Editor’s Note: It’s rare when you get two martial arts legends to collaborate on a writing project. But that’s just what happened when Bruce Lee protégé Ted Wong and wing chun kung fu grandmaster William Cheung wrote the now-out-of-print book Wing Chun Kung Fu / Jeet Kune Do: A Comparison Vol. 1. In it, the two legends present their perspectives on the origins of their respective martial arts in an essay we’re proud to present in adapted form from the Black Belt archives.
Wing Chun History: The Origins of a Kung Fu Style
The origin of wing chun kung fu can be found in the turbulent, repressive Ching dynasty of more than 250 years ago. It was a time when 90 percent of the Chinese race, the Hons, were ruled by the 10 percent minority, the Manchus.
The Manchus placed a great amount of unjust law on the Hons. For instance, all the female Hon infants were made to bind their feet so that when they grew up, they would be dependent on their parents or husband.
The work opportunity of the Hons was also restricted. They were unable to hold office in government higher than a certain level. Heavy tax burdens were placed on the country so that the Manchus could have economic control of the Hon people.
Kung fu training was also banned for the Hons. However, the Manchu government was adopting the Hon culture. They respected the Shil Lim Temple as a Buddhist sanctuary.
How Revolution Was at the Core of Wing Chun History
When all weapons were outlawed by the Manchus, the Hons began training a revolutionary army in the secret art of kung fu. The Shil Lim Temple became the secret sanctuary for the preparatory training of the classic style, which took 15 to 20 years for each person to master.
To develop a new form — one which would have shorter training time — five of China’s grandmasters met to discuss the merits of each of the various forms of kung fu. By choosing the most efficient techniques from each style, they developed training programs that would develop an efficient martial artist in five to seven years — one third of the original time.
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Before the grandmasters’ new form could be put into practice, the Shil Lim Temple was raided and burned by the Manchus.
A nun named Ng Mui was the only survivor of the original five grandmasters. She passed her knowledge on to a young orphan girl whom she named Wing Chun.
The name represented “hope for the future.” In turn, she passed her knowledge on to her husband.
Through the years, the style became known as wing chun. Its techniques and teachings were passed on to a few carefully selected students.
William Cheung’s Role in Wing Chun History
To be continued in “Ted Wong and William Cheung on Wing Chun History and Jeet Kune Do Origins (Part 2).” Here’s a sneak peek!
Origins of Jeet Kune Do
Although Wing Chun Kung Fu / Jeet Kune Do: A Comparison Vol. 1 deals solely with wing chun and jeet kune do, it is advisable to research the whole spectrum of Bruce Lee’s martial art in the context of his life in general — from his beginnings in wing chun to his modifications with Jun Fan kung fu (or, as he called it, “gung fu”) to his own discovery of jeet kune do.
In order to fully understand jeet kune do, you must understand Bruce Lee. Bruce Lee’s martial arts journey began in Hong Kong, where he learned wing chun as a tireless youngster, practicing the direct and economical close-range techniques of that style every chance he got.
He trained diligently with his sifu, Yip Man, and seniors William Cheung and Wong Shun Leung. However, his training was cut short when, at age 18, his parents sent him to America to claim his United States citizenship.
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