by Kyoshi Tallack
A Shao-Lin temple has existed in China since time immemorial. Da Mo (Daruma) arrived in Guangzhou, China in 527 AD, during the reign of Emperor Liang Wu. After being dismissed by the emperor, Da Mo retreated to Shao-lin Temple. There in a span of seven years he supposedly created and taught the “Changing Tendons/Muscles Classic” (yi jin jing/yihk gan ging) and “Washing Marrow/Brain Classic” (xi sui jing/sai seui ging). These two innovations would become the foundations in the growth of Asian martial arts. Originally they were intended means to nurture the body and the soul, but inevitably these foundations grew into martial combat techniques used on the battle fields.
Freeing the Prince, Earning a Home (618 AD)
At the end of Sui dynasty (581-618 AD),in Boguzhuang Province were lands owned by the Shao-lin Temple. Tending the land were thirteen monks led by Head Abbott Shan Hu. Zhi Cao, Hui Chang, Tan Zong, Ming Yue, Pit Sheng, Zhi Shou, Dao Guang, Zhi Xing, Seng Men, Pu Wei, Ling and Seng Feng made up the rest of the original crew. Shan Hu decided that the monks should help the King rescue his son who bad been kidnapped. They were successful in freeing the Prince Li Shimin who became the first emperor of the Tang dynasty (618-907 AD) and he rewarded the monastery with 600 acres and permission to train five hundred fighting monks.
The Style Grows
The next major turning point for the monastery was in the Song dynasty (960-1278 AD). One of the fighting monks, Jue Yuan, met Li Sou and Bai Yu-Feng.and brought them to the monastery to compare and categorize their knowledge. At the time the monks practiced “eighteen Buddha hands.” or Lo-Han Kune.
Those eighteen techniques Bai expanded to one hundred seventy-three techniques. He then authored the “Essence of the Five Fist,” which detailed the theories of the “five shapes” (wu xing/ngh yihng) – dragon (long/luhng), tiger (hu/fu), crane (he/hohk), snake (she/seh), and leopard (bao/paau).
It is believed that in 1768 the Henan Shao-lin Temple was razed down to the ground by order of the Qing government with the assistance of a renegade monk Ma Ninger (Ma, Nihng-yih), who accidentally broke an ancient lantern and was reprimanded for his negligence. Ma felt his punishment was unfair and left the monastery vowing revenge.
At the time the monarchy was investigating the monastery for harboring Ming dynasty (1368-1644 AD) patriots. Attacking with the assistance of Ma, Imperial forces devastated the Temple in our year of 1768.
Among the survivors were five individuals who in time became known as the five ancestors of Southern Chinese Boxing:
Mr. Baahk Meih (Bai Mei) and Mr. Fuhig Douh-Duk (Feng Dao-Duk); Mr. Gee Sin (Ji Sihn, Zhi Shan) who is associated with Hung Gar (huhng ga kyuhn/hong jia quan). Mr. Miuh Hin (Miao Xian) and Mr. Ngh Mui (Wu Mei)
Gee Sin relocated to another Shao-lin Temple, which was said to be located on the Gaau lin Saan (Jiao LIhi Shan), a mountain located in the Fujian Province.
THE NEW SHAO-LIN TEMPLE
Gee Sin became the Abbott, or the spiritual leader of the Fujian Shao-lin Temple, referred to as Ji Sihn Daan Si (Zhi Shan Dan Shi).
In 1803 Jyn Gu-Chan (Zhu Gucha), apparently a tea merchant, came to live at the monastery. He trained in as many techniques as the monks would share with him. After a while Gee Sin himself took an interest in Jyu’s training. He made sure that Jyu was taught the notion of tiger theories developed by Bai Yu-Feng generations ago.
Shao-Lin Burns Again (@1820)
The officials felt the monks were involved in revolutionary activities against the monarchy, and attacked the temple. At the end of the siege it is believed that only 30 survived from the thousands that supposedly lived within the monastery. Among the survivors were Ji Shin Saam, Dak Woh Seuhng, Choi Hin-Fuk (Cai Xianfu), Jeh Sai-Fuk, And Jyn Gu-chan.
Gee Sin had lived through his second government attack on his home temple, and decided it was tiine to take action against them. He did his best to encourage others to ‘Throw out the Ching and return the Ming”.
