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STARTED WITH SHAOLINChoy Lee Fut is a style with origins deeply rooted in the Shaolin Temples. Chan Heung had three teachers, all of whom were taught the Shaolin Arts. Chan Heung combined the teachings of his three mentors into one effective system. As a matter of fact, the name Choy Lee Fut comes from Chan Heung's desire to honor his teachers and their heritage. "Choy" for his teacher Choy Fook, "Lee" for his teacher Lee Yau Shan, and "Fut" meaning Buddha, for the Buddhist origins of Shaolin. It is important to note that Chan Heung used "Fut" instead of "Chan" in naming his system. "Chan" would represent Chan Yeun Wu, Chan Hueng's uncle and first teacher. However, remembering that Buddhism teaches one to remain humble at all times, Chan Heung did not want "Chan" in the name of his system, for fear that people would assume he named the art after himself, and not his uncle.
CHAN HEUNG'S 3 TEACHERS
CHAN YUEN WU
Chan Heung was from the King Mui villlage, in the district of Ngi Sai, the county of Sun Wui, in the Kwuntung province. His first teacher was his uncle, Chan Yuen Wu. Chan Heung began training martial arts at the age of seven and, even though he was only a young boy, he was very strong and quick to learn. He had a natural ability and quickly succeeded in gaining the affection of his uncle, who spared no effort in teaching him all that he knew. Within a few years Chan Heung's kung fu had made such remarkable progress that he was invited to set up his own school for his uncle in the town of Sun Wui. As time passed, and his reputation began to soar, he gained many students.
LEE YAU SHAN
One day he discovered that another instructor by the name fo Lee Yau Shan had been invited to teach in the neighborhood. Master Lee was disciple of the Shaolin Monk Jin Sin, and his skill was said to be formidable. Chan Heung, being strong willed and a lover of a good fight, decided to test his skills. He ambushed Lee as he was leaving a restaurant and tried to throw him to the ground by putting both his arms around Lee's waist. However, Lee took the attack calmly, bent his knees slightly, and lowered his chi and center of gravity in such a way that no matter how hard Chan Heung tried, he could not make Lee budge. Lee then spun around, lifted his foot to trip and kick at the same time, and threw Chan Heung yards away. Master Lee was rather curious about his assailant upon seeing that Chan Heung was able to leap up uninjured after his fall. Lee complimented Chan Heung, then demanded to know what school he belonged to, and the reason for attacking him in such a sneaky fashion rather than challenging him properly to a fight. Chan Heung felt ashamed, and replied that the attack was his own idea in an attempt to test the inadequacy of his own skill, and that he did not want to implicate his teacher for his own defeat. Lee, amused at this reply, left Chan Heung in his bewilderment.
Days later, Chan Heung learned that Lee had remarked that someone as young and strong as Chan Heung, with such intelligence and ability, was wasting his life and talent because vanity prevented him from improving his skill. Chan Heung then realized the truth, that there was no limit to the art of kung fu, and he immediately resigned from his post as Chief Instructor, enrolling in Lee's school instead. Chan Heung was Lee's disciple for five years, and took his skill to a new height.
One day, Lee Yau Shan and Chan Heung heard of a recluse monk by the name of Choy Fook, who was living in a temple on Mount Lau Fou. This monk was renown for his skill in Chinese Medicine. Lee told Chan Heung that if the monk was so skillful in dit da (treatment of muscular and skeletal injuries), he must also be skillful in martial arts. Bitten by the bug of curiosity, Lee and Chan decided to visit this monk immediately.
On reaching the temple gate, they encountered a man, old in years, yet tall and muscular with a penetrating gaze. He claimed that he was a disciple of monk Choy Fook and invited the two visitors to enter the temple and take some tea with him while waiting for his teacher's return form his daily rounds. While the two visitors were seated, the old man proceeded to chop the wood to boil the water, doing so with his bare hands. Lee's curiosity was aroused. He commented to Chan Heung that this old mans' kung fu was quite good, and that if he was showing off for their benefit it meant they must reply with some of thier own tricks. Lee got up and walked to the side of a stone rice grinder that was lying next to the temple steps. He first loosened the soil around the stone slabs, then stood back and kicked the rice grinder clean off the ground. The old man watched with amusement. He then walked up to the rice grinder and chopped off a corner of the top slab, pulverising it with his bare hands and throwing the power in front of Lee, announcing that he was indeed Choy Fook and that the powder was a memento for intruders who did not behave in a proper manner.
