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Wing Chun in Vietnam - Past and Present Secrets
1. The Name
Recently, in Vietnam’s newspapers and journals there were some articles introduced Wing Chun (Forever Spring) or VingTsun (Praise Spring) kung-fu system. However, it takes time for many things to be clear. Even the name of the system has two co-existing versions: Wing Chun and VingTsun. This happened not only in Vietnam but also in China, where the system was originated. Our teacher – the late grandmaster Tran Thuc Tien – told us about brief history of the system (as taught by the founder of Vietnam Wing Chun – the Grandmaster Nguyen Te Cong) as follows. Wing Chun was created by Abbess Ng Mui from Shao-lin temple. While hiding from pursuit of Manchu dynasty, she created the system and trained a girl called Yim Wing Chun (literally means Forever Spring) to protect herself against a local bully. Due to pursuit of Manchu, Ng Mui had to leave. Before leaving, she told her pupil “ I created this new system but still did not give it a name. Now, I realized that your name does reflect the essence of the new system. I will give your name to the system - Wing Chun”. Yim Wing Chun, later lived in a temple called VingTsun (Praise Spring), in Jian Chang province China. Over generations, many people also took the name of the temple as the name of the system (Since in the past many systems were named after their original localities, where the systems were founded. For example, Shao lin, Wu Tang, Shan Dong, E mei etc.). To respect Ng Mui thinking, this may be a good idea to call the system as Wing Chun. Moreover, the name is also fitted to the effect of the system, since the training of Wing Chun bring a good health for people, prolong their youth and their life. In other words, it prolongs their Spring Forever.
2. Several special features of Wing Chun methods
Wing Chun is a kung-fu system that requires a training with the greatest efforts and patience, despite the system has only few forms. Besides some weapons forms (such as double knives and six-and- half-point pole), there are following bare-hand forms:
  • Thu-dau-quyen, (basic bare hand techniques, equivalent to Siu-nim-tao, or Litlle Idea in China)
  • Chi-kung Wing Chun Kuyen form,
  • 108 (movements) form (which includes 3 sub-forms: static 108, dynamic 108, and 108 with wooden dummy.  The last form is known in some countries as Dummy techniques, but they have different techniques and different number of movements),
  • Five separate 5-animal forms (dragon, snake, tiger, panther, and crane),
  • One synthesized 5-animal form.
Besides above forms, Vietnam Wing Chun also has several special training methods with their unique principles.
Among the above Wing Chun forms, the static and dynamic 108 forms (especially the static form) have a unique characteristic that no other kung-fu system has. That is, while training, pupils must train with the teacher one-by-one from the start until when the pupil obtained and comprehended the deepest essence of the form. This usually last many years. In order to get to that level, the pupil cannot train with anyone except the teacher who already has inner strength, i.e. “nei kung”( That is, the teacher can let the pupil strike as strong as possible directly on teacher’s body during the whole training period of the 108 form). Many people think that Wing Chun inner strength is just the ability to generate great force. It is not so. In Wing Chun, ability to generate force is called “inner force” (“nei li”), while “inner strength’ is the ability to endure strikes (direct strikes on body). This “inner strength” is a secretive technique ( taught by mouth only and must be under personal special instructions of teacher). “Inner strength” is the highest technique of Wing Chun. In the past, the founding father Nguyen Chai Wan taught it to the late grandmaster Tran Thuc Tien, who later taught it to extremely few pupils.
To be successful in Wing Chun, pupils must have a strong belief, good intelligence, patience and diligence. Training in Wing Chun is not merely to memorize all forms, but more importantly, to comprehend the deepest spirit, essence of those forms. At the same time, pupil must master their “will”, and “chi power”. At higher level, the training in mastering “will” and “chi power” require more efforts. Therefore, Wing Chun is not appropriate for those people who like to use their muscle, those who want a quick achievement, and those who lacks of patience and diligence. Wing Chun bare-hand forms do not use much of muscle strength, and they are not eye-catching. Therefore, Wing Chun System is not an attracting system for demonstration. Moreover, those who got to high levels in Wing Chun also do not want to show their ability. As a result, Wing Chun was not widely understood and seems to have many secrets.
3. Wing Chun in Vietnam
At the end of 1939, Grandmaster Nguyen Chai Wan ( whose Vietnamese name is Te Cong, or Tai Cong) fled and took refuge in Vietnam. During this period, he accepted some pupils and taught Wing Chun to them. For Vietnam, he became the founding father of Wing Chun Kuyen system. In 1954, he moved to the South of Vietnam. His pupils in the North opened several classed to propagate Wing Chun. In Hanoi, there are 3 branches of 3 late grandmasters: Tran Thuc Tien, Ngo Si Quy, and Tran Van Phung. In October 2003, these 3 branches jointly established an organization called “Ha Noi Wing Chun Club”, led by the pupil of the grandmaster Tran Thuc Tien – the Associate Professor,  Nguyen Manh Nham as the president of the club.
During the period in the South (1954 – 1959), the founding father also trained several pupils.  At the present, there are several Wing Chun classes in the South. In Vietnam, counting from Grandmaster Te Cong up to now, there are 4 generations of pupils were successfully trained (that is, they themselves have ability to train Wing Chun adequately ). We believe that Wing Chun in Vietnam will retain its own unique characteristics and develop further.
Kung-fu is one of the best human cultural forms. The founding father of Kung-fu was believed to be Abbot Da Ma, who is also the founding father of Shao Lin Kung-fu. As many other Kung-fu systems, Wing Chun also has origin from Shao Lin, although it contains its own unique techniques and principles. At the present, the primary purpose of Kung-fu training is to enhance body strength and especially, to improve self-control, self-confidence for a good and useful life. Still, the techniques of Kung-fu in general, and Wing Chun in particular, have their own nimbus, attracting many people to understand and master them. This creates perpetual driving force for all Kung-fu families to preserve and develop further their unique techniques and methods.
[Published in Journal Ngay Nay, No 10-2003, UNESCO Club Association ]
By Si-fu Nguyen Ngoc Noi