When Cheung Ng (張五) was publicly active within the King Fa Wui Kwoon (瓊花會館, Beautiful Flower Society) during the 1730ís, he had many responsibilities to oversee. As the prominent mover and shaker there, he orchestrated all the happenings between the Beijing Opera plays, recruitment and training of members, and the political activities behind the scenes with the Hung Fa Wui (紅花會, Red Flower Society). Due to these circumstances, he was not able to devote his full undivided time and attention to teaching both tracks of Wing Chun Kuen (詠春拳). He did not teach kung fu for a profession or a lifestyle at this juncture. However, the first track of Wing Chun Siu Lien Tao was most suitable for the environment. While he focused on all the other operational tasks mentioned above, Cheung Ng is credited as the one who taught some of the Opera Society members the technique applications and preliminary concepts and principles of Wing Chun Kuen Siu Lien Tao in the early 1700's.
The government caught on to the politically charged, anti-Ching themed plays, and sought to reign in Cheung Ng. Unbeknownst to the government, Cheung Ng decisively concealed himself within the well established and powerful Chan family to evade government capture. This action, unfortunately, also meant the end of his involvement with the King Fa Wui Kwoon and the conclusion of his role with Opera Society Wing Chun. The King Fa Wui Kwoon however, did move on to become the Hung Suen Hei Baan (Red Boat Opera Troupe) approximately 120 years later.
The Chan family (陳氏世家) was well known to him on a personal level. They were in fact one of the foremost financial supporters of the King Fa Wui Kwoon and various anti-Ching parties. More than that, one of their family members was a sworn blood brother and best friend to Cheung Ng, named Chan Jing Lin (陳正年).
Protectors: The Chan family Era
Cheung Ng used this turn of events to teach his Wing Chun to Chan Jing Lin and other members of the Chan family in private. Cheung, having more time on his hands and more importantly privacy, was able to dive into the deeper layers of his Wing Chun with them over the following years. The Chanís were a financially powerful and rooted family in Southern China. They had great influence and pull in many sections of society due to being well educated, established, and cultured. They were soundly situated in time and resources, which enabled Cheung Ng to teach them Wing Chunís Two Track methodology in turn.
By using the second track of the Wing Chun system, Siu Nim Tao, Cheung Ng taught to them Wing Chunís core facets of Time Space and Energy plus the Heaven Human Earth Concepts along with the combat progressions and body training methods. Over the course of several generations, their accumulated knowledge of Wing Chun is found in todayís Hung Fa Yi Wing Chun Kuen. The following is a listing of the six classifications of Tien Yan Dei, describing combat in the language of the Time Space and Energy Concept.
Hung Fa Yi Wing Chun Pai
Saam Mo Kiu Tien Yan Dei Time Space Energy Formula
四門天人地法, Sei Mun Tien Yan Dei Faat
六門天人地法, Luk Mun Tien Yan Dei Faat
椿手天人地法, Jong Sao Tien Yan Dei Faat
子午穚天人地法, Gee Ng Kiu Tien Yan Dei Faat
乾坤椿天人地法, Kin Kuan Jong Tien Yan Dei Faat
三奌一線天人地法, Saam Dim Yat Seen Tien Yan Dei Faat
朱競雄 題, Written by Grandmaster Garrett Gee
According to the Hung Fa Yi Wing Chun Pai, there were three successions of Wing Chun within the Chan family era from the 1730ís to the 1850ís. Over the course of these approximated 120 years, the man to succeed Cheung Ng as the second generation was Chan Sai Yuan (陳世隱), the grandson of Chan Jing Lin. Chan Sai Yuan passed on the core knowledge to Chan Bo Jung (陳保中), his own son. By the mid 1800ís Chan Bo Jung taught it to his sister's son (his nephew), named Chu Tien Jow (朱天就). Chu Tien Jow is referred to as Hung Gun Biu (紅巾彪 ) or Chan Biu (陳彪) respectively via the Red Bandana Boxer Society, whose role in the passing of Wing Chun down to the fifth generation didnít take full shape until after the fall of the Boxer Uprising in the 1870ís.
