The history of Wing Chun is one that can be considered an intermixing of both fact and legend. It is widely accepted that this quick and efficient martial art originated during the 17th century from the far more rigorous and complex art forms taught in the Shaolin Temple of Southern China. It was around this period when the Manchus came to power in China and began their strict rule in order to keep control. Due to their support for the Ming, the Shaolin monks faced great pressure and ultimate destruction to their temples. Due to these circumstances, the origin of Wing Chun lacks consistent records as martial arts practitioners were forced into hiding.
The most popularized story of Wing Chun’s origin is that of the Buddhist Nun, Ng Mui. It is said that she was one of Five Elders of the Shaolin Temple that managed to escape prior to its destruction. With her high level of Shaolin martial arts, she created a form of self-defence which could transcend size, weight and gender. She drew her inspiration for Wing Chun from the movement of animals, primarily the crane. When applied to the human form, these delicate but natural movements required little force to block and strike effectively and efficiently.
Ng Mui’s first student of the yet unnamed form was a beautiful young girl named Yim Wing Chun who was being pressured by a bandit warlord into marriage. After mastering the art so as to defend herself and eventually drive off the bandit, Yim Wing Chun would have the form named after her as the first student of Ng Mui. This is how the lineage of Wing Chun began according to popular legend.
Though the art was taught throughout history but rarely officially documented, this legend was the one accepted and told by Grandmaster Ip Man who is highly regarded as the greatest and most insightful teacher of Wing Chun. Ip Man would move to Hong Kong in 1948 where he became the first master to teach Wing Chun to the public and make the art form what it is today.
Grandmaster Ip Chun is the eldest son of Ip Man as well as one of the most respected teachers still teaching in Hong Kong to this day. While he finds beauty in the legend of Ng Mui and Yim Wing Chun, Ip Chun sought more historic facts to base his beliefs. Upon recent research, a man named Cheung Ng has been confirmed as having existed and can be more accurately credited with the spread of Wing Chun. As a student of the Shaolin Temple in Fujian, Cheung Ng became proficient in martial arts prior to the destruction of the temple. It was during this time that Cheung Ng learned the form of Wing Chun which was being taught as an effective form of martial arts against the Manchus.
After the destruction of the Shaolin Temple, Cheung Ng was forced to seek refuge with different families while teaching Wing Chun to secret rebellious groups. He was even nicknamed Tan Sao Ng after the term Tan Sao which is one of the essential shape taught in Wing Chun.
Even the story of Cheung Ng becomes shrouded with some mystery as he and his students were forced to train in secret. It is likely that legends similar to the story of Ng M`ui and Yim Wing Chun were intentionally created to protect the teachers and practitioners from being discovered by authorities.