Great Grandmaster of Wing Chun – Ip Man, 1893 to 1972
The ancient origins of Wing Chun
Some historical documents can trace Martial Arts in the form of sports back to the Minoan Society of Crete in Greece around 12,000 BC. The Chinese military had practised Martial Arts for thousands of years as part of their training.
The Shaolin Temple was said to be built in the year 495 at the foot of Mount Song near Chen Village in the Honan Province of China by order of Emperor Hsiao Wen. A respected Indian monk, teacher and warrior travelled to The Shaolin Temple around 526 AD. This monk was known as Bodhidharma or Da Mo.
In order to improve the Shaolin monks health and meditation, Da Mo taught breathing techniques, stretching exercises and meditation practices which were later developed into the many forms of self defence we often refer to today as Kung Fu.
The Legend of Wing Chun
The 18th century Manchu Emperor, Yung-Cheng, felt threatened by the Shaolin Temple as he believed it to be a training ground for rebels. He had the temple burnt to the ground and ordered his generals to put the “fighting” Shaolin monks to death.
Only five of the senior monks escaped with their lives; Abbot’s Chi Shin and Pak Mei, Master Fung Do Dak & Master Mui Hin and Abbess Ng Mui who along with a few of their disciples went into hiding from the oppressive Manchu government.
The Zen Master Chi Shin disguised himself as a cook with a touring Chinese opera troupe that travelled the rivers of China on board a brightly painted red sailboat. There he secretly trained the troupe in unarmed Kung Fu and his long pole fighting technique.
Ng Mui sought solstice in a White Crane Temple at Mount Tai Leung and travelled the local countryside in search of medicinal herbs.
It is said that one day while travelling down from the mountain Ng Mui witnessed a fight between a snake and crane. Impressed with what she had witnessed Ng Mui decided to create a martial art based on the movements of these animals and applied principles of human mechanics along with her own boxing forms.
Yim Yee lived with his daughter Yim Wing Chun, who was much admired in the village and attracted the attention of a local bully and gang leader known as Wong, who demanded that Yim Wing Chun became his wife, threatening to violently attack her father and the villagers if she refused.
Ng Mui heard of Yim Wing Chun’s plight and offered to help. Unable to intervene directly under fear of being recognised as a student of Shaolin by the local authorities, she agreed to train the young girl secretly in her new boxing style. Yim Wing Chun confronted Wong the gangster and challenged him that if he could beat her in unarmed combat in one year’s time, she would accept his marriage proposal, but if she could beat him he would leave her and the villagers alone for good. Wong accepted her challenge believing he could easily defeat the small girl with his strength and fighting experience.
A year later Yim Wing Chun returned to face the gang leader and honour her challenge of combat. To the surprise of the gangsters and local villagers, she easily defeated Wong and emerged victorious.
Yim Wing Chun taught Ng Mui’s new fighting style to her husband Leung Bok Cho who excelled in the martial arts and incorporated his Eight Cutting Broadsword technique into the system.
Leung Bok Cho honoured his wife by naming this new form of combat WING CHUN, and refined the system with his student Leung Lan Kwai.
Leung Bok Cho passed on his Wing Chun techniques to Wong Wah Bo who was working for the Red Junk Opera as a leading performer and had been trained in Shaolin fighting techniques by Master Chi Shin. Leung Yee Tai was working with the Red Junk Opera as a sailor maintaining the boat on which they travelled, and was one of Chi Shin’s most proficient students with the long dragon pole. Together they developed and introduced the Six and a Half Point Long Pole Fighting method into the Wing Chun system
Leung Yee Tai taught the Wing Chun system to a famous doctor called Leung Jan who ran the popular Jan Sang Pharmacy in Foshan. Leung Jan’s reputation for Kung Fu grew and many Martial Artists came to challenge him, he soon earned the title of “the Kung Fu King of Foshan” due to his highly skilled proficiency in Martial Arts.
Leung Jan’s reputation also attracted many wishing to learn his art of Wing Chun but he only took a few disciples including his son Leung Bik along with a local merchant called Chan Wah Shun.
Chan Wah Shun trained diligently, and his reputation for Kung Fu spread far and wide, it is said that even the Manchu Government invited him to train the military, however Chan Wah Shun honoured his Wing Chun ancestors and refused. He trained only 16 students including Ng Chung So, and his son Chan Yu Min. His final student was a young boy named Ip Kai Man.
Ip Man trained with Chan Wah Shun from a very early age until his Master died in 1905.
While attending St Stephen’s college in Hong Kong, Ip Man became close friends with Leung Bik and was able to continue his training with this Wing Chun master.
A very determined man he practised his Wing Chun with great enthusiasm, and was soon well known for his Martial skill, even though very few people at this time knew what Ip Man’s Wing Chun really was.
Ip Man was the first person to teach Wing Chun openly to the public in Hong Kong and introduced a proper Wing Chun training syllabus, he used more modern terms with less confusing explanations of both theory and application, providing upright morals and ethics that his students could easily understand. Later he established the Ving Tsun Athletic Association.
Ip Man taught many students including the actor Bruce Lee, along with his two sons Ip Chun and Ip Ching. Ip Ching helped his father teach Wing Chun from their home in Tong Shoi Street where he still lives today.
Many grand stories have been written about Ip Man, and many people involved with Wing Chun have made colourful claims about their relationship with him, but it is his own sons Ip Chun and Ip Ching who carry his heritage on into the 21st Century.