History (The New Exploration)

Article written by : Sifu Wayne Yung

” History is often replaced by legends , our teachers passes old stories to us as a true history and those stories are often taken for granted , just because Sifu told us .Often times “history” of particular style begins with a story where some god or ancestor passed the system to the founder in a dream. Sometimes there is a research conducted and examination of the artifacts and written sources leads to some old (often unknown)  hermit who lived in a mountain. The question is ,will we insist in believing impossible or improbable things or will we make an effort search for the true historical facts ?」

Abbot Chi Sin and Southern Shaolin

Snake Crane Wing Chun family historical records hold the Abbot of  Southern Shaolin monastery Chi Sin and a nun Ng Mui as their founders. They developed the shorter bridge and smaller stance system to deal with long bridge and wider horse stance system of Ma Ling Yee , a traitor who assisted the Qing government in destruction of Southern Shaolin Temple. Coincidentally, many southern systems also trace their origin to Abbot Chi Sin and Southern Shaolin as their source. The question is, with so many southern systems with distinctive flavors and differences that exist today, did Abbot Chi Sin had time to create so many different systems? Moreover ,different systems place Chi Sin in different  time periods , so , the other question is , how long did he lived and is it possible that he lived couple hundred years? There are even more important questions like, did the Southern Shaolin really existed? Moreover, why create a completely new martial arts system to solely  deal with one person, traitor Ma Ling Yee?

There were a lot of efforts to prove historical accuracy of burning the Southern Shaolin by Qing government. Furthermore, martial arts historians put a lot of effort in proving existence of Southern Shaolin monastery but to this day , without any success. Latest researches discovered that Southern Shaolin story has its roots in real historical events but the temple its self never existed and actual burning happened  in 1855.  Events which led to Southern Shaolin story creation are closely connected with Taiping uprising and “Dachen Kingdom” in Guan Xi. Red Boat opera troupe from Gunagdong province , led by Lee Man Mao ,joined the rebellion and established a headquarters  in “Fine Jade Hall” in Foshan.  Qing government ordered destruction of Fall Jade Hall as base for Anti Qing supporters and soon after Opera was prohibited in that area for more than a decade.  After rebellion was crushed, rebels who survived and who were mostly opera actors scattered all over Guangdong . A lot of them found a refugee in Foshan. Since opera was banned and it was not safe to talk openly about these events, story about Southern Shaolin burning emerged containing all key elements of the real events. There was one more purpose of this story, to give a sense of unity and common origin for different anti Qing fractions who still operated at the time.

Term “Chi Sin” , it came from Confucius teachings and represents a state  of absolute kindness. As for a person with such a name really existed we do not have proof

History from the perspective of Snake Crane Wing Chun

There are different versions of Wing Chun history today, however, none of them have any mention of  Red Boats and Lee Man Mau involvement Taiping rebellion. There is one very interesting question, how Wong Wah Bo, Leung Yee Tai and Leung Jan were able to practice the art openly after the Opera ban and prosecution of opera members who were involved in Taiping rebellion .The only conclusion , supported with available documents and other historical sources , Wong Wah Bo , Leung Yee Tai and Leung Jan were never took a part in the rebellion , that is the reason why they could practice their art openly , without any fear of prosecution.

On the other hand, lineages whose ancestors took a part in the rebellion and anti Qing activities ,like  Ban Chung Wing Chun and Snake Crane Wing Chun kept low profile over the last hundred years. Due to the low profile, these arts were passed down only to family members and stayed unchanged , still keeping all the characteristic of the classic martial style form Red boat period.

Also origin of Wing Chun 3 empty hands  sets and  connection to the old rivalry between Wing Chun and Choy Lay Fut is still remained unknown to the public. Earlier in 2007 New Martial Hero published an article written by Mr Liu Kwong Wah about butterfly swords has some interesting points regarding the questions  mentioned above .

All unanswered questions regarding Wing Chun history brought me to my personal quest for facts. Following  historical analysis contains data from, Snake Crane Wing Chun 3rd generation successor, Law Tiu Wen’s (1890) writings and also data and analysis from different  sources like Yuen Kay Shan Wing Chun and GuangZhou Wing Chun  which are for references and further studies.

Snake Crane Wing Chun Successor Lineage Chart

Chi Sin (1st) – Sun Kam (2nd) – Law Tiu Wen (3rd) –Law Ting Chau (4th) – Law Chiu Wing(5th)

In 1855, the Qing Government burned the Fine Jade Hall and banned  Red boat troupes. Yik Kam, Red Boat actor and  Ban Chung Wing Chun founder who was associated with Lee Man Mau and his Dacheng Kingdom which was situated in GuangXi was still practicing the one long  ,108 movements ,Siu Lim Tau set , also known as Snake Crane Fist. He found a refuge in Poon Yu village , not taking any other involvement  in anti dynastic activities and Ban Chung Wing Chun preserved this long Siu Nim Tao set to this day .Why there was a need to break one long set into three empty hands sets found in  most Wing Chun styles today? The reason for  splitting was a need for immediate application of the skills. The splitting should happened  after 1855 but not after 1860. How do we know this ?According to the Snake Crane Wing Chun notes(1890) written by Law Tiu Wen, the 3rd generation successor  we can roughly  calculate span of one  generation is around  30 years. If we know that first generation had one long Siu Nim Tao set and  Law Tiu Wen, the 3rd generation had 3 empty hands sets ,the split of the long SNT set happened  during 2nd generation period .  is approximately 1890-30 =1860.

