Profound symbolic language embroidered traditional Chinese martial arts. Sacred mountains and caves are common themes in their folklore. Animals, both mundane and fantastic, are frequently seen as symbols. Northern styles feature mimicked forms that channel the essence of the monkey, eagle or praying mantis. Two of the most beloved martial images emerge from this zoo: the tiger and the dragon. In the same province as the Shaolin Temple, an ancient tomb contains the first artistic representations of a dragon and a tiger on the shell-inlaid floor.
The truth is that the Chinese did not widely practice martial arts in China for the majority of its history. While there has always been a subset of people who pursued these activities, the better elements of society avoided them. We should note that the southern Chinese hand combat schools have their legends that claim to explain their origins and history. According to research, it is untrue that traditional Chinese martial arts left no written records. Still, it is undeniable that southern Chinese boxing methods are passed down from generation to generation through a rich oral culture with little time or need for legal history.
For a variety of reasons, the history of Wing Chun is the central case study. As a larger and more established art form, it is easier to study, and more of its history has been preserved and recorded than in some other regional styles. While many of southern China’s unique combat methods have faded into obscurity, Wing Chun has become inextricably linked with local identity. When discussing the origins of Wing Chun, we must divide our “facts” into three categories. The first are the few pieces of information that can persist by independent evidence. Second, there is a much larger category of assertions that appear “plausible,” which means that they fit with what we know about the period even though there is no direct evidence to support them. Finally, some assertions contradict known events and can refute.
According to most accounts, Cantonese opera performers brought Wing Chun to Foshan in the mid-nineteenth century. In particular, the statement mentioned three people. Wong Wah Bo, Leung Yee Tai, and “Painted Face” Kam are their names. The problem with these assertions is that there is no evidence, other than oral folklore from the Wing Chun community, that any of these individuals exist.
When discussing history, we frequently discover that people should read our expectations about martial arts backward in time. It skews and complicates our understanding of southern Chinese hand combat evolution. “When we examine the historical record, our preconceived notions of what the “martial arts” often determine what we find.” Students of Chinese martial arts must be cautious of this danger.
Also, Chinese martial arts are full of enigmatic mountain temples, ancient military heroes, and long-forgotten secrets. Nothing quickly answers questions about a style’s “authenticity” as an argument about its great antiquity in current debates. Local legend has it that many modern types of southern China (including Wing Chun) are descended from or heavily influenced by students of the Southern Shaolin Temple.