The History and Style of Wing Chun Kung Fu

Why this discipline is the most popular style of southern kung fu

Bruce Lee

Wing Chun is said to be the world's most popular form of southern kung fu. The martial art is all about close quarters combat on your feet. The stage in a fight that comes before grappling, Wing Chun is designed to protect people on the street.

Also known as Ving Tsun and Wing Tsun, Wing Chun means "eternal spring." Learn more about its history and origins.

Wing Chun History and Origins

There is a long history of martial arts in China. And like all of the other styles, Wing Chun's history is somewhat shrouded in mystery. Documentation of the art began appearing during the era of Wing Chun master Leung Jan (1826-1901), but the legend about its origins comes from Bruce Lee's Wing Chun teacher, Yip Man.

After the Qing government destroyed Southern Shaolin and its temples, a Qing warlord offered to marry a woman named Yim Wing Chun, but she refused. The warlord agreed to stop pursuing her if she could beat him in a martial arts match. Wing Chun trained with a Buddhist nun named Ng Mui who taught her a nameless style of boxing. Her training helped Wing Chun defeat the warlord, and she eventually married Leung Bac-Chou. She taught her husband the style of fighting she'd learned, and he named it Wing Chun after her.

The time that the Wing Chun legend began to circulate is important. The fighting style was developed during the Shaolin and Ming resistance movements against the Qing Dynasty, so the abundance of stories regarding Wing Chun's creation may have been circulated to confuse the opposition.

Wing Chun Characteristics

Balance is important to all martial artists, but this is especially true for Wing Chun practitioners who pride themselves on never getting caught in a poor defensive posture. In addition, they keep their elbows close to the body and tend toward a high, narrow stance. In fact, their arms are kept in front of the vital areas of their centerline, an invisible line said to span the throat, nose, eyes, solar plexis, groin, etc.). All attacks begin from this stable, protective position.

Wing Chun practitioners are known for their ability to overwhelm opponents with rapid fire strikes and kicks, and the centerline plays a key role in how fighters position themselves for defense and where they tend to attack. Practitioners like to deliver simultaneous attacks, trap opponents and render them immobile. These characteristics are also a mainstay of Jeet Kune Do, the martial arts style of former Wing Chun practitioner Bruce Lee.

Wing Chun Practice and Training

Like most martial arts styles, Wing Chun students practice forms, which include solitary movements designed to protect against imaginary opponents. Breathing, meditation and fluidity of movement characterize these exercises.

San Sik means "separate forms." They are different from standard forms because they are compact in structure. They focus on building body structure through punching, standing, stepping and turning drills or arm cycles that coincide with interception, adaptation, sensitivity and combination techniques. 

Chi Sao refers to the practice of maintaining continuous contact with another student while performing Wing Chun techniques. It's a form of sensitivity training that builds instinct and allows one to counter quickly in close combat situations. It also includes rolling hands drills (Luk Sao) where practitioners roll their forearms against each other.

Generally, weapons training is done in weapons-based forms. Wing Chun practitioners traditionally use weapons like the long pole or butterfly knives.

Famous Wing Chun Practitioners

In addition to Bruce Lee and his teacher Yip Man, famous practitioners of Wing Chun include actor Robert Downey Jr. Downey, who has battled substance abuse, has reportedly used Wing Chun to help him through personal problems.