Unfortunately, the history of Wing Chun Kung Fu has only been past down verbally. That's why you’ll find two common versions of the history of this style. The main difference between the two is the founder of Wing Chun, Ng Mui. The more commonly accepted version that was passed down through the Late Grand Master Yip Man stated that Ng Mui was a nun. The alternate version based on more modern research believes that Ng Mui instead was a Monk.
Ng Mui is generally credited as the founder of Wing Chun and was one of the five elders of the Sil Lum temple. Already an accomplished martial artist, Ng Mui developed a style of martial arts, after observing a snake and crane. Ng Mui improved the style which became known as Sei Ho Bak Bo (Snake and Crane Eight Step). She then refined the style further and it became known as Ng Bo Mui Fa Kuen (Plum Flower Fist). These three styles are the predecessors of Wing Chun. During the reign of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), gung-fu was practiced in the Siu Lum (Shao Lin) monastery in southern China primarily as a form of physical exercise. With the usurpation by the Manchurians and the establishment of the Ching Dynasty, however, many Ming patriots sought protection in the temple where their lives were not endangered and where some of the people were sympathetic to their cause. The Mings were betrayed by an insider and consequently, the Manchu soldiers attacked and burned down the monastery. Only a handful of people and the five elders escaped the burning temple. These disciples were forced to conceal their identities and activities because the Ching government had outlawed all practice of Martial Arts.
Ng Mui then devised a new, modified system of fighting based on her knowledge of what she had mastered in the temple. In essence, the style utilized techniques of efficiency of motion and direct line attacks and could be perfected in a short period of time.
Ng Mui had a student, a girl named Yim Wing Chun who lived with her father in a small village.Yim Wing Chun's popularity in the area and news of her beauty attracted the attention of a malevolent landlord named Wong. Yim Wing Chun was already promised to Leung Bok Chau, Wong decided he would marry her anyway. Upon presenting himself to ask for her hand in marriage, Wong was flatly rejected by both Yim Wing Chun and her father, so he plotted to take her by force. In a short period of time Ng Mui was able to teach Yim Wing Chun to defend herself. When Wong returned with his men, a confrontation ensued during which Wong was seriously injured by Yim Wing Chun.
Yim Wing Chun continued to study under Ng Mui, and later married Leung Bok Chau. During the years to come, she used the principles of the style that she had learned from Ng Mui and commenced to improve and simplify the art. After refining the art significantly, Yim Wing Chun began to teach it to her husband. Leung Bok Chau was already rather adept in other styles of the martial arts. Impressed by Yim Wing Chun's knowledge and ability, he studied her style diligently and learned it quickly. Thus, although Ng Mui founded the art, it bears Yim Wing Chun's name owing to her improvements. Leung Bok Chau taught the style to his uncle Leung Lan Qui. Leung Lan Qui started Wong Wah Bo and Leung Ye Tai in their Wing Chun instruction Wong Wah Bo worked on the Red Boat, the Chinese Opera. Throughout the generations from Leung Bok Chau to Wong Wah Bo, the Wing Chun system was getting more streamlined. Leung Ye Tai was also a Chinese Opera member. Leung Ye Tai was a male actor who played female roles in the Opera. His Wing Chun was softer. It is also during the so-called "Red Boat Years" that weapons came into the system.
Wong Wah Bo taught Leung Ye Tai the the six-and-a-half point pole and Leung Ye Tai taught the butterfly swords to Wong Wah Bo. Leung Jan was an herbal doctor. He was taught by both Wong Wah Bo and Leung Ye Tai. Leung Jan was able to put the hard and soft elements back together. Leung Jan's taught Chan Wa Shun who was Yip Man's first teacher. Unfortunately Chan Wa Soon died at a young age and Yip Man did not finish his instruction. As a young man, Yip Man studied English at the St. Steven's Catholic School in Hong Kong. It was during this time that Yip Man met Leung Bik who was the son of Leung Jon. Yip Man challenged Leung Bik and was beaten. When Yip Man found out who Leung Bik was, Yip Man asked to become one of Leung Bik's students.
Grandmaster Yip Man is generally regarded as the father of modern day Wing Chun Kung Fu. He was born on October 14th 1893 in the Ching Dynasty (Kand Shoui - September 5th in the Chinese calendar) in Fut Shan town Kwong Tung province.
In July 1950, Grandmaster Yip Man started teaching in Dai Lam Street, Kowloon Hong Kong. The first Wing Chun Kung Fu class was for the Restaurant Workers Association. Later on he moved the school to Lee Tat Street, Yao Ma Tei in Kowloon where among his students there was Wong Shun Leung and Lee Siu Lung (Bruce Lee).
Yip Man’s Ving Tsun Athletic Association, was the first martial arts society to be officially registered with the Hong Kong government.Grandmaster Yip Man passed away at his home on Tung Choi Street on the 1st December 1972. The Wing Chun Legacy lives on.