Historical Overview of Gung-Fu
The exact origin of Chinese martial arts is lost in the pages of time. Nevertheless, we can look back and deduce many stages of development.
During pre-historic ages, the art of self-defense was pretty much confined to throwing rocks and wielding crude weapons such as clubs and stones axes. However, in China, these methods, slowly and gradually, developed into highly refined methods of combat.
By the Bronze Age, weapons, armor and specialized techniques had been developed. These methods not only reflected fighting tactics, but also the principles of psychology, physiology, medicine, physical therapy and meditation. This early foundation continued to grow and flourish for millennium after millennium. Indeed, even in our modern world, Chinese martial arts are being practiced by more and more people. As we look back on the roots of the many schools and techniques, we must remember that a great deal of Gung Fu’s history is obscure. Because dates are often contradictory, much of what we hear today, must be considered legendary.
Many styles of Gung Fu revolve around Chinese metaphysics and cosmology. Ancient boxing masters often developed their fighting techniques by observing the world around them. Animals, birds and insects inspired many styles of Gung Fu. Of course, Chinese philosophy and religion also influenced the development of these styles.
The soft style of T’ai Chi Chuan, for instance, is rooted in the Taoist philosophies. In addition to its value as a mean of self-defense, T’ai Chi is highly beneficial for the promotion of good health. By training in T’ai Chi one can attain inner peace and a sense of physical and emotional well being. For this reason, T’ai Chi is often called Chinese Yoga: the art and science of meditation through movement.
While the soft styles of Gung Fu spring from Taoist philosophy, many of the hard styles trace their origins to the Buddhist monastery called Shaolin, on Mount Song in Henan province. It was there that a mysterious Indian priest named Bodhidharma (Damo) established residence nearly 1500 years ago. According to legend, when Damo arrived at the monastery, he found the monks in poor physical condition. Because of their inability to stay awake during meditation , Damo introduced a series of 18 exercises designed to nourish both body and mind. These therapeutic movements are said to have merged with the self-defense system already in place at Shaolin. During his stay there, Damo is also credited with introducing Chan (Zen) to China.
Damo’s actual role in boxing is ambiguous. Some historians imply that Shaolin priests, long before Damo’s arrival, were practicing a self-defense system. This system, which centered on staff fighting, was designed to protect the temple from roving bandits who plagued the countryside. Since the details are far removed from our own time, no definitive statement can be made as to how or when Shaolin Gung Fu originated.
In 618, the Mount Song monks helped the future emperor of the Tang Dynasty who then gave them permission to train fighting monks. During the Yuan Dynasty (around 1300) , the art is known to have spread far and wide.
In the 16 th century, a man named Kwok Yuen, entered the monastery to study their system of martial arts. Already a skilled swordsman, Kwok Yuen not only mastered the Shaolin art but also systematized its fist sets into 72 exercises. Still yearning for greater knowledge, he left the temple and traveled throughout China in search of other boxing masters. Eventually, he met two other experts: Pak Yook Fong (Bai Yu Feng), and an old man named Li. The three retired to the monastery, where the 72 sets were increased to 170. These techniques were then classified into 5 different animal forms: Dragon, Tiger, Leopard, Crane and Snake. Thus was born the Shaolin Five Form Fist.
Although many details of the Shaolin art are not clear, records indicate that priests from the temple proved themselves formidable fighters in many historical battles. Down through the centuries, therefore, the name Shaolin became renowned for the skill of its fighting monks.
Behind the temple walls, self-discipline augmented the technical fighting skill. A rigid code of ethics was established to improve the caliber of Shaolin boxers. In addition to the developments of fighting skill, humility, prudence, patience, and dedication became equally important in the Shaolin way of life. The culmination of this training was the graduation test. According to popular belief, boxers could only graduate by passing a harrowing life or death examination. The candidate was sealed in a specially designed labyrinth, which had only one exit: the front gate of the Shaolin monastery. As a student worked his way through this maze, he encountered deadly traps, armed dummies and other lethal devices, all triggered mechanically.