Lee, filled with respect fo Choy Fook, thanked the old man and left immediately, leaving Chan Heung behind to deal with the situation. Being a guileless young man devoted to martial arts, Chan Heung realized that this was an opportunity to further his training under another teacher of superior skill. He immediately fell on his knees in front of the monk and begged Choy Fook to accept him as a disciple. Choy Fook surveyed Chan Heung in silence, taking in the young man's mannerisms, and finally concluded that the request was genuine one. He smiled and said to Chan Heung that if he wished to be a disciple he must obey the following three instructions or else he must leaven immediately. These were the three instructions that Choy Fook ordered Chan Heung to obey:
1. Chan Heung must stay with him in the monastery for at least ten years until the end of his apprenticeship;
2. Chan Heung was forbidden to use his skils to kill or to maim, and must never be boastful of what he attained;
3. Chan Heung must kick the rice grinder back into its original resting place.
Much to Chan Heung's delight the rice grinder fell back into its old hole easily, and he became Choy Fook's disciple.
For the next ten years, Choy Fook taught Chan Heung kung fu with great discipline and precision. Each new technique took days to learn, and Chan Heung had to master each new movement with speed, accuracy, power and understanding before the next could be taught. Chan Heung found his kung fu improved remarkably, and was very different to what it had been. The knowledge passed down by Choy Fook, whether bare fist techniques, the staff or wooden dummy training aids, etc., was endless and full of subtle changes, like nature iteself. A combination of hard work, dedication, natural ability, and the karma of a good teacher, enabled Chan Heung to complete his training within the ten year period.
CHOY FOOK BIDS CHAN HEUNG FAREWELL
One day Choy Fook hosted a banquet for Chan Heung and proceeded to bid him farewell. During the festivities Choy Fook told Chan Heung of his own origin. He was originally from the Fukien Shaolin monastery, which had been destroyed by fire. While he was in Fukien, the Ching army invited 36 monks from his monastery to help squash the rebellion in Tibet, which had been going on for three years. It took three months to get Tibet under control agian. Fearing the martial prowess of the Shaolin monks, the Ching government invited the monks to join the court as monk soldiers. When the monks refused, the Ching government, frearing future opposition, decided to eradicat the entire Shaolin monastic order by putting the torch to the whole temple complex on the 25th day of the 7th moon in the 11th year of the reign of Emperor Jung Jing (approx. 1734). All save six monks perished; Choy Fook was one of them and escaped with his head on fire. He was nicknamed "rotten head" because of the burn scar on his head. Later on he made his way to Mount Law Fou in Kwangtung povince where he went into hiding.
Choy Fook admonished Chan Heung that if one truly wanted to follow the way of the Shaolin, it was necessary to seek the way of the Buddha, as well as learning Chinese medicine and the "six magic spells". Choy Fook continued to say that Shaolin fighting arts had originated with the founder of the monastery, Monk Dart Mor (Bodhidharma) and later on had been improved by Monk Gok Yeun and others. Masters from outside the monastery had also been invited to contribute thier skills. These included the famous Lee Sau and Bak Juk Fung. With time and constant experiment Shaolin fighting arts were further refined. Six years of Shaolin kung fu practice could be regarded as a small accomplishment; then years could be regarded as a qualified accomplishment. Choy Fook said that he was not quite sure whether it was Chan Heung's good fortune or his (meaning Shaolin martial arts) that Chan Hueng had succeeded in learning all that he could teach, since he was quite resigned to the fact that he might die in this wilderness, taking his art with him to the grave. After hearing all this, Chan Heung decided to stay for an extra two years until he was ready to leave the monastery in the twelfth year.
At the time of his farewell, Chan Heung asked his teacher to spell out his future. Choy Fook told him that although he was not meant for the life of a court official (by sitting the martial examination), he and his offspring would be leaders of men as long as the Shaolin tradition was kept alive.
Amongst other advice given, Choy Fook gave Chan Heung a double couplet which time has proven to be authentic:
"The dragon and the tiger met in heaven, to revive our Shaolin ways"
"Teach your followers righteousness, let each generation uphold and enliven"
When Chan Heung bid his final farewell, he was accompanied by three of his brother in learning all the way down the mountain slope. They were Jeung Tin Cheung (nicknamed Courageous Jeung), a monk from Mount Law Fou by the name of Tung Kwan, and a man from his own Sun Wui county called Chan Chung Nin.
