In Chinese history, there are several women warriors that stand out. One in particular is Wing Chun. Her legacy, the style of Wing Chun, has inspired and taught many a great Martial Artists, including the legendary Bruce Lee himself.
Despite being created by a woman, there is nothing "soft" about this style. In Wing Chun, you learn that even while you defend and retreat, you are still attacking. It is a style that is filled with many subtle differences from any other traditional Chinese style, including rotating on the heels rather than the balls of your feet.
But who was this woman that created this amazing style?
As with most legends of China, this story was originally passed orally, from student to teacher. So undoubtedly it has changed and varied over time and based on who influenced the story. The one aspect that is consistent in all stories is that it centers on a young woman, Yim Wing-Chun.
As with traditional Chinese names, the last name is first. So her family name (or last name) is Yim. Wing is her "generation" name and Chun is her personal name. So to translate it to Western naming conventions, her first name would be listed as "Wing-Chun". The name "Wing-Chun" literally means "forever spring". It is very common in Chinese to name young girls after aspects such as spring (signifying birth and growth) or flowers (signifying beauty and delicacy).
In all stories, it is agreed that Wing-Chun is the first master of this new style of kung fu. Where the stories vary is how she obtained this training. In one version, a Shaolin Buddhist nun, Ng Mui, had fled the destruction of her temple. During her travels, she observed the fighting of a crane and snake and incorporated it into the Shaolin Kung Fu she already knew. It was this new style that she went on to teach Yim Wing-Chun. In other stories, the origin of the style is said to come from Yim Wing-Chun's father, who was the one that fled the monastery when it was destroyed.
In many of the stories, Wing-Chun was well known for her beauty and sold tofu. Such shops were very common means of getting your tofu in the past (and in some areas still exist today). Unlike what most Westerners think of Tofu, these shops would sell a wide variety of the products, all the way from the liquid soy milk form to the dried jerky style and all forms in between. Tofu would come in a variety of tastes, sweet and salty, and used for a variety of means, including to be eaten at the shop directly. If you've seen Disney's Kung Fu Panda, the noodle shop is not far from what a tofu shop might look like as well.
Now, in these stories, it is said that Yim Wing-Chun is being bullied to married a local gang lord or someone quite powerful that she has no feelings for. It is because of these unwanted advances that she learns this new powerful style of Martial Arts. She goes on to marry her true love, Leung Bok-Chao, and teaches him the style she has learned. The two of them spread this style to what is known as Wing-Chun today.
The period of time that Yim Wing-Chun is said to have lived was filled with turmoil and conflicts. Very little, especially of non-imperial origins, exists today. Many of the temples that might have held records of either the Buddhist nun or Wing-Chun's father, were long destroyed along with all written work held within those buildings.
We many never know who the true Yim Wing-Chun is and why she might have learned and developed this art known as Wing Chun. Regardless, she should be seen as a source of inspiration for Martial Artist, and particularly women, around the world that Martial Arts isn't about size or gender. Martial Arts is a source of strength to find our own true paths in life.