Then, in the early 1600s, the Manchurian people began their conquest of the Chinese. Sweeping southward they succeeded in winning battle after battle against the Ming Dynasty. The Ming royal family fled before the victorious Manchurian armies, finally arriving in Taiwan and founding a government in exile. Soon afterwards, Zheng Cheng Kung, the last Ming emperor, sent five loyalists to the mainland to build a network in order to fight against the Manchurian Ching Dynasty. During their travels throughout Min Nan, these five happened to stay in the Mount Jiu Lian Shaolin temple in the Fujian province. There, they found a group of highly trained, sympathetic warriors. The abbot gave his support and in 1662, the temple became a hotbed of Ming activism.
When Manchurian officials became aware that this monastery was becoming a center for Ming loyalist activity, it razed the temple. The monks who survived this attack established new lives throughout southern China and many continued in their efforts to overthrow the Manchus. Of course, this spread the Southern Shaolin learning far and wide. In Guangdong province, there were five major styles: Hung, Lau, Choi, Lee and Mok.
Kung Fu, Gung Fu, or What?
Have you ever wondered at the many names describing Asian Martial arts? You might have seen quan fa, karate, chuan fa, shorinji, tai ji, wu shu, kung fu, Gung Fu, tae kwon do, tai quan dao, chuan shu, guo shu and maybe a few others. What do they all mean? Are they the same or different? How about the spellings? In fact, there are two basic problems working together causing the confusion. The first is the problem of “spelling” Chinese characters. The second is the migration of vocabulary from one language into another.
“Spelling” Chinese characters may seem impossible. After all, aren’t they ideograms? You might be surprised to find that there are several methods for spelling sounds represented by the characters using the “Roman” alphabet. In fact, you have probably seen two of these systems for yourself. Have you ever seen Peking and Beijing and known it was the same place? Peking and Beijing are just two different ways of spelling the same two characters that mean “northern capital”.
The first popular way of spelling Chinese characters was the Wade-Giles system. It focused on the “puffs” of breath that make similar sounds different. For example, “p” and “b” are said the same way except that “p” has a “puff” of breath (or aspiration) as part of its pronunciation. Another example is “t” and “d”. Wade and Giles felt that fewer letters could be used to represent the sounds if another symbol were introduced to represent the aspiration.
Therefore, they used an apostrophe (‘) to represent the aspiration. A word like “Tao” is pronounced “dao” and “T’ai” is pronounced “tai”.
Nowadays, the Pinyin system is gaining in popularity and most people are familiar with it from modern maps. Chinese linguists developed it to be more familiar to foreign speakers of Chinese. So, letters like “t” and “d” represent sounds we are familiar with. On the other hand, it also uses letters in ways few native English speakers can sound out without help. Pinyin must represent several unique sounds that Chinese has but isn’t represented in our alphabet. For example, looking at a map of China you may discover “q”,”x”,”zh”, and other strange beginnings to words. In those instances, Pinyin borrowed letters we use infrequently to represent the unique Chinese sounds. In general, the new system is easier to grasp because there are fewer oddities to remember. The competition and overlapping usage of these two systems has created the confusion in instances like “kung fu” and “Gung Fu”. These two spellings represent the sound of the same two characters.
The second problem is the introduction of new words in another language. For example, when Chinese martial arts were first popularized in America it was called “kung fu”, and this was eventually further strengthened by the TV show.
However, the Chinese themselves have several words with similar meanings, and as these words become of popular use in America, they came to represent different styles of martial arts. For example, “kung fu” now, generally refers to southern styles of Chinese martial arts because they largely migrated first, arriving with immigrants from Hong Kong and Guangzhou, over the past 100 years. In America, ”wu shu” tends to refer to the very acrobatic styles practiced in the northern China, and patronized by the Chinese Sports Administration. This relatively recent immigration reflects the later immigration of northern styles from their southern cousins.
