Wing Chun History

Sil Lum (Shaolin) to Yip Man

During the Ching Dynasty (1644-1911) the Chinese people were ruled by the Manchus, harsh restrictions were placed upon them which bred much dissent.

The Sil Lum (Shaolin) temple became a secret training ground for a revolutionary army trained in Kung Fu.

At that time it took many years to master a classical style, and an effective fighting style was needed immediately. Subsequently five senior masters assembled at the temple to develop a system using the best and most effective techniques and training methods from each of their respective styles.

The Masters were; Gee Sin, Pak Mei, Fung Do Duk, Maio Hin and Ng Mui, the only female.

Jee Sin was the Abbot of the monastery and a famous Zen Master. He is credited with being the founder of the Hung style of Kung Fu and the “Evergreen” style; he was also a Master of the long pole.

In fact, most of the southern styles of Kung Fu (especially in Fukien ) are either related to or influenced by Jee Sin in some respect. He was the teacher of Hung Hay Gwoon, founder of Hung Gar Kung Fu and also taught the long pole techniques to Leung Yee Tye

and incorporated them into the Wing Chun system.

Pak Mei was the founder of the White Eyebrow style; he was originally from Aw Mei mountain in Szechuan and a highly respected Taoist Master.

Fung Do Duk was a Taoist and an expert in the internal arts. He was from Mo Dung mountain, in the north.

Maio Hin was a Buddhist and originally from Bai Pai mountain of Kweng Si . He was an unshaved Sil Lum follower and had a daughter named Mui Tsui Fa.

Ng Mui was a Buddhist nun, possibly from the White Lotus monastery and the eldest of the five Masters.

Before the system could be fully developed, the Manchus heard of the subversive activities at Sil Lum. They raided and burned the temple to the ground, killing all of the monks with the exception of the “Venerable Five”.

All escaped and fled south where they passed on their skills to many indigenous Chinese.

When Ng Mui fled Sil Lum she traveled extensively and perfected her fighting skills, eventually settling at the White Crane temple at Tai Leung mountain (also called Chai Ha mountain) where she concentrated on her practice of Buddhism and her martial arts.

It was here that she met a young girl by the name of Yim Wing Chun who, at the time was being pressured into marriage by a local ruffian, a marriage she wanted no part of.

Ng Mui, became acquainted with the girl’s father, decided to offer her assistance. Yim Wing Chun was to tell the ruffian that she would consent to the marriage if, in one years’ time he could defeat her in a fight.

Feeling confident that the girl would be his in a year, he agreed.

What he did not know was that Ng Mui was to train the young girl in the fighting style that she had perfected since leaving Sil Lum.

The story is told that Ng Mui witnessed a fight between a fox and a crane; by analyzing their offensive and defensive movements, and adapting them to the human frame, formulated her fighting system.

The bong sao movement in contemporary Wing Chun is said to have come from the wing defence of the crane while the fook sao imitates the fox’s paw.

One year later the village ruffian came to claim his prize, but as the contest began he realized he was no match for the girl, armed with the skills passed on to her by Ng Mui.

Yim Wing Chun was now free to marry the man of her choice.

She eventually married Leung Bok Cho, who was already an accomplished martial artist in the Hung style. She passed on her knowledge of Ng Mui’s system to him; over the years the style became known as “Wing Chun Kuen” or Eternal/Praise Springtime Boxing.

Leung Bok Cho taught the style to a herbalist, Leung Lan Kwai and to his nephew, Leung Yee Tye.

Leung Yee Tye had already been taught the long pole technique by Master Gee Sin, one of the five elders of Shaolin, who had fled the monastery and taken refuge on the “Red Junk”, a boat used by a traveling opera troupe.

The troupe used the junk to traverse the coastal waterways while performing. Leung Yee Tye’s job was to guide the junk by use of a long pole.

Wong Wah Bo was a performer in the troupe and a friend of Leung Yee Tye. They both admired each others martial arts skills and decided to have a friendly competition to see who was the most skillful, Wong armed with a pair of butterfly knives and Leung with the long pole.

Who was the victor in the contest is of no importance; however the duel highlighted the long and short range capabilities of both weapons.

The pole skills were at this time passed on to Wong and the pair continued to develop them as part of the Wing Chun system.

