Choy Li Fut was founded in 1836 by Chan Heung, a well-known and highly-skilled martial artist of that period. Also known as Din Ying and Daht Ting, Chan Heung was born on August 23, 1806 (7 moon 10th day of 1806 of the lunar calendar), in King Mui (Jing Mei), a village in the San Woi (Xin Hui) district of Guangdong province. His martial arts career began at age seven, when he went to live with his uncle, Chan Yuen-Woo. Yuen-Woo, was a famous boxer from the legendary Shaolin temple in Fujian, China. From Chan Yuen-Woo, Chan Heung learned the art of Southern Shaolin kung-fu, and became so proficient at it that by age fifteen he could defeat any challenger from nearby villages. By the time he reached his seventeenth year, Chan Heung was ready to assimilate more martial skills. So Chan Yuen-Woo took him to Li Yau-San, Yuen Woo's senior classmate from the Southern Shaolin temple. Chan Heung spent the next four years perfecting his kung-fu under Li Yau-San's careful eye. It was apparent to Li Yau-San that after only four years of training, Chan Heung was again ready to move on to higher levels. In ten years, he had already reached a level in kung-fu that had taken Chan Yuen-Woo and Li Yau-San twenty years to attain. Li Yau-San suggested a Shaolin monk who lived as a recluse on Lau Fu mountain as the best teacher for Chan Heung. The only problem was that the monk, Choy Fook, no longer wished to teach martial arts. He wanted only to be left alone to cultivate Buddhism. Realizing that reaching his highest potential in kung fu meant finding the monk and becoming his disciple, Chan Heung set out on the long trek to Lau Fu Mountain.
Choy Fook's Buddhist monk name was Ching Chou (Green Grass). His head had been seriously burned when he took his Buddhist vows and had healed with ugly scars. This gave him the nickname "Monk with the Wounded Head." Armed with that knowledge, Chan Heung sought out anyone on Lau Fu Mountain who could help him find Choy Fook. Finally, he located the monk, and handed him a letter of recommendation from Li Yau-San. After waiting patiently to be accepted as Choy Fook's disciple, he was stunned when Choy Fook turned him down. After much begging from Chan Heung, Choy Fook agreed to take the young man as a student—but only to study Buddhism. So, Chan Heung studied Buddhism for many hours a day with the monk of the scarred head, and practiced his martial arts by himself, far into the night.
Early one morning, Chan Heung was practicing his kung fu, sweeping both legs across heavy bamboo bush and kicking up stones, then smashing them to pieces before they hit the ground. Suddenly, the monk appeared and asked him if that were the best he could do. Chan Heung was shocked when Choy Fook pointed to a large rock weighing more than thirty kilograms and told him to kick it twelve feet. Bracing himself, Chan Heung exerted all of his strength as his foot crashed against the rock, sending it barely twelve feet away. Instead of giving the expected compliment, Choy Fook placed his own foot under the heavy rock and effortlessly propelled it through the air. Chan Heung was awestruck by this demonstration of "superpower." Again he begged Choy Fook to take him as a martial arts disciple. This time the monk agreed, and for eight years Choy Fook taught Chan Heung both the way of Buddhism and the way of martial arts.
When he was twenty-nine, Chan Heung left the monk and went back to King Mui village, where he spent the next two years revising and refining all that he had learned from Choy Fook. Chan Heung had now developed a new system of kung fu. In 1836 he formally established the Choy Li Fut system, naming it in honor of two of his teachers, Choy Fook and Li Yau-San, and used the word Fut, which means "Buddha" in Chinese, to pay homage to his uncle, Chan Yuen Woo, and to the Shaolin roots of the new system. Chan Heung set up a martial arts school in the local family temple of his village to teach the new system. As his reputation spread, hundreds of people from nearby villages came to learn Choy Li Fut. Shortly after Chang Heung established his new school, the Opium Wars broke out in China. Like many other loyal Chinese, Chan Heung joined the army in Canton to fight against the British invaders. Following China's defeat in 1842, he returned home to his family.
Political corruption from within the Manchurian-controlled Ching dynasty had contributed to China's defeat. Between 1847 and 1850 many Chinese leaders formed secret societies to combat the evil forces of the Ching. Under the leadership of Hong Xiu-Quan, the Triad Rebellion broke out against the Imperial forces in Guangxi. Hong's rebels defeated the government troops in 1850 and for the next two decades the Tai Ping Tian Guo kingdom ruled China. During the rebellion, Chan Heung's followers urged him to join in the revolt. However, he was a devout Buddhist and shunned the path of violence. Nevertheless, he continued to train his followers in case the need arose to do battle against the corrupt Ching rulers.
When the Imperial army sought to recruit men from his area to fight against the rebel forces, Chan Heung left his home in King Mui with his wife and two children. Finally forced by the needless fighting and destruction to participate actively, he set up many Choy Li Fut schools in Southern China to spread revolutionary ideas against the Manchurians. He gave his followers a special signal for future battlefield reunions: Whoever belonged to the Choy Li Fut system would cry out "yak'' when striking with his fist or palm, "wak" when thrusting with a tiger claw hand, and "dik" when kicking.
When the Tai Ping Tian Guo succumbed in 1864, Chan Heung left China. At age fifty-nine he became the martial arts teacher for the Chan Family Association overseas. He stayed abroad four years, and then returned home to King Mui, where he was able to see his own kung fu system gain tremendous popularity throughout Southern China. On the lunar calendar 8th moon 20, 1875, at the age of sixty-nine, Chan Heung died. He was buried in his beloved village of King Mui. But his memory lives on, perpetuated in the kung-fu system that he established.