“Quan fa” is another term beginning to crop up across America, and is used in many different ways. Literally, “quan fa” means “fist method”, and in Chinese, refers to only one part of martial arts. The Chinese refer to many different “fa”, like “jian fa” (swordsmanship), “ti fa” (kicking), “bu fa” (footwork), etc. However, “quan fa” is now being used to describing martial arts… even Japanese styles. I have seen several karate schools that style themselves as “quan fa” schools. Perhaps, this is an effort to appear more historically knowledgeable, but it seems to be purposely confusing. Someone wishing to learn more about Chinese martial arts and enters a “quan fa” karate school will be disappointed.
The “spelling” of Chinese characters is not a new problem. Japan, perhaps the most heavily influenced by Chinese culture, has also seen these two problems. Originally, the Japanese used Chinese characters as their written language, and only later, developed their own alphabet. Japanese writing retains many Chinese characters. Perhaps, you have heard of Kanji? This is the Japanese “spelling” for han zi, or “Chinese words”. Another example is Shorinji and Shaolinquan, which are the same “spelling” for characters meaning “fist of Shaolin”.
So, the next time you see a martial arts school, take time to ask about the heritage of the school. Who were their teachers? Where did they learn? How much does the teacher understand of this heritage? After all, martial arts is much more than punching and kicking. If your future teacher knows no more than that, you are missing out! [Top]
The monastery dates to the year 495, when King Xiao Wen of the Nothern Wei dynasty built the temple on Mount Song in Dengfeng County, Heibei province. The remote mountain top was perfect for quiet contemplation of the Buddha.
Temples were not just humble places of worship, however. They held many rituals objects of gold, silver and other valuable materials that made them a target for roving bandits, and Shaolin was no exception. In 610, the bandits were so angered by the monks’ resistance that they burned much of the temple. But they never did get their hands on the treasures. Perhaps it was this need to protect themselves that led to the monks’ proficiency in staff fighting. By 621, when they rescued the Prince of Chin during a battle to unify the land under the Tang dynasty, the monks had already become excellent fighters and relied on their staves to defend not only the innocent, but also the nation.
The Rescue of the Prince
The prince (and later, emperor), Li Shi Min, was the son of the first emperor of the Tang dynasty, the first to seize the capital of Chang An (now Xi An) after the fall of the Sui dynasty. When Gao Zu ascended the throne, however, the central plains sates refused to recognize his rule. Li Shi Min set off to unify the land through military campaigns. In 621, while Li was leading an army against the rival emperor Wang Shi Zhong, in the area of Shaolin, he found himself caught in a pincer movement. Desperate, he entreated Shaolin for help. The monastery sent 13 monks who entered the battle and captured Wan Ren Ze, the enemy’s right-hand man. Wang Shi Zhong surrendered, and in gratitude, Li offered the loyal monks official titles and land. He also proclaimed that Shaolin would be thenceforth allowed to train its own army of fighting monks. These deeds are recorded, along with the Li Shi Min’s letter requesting aid, on a stone steel still kept in the temple to this day.
A Research Institute
Shaolin’s fame as a home to both Zen Buddhism and fighting monks spread throughout Asia. Since it held royal favor, the temple was very rich and attracted man men who sought to “leave home” (in other words, become a monk). Retired military men also came to Shaolin, the perfect place to contemplate nirvana as well as pass on the fighting knowledge they gained in a lifetime of practice.
As the monastery’s collective knowledge became deeper and more refined, it developed rigorous training methods. The monks themselves became the best fighters in China. Later, the monastery instituted an annual tournament; the top fighters were challenged by the monks, and if they were victorious, their techniques were made part of the Shaolin curriculum. In this way, century after century, the monastery served as a research institute, collecting the best of all martial arts and refining them to their highest sum and substance.