After learning the complete Wing Chun system from Wong, Leung became a very skilled Master; he accepted a student named Leung Jan.

Leung Jan was a herbalist and physician of Fatshan, Kwangtung province.

He also became a very well respected fighter and practitioner of the period and fought many contests.

The story is told that, in the late 1800’s Leung Jan fought and killed a Hung Gar practitioner in a duel. The son of the man, outraged at his father’s death studied for three years to perfect the deadly “Pheonix Eye Fist”. One day he confronted Leung Jan and struck him once in the chest. As a result of the attack, and the complications which set in later, Leung Jan died.

Leung Jan had two sons, Leung Bik and Leung Chun.

Chan Wah Soon, a neighbor wished to learn from the famous Master Jan but, as he was not a family member was not permitted. He so much admired the fighting system that he resorted to spying on the daily teachings of Jan’s two sons.

Leung Jan soon discovered the spying and, touched by his dedication, eventually accepted him as a student. However, he modified his teachings to Chan to keep the true system within his own family.

Chan Wah Soon went on to be a famous Master in his own right, being appointed as chief instructor to the “Soldiers of the Eight Banners”, elite troops of the Manchus.

When Leung Jan died, Leung Bik moved to Hong Kong and Chan Wah Soon remained in China to teach Wing Chun.

He taught for 36 years but in this time only accepted 16 disciples, including his son, Chan Yu Min and his daughter in law.

One of his students was later to become the most famous Master of Wing Chun, Yip Man.

According to history, Yip Man, at the age of 12 went to Chan Wah Soon seeking instruction. Chan told the boy that if he paid 300 pieces of silver, he would be accepted.

Yip Man

The boy left and soon returned with the required amount. Wondering how a small boy could raise such a large amount of money, Chan accompanied the boy home to confront his parents.

To his surprise he found that the money was Yip’s life savings; he then decided that the boy was truly worthy to receive his teachings and accepted him as his final student.

Yip Man studied under Chan Wah Soon and many of the senior students at the school until Chan died, his tuition was then taken over by Ng Chun So, Master Chan’s most senior disciple.

Later, Yip Man moved to Hong Kong to continue his schooling, it was here that he heard of an old Kung Fu Master. He approached the man and, full of the confidence of youth, challenged him to fight.

To his dismay the old man easily defeated him; the old man was none other that Leung Bik, the surviving son of Leung Jan.

Leung Bik accepted Yip as his only student and taught him the complete family system.

Traditional Wing Chun Lineage

Yip Man to Ian Protheroe.

William Cheung (Cheung Chuk Hing) commenced his training under Grandmaster Yip Man at the age of 10 in Hong Kong.

Over the years he grew to become one of the premier fighters in the Wing Chun clan. His exploits and challenge matches were legendary in Hong Kong along with those of Wong Shun Leung and Bruce Lee.

While most of Grandmaster Yip Man’s students chose to stay in Hong Kong , William Cheung and Bruce Lee both left the school in 1959. William migrated to Australia and Bruce to America .

Bruce never completed the Wing Chun system under the Grandmaster and subsequently added many techniques and training techniques from other martial arts in his quest for martial perfection.

His film career and revolutionary training methods took America by storm, the rest is history.

William on the other hand had lived with the Grandmaster for a number of years and had been taught both the family system of Leung Jan and the modified system taught to Chan Wah Soon.

In Australia he continued to develop the system and started teaching professionally in 1974.

Ten years later Ian Protheroe, an accomplished martial artist in his own right, started training in Wing Chun under Master William Cheung.

During the next five years he trained six days a week in Wing Chun devoting all of his time to practicing and researching the system. Within a short period of time he was assisting in teaching duties at the main Chinatown and Frankston schools, later opening and running the most successful branch for the Academy at Mt. Eliza , Victoria .

In 1987 he opened his own full time school in Brisbane , Queensland .

In 1990 he traveled on the first of six trips to Hong Kong , meeting and training with Chu Shong Tin, Wong Shun Leung, Leung Ting, Sui Yuk Men and Yip Chun (Yip Man’s eldest son), all former students of the Grandmaster.

Armed with their wealth of knowledge and experience Protheroe returned to Australia to further develop his own Wing Chun.