Wing Chun, Ving Tsun, Wing Tsun… where do these different terminologies come from ?

"Writings on the wall" Hachioji, Japon 2019 - Markus Winkler. Source : www.pexel.com

I am very proud to publish this first article on Sihing Nico’s Talk – Martial Arts Culture and History. I could not start with anything other than this one. The 詠春 holds a very important place in my life and I deeply love this martial art. The 詠春 built me ​​as an individual and as a martial artist. He has responded to my need to learn to defend myself and I have been teaching him for many years with great dedication.

In this post I will deal with terminology only. I will not discuss the technical specificities of the different lineages. For this aspect, I particularly recommend reading Complete Wing Chun, Roots and Branches of Wing Tsun and The 6 Core Elements (references are at the end of this post). These books are very good resources about the system, the authors address both the historical and cultural sides as the technical side.

The question about the different writings of the system is often asked by my students. Answer is not easy, I hope to be quite exhaustive in the following lines. At the end of this post, I will clarify my position to remove any ambiguity in my next posts.

"Writings on the wall" Hachioji, Japan 2019 - Markus Winkler. Source : www.pexel.com
“Writings on the wall” Hachioji, Japan 2019 – Markus Winkler. Source : www.pexel.com

The Chinese characters 詠 春 and 永春

To describe the martial art 詠 春 and / or 永春, there are several terms in our phonetic transcriptions using the Latin alphabet: Wing Chun, Wing Tsun, Ving Tsun … It is sometimes difficult to understand, especially for a non-practitioner of this martial art. But before approaching the various writtings with our Latin alphabet, firstly, I would like to focus in Chinese characters.

Concerning the terms 詠 春 and 永春, as Robert Chu[1] specifies, they were adopted at the beginning of the 19th century as the name of the system. The Cantonese pronunciation of the characters 永 and 詠 is absolutely the same. According to the International Phonetic Alphabet, 永 and 詠 are pronounced in Cantonese [wiŋ]. However, the meanings of the two characters are different: 永 means “always / eternal” and 詠 means “to sing / praise”[2].

It seems that 永 appeared before 詠. This sounds logical because the character 詠 consists of the character 永 with the addition of the character 言, commonly known in Chinese linguistics as “the key to speech”. It seems that the origin would come from the town of Yong Chun 永春 in Fujian, famous for the creation of Yong Chun Bai He 永春 白鶴, White Crane style of Yong Chun town [3]. I will discuss the different assumptions about the origins of the system in my next articles.

However Ip Man did not share this point of view. In an interview with Mok Pui On, a journalist and practitioner from 永春, Ip Man said very clearly that 詠 春 is not the same martial art as 永春 [4].

” 詠 春 is not the same martial art as 永春 ” Ip Man

What seems very surprising is that the Sifu of Ip Man, Chan Wah Shun 陳華順 used rather the term 永春 to designate the system. It is this term that is engraved on the grave of Chan Wah Shun in Shunde. His son, Chan Yu Min 陳汝 棉, continued to use the term 永春 and established a lineage in Shunde.

Grave of Chan Wah Shun, Shunde near to Fatshan. Source : www.youtbe.com > Sifu Sergio visits the grave of the sifu of GM Ip man the late GGM Chan Wha Sun

On the grave of Chan Wah Shun, one can see written (upper right) 少林永春 which means Siu Lam (Shaolin) Weng Chun. A legitimate question arises therefore: Did Ip Man voluntarily choose the term 詠 春 to differentiate his system from other lineages ? Nothing is less certain because the term 詠春 already existed before the installation of Ip Man to Hong Kong in 1949. It is found for instance to Fatshan and Malaysia in the first half of the 20th century. The term also appears in the lineage of the Pin Sun Wing Chun 偏身詠春, a lineage established in the village of Gu Lao at the end of the 19th century by Leung Jan 梁贊, the Sifu of Chan Wah Shun.

