It is widely accepted that Wing Chun Gongfu originated in the 17th century from the far more vigorous martial art forms taught in the Shaolin Temple of Southern China. It was around this period when the Manchus came to power in China and began their strict rule in order to keep control. Due to their support for the Ming, the Shaolin monks faced great pressure and ultimate destruction to their temples. Due to these circumstances, the origin of Wing Chun lacks consistent records as martial arts practitioners were forced into hiding.
The most popularized story of Wing Chun’s origin is that of the Buddhist Nun, Ng Mui. It is said that she was one of Five Elders of the Shaolin Temple that managed to escape prior to its destruction. With her high level of Shaolin martial arts, she created a form of self-defense which could transcend size, weight and gender. She drew her inspiration for Wing Chun from the movement of animals, primarily the crane. When applied to the human form, these delicate but natural movements required little force to block and strike effectively and efficiently.
Ng Mui’s first student of the yet unnamed form was a beautiful young girl named Yim Wing Chun who was being pressured by a bandit warlord into marriage. After mastering the art so as to defend herself and eventually drive off the warlord, Yim Wing Chun would have the form named after her as the first student of Ng Mui. This is how the lineage of Wing Chun began according to popular legend.
Though the art was taught throughout history but rarely officially documented, this legend was the one accepted as told by Grandmaster Ip Man who is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most insightful teachers of Wing Chun. Ip Man moved to Hong Kong in 1948 where he became the first master to teach Wing Chun outside mainland China and famously taught a young Bruce Lee.