Choi Lei Fut

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Like other southern Chinese martial arts, Choi Lei Fut features Five Animal techniques based on the tiger, dragon, crane, leopard, and snake but is distinguished from other southern styles by long, swinging, circular movements and twisting body motions more indicative of northern styles.

As a Southern Shaolin style with Five Animal techniques, Hung Kuen is a close relative of Choi Lei Fut and is said by some Choi Lei Fut branches to be the style that Chan Yuen-Wu taught founder Chan Heung.

The stances of Choi Lei Fut are as wide as those of Hung Kuen, but higher – though not as high as those of Wing Chun – trading off some of the stability and root of Hung Kuen stances to allow more mobile footwork. In order to generate the characteristic whipping power of Choi Lei Fut, the hips and shoulders must be decoupled.

Though Hung Kuen also features whipping power, particularly in its crane techniques, the hips and the shoulders are more frequently locked in the same plane, resulting in a “harder” form of power.

Hung Ga and Wing Chun both hold the torso perpendicular to an opponent, to allow for the full use of both arms. By contrast, Choi Lei Fut holds the torso at an angle to the opponent to reduce the target area exposed to him.

Choi Lei Fut is a characterized as a “soft-hard”, “external” style. The curriculum was designed so that anti-Qing rebels could quickly gain practical proficiency and also incorporates a wide range of weapons. Several common movements have specific sounds (kiai) associated with them—for example, “sik” when throwing punches, “yik” when punching from horse riding stance, “wah” was used when using a Tiger Claw and “dik” when kicking—supposedly so that friendly forces could recognize each other in battle and to force the practitioner to coordinate his breathing patterns with his movements.

Choi Lei Fut Practice

Like many martial arts, Choi Lei Fut has diverged into several lineages that differ not only in terms of training and emphasis but also on what they see as the true history of the style.

The style has not gained popularity in mainland China and by some it is still seen as merely an amalgamation of southern and northern techniques and is not really seen as a separate style. Due to the nature of the style, it is said to be preferred by traveling merchants who could easily exchange techniques with others while traveling.

The popularity of Choi Lei Fut is strong in Hong Kong, Canada, the United States, and growing elsewhere, and in the late 20th century, the style was popularized in the Canada and the United States. It is also one of the fighting styles used by the Outworld ninja Ermac in the Mortal Kombat video game series.

The origins of Choi Lei Fut: Chan Heung (陳享) was born in Guangdong Province, China in 1805 or 1806. At the age of six or seven, he began to study Kung Fu from his uncle, Chan Yuen-Wu (陳遠護), a master of Southern Shaolin. So proficient as an adolescent that he could defeat any challenger from nearby villages, Chan Heung was ready to learn more.

So he began training under another Southern Shaolin master, Lee Yau-San (李友山), founder of Lei Ga, the Lei Family style. After only four or five years of training, it became apparent that Chan Heung was ready to move on once again. So Chan Heung set out to find Choi Fook (蔡褔), who is said to have been a monk on Luofu Mountain. After several years of training under Choi Fook, Chan Heung returned to his home village of Ging Mui (京梅) in the county of Xinhui.

The origins of Choi Lei Fut according to the Jeung Yim branch: Jeung Yim (張炎) was an orphan cared for by his uncle. According to Huang Shenjiang, manager of the Fut San Hung Sing Kwoon manager, the uncle’s name was Jeung Kwan and Jeung Yim was at this time a disciple of Lei Ga master Lei Yau-San. When Jeung Yim was twelve, his uncle had obligations that meant he would no longer be able to take care of Jeung Yim.

So he took Jeung Yim to his old friend Chan Heung in the hope that Chan would be able to take the boy in as a live-in student. However, village rules forbade Chan Heung from teaching martial arts to non-family members. Unable to take care of the boy by accepting him as a student, Chan Heung instead hired Jeung Yim to do odd jobs at his martial arts school. Jeung Yim took the opportunity to observe Chan Heung’s lessons and practiced in secret what he had gleaned (cf. Yang Luchan). One night, Chan Heung came upon Jeung Yim practicing. Impressed by the boy’s motivation, Chan Heung taught him secretly for several years before the other villagers found out and expelled Jeung Yim.

So in 1831, at the age of seventeen, Jeung Yim left Ging Mui, but not before Chan Heung gave him a letter of introduction and instructions to seek out the monk Ching Cho (青草) at the Zhajian Temple on Mount Bapai in Guangxi Province. Absent the distractions of secular life, Cheung Yim was able to give himself over completely to the things that the monk Ching Cho had to impart: his knowledge of Fut Ga Kung Fu and traditional Chinese medicine, a commitment to the overthrow of the foreign Manchu Qing Dynasty, and a new name, Hung-Sing (鴻勝), which reflected that patriotic ideal.

Jeung, now Jeung Hung-Sing, returned to Chan Heung and shared with his first teacher the things he had learned from his second. Chan Heung hired Jeung once again, this time as a teacher rather than as a menial/clandestine student, enabling Jeung to stay for the year or two until he left to open his own school in Foshan in 1839. Because it incorporated the Choi Ga style from Choi Fook, the Lei Ga style from Lei Yau-San, and the Fut Ga style from the monk Ching Cho, their new style became known as Choi Lei Fut.

The origins of Choi Lei Fut according to the Chan Family branch: At seven years old, Chan Heung began learning martial arts under his uncle Chan Yuen Woo. Yuen Woo was a famed master from Shaolin Temple, and taught his nephew the Buddha Style Fist or Fut Ga Kuen.

