In honor of the countless peaceful & fierce women warriors that have lived on this earth since ancient times, let's explore the 400 year-old story of a young woman who became known as Ving Tsun and, even more interesting, the practically unknown elder Shaolin nun named Ng Mui, who gave her the teachings of a self defense kung fu that does not rely on size or strength to be effective. It is important to remember that, in Ng Mui's time, most people still relied on the oral tradition to learn history and spread stories, so the "Legend of Ng Mui" is certainly more the truth than what high tech people consider a legend.
Another critical thing to keep in mind (and that Women's Studies scholars in universities the world over specialize in researching) is that the stories of females have often been eliminated, ridiculed, and dismissed by male lineages in religion, academia, and government. In the case of Ving Tsun's story, the very real reasons for her self defense training are downplayed by some and dubiously called her "romantic problems" which led her to seek her teacher. This disconnection from the very real social & political contexts of women's development, and the denial of sexual oppression by brute force with its general degrading attitude towards those who are considered physically weaker (be they female or male, adult or child) continues in our present global society and cuts across race & class lines worldwide.
Taking an objective look at sexual assault against females, we see that is common around the world, and, as most readers already know, at least 1 in every 3 women on planet Earth has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused during her lifetime just due to being female in a man's world (east or west, urban or rural, these crimes occur everywhere). Inhumane codes of conduct are a vicious cycle of personal lifestyle & institutional habits based upon the specific values and a distinctly male-identified sexuality that excludes the true feminine force and source in us all. This exclusively male-bodied view of reality and sexuality is not shared by all males. And neither are females blameless: the fact is that it is females who gestate males and instill a chunk of maternal DNA structure related to beliefs/assumptions, females who overwhelmingly teach young children, and often females who betray other females when resources are low and suitable partners are few. And, the male-identified view of an inhumane reality is not shared by all females.
That said, in the U.S., 1 in 6 men experience sexual assault in their lifetime, and at least double that number of women (1 in 3) will be raped in their lifetime. There were 19,000 sexual assaults in the U.S. military in 2010. And 99% of the time the perpetrator will be male. Though over 80% of assault predators are male acquaintances, nearly 20% are strangers.
It was the latter that devastated Central Austin in January 2012 when a beloved community activist, Esmeralda Barrera, was attacked and murdered by a male stranger in a home invasion in the dark morning hours of New Year's Day. Another woman, a homeless citizen who agreed to a prostitution proposal was also murdered that morning, by a male stranger in a violent attack behind closed doors. Her body, however, was found in a dumpster. The sadness of both these stories haunted and disturbed people, particularly women, the first weeks of the year, especially those living alone with all surrounding neighbors away still on holiday through mid January (yours truly), during the long dark nights of winter. It didn't help that an additional assault and another unrelated home invasion against females had occurred on New Year's Day, or that in the following weeks a few opportunistic copycat incidents were attempted, with women waking up to a male intruder in their bedrooms.
But a lighthouse in the storm was out there too: Moy Yat Academy's Free Women's Self-Defense training program which was being offered for two months of weekly classes for any lady who showed up (and the program later got extended to three months!) This innovative approach to accessible women's kung fu training was the first of its kind in the world, and gave the students who flocked to it usable techniques and self-training awareness from the first class on. It did so in a unique women's-only student environment, generously providing the immeasurable benefits of the refuge known as community spirit and emotional support, particularly for those students who were already part of the aforementioned 30%.
Speaking of which, back to the Ng Mui and Ving Tsun story. Because different versions of it were passed around to confuse enemies during the time of the Qing Dynasty, its folkloric effect has grown accordlingly. But we are not concerned with that. It is the beneficent female quality of this martial arts, and the ethics of the Ving Tsun code of conduct that we experience in our own bodies and minds, which embolden us and inspire us to train.
Historians also agree that this monastery later became a refuge for many hundreds of men who were resisters of the Manchu regime that shaved their heads and became sort of undercover novice warrior-monks (not priests) in the daily schedule of the monastery (chanting, meditation, meditation, tea, work, one meal, a little exercise, meditation, tea, meditation, sleep). As is often the case with male-written accounts, the question of how many nuns were also taking refuge in the nun's compound for the same reasons, or because they were part of a revolutionary couple, goes unmentioned, but common sense would allow for a number of them. All this made for a rather non-monastic undercurrent around Ng Mui,which she certainly would have been aware of and had deep insights about, being that she was a serious meditator.
