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History of Wing Chun

Grandmaster Benny Meng, “History of Wing Chun.” Circa May, 2012


But please be educated and do not keep passing this fairy tale as the real history of this great system.


Yes, it’s only a legend based on oral traditions. But it served its purpose during the time of struggle.


  1. First, there is no trace of any records on the nun, the father, the husband or YWC the girl.
  2. Second, there were no nuns in the Shaolin Temples. That was never a part of Shaolin tradition. This is true in both the Northern and Southern Temples.
  3. Third, the story is not logical. Why would the nun want to come out of hiding for some girl’s romantic problems? It would have gotten both of them killed. During this time period of the legend the Qing dynasty were very harsh with death penalties. The Qing authorities would kill nine generations of your family if you are caught as a rebel.
  4. Fourth, YWC is a secret code. Yim means to be discreet or to be secretive. Wing means to talk or praise. Chun is the word Spring which symbolize rebirth. Together the word means to be secretive and keep talking and praising the rebirth of the Ming Dynasty. The nun symbolized the roots of Wing Chun which is Shaolin.
  5. Fifth, this whole story about the nun teaching a girl was borrowed or stolen oral tradition from the system of White Crane.
  6. Six, if this story were true that means the nun would have had to be at least 200 years old. The Temple was destroyed in the mid to late 1600s. Based on the story of the nun teaching to YWC and then she passed on to her husband, and finally the husband passed it on to the Red Boat Opera people, this happened in the middle of the 1800s. So there is a 200 years gap. Someone in this fairy tale has a secret to long life and lived two hundred years.
  7. Seventh, for thousands of years the fighting is mostly done by the men, not the ladies. So if there is something more efficient for fighting, men were the one that needed it, not only the ladies.


The key thing to acknowledge here is that every oral tradition or fairy tale serves a purpose. But please be educated do not keep passing this fairy tales as the real history of this great system.


VTM’s current view of Wing Chun’s evolution presented with 6 primary conclusions:


l. For research purposes, the VTM recognizes the development of Wing Chun through seven stages from the system’s origin:

a.    Shaolin

b.    Secret Society

c.    Opera

d.    Red Boat

e.    Public Canton/Gwongdong 

f.     Hong Kong

g.    International


These seven designations are used for general discussion, comparison, and contrast of various Wing Chun lineages in terms of origin legends/myths, system principles, training methods, technical choreography and the like. The six designations should not be understood or used to make comparisons of “better” or “superior” as each Wing Chun family is the result of various influences and has survived to our modern era based on the effectiveness and efficiency of the system, adapted to various situations and people. “Better” or “Superior” have to place in a discussion of historical and cultural interrelationships.


2.     The original Shaolin Wing Chun, which contains at least the core of Sam Jin Bou, later on with Siu Nim Tau, Chum Kiu, and Biu Ji, Saan Sau, Wooden Dummy, Pole and the knives include Fukien Wing Chun. This system represents the essence of Southern Shaolin Martial


3.     Shaolin Wing Chun is a system based on Chan Buddhism and the Principle of Time/Space, Energy and the concepts of Heaven Earth Human which makes it both a complete combat system and a personal cultivation system.


4.     Shaolin Wing Chun is a representation of Maximum Efficiency, which is the point or state where nothing can be added or subtracted without losing efficiency. Maximum Efficiency is the result of experience and state of being rather than a style of martial arts or a basic skill set. Maximum Efficiency is built upon a solid foundation with practical fighting skill in all ranges of combat and is, therefore, not meant for inexperienced students or to be treated as a style.


5.     Shaolin Wing Chun is an expression of Chan Buddhism.


6.     In the many centuries since the destruction of the Southern Shaolin Temple, the original Shaolin Wing Chun system is still well-preserved today. The history of the secret societies and their connection to Wing Chun during the Ming/Qing transition was not widely known, which resulted in various terms such as ‘Ng Mui’ and ‘Yim Wing Chun’ being attributed to specific, fictional people rather than to concepts contained within the system itself. As more research comes to light, there are those within the Wing Chun community that profess to prefer the myths and legends rather than promote the actual history. The VTM will continue its mission to educate the martial arts community in general and the Wing Chun community specifically about the actual origins of the system. Any information intentionally attempting to continue the myths and legends without making it clear the actual research will be challenged whenever possible.


The official beginning of the VTM Project was back in 1993.


By 1995, the Ground Breaking was complete and the Organizing Committee was formed. Grand Masters Moy Yat, Ip Chun, and Ip Ching were present at the Ground Breaking Event.


