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The History of Wing Chun Kung Fu is hard to pin down with any certainty. Some tales claim it began in the mid 1600’s when it was created by a legendary Buddhist Abbess Ng Mei, Kung Fu Schools, however, were small businesses and would stretch the truth to make themselves seem more established or better connected than their competitors. The story of Ng Mei and Yim Wing Chun may be just that, a story.

Many traditional Schools were private / family schools that catered to small groups or to their immediate Family. Further, most Martial Arts histories were passed down by word of mouth so verifiable information is very scarce and hard to come by. After the Boxer uprising in China in 1900, most martial artists preferred to operate off the radar for fear of reprisals.

It is clear, however, that the Art itself could not have been created by any one person as it is too well thought-out and structured to have been developed by any one single person. It is likely it began as a hybrid of other arts and then over hundreds of years of constant refinement it evolved into its present form.

Almost perfect

In 1905, in the wake of the Boxer uprising, a Wing Chun Kung Fu Master called Chan Wa Shun moved into the clan hall of the wealthy Ip family in Foshan, Guangdong Province in Southern China. It was here that the younger son, Ip Man, was first introduced to Wing Chun Kung Fu. Eventually, Chan Wa Shun is reputed to have had up to 16 students.

In 1949 the Chinese Revolution brought sweeping change to China, especially for the middle class and wealthy land owners. Like many others, Ip Man was disenchanted with the changes and left Foshan and relocated to Hong Kong. It was here that Ip Man opened what may be the first public Wing Chun School in history. So began the Ip Man Family Wing Chun Lineage, and though there are many other lineages of Wing Chun (his own Sifu Chan Wa Shun had 15 other students, all of whom began their own line), it was the Ip Man lineage that would be most successful in spreading around the world. Its glistening legacy was subsequently given further gloss, when one of his junior students became the most popular Martial Arts Actor of all time, Bruce Lee.

Ip Man had many hundreds of students, but four deserve special mention; the so-called “Closed Door Students” of the early days in Hong Kong. These students were given this nickname because they were given special “Hands On” training from Ip himself. They were Leung Seung, Lok Yu and Choy Shun Tin who all actually lived with Master Ip in a traditional Master Student relationship, as well as Wong Shun Leung. Many others claim this title but these are the only authentic “Real Closed Door Students”. Of these Masters, only Choy Shun Tin is still alive and still practicing Wing Chun.

Choy Shun Tin was the Senior Instructor at Ip Man’s School

Choy Shun Tin has been actively practicing and teaching Wing Chun in Hong Kong for over 60 years and has trained many of today’s better known Masters, including Fung Chuen Keung, better known in Australia as Jim Fung. In 1973, Jim Fung opened his first School in Adelaide, South Australia, before moving to Sydney in 1984. I began training with Master Fung in 1992 and was a Senior Instructor for his Academy and ran a School for him until his passing in 2007.

My own training is now overseen by Master Mo Chiu Po; another very senior student of Choy Shun Tin’s and was the Senior Instructor at his School before he moved to New Zealand.

The line of master to Student is unbroken all the way back to Ip Man.

The forms of Wing Chun

Over time, Wing Chun has been trimmed down to three “Empty Hand” basic Forms:

  •  Siu Nim Tao {the Little Idea},
  •  Chum Kiu {Bridge Seeking} and
  •  Bill Gee {Darting Fingers}

All three are bio-mechanical forms and not shadow boxing forms, and are concerned with the correct way to move and use the human body, especially for combat. There are five governing principles:

  1. Simplicity – all movements are uncomplicated and based on normal human movement
  2. Directness – strikes are straight and movements are short
  3.  Economy of Movement- there are no chambering of punches or kicks, no unnecessary movement or posturing, such as emulating an animal.
  4.  Non-use of Brute Strength – if reliance is only on strength, a stronger enemy will always win so Wing Chun is skill based.
  5.  Practicality -Wing Chun is geared towards actual fighting, there are no ritual or elaborate flashy moves, simultaneously defending and attacking at the same time.

Wing Chun is primarily a hand striking form {Chinese Boxing) with main hand weapons being the punch and the palm strike. There are other strikes, of course, but these are the fundamental attacks. Strike attacks are made directly in front of the fighter, allowing an easy transfer of body mass into the opponent. This requires developing good movement to keep the Attacker in the frontal “Hit Zone”. Very few kicks are used and there are primarily utilised to support the hands. As such, they are employed below the waist line and their action is based on “stepping” so they do not compromise balance. Any kick that does not connect with an opponent becomes a step and advances the Wing Chun fighter forward.

Wherever possible a Wing Chun Fighter will position themselves front on and “Square” to any potential threat, which allows them to employ Simultaneous Attack and Defense; one Arm posed a defensive structure whilst the other arm strikes a target. This skill is carefully taught and perfected with the Chi Sau Drill that is distinctly Wing Chun, despite many other martial art styles having similar co-ordination drills.

In the early stages of training in Wing Chun, students are taught various techniques applicable to various attacks, but in truth there are no specific attack techniques in Wing Chun. Constant practice of the forms teaches students the correct way to use their bodies, such as a body moving through space. Chi Sau teaches how one may meet, absorb and redirect incoming force, resulting in the movement of the opponent to an unprotected place where their entire body becomes a target for force until the threat is neutralized.

Wing Chun is a counter attacking style of Martial Art, based on the concept that a person has a greater chance of  success in a violent encounter if the other person initiates the attack, Simultaneous attack and defense then allows the person to strike their opponent whilst that aggressor thinks that they are in control. For new students this is a difficult step – to resist engagement until attacked – but it provides a greater opportunity to avoid fighting, than taking the “Hard Line” would.

Kung Fu Styles are usually one of two categories: Hard (Physical) or Soft (Non Physical). In this respect, Wing Chun uses hard attacks but soft defenses. In attack, body mass is fully funneled into strikes (through Body alignment and movement) and accelerated through contact to generate greater force. In defense, the emphasis is on absorbing the contact and gently moving it (redirecting it away) to a place where it can do no harm.

Although there is weapons’ training in Wing Chun, these are more often used as equipment to improve movement, as they bring added difficulty into keeping one’s shape and improving stability in movement.

Finally, there is the wooden dummy, the Mok Jan Jong or Wooden Man. Contrary to popular misconception, the Jong is not used to strengthen and condition the arms. It is simply a training partner that will stand there all day and allow the student to practice the same move over and over, until it is perfected.

By Sifu Derek Evans