For all the recognition, impact, and legacy to be found in the martial art of Wing Chun, one of the more startling aspects to the system is the persistence of the myth of the system’s founding with the interaction between the famous martial arts nun, Ng Mui, and a young girl, Yim Wing Chun. While this legend is very romantic and startling, the fact is there is no documentation of the existence of Ng Mui or Yim Wing Chun as historical figures, but these names can be found as terms for aspects of the system’s technical training in several lineages.
While proof of the oral legends is somewhat lacking to date, there is plenty of information on the evolution of the art we call Wing Chun, which we present today through seven distinct phases of the system’s growth:
- Shaolin Era (520 to 1644) when the system was initially developed as a vehicle for cultivating Chan Buddhism, health/fitness/healing, and self-defense skills.
- Secret Society Era (1644 to late 1600s) when the system left Shaolin and entered the anti-Qing secret societies.
- Opera Era (early 1700s to early 1800s) when the system moved away from the Shaolin roots and more solidly into the secret societies, and mixed with the public for the first time, pre-Opium Wars.
- Red Boat Era (early 1800s to 1855) when the system moved away from the secret societies as Chinese culture shifted after the Opium Wars.
- Public Canton/Gwongdong Era (1855 to 1950s) when the system moved off the Opera boats and out of the secret societies and into the public eye.
- Hong Kong Era (1950s to now) when the system established a larger following in the Chinese martial arts community.
- International Era (present-day) when the system spread out of Southern China to reach an international stage.