As the story goes, soon after the new monks were accepted at the temple, a disgruntled elder monk chose to tip off the Manchu forces about the situation and the temple was then attacked and burned to the ground, with many of the monks & nuns and would-be rebels murdered. It is said that senior monks, probably given warning by their informant peer, fled and hid themselves in different mountains. As to if the senior nuns got the notice, well, nobody knows.
A surviving elder nun named Ng Mui (who was probably around 4 feet tall and a very lean lady) somehow managed to survive and make the perilous journey to the White Crane Temple in Wan Nam. There she codified the Southern Shaolin kung fu system and organized her knowledge in order to pass on the tradition. While there, she saw a snake and crane fighting, which gave her the idea to modify the kung fu that she knew. With the little we know about Ng Mui, it is clear that she was a great master: of her own mind, heart, and the natural law of kung fu within her. Rather than live as a victim-nun, crazed with grief, she stayed close to her practice and her path in the world within her and around her.
This was a time when male lineages were even more the exclusive authority on most everything, inequality between the privileges and limitations of monks and nuns was considered normal and unquestionable (as it still is in much of eastern temple/monastery culture), and martial arts systems were kept secret and limited to the sect. Ng Mui did something legendary: she taught the self defense form to a young woman who was not a Shaolin nun. This woman, named Yim, crossed paths with Ng Mui (some say because her family ran a tofu shop) and asked for help after having survived a sexual-bullying situation with a warlord - the common version of "courtship" by most powerful men at the time. (And warlords have continued to lord it through the recent times - in 1928 a warlord set fire to the rebuilt Shaolin monastery, and most of it was destroyed). Yim had brilliantly responded to the warlord's announcement that he was going to force her to marry him by telling him she would only do so if he could win at a one-on-one public martial arts fight with her, which distracted the warlord's ego enough to allow her to escape being bound onto his horse! Yim needed help to prepare for the fight, and her great faith in natural law helped her cross paths with the woman warrior Ng Mui.
Ng Mui trained Yim in the condensed and concentrated self defense kung fu practices and lovingly named her "Yim Ving Tsun" (pronounced yeem wing chun) which means "Beautiful Spring/Forever Springtime" in honor of Yim's physical and emotional transformation into a highly trained intuitive warrior in the rejuvenative arts of her kung fu. Yim Ving Tsun successfully beat the warlord, simultaneously shaming him so that he would look elsewhere for pleasure. Following this, Yim Ving Tsun married a man she loved who treated her right, a fellow named Leong Pok Toa.
She taught Leong Pok Toa the art, who fully received it and passed it on to Wong Wah Po. Wong Wah Po passed it on to Leung Lan Kwi, Leung Yee Tai, and Leung Tsun. Leung Tsun passed it on to Fung Wah and Chan Wah Shun. Grand Master Yip Man learned the complete system from Chan Wah Shuen and passed it on to Moy Yat, who passed it on to Moy Tung. Who passed it on to Austin's very own Sifu Aaron "Moy 10 Tung" Vyvial.
Here are some fun videos of modern Wing Chun women. They mean business:
Washington Post article on stranger attacks and the Austin New Year crimes
Rape Victim Advocacy Project's Sexual Assault Statistics, www.rvap.org
ACLU article on U.S. military stats
ACLU article on U.S. military stats
Shahar, Meir. The Shaolin Monastery: History, Religion, and the Chinese Martial Arts. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2008
Inside-Kung Fu article, The Shaolin Connection written by Eric Oram
A translation of three seals from the Kuen Kuit which detail the origins and lineage of the Ving Tsun family
A translation of Grandmaster Ip Man's essay on the "History and Origin of Wing Chun"
Mary Ceallaigh has a Bachelor of Arts in Human Development & Life Cycle Studies, is co-author of a 1999 NOW Resolution on Midwifery, and is a certified yoga teacher training in the two-year Women's program at Moy Yat Kung Fu Academy.