For the next 3 years, the focus of the VTM was on the Ip Man lineage of Wing Chun. We investigated the Ip Man lineage with Grand Masters Moy Yat, Ip Chun, Ip Chung, Chu Shong Tin, Ho Kam Ming, Mak PO, Leung Shun, William Cheung (started with Ip Man but finished the system under modified HFY system), and many other Sifu in the 2nd Generation from Ip Man.


By 1998, the VTM had the official Grand Opening, and began to investigate the non-Hong Kong branches of Wing Chun. When China changed policies and opened their doors in the 1980s, information on Wing Chun in China started to trickle into the West. The VTM came into contact with many lineages outside the Ip Man (Hong Kong) lineage. Therefore, the VTM created a second classification of Wing Chun: Gwongdong Wing Chun (or Wing Chun from the Canton Province).


Within the Canton Province, there are many lineages, primarily centered around the city of Fatsaan (Foshan in Mandarin). Lineages from Canton province include: Opera-Ban Chung, Snake & Crane Wing Chun, Yuen Kay-San, Pan Nam, Chan Wah Shun / Chan Yiu Min, Mai Gei Wong, Cheung Bo, Gulao, and others. A few of Ip Man’s students from his time in China were teaching, with a different expression of the system compared to his Hong Kong students. The VTM interacted with many of these lineages in person through numerous trips to Hong Kong and China. During the process of research with the mainland lineages, we came across lineages which the VTM today classifies as Shaolin Wing Chun.


There are two systems that the VTM classifies as Shaolin Wing Chun and Secret Society Wing Chun:


Red Flag Wing Chun Paai as the Secret Society and Fukien Wing Chun Paai as both the Secret Society and Shaolin. These Fukien Wing Chun systems contain the original three treasures of Shaolin, which are: Chan Buddhism, Health/Qigong, and Combat/Self-Defense[Martial Art skills. Both lineages are relatively unknown to the wider public due to their ties to Chinese secret societies in the past, with customs dating back to the founding of the Hung Mun during the Ming/Qing struggles during the 1600s. The oral traditions in both lineages do not follow the legends of a nun teaching a young girl by the name of Yim Wing Chun. Their cultures and traditions follow the movements of the ancient secret societies’ efforts to overthrow the Qing Dynasty. The VTM labels these lineages as Shaolin Wing Chun and secret society Wing Chun because they still maintain a focus on the three treasures of Shaolin, while the system from Hong Kong and Canton researched to date are based on the teachings and preferences of individually great martial artists. Both lineages also maintain a related schema Of Heaven/Earth/Human symbolism and are centered on the core principle of Time/Space/Energy.


In modern times, the secret society tradition of blood oaths and enforced secrecy, both arts have begun to come out to the public and reveal the depth and breadth of their treasures. The VTM has focused on the Red Flag lineage since 1999 and has begun research into the Fukien Wing Chun lineage since 2008. Fukien Wing Chun Paai had expanded to many countries since.


With the journeys through the Hong Kong Wing Chun, Canton Wing Chun, Opera Wing Chun and now Shaolin Wing Chun, the VTM has run the gauntlet of Wing Chun’s evolution. It is analogous to going through the layers of soil to discover the growth and history of an ancient civilization:


The top layers are the most recent evolution of Wing Chun, represented by the Hong Kong lineages to the present day. The middle layers are the middle-distant evolutions of Wing Chun, represented by the Opera Wing Chun and Canton lineages and how they’ve evolved to the modern day. The bottom layers are the earliest forms of Wing Chun, represented by the Shaolin Wing Chun and the secret society Wing Chun lineages, giving insight into the early forms of Wing Chun, the melting pot of Southern Shaolin Kung Fu at the time of the Ming/Qing struggle for control of China. There is a big, big gap between today’s Wing Chun and the Shaolin Wing Chun such as Fukien Wing Chun. The older version of Wing Chun still is very much first and foremost base on Chan Buddhism. It is not based on personality and personal interpretation such as many today’s WC system.


The statements and research of the VTM is not always popular, but it is time that the WC community gets a different perspective. This is not to say what WC linage is better, everyone will have their own personal preference.