Once upon a time (according to legend), a Shaolin master of the Tiger style went out to his garden. But someone had got there first: a crane, pecking away at his newly planted vegetables. The priest grabbed a stick and tried to chase the bird away. But the crane effortlessly eluded each swing, only to leap into the air and come back with a furious counterattack with its sharp beak.
The surprised monk beat a hasty retreat and soon after, he began a study of the crane’s behavior. Over time, he learned how this frail-looking creature would respond to various types of attack, and by imitation, added a series of new techniques to the Shaolin fighting system, based on fluidity, grace and sharp pecking attacks. By combining the crane techniques with the dynamic Tiger style, a new and highly effective method of combat was developed.
Hung Gar Gung Fu, also known as Tiger-Crane style, is the result of centuries of refinement of these techniques. Skillful Hung boxers are powerful and swift, with an immovable stance. Short-range tactics are taught for defense along with long-range movements for offense. Blocks and counters have the striking power of a sledgehammer. Like the fluid and graceful crane, however, firmness is complemented by softness. Softness and firmness must become seamlessly one.
The history of Hung Gar begins in the 17 th century with master Hung Hee Goon (also called Hung Xi Guang), a tea merchant from Fujian province.
Master Hung studied at the Southern Shaolin Temple under the abbot Master Chee Sin and then, with the nuns Pi Yu and Fong Wing Chun, who taught him defensive skills. Hung combined the nuns’ two styles to create his own. After the temple was razed by the Manchurians, the new Hung Gar (Hung fist) style quickly spread throughout southern and central China.
Wong Kei Ying and Wong Fei Hung gained fame as belong to the illustrious "Ten Tigers of Guangdong", a group of the top ten martial arts masters in Guangdong province. Another master from the ten tigers was Tiet Kiu Sam, whose real name was Leung Kwan. He was also a Hung Gar master, whose master, Kwok Yan Sin Si, had also learned at the Southern Shaolin Temple under Gee Sim. Tiet Kiu Sam's top student, Lam Fook Shing also played an important role in Hung Gar history, because he taught young Wong Fei Hung the internal energy form, Tiet Sien Kuen (Iron Wire Form). Wong Fei Hung was a martial arts prodigy, and also learned traditional Chinese medicine from his father. Both had earned excellent reputations for their medicine and martial arts, which usually went hand in hand in old China. There were also many adventures that Wong Fei Hung was involved in, from training the military and being the leader of the Canton militia, to a famous fight on the docks of Hong Kong where the dockyard workers attacked him. The story goes that he fought over a hundred men some armed with sticks and metal hooks. He was armed with a long staff, and had to fight and run, fight and run, just to save his life. Wong Fei Hung also had many wives and children. Sadly the first 3 wives all died of illnesses, and gangsters in the streets of Hong Kong killed his eldest son, Wong Hon Sum. After this tragedy, he refused to teach any of his children martial arts; for fear that evildoers would try to get to him through his children.
Wong Fei Hung's forth wife was Mok Gwai Lan, incidentally, a master of Mok Gar Gung Fu. The story of their meeting is rather ironic, because Wong and his students were performing a lion dance and Gung Fu demonstrations, when his shoe accidentally came off and struck Mok in the face. Despite Wong's attempts to apologize, she slapped him and scolded him like a little boy. Wong became infatuated with the girl, whom he later married and had children with. Mok Gwai Lan was responsible for the women's Gung Fu and gynecology at her husband's school and clinic, Po Chi Lum. Later on in life, at age 87, she gave a powerful performance of Fu Hok Seung Ying on HKTV, showing her high level of skill, and the benefits of good training.
