Yim Wing Chun’s father was a merchant who transported and sold vegetables and beans to the various temples. Leaving his young daughter in the temple to be educated while he traveled on business was both convenient and prudent. It was at White Crane temple in the southeastern part of Sezchuan province that this young lady named Yim Wing Chun met the nun Ng Mui. The nun took Yim Wing Chun as a student and taught the young Yim kung fu as part of her education. Through most of her teen years, Wing Chun studied kung fu under Ng Mui. One of Yim’s classmates was an older male (Yim Wing Chun’s older kung fu brother) named Fong Weng Chun (Fong clan). Fong later became Hung Hay Gung’s second teacher and helped Hung (the founder of the Hung Gar system) finish his Tiger and Crane martial arts training.
Although influenced by the other Sil Lum elders, Ng Mui and her blood relations within the Fong clan shared partial credit in teaching the Mok family (kicking specialists), Choy family (long-armed kung fu), and Lee and Lau families (short-armed kung fu). These family groups along with the Hung family became famous southern warrior clans in the Fukien and Kwantung provinces.
Of particular interest is the Weng Chun Dein Bok Hok (Weng Chun White Crane) kung fu system passed down through the Fong clan. This system of kung fu shares many similar techniques to the Yim Wing Chun system taught by Yip Man. Both include wooden dummy training. Similarly, both systems make heavy use of the Tan Sau (palm up high block), Pak Sau (slap block), Gaung Sau (palm down low block), Kiu Sau (bridging hand), the vertical fist punch, and the straight thrust kick. Both systems emphasize techniques that block and punch at the same time (Lin Sil Dai Dar). Today, the Weng Chun White Crane kung fu system is still practiced in Taiwan.
Yim Wing Chun was having difficulty in sparring against the stronger male classmates who used the Tiger techniques. Ng Mui instructed the young Yim Wing Chun to concentrate on the Crane and Snake techniques from the Weng Chun Dein’s five animal kung fu system. By specializing in the lateral body shifting and angular pivoting techniques of the Crane system, Wing Chun found that she could nullify stronger male sparring partners by redirecting their attacks. The Snake system complemented the Crane system with the use of fast centerline combinations that were made up of multiple, close-in strikes. The Snake footwork enabled the person to shuffle across the floor with fast forward moving footwork and disruptive arm pinning techniques. The crane and snake techniques complemented each other and allowed Yim Wing Chun to maximize her abilities against stronger male opponents. To this day, men and women find Yim Wing Chun’s system of applications practical and efficient.
By the start of the 18th century, a new generation of kung fu practitioners emerged from the original Sil Lum teachings. Yim Wing Chun married a well-to-do traveling salt merchant, Leung Bok Cho, from Kwantung province. Being a regular traveler on the roadways of southern China, Leung was skilled in the use of the short broad sword (Doe or Dao). The Leung clansmen had long practiced their sword techniques to protect their salt business over the long journeys into the mountains. Leung, however, was fascinated with the applicability of his wife’s hand techniques. He was overjoyed to have a wife whose mentor was none other than the famous Sil Lum elder, Ng Mui.
Mr. Leung taught the broad sword system and referred other trusted clan members to Wing Chun for hand-to-hand kung fu instruction. Although Yim Wing Chun learned her crane and snake techniques from Ng Mui, there was no particular name for Yim Wing Chun’s kung fu combinations. Wing Chun’s Kung Fu or Wing Chun, used by Leung Bok Cho to distinguish between his family’s knife techniques from his wife’s kung fu, became the name to identify her art. Wing Chun taught her kung fu art to the Leung clan throughout the first half of the 18th century.