The classification terms the VTM uses (7) were created to define and organize research. This is not to say the Ip Man lineage should now be referred to exclusively as Hong Kong Wing Chun, or that Shaolin Wing Chun is a new designation for either the Fukien Wing Chun lineages. Rather, these terms should be understood as specific monikers used internally to the VTM. As these great lineages continue to open up and share more information, gain adherents, and expand their connection into the martial arts community, it can sometimes be overwhelming or confusing when getting too technically focused without a general education first. One of the goals of the VTM is to provide this general education and foundation and share it to the general martial arts community, but the final conclusion is always in the hands of the individual martial artists. Furthermore, the VTM has always maintained a policy of direct, personal, face-to-face interaction in all research — and we recommend that you gain your own experience before coming to any hard conclusions.


Sometimes, as human beings, we will arrive at the wrong conclusion based on lack of experience. And, unfortunately, there will also be those with their own personal, selfish agendas regardless of the big picture to Wing Chun’s past, present, and future who intentionally share misinformation to further their agenda. For example, when the VTM introduced HFY to the public, there were those within the Wing Chun martial arts community who felt it necessary to attack and attempt to discredit both the VTM and the HEY lineage by trying to associate the HFY secret society heritage with modern-day Triad gangsters. The danger of this mindset or attitude is that people with this focus misrepresent or “cherry-pick” facts to support a selfish agenda. For example, the general term for Chinese gangsters today is ‘Triad. ‘ But today’s Triads are criminal organizations that are very far removed from the origins in the 1600s, which were mutual-aid societies developed during a war-torn country to preserve Chinese culture against the foreign Manchu invasion. This theme seems to be repeating itself, with anonymous people from the same group using fictional articles to attempt to connect the Fukien Wing Chun lineage to criminal elements of the resend past who so happen to use the term ‘Black Flag. ‘ There might have been a bandit organization the early 20th century in the Sandung province that used the name of ‘Black Flag’, after Japanese invasion of china during 1930-40 (WWII). Also the Manchu army within the Qing Dynasty was also organized by flag, which included a ‘Black Flag’ division. The Manchurian 8 flag system around late 1870, their ‘Black Flag’ is known as black flag 7 Stars, since they put 7 star and character of “Ling” (Command) on the flag. So simply attempting to connect one ‘black flag’ with another requires extensive investigation into history. The Fukien Wing Chun oral history goes back to the burning of the Southern Shaolin Temple in the 1600s. According to their oral tradition, there were 5 secret societies that were formed with the express purpose of fighting to overthrow the Qing Dynasty. Each flag was sent to a different area of China. For example, the Red Flag went to Canton while the Black Flag — the 1st lodge and most secretive — the base stayed in the Fukien area, around the ruins of the Southern Shaolin Temple. So, according to research to date, this Fukien-based Black Flag group had nothing to do with either the Sandung or Manchu Black Flag organizations. Without being informed on Chinese History, someone with ill intent can easily attempt to tarnish a lineage’s rightful history and traditions.


Wing Chun Evolution Chart



Harmony of Body, Mind and Spirit






1644 TO LATE 1600’S




RED BOAT ERA: EARLY 1800’s  TO 1855






@Copyright Meng’s Martial Arts Of Dayton



Through the efforts of the Ving Tsun Museum since 1993 multiple lineages of Wing Chun have been identified which belong in various eras of the system’s history. The VTM undertook the arduous task of researching, codifying, and helping to preserve and promote many of the existing Wing Chun lineages — and continues to be active in these efforts.


The preservation of lineages from different eras is an amazing accomplishment for any martial art as different “flavors” of the system have been developed and evolved in their own rights. It is a testament to the intelligence behind the design of the system and its conceptual framework and the heart and dedication of the millions of practitioners throughout the world and throughout history. The VTM is proud of our accomplishments to help collect, retain and piece together the tapestry that is Wing Chun’s birth, history and continued evolution.


Lineages still in existence today include:


From the Shaolin and Secret Society Eras


Hek Ki Boen as a Black Flag lineage


Hung Fa Yi Wing Chun as a Red Flag lineage


In the Opera to Red Boat Eras


There are 3 core groups still teaching variations of this branch of the system in Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia. Cho Ga Wing Chun/Snake Crane Wing Chun.


Public Wing Chun Era – There are plenty of Public Wing Chun Era lineages such as:


Gu Lao Village, Yuen Kay-San, Cheung Bo, Mai Gei-Wang, Chan Wah Shun, Pao Fa Lien Yuen Chai-Wan , Yiu Choi, Pan Nam, etc


Hong Kong Era


The most well-known lineage in the world Ip Man Wing Chun


The Ip Man lineage is the visible tip of an iceberg, the many other lineages forming the body of the iceberg that’s not always seen by the general public.


