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History of Wing Chun

Wing Chun History

Chinese Kung Fu has it’s origins in the famous Shaolin Temples of China which were established around 500A.D. During the Sui Dynasty, the building blocks of Shaolin Kung Fu were established with the practice of the ’18 hands of Luohan’.

Over the next 1000 years, the Shaolin monks developed many varieties of martial arts and weapons training. These arts often took a lifetime to learn and master and were based around animal styles such as the Snake, Tiger, Crane, Dragon etc.

Through various dynasty changes in China’s history, the Shaolin Temple was burnt down, rebuilt, burnt down and rebuilt many times.


During the Qing Dynasty, the Shaolin Temple acted as a refuge for Ming loyalists and in the period 1796-1820, Qing rulers burnt the temple to the ground and the monks fled, many to the Southern region around Fujian province.


It was around this time Wing Chun, a simplified very direct, short range fighting system known as Wing Chun was created by the Shaolin monks who had fled to the South.

Legend has it that a Shaolin Nun Ng Mui, created Wing Chun after watching a fight between a snake and a crane, however this is more than likely a romantic metaphor for Ng Mui’s synthesizing the Crane and Snake versions of the Shaolin martial arts into a new fighting system that suited a woman or a fighter who did not have the advantages of strength and size.

The legend (perhaps borrowed from White Crane history) says Ng Mui passed on the new fighting system to Yim Wing Chun, after whom the art is now named. Yim Wing Chun as a teenager had caught the eye of a local warlord, however she was in love with another, Leung Bok Chau. The warlord made an offer that he would rescind his marriage proposal if she could beat him in a fight.

When the warlord returned the following Spring, Yim Wing Chun surprised him using his size and strength against him, continually breaking his balance and subduing him with repeated strikes. 


After marrying her true love, Yim Wing Chun and her husband eventually settled in Zhaoqing, Guangdong province where they established a secret school teaching Wing Chun Kung fu.


Eventually the school was passed on to Leung Lan Kwai who took over the teaching of Wing Chun.

Around 1815, a martial artist and actor known as Wong Wah Bo learned Wing Chun from Leung Lan Kwai  and passed Wing Chun onto other actors aboard the Red Junk boats which operated around the Pearl River delta entertaining the towns and villages with opera.


Another of the actors on the boats was Jee Shin the former Abbot of one of the destroyed Shaolin Temples. Jee Shin, Wong Wah Bo and another skilled student Leung Yee Tai refined and codified the art into distinct forms and drills. The actors and artists lived on the junks because they had no other home.

As the Red Junks travelled, the art was passed on to Leung Jan, a well known herbal doctor in Foshan who became an invincible fighter and attained the highest level of proficiency in Wing Chun. Leung Jan passed on the art to Chan Wah Shun (‘moneychanger’ Wah) and his sons Leung Chun and Leung Bik, who then passed on the art to Yip Man. As well as Leung Jan, several other branches of Wing Chun originated from the original Red Boat Wing Chun. 


Alongside Leung Jan, Imperial constable Fok Bo Chuen learned Wing Chun from Wong Wah Bo and instructed two brother Yuen Kay Shan and Yuen Chai Wan in the original undiluted Red Boat Wing Chun. Fok Bo Chuen also advised the brothers to take instruction from his associate Fung Siu Chun who was one of the most feared Marshals in Southern China. Fung Siu Chun passed on many skills to the Yuen brothers such as close body, body wrapping and grappling, flying darts, red sand palm etc.

Yuen Kay Shan went on to also be an instructor to Yip Man and Yuen Chai Wan departed for Vietnam in the 1930’s where he became the founder of Vietnamese Wing Chun.

Yip Man learned his Wing Chun directly from a number of sources, Yuen Kay Shan, Chu Chong Man and Chan Wah Shun. Yuen Kay Shan did not teach Yip Man all his skills, but passed them on to his principle disciple Sum Nung who passed away recently in 2012.

If not for the popularity of the Bruce Lee movies, it is unlikely anyone in the West would have ever heard of the name, Yip Man. With the Bruce Lee film mania, Wing Chun spread to the West, mainly through the Hong Kong based students of Yip Man, who capitalised on the interest in Wing Chun Kung Fu generated by Bruce Lee.

With each of these masters and lineages of Wing Chun, there are now many different variants of the fighting system known as Wing Chun which are quite distinctly different to each other and to the original Red Boat Wing Chun as taught by the original members of some of the 36 troupes that worked in and around the Pearl River Delta.


Other lineages of Wing Chun which were generated from the Red Boar era include the relatives and families of Cho Shun, Yik Kam, Gaolo Chung, ‘Dai Fa Min’ Kam and ‘Hung Gun’ Biu.

Paul McCarthy was an early direct student of William Cheung, one of Yip Man’s most well known students in Australia, but after a long break from Wing Chun, resumed again under the guidance and instruction of Sifu Linda and Sifu Garry Baniecki who were both direct students under William Cheung and his brother David Cheung.  

Sifu Garry and Sifu Linda Baniecki have both travelled extensively in China to unearth the ‘roots of Wing Chun’ and are also authorised representatives of Leung Jan’s  Gulao village descendent Grandmaster Fung Chun who passed away in 2012.

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