After years of study with his uncle, Chan Heung had become a consummate warrior by the early age of 15. To further his skills, Chan became a student of Lei Yau San, a Shaolin practitioner of the Lei Family Fist. Yau San was Yuen Woo’s sihing or elder brother at Shaolin Temple.

Becoming proficient in the Lei Family style, Chan Heung was then referred to the Shaolin monk Choi Fook to further his martial arts knowledge. After years of intensive study with the Buddhist recluse, Chan Heung revised what he had learned and formed a new system. He combined his knowledge of 3 martial arts systems and called it “Choi Lei Fut” in honour of his teachers.

Three styles that constitute Choi Lei Fut are as follows.

Chan Yuen Woo and the Buddha Style Fist Chan Heung learned the Buddha Style Fist, or Fut Ga Kuen, from his uncle Chan Yuen Woo. Yuen Woo was a famed master of Shaolin Temple.

The three sources:

Choi Fook 蔡褔: Depending on the branch of Choi Lei Fut, Choi Fook is said to have been a master either of Southern Shaolin Kung Fu from Fujian province, he was not related to, which was created by Choi Gau-Yee and is said to have the longest range of the five major family styles of the southern Chinese martial arts.

Either way, Choi Fook is considered a source of Choi Lei Fut’s long-range northern characteristics like its swift, mobile footwork. Choi Fook was a monk from the Shaolin Temple of Fujian.

Lei Yau-San 李友山: Said to be a student of Jee Sin while others believe him to be a student of Li Sik Hoi-one of the 5 Ancestors of the Hung Mun, Lei Yau-San is known not only as a teacher of Chan Heung, and recently discovered of Jeung Hung Sing as well, but as the founder of Lei Ga (李家) which, like Choi Ga, is one of the five major family styles of the southern Chinese martial arts.

The prominence of the leopard punch hand formation within Choi Lei Fut may be the influence of Lei Ga, a middle-range style which emphasizes leopard techniques.

Fut Ga 佛家: Fut Ga (佛家), literally “Buddha Family,” specializes in palm techniques and for this reason is also known as Buddha Family Palm, Buddhist Palm, or Buddha Palm. Monk Ching Cho Woh Seung was responsible for spreading the Fut Ga system throughout Guandong. Both the left and right hand are used in attack and defense. Long and short-range footwork is employed.

Technical characteristics of different branches:

Chan Family branch: Chan Family Choi Lei Fut emphasizes a soft, loose, flexible waist and faces the opponent at an angle to reduce the target area exposed.

Jeung Yim branch: Though still characterized by the whipping power indicative of Choi Lei Fut, the Jeung Yim branch maintains a closer alignment between the hips and the shoulders, imparting a “hardness” to its power, though not to the extent of Hung Kuen. The syllabus of Jeung Yim’s system comprise the original 8 forms: Taai Ji Keun (太字拳), Ping Ji Keun (平字拳), Tin Ji Keun (天字拳), Gok Ji Keun (國字拳), Sup Ji Keun (十字拳), Cheung Keun (長拳), Fut Jeung (佛掌), Lin Waan Kaau Da Keun (連環扣打).

Buk Sing branch: Founded by Master Taam Saam and Northern Shaolin Master Ku Yu Jeung, Buk Sing Choi Lei Fut focused on direct combat rather than forms and weapon routines.

The Buk Sing lineage features a shorter syllabus comprising only a handful of routines—Sup Jee Kuen (十字拳), Ping Kuen (平拳), Kau Da (扣打), Seung Gaap Daan Gwun (雙夾單棍)—as compared to the dozens in the syllabuses of the other branches.

Buk Sing techniques are generally ‘rawer’ and more aggressive than their equivalents in other branches of Choi Lei Fut. In fighting the focus is on blitzing the opponent with rapid, advancing movements rather than engaging with him.

One example of Taam Saam’s approach is the “side body” (偏身) stance, which takes the idea of reducing one’s exposed target area by to its logical conclusion: turning the torso 90° away from the opponent.

Masters of Choi Lei Fut:

Chan Family masters:

  • Chan Heung (1806-1875)
  • Chan On Pak (1845-1901)
  • Chan Koon Pak (1857-1916)
  • Chan Yiu Chi (1892-1965)
  • Chan Wan Hon (1929-1979)
  • Chan Yong-Fa (1951-Present)

Hung Sing (Jeung Yim) masters:

  • Jeung Yim (1815-1893)
  • Chan Ngau Sing (1863-1926)
  • Chui Cheung (1895-1958)
  • Lau Bun (1871-1967)
  • Jew Leong (1926-present)
  • Chui Kwong Yeun (194?-present)
  • So Kam Fook (?)
  • Samuel Siu Ming Lee (1950-Present)

Buk Sing masters:

  • Taam Saam (1873-1942)
  • Chan On (1917-2005)
  • Dave Lacey (Lay Dai Wai) (?-Present)
  • Vince Lacey (Lay Wing Sung) (?-Present)
  • Shane Lacey (Lay Shun Lay) (?-Present)

Masters of other branches:

  • Chan Cheong Mo (1862-1953)
  • Fong Yuk Shu (1870-1953)
  • Wu Qin (1895-1942)
  • Hu Yuen Chou (1906-1997)
  • Poon Tik (?-1956)
  • Lee Koon Hung(1942-1996)
  • Li Siu Hung (1956-Present)
  • Chan Yen (1918-1993)
  • Wong Gong (1928-)
  • Paul Chan (1932-present)
  • Doc-Fai Wong (1948-)
  • Larry Johnson (1943-)
  • Edmund Ng (1952-present)
  • Tat-Mau Wong (?-present)
  • Daniel Tomizaki (?-present)
  • Michael Tompkins (1960-present)