Qing Government bribing Taiping Leaders

Most of the Southern Fist system has the similarities of being originated from Southern Shaolin and Abbot Chi Sin. From the Snake Crane Wing Chun Siu Lim Tau Song last verse has a significant meaning: 「Snake Crane (Fist) can subdue the traitors」. This shows that the Snake Crane Wing Chun was created to deal with Ma Ling Yee who specializes in using wider stance and longer bridge. However the questions is with why it was necessary  to create Snake Crane Wing Chun system with smaller stance and shorter bridge. It is believed that Abbot Chi Sin or Nun Ng Mui were sufficient to handle the traitor Ma Ling Yee. Therefore, “Ma Ling Yee” is not a only one person but a group of traitors who are specializes in using wider stance and longer bridge.

After First Opium War . Choy Lee Fat Chen Heng with his disciples returned home, put forward “YeeWuKeungJok” slogan, and  recruited numerous disciples who had excellent training. Two years later, more than a hundred men and women disciples are sent all across southern China and opened forty-four Choy Lee Fat ‘HungShingMartialHall “in various parts of Guangdong, Guangxi. After the peasant movement broke out, Choy Lee Fa became the main military art of the Tai Ping Heavenly Kingdom forces.

After the Taiping Kingdom established its capital in Nanking, the momentum of the movement went nationwide. During those times they have encountered a lot internal conflicts and different points of view. Thus, there were generals who will be bribed

and went over to the Qing Government. In 1854, the attack of the City of GuangZhou led by Lee Man Mau, the Red Boat troupe with the Taiping Army, and established Dacheng Kingdom in GuanXi in 1855, enraged the Qing Government. The Qing Viceroy Yip Ming Sum led the Qing Army ,burned the Fine Jade hall and the Red boats. The Survivors of the Red boat troupes and Anti Qing fighters were scattered. Most fled to Foshan for hiding. The traitors who had become members of Qing army, also resided in the same area. Canton opera theaters were banned for fifteen years. In order to seek revenge against the traitors, the evolution of one long set splitting to three sets was developed to shorten the time for training so that Foshan can be a stronghold for confrontation.

Why single form set system split to three forms set system.

Grandmaster Cheng Heng and his students from Choy Lee Fut were the trainers of the TaiPing Heavenly Kingdom army. As the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom grew bigger, the Qing government bribed and recruited many officials from the Taiping Army.

Wing Chun evolved from the single long set which is non-open teaching and the way of fighting not being well known, to three sets for the purpose of quick training. The Single Set needs a longer time to learn and to handle .This is because it is based on ancient Chinese internal development as prerequisite thus it was separated into three sets to focus on the applications and it was easier to learn and handled in a short period of time. With the focus in applications, the three forms set system could train good anti-Qing fighters within a short time to deal with the traitors, by using the close contact fighting from the centerline to deal with the long range fighting from the side attack. And this is what it means by 「Snake Crane Fist can subdue the Traitor」 as the combat strategy of non-open teaching of Snake Crane Fist is using capturing the center line and close quarters concept against wide stance and long range bridge distance combat

Snake Crane Wing Chun Lim Tau Song

  1. White crane plays around with water, and the snake returns the hole.

2. Flying snake rotates the head in nine ways to represent the palm techniques

3. Snake and crane show off their best techniques and strength.

4. Crane feet step three times and the crane’s wing flips in four ways.

5. White crane folds the wings and flies to the sky.

6. Snake Crane is able to overcome the Southern Shaolin traitor (Ma Ling Yee 馬寧兒)

Study on Yuen Kay Shan lineage

Yuen Kay Shan Wing Chun, GuangZhou Wing Chun and Snake Crane Wing Chun

have many similarities in the empty hand forms. Coincidentally the handling of the six and a half Pole is on the pole head instead of the pole end. In Snake Crane Wing Chun, the pole is originated from the paddle shaft(scull). They handle the pole head like in padding with the shaft. In Twin Knives form the names of the movements have a lot of similarities. There are a lot of other similarities which actually have the same meaning ,small differences occurred due to different accents used in old times.

GuangZhou Wing Chun is also known as Snake Crane Wing Chun, Yuen Kay Shan or Sum Nun Wing Chun. Wikipedia, today, also confirms information about that. GuangZhou Wing Chun came from Sum Nun, Sum Nun was taught by Yuen Kay Shan, Yuen Kay Shan was in turn taught by Fok Bo Chuen, Fok Bo Chuen was taught by Law Man Kung. If Yuen Kay Shan Wing Chun was commonly called Snake Crane Wing Chun today, we can trace it back to the period of Fok Bo Chuen and Law Man Kung of which the Wing Chun name is also called 『Snake Crane Wing Chun』. There is high possibility that Yuen Kay Shan Wing Chun and Snake Crane Wing Chun are sister lineages.

