Unfortunately, the legendary history cannot be confirmed and has been the subject of debate for decades. The only historical figure generally agreed upon is Leung Jan[?] (梁贊 liang2 zan4; loeng4 zaan3), an herbal doctor who lived in the Chinese city of Foshan[?] in the 19th century. Among his handful of students were Leung Bik[?] (梁碧 liang2 bi4; loeng4 bik1), Chan Wah-shun[?] (陳華順 chen2 hua2 shun4; can4 waa4 seon6) (aka "Money-changer Wa"), and his son Leung Chun[?] (梁? liang2 ?; loeng4 ?). Of these, Leung Bik and Chan Wa-shun were the primary teachers of Yip Man.
Leung Jan[?] is said to have learnt from two people, Wong Wah-bo[?] (黃華寳 huang2 hua2 bao3; wong4 waa4 bou2) and Leung Yee-tai[?] (梁二娣 liang2 er4 ti4; loeng4 ji6 tai5), both of whom are said to have been experts at different aspects of Wing Chun, and at least one of whom (Leung Yee-tai) was a travelling performer with a Chinese opera[?] troupe which moved from place to place by boat.
The fighting style can be adopted by fighters with small stature of either sex to work effectively against a larger opponent. The central principle is developing a skill called 'Chi Sao[?]' which comes from developing a sensitivity in the arms and legs to 'stick' to an opponent's limbs, preventing them from penetrating your defence, and then using quick, direct attacks once the way forward becomes clear.
Although initially developed as an unarmed form of combat, the Wing Chun system also incorporated the use of the pole and butterfly swords during its evolution.
As the style is taught conceptually, rather than with emphasis on techniques, there have been several interpretations of the art over time. This is reflected in the separate schools established by in later years, as listed below.
There are 3 main empty hand forms typically found within the system, each of which imparts and builds on foundational concepts:
A fourth empty hand form uses a training aid:
The "six and a half" point pole form and the "eight chopping" knives forms are primarily used to develop and condition the empty hand movements.
Wing chun as taught by Yip Man was in some ways a socially revolutionary art. There were no ranks or titles in the art. One's standing in the wing chun did not come from "time in grade" or "age"; instead, the "hands did the talking" and made clear who had superior skill. Indeed, one of the first things that one learned was to look straight at the instructor, which could be difficult as Chinese social mores placed emphasis on respect for elders, for example by avoiding direct gaze. A wing chun kwoon ("training hall") could be likened to a wolf pack rather than to a hierarchical military-style organization.
Wing chun also makes use of a number of kuen kuit[?] to teach the art. These are short, often sing-song, sayings or rhymes that indicate principles, or strategies, or even particular responses. Although these can be written in chinese characters, they are actually Cantonese (so have no real written equivalent). In many cases, their meaning rested on slang that was not necessarily widely known. In others, although the meaning might be "clear", the actual meaning for the art would require that you physically learn something.
Yip Man was the first person to teach Wing Chun to a wider public. After his death, many of his students formed separate schools. In some cases, instructors developed more systematic methodologies of teaching wing chun -- however, there is probably no substitute for direct hands-on transmission of the feel of the art. This has lead to varying interpretations of the art.
Yip Man was well-known for having a very quick wit and an acid tongue. His teaching style, along with the very direct nature of the art and its despising of superfluous talk, infuses the art with a certain edginess. This is probably why Wing chun is well-known for being split into many factions, each of which feel that they are the holders of the true transmission of the art.
Yip Man's lineage is not the only one that exists and there are several different histories which confirm and contradict Yip Man's histories. Yip Man had many peers who passed on the art of Wing Chun resulting in, to name a few, the Yuen Kay San[?] Gu Lao[?] and Pan Nam[?] branches. It is said that there are 7 main Wing Chun families in mainland China. Some other branches are found in Malaysia, Vietnam, and Taiwan.
Bruce Lee trained in Wing Chun and later incorporated some of its moves and philosophy into the Jeet Kun Do style he later personally developed. Jeet Kun Do differs greatly from wing chun as taught by Yip Man.