Know your martial arts: The history of Wing Chun

Bruce Lee with Wing Chun master Yip Man

History of Wing Chun
Wing Chun, which is also known as Wing Tsun or Ving Tsun, was created some 300 years ago by a nun named Ng Mui. She often trained in various styles of martial arts at a temple in China with other nuns and monks.

However, the Manchu government burned their temple down when they learned of the training, which was forbidden. Everyone was killed except Mui, who fled to a mountaintop in southern China.

Over the years Mui continued her training in martial arts, but she realized what she had been learning through the years wasn’t very effective or practical for a small woman if she had to defend herself from a large man.

Mui began to make changes, discarding moves that were based on strength or were too slow or what looked pretty, but was really ineffective or a waste of motion. By the time Mui perfected this new style it was much more effective and utilized techniques that were fast, powerful, and excellent for defense or attack.

The main focus of this new style was to redirect an opponent’s energy and use their strength against them. This allowed females or small men to use Mui’s techniques to defeat men who were twice their size.

How Wing Chun Was Named
Mui often went to the village to buy food and supplies. One day she overheard a girl, Yim Wing Chun, and her father discussing her plight – her upcoming wedding to someone she didn’t love.

If she didn’t marry the man, he threatened to kill her father. Mui revealed who she was to Wing Chun and her father. She offered to teach the girl her fighting style, and suggested that Wing Chun go to her husband-to-be and formally challenge him to a match.

If Wing Chun was the winner she didn’t have to marry, but if she lost she would go through with the wedding. The man, who laughed at the notion that a woman dared to make such a prosperous suggestion, agreed that the challenge would take place in one year.

Wing Chun went to live with Mui and they trained diligently day and night. When the year was up, the challenge took place. The man, who was considered the best fighter in the village, got his butt handed to him by Wing Chun. Despite his bruised ego the man kept his word; there was no marriage.

Mui’s style was officially named Wing Chun because she went throughout the land promoting and teaching this martial art to others, mainly to women.

Wing Chun’s Most Famous Student
Perhaps the most famous student of Wing Chun was Bruce Lee. Born in San Francisco in November 1940, Lee became a world class martial artist, actor, film director and producer, and champion of his own style – Jeet Kune Do, which means The Way of the Intercepting Fist.

However, Lee, who was raised in Hong Kong, began training in Wing Chun at age 13. The teacher who influenced Lee the most was his teacher Yip Man, who was the master of Wing Chun and taught hundreds of students over the years.

In 1959 when Lee returned to the United States he went to college while he taught martial arts. Lee made changes to what he learned while studying Wing Chun and came up with Jun Fan Gung Fu, which meant “Bruce Lee’s Kung Fu”.

Over the years, Lee was instrumental in perfecting his own style of fighting and created a new style called Jeet Kune Do. Through his training and studying, Lee believed all traditional martial arts, even Wing Chun, was too rigid and structured to work in a real life street fight.

Developing Jeet Kune Do, Lee blended different methods of various martial arts, along with weight training, running, stretching, fencing, and boxing techniques to form what he called “the style of no style”.

Wing Chun & MMA
Unfortunately, Wing Chun isn’t a good style if one wants to become a MMA fighter. Not that Wing Chun is useless, because learning any form of martial arts helps a student with technique, discipline, focus and conditioning.

However, over the years Wing Chun has not evolved into a sport like kickboxing or Muay Thai or Jiu-Jitsu. Therefore, Wing Chun guys don’t have a defense for moves such as takedowns, submissions, flying knees, elbows or the clinch.

Wing Chun, as it has been noted, is used for self-defense with the intent to take an opponent out as quickly as possible, which doesn’t work well in MMA competitions. Also, training in Wing Chun involves a lot of time spent on forms or Chi Sau, which is a drill called sticky hands or trapping hands.

Plus, most schools spend little time on hard-contact sparring. This style also plays by different rules than MMA competitions since the main objective is to get your opponent down as quickly as possibly using whatever technique is most effective; that could include a punch to the throat, stomping the face, or breaking the arm.

Basically, Wing Chun is best to handle street fights and is not suited for the cage. In fact, when I studied Wing Chun I asked my Sifu (teacher) why we never went to tournaments. His answer – “This is not a game or sport. When you use Wing Chun it is to take out or kill your aggressor.”

So, if you want to learn how to protect yourself against an attack, Wing Chun is one of the best martial arts styles. However, if you plan to become an MMA fighter, learn styles that focus on submission, striking, wrestling, stand-up and hard-contact sparring

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  • Adam

    Seems real intense and I feel sorry for any would be muggers/attackers who encounter someone trained in Wing Chun, it would mess their day up.

  • Clinton Alexander Bullock

    I believe that this article was quite informative, citing Wing Chun’s history and philosophical meaning. The ancient martial art is beautiful, and can be deadly at the same time. However, since many of the moves used in Wing Chun involve limb manipulation, I do feel that the style could be adapted into the world of MMA. For instance, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) involves some of the same limb manipulations. However, instead of actually breaking someone’s arm or leg, the opponent (if he is smart), usually taps out beforehand. In this regard, I believe that a MMA practitioner who studies Wing Chun’s techniques could fare well in the octagon, provided that he also studies takedown defense, BJJ, etc. In fact, I have longed to witness more martial arts utilized in MMA – Judo, Aikido, Win Chun – just to name a few. I feel that it would add diversity to the great world of MMA.

  • Chris

    Know your martial arts but also know your history. There are some errors here in the history of Wing Chun and it should be noted that there is no historical proof that Ng Miu or Yim Wing Chun even exisited. First recorded Wing Chun practitioner was Cheung Ng (Tan Sau Ng). However, it is a generally informative article after this point and it does tell you what Wing Chun is for; Realistic self-protection. A Wing Chun man would either lose or get disqualified in an MMA match.

  • Chris

    “Wing Chun guys don’t have a defense for moves such as takedowns, submissions, flying knees, elbows or the clinch.”

    This comment, I find, misrepresents Wing Chun. We DO have techniques for these situations – just not techniques that would generally be permitted or appropriate for competition. If you have ever experienced Chi Sau (or “Sticky Hands”), You would know that clinching range in particular, is one of our specialities. I know a lot of MMA guys like to snicker under their breath about Wing Chun because it is deemed as an ineffective competition combat style – I am quite happy for this to be true as I am more concerned with it’s practical application. I would like to praise the article for making that distinction as most in the MMA community do not.