Junk and had been shown how to use the boat’s pole for fighting by one of the temple elders, reputedly venerable monk Jee Shin. Hence, the pole form was introduced into the system and the butterfly knives were, possibly also introduced around the time of the Red Junk.

End of 1800s

Around 100 years ago, Leung Jan, a skilled physician in Foshan, was one of the chosen few to receive training in Wing Chun. He was greatly respected by his community as a gentleman who never boasted about his kung fu. His neighbour, Chan Wa Sun, who was a money-changer at that time, asked Leung Jan to teach him the system.

Eventually Leung Jan decided to teach Chan Wa Sun, but being a large and strong man, he did not teach him in the same way that he taught his sons Leung Bik and Leung Chun, who were of smaller build and therefore needed different skills to overcome stronger opponents. Later, Leung Bik travelled to Hong Kong and Chan Wa Sun remained in Foshan where he built up a following.


There was a young boy named Ip Man offered Chan Wa Sun 300 silver pieces in return for tuition. At first Chan Wa Sun refused thinking the money was stolen, but after a visit to the boy’s parents he discovered that he had worked hard to earn the money and being suitably impressed he took him on as a student.

Ip Man studied for four years under the instruction of Chan Wa Sun and after his death, following his master’s wishes, he continued to train under Ng Chung So in order to complete learning the system.


Ip Man travelled to Hong Kong to further his studies in college and it was here that he was introduced to an eccentric old scholar renowned for his skills. The old man was no other than Leung Bik, the surviving son of Leung Jan, who had been taught a more subtle technique by his father. Leung Bik accepted Ip Man as a student and taught him many new diverse methods.

In time, Ip Man returned to Foshan with his new knowledge. For the next 20 years, he worked for the army and the police, he also got married and had four children. The Japanese invasion of Southern China came in 1937 and in 1941, Ip Man started to teach the first generation of students.


After the war, in 1948, the communist government took over. Ip Man had to leave everything behind and leave for Macau.

After some time, he eventually returned to Hong Kong with Leung Sheung, who was to become his first Hong Kong student and set up a Wing Chun School at the Restaurant Workers Union building where his reputation, as both a skilful fighter and teacher of Wing Chun began to grow.

Over the next 22 years, Ip Man taught many students, several of whom have gone to become masters in their own right and spread the skills of Wing Chun throughout the entire world. Ip Man passed away at his home in Hong Kong on the 1st of December 1972 at the age of 79. His sons, Ip Chun and Ip Ching continue to teach Wing Chun.

Before Ip Man passed away, he taught his system to a fighter named Wong Shun Leung.

Wong Shun Leung in turn developed his own interpretation of style based around his experience of Beimo or challenge fighting. He was a peerless and intelligent pugilist. Throughout his many Hong Kong Challenge fights, in which he fought champions from many different martial arts styles, he remained indomitable. Wong Shun Leung named his style Ving Tsun Keun Hok (Scientific Wing Chun – he preferred the VT spelling as opponents of the style had taken to referring to it as “toilet fist” because of the English style of using WC as a abbreviation of lavatory). It was forged in the fire of battle to be Simple, Direct And Efficient. Wong Shun Leung was also well-known as Bruce Lee’s mentor and coach (although Bruce Lee was technically a student of Ip Man) and continued to exchange ideas with him up until Bruce Lee’s death. Wong Shun Leung passed away on 28th January 1997. His students continue to teach Wing Chun all over the world.


Bruce Lee was of course, the most famous of Ip Man’s students. Lee was already well known in the East as an actor in the Hong Kong film industry. With the Hollywood blockbuster Enter the Dragon he shot to fame across the world. With the success of this film in the seventies, there was an explosion of interest in kung fu and oriental culture in the West.

Wing Chun still enjoys its rich heritage and history, and thanks to the endeavours and curiosity of the great number of practitioners today, it is still living, expanding and moving forward as an art, a skill, and as a very practical way of fighting.
Source - Wing Chun : the Works by Sifu Alan Gibson