training for Life
Column by Grandmaster Doc-Fai Wong
March 2011 Issue

8 principal Forms

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While Creating Choy Li Fut in 1836*, Chan Heung was also participating in the anti-Manchurian government revolution. He spent a lot of effort training a group of students to get involved with the activities of the revolution. In 1848, Chan Heung established 18 branch schools in the Guangdong and Guangxi provinces of Southern China.

At that time, Hong Xiu Quan was the leader of the Taiping Rebellion. He wanted to establish a new dynasty called the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom. Chan Heung honored the Taiping Rebellion by using eight characters to create eight major choy li fut hand forms — Tai, Ping, Tian, Guo, Chang, An, Wan, Nian — which meant "long live the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom."

Chan Heung taught these eight forms and encouraged his students to participate in the revolutionary activities. The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom was established in 1851. Fourteen years later, this kingdom died at the hands of the Manchu.

The Manchurian government searched for political criminals and so those involved in the revolution went into hiding. The names of these eight hand forms were changed to protect the students. The original names of these eight principal choy li fut hand forms are all but forgotten.

While choy li fut has a variety of hand forms, the eight mentioned in this column were the most widely taught. Teaching does not always go by the order in which the hand forms are listed. The information contained in this column (as well as Part Two) comes from my teacher, great grandmaster Hu Yuen Chou, who conducted interviews with his teachers — Chan Ngau Sing, Chan Yiu Chi, and other choy li fut seniors. Since today's generation knows little of the art's original hand forms history, I thought it would be beneficial to pass down the information.

Here are the hand forms, their meaning, and their characteristics.

Tai—Meaning grand or supreme, represents the name of the hand form taijo kuen (supreme ancestor hand form), which commemorated the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty, Zhu Yuan Zhang. Since it was associated with the revolution, Chan Heung changed the form's name to tai hwoi (tai xu) kuen or the supreme emptiness hand form. This hand form consisted of the yin and yang principal, meaning hard carrying soft energy and soft carrying hard energy.

Ping—Means to level; flat, to pacify or to settle. The form's original name was ping moon kuen, meaning to pacify the Manchurian Government and restore the dynasty back to the Han Chinese. The name was eventually shortened to ping kuen (level form).

Tian (Cantonese Tin)—Meaning sky or heaven. The form's original name was tin dei sup fang kuen, or the 10 directions of heaven and earth form. The name was later shortened to tin dei kuen, or the heaven and earth form.

There was a revolutionary society named Heaven and Earth for anti-Qing Dynasty government. Therefore, the name of this form was changed to sup jee kuen or the cross-pattern hand form, which is the same as sup jee kau da kuen. When the siu sup jee kuen, or the small cross-pattern form was added to the system, the original form's name was changed to dai sup jee kuen, or large cross-pattern form.


(In "Part Two" in May, Doc-Fai Wong will discuss the remaining four [five principal] choy li fut hand [forms]).

With the April 2011 issue of Inside Kung Fu Magazine ceased publication. Below, Doc-Fai Wong provides to the public the second part of his article which was to be published in the May 2011 issue.

Eight principal Forms of Choy Li Fut – Part Two

Doc-Fai Wong

•Guo (Cantonese Gwok)— means the State or Country. The real name of this form was Gwok Fa Kuen or the National Flower Hand Form. For thousands of years in China, the peony is the national flower. However during the revolution of anti-Manchurian, the national flower was changed to be the plum flower. That meant the comrades of the revolutionary must have the spirit of the plum blossom because the Chinese are tough, hard working and also able to take pain just like the plum blossom growing in the snow and ice. Therefore the Gwok Fa Kuen was changed to Mui Fa Kuen or Plum Blossom Hand Form. Fa Kuen or Blossom Form is the short name for this form. Later the Siu Mui Fa Kuen or the Small Plum Blossom Hand Form was added to the system. The name of the original form was changed to Dai Mui Fa Kuen or the Large Plum Blossom Hand Form. It also is called Mui Fa Bot Gwa Kuen or Plum Blossom Bagua Hand Form. Some people heard about this form and thought it's the Gwok Jee Kuen or the Gwok Character Hand Form and because they have never learned this form, they created their own form called Gwok Jee Kuen. It was based on the look of the Gwok character's squared shape and made the form's footwork moving around in a square format.

•Chang (Cantonese Cheong)— means long. Most people called it Cheong Kuen, or in Mandarin, Chang Quan. This is not the Northern system of “Taizu Changquan.” There is no relationship with the Taizu Changquan” at all. The original name of this form was called Cheong Gong Dai Long Kuen or the Big Waves of Yangtze River Hand Form. This name symbolized the ambition of the Chinese people like the Yangtze River's strong waves over throwing the anti Manchurian government. The name of the form was too long and later changed to Cheong Kuen or Long Fist Form, also known as Tit Jin Kuen or Iron Arrow Hand Form. Some people combined the names together and called it Tit Jin Cheong Kuen or Iron Arrow Long Fist Form.

•An (Cantonese On)— means Security. This hand form's original name was On Bang Kuen or To Secure the Nation Hand Form. It means that China should be settled down after the revolution. Later, it was changed to Hung Yen Kuen or the Hung's People Hand Form. The Hung Yen was the same as the Chinese Freemasons who were practicing Choy Li Fut for the revolutionary purpose. Because the name had the anti-government meaning, the Chinese character was later changed but has the same Cantonese sound which means “strong or masculine”. It is also called Hung Yen Bagua Hand Form.

•Wan (Cantonese Man)— normally means 10,000. The formal name was Man Jeong Kuen or the 10,000 Shapes hand form. The phrase Man Jeong Gang Sun means everything in the universe will become new. At that time, the Chinese hoped that when the revolution is successful, China will change to a new scene and a new lifestyle of living. Man Jeong also means 10,000 elephants. Because of this meaning, some school have a hand form called the Ten Thousand Elephants Hand Form. The Chan family saw this funny name and therefore changed its name to Bot Gwa Kuen or the Bagua Hand Form, which all things in the universe are within the five elements of bagua philosophy. Later on there was a Siu Bot Gwa Kuen or the Small Bagua Hand Form. The original hand form changed to call the Dai Bot Gwa Kuen or the Large Bagua Hand Form. Some Choy Li Fut schools have a hand form called Man Jee Kuen (the Man Character's Hand form) which was also originally from this character that meant 10,000.

•Nian (Cantonese Nin)— means Years. Many people misunderstood this hand form which was named Nin Jee Kuen or the Nin Character Hand Form. Actually this form's name was called the Nin Zhang Kuen or the Elderly Hand Form. When a person became a senior citizen or elderly, their hair should turn grey or white. Therefore this form was later renamed Bak Mo Kuen or the White Hair Hand Form. The Chinese wished for the revolution to be successful and to overthrow the Manchurian government so that all citizens can live peacefully until all their hair turned white with longevity.

After 35 years for doing research of the choy li fut system, now I can share this information to the public for educating the next new generations of choy li fut students and instructors.



*When published the article contained an error in the year Choy Li Fut was created, "1983". That error was corrected here to "1836.".

Doc-Fai Wong is a contributing editor and writes a bi-monthly column for Inside Kung-Fu.

March 2011 Inside Kung-Fu