It should be kept in mind, however, that until the 20th century, the transmission of the system was exclusively oral. As much for technical and martial as cultural aspects. In the old days, nothing or very little has been written about 詠/永春. The first people who wanted to write a few things about the system had to choose between the character 永 or 詠, which I specify, both are pronounced identically.

Until the 1950s, the system was mostly taught on the Chinese mainland, to Fatshan area (at the same time, there were also branches in another Southeast Asian country such as Vietnam and Malaysia). It was reserved for a small community that had the privilege of learning 詠/永春. After the Second World War, the system began to be exported abroad and to be spoken in English. The question of phonetic transcription with the Latin alphabet thus arose for the first time in Hong Kong, a British colony, and in the United States.

 

Romanization of Chinese characters

The official language of the People’s Republic of China is Mandarin. This dialect is native to northern China. There are, however, several dialects commonly spoken throughout the country. For instance, the wu spoken in the Shanghai area and the Cantonese spoken in the south of the country. Chinese writing, transcription by Chinese characters (sinograms), is the same throughout China. However, the pronunciation is different according to the dialects used in different regions of China. In the world, when one speaks Chinese, it is mostly Mandarin, “the Chinese of Beijing”. However, some cities, like Hong Kong, or some Chinatowns use Cantonese more.

The phonetic transcription of Mandarin in our Latin script, in other words the romanization of Mandarin, is done mainly by the hanyu pinyin system. While Cantonese romanization most commonly uses the yale system or jyutping system. 詠春 Yong Chun is written in Mandarin Pinyin and Wing Ceon is written in Cantonese jyutping.

The pronunciation of the terms 詠春 and 永春 are always the same, whatever the romanization used. The system is a Southerne Kung Fu style, so it is usually Cantonese that is used to pronounce 詠/永春. According to the International Phonetic Alphabet 詠/永春 is pronounced [wiŋtʃœn].

Bruce Lee playing Siu Nim Tau 小念頭 to Hong Kong in the 1950’s.

Bruce Lee was certainly one of the first to transcribe 詠 春 by the term Wing Chun.

In the 1960’s, Bruce Lee was certainly one of the first to transcribe 詠 春 by the term Wing Chun. However, the people of Hong Kong and Europe did not like this terminology because the initials “WC” are used to designate the toilet! Instead, they opted for the term Ving Tsun, officially in 1967, when the Hong Kong Ving Tsun Athletic Association was formed. But the sound [v] does not really exist in the Cantonese dialect. Leung Ting therefore preferred to use the term Wing Tsun to transcribe 詠 春 as early as 1970[5]. In addition, other transcriptions are also used for various and varied reasons. In summary, the most used scripts of 詠 春 and 永春 are:

  • Wing Chun > a term used by Bruce Lee in the United States in the early 1960s, very popular nowadays, the most commonly used to designate the system to the general public. Used by the lineage of Lo Man Kam 盧文錦, William Cheung 張卓興, Lok Yiu 駱耀, Chu Shong Tin 徐尚田…
  • Ving Tsun > first term used in Hong Kong during Ip Man’s lifetime in 1967 for the creation of the Hong Kong Ving Tsun Athletic Association. This association still exists today as VTAA, Ving Tsun Athletic Association. Used by the lineage of Wong Shun Leung 黃淳樑, Ip Chun 葉準 and Ip Ching 葉正.
  • Wing Tsun > term used by Leung Ting 梁挺 since the early 1970’s. Note bene; WingTsun is a registered trademark.
  • Yong Chun> romanization of the Mandarin pronunciation of 詠 春, used mainly by schools located in Mainland China, except Guangdong Province where Cantonese is spoken.
  • Vinh Xuan > romanization of the Vietnamese pronunciation of 詠 春.
  • Weng Chun > romanization used most often to transcribe the term 永春. Used by the lineage of Tang Yik 鄧奕.
  • Wing Tjun, Ving Tjun, Wing Chun …> other terms created by Westerners, most often, to designate their system and thus establish a new lineage.
  • Wing Fight, Wing Tai, Wing Flow …> other terms also created by Westerners, with an “evolutionary” dimension of the system. For these terms, of course, the pronunciation is different.