Loyalty and Righteousness: The Red Bandana Boxer Society
The Hung Gun Wui Jung Yi Tong (紅巾會忠義堂, Red Bandana Society of the Loyalty and Righteous Hall) was a descendent society of the Hung Fa Wui from the previous century. For over 10 years Hung Gun Biu commanded the Hung Gun Boxers into many battles which occurred in the same time period of the Red Boat Opera Troupe. He taught his group the essential combat technique-oriented applications (Siu Lien Tao). In his case, however, he only referred to his method as Hung Fa Kuen (红花拳, Red Flower Fist). Time was at a precious premium, so his reason to train his troops in the Siu Lien Tao track was on point. Get his fighters trained quickly and adaptively for each incursion.
Comparable to Cheung Ngís time with the Hung Fa Wui, Hung Gun Biuís priorities were focused on anti-government activities via the Hung Gun Wui Jung Yi Tong. Hung Gun Biu led the final battle for the Hung Gun Boxers from 1862 Ė 1874, and upon the collapse of the revolution he retired his command in 1874. Remaining anonymous to the public in his retirement, he then resumed the tradition of directly teaching (口傳身授, Hau Cyun San Sao) the core system of Hung Fa Yi Wing Chun Kuen privately within the Chan family.
His role as the fourth generation protector of the art was to pass on the complete knowledge of Wing Chun to a worthy successor who would preserve the unchangeable nature of the Siu Nim Tao and all that comes with it. So, with the Boxer Uprising at its end, he devoted his life to the passing of the entire art as preserved by the Chan family. Both approaches were protected and maintained behind the walls of the Chan House during these times. Hung Gun Biu was succeeded by his family relative and fellow member of the Hung Gun Boxer Society, Cheung Gung (張弓).
Descendents of the Red Boat Opera Troupe
There are many identifiable events that can be pinpointed in Wing Chunís history where two-track approaches were deemed appropriate for transmission. It is said that on the Red Boat Operas, Wong Wah Bo (黃華寶) taught the ďmaleĒ version of Wing Chun, and his sidai Leung Yi Tai (梁二娣) taught the ďfemaleĒ version of it. Leung Jan (梁贊) for example, learned from both of them. He eventually designed several variations of his own Wing Chun according to the needs of his pupils.
During his time in Foshan he taught Chan Wah Shun (陳華順) a squared up approach to Wing Chun. He also taught his own son Leung Bik (梁壁) differently from Chan Wah Shun. When Leung Jan retired in his native town of Kulo Village he taught San Sao applications, and he also taught a side bodied approach called Pin Sun Wing Chun to Wang Wah Saam (王華三) who requested to be his student. All different iterations of Wing Chun, but Leung Jan tailored it to each student according to their body type, circumstances, and his own personal judgment as their Sifu.
Ip Man (葉繼問), who is arguably the most famous Wing Chun master to date, also learned from two Wing Chun masters. First he learned from Chan Wah Shun in Foshan at a young age, and afterwards from Leung Bik upon moving to Hong Kong. The story was that upon meeting Leung Bik, unknown to Ip Man at the time, Leung asked Ip Man to demonstrate his Wing Chun and Ip Man was unable to penetrate the older manís defenses. He eventually learned that Leung Bik was his kung fu uncle (sibak), and became his student. Thanks to Leung Jan and the popularity of Ip Man and his todai, many people are experiencing Wing Chun on a global scale today!
There are many different groups of Wing Chun, as this article only mentions a few. The reality of the Siu Lien Tao combat technique-oriented track of Wing Chun is it is highly subject to continual change with each person adapting it for the next person. The Siu Nim Tao track is the exact opposite making it unchangeable yet all the more demanding on its preservation in the name of its core principles for Maximum Efficiency.
Based upon Wing Chunís two track approach to learning, we can see many examples of its trickledown effect on both public and private sides from the 1850ís onward. Hence this is precisely why we all can see similarities and differences among the various groups of today and the past. Between the Red Boat Opera Troupe/Society and the Red Bandana Boxer Society to Cheung Ng, we can identify the imprint of the Two Track Approach of Wing Chun. Siu Lien Tao and Siu Nim Tao are really two sides of the same coin!