He traveled incognito, and for a while toured with a theatrical troupe. Gee Sin decided to impart his knowledge of boxing to members of the troupe for use against the monarchy. One of his students from this time period Luk A-Choi (Lu A-Cai) became intluential on the development of Hung Gar we know today.
Hung gar kuen quickly became prevalent though the Gwong Dung province for being one of the first openly taught boxing styles. Upon hearing of the success of Hung Hei-Gun, Luhk A-Choi decided to join him to increase his knowledge of boxing and help with the cause to overthrow the monarchy.
With time Luhk A-Choi went on to teach his boxing knowledge of hung gar to the Wong family of Xiqiao village,and later to Wong Kai-Ying (Haung Qiying), who went on to be one of the ” Ten Tigers of Canton”, a well-known group of boxers selected by their peers as the best boxers within their community.
WONG FEI HUNG
Around 1847 Wong Kay Ying, student of Hung Hei Gun and Luk Ah-Choi gave birth to his first son, Wong Fei-Hung. From an early age Fei-Hung was intrigued by martial arts, but when he asked his father for instruction he was always denied.
This led Fei-Hung to Luhk A-Choi, who was increasing in age. Luhk A-Choi introduced young Fei-Hung to the rudiments of hung gar, He then approached the boys father, Wong Kai-Ying, telling him that the art of hung gar must be passed on, especially to his own son.
In his early twenties he followed his fathers’ footsteps and became one of the “Ten Tigers of Canton,”. Later in life he taught kungfu to the navy in Canton and the fifth regiment of the Guangdong army.
Moving to Fukien, he became the right hand man of general Tong Gin Cheong, a resistance fighter against the Qing government. After the movement failed Wong returned to Canton, taught kungfu and established a dit dar practice (medicine shop)
Jyu YuChan Becomes Hung Hei Gun
Meanwhile, Jyu decided to leave behind his homeland to go deeper into the south, until he reached Flower Country (Fa Yuhn/Hua Xian, fujian), where he decided to change his name as a symbolic gesture to the first Ming dynasty emperor, Jyu Huhng-Mouh (Zhu Yuanzhang)
Jyn chose the name Hung Hei Gun and decided to teach openly the skills he acquired at the monastery. Later Hung Hei-Gun wed a relative of his fellow classmate Fong Yuhng -Cheun (Fang Yongchun).
Hei Gun was introduced to his wife’s knowledge of crane theory, which was imparted to her by her uncle Fong Sai-Yuhk.
HUNG GAR FOUNDATION
The combination of Hei-Gun and Fong Yuhng-Cheun’s boxing knowledge helped lay the foundation for the development of hung gar. At this time the most significant set of the system was gung gee fook fu (gung jih fuhk fu /gong zi fu hu), which combined all the prior knowledge Hung Hei-Gun learned at the monastery. Hung based the form on a prior set which he learned at the monastery, “hiding tiger fist” (fuhk fu kyuhn/fu hu quan), which was supposedly already in existence by 1765. It originally consisted of eight simple sections, which Hung expanded to 245 movements. With the assistance of his wife Yuhng-Chein, the foundation for the system was being set, which would later become one of the most popular sets in the Southern boxing circle, “tiger crane, double shape fist “(fuhohk seung yihng kyuhn/hu he shuang xing quan). finally becoming one of the most highly skilled herbalist and bonesetters in the province.
Wong was not only good at martial arts but also had exceptional Mo Duk (martial virtue) and medicinal skill.
During the late Ching Dynasty he owned two herbal shops, one in Canton the other in Fujian. At his Po Chi Lum herbal shops, he would make his own Dit Da medicine, which became very famous. This led him to be known as one of the four top doctors in Southern China. These four doctors, Wong Fei Hung, Jow Hong Gon, Lei Gam Chuen, and So Hut Yee are still remembered even today.
Wong Fei-Hung is widely recognized as the Father of modem day Hung Gar, much the same as Funakoshi Gichin is recognized as the Father of Modern Karate. Wong Fei Hung had produced more than one hundred “in the door” disciples. Some of the most famous ones were: Liang Foon (his #1 disciple, famous for cracking the ground under his feet when he sat in horse stance), Ling Wan Gai (famous for his “Gwai Gerk,” ghost kicking skills), Chan Din Biu, Lam Tsai Wing (famous for his saber techniques and writing three books on Hung Gar), Tang Fung (famous for his strict rigorous training and his “Old Square-Mind” mentality), Sui Low Yuk and Sui Low Ngan (uncle and nephew who spread the art to Malaysia), Tak Gan Jow and Luk Jin Gun.