CHAN HEUNG RETURNS TO THE SUN WUI COUNTY
Chan Heung returned to his village and set up a clinic to treat the sick and help the poor. Later he was persuaded by the elders of the family to set up a school in the village ancestral hall. He called the place Hung Sing Gwoon (Great Sage School) and his clinic Wing Sing Tong (Hall of Eternal Victory). At the time he reasoned that all the major branches of Chinese martials arts originated from the Shaolin timeple, such as famous styles under the family names of Hung, Lau, Choy, Lee, and Mok. Seeing that his brand of kung fu was also taught by the teachers witht he surnames of Choy, Lee and Chan, he thought it would be right to synthesize their teachings and give it a name that would commemorate and honor thier deeds, instead of selfishly calling it the Chan style. He chose the name Choy Lee Fut, giving the explanation: Choy in the honor of monk Choy Fook, who gave him much of his knowledge; Lee, in honor of Lee Yau Shan, and at the same time commemorate other pioneers such a Lee Sau, who came and expanded and improved the range of Shaolin martial arts; and Fut, meaning Buddha, to commemorate the Buddhist origins of the art, since all his three mentors could trace their lineage back to the Shaolin temple.
CHAN HEUNG DOCUMENTS HIS TEACHINGS
Three years later, at the invitation of his uncle and the local overseas Chinese association, Chan Heung left his village for the Northern Ocean (believed to be America). There he taught the overseas Chinese for three years, followed by three years in Hong Kong to teach his local country compatriots. He then travelled to the Southern Ocean (Malaysia and Singapore) to teach in the Kwangtung Association for several years. Upon his return to Mount Lau Fou to visit Choy Fook he discovered that the monk had died during his absence at the age of 112. Interpreting that fact, that he had not been able to see his teacher one more time before his death, as a meaningful sign, he chose to do penance by undertaking the task of editing all his learning into one book, in order that there would be a written record for posterity, and thus preventing the possibility of misinterpretation and ambiguity creeping into the art. He named the manuscript "The Manual of Choy Lee Fut Fighting Arts".
Chan Heung died on August 20, 1875. Peacefully, he was buried in King Mui Village and remembered by all of his followers since.
CHAN HEUNG'S OFFSPRING
Chan Heung had two sons, On Pak and Koon Pak. Chan Koon Pak also had two sons, Man Bun and Yiu Chi. Chan Yiu Chi had two sons, Wan Hon (Master Chen Yong Fa's father), Sun Chu, and a daughter, Kit Fong (Master Ng Fu Hang's mother).
CHAN KOON PAK - The Successor to Chan Heung
Chan Koon Pak, the second son of Chan Heung, was a very adept and intelligent person. At a rather young age, he had mastered the art his father had passed onto him, but Chan Koon Pak chose to become a merchant and settled in Kong Moon. Under persistent persuation, he did come out for a stint as the head instructor of the Choy Lee Fut school in Kong Moon. Chan Koon Pak later moved to Canton, where he opened a kung fu school as a result of popular request. Countless number of people had come to him for instructions; notably Ngan Yiu Ting, Wong Fook Wing, Wu Kee Biu, Lee Hin Cheung, Choy Pak Tat, Choy Pak Hung, etc.
Chan Koon Pak died on January 28, 1916.
CHAN YIU CHI - The Past Grandmaster
Chan Koon Pak was a disciplinarian and the same stern attitude to learning was also impressed onto his son Yiu Chi. Chan Yiu Chi seldom turned his thoughts off kung fu. Even when sitting idle, his feet could be seen practicing. This kind of incessand work made Chan Yiu Chi an outstanding exponent of Cho Lee Fut. He represented speed, power, agility and more. Perhaps less known to many people, Chan Yiu Chi was also a classical scholar, and he never bragged about or showed off his deadly kung fu skill.
At the time of his staying with his father, Chan Koon Pak in Canton, he engaged in the propagation of Choy Lee Fut to the world at large. Requests were received regularly, asking him to teach abroad in San Francisco, Holland, the South Pacific and other overseas countries where there were substantial Chinese population. As Chan Koon Pak was in an advanced age, Yiu Chi did accept, as his father so desired, several posts as kung fu instructor in many secondary and tertiary schools, trade unions, sports clubs, and worker's associations. His prominence in kung fu overshadowed his other fields of excelllence - that of poetry and classics.
Chan Yiu Chi was a fair and just man. He held no secret about the kung fu he was well known for. Any question was answered in detail and he analyzed kung fu objectively as a scholar of his standing would. Students showing potentioal were also taught Chinese medicine, as he was also a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine. It is worth noting that as a practitioner of medicine, he never refused consultation and only charged what the patients could afford to pay.
Chan Yiu Chi was responsible for officially organizing the entire system of Choy Lee Fut. He recorded every form by carefully writing down their movements and its applications (these forms were recorded into what is referred to as "Kuen Po's" - Fist Manuals). These records remain safely guarded by the Chan Family.
Chan Yiu Chi died on July 5, 1965. His deeds are still fondly remembered with affection.