Shaolin — when the system was developed as a vehicle for cultivation of Chan, health/fitness, and self-defense


2.     Secret Society — when the system left Shaolin and entered the anti-Qing secret societies


3.     Opera — when the system moved away from the Shaolin roots and more solidly into the secret societies, and mixed with the public for the first time, pre-Opium Wars


4.     Red Boat — when the system moved away from the secret societies as Chinese culture shifted after the Opium Wars


5.     Public Canton/Gwongdong – when the system moved off the Opera boats and out of the secret societies and into the public eye


Wing Chun left the secret societies and filtered out to the public during the Opera Era and Red Boat •Eras. The Opera Era is represented by the King Fa Wui Gun in the early 1720s; the Red Boat Era is represented by the Hung Syun Hei Baan which was active between 1825 and 1855. During these —135 years the secret societies such as the Red Flag used Cantonese Opera as a cover up for their activities. The operas were the perfect place to keep an eye on Qing Dynasty troop movements and train warriors and assassins in plain sight as the opera performers wore elaborate make-up during performances and constantly trained in various martial arts skills for their performances.


Living and training in proximity with each other the Wing Chun system started to form into hybrid formats because not all members of the opera were also members of the Faat Paai Hung Mun. From the Ving Tsun Museum’s research, there are four primary variations of the system:


1)    The original system


2)    The original system +/- other systems


3)    The original system +/- an instructor’s personal preferences


4)    The original system +/- other systems and an instructor’s personal preferences


These variations and modifications happened because not everyone who was exposed to the Wing Chun system has equal access to all information and training methods. The Ving Tsun Museum has identified the following three primary reasons for the variations:


1)    Information was deliberately withheld due to necessity of wartime and covert anti-Qing activities.


2)  Once the system went to the public the intent of the system’s practitioners changed — such as using martial art skills for entertainment, health, or to serve as bodyguards, which ar all quite removed from anti-Qing activities focused on returning the previous dynasty to power.


3)    Individual practitioners added or removed information from the original system due to their personal background, skillset, and/or mindset which led to a subjective interpretation, which we call “style.”

4)    Most people who are renown today for passing on their approach were primarily excellent martial artists and not necessarily professional teachers focused on promoting the totality of a lineage or system. Combined with a lack of documentation, written records, and a dearth of formal teaching materials, much of the system was passed down through oral tradition and personal experience. For example, Ip Man was a dedicated and, by all accounts, skillful martial artist but he never wrote a technical manual on his teaching methods to the art of Wing Chun, and other than a few videos recorded close to the end of his life there are no formal or documented records of his technical teaching.


Based on the above factors, over time each generation continued to adapt, change and modify how the system was understood, taught, and applied. By the time the art was completely out to the public in 1855, there were multiple recognized lineages based on the personalities and teachings of strong individuals promoted by their students and descendants. The true view of the system must include ALL lineages, families, and variations.


It is worth mentioning here, regardless of the origin or modification of a particular lineage from the original system, the Ving Tsun Museum maintains that no one lineage can claim to be “superior” “better” as those are subjective frames of reference. The ability to apply skill in a free format against a resisting opponent is based on the confluence of multiple factors and cannot be objectively measured. Superior is always a matter of personal preference and the needs of the moment.


6.     Hong Kong— when the system established a larger following in the Chinese martial arts community.


7.     International —when the system spread out of Southern China to reach an international stage.


Part Il of this report will go into detail on the Hong Kong Wing Chun lineages.


Part Ill of this report will go into detail on the public Opera Wing Chun and Canton Wing Chun lineages.


Part IV of this report will go into detail on the Secret Society and Shaolin Wing Chun lineages.


Finally, it is the VTM’s express wish and hope that each member of every lineage of Wing Chun continues to preserve their lineage: the unique knowledge, skill, training methods, and culture to the best of their ability while also maintaining an open mind. For example, if there were three classifications and a practitioner only experiences one specific variation of one classification, it is very challenging to see the overall relationship between the many lineages and appreciate the beauty, breadth, and depth of Wisdom contained within the whole of the Wing Chun martial arts family. The hallmark of Shaolin is direct experience — the VTM urges all honest Wing Chun practitioners to gain direct experience with the many lineages of Wing Chun to gain a deeper appreciation for their own lineage as well as a broader understanding of the Wing Chun family and Wing Chun’s evolution.




Benny Meng, Curator


Ving Tsun Museum


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