The exact history of Wing Chun is still uncertain even to this day mostly because of a lack of accurate records. Though there are many versions of the actual story, the following is the most popular one. In the late 1600s and early 1700s, Kung Fu was very popular in the Shaolin Temple. The monks of the monastery which lay in Henan province, China, practiced kung fu movements to train their bodies to withstand long periods of deep meditation. At that time, China was ruled in the north by the Manchurian government. The government became very insecure with how skillful the monks of Shaolin were becoming. They believed that the monks were training some type of military army. The government eventually gave in to its suspicion and insecurity and sent in its own army to attack the temple. Although their attack was initially unsuccessful, the government was able to corrupt one of the temple’s monks, Ma Ning Yee, who set fire to the temple while Manchurian troops attacked from the outside. Many of the monks and disciples were killed. Fortunately, a number of monks managed to escape.
Among the survivors was the only nun to escape, a highly skilled martial artist named Ng Mui. She made her way down to South West China to the White Crane Temple and settled on Mt. Tai Leung. Legend states that one evening, Ng Mui observed a cat and a crane in battle. Every time the snake tried to attack the crane, it was unsuccessful in connecting an attack. Eventually the snake grew tired, gave up, and left; the crane remained. Ng Mui observed that the crane was very relaxed and calm during the fight, and it used little energy to defeat the vicious snake. Ng Mui pondered her observations and slowly began to develop and alter her martial arts skill into something new.
While Ng Mui was up on the mountains where she spent most of her time gathering herbs and plants for medicine, she met a Cantonese man named Yim Yee. Yim Yee also had a beautiful teenage daughter named Yim Wing Chun. Wing Chun’s mother had died shortly after her birth. Yim Yee had been accused of a crime he did not commit. He and his daughter had escaped to the mountain and lived by selling bean curd in a small store. At the time of their initial greetings, Yim Wing Chun was being harassed by a local gang’s leader who threatened her father with violence and wanted to marry her. Wing Chun was already engaged to another man who she loved very much named Leung Bok Chau. Ng Mui had taken a liking to Wing Chun and decided to teach her Kung Fu to protect herself. Ng Mui advised Wing Chun to tell the gang leader that she would need one year to prepare for her wedding. During that year, Ng Mui taught Wing Chun all the refined techniques that she had learned since watching the crane. After a year of hard work and study, Ng Mui observed that Wing Chun had gained enough skill to beat the gang leader and sent her back to her father. Before she left, Ng Mui advised Wing Chun that even after her marriage, she should continue to practice and refine her Kung Fu and to train others, in hopes that they would one day grow strong enough to overthrow the Manchurian Government. It is said that when Wing Chun asked Ng Mui what style she had just learned Ng Mui replied, “Name it after yourself.” This is why today the style is called Wing Chun Kuen.
When Wing Chun returned home to her father, she found that the gang had come to discuss the wedding. Wing Chun’s father proposed a deal. If Wing Chun could beat the gang leader in a fight, she would not have to marry him. The gang leader laughed at this proposal but accepted anyway, thinking he would obtain fame as well as a bride. But when they fought, the gang leader and the gang were defeated by Wing Chun and ran away. Wing Chun was free to marry the one she loved, Leung Bok Chau.
Wing Chun continued to practice Kung Fu after her marriage, and passed her skill onto her husband, Leung Bok Chau. In turn, he passed his skills of Wing Chun to a merchant named Leung Lan Kwai. Leung Lan Kwai then passed his skill to a man named Wong Wah Bo. Wong Wah Bo was part of an opera troupe travelling China called “The Red Boat.” Wong Wah Bo worked with a colleague on the boat named Leung Yee Tei that was very skilled in a pole technique called “Six-and-a-half-point long pole”, which he had learned from the Red Boat’s cook. Ironically enough, the cook had been Abbot Chin Shin, one of the monks that had escaped the attack on Shaolin with Ng Mui. He had disguised himself as a cook and went to work with Red Boat. Wong Wah Bo and Leung Yee Tei exchanged knowledge, and the six-and-a-half-point long pole technique eventually became part of the Wing Chun system. At one point, the Red Boat had traveled to Fat Shan. There, Leung Yee Tei met a very well educated herbal Doctor named Leung Jan. Leung Yee Tei passed his skills onto Leung Jan. Being a well educated man, Leung Jan was able to grasp the soul of Wing Chun and became very proficient in the system. Leung Jan passed his skills onto his son Leung Bik and a neighbor of his that always watched them train named Chan Wah Shun. He in turn passed his skills onto other students, the most well known being Grandmaster Yip Man. The Baht Cham Dao literally means eight cutting knives (Dao refers to a single edged blade). This was a popular weapon used during the Red Boat era by rebels fighting against the Manchurians. The Baht Cham Dao is usually the final form taught to a Wing Chun Student. Yip Man only taught a few students this form in his entire life. Yip Man learned the form from Leung Bik. Grandmaster Yip Man then passed his skills onto many other disciples, even Martial Arts master and movie star Bruce Lee. Eventually, Moy Yat, one of Yip Man’s students, passed his skills onto Sifu Sunny Tang, who in turn passed his skills on to Grandmaster Augustin Ngu.