During the period of the split of the Siu Lim Tau form, Law Man Kung has the nickname “God”s Boxer” while Fok Bo Chuen has nickname Double Knives. So during Fok Bo Chuen’s time double knives were appeared in Wig Chun system. In Year 1853, Canton Hung Mun members were operating in Shanghai in a grop known Small Knives clan. They were planning a uprising in GuangZhou in 1854. The Twin knives are believed to be derived from Shanghai Small knives clan as the knives are  identical to wing chun knives.

Leung Lan Kwai (one spilt to three sets) is first generation, from Yuen Kay Shan lineage, 2nd generation is Law Man Kung (God』s Boxer) , 3rd Generation is Fok Bo Chuen ( twin knives) while Sun Kam, who might appear in history around 1870s who practiced Weng Chun Kuen and his student is Fung Siu Ching, who plaied  WuSheng role in Chinese Opera. Therefore, Snake Crane Wing Chun second generation should be  Law Man Kung and not Sun Kam. The first generation should be  Leung Lan Kwai and not Chi Sin.

Traditional Succession without Full Transmission

In the past tradition of succession, the master always hold back certain information. At what instance will the master fully transmit the full information to the next successor? Usually it will be someone who is family related or next of kin. Law Tiu Wen and Law Man Kung  were  family related. Not only they have same family name but Snake Crane wing chun have some elements which cannot be found in any other wck system.
Snake Crane Wing Chun Mun secret note was written in the Sixteenyears GuangXu (1890) and consists  Kuen Kuits and words for the three forms, twin knives and the pole. The qigong part was hidden in the opening movements of the three sets : 『White crane plays around with water and the snake returns back to the hole』 & 『Flying snake rotates its head in nine ways to represent the palm techniques』

Denominating Wing Chun

According to the history of Snake Crane Wing Chun lineage,  name 『詠春 Wing Chun』 was derived from the last characters of the its governing couplets 「永行忠義堪 歌詠 言出九鼎志更春」. 『Wing Chun』 means to sing for a new beginning and it was split from the one long set form(Snake Crane Fist evolution). Therefore, it names “Snake Crane Wing Chun」. These couplets「永行忠義堪歌詠 言出九鼎 志更春」 was also recognized by Taiwan’s Han Lau organization(Hung Mun) containing Fanqing Fuming consciousness.

Snake Crane Wing Chun governing couplets


「永行忠義堪歌詠    言出九鼎志更春」

Snake Crane Wing Chun governing rules


「愛國聆師訓    扶傾濟弱貧    技不傳夷狄    不作江湖人

虛谷懷至善    武德自芬芳    離訓神人滅    斯人非我群」

The Snake Crane Wing Chun Mun governing rules were believed to set during last stages of Taiping Kingdom, post Red boat age, a secret code used between the Anti Qing rebel groups

1864 The fall of Taiping Kingdom, Canton ban of opera 15 years, the performances lost their livelihood. In 1870 Opera group in Canton re-operated under the control of Qing Government. However there was no mention of Taiping Kingdom and Red boat incident during supervision. After which it was followed by establishment of the Eight Harmony Hall. Two more generations later, this part of Wing Chun history was forgotten.


After 1855 the burning of the Fine Jade Hall and Red Boat with Canton opera was banned  for 15 years. Red boat and Anti Qing fighters were forced into hiding. Due to the fall that was cause by the traitors, the Red boat survivors and the Anti-Qing fighters plotted for the revenge. The majority of the martial styles  of southern fist were using wide stance and long bridge distance fighting. Non-open teaching Snake Crane Fist Siu Lin Tau was having smaller stance and close quarters fighting. One long set Siu Lin Tau was separated into three sets after 1855 by Leung Lan Kwai (1st Gen) to mke the system easier to learn and oractice. This was passed down to Law Man Kung (2nd Gen) for dealing with Traitors who  traied  Fok Bo Chuen (3rd Gen) as one of the executioners for vengeance. When the Taiping Kingdom fell, Snake Crane Wing Chun hid itself from the public and was passed on to the Law Family, while Fok Bo Chuen was invited by the Yuen Family to teach the Yuen brothers which became todays Yuen Kay Shan Wing Chun and GuangZhou Wing Chun.

At the time of opera ban Wing Chun was propagated by Wong Wah Bo and Leung Yee Tai openly as they did not participate in the uprising. They inherited the one set and three set Wing Chun Systems from Leung Lan Kwai and they passed on to Leung Jan. Ban Chun Wing Chun and Snake Crane Wing Chun due to their participation in the uprising became secluded and the art was passed only to the family and privately for until Twenty First Century before opening up to the public.