Who was Ng Mui (Wu Mei)?

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Ng Mui (Wu Mei)
Ng Mui (Wu Mei)

Ng Mui is regarded as the creator of the Wing Chun system and is often said that Wing Chun is the only martial art invented by a woman. This article hopes to bring more light on the issue of Ng Mui and the art of Wing Chun.

As legend has it, Ng Mui was born out of a noble household, the daughter of a general in the Ming imperial court. Because of this noble position she had access to the finest education and finest Kung Fu teachers at the time.

Over the years it has been said that she had mastered several Shaolin arts, Wudang fighting arts, as well as Yue Jia Quan. She has also been credited to have founded Wu Mei Pai, Dragon Style, White Crane, Five Pattern Hung Kuen and Wing Chun Kuen.

In the Wu Mei Pai tradition, Ng Mui—the daughter of a general in the Ming imperial court—fully developed her practical style in the Forbidden City. To develop balance and leg strength she trained on upturned logs, in a pattern she invented. She was traveling when her parents were killed in the Manchu capture of the Ming capital. She took refuge in the White Crane Temple (which this legend locates in Kwangsi Province), and became an anti-Qing rebel, teaching her style only within the Temple. The style uses instantaneous counters, and slower movements from Bodhidharma and Qigong.

Here’s a short video displaying Wu Mei Pai.

Modern Dragon style historians relate that the Shaolin nun Ng Mui, who is said to have originated the Dragon style, was one of the last members of the temple before its first destruction.

Check out this Shaolin Dragon Form video.

Ng Mui
Ng Mui

According to the genealogy of Tibetan White Crane, “Ng Mui” is the Chinese name of the Tibetan monk Jikboloktoto, who was the last generation of transmission before Sing Lung, who brought the art to Guangdong. This account is most different from the others, with a male Ng Mui, the absence of a Manchu menace to flee from and, given the dating of Sing Lung’s relocation to Guangdong to 1865, a 19th-century setting.

Tibetan White Crane video.

It is believed that the Five-Pattern System was jointly created by the Buddhist nun Ng Mui, and Miu Hin, an unshaved disciple of the Siu Lam Monastery. Through careful observation, and imagination, these two kung fu experts imitated the movements of the creatures—how they jump, how they paw, and how they use their wings, beaks, jaws, or claws, how they coil up, how they rush forward and retreat, and finally they created this kung fu system consisting of movements modified from those of the named creatures, and adjusted the techniques to suit human limbs. — Leung Ting, Five-Pattern Hung Kuen, Part I. (1980)

According to the Wing Chun master Yip Man, Ng Mui was Abbess at the Henan Shaolin Monastery and managed to survive its destruction by Qing forces during the reign of the Kangxi Emperor (1662–1722). She fled to the White Crane Temple. (which this account locates in the Daliang mountains between Yunnan and Sichuan) where she met a girl of fifteen named Yim Wing-Chun whom a bandit was trying to force into marriage. Ng Mui taught Wing-Chun how to defend herself by distilling Shaolin martial art knowledge into a system that Wing-Chun could learn quickly, and use without developing great strength.

When we look at these other styles, we notice there is practically NO resemblance to Wing Chun nor to each other! Each style and Ng Mui’s contribution to each shows a development in her own personal kung fu skills. It would be prove to be interesting to investigate further.

It is said that Ng Mui’s new system exploits the weaknesses of the traditional Shaolin Kung Fu styles.
Such”weaknesses” would be;
1 – relying on strength to win a battle
2 – low horse stances, although strong but terribly inflexible
3 – high kicks which usually sacrifice a solid stance and balance
4 – long, circular moves which in close range is much too slow

This is just a short list.

We all know how the rest of the story ends. Yim Wing Chun won the battle against the bandit and married her promised husband Leung Bok Chow. Wing Chun taught the system to her husband and it was his idea to name the art after Ng Mui’s first student, his wife, Yim Wing Chun.

Over several decades the Wing Chun System continued to develop and change. Weapons were added, training methods added and deleted, etc.

Today, we have a colorful array of Wing Chun flavors. Neither system is more “correct”, “authentic” nor “traditional” as the other. Many instructors call their system “traditional” or use Ip Man’s image as a marketing tool. Others claim to have “updated” the system and call it “Modern” Wing Chun or “Street” Wing Chun. Even Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do is nothing other than a flavor of the Wing Chun system. Many will argue against that last sentence, and that’s okay. That is my observation. Yours may be different.

Keep practicing!


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