Lam Sai Wing is widely considered as one of the best martial artist of his time. He was born (1860) in Ping Chow, a small village in Namhoi district of Kwangtung province. He grew up at a time when China was still under the rule of the Ch'ing government and the people were suffering from poverty, hunger and oppression. It is said that Lam Sai Wing was born into a family of martial artist and started learning Gung Fu from very young age under his father. Because of his hard work and dedication as well as his strong interest and natural ability in Gung Fu he progressed rapidly and in time mastered his family style. Over the years as Lam grow up, he trained under many other well known Gung Fu masters always trying to improve his skill and knowledge in Gung Fu. As a young man he earned his living working in a slaughterhouse as a pork butcher. Because of his trade he was also known by the nickname Porky Wing (Jhiu Wing).
Lam Sai Wing’s search for a Gung Fu master finally ended when he heard about the legendary folk hero Wong Fei Hung. Lam had heard so much about Wong Fei Hung that one day he decided to go and see him to find out if Wong Fei Hung was as good as everyone had been talking about. It is said that Lam respectfully challenged Wong Fei Hung and asked to cross hands with him to test his skills. The challenge however didn't last long and despite his already accomplished skills Lam was no match for Wong Fei Hung. He was knocked down to the ground by Wong 's famous "No shadow Kick"(Mo Ying Guerk). Lam being defeated easily realized there was much he could learn from this great master. He kneeled on the floor and asked to be accepted as Wong Fei Hung’s disciple.
Lam Sai Wing stayed and trained under Wong Fei Hung until the day Wong passed away. Over many years of hard training, Lam learned and mastered everything his master taught him, including his famous skills in dit da. He eventually became the most famous and well-known student of Wong Fei Hung. As mentioned earlier, open challenges in old times were common and all challenges were accepted to save face and as a part of Gung Fu tradition any challenges to the master were first met by one of his top students. This being the case, Lam faced many expert Gung Fu fighters who came to cross hands with his master. Lam Sai Wing's fame spread all over Kwangtung and he became a well-known and respected figure. Lam's fame grew even more when he entered a competition in Canton. Lam using his Hung Gar skills defeated all his opponents and won the fist prize. There are many stories/incidents about Lam Sai Wing, his Gung Fu skills and how he became to be one of the best boxers of his time. One of the best known and much talked about of these is the incident that took place at the Lok Sin Theatre.
Lam Sai Wing was a kind and honest person and always helped those in need. His deeds are still remembered to this day. On one occasion in the early days of the republic Lam demonstrated his Gung Fu skills in a charity event to raise money for an orphanage in Canton (Kwangjau). The president Sun Yat Sen was also present at this event. (Sun Yat Sen (1866-1925) was a famous revolutionary leader and doctor who is widely recognized as the father of republican China. After overthrowing the Manchu’s in 1911 Sun Yat Sen was elected as the provisional president of the new Republic of China on 25 December 1911). Sun Yat Sen was very impressed by Lam Sai Wing and honored Lam by giving him a medal for all his deeds and efforts for helping those in need.
Lam was an excellent teacher and taught his skills openly to the public. Mass of students from all over southern China came to study under him. Lam Sai Wing being an excellent teacher produced many talented and high caliber students. He was also asked to instruct the army in martial arts and became the head instructor for the new Republics Chinese army in Canton.
Lam Sai Wing did not have children of his own, but adopted a young orphaned boy (Lam Cho) whose parents had passed away when the boy was still very young. Lam Sai Wing loved and raised Lam Cho like his own son, gave him his family name and passed down all his Hung Gar knowledge as well as teaching him the traditional art of bone setting and healing (dit da). Some years after the fall of Ch’ing Dynasty and in early years of the Republic, Lam Sai Wing was invited to live and teach in Hong Kong. Lam Sai Wing eventually moved to Hong Kong, taking his nephew with him. Soon after moving to Hong Kong, Lam Sai Wing set up the Southern Martial Physical Culture Association where he continued teaching Hung Gar until his death in 1943.