 

All these different writings therefore refer to the same martial art. I consider in this post that 詠 春 and 永春 refer to the same system. In my case, I use the characters 詠 春 and Wing Tsun writing within my school because I am part of the AIWTKF and my lineage is from Leung Ting. Nevertheless, I will use in this blog and in my next posts the writing Wing Chun for its connotation more universal and common public … and very sincerely, I also hope that the use of Wing Chun will considerably improve the referencing of this blog !


Sources

[1] Complete Wing Chun : The Definitive Guide to Wing Chun’s History and Traditions, p106-107, CHU Robert, RITCHIE Rene, ed. Tuttle Publishing, 1998.

[2] Wing Tsun Kung Fu – Théories, formes et méthodes – les clés du système, p32, FLICKINGER Klaus, 2015

[3] Kung Fu Quest 2 : White Crane Boxing, publié par RTHK (Radio Television Hong Kong), 2012 + Roots and Branches of Wing Tsun, p52, LEUNG Ting, ed. Leung Ting Co, 2000 + The 6 Core Elements, , p190-191, IADAROLA Sergio Pascal, ed. Elephant White Cultural Entreprise Co., 2015

[4] Roots and Branches of Wing Tsun, p110, LEUNG Ting, ed. Leung Ting Co, 2000

[5] Ibid, p5


 

4 Comments

  1. There is a lot of confusion about the terms “Wing Chun” and “Weng Chun” (詠春 and 永春), unfortunately.

    First of all, it should be made clear that Yip Man himself clearly stated that those two styles are not the same – as you pointed out.

    But let’s not take his word for it!

    A simple comparison of the curriculum of the two “styles” reveal a difference: The former (at least what we can reasonably call the “original” Wing Chun in Fatsaan – the main descendants being Yiu Choi, Yuen Kei Saan and Yip Man styles) – all have the same Saam Tou Kuen (“three sets”) . However, looking at the latter this analysis becomes a bit more complicated since there are actually no different “lineages” of “Weng Chun”. What do I mean by that? Well, as I said, when speaking about the Fatsaan-type Wing Chun, the various methods in spite of their respective idiosynchrasies are quite similar in both appearance and from a curriculum perspective. However, the various representations of “Weng Chun” art not. Basically, there are three well-known transmissions of “Siulam Weng Chun” – the Tang Yik lineage, the Chu Chung Man lineage and the Lo lineage – and each of these has a different curriculum and the various material which comprise their respective curriculae come from different sources. It should be pretty clear that “Siulam Weng Chun” then is not actually a specific style which was passed down through generations.

    About 永春 having been used by Chan Wah Shun to designate the name of his style, this is also a very unfortunate misunderstanding. The reality is that Chan Wah Shun’s son, Chan Yu Min, just like his sihingdai, learnt 詠 春 from his father, however later in life he opened a school in Fatsaan, later in Siuheng, before returning to Dong Ma Nin in Seundak. However, the curriculum taught there was not just Wing Chun but other material as well (that is why Chan Yu Min’s style has 10 sets, and lots of weapons, etc. which are not found in other styles of Wing Chun). That is why he used a different name! While it is tempting to jumpt to the conclusion that Chan Wah Shun used “Weng Chun” because it says “Siulam Weng Chun” on his gravestone, this must be properly contextualized. Now, first of all, the gravesite is actually that of Chan Yu Min’s son, Chan Ga Lim, his family and descendants. Chan Wah Shun was actually buried somewhere else, and later his “grave” was moved to the family grave. The tombstone is not the original one, nor a copy of it. It was commissioned by the descendants of Chan Ga Lim not too long ago – even today the gravestone still looks new. So, given that the descendants of Chan Yu Min perpetuate the style called “Siulam Weng Chun” and which is quite different from “Wing Chun” (given the difference in curriculum already), they wouldn’t (and shouldn’t) put 詠 春 on it.

