Hung Gar

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Hung Ga, also known as Hung Kuen, is a southern Chinese martial art associated with the Chinese folk hero Wong Fei Hung, who was a master of Hung Ga. According to legend, Hung Ga was named after Hung Hei-Gun, who learned martial arts from Jee Sin, a Chan (Zen) master at the Southern Shaolin Temple.

The temple had become a refuge for opponents of the Qing Dynasty, who used it as a base for their activities, and was soon destroyed by Qing forces. Hung, a tea merchant by trade, eventually left his home in Fujian for Guangdong, bringing the art with him.

Even though Hung Ga is supposedly named after Hung Hei-Gun, the predominant Wong Fei-Hung lineage of Hung Ga claims descent not from him but from his classmate Luk Ah-Choi (陸阿采), who taught Wong Fei-Hung’s father Wong Kei-Ying and, by some accounts, Wong Taai (黃泰), who is variously said to be Wong Kei-Ying’s father or his uncle.

Because the history of the Chinese martial arts was historically transmitted orally rather than by text, much of the early history of Hung Ga will probably never be either clarified or corroborated by written documentation.

Because the character “hung” (æ´ª) was used in the reign name of the emperor who overthrew the Mongol Yuan Dynasty to establish the Han Chinese Ming Dynasty, opponents of the Manchu Qing Dynasty made frequent use of the character in their imagery. (Ironically, Luk Ah-Choi was the son of a Manchu stationed in Guangdong.)

Hung Gar Claws

Hung Hei-Gun is itself an assumed name intended to honor that first Ming Emperor. Anti-Qing rebels named the most far reaching of the secret societies they formed the “Hung Mun” (洪門) which, like “Hung Ga,” can be translated as “Hung family.” The Hung Mun claimed to be founded by survivors of the destruction of the Shaolin Temple, and the martial arts its members practiced came to be called “Hung Ga” and “Hung Kuen.”

The hallmarks of the Wong Fei-Hung lineage of Hung Ga are deep low stances, notably its “sei ping ma” horse stance, and strong hand techniques, notably the bridge hand and the versatile tiger claw. The student traditionally spends anywhere from months to three years in stance training, often sitting only in horse stance between a half-hour to several hours at one time, before learning any forms. Each form then might take a year or so to learn, with weapons learned last.

However, in modernity, this mode of instruction is deemed economically unfeasible and impractical for students, who have other concerns beyond practicing kung fu. Hung Ga is sometimes mischaracterized as solely external—that is, reliant on brute physical force rather than the cultivation of qi—even though the student advances progressively towards an internal focus.

History of Hung Gar: The Hung Gar Kung Fu system was founded by a Fukien tea merchant named Hung Hei Kung in 1734 AD, during the Ching Dynasty (Manchu’s). He was the disciple of Shaolin abbot Gee Sin, expert in the tiger style, and husband to Fong Wing Chun, expert in the crane style. He combined the fierce strong techniques of the tiger, with the swift, evasive techniques of the crane, creating this unique system known by many as “hard as iron, soft as a thread”.

During the Ching Dynasty, the Shaolin Temple was burned down by Imperial troops, and anyone related to Shaolin was executed. So for this reason Hung Hei Kung named his system Hung Gar Kuen, which means fist of the Hung family, keeping its true Shaolin origin a secret.

Hung Gar is a long and short range fighting system allowing a wide variety of hand techniques like punching, clawing, slapping, pushing, pulling, thrusting, etc. There are many joint breaking and locking techniques (chin na) and it also has a strong foundation with powerful effective kicks that are delivered to the mid and lower section, all at close range, and without exposing oneself. This gives the practitioner a better sence of control as techniques are used to defend and attack at the same time. In Hung Gar there are no flowery techniques, every technique is simple but effective. It is a traditional system with self defence techniques that are very up to date and effective on the street.

In Hung Gar there are a wide variety of traditional short, long and articulate weapons such as daggers, swords, sticks, spears, chains, etc. Practice develops strength and co-ordination and the beginning and intermediate levels of training, provide the student with excellent physical conditioning. With much practice, the individual will continue into the advanced levels, which is an internal method known as Chi Kung. Without a doubt Hung Gar is one of the most complete martial arts. Hung Gar is known as the tiger and crane system. The truth is, there are three other animals: the leopard, snake, and the dragon. Each animal provides different characteristics and spirit to the system.