Lam Sai Wing’s endless efforts to teach, preserve and spread the art of Hung Gar are well known. Lam with the help of his students popularized Hung Gar even more when he published three books on hung gar: Gung Gee Fook Fu Kuen – Fu Hok Seung Ying Kuen and Tid Sin Kuen.
Lam Cho came from Pan Chao in Guangshou. An orphan, he was adopted and raised by his uncle, Lam Sai Wing. When his uncle went to Hong Kong, he went with him to learn martial arts. He was blessed with quick arms, a strong body, and superior physical dexterity. His uncle loved him as his own son, and taught him in the authentic martial arts tradition. He was highly intelligent, and quick to understand all the different styles of Gung Fu. Throughout his twenty years with his teacher, he accumulated vast experience in Gung Fu and the art of Chinese medicine. By virtue of his medical expertise, he helped thousands of people. As a young man, he was already helping his Sifu in teaching at the Southern Martial Arts Association and eventually set up his own Gung Fu studio. His skill was so well known, that people throughout the South referred to him as Sifu even as a young man. He set up another studio in Kowloon, where thousands of students trained. His closest students set up studios to teach as well; thus, those who had his teaching spread across Hong Kong and Guangzhou, and the Hung Gar style became a shining example of excellence in martial arts. Some of Lam Cho's more notable students include Chan Hon Chung, Wong Lee, Chiu Kau, Tang Kwok Wah, Kwong Tit Fu, Lee Yat Ming, Wong Yiu Ching, and Buck Sam Kong. All of them have opened up Gung Fu schools of great renown. Grandmaster Lam was well respected and was invited to give demonstrations for the Navy and Army
Both Chinese and foreigners complimented his performance, and his photo was soon appearing in London newspapers. The school of martial arts spread throughout the globe, enhancing the reputation of the Lam family and the Hung Gar style. Grandmaster Lam traveled far and wide, and never tired of teaching the style his Sifu taught him. He was especially happy and willing to help newcomers to the art. Many of the students that he trained went on to develop great reputations for themselves. All were grateful for his noble deeds, but grandmaster Lam remained humble and peaceful, and was therefore well respected.
When the Japanese invaded Hong Kong, grandmaster Lam's studio burned down. Fighting broke out all across the city. Grandmaster Lam helped maintain the peace and aided the people in their suffering, and his deeds are still remembered to this day. When Hong Kong fell, the Japanese forces went looking for grandmaster Lam, so he returned in secrecy to his village. When the people of his village heard of his return, they immediately entreated him to teach martial arts. Finally, after Hong Kong was liberated, he returned to Hong Kong and set up his studio. He taught, gave medical care, and served as national martial arts consultant for various unions and workers associations. His medical skill was superb, and his principles were especially admirable; he did not take more from the rich, but nonetheless reduced his fees for the poor, to the point of providing free service and medicine. He was compassionate and generous. He accomplished a great deal in his youth, and still enjoys researching and discussing medicine and martial arts every day. The future still holds much in store for grandmaster Lam. His eldest son, Lam Chun Fai, now carries on his Hung Gar teaching.
Lam Chun Fai was born in Hong Kong. His great uncle Lam Sai Wing gave him his name. He started learning Hung Gar Gung Fu from his father Lam Cho at the age of five. When he was 18, Lam Chun Fai opened his own Gung Fu school and dit dar (bone-setting) clinic in North Point, Hong Kong. At the same time, he taught Gung Fu in the Lam Sai Wing and Lam Cho Gung Fu school as chief instructor. Through the years, Lam Chun Fai has frequently been invited to give demonstrations, lead seminars, and teach private classes all over the world.
Many Gung Fu masters among Hung’s descendants have become famous throughout China. Tik Kiu Salm was one of them, the first among the famous Ten Tigers of Guangdong. A master of masters, Tik Kiu had learned Hung Gar in his youth and specialized in Iron Wire Gung Fu. Tik Kiu means “iron hands”.
