Lai Tung Pai

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Lai Tong Pai (Poon Kuen – Encircle Fist Style) Kung Fu is an art dating back to the beginning of the Ching Dynasty in China. It later moved south from the Sil Lum (Shaolin) Temple in Hunan to the Kwantong Province where it acquired the name of Lai Tong Pai. Lai Tong which we think means “dig a hole or in a hole” and Pai which means “family.”

Lai Tung Pai, or Circle Fist, is a style of Kung Fu created by the Shaolin Monk named Chi Sen around 1640. It was originally called Poon Kuen, but was renamed in honor of the town Lai Tung, which did so much for the monks that take refuge in the town. Many believe that Lai Tung Pai may have a connection to the early days of Wing Chun, another style of Kung Fu.

Although Lai Tung has many similarities to Wing Chun, it contains techniques that use long fist as well as short fist unlike its counterpart. Lai Tung Pai uses various forms to teach students to blend from short to long fist applications. It also teaches the original weapons of Kung Fu.

Other training exercises used in Lai Tung Pai are Chi Sau, Mok Jong, and Chi Kung. It also teaches the student Traditional Chinese Medicine and Chi building exercises. Although not as popular as Wing Chun, Lai Tung Pai is as effective and continually practiced throughout the world.

The style being named after the village that did so much for the Sil Lum monk of Poon Kuen. He honored the town by changing the name from Poon Kuen to Lai Tong Pai. Centuries later, the style was taught to Kong Ki and later by Kong Hoi in Hong Kong where it became available to the public.

Lai Tung Pai Master

Lai Tung Pai (sometimes spelled Lai Tong Pai, also known as Poon Kuen or encircle fist) is a martial art of Chinese origin, coming from the Sil Lum (Mandarin Shaolin) tradition in the Guangdong providence of China.
The art was developed at the Kwangtung Temple and then was moved to the Hoi Tung Temple when the former was burned down during the Ching Dynasty.

The dates are not known, as the only living person, Kong Hoi (surname given first as in Chinese tradition), studied at the Hoi Tung Temple in the early 20th century. Grandmaster Kong is a member of the Hong Kong Chinese Martial Art Association.

Lai Tung Pai was said to be developed by a monk named Chi Sen. Chi Sen trained four monks: Yuen Cheuk, Yuen Kok, Yuen Sing, and Yuen Mau. It was not uncommon in the Sil Lum monastery to name orphaned children with all the same last surnames. Yuen Mau is the only monk we have any history of, the rest were lost during the time the temple was burned down.

Yuen Mau traveled south to where the Guangdong providence is now. Yuen Mau sought shelter in the monastery of a small town named Lai Tung (Literally translated “dig a hole”). Yuen Mau continued his studies and being from the main temple, was made abbot of the small monastery. Yuen Mau chose Lai Tung because of its small size, thinking there would be no military significance of attacking the village, as the people were poor and uneducated. Yuen Mau was wrong.

When a small regiment of troops came to Lai Tung and started to cause trouble, Yuen Mau had had enough. Having trained the monks in the art of Poon Kuen, the monks defeated the soldiers and brought peace back to the village (it is likely that the troops were either deserters or a group of bandits, as the army would have surly not taken an attack like this lightly; the other scenario is that the monks killed the troops and, being a small force, the army never went looking for them. As with all legends, there is always an element of truth to them). Yuen Mau then called the art Lai Tung Pai or “family of Lai Tung Village” after the town he helped defend.

The next monk to have any history written about him was Fa Hoi. Fa Hoi was a monk at the temple in Lai Tung when he was chosen to go to the Hoi Tung temple on the Pearl River. The Hoi Tung temple (more commonly known as the Foshan temple, after the city of Foshan) was a haven for several martial arts in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many famous martial artists have come from the city of Foshan and had connections to the temple including Wong Kei Ying, Wong Fei Hong, and Yip Man. Fa Hoi had come to the temple in the late 1800’s.

The temple was a place to worship and many people traveled there on a weekly basis. One such person was Kong Ki, a merchant in the surrounding area. Kong Ki saw the monks practicing kung fu. Kong Ki was skilled in Hung Gar and wanted to increase his knowledge by practicing with the monks. He noticed one monk doing a form (kata in Japanese arts) that he did not recognize. Inquiring about the form, Fa Hoi explained it was not Hung Gar, but Lai Tung Pai. In a friendly match, Kong Ki lost to Fa Hoi. Kong Ki then became the sole student of Fa Hoi and the first person outside the temple to learn Lai Tung Pai.

After some time, Kong Ki had gotten married and had a son, Kong Hoi (named after his teacher). On Kong Hoi’s 10th birthday, Kong Ki started teaching him the art of Lai Tung Pai. When Kong Hoi was 13, the Japanese had invaded China. Kong Hoi joined a guerilla resistance troop and attacked a Japanese camp. Kong Hoi was injured in the fight but made it back home. Kong Ki, not wanting his son to see war again, sent Kong Hoi to the Foshan Temple and to his old teacher, Fa Hoi. Fa Hoi took the young man in.

Kong Hoi recalled his experiences in the temple. He had to gather water everyday, he had to cook for all the monks, clean up and take care of the temple altars. After all of this was done, then he would practice kung fu. Kong Hoi stated that he had several teachers besides Fa Hoi. Training was difficult and long. Each form was mastered before a new one was learned. Kong Hoi stayed in the temple until Fa Hoi had passed away.

Post World War II was a time for revolution in China. The Cultural Revolution preached out with the old customs, and martial arts were part of that “cleansing.” Kong Ki and his family moved to Hong Kong where it was safe. (Kong, 2006)

certified by the Hong Kong Government. He has also served as a judge in several Hong Kong tournaments. At one time Kong Hoi had three schools in Hong Kong. During the mid 60’s, Kong Hoi began training a student named Li Chi Keung. Li later moved in with his Sifu and lived there for three years. Kong Hoi had shut his schools down by this time and retired from teaching. Li worked at the docks by day and studied Lai Tung Pai at night. Li had a chance to move to America and left Hong Kong in 1978.

Li joined several schools and took students sporadically. In the mid 80’s, Li moved to Charlotte, North Corolina. While working in a Chinese restaurant as a cook, he noticed the truck driver wearing a shirt for a local kung fu school. Li chatted with the young man and found he had studied at the local community college in the art of Li Ki. The young truck driver, Daryl McFarly, requested to be trained by Li. A friendship was formed and Li started teaching a few students, including Mykle Marriette, Bevo Barksdale, Anthony Stephenson, Michael Garcia, and Christopher Facente.

In 1990, Li went back to Hong Kong for a visit and was promoted to Sifu by Kong Hoi. A celebration was held, giving Sifu Li permission to carry on Lai Tung Pai. Several schools were opened and closed throughout the early 90’s. In 1993, Li began teaching Lai Tung Pai at his own school in Mint Hill, North Carolina. This school is still open as of this writing.

In 2002, 2004, and 2006, Li has permitted some of his students to go to Hong Kong and train with Grandmaster Kong Hoi. Grandmaster Kong Hoi has retired from teaching but has accepted these students to perserve the art of Lai Tung Pai.

Lai Tung Pai is a Shaolin style of martial art. Mostly external in nature, Lai Tung Pai does have several forms that are to be done with internal power control (see Chinese Martial Arts). The style is manly a short fist style similar to Wing Chun.

Lai Tung forms are short (24 to 36 moves) with the exception of the Kung Jong form that consists of over 300 moves. The style also performs the traditional Shaolin weapons (staff, broadsword, butterfly knives etc…), and uses several Muk Yan Jong.