The Wing Chun art was passed on to Leung Bok Cho’s niece, Leung Lan Kwai. By the close of the 18th century, Leung Lan Kwai’s two nephews named Wong Wah Bo and Leung Yee Tai became the keepers of the Wing Chun art. At this juncture, Leung Yee Tai incorporated the Luk Dim Poon Kwan (six & ½-point staff) into the Wing Chun system. The Wing Chun oral tradition states that the staff techniques originated from the Sil Lum elder, Jee Shin: 130 years earlier while making his way to O-Mei mountain in Sezchuan province, Jee Shin disguised himself as a cook on a large sailing junk that transported a Chinese opera troupe. While traveling west with the opera troupe, Jee Shin taught the Sil Lum long pole techniques to the troupe members. The long pole techniques were passed down through families affiliated with the opera troupe to Leung Yee Tai’s father and finally to Leung Yee Tai himself.
The next master of Wing Chun was a respected herbal doctor named Leung Jon. Dr. Leung Jon lived in Fatshan (Foshan) town, found west-by-southwest of Quandong (Canton) city. Having learned from both Leung Yee Tai and Wong Wah Bo, Leung Jon carried on the Wing Chun system throughout the early- and mid-1800’s. Wing Chun was a feminine name and invited many challenges. Dr. Leung Jon often called the Wing Chun fighting art, the Fatshan Kuen (Fatshan Fist). Therefore, not many of Leung Jon’s challengers knew that his system had its origins in Ng Mui.
Dr. Leung Jon’s stature was larger than average and he enjoyed the physical expression found within the Wing Chun system. He successfully took on all challenges even in his later years of life. The older Leung Jon defeated a young challenger name Wong Fei Hung, a prominent member of the new (second) generation of Ten Tigers of Kwantung. Dr. Leung Jon was himself recognized as one of the older, original Ten Tigers of Kwantung province.
Dr. Leung Jon’s life tragically ended at dinner as he held a bowl of soup to his mouth. To the surprise and shock of the other restaurant patrons, a young man shining Leung Jon’s shoes struck Dr. Leung in the solar plexus with a driving punch. The young man is known by the town’s people as an orphan often shined the shoes of customers such as Dr. Leung at the restaurant and had been coaxed to attack Dr. Leung at dinner by local gangsters. Unable to move much and unwilling to be taken home to be treated, Dr. Leung Jon died the next morning from internal hemorrhaging. Many onlookers believed that he could have saved himself had he gone home immediately and treated himself, but his pride would not allow him to be carried off. Dr. Leung Jon was survived by two sons, several distinguished students, and his head student Chan Wah Soon (also known as Jow Chien Wah, the money exchanger).
Chan Wah Soon became the next grandmaster of the Fatshan school and continued to teach until his death in 1913. For thirty six years, Chan Wah Soon taught the Wing Chun art. Nicknamed Jow Chien Wah (“The Money Changer”), he was already an adult doing business in Fatshan when he started to learn Wing Chun Kung Fu from Dr. Leung Jon. By the early 1870’s, Chan Wah Soon established himself as an excellent fighter and Dr. Leung Jon’s best student.
With bigger-than-average physical stature, Chan Wah Soon was a strong fighter. He preferred the one-foot-forward guard position, with the front foot heel peeled off the ground in his challenge matches. He was undefeated in all challenges. As Dr. Leung’s successor, Chan Wah Soon taught only selected students and charged high tuition.
Master Chan Wah Soon taught only sixteen disciples in his lifetime. His best and senior student was Ng Chung So. Master Chan’s own son, Chan Yu Min, was a late bloomer. Chan Yu Min did not care for the hand-to-hand combat of the Wing Chun system until later in life. Despite his youthful recklessness, the young Chan Yu Min did find a special interest in the Wing Chun Long Staff techniques. He was very gifted and excelled in staff fighting. Chan Yu Min became the undisputed “King of the Pole of Seven Provinces”. He defeated all challengers in his own province and all neighboring provinces. Luckily, Chan Yu Min’s wife completed his Wing Chun Art under the elder Chan Wah Soon. She later passed on the Wing Chun hand art to her husband, Chan Yu Min, thus completing his Wing Chun art.