Origins -The legend of Bodhidharma
There are numerous legends and myths about the origins of Wing Tsjun.
The fact is that because of the lack of scientific evidence, it has always been really hard to track down the people and their contribution to the style at a certain point in time.
Let's have a look at the bigger picture now. The creator of all chinese martial arts and the founder of the Chinese Zen Buddhism is thought to be the Indian monk Bodhidharma (440-528). He is also thought to be at the origin of ,,Siu Lam Kung-Fu" (Shaolin Kung Fu). Bodhidharma was born in Kanchpuram and he trained in the art of "Kuttu Varisai". 480 AD he left his country to travel to China, where he settled down by year 523 in the northern province of Henan. He studied at the famous Shaolin Monastery and it is there that he is said to have laid down the core principals of certain Chinese martial arts, although there is no actual evidence left.
Myth and Reality-The Destruction of the Monastery
According to a more popular legend, the Wing Tsjun style was created in a Southern Shaolin Monastery that doesn't exist anymore. It is said that a nun called Ng Mui used to live there during the Qing Dynasty (1662-1722).
Mg Mui was a master in many martial arts and she was searching for a style that would enable women, who during the Civil War were often victims of abuse and violence, to protect themselves against the physically stronger male attackers. She was also looking for a way to fight against practitioners of the Shaolin style that was very strong and popular at the time. The Shaolin monks were very famous during the Qing Dynasty and because of their raising influence the Emperor Kangxi started worrying about his power and decided to burn down the monastery and kill everyone in it.
His plan didn't succeed because the monks were able to fight off his henchmen.
The legend continues with the story of betrayal of the monastery from inside, by a clerk called Chan Man Wai, who driven by the desire to get a name for himself, together with Ma Ning Yee and others, set fire to it and killed almost all its inhabitants.
Ng Mui, the abbot, Master Chi Sim and most of the students, Master Pak Mei, Master Fung To Tak and Master Mui Hin, managed to survive. They were the leaders of the five Shaolin Styles and were also called "The Five Elders".
The authenticity of this story is still to be argued. According to evidence from a calligraphy piece of that time, Kangxi was a supporter of the northern Shaolin monastery.
The Nun and her female student
After the monastery was destroyed, the survivors had to split in order to avoid capture and persecution. Master Chi Sim hid his identity and started working as a chef on a "Red Boat". "Red Boat" was the name given to the transport boats for opera groups because they were normally painted in red and decorated with colorful flags.
The nun Ng Mui settled at the Temple of the White Crane, by the mountain Tai Leung, where she was able to continue practicing her martial arts. In the neighbour village, she met a girl called Yim Wing Tsjun and her father Yim Lee, as they were selling tofu at the market. Both of them had to run away from home in the province of Kwantung because of the father's dangerous involvement in a court case (presumably innocent).
According to legend, the style owes its name to the girl Yim Wing Tsjun.
The young Yim Wing Tsjun attracted the attention of a well-known trouble maker in the village called Wong who proposed to her, even though she had been promised since her childhood to the salt trader Leung Bok Chau from the province Fujian. Wong sent someone to give her an ultimatum and threaten her and her father with violence if they didn't obey.
Being their regular customer, Ng Mui noticed that they looked very worried and concerned until, one day, Yim Wing Tsjun confessed to her about their problems with Wong.
She decided to help them but because she couldn't afford to disclose her identity by challenging Wong to a fight herself, she brought Yim Wing Tsjun to her style.
In only three years of private teaching, Yim Wing Tsjun had managed to master the new style of martial arts and left the Temple of the White Crane to go back to her father. As soon as she returned, Wong threatened her again, but this time she challenged him to a fight.
He was so sure of victory and ended up being very surprised and disappointed as she put him down to the ground straight away. Yim Wing Tsjun continued her training with her master Ng Mui and later married Leung Bok Chau. In the following years, she worked on refining and simplifying the principles of the art. Due to her contribution to the style, the name originated from her, even though it was Ng Mui who created it.
After significant improvements to the style Yim Wing Tsjun taught it to her husband.
Leung Bok Chau had previous knowledge from different martial arts, so it was easy for him to learn the new style. He was very impressed by his wife's skills and knowledge and learnt the style quickly but with care.
Also Leung Bok Chau delivered the style further to his uncle Leung Lan Kwai. Unfortunately there isn't much evidence about Leung Lan Kwai`s contribution to the style.
According to some sources, he was thought to be a scholar from Guangzhou, others describe him as an osteopath from Foshan or Zhaoging.
Leung Lan Kwai brought the style to the theater boats. He was thought to be either part of the crew, or just a good friend of several of the actors. Unfortunately there are hardly any mentions of him in the stories and fables of that time, which makes his existence very doubtful.
The legend says that Leung Lan Kwai started teaching Wong Wah Bo and Leung Yee Tai, but in reality it was Leung Bok Chau who actually taught them.
Wong Wah Bo worked as a rower on one of the opera ships. Legend states that he was very strong and fit. He met the actor Leung Yee Tai on the ships, who was a member of the opera crew and very often played female roles. One of Leung's chores on the boat was to push it away from the shore by using a long pole. He would also use his long pole for practicing martial arts. Wong was fascinated by his colleague's skills and Leung Yee Tai also admired Wong. They decided to exchange knowledge. Leung Yee Tai taught Wong Wah Bo the "Lok Dim Poon Kwun" (six and a half point long pole techniques) and in exchange got taught the "Bart Cham Dao" (eight ways of the cutting butterfly knives) and the empty handed fighting.
Together they worked to improve the style and modified the long pole techniques according to the principles of Wing Tsjun, in order to make them more efficient.
