Masters of WingChun from Ng Mui to GM Ip Man
We are told that a big fire had occured at the Shaolin monastery occupied by the troops of Manchu government during the Ying-Cheng’s ruling (1723-1736) of Ching Dynasty. According to what was told, Ma Ning Yee who was dismissed by this monastery was one of the arsonists who wanted to revenge, and the information narrated so far is four monks an done nun survived after this event.
Those five survivors then hid, organized and worked for dethroning the Ching Dynast.
Another story is telling there were more than five survivors and they had nothing to do with this organization. We will keep going with that one we are told by the masters.
As told above, the fire broke out because of betrayal. Most monks died burning or were killed by Manchu troops. The masters called “The Five Elders” (the leaders of five main systems of Shaolin) were among survivors. The oldest one was Buddhist nun Ng Mui and Master Chi Shin, Master Pak Mei, Master Fung To Tak and Master Miu Hin survived with a few students besides them.
The Five Elders spread to different regions. Chi Shin disguised as a cook for a touring theatre named Red Junk. The others took refuge with Miao and Yao tribes. These tribes were from Sichuan and Yunnan regions. But after all, the masters took trips around the country which led to many legends.
Ng Mui, the oldest one traveled lonely. Eventually she decided to settle down at the White Crane Temple. It was located at Tai Leung Mountain. She concentrated on Zen Buddhism after the events she lived, and spent time practicing martial arts.
On the other hand, she was still concerned about how to protect themselves against the attacks of Manchu Government. She was aware that the attackers against Shaolin mastered most of the techniques of Shaolin Kung-fu. That meant beating defeating the enemy would be harder day by day. Because she was concerned getting weak compared to the enemy.
She visioned to create a new combat system was the only way to defeat them, and this new way had to surpass these existing Shaolin techniques. But she managed to find no way out of this situation for a while until she witnessed the fight of a fox and a crane (Some sources tell it was between a crane and snake, while some tell crane and monkey).
Yim WingChun was a native of Kwangtung. After her mother’s death she lived with her father who was a student of Shaolin Monastery. She was engaged at a very early age to Leung Bok Chau who was a salt trader from Fukien.
Her father was running a store selling curd around the foots of Tai Leung Mountain. Wong, , who was known as a layabout by his bad behaviours, proposed to Yim WingChun via intervention. But this proposal meant, “If you do not accept it, we will marry on the date I will tell”. This carried her and her old father into a hard situation.
Meanwhile, nun Ng Mui used to visit the marketplace and get her needs. She saw Yim WingChun and her father’s hard situation and offered them help. Yim WingChun took lessons from Ng Mui for three years (also different ideas exist about this). She returned his father by the decision of her teacher and challenged Wong when they encountered. Yim WingChun won the fight and Wong had no longer courage to disturb her.
Leung Bok Chau:
Yim WingChun married her fiance Leung Bok Chau. Leung Bok Chau was also interested in martial arts before marriage and used to practice in spare times. Yim WingChun talked to him about martial arts theories frequently but he seemed not to be interested in. In his opinion, Yim WingChun was a weak woman. But then, she had opportunity to work out martial arts with her husband and surpassed him several times.
Thus, Leung Bok Chau watched his wife’s techniques admiringly realizing she is a talented Kung-fu master on the contrary she is weak; and he began learning from her. At the same time, he called his wife’s Kung-fu systen “WingChun Kuen”.
Then Leung Bok Chau taught WingChun Kuen techniques to a herbalist named Leung Kwan Kwai.
Leung Lan Kwai:
Even the closest relatives of Leung Lan Kwai were unaware he was practicing WingChun Kuen because he knew he was the only student of Leung Bok Chau. This secret would have revealed when a group of fighters attacked him in front of public.
But he always kept his master’s advice in mind telling “Avoid showing WingChun Kuen in front of the others”. He always avoided exhibiting techniques.
Wong Wah Bo and Leung Yee Tei:
Leung Lan Kwai did not want to have a student. But having a character believing in justice, he accepted Wong Wah Bo, an actor playing at the Red Junk Opera, as his student.
