Every Great Journey Starts With One Step.

History of Choy Li Fut Kung Fu

From the Shaolin Temple to Today

Shaolin TempleChoy Li Fut was founded in 1836 by Chan Heung, a well-known and highly-skilled martial artist of that period. Also known as Daht Ting, Chan Heung was born on August 23, 1806 in King Mui, a village in the San Woi district of Guangdong province. His martial arts career began at age seven, when he went to live with his uncle, Chan Yuen-Woo. Yuen-Woo was a famous boxer from the legendary Shaolin temple in Fujian, China. From Chan Yuen-Woo, Chan Heung learned the art of Southern Shaolin kung-fu, and became so proficient at it that by age fifteen he could defeat any challenger from nearby villages. By the time he reached his seventeenth year, Chan Heung was ready to assimilate more martial skills. So Chan Yuen-Woo took him to Li Yau-San, Yuen Woo's senior classmate from the Southern Shaolin temple. Chan Heung spent the next four years perfecting his kung-fu under Li Yau-San's careful eye.

It was apparent to Li Yau-San that after only four years of training, Chan Heung was again ready to move on to higher levels. In ten years, he had already reached a level in kung-fu that had taken Chan Yuen-Woo and Li Yau-San twenty years to attain. Li Yau-San suggested a Shaolin monk who lived as a recluse on Lau Fu mountain as the best teacher for Chan Heung. The only problem was that the monk, Choy Fook, no longer wished to teach martial arts. He wanted only to be left alone to cultivate Buddhism. Realizing that reaching his highest potential in kung fu meant finding the monk and becoming his disciple, Chan Heung set out on the long trek to Lau Fu mountain.

Chan Heung and the Monk Choy Fook

Chan Heung the Founder of Choy Li FutChoy Fook was a Buddhist monk whose head had been seriously burned when he took his Buddhist vows and had healed with ugly scars. This gave him the nickname "Monk with the Wounded Head ." Armed with that knowledge, Chan Heung sought out anyone on Lau Fu mountain who could help him find Choy Fook. Finally, he located the monk, and handed him a letter of recommendation from Li Yau-San. After waiting patiently to be accepted as Choy Fook's disciple, he was stunned when Choy Fook turned him down. After much begging from Chan Heung, Choy Fook agreed to take the young man as a student—but only to study Buddhism. So, Chan Heung studied Buddhism for many hours a day with the monk of the scarred head, and practiced his martial arts by himself, far into the night.

Early one morning, Chan Heung was practicing his kung fu, sweeping both legs across heavy bamboo bush and kicking up stones, then smashing them to pieces before they hit the ground. Suddenly, the monk appeared and asked him if that were the best he could do. Chan Heung was shocked when Choy Fook pointed to a large rock weighing more than thirty kilograms and told him to kick it twelve feet. Bracing himself, Chan Heung exerted all of his strength as his foot crashed against the rock, sending it barely twelve feet away. Instead of giving the expected compliment, Choy Fook placed his own foot under the heavy rock and effortlessly propelled it through the air. Chan Heung was awestruck by this demonstration of "superpower." Again he begged Choy Fook to take him as a martial arts disciple. This time the monk agreed, and for eight years Choy Fook taught Chan Heung both the way of Buddhism and the way of martial arts.

Choy Li Fut Kung Fu is Founded

When he was twenty-nine, Chan Heung left the monk and went back to King Mui village, where he spent the next two years revising and refining all that he had learned from Choy Fook. Chan Heung had now developed a new system of kung fu. In 1836 he formally established the Choy Li Fut system, naming it in honor of two of his teachers, Choy Fook and Li Yau-San, and used the word Fut, which means "Buddha" in Chinese, to pay homage to his uncle, Chan Yuen Woo, and to the Shaolin roots of the new system. Chan Heung set up a martial arts school in the local family temple of his village to teach the new system. As his reputation spread, hundreds of people from nearby villages came to learn Choy Li Fut. Shortly after Chang Heung established his new school, the Opium Wars broke out in China. Like many other loyal Chinese, Chan Heung joined the army in Canton to fight against the British invaders. Following China's defeat in 1842, he returned home to his family.