Tiger (fu) is known for its strong and powerful movements. It produces strong bones and develops power. It uses hard external power and is very aggressive with lots of breaking, striking, locking, ripping, and tearing movements. The tiger is most practiced animal in Hung Gar. Crane (hok) is known for its calmness, patience and stability. It has swift evasive movements sometimes followed by kicking techniques. Leopard (pao) combines strength, speed with agile footwork to be able to strike with very fast techniques. Snake (sare) whose movements are very fast and sleek, and develops ones internal power. The snake attacks are mostly to the soft and sensitive area of the body. Dragon (lung) has the unique power of that consists by combining both external (hard) and internal (soft) strengths. It represents internal training and cultivation of the spirit.

Along with the 5 animals, are 5 elements. In Hung Gar these elements are used in combat and internal energy. These elements are fire (faw), earth (tow), gold (gum), wood (mok), and water (soy). Each of these elements has a designated internal organ for internal energy practice; this is the highest level training in Hung Gar Kung Fu.

Last century, in the southern Chinese province of Canton there were ten kung fu masters that helped the weak and needy as well as fighting oppression with their Kung Fu skills. They had great fame and were known as the Ten Tigers from Canton. Five of these ten masters were Hung Gar masters: Wong Fei Hung, Tit Kiu San, Sou Rak Fu, Sou Rak Ji, and Wong Lin. The most famous of all Hung Gar masters was Wong Fei Hung. His popularity has been kept alive by more than 100 movies about this hero of legendary stature. Like the Once Upon A Time in China I, II, III with Jet Li and the Drunken Master I, II with Jackie Chan. Grand Master Wong was born in 1874 in Canton, and began learning Hung Gar at an early age under his father Wong Kai Ying, he redeveloped the Hung Gar system creating a few forms and incorporating the (tit sin kuen) iron thread form the highest Hung Gar Internal energy form.

The fighting techniques that made him a legend and an undefeated fighter, were what he thought was the most effective street fighting techniques in Hung Gar; he named them the 9 venoms from shaolin, which are all in the Tiger and Crane form that he created. He was also famous for his very fast and powerful shadow less kick (mo ying gerk) Wong also was the combat instructor for the Canton army and leader of the civilian militia. The day his son Wong Hon Sum was ambushed and killed, Wong Fei Hung stopped teaching to protect his other sons. Wong Fei Hung passed away in 1924. So the legacy of the Hung Gar system continued with his best student Grand Master Lam Sai Wing, who learned and mastered everything his sifu/master taught him, Lam Sai Wing’s fame grew when he entered a competition in Canton, and using his Hung Gar skills defeated all his opponents and won first prize. Lam Sai Wing was head Instructor of the new Republics Chinese army in Canton.

Years after the fall of the Ching Dynasty, Lam Sai Wing was invited to live and teach in Hong Kong, He eventually moved to Hong Kong taking his nephew and adopted son Lam Jo. Soon he set up the Southern Martial Culture Association where he continued teaching Hung Gar until his death in 1943, Lam Sai Wing further helped to spread the art of Hung Gar by publishing three books: Kung Gee Fook Fu Kuen (taming the tiger), Fu Hok Seung Ying Kuen(Tiger and Crane form) and Tit Sin Kuen (iron thread from). Lam Sai Wing’s top student was his adopted son Lam Jo, who at the age of sixteen began to teach Hung Gar and was admired by all and called SiFu even at that age, he was destined to be a great master he learned and mastered the entire Hung Gar system.

Branches of Hung Kuen: Beyond that, the curricula of different branches of Hung Ga differ tremendously with regard to routines and the selection of weapons, even within the Wong Fei-Hung lineage. Just as those branches that do not descend from Lam Sai-Wing do not practice the Five Animal Five Element Fist, those branches that do not descend from Wong Fei-Hung—sometimes called “old” or “village” Hung Kuen—do not practice the routines he choreographed, nor do the branches that do not descend from Tit Kiu Saam practice Iron Wire. Conversely, the curricula of some branches have grown through the addition of further routines by creation or acquisition.

