Much of Wing Chun‘s ancient history is a legend, heavily embellished for political reasons, and thus cannot be proven. There are numerous versions of its history. Much of the documentation that might have existed was destroyed in the Shaolin temple fire or during the Cultural Revolution. As a result, ‘evidence’ is frequently constructed from hearsay and cannot always be considered reliable. Yip Man’s movements throughout his life are well documented in the book “Grandmaster Yip Man Centenary Birth” by his eldest son Ip Chun (1993).
The Shaolin temples have played an essential role in developing secret societies such as the Triads, White Lotus, Eight Trigrams, and Boxers, as well as teaching kung fu. The first Shaolin temple was built around AD in Honan province. The Emperor Hsiao Wen of the Northern Wei dynasty established it in 495. Shaolin was a significant figure in the spread of Buddhism in the East. The main temple is located at the base of Songshan, also known as the Central Mountain. The temple was built for an Indian monk named Batuo, also known as Fo Tuo in Chinese. His statue is frequently found in Chinese Buddhist monasteries as a prominent, friendly monk. Later in the sixth century AD, another Indian monk, Bodhidharma, also known as Ta Mo in Chinese, visited the Shaolin temple and taught the monks meditation techniques. His teachings established a new school of Buddhism known as Ch’an in China and Zen in Japan. Ta Mo taught the monks breathing techniques and exercises that are thought to have been the beginning of martial arts to help them overcome fatigue during long periods of meditation.
The temple housed around 1500 monks at its peak, around 1300 years ago, 500 of whom were skilled in combat. When Emperor Tai Tsung was in danger, he asked the temple to train a small force of fighting monks on which he could rely. The grateful emperor tried to persuade these monks to work as full-time bodyguards at his court. However, they refused, claiming their responsibility was to protect the Shaolin temple and the monks who lived there. Around 1000 years later, another emperor sought assistance from the temple. In 1674, 128 monks led by Cheng Kwan-Tat, a former Ming partisan, went to the aid of Ching Emperor K’ang-Hsi. Cheng had previously fought the Manchu Emperors before retiring to a temple to study. The fighting monks were invaluable to the Emperor. However, after the battle, they, too, declined the opportunity to work full-time for the Emperor, preferring to return to the temple. The Emperor was convinced that being turned down in this manner was an insult, so he dispatched an army led by a renegade monk, Ma Ning Yee, to attack the monastery. Only a few monks survived the attack, and the temple was destroyed. Five remaining monks set out to create new and improved fighting systems.
To sum it up, the origins of Wing Chun Quan can be traced back to the Shaolin Temple, which was developed by Buddhist nun Ng Mui, a Shaolin master. The nun created this system in response to Shaolin Quan’s weakness for female practitioners. Ng Mui’s first student was Yin Wing Chun, which became the system’s name. There are numerous theories surrounding the style’s name. Yan Sanniang, according to one theory, was the first to spread this system in Yong Chun County. As a result, the name is derived from the county, hence Yong Chun Quan’s (Wing Chun Boxing). According to legend, this system was developed by five masters and later taught to one disciple named Yan Wing Chun, hence the name Wing Chun.