Indeed, his hands were said to be as hard and tough as steel. The story went that even 100 people together couldn’t pull his hands down while he was practicing Iron Wire. The martial arts were spreading widely throughout Guangdong province at this time, and the Ten Tigers – all masters boxers – were known far and wide for their Gung Fu skills.
The other nine were Wong Yan Lam, So Hut Yee, Tam Chai Kwan, Wong Kei Ying, Iron Finger Chan, So Hut Fu, Wong Ting Ho, Lai Yan Chiu and Chow Tai.
There is a direct line from Tik Kiu’s teaching to some of the most famous fighters of recent Chinese history. His disciple Lam Fok Sing trained his disciple Wong Kei Ying, who in turn trained his son Wong Fei Hung. Even today, 100 years after his death, Wong Fei Hung’s Gung Fu, heroism and strength of character are admired.
Wong Fei Hung
One of the most beloved Chinese heroes of modern times, Wong Fei Hung is legendary not just for his considerable Gung Fu skill but for his kindness and modesty. He often called himself the “tofu Gung Fu instructor” – as weak and wobbly as bean curd. Physically he resembled the god of longevity, with large, long ears and long eyebrows. He looked like the Buddhist Lohan. He was very sturdy build, yet he was always all smiles. Everyone loved him.
He also had a keen sense of humor and was fond of playing jokes on his students. The most famous of these was Lam Sai Wing (Lin Shi Rong), who used to interrupt the master’s naps with a barrage of questions about Hung Gar techniques, especially those for neutralizing attacks. One day, Wong was so weary of the questions that he demonstrated a push with his palm that sent Lam flying straight out of the hall.
Wong Fei Hung was a master of such techniques as the Eight-Triagram Lance( with which he once defeated a group of 30 attackers) and Shadowless Kick and also loved Chinese lion dancing. His skill with the flying plummet (a part of lion dancing) was excellent. He could throw the plummet into a jar from a long distance – it was said he never missed. Whenever he performed the lion dance, he would throw the plummet out from the lion’s mouth at the green jar, which was hung on a building 40 feet off the ground.
Grandmaster Wong Fei Hung was also skilled in light-body Gung Fu and the art of striking the body’s vulnerable pressure points, an art that requires the highest level of skill and puts an enemy’s life in the hands of the master. He served in the Ch’ing dynasty civil service, where he was appointed chief Gung Fu instructor and army physician.
In addition, Wong Fei Hung systematized the Tiger and Crane movements into formal fists sets. Known as the FuHok Sheong Yin Kuen (Hu He Shuang Xing Quan), these Tiger-Crane routines are a specialty of Hung Gar and a vital part of today’s Shaolin martial arts.
Stories and Legends of Wong Fei Hung and Lam Sai Wing:
During the time Wong Fei Hung lived in Hong Kong (after he had become one of the Ten Tigers of Guangdong), there was a European who kept a huge, fierce bulldog. The owner proclaimed that whoever could defeat the dog in a fight would be rewarded with a large sum of money.
Contenders flocked to the European’s residence to try their skill but the bulldog proved both strong and treacherous. All those who fought it were defeated and badly injured. The dog came to be known as Invincible Divine Dog.
When word reached Wong Fei Hung, he was furious with the European’s insult to the Chinese. He determined to get rid of the dog to safeguard the people as well as China’s good name, and arranged for a showdown.
Wong Fei Hung stood in the middle of the ring that had seen many of the man-versus-dog battles. The European released the dog and it flung itself at Wong Fei Hung with a ferocious snarl. Wong raised his palm in an apparent move to strike the dog. The dog jumped to bite the hand but no sooner, had it leaped than it was flung backward through the air. It struggle to get up and in a matter of minutes, it was dead (much to the spectators’ amazement). No one had seen Wong’s Shadowless kick, it was too swift.