Meanwhile, Master Chi Shin, one of the Five Elders, was working at Red Junk Opera and hiding his identity. He was teaching Shaolin System everyone against Manchu Government. The captain of the junk Leung Yee Tei was also in the team, and the master Chi Shin liked him very much and taught him long pole techniques.
Actor Wong Wah Bo watched the long pole techniques and admired it. He taught him WingChun Kuen and learned long pole and butterfly sword techniques from him.
Thus WingChun style was added Luk Dim Boon Kwan (long pole) and Bart Cham Do (butterfly swords) weapon systems.
They improved each other alot and gained massive progress contributing WingChun concepts to long pole techniques. Then trying Chi Sao practice method with sticks, they developed a new work out technique named Chi Kwan; and they changed the steps of pole stance by decreasing the distance between hands for using the pole more effective.
At later ages, Leung Yee Tei taught Leung Jan, a pharmacist from Foshan, the art of WingChun Kuen, long pole and sword techniques.
Leung Jan who was highly-trusted in his job and reputable used to show interest in martial arts time-to-time. But he was in search of a logical and practical style rather than might-requiring or hard-to-practice ones. He met Leung Yee Tei and became his student.
Leung Jan was called “The King of WingChun” thanks to his success and unbeatability at rooftop fights known as Beimo. Because of his fame, lots of ambitious and enthusiastic people challenged him but all of them were defeated. Whenever people heard his name, they all remembered his title and how he defeated all his rivals.
Wah "the Wooden Man", Leung Bik, Leung Chun and Wah "the Money-changer":
Leung Jan did not handle WingChun as a bankable commodity. But he had strong desire to bring up a few students because of his deep interest in martial arts. Two of these were his sons Leung Chun and Leung Bik. He used to teach them WingChun everyday after closing his drugstore.
One of his students were nicknamed Wah “the Wooden Man”. The reason why he gained a such nickname was he was hard and strong as log and even usually breaking the arms of wooden dummy. Wah the Wooden Man Wah used to teach his students under control of his teacher Leung Jan.
The money exchange office of Chan Wah Shun was adjacent to Leung Jans’s drugstore. People used to call him Wah “the Money-changer”.
Wah the Money-changer had an everlasting interest in Kung-fu and learning from a well-known teacher. He was a bit shy telling his neighbor Leung Jan he wants to be his student. Because Leung Jan was coming from a very noble family and a rich shopownerer but he was a humble trader. He was not sure whether he would accept him as student.
But as his passion for learning Kung-fu overwhelmed, he summed up his courage and asked him his offer. But as expected, Leung Jan gently turned him down. Wah, being sad but not feeling desperate, contemplated a different way to achieve his goal.
One day, Wah the Wooden Man, brought a strong man to the drugstore when Leung Jan was absent. Leung Chun (his elder son). It would later be clear that this man was Wah the Money-changer who learned WingChun peeping the workouts
Leung Chun decided to try to find out how much WingChun he knows. Leung Chun who did not practice as hard as Logman Wah, the assistant of Leung Jan ended up sitting at his father’s seat, his foot broken thanks to a palm strike yet very strong, practicing Chi Sao with Wah the Money-changer.
Leung Jan called Wah the Wooden Man as soon as he heard the event, and learned Wah the Wooden Man also taught Wah the money-changer. Leung Jan told Wah the Wooden Man to come with his firend.
Wah the Wooden Man realized his mistake and learned he should not have taught anybody else without his teacher informed. But Leung Jan saw money-changing Wah was talented and accepted him as his student.
Wah "the money changer" and his 16 students:
Because money-changing Wah was passionate about fighting, he became very well-known in a short while, and his fame was heard by Manchu Government as well. They made him the chief instructor of their weakened army. But Wah did not find this respectable and went on teaching the public at his school like his teacher, quitting to teach the army more. He had sixteen students during his thirty six years of teaching.
Chan Wah Shun rented a mansion inherited by Yip family to teach WingChun Kung-fu.
There he accepted his sixteenth and last student Ip Man who was 13 and consigned him to his second student and assistant Ng Chung So.
Editing: Berat Uylukcu
Translation: Ömer Faruk Erdoğan