Kung Fu’s incestuous past

20 Feb

Kung Fu has been practiced by Americans for close to 100 years now. In that time, more and more information about these traditions has become available to them including histories authentic, questionable and patently ridiculous. Simultaneously, among its practitioners we now count those with serious academic training capable of producing valid examinations of the traditions. The results of these investigations have puzzled some, but in fact provide a true insight into the reality of how martial arts were practiced in China. They are a great tool for clearing away the nonsense now associated with these traditions.


In my own tradition we have the fabled Sing Lung, the so called “Tibetan monk” who brought Lion’s Roar to Southern China. A closer read of the history tells us he wasn’t actually Tibetan, he was ethnically Chinese. He was instead a follower of a “Tibetan” school of Buddhism (Vajrayana).


If you read between the lines, he also wasn’t likely a monk. He engaged in challenge matches, beat people and killed people. My personal bet was that he also ate his fair share of pork. But I digress….

Three separate traditions, Lama Pai, Hop Ga and Tibetan White Crane (Pak Hok) claim him as the primary figure in their lineages. But some people were shocked to find out he was likely the teacher of “Tit Kiuh Saam” (Iron Bridge Third Brother, a nickname) and thus figured into the lineages of Hung Ga, Village Hung Fist and several other minor southern systems.

Celebratory Cloud Temple 2

Is it coincidence that the monastery Sing Lung lived in for most of his later life also figures into the Choy Lay Fut lineage?


Dig around in the Hung Ga lineages a little further and you find versions of the histories where the founder’s wife was a relative of Fong Sai Yuk. Fong Sai Yuk is not only associated with several minor southern style lineages but his mother is also from the Miu / Miao clan associated with even more legends/stories/lineages.


In short, the southern martial arts appear to be an incredibly incestuous lot, less distinct than we’d like to realize or care to discuss. BUT SHOULD THIS REALLY SHOCK US? Should we be surprised that those who dedicated their entire lives to developing fighting skills and who engaged in the fighter lifestyle (who also lived in close proximity to each other!!) knew and interacted with each other?


Prior to meeting Chan Tai-San, my primary style was Hung Ga. However, I had also done a little of several other systems. I trained Dragon style with Yip Wing-Hong. Sifu Yip actually (I found out later) shared a Pak Mei (White Eyebrow) lineage with Chan Tai San. I also did some 7 Star Praying Mantis from the Chiu Leun lineage. Chiu Leun was Chan Tai-San’s wife’s cousin. Yup, Chinatown as a bit incestuous even back then!


But did I mention I had many friends during those years? Friends who did 7 Star Praying Mantis, Eagle Claw, Hung Ga, Long Fist, White Eyebrow, etc etc etc… Do you think we hung around for YEARS and didn’t exchange techniques and train together? Was it informal? YES… but consider this. Any one of our students years later could have tried to recreate a “lineage” for what they learned and in that lineage BAM! Tons of people from different “systems” would have popped up….

Or are you not getting me?

New York San Da Kickboxing


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