    As far as the pronunciation of 詠 and 永 being the same, while them being very close, that is not entirely correct – the difference lies in the tone. They are NOT homophones.

    Regarding the “V” vs “W” sound, we need to distinguish the various attempts of linguists trying to create a system and absolute rules out of things which are quite a bit more messy. So, while linguists might insist there is no “V” sound in Cantonese, the reality is that it can be heard all the time in places such as Fatsaan, Hoksaan, Gwongjaau, etc. – this is from the perspective of someone who has been living in Gwongjaau/Fatsaan for a decade.

    Why then the confusion about the name?

    Given that the transmission of martial arts back in the days was mostly oral – as you rightly stated -, sometimes because of difference in dialects, and the difference in pronounciation being tonal, it is understandable why different characters would be used. When writing the name, they simply picked a character which the felt best represented the sound they heard. If it is not made clear what the name is supposed to mean, a wrong character can easily be chosen. For example, you will see that some people in Vietnam started using 永 instead of 詠. A researcher of martial arts history out of Fatsaan travelled to Vietnam to interview Yuen Chai Wan’s son, and among other things asked him about this issue. He was told that Yuen Chai Wan had always used 詠 but some of his students got confused and heard it as 永. Incidentally, some people thought that some people in Vietnam using the latter is evidence that this was the original name of the style but as we can see, contextualization and looking deeper into the matter proves this thought wrong.

    An interesting question is the idea behind the name, or why it was chosen.

    There was an old story about martial arts being taught in the southern Siulam temple, and the first characters on the couplets on the sides of the doorway to (a/the) hall where martial arts were practiced were 永 and 春. Putting these together yields the name 永春. Inspired by this story some people then took that name for whatever style they were practicing because it supposedly came from that hall in the southern Siulam temple. This is presumably how people reconcile how different stuff, from different sources, are the same style since they ultimately are claimed to come from the southern Siulam temple. This is why you have many different kinds of 永春.

    This story is the reason the name 永春 was chosen – not because the style is somehow related to the Fujian White Crane style from 永春 village/county. It is tempting to draw this conclusion, though. Especially since the motifs of the Snake and Crane in the Wing Chun lineage, and the idea that Wing Chun is somehow a derivative of some White Crane style and other has been perpetuated by many practitioners for many years, but let us not forget that that is a totally different story and one should be very careful not to conflate things and let confirmation bias leads one thinking and conclusions.

    Just because names are the same or similar, it cannot be assumed that things must be the same or somehow related.

    To make any conclusions in this matter – and be definite about it – takes much, much more serious research than anyone has ever done up til this point.

    In that sense, it is an odd claim – and reasoning for that matter – that 永 would have come before 詠 given that there is no actual proof or evidence that what we today know as Wing Chun or Weng Chun really does have any specific connection to the White Crane of Fujian.

    Of course this can be addressed in much greater detail, but the above should suffice to put your article a bit into perspective.

    1. Thank you for your comment, it’s very enriching.

      Your anecdote on Chan Wah Shun’s grave is interesting. I haven’t heard this story anywhere else. What are your sources ? Is this a story you have heard orally? By who ?

      Regarding the origin on name 永春, there are several theories, the hall of Siu Lam Temple, the White Crane style of Yong Chun county… since there are no historical written sources on the origins of 詠春 and 永春, we can only speculate and indulge in several theories. I have already positioned myself on the theory of Siu Lam, I refer you to my post for that. Regarding the links with the Yong Chun White Crane, this is one of the theories presented by many people in recent years (Robert Chu, Leung Ting, Sergio Ladarola, Lee Kong…), which I am only relaying in this post who did not pretend to go into great detail. This post is primarily intended for the general public.

      When you say “there is no actual proof or evidence that what we today know as Wing Chun or Weng Chun really does have any specific connection to the White Crane of Fujian”. Yes it’s true, I agree with you… but there is also no actual proof or evidence that what we today know as Wing Chun or Weng Chun really does have any specific connection to the Siu Lam Temple.

