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By N24 History of Kung Fu

There is a beautiful legend about the martial art, commonly referred to as Kung-Fu.

According to this a young woman named Ng Mui fled from the Mandschu and was hiding in a cloister in South China. There she learned to use her body as a weapon, got entrapped in a murderous scheme, so as to finally reveal her art to a student. With her the martial art of Wing Chun was born and Martial Arts Star Bruce Lee became the most well-known representative of it.


This story is told in the documentary “The Kung Fu Nun”, on the information channel N24.

It is a drama that revolves around suppression, loyalty and betrayal and around a wise woman, who, following nature’s example, developed a deadly technique that nowadays takes a firm place in the global community and its popular culture.

From North the Mandschu invaded the realm of the Ming and conquered Beijing in 1644.

The documentary starts in the 1630ties, in the late era of the Ming, who banished the Mongolians in 1368 and established once again a Chinese Dynasty in the Middle Kingdom. Failure of crops and riots in the course of the Little Ice Age made the country prone to attacks out of the steppe. 1636 the Mandschu, nomadic people who lived North of the big wall near the Korean border, saw their chance and conquered Beijing. In the following 40 years the Qing-Dynasty strengthened their reign over all of China, whose borders they significantly expanded. They forced the Han-Chinese to shear the front half of their head and to plait the rest of the hair as a sign of their subjection, taking up the stance “Lose your hair or lose your head”.

The wealthy family of 18 year old Ng Mui was also among the numerous victims of the brutal repression. She was the only one who could save herself from the murderers of the Mandschu and flee into the wilderness. There she was alleged to extensively have studied the hunting behavior of animals. From the crane standing on one leg for instance she learned that a strong kick is the ideal foundation for a fighting position.

Finally Ng Mui made it through to a monastery deep down south, approximately 1500 kilometers from Beijing.  Buddistic monks had settled there, who felt committed to the teachings of the Indian travelling monk Bodhidharma; they were better known as the Shaolin. They still stuck to the Ming and trained themselves in numerous fighting techniques. They were prepared to let the refugees take part in their training.

There Ng Mui combined the techniques of the Shaolin with the experiences she made during here getaway and before that in her classic education that included riding, archery and sword fighting. As an answer to the question, how a physically inferior fighter can defend oneself against a superior enemy she recognized the effect of fast precise punches. Never fight power with power. An example: If someone grabs you by the throat, do not defend it, but immediately attack the opponent on nose, eyes, temples or throat.

The instinctive and if possible deadly hit with the hand became Ng Mui’s characteristic mark.

This had little to do with Hollywood-style Kung-Fu choreographies. Instead of exhausting jumps and projecting motions the Chinese Woman believed in quick, directed attacks that were supposed to have an immediate effect. Doing this she always tried to use the energy of the attacker and turn it against him. 300 years later the Chinese communist leader Mao-Tse-Tung was to transfer this principle onto his guerilla strategy:  the attack of the enemy generates my power.

To protect their masters the Shaolin were fighting to the last man.

After winning against her teacher, Ng Mui was admitted to the circle of the cloister’s masters. But suddenly the Mandschu stood before the gates.  Legend has it that no lesser than the emperor of the Mandschu Kangxi himself had ordered the attack on the Shaolin cloister, as he feared the fighting power of the monks. A fire allegedly laid by a traitor enabled the troops to get into the setting of the stronghold, where most of the Shaolin sacrificed themselves in order to make the escape of their masters possible.

Ng Mui was able to escape and developed her fighting technique further, not only by hand, but also by sword, spear and baton. To prevent the Mandschu from getting this secret weapon into their possession, she did not keep records, but decided to pass on her knowledge to only one absolutely loyal student, who she found in the girl Yim Wing-Chun, like her a refugee who fled from the Mandschu. She was the first in a long line of fighters who carried on Ng Mui’s legacy. Therefore the technique she developed was named after her.

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