Choy Li Fut and the Triad Rebellion

Political corruption from within the Manchurian-controlled Ching dynasty had contributed to China's defeat. Between 1847 and 1850 many Chinese leaders formed secret societies to combat the corrupt forces of the Ching. Chan Heung's followers urged him to join in the revolt. However, he was a devout Buddhist and shunned the path of violence. Nevertheless, he continued to train his followers in case the need arose to do battle against the Ching rulers.

When the Imperial army sought to recruit men from his area to fight against the rebel forces, Chan Heung left his home in King Mui with his wife and two children. Finally forced by the needless fighting and destruction to participate actively, he set up many Choy Li Fut schools in Southern China to spread revolutionary ideas against the Manchurians. He gave his followers a special signal for future battlefield reunions: Whoever belonged to the Choy Li Fut system would cry out "Wak" when thrusting with a tiger claw hand, "Dik" when kicking, "Yak'' when striking with his fist or palm, "Ha" when striking with tsop chui and tsang jeung, and "Hok" for the crane beak strikes. These are the original five sounds of Choy Li Fut.

In 1864, Chan Heung left China and became the martial arts teacher for the Chan Family Association overseas. He stayed abroad four years, and then returned home to King Mui, where he was able to see his own kung fu system gain tremendous popularity throughout Southern China. In 1875, at the age of sixty-nine, Chan Heung died. He was buried in his beloved village of King Mui. But his memory lives on, perpetuated in the kung-fu system that he established.

The Legacy of Choy Li Fut Kung Fu

After Chan Heung's death, his Choy Li Fut legacy passed on to his two sons, Chan On-Pak and Chan Koon-Pak. Chan On-Pak, born in 1845 and the older of the two brothers, looked like and had the gentle nature of a scholar. His specialty was the spear. Chan On-Pak's control of the spear was so advanced that he gained the nickname yet "Cheung Ng Mui Fa" or "Five Blossoms with One Lance."

The younger son, Chan Koon Pak, left King Mui to become a merchant in Kong Moon (Jiangmen) City, where his fame as a martial artist spread quickly. He soon had no time to spend as a merchant and devoted all of his efforts teaching Choy Li Fut. Chan Koon Pak later established a large Choy Li Fut training center in Guangzhou. Together with his son, Chan Yiu Chi, he would begin to codify the system by transferring it into written form for the first time. This along with the hand to hand teaching would ensure that Choy Li Fut Kung Fu would endure for generations to come.

Professor Hu Yuen ChouChan Yiu Chi had many great students, one of whom was Great-Grandmaster Hu Yuen Chou (1906-1997), a native of Fut San and more well-known in Hong Kong by the name Woo Van Cheuk. Dr. Hu was a physician by trade and spent over twenty years studying Choy Li Fut from Chan Yiu Chi. Famous for his legendary fight with a Russian Boxer in 1945, Great-Grandmaster Hu Yuen Chou spent decades promoting the Chinese Martial Arts in Canton and Hong Kong. The Kung Fu circles of those areas knew him by the nickname "Mr. Gam Chou" of the Martial Arts (Gam Chou is a special herb used in Chinese herbal medicine mixtures in order to balance them). He is considered one of the last and highest level Grandmasters of Choy Li Fut and Tai Chi Chuan. Great Grandmaster Hu Yuen Chou’s most notable student is our own Grandmaster Doc Fai Wong.

Choy Li Fut has been passed down to our Grandmaster Doc Fai Wong, a 5th generation master and one of the worldwide authorities on Choy Li Fut Kung Fu. One of his prominent students is Master Nathan Fisher, the founder of White Dragon Martial Arts. White Dragon is one of the few schools in the country that teach the authentic Choy Li Fut system of Chan Heung as described in the written texts of Chan On Pak, the founder's oldest son, and Chan Yiu Chi, the founder's grandson.

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