      I will discuss any links with Yong Chun White Crane in a future post to substantiate my point.

      Thank you for this exchange, I hope it will allow readers to ask new questions and that it will promote future research to further clarify the origins of 詠 春 and 永春.

      1. To begin, I would like to say that I really like your scholarly approach to writing your various articles. However, we can apply the scientific method as rigidly as possibly, but we are always limited by the quality of our sources and our ability to evaluate the veracity of the information from those sources.

        Having studied all the sources you mention since they first come out, and having personally met a few of the people in person (Sergio Iadarola, Leung Ting and Lei Gong) I can reasonably say that I am very familiar with their ideas and also the evidence they think support the notion of Wing Chun originating from Fukgin Baak Hok Kuen.

        The main problem with all of this is that the conclusions are made based on limited information and there are quite a bit of contrivances. Also, it seems that there is a lack of critical analysis of the various data points taken to support the theory and that conclusions are jumped to all to readily.

        Case in point:

        Chan Wah Shun used the character 永 because it says is evident from his gravestone.

        An obvious conclusion – IF one doesn’t actually read what it says on the gravestone and attempts to look deeper into the background of that gravesite.

        None of the “researchers” or people who come up with certain theories have actually done that, and this is why you have never heard about this before.

        In fact, there is so much information availble which no one in the West has ever been privy to for a number of reasons: 1. never spent any significant time (if any) “on site” 2. lack of linguistic skills and understanding of the local culture 3. no connections 4. no “Guang Xi”.

        The information I shared with you about Chan Wah Shun’s gravestone is just one example.

        Now, Dong Manin village is about 40 mins by car from my house, we have some friends there and go occasionally to visit.

        I have been to pay my respect at that gravesite many times over times over the years, so I am quite familiar with it – and its history.

        First of all, it is actually a “family shrine”, nowadays. It was originally built as a common gravesite for Chan Ga Lim and his wife, and later other gravestones were added, among them the common gravestones of Chan Wah Shun and wife as well as Chan Yu Min and spouse.

        You don’t need anyone to tell you this, it is pretty obvious if you can read the Chinese characters on those gravestones.

        🙂

        If you can, you will see that the central, main main gravestone belongs to Chan Ga Lim and his wife, while smaller ones dedicated to other family members having been arranged to the left and right of it. Behind the main gravestone, on top of an earthern mound you can find some more smaller gravestones, and reading the characters on those, it is clear that these belong to Chan Wah Shun and Chan Yu Min (including their spouses).

        From this alone it can be deduced that “Chan Wah Shun’s gravestone” is not the original one, and that that gravesite is not original either.

        To find out more about this and where Chan Wah Shun was originally buried, I asked one of our local, native friends there fur further details. Starting under his father, who was a disciple of Chan Ga Lim, in the late 1950s and later learning from his seniors Taam Wun Biu and the current Jeung Mun Yan of the style, master Chan Gwok Gei, he is now one of the most senior masters of the style there and very actively promoting the style. I got the information, I shared with you from him, and it was confirmed by the mayor of Dong Manin village who was present when I asked, as well as another senior Seundak native. These people were actually around when the gravesite was constructed.

        But even if I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to ask someone like this, I could simply have read what it actually says on those gravestones. It is very clear who commissioned all those gravestones, and when.

        🙂

        I am not sure why you want to point out that while there is no actual evidence to support the notion that Wing Chun originally sprang from Fujian Baak Hok Kuen, there is also no evidence to support any claims of Wing Chun coming from some Southern Siulam Temple. Given the fact that it is quite impossible to prove that there ever was such a Naam Siulam Ji as it exists in the various Gung Fu myths, and logic dictates that there was never such a thing, any claims to coming from this place are automatically null and void. I just mentioned the story related by the “Siulam Weng Chun” people to demonstrate that their story does not trace the art back to the Fujian Baak Hok Kuen.

        🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.