After Chan Heung's death, his Choy Li Fut legacy passed on to his two sons, Chan On-Pak and Chan Koon-Pak. Chan On-Pak, born in 1839 and the older of the two brothers, looked like and had the gentle nature of a scholar. His specialty was the spear. Chan On-Pak's control of the spear was so advanced that he gained the nickname yet "Cheung Ng Mui Fa" or "Five Blossoms with One Lance." In 1894, two of Chan On-Pak's students, Cheng Si-Leung and Chan Siu-Bak, helped the revolutionary forces of Dr. Sun Yat-Sin fight against the Ching dynasty and lay the foundation of the Republic of China. The younger son, Chan Koon Pak, left King Mui to become a merchant in Kong Moon (Jiangmen) City, where his fame as a martial artist spread quickly. He soon had no time to spend as a merchant and devoted all of his efforts teaching Choy Li Fut. Chan Koon Pak later established a large Choy Li Fut training center in Guangzhou.
Chan Heung had eighteen original Choy Li Fut disciples, known as the eighteen Lohan. In 1848, the original eighteen started branching out to teach Choy Li Fut throughout Southern China. The first disciple to teach Choy Li Fut outside of King Mui was Lung Ji-Choi, who opened a kung fu school in the town of Xunzhou in Guangxi province. Soon after, Chan Din-Yao and Chan Din-Foon initiated the first Hung Sing Choy Li Fut School in Fut San (Foshan). Other of the original eighteen disciples who promoted the new kung fu system were: Chan Dai-Yup in Guangzhou; Chan Din-Sing in Zhongshan; Chan Mau-Jong in Panyu; Chan Din-Bong in Dong Guan; Chan Din-Wai in Kaiping; Chan Din-Jen in Taishan; Chan Sun-Dong in Enping ; Chan Din-Dak at Heshan ; Chan Dai-Wai in Zhaoqing; Chan Sing-Hin in Xinhuicheng; Chan Yin-Yu at Jiangmen. And admirable tasks were performed by Chan Dai-Sing, Chan Din-Seng, Chan Mau-Wing, and Chan Din-Gung, who taught Choy Li Fut in twenty-six villages in the King Mui area.
In 1867, Chan Heung sent one of his last students, Jeong Yim to Fut San (Foshan) to reopen the school originally established by Chan Din-Yao and Chan Din-Foon in 1848. Eventually, Jeong Yim became known as the "father of the Hung Sing School of Choy Li Fut" in Fut San. It is generally thought that there are two schools of Choy Li Fut: hung sing and bak sing, and that there are two representatives of the hung sing school. During the revolution of the mid-1800s, the Hung Moon Party represented all revolutionary factions, including Choy Li Fut representatives. Choy Li Fut schools had a secret slogan during these times: "Hung Ying Ji Sing; Ying Hung Wing Sing.” This translates as: "Heroes of the Hung Party are superior; Heroes always win." Chan Heung's followers adopted two words of the motto as their secret passwords “Hung Sing” which meant "Hung Party wins." But, because that was too close to the outlawed Hung Moon Party name, they changed it to another slogan which sounds the same as Hung Sing, but means "goose winning."
Meanwhile, the Fut San Choy Li Fut School of Jeong Yim bore the name "Hung Sing Kwoon” (using the "Hung" that means goose). Some of his students began referring to him as Jeong Hung Sing. By the time his school had developed a third generation of students, the true meaning of "Hung Sing" had been lost, and his third generation students believed him to be the founder of a type of Choy Li Fut known as Hung Sing Choy Li Fut. To clarify the issue, Chan Heung's son, Koon-Pak, changed the name Hung Sing to a different Hung meaning "strong." From that time on, Choy Li Fut schools in Koon Pak's King Mui area designated themselves with the slogan Hung Sing, meaning "Strong Winning," while the Fut San schools kept their "goose winning" Hung Sing motto. Hence, the belief, that there are two Hung Sing Choy Li Fut schools. The Bak Sing branch of Choy Li Fut can be traced back to Jeong Yim in Fut San. Jeong Yim had three principal students. One of them was Lui Chaun, who had a student named Tam Sam. Tam Sam had a Choy Li Fut school in Guangzhou, in a district called Siu Bak (which translates as "little north"). His school bore the name Siu Bak Hung Sing Choy Li Fut Club. That name was too long to be spoken comfortably, so it was changed to Bak Sing Choy Li Fut to pay respects to their teacher, Tam Sam’s students referred to their selves as the Bak Sing branch of Choy Li Fut.
The most famous student and also the successor of Jeong Yim was Chan Ngau-Sing. Grandmaster Doc-Fai Wong’s second teacher, Dr. Hu Yuen-Chou studied from him from the age of nine in Fut San Hung Sing School’s headquarters. Lau Bun was Grandmaster Wong’s first Choy Li Fut teacher; he learned his kung fu from Yuen Hai, one of the three principal students of Jeong Yim. The heritage of these two famous teachers of our Grandmaster who handed down the powerful fighting art to us is called the Fut San lineage because it is from the Hung Sing School of Fut San city, Guangdong province.
Dr. Hu Yuen-Chou’s second Choy Li Fut teacher was Chan Yiu-Chi, the grandson of the founder. Dr. Hu spent 20 years of his training time with Chan Yiu-Chi and became one of the four major pillar instructors of the school who had gained the name the “Four Great Heavenly Kings” of Choy Li Fut in Guangzhou. Grandmaster Doc-Fai Wong is the successor of Dr. Hu Yuen Chou. From this lineage we got the name King Mui, because the founder’s family came from the King Mui village.
Founder of Choy Li Fut