Common and Unique Factors among the Wing Chun clans
If we were to observe the journey of the Wing Chun art in reverse over the last three centuries, what would we expect, or not expect, to find? What are the answers we seek? Before the 1850ís less than a handful of people knew about Wing Chun. At the 1850 era mark, we see at least two factions of Wing Chun (Red Boat Opera Troupe and Red Bandana Boxer Society) indicating that Wing Chun began to change. Wing Chun was not created in the 1850ís, but it may seem like an Event Horizon. There is a history beyond the shroud of the 1850ís, and this article puts the spotlight in that direction towards the Chan family line and Cheung Ng of the Red Flower Society.
Through Cheung Ngís public contributions with the King Fa Wui Kwoon and to the Red Boat Opera Society, and his private teachings of Wing Chun to the Chan family down to the Hung Gun Boxer Society, there is much to consider and discover regarding our familiar Wing Chun heritage. This one figure is the common ancestor we can point to as to why there are similarities and differences in todayís variety of Wing Chun clans. There are innumerable examples that could be pointed out where similarities are shared and uniqueness abound.
For instance, almost all Wing Chun has Siu Nim Tau, Chum Kiu, Biu Gee, Wooden Dummy, Butterfly Swords, and Long Pole. There are various ways to perform each of those things. Another example is the Wing Chun Bong Sao (膀手) technique. Some utilize a straight wrist and others use a bent wrist. All Wing Chun having Bong Sao is considered a similarity. How Bong Sao is utilized would be considered part of the differences.
In the third section of the Hung Fa Yi Wing Chun Siu Nim Tao form, both variants exist and both are considered true based on their definitions within the core system principles and concepts. The straight wrist variant is called Ying Bong Sao (鷹膀手, Eagle Wing Arm) which is designed for the vertical dimension of space, and the bent wrist variant is called Hok Bong Sao (鶴膀手, Crane Wing Arm) which is designed for the horizontal dimension of space. A third Bong Sao also exists which some would consider Laan Sao (攔手, Barring Arm) but is classified as a Bong Sao category based on HFYís Saam Mo Kiu Wheel of Time and Space Chi Sao Progression Method technology.
All three techniques have their basis for usage in consideration for range, spatial dimension, energy type, and strategy and tactic. The fusion of these factors comes into the reality of combat. Each one serves its own unique purpose, which defines it and separates it from the others, yet all three belong to Ė and are connected by - the foundation of Wing Chun Siu Nim Taoís technical details.
As we reflect on the journey that Wing Chun has traveled over the last three centuries, we know it has taken many forms and influenced the lives and directions of millions of people worldwide. Yet, the further back we go in history things come down to one common source. There are priceless facets to the art of Wing Chun. May this information provide our great community further insight into the history of Wing Chunís past. May it raise questions and offer things to contemplate. How did so much diversity come out of Wing Chun? Why are there differences? Why are there similarities, some deep and some surface level? At what point in history did certain things happen? There are many questions to answer and discover for each and every one of us.
Every branch of Wing Chun has its place in history, has left its imprint on our hearts, and all have so much to offer the world today. There is incredible history at every turn of Wing Chunís journey through the centuries. There are great things to uncover (and most importantly share) about the dots we connect from Wing Chunís past. As our generation moves forward with Wing Chun Kuen into the future, let us do so with a clearer understanding of our wonderful history and culture and as stewards of this great art.
Final Note: A Beacon for the Next Generation
The Kung Fu Tong Research Team was founded by Grandmaster Garrett Gee. It serves to recognize the genuine persons among the world for their selfless acts of compassion, commitment, and contributions, toward others. In addition, the Kung Fu Tong exists for the community in an effort to offer and share their research/findings in all areas of history, philosophy, culture, and martial arts. By aiding in the preservation and promotion of artifacts such as writings and videos related to the documentation and preservation of all martial arts, the Kung Fu Tong aims to help in the improvement and enrichment of the world around us. It is the goal of the Kung Fu Tong to help spread and promote positivity inside and beyond the kung fu community.