There is a rich history of Chinese assassins and espionage, and this has a lot to do with what modern Wing Chun has evolved into today. Legend says that during the Qing Dynasty, Yim Wing Chun kept her promise and, after her marriage, Yim Wing Chun taught her husband Leung Bok Chau who in turn taught the second generation practitioners of Wing Chun Kuen. From intense research we have found clues that these students worked as a Red Boat Opera Troupe by day and anti-Qing revolutionaries by night. They passed these techniques on to Leung Lan Kwai who then passed them on to Wong Wah Bo. Wong Wah Bo was a member of an opera troupe on board the Red Junk and worked on with Leung Yee Tei. It so happened that Abbot Chi Shin, who fled from Siu Lam, had disguised himself as a cook working on the Red Junk. Many of the opera members had training in Siu Lam fist and pole techniques, acrobatics, and various two-man sets. Their identities as Chinese opera performers provided a cover for martial arts training. The flashy moves of opera style martial arts, however, were not suited to the activities of espionage and assassination, which required extremely specialized skills.
Purpose and History of Chinese Assassins
Research tells us that these Masters were not just “hiding out”. They had a purpose. They wanted the Chinese people to be free from tyranny and oppression. Wing Chun was suitable for just this purpose: developing a close combat guerrilla tactic realistic marital art style. The fast hands and quick structure of Wing Chun Kung Fu used with Butterfly Swords or knives would rip an opponent apart. Attacks to the throat and diaphragm were key objectives within the system of Wing Chun, silencing their opponents.
These Masters wanted to be free of the Ching Dynasty, to have the ability to train themselves and any fellow revolutionaries, and to evolve their Shaolin Kung Fu and Wing Chun fighting prowess to disrupt the Qing (also known as Ching or Manchurian) Dynasty. They traveled from port to port, hiding in plain site as the painted faces of a mobile Opera troupe. They were, in a sense, using their skills in the martial arts as Chinese assassins, using their close quarter combat skills to engage high ranking generals and officials. These assassinations targeted high-ranking officials and generals who were usually protected by bodyguards.
The Wing Chun Solution
We know Wing Chun was designed to be useful in close quarters combat, making the most out of an individual’s weaker stature. Wing Chun was particularly effective, being designed to redirect and use an opponent’s energy against him and effectively stop other forms of Martial Arts. It was used by the Qing Dynasty (also known as Ching or Manchurian Dynasty) which included all forms of Chinese martial arts, and supposedly Japanese and Korean hard type styles as well. The Shaolin Temple creators of Wing Chun knew that the soldiers and bodyguards of the Qing Dynasty were well-fed, well-trained and well-armed, whereas the Chinese were weaker because they were fed less and Kung Fu training was banned.
Wing Chun would have to be a hugely powerful system of Kung Fu to overcome such odds. Fortunately, Wing Chun attacks the center vitals. Consequently, if a Master met a target such as a general or ranked official in the close alleys of China, they could use the quick strikes to these vitals (such as the chest, throat, ribs, groin, and arteries). Wing Chun’s design could deal with an opponent that may call out for reinforcements using quick and silent assassinations on one or multiple opponents as necessary. Everything in Wing Chun can be used with a knife in your hand. This explains certain technical aspects of Wing Chun, such as its emphasis on close-range combat and its many strikes to the throat and diaphragm, though attacks are not limited to these vital areas.
Modern Wing Chun Training
Today we don’t think much about the history of Chinese assassins, but Wing Chun teaches students to care for the safety of others—particularly their families. We use Wing Chun to develop our minds and bodies and keep those we love safe from harm. We teach all aspects of Wing Chun with the mindset of “last minute resort.” This means that when everything else has failed, and we have attempted to leave, run, or escape from danger, Wing Chun self defense is our absolute last resort. We use our heads to think first, our mind and mouth to de-escalate a situation, and our hands and feet to leave before we have to use Wing Chun. Why? Wing Chun is not for sport. It is a realistic combat self defense martial art, forged to take down a Dynasty, developed to uplift the weak and protect them against the oppressive. Wing Chun does not “play fight.” It does not seek to get points or look fancy. Wing Chun is for real self defense. In Wing Chun you get what you “pay for” in effort, and you gain the skill that goes along with the belt. The belt only comes with dedication and effort. Belts are good for marking achieved skill and placement, but look for a school that also has a teacher focused in on skill and ability, and you will go far.
Information on the history of chinese assassins and espionage has been gathered by many public sources, online sources, and books.