Mok Gwai-Lan (Mo, Guilan), who was Wong Fei Hung’s fourth wife carried on his teaching traditions right up to the time of her death in the 1970s.
Wong Fei Hung was famous as a patriot, doctor, kungfu master. One of his greatest legacies is the Fu Hok Sheong Yin Kuen, or Tiger and Crane set, which formalized Hung Gar’s major techniques. Wong Fei Hung was also famous for the tiger tail kick and shadowless kick. Wong Fei Hung died in 1933 at the age of 83.
By the mid-twentieth century hung gar had become one of the most practiced styles of boxing in Hong Kong due to Lam Sai-Wing and Dang Fung.
Lam Sai-Wing helped cement the art of hung gar by being one of the first to teach the art openly in Hong Kong, and by issuing three books on the style with the publication of gung gee fook fu, tiger crane double shape fist, and “iron thread fist”, tid sin kuen, in 1917.
During his lifetime Wong had four wives.. In October of 1924 there was a strike against the government by all the businesses. Canton City fell to riots and Wong Fei Hung’s home and herbal shop were burnt to the ground. He lost all his belongings and money. Wong took ill and died in his home at the age of 83, in 1933. His wife moved with their sons Wan Jai and Go Si Da Do, to Hong Kong, and taught Hung Kuen there. She also produced many famous disciples.
LAM SAI WING
Lam Sai Wing was born in the Nam Hoi district of Kwantung province. He studied with several masters, staying the longest with Wong Fei Hung. After many years of study Lam opened a kungfu school of his own in Canton.
In 1911 the qing dynasty came to an end and the republic of China was born. In the early years of the new government Lam worked as a kungfu instructor for the Chinese army. When he retired due to age, the people of Hong Kong invited him to settle in their colony. He accepted their offer and taught there until the 1940’s. Lam Sal Wing’s art of Tiger-Crane kungfu was passed down to his nephew Lam Jo.
In Hong Kong Lam Jo is famous both for his dit dar healing and his Hung Gar. Also known as Lam Kwoon Kau, Lam Jo was an orphan from Ping Chow in Guangdong province. He was adopted by his uncle Lam Sai Wing and grew up helpnig his uncle by teaching kungfu at his Southern Physical Culture Center.
TANG FUNG (1874-1955)
Tang Fung was born in Sam Soy village, Gwan Dong province in 1874. During his youth he learned Hung Gar from Sifu Wong Yau, Sifu Yuen Yin and also studied Mau Shan, a form of folk sorcery. Later he learned from Wong Fei Hing, completing the orthodox version of Hung Gar and becoming Wong’s close disciple.
After Wong Fei Hung was quite old, Tang Fung and his brother Tang Yee opened a school called “Yee Yung Tong” (chivalrous brave hall). After Wong’s death Madame Mok Gwai Lan, Wong’s wife, taught an all woman’s class at Tang’s school. After the start of the Sino-Japanese war in 1937, Tang moved to Hong Kong. He established a medicine shop at Sum Soi Bo and helped many people with their illnesses. Always having a good heart, he never charged for treatments if one could not afford it.
Today some following generations in the West debate which branch might have the more authentic version of the Hung Gar of Wong Fei Hung. Each branch justifies its version as “truest” to Wong since Wong is so prominent.
However, although Wong’s contribution was unquestionably significant, he was only one master in the great lineage of Hung Gar. There is so much more to Hung Gar beyond Wong Fei Hung. When you stop to consider that the history of Hung Gar is equivalent in length to the history of the United States of America, these debates about authenticity come into perspective more clearly. Hung Gar has spread to the West only in the last couple of decades, less then a quarter of its history, and there is already variation worth debating.
Meanwhile, it has been spreading from Canton to the rest of China for its entire two-century life span. During all of that time, it continued to evolve in several alternative directions.
Our Canadian Karate Kung-Fu version was brought to Canada through the efforts of Dave Chong, who learned in a suburb of Canton. While not mirroring what is accepted as “pure” Hung Gar, it has also never been touted as such.
Our style does contain many valid techniques, no doubt handed down centuries from the original work of Bai-Yu Feng.
I have always believed that the practitioner made the style “good’ or ‘bad’, and so it comes to each of us to make what we can of the knowledge handed to us, and to do our best to live up to the standards of our forebearers.