Lam Sai Wing
Wong Fei Hung’s most famous disciple, Lam Sai Wing, was born in the Nam Hoi district of Guandong. Lam grew up at a time when most Chinese people suffered from poverty, hunger and oppression. His grandfather taught him at an early age that he had a duty to help his people, and that the way to fulfill his duty was through Gung Fu. Thus began the boy’s lifelong study of martial arts.
Lam trained under several masters, staying the longest with Wong Fei Hung, and after many years opened a Gung Fu school of his own in Guangzhou ( Canton). He was frequently challenged by rival instructors.
One day, Lam and his friends were traveling on horseback through the countryside. A band of troublemakers blocked their way and demanded money. Lam’s student, outraged, began to scold the bandits, who attacked him. Seeing his student outnumbered, Lam enter the battle and sent bandits flying in all directions.
On another occasion, a bald-headed instructor entered Lam’s training hall and issued a direct challenge. Their duel lasted only seconds, ending with the challenger lying helpless on the floor, forced to acknowledge Lam’s superior skill. The instructor later brought his own students to Lam’s school so they could begin studying Gung Fu all over again.
Another rival, Fan, was notorious for bullying others. After announcing that no one else was allowed to open a school in his territory, he attacked Lam but quickly discovered he had met his match. He suffered a blow to the head which sent blood streaming down his face and forced him to seek medical attention from Lam’s teacher Wong Fei Hung.
A rather unusual challenge presented itself while Lam and Wong were visiting the Hoi Tong monastery. There they encountered a fighting monk who had been nicknamed “Iron Head” because he had hardened his head for attacking. Eager to test Lam, the monk issued a challenge and charged like an angry bull. Lam simply avoided the attack, threw “Iron Head” to the ground, and politely helped him to his feet. The act of good nature greatly impressed the monk and the day ended happily.
Of the numerous stories of Lam Sai Wing’s Gung Fu skill, none is better known than the Lok Sin Theater Battle. In those days, the Guangzhou police was known for its inefficiency. Theater owners hired their own security guards. Lam’s group was engaged to protect Sin Theater.
One day, Lam’s student Chiu Ha entered without paying, as usual, not knowing that the theater had changed owners. The new guards confronted him and threatened him with violence. Upon returning home, he told Master Lam about the incident. Although Lam sympathized with Chiu, he explained that the new owners were right to expel him. “Furthermore”, he explained. ”Our Gung Fu should not be used for settling personal disputes such as this.”
Some of Chiu’s hot-headed fellow students, however, wanted to take matters into their own hands and avenge the insult. To settle things peacefully, Lam agreed to visit the new owners. But once in the theater, Lam and his men found themselves caught in a trap. The doors were slammed shut and locked and attackers charged out from every corner. Heavily outnumbered, Lam grabbed a weapon from one of his opponents and began to fight the battle of his life. It was a long and bitter brawl, which only ended when Lam was able to knock out the lights with a rock. Battling his way through the dark, he smashed open a door and disappeared into the huge crowd that had gathered outside.
In all, several hundred fighters were involved in the battle. Many were seriously injured. Newspapers reported that more than 80 people were hospitalized. Lam was the only one who came out unscathed.
In 1911, the Ch’ing dynasty ended and the Republic of China was born.
In those early years of the new government, Lam worked as a Gung Fu instructor for the Chinese army. When he retired, the people of Hong Kong invited him to settle in their colony. He accepted their offer and taught there until the 1940s.
Lam Sai Wing’s art of Tiger-Crane Gung Fu passed down to his nephew Lam Cho (1910 – 2012). With the chart below, students in the Tiger and Crane Academy can trace their heritage in the Hung Gar style back more than 300 years.
- Monk Chee Sin Sim See
- Hung Hei Goon
- Tik Kiu Sam
- Wong Tai
- Wong Kei Ying
- Wong Fei Hung
- Lam Sai Wing
- Lam Cho
- Lam Chun Fai
- Buck Sam Kong
- Edward Lane