So during this so called "Red Junk Period" weapons were added to the style. The next people who learnt the style from the two masters also brought it from the boats to land.
Doctor Leung Jan (1826-1901) was a herbal doctor and pharmacist. He understood that the soft and the hard elements of Wing Tsjun needed put together and practiced in harmony. He started practicing Wing Tsjun with the opera members in the 1840s. The assumption is that while Leung Jan was helping out on the red Junks, he received tuition from Leung Yee Tai. This possibly happened between 1840 and 1850.
After the death of his father, Leung Jan had to go back and run his pharmacy. He continued his study of Wing Tsjun under Wong Wa Bo's guidance. It was in this period that he, together with Wong Wa Bo developed the three empty handed forms that were meant to help in delivering the style.
Leung Jan earned himself the title "Wing Tsjun Kung Fu Wong" or "The King of Wing Tsjun Kung Fu" after he had defeated over 300 challengers. He was the first to defeat, with his Wing Tsjun, fighters from different martial arts.
Chan Wa Shun, also known as Wah the money changer (1836-1909) is the next character important to the lineage. He was Dr. Leung Jan's student and today best known as Yip Man's teacher, who in turn is known to be Bruce Lee's teacher. Chan's money changing shop was right next to Leung Jan's pharmacy. Over the years, his business had flourished and he acquired a lot of wealth and influence. He as well had some experience in martial arts before he started training in Wing Tsjun.
At that time, Leung Jan was having a few private students, including his sons, Leung Chun and Leung Bik and the so-called "Wooden Man Wah".
Chan Wa Shun learned not only the martial art from his Si-Fu Dr. Leung Jan, but also the art of healing. Thus, he ended up closing up his money changing business and opened up a clinic.
Grandmaster Yip Man
Yip Man (1893-1972) was the last student that Chan Wa Shun accepted as he was 70 years of age already. After his death three years later, Chan's student Ng Chung Sok took over teaching the young Yip Man. During his time as a student at the St. Steven's Catholic School in Hong Kong, he met Leung Bik, one of Leung Jan's sons. There are lots of stories about this meeting. The most popular one says that Leung entered into a fight with Yip without disclosing his identity to him. Yip was defeated and asked Leung to become his teacher, even though he didn't know who he was.
After completing his studies in Hong Kong Yip Man went back to China, where he worked as a police officer and taught the Police forces in close-combat.
During this time he killed someone while on duty and had to run away from retaliation of the communist regime back to Hong Kong, where he started earning a living by teaching Wing Tsjun.
Through his old friend, the Hung Sang Choi Lay Fut teacher Chung Choui he obtained a training hall and there he met Leung Sheung (1918-1978), who was Cheung Choui's student at the time. He challenged Yip Man to a friendly fight and got defeated, after which he asked him if he could become his first student. Yip Man accepted and after that him and two of Leung Sheung's acquaintances, Lok Liu and Tsui Sheung Tin formed Yip Man's first Wing Tsjun class in Hong Kong.
It is very difficult now to say how many students Yip Man had over the years. The most famous though was the actor Bruce Lee / Lee Jun Fun (1940-1973), who left Hong Kong at the age of 18 and ended up making a huge career as an actor in the US.
Leung Ting (1947- today) is Yip Man's last student. Allegedly he was also taught by Leung Sheung but he withdrew that during a press conference. Leung Ting started learning Wing Tsjun at the age of 13. His form of Wing Tsjun is very different from all other Yip Man's students. That could be explained by the fact that he was taught by him as GM Yip was very old and ill and no longer able to apply techniques with force and therefore use softness and sensitivity. A lot of this is just speculation though.
Leung Ting is the Head of IWTA (International Wing Tsjun Association), the biggest WT organization nowadays with schools all over the world.
He lives in Hong Kong and teaches internationally.
Dai-Sifu Boehlig with GM Leung Ting &
GM Keith R. Kernspecht
Dai-Sifu Boehlig with
Keith Ronald Kernspecht (1949- today) is Leung Ting's highest student and his representative in Europe. He has brought a significant contribution to the spreading and developing of WT worldwide and he now runs the European arm of IWTA in Germany. His organization EWTO has lots of students in Europe and used to have its headquarters at the Langenzell Castle in Wiesenbach by Heidelberg.
Kernspecht was the one who brought the chinese art from Hong Kong to Germany in 1976 and with this to the rest of the world.
Keith R. Kernspecht was Thommy L. Boehlig's first Si-Fu. From 1991 until 2005 Boehlig trained under the EWTO. He became a 4th level teacher, received the prestigious Si-Fu title of honor and the nomination as the National head instructor for Scotland. Boehlig completed the empty handed program under Kernspecht and trained in the long pole program before he chose to leave the EWTO and begin a new relationship with Allan W. Fong.
Allan Wai Fong / Fong Wai Hung (1951- today) was one of Leung Ting's students in Hong Kong. In the 1980's he left Hong Kong as a 6th Master Level and moved to the USA. There he split from IWTA and had a few attempts to open schools. In 2005 he decided to start a co-operation with Thommy Luke Boehlig and together they founded the organization called Wing Tsjun International. Boehlig learned from him the double knives and Fong obtained information on the empty handed Wing Tsjun from Boehlig. They ran the organisation together until 2006 when Allan Fong recognized Boehlig as Dai-Sifu, which made him independent.
Thommy Luke Boehlig is the Head of Wing Tsjun International and the founder of Boehlig Defence Systems. An exhaustive biography can be viewed here.
Dai-Sifu Boehlig with Sigung Allan Fong