History is a matter of controversy. A complete and comprehensive history is impossible. As such we will limit our introduction to the roots of Wing Chun to only our lineage of the Wing Chun system.
Our late grandmaster Yip Man wrote in “The Origin of Wing Chun” that the art of Wing Chun began with Yim Wing Chun of Guangdong ( Canton ) China. She had learned the art from Ng Mui, the abbess of the Shaolin Temple in Henan (Honan) who hid in the White Crane Temple in Tai Leung to escape persecution from the Ching government.
Ng Mui taught Yim Wing Chun martial art to enable her to defend herself against a local bully who insisted on having his way with her. Yim Wing Chun defeated the bully after a period of training and went on to marry her true love – Leung Bok Chau.
From Leung Bok Chau, the art now renamed Wing Chun, was passed down to Leung Lan Kwai who taught it to Wong Wah Bo of the Hung Suen (Red Boat) traveling opera company. It was during this period that Wong Wah Bo exchanged his knowledge with Leung Yee Tai who had learned the 6 1/2 point pole from Abbot Jee Sim.
Foshan Leung Jan
Leung Jan’s home town was Gulao of Heshan County but was having his career of doctor in Foshan where he spread the Wing Chun Kuen there. Leung Jan was renowned as one of the foremost Wing Chun master in his time. His life and deeds have been immortalized by the author “I-am-Mountain-Man” in the famous historical pulp “Fatshan Jan Sin Sang” (Mr Jan of Fatshan). Leung Jan was said to have taught his son Leung Bik and a few disciples. Leung Jan was said to have taught his disciples to play the pipa before even starting their Wing Chun training to enable them to first loosen their wrists. However it was Chan Wah Shun who was destined to become Leung Jan’s most famous pupil.
Chan Wah Shun
Among those that Leung Jan taught later in his life was Chan Wah Shun who was nicknamed Wah the Moneychanger. Chan Wah Shun’s birth place is Tung Ma Ling of Shunde. Since Foshan was one of the most important commercial & light industrial cities in Guangdong at that time, Chan was also had his job of money changing in Foshan. Chan Wah Shun was said to have learned Wing Chun initially by peeping through the fence of Leung Jan’s abode when Leung Jan was instructing his students.
Later he was accepted by Leung Jan as a student. Chan Wah Shun taught a number of limited disciples including his son Chan Yui Min , Ng Jung So and Ip Man. Ip Man was aged 11 at that time. From Ip Man thereon sprang the roots of the Hong Kong Wing Chun system.
Chan Wah Shun’s Ancestors’ Hall in Shunde
Pivotal Role of Leung Bik
Though it is mentioned that Leung Jan taught Wing Chun to his second son Leung Bik, we know little of Leung Bik. However it has been written that Ip Man learned from Leung Bik after the then young Ip Man lost in a match to the elderly Leung Bik. It is unfortunate that today we cannot trace what has happened to Leung Bik or that he was ever in Hong Kong . This lack of historical record has cast doubt on the story of Ip Man learning from Leung Bik.
Sifu Chow Tze Chuen does recall that during his discipleship, Ip Man once mentioned that he had learned from Leung Bik but did not elaborate further. Sifu Chow further recalls that a pair of banners were hanged in his kwoon at Lee Tat Street stating his learning from Chan Wah Shun and Leung Bik. He forgot the exact wording of the banners. Why the figure of Leung Bik is so interesting is that Ip Man attributed the refinement of his advanced skills under the tutelage of Leung Bik.
Wing Chun in Hong Kong
Different reasons have been forwarded for Ip Man’s permanent migration to Hong Kong where from his once exalted position as the son of the wealthy class he descended to be another unknown face among the sea of poverty. Recently another it has been suggested that Yip Man was forced to leave China not because of the coming of the Communist government, but because he killed a person with a kick during a match.
Whatever the reason for leaving his homeland, Ip Man would have been another statistic in the immigration figures except for martial artists such Leung Sheung, Lee Man and Lok Yiu who recognised the skills of Ip Man and asked him to be their teacher at the Association of Restaurant Workers of Hong Kong.
From this small start in 1950, another class was later opened in Stanley Street in 1951. This was the beginning of the spread of the effectiveness of the Wing Chun system as a combat art through challenge matches. During this time students from outside the restaurant trade also joined in. In 1955, introduced by Law Bing, Sifu Chow Tze Chuen joined the Ip Man’s class in Lee Tat Street , Yau Ma Tei.
By 1957 the school had moved to Li Cheng Uk Estate in Kowloon from Yau Ma Tei. Many of the early students had already left Ip Man to open their own school by this time and due to the distance from central Hong Kong , few of the early students came to visit as frequently. The backward living conditions did not help; basic necessities such as water had to be carried from a common tap. Sifu Chow who was working as a bus driver brought in a number of workers from the transport union to join the school. 1961 saw a final move to Castle Peak Road where Ip Man taught until his retirement.
Group Photo of Yip Man after class in Li Cheng Uk Estate in 1957
In 1972 Ip Man passed away from throat cancer and the Wing Chun world lost a living treasure.
Legacy of Ip Man
Today the seeds that Ip Man sowed once upon a time in Hong Kong has spread far and wide throughout the world. Most of the Wing Chun practitioners worldwide can trace their roots back to Ip Man.