Nonetheless, the various branches of the Wong Fei-Hung lineage still share the Hung Ga foundation he systematized. Lacking such a common point of reference, “village” styles of Hung Kuen show even greater variation. The curriculum that Jee Sin taught Hung Hei-Gun is said to have comprised Tiger style, Luohan style, and Taming the Tiger routine. Exchanging material with other martial artists allowed Hung to develop or acquire Tiger Crane Paired Form routine, a combination animal routine, Southern Flower Fist, and several weapons.

According to Hung Ga tradition, the martial arts that Jee Sin originally taught Hung Hei-Gun were short range and the more active footwork, wider stances, and long range techniques commonly associated with Hung Ga were added later. It is said to have featured “a two-foot horse,” that is, narrow stances, and routines whose footwork typically took up no more than four tiles’ worth of space.

The dissemination of Hung Kuen: The dissemination of Hung Kuen in Southern China, and its Guangdong and Fujian Provinces in particular, is due to the concentration of anti-Qing activity there. The Hung Mun began life in the 1760s as the Heaven and Earth Society, whose founders came from the prefecture of Zhangzhou in Fujian Province, on its border with Guangdong, where one of its founders organized a precursor to the Heaven and Earth Society in Huizhou.

Guangdong and Fujian remained a stronghold of sympathizers and recruits for the Hung Mun even as it spread elsewhere in the decades that followed. Though the members of the Hung Clan almost certainly practiced a variety of martial arts styles, the composition of its membership meant that it was the characteristics of Fujianese and Cantonese martial arts that came to be associated with the names “Hung Kuen” and “Hung Ga.” Regardless of their differences, the Hung Kuen lineages of Wong Fei-Hung, Yuen Yik-Kai, Leung Wah-Chew, and Zhang Ke-Zhi (張克治) nonetheless all trace their origins to this area and this time period, are all Five Animal styles, and all claim Shaolin origins. Northern Hung Kuen (洪拳), by contrast, is not a Five Animal style and dates to the 16th century. Cantonese and Fujianese are also predominant among Overseas Chinese, accounting for the widespread dissemination of Hung Kuen outside of China.

With exceptions such as Frank Yee (余志偉; Yee Chi-Wai) of New York City and Cheung Shu-Pui in Philadelphia—both of the Tang Fong lineage—the foremost teachers of Hung Gar in the United States belong to the Lam Sai-Wing branch. As the principal teacher under Lam Sai Wing, Lam Cho (林祖)(Lam Sai-Wing’s adopted nephew) has taught well known masters such as Y.C. Wong (黃耀楨) (San Fransico) and Bucksam Kong (江北山) (Los Angeles and Hawaii). Lam Cho’s eldest son, Lam Chun Fai, now carries on his Hung Ga teaching in Hong Kong. Lam Chun Fai has also done much to spread Hung Kuen in Europe.

Other notable students of Lam Cho include Kwong Tit Fu and Tang Kwok Wah . Kwong and Tang taught in Boston, Massachusetts for twenty years before retiring from teaching. Among Tang Kwok Wah’s students currently teaching in the area are Winchell Woo and Sik Y. Hum. Calvin Chin of Newton Highlands carries on Kwong’s legacy.

Chiu Kau (趙教) begain learning Hung Kuen in Singapore. He later married Wong Siu-Ying (黃邵英) who began learning Hung Ga from her husband. The couple eventually settled down in Hong Kong where they continued their Hung Ga training at the Lam Sai-Wing National Art Association Second Branch. Their sons Chiu Chi Ling (趙志淩) of Alameda, California, and Chiu Wai (趙威) of Calgary, Alberta, Canada are the inheritors of this lineage. Kwong-Wing Lam of Sunnyvale, California, studied with Chiu Kau, Chiu Wai, and Lam Jo and learned the Ha Sei Fu style from Leung Wah-Chew.

John Leong learned from Lam Sai-Wing’s student, Wong Lee. The Zhang Ke-Zhi (張克治) branch of Hung Kuen is represented by Steven C. George (史帝夫) of Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. One of the more famous teachers of Hung Kuen today is the famous Shaw Brothers movie director/actor, Lau Ga Leung (also from the Lam Sai-Wing lineage), who has many students in Hong Kong.