Hop Gar Lama Martial Art

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The closely related martial arts Lama Pai, Tibetan White Crane, and Hop Gar have their most recent common ancestor in a martial art called Lion’s Roar and a Tibetan monk, Sing Lung, who in 1865 relocated to Guangdong Province, to the Green Cloud Monastery.

Though Sing Lung had many students, his legacy was handed down to the present day primarily through two of them: Wong Yan-Lam and Wong Lam-Hoi.

Tibetan White Crane: The name “Tibetan White Crane” is associated with the lineage passed down from Wong Lam-Hoi through Ng Siu-Chung.

Whose training with Wong was later supplemented by training with Chu Chi-Yiu, another of Sing Lung’s students.

Lama Pai: The name “Lama Pai” is associated with the lineage passed down from Wong Yan-Lam through Jyu Chyuhn and Choi Yit-Gung, two of his later students.

Hop Gar: The name “Hop Gar” is, with the exception of Harry Ng Yim-Ming, associated with the lineage passed down through Wong Yan-Lam’s earlier students, especially Wong Hon-Wing.

The original Lion’s Roar system is attributed to a monk named Adatuo (阿達陀), said to have been born in 1426 to a tribe known for its horsemanship and for its joint-locking techniques. Ä€dátuó also received training in wrestling including, after his ordination, a style called “Dinah” from an old man from Tala. Ä€dátuó eventually decided to become a hermit in the mountains so that he could follow the dharma without distraction.

One day by the side of a pond, his meditation was interrupted by a fight between an ape and a crane. Inspired, Ä€dátuó devised a style that incorporated both the ape’s powerful swinging motions and the crane’s evasiveness and precision strikes to vulnerable points. According to the White Crane (Pak Hok) Athletic Federation in Hong Kong, the style was developed secretively in Tibet during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644).

Even though Lion’s Roar traces its origins to Tibet and its descendant styles are nowadays practiced mainly in the Southern Chinese province of Guangdong, these styles are consistent with the martial arts of Northern China. White Crane style is very well known in Chinese martial arts circles, emphasizing high steps, sweeping diversions of attacks with the arms for defense and high kicks and strikes with the elbows, fingers (in the form of ‘the crane’s beak’) and wrists for offense.

Lama Pai oral history maintains that, in the late Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), Lion’s Roar spread to Northern China and incorporated the techniques of the martial arts there, explaining its Northern Chinese characteristics. In some ways, Lama Pai, Tibetan White Crane, and Hop Gar take the distinguishing characteristics of Northern Chinese martial arts (fully extended arms, mobility, high kicks) even further than those arts themselves do and may be a source of the Northern characteristics found in the Southern Chinese martial arts of Guangdong.

Wang Yan-Lam was the eldest of the Ten Tigers of Canton, a group of ten of the top martial arts masters in Guangdong towards the end of the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912). One of his fellow Tigers was Wong Kei-Ying, father of the famous Wong Fei-Hung. Father and son, both masters of Hung Kuen, exchanged knowledge with other martial artists, including Wong Yan-Lam, which would explain why the crane techniques of their Hung Kuen lineage—which emphasize one-legged stances, kicks, and the crane’s beak hand formation—are closer to Tibetan White Crane than to Hung Kuen Crane’s supposed roots in Fujian White Crane, whose isometric exercises and firmly rooted, pigeon-toed stances show greater affinity with the Kiu Sau exercises and Iron Wire Fist of Hung Kuen than with its crane techniques.

According to Lama Pai oral history, Wong Fei-Hung learned from Wong Yan-Lam the long arm techniques found in the Tiger Crane Paired Form Fist and the Five Element techniques found in the Five Animal Five Element Fist in return for the Five Animal techniques found in the Small Five Animal Fist of Yan-Lam and his descendants. By contrast, “village” styles of Hung Kuen do not show signs of influence from Lama Pai/Hop Gar/Tibetan White Crane and are more characteristic of Southern Chinese martial arts.

Tibetan White Crane: Ng Siu-Chung trained with Ng Siu-Chan in addition to Wong Lam-Hoi and Chu Chi-Yiu. Ng Siu-Chung and Ng Siu-Chan in turn taught Au Wing-Lin.

Lama Pai: Jyu Chyuhn trained with Wong Lam-Hoi in addition to Wong Yan-Lam. He taught Chan Tai-San.

In 1950, Master Ng Yim Ming (“Harry Ng”), who was teaching Lama Kung Fu to the mainland China Air Force, came to the U. S. to visit his wife and children in San Francisco and decided to stay.  It was from Master Ng that David Chin learned the art of Hop Gar.

Hop Gar is primarily composed of twelve short hands (six offensive and six defensive) twelve long hands (six offensive and six defensive) and eight sets of forms.  Kicks are used but are considered second line techniques, the hands being the first.  An important part of the art is the footwork which is very structured and makes the other techniques feasible.

The basic philosophy is expressed in the four words:

  • Chon – To destroy the enemy completely so that he can’t renew his attack.
  • Sim – To evade, not meeting force directly but not to go too far into yielding.
  • Chun – To penetrate by aiming at the space in between where the opponent has come out and not yet returned.
  • Jeet – To intercept, checking the opponent’s force before it is released.