Exploring the history of Choi Lee Fut Kung Fu
Family Day, celebrated here in Ontario and countries around the world, is the perfect time to enjoy family activities and explore one’s ancestral history.
The holiday celebrates families, family life and the critical role family plays in our communities. How family is defined varies among cultures. While some consider only immediate family members when the word family comes to mind, others include their extended network of aunts, uncles and cousins. In cultures where people tend to live in smaller villages, the entire village is considered an extension of one’s family. This builds a true sense of community and collective history.
On Family Day 2017 in Toronto, Ontario, it is befitting to discuss and remind ourselves the importance of family and the values that our forefathers have left behind for us.
A common “family” history is also a unifying factor in communities built upon a shared interest—like the martial arts community. Here at Bamboo Kung Fu Academy we practice Choi Lee Fut kung fu. We take pride in the long history of Choi Lee Fut kung fu, and it is our privilege and honour to introduce this art and its history to our students.
The Origins of Choi Lee Fut Kung Fu
Choi Lee Fut, also called Choy Li Fut, is a remarkably efficient form of kung fu developed in the nineteenth century by Chan Heung. Renowned martial artist, Bruce Lee once noted, “Choi Lee Fut is the most effective system that I've seen for fighting more than one person. [It] is one of the most difficult styles to attack and defend against.”
What makes this particular style of kung fu so powerful?
Choi Lee Fut is a carefully-brewed amalgamation that seamlessly blends techniques common in both Northern and Southern Chinese kung fu styles. Choi Lee Fut incorporates swift, nimble footwork, characteristic of the Northern Chinese style, while also integrating long arm movements which generate great force, typical of the Southern Chinese style. To understand how Chan came to weave these diverse styles of kung fu into a single, intricate style, we must first learn of his journey.
Chan Heung was born in the village of King Mui in Guangdong province in China. At the age of seven, Chan began his kung fu training with his uncle Chan Yuen Wu, an accomplished boxer from the famed Shaolin Temple. His uncle taught him the Buddha Style of kung fu which emphasizes the efficiency and speed of each movement for maximum force and velocity. Chan progressed quickly under the tutelage of his uncle. By the time he was fifteen years old, he was easily able to defeat his opponents. Chan’s uncle recognized the young warrior’s talent. He arranged for Chan to continue his training with another renowned master.
Li Yau San, also an accomplished Shaolin Temple master, was an expert in the Li Gar style of kung fu. Chan Heung spent four years with Li Yau San learning Li Gar, which relies on lower body strength and large strides to evade the enemy’s attack. Again, Chan Heung quickly progressed. Li Yau San recommended that Chan Heung study with another Shaolin master, Choy Fook.
Once a monk at the Northern Shaolin Temple, Choy Fook had withdrawn from the temple and lived as a recluse on in the mountains. When Chan Heung sought him out and begged to continue his training with him, Choy Fook refused. He agreed, instead, to teach Chan Heung about Buddhism and Chinese medicines. Chan Heung agreed. For many hours each day, he studied Buddhism with Choy Fook. During his free time, he diligently practiced the kung fu he’d learned from his previous masters.
One day Choy Fook saw Chan kicking up stones and smashing them before they could hit the ground. He challenged him to kick a much larger rock. Chan summoned all his strength and kicked the large rock, as his master had instructed. However, Choy Fook was able to kick the rock higher and farther with very little effort. Chan Heung recognized the incredible powers his master possessed and again begged him to teach him kung fu. Convinced of Chan Heung’s character and conviction, Choy Fook finally agreed to share his knowledge of kung fu with him. Choy Fook trained Chan Heung in the Choy Gar kung fu style which emphasized nimble footwork, combination kicks and simultaneously attacking and defending. Choy Fook generously shared his knowledge of Choy Gar, Buddhism and Chinese medicines with Chan Heung for eight years.
A Blending of Family Styles
Back in his home village, Chan Heung created his own style of kung fu, which incorporated elements from the various styles he’d learned from his teachers over the years. He named the style Choi Lee Fut, in honour of the teachers who trained him. The term “Fut,” meaning Buddha, paid homage to Chan Heung’s uncle and the Shaolin temple where his masters received their training.
Chan Heung established a school in his home village where he taught this new branch of kung fu to fellow villagers. Choi Lee Fut included many forms, owing to the several styles of kung fu Chan Heung learned along his journey.
News of his unique kung fu style spread throughout the provinces, and people from neighboring villages flocked to King Mui to learn it. It was a time of political unrest in China. Many of the Chinese villagers Chan Heung instructed were patriots who used what they learned to aid in the resistance against invading nations.
Further Adaptations of Choi Lee Fut
The Choi Lee Fut movement spread to other cities as students of Chan Heung returned to their home villages. Jeong Yim, who had trained with Chan Heung in King Mui before going on to train with another kung fu master, became a highly-regarded practitioner of kung fu. He incorporated the knowledge and skills he’d acquired into the Choi Lee Fut system, improving many of the techniques.
Later, Tam Sam, a Hung Gar kung fu specialist, sought to improve his knowledge of kung fu by studying Choi Lee Fut. After much study and training, he established a Choi Lee Fut school in South China. Previous styles of Choi Lee Fut focused on the practice of forms—sequences of movements. Tam Sam’s style, known as Buk Sing Choi Lee Fut, focused on technique and application.
Today, Choi Lee Fut kung fu is practiced around the world. The careful development of Choi Lee Fut, over the course of nearly two centuries, has provided us with a unique art that offers many mental and physical benefits to it practitioners.
Past masters of the art sought to help students in their communities improve their lives through the practice of Choi Lee Fut. At Bamboo Kung Fu Academy, that is also our desire. Sifu Kin Sze, a seventh generation practitioner of this storied martial art, is dedicated to promoting the traditional Choi Lee Fut style he learned while under the tutelage of the illustrious Grandmaster Paul Chan. Choi Lee Fut is more than a form of exercise. It is a lifestyle that enriches one’s mind, body, spirit and character.
At Bamboo Kung Fu Academy, our students become part of the rich fabric of Choi Lee Fut’s illustrious history, which dates back nearly two centuries. By handing down this long tradition of active, healthful living and strong character values, we have had the pleasure of seeing the lives of our students enhanced.
We invite you to discover how Choi Lee Fut contributes to healthier, happier adults and children. Join the Choi Lee Fut family by registering today for your complimentary kung fu class.
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