Founder of Choy Li Fut

training for Life
Column by Grandmaster Doc-Fai Wong
May 2002 Issue

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Jeong Yim was one of the outstanding students of Chan Heung, founder of the choy li fut system. Jeong Yim worked very hard in choy li fut kung-fu training under Chan Heung. He was also a very intelligent young man; this made the system's founder take notice.

In 1867, after a few years of learning choy li fut, Chan Heung appointed him to take over the Hung Sing Studio in Fut San (modern-day Fo Shan), which was established in 1848 by Chan Din Yao and Chan Din Fune, two of Chan Heung's first students.

Jeong Yim's efforts made the Hung Sing Studio famous. During the annual celebration of the Toast Ancestors Temple (Zu Miao), Jeong Yim always brought a strong choy li fut kung-fu demo team to do lion dancing and kung-fu forms exhibitions. Soon the Hung Sing Studio's name was getting famous in Fut San's martial arts circles. Because of Jeong Yim's successful business and his famous name, many kung-fu masters became jealous and challenged him to matches. Jeong Yim defeated all challengers, which only served to make him more famous.

At the time, the people only knew Jeong Yim's family name of Jeong and the school name of Hung Sing; therefore, those in Fut San thought his name was Jeong Hung Sing. Jeong Yim trained many outstanding students to carry on his teachings. Chan Ngau Sing took over the Hung Sing Studio after ]eong Yim died. Yuen Hai (aka Yuen Fook) went to Toi San to teach and Loi Chaun taught in Canton. Many other students remained in the Fut San area to assist in Chan Ngau Sing's headquarters and teach in the branches of the Hung Sing Studio in Fut San. Because ]eong Yim died at a young age, he had very few forms to teach. The sup ji kau da and the ping kuen hand forms; hung sing butterfly knives; and the seung gup dan staff are the major sets in the Fut San's lineage.

In ancient times, students respected their teacher. Thus, it was not appropriate to question your teacher's background or the history of his kung-fu system. After a time, the students thought their teacher, "]eong Hung Sing", was the founder of the Hung Sing Studio. In Canton, there was a kung-fu storybook writer whose pen name was Nim Fut San Yen. He wrote a fictional storybook about the Fut San Hung Sing Studio. After that book was published, all the Hung Sing students in Fut San treated the book as though it were the history of their kung-fu system. This book also led them to believe that Jeong Yim and Chan Heung were the co-founders of the choy li fut system.

The fictional story said that Jeong Yim's uncle took him to the Chan Village to look for Chan Heung. The Chan Village may not have existed, but Chan Heung's hometown of King Mui Village was real. It is hard to picture a high-level martial artist of Chan Heung's reputation getting hurt in a fight over the water rights and being saved by a child who knew a little of Jeong Yim's kung-fu.

The statement that Chan Heung's village did not allow outsiders to be taught choy li fut is questionable at best. One of Chan Heung's first 18 disciples was an outsider. Lung Ji Choi didn't have the family name of "Chan", but reportedly took lessons from Chan Heung ten-to-15 years before Jeong Yim. The storybook also said that Chan Heung sent Jeong Yim to the Bot Pai Mountain to search for the Green Grass Monk. I tried to find the mountain in the Kwangsi province, but to my knowledge it does not exist.

I also discovered that the Buddhist name of Chan Heung's teacher, Choy Fook, was Ching Cho (Green Grass). According to the fictional story, the monk in the Bot Pai Mountain gave Jeong Yim the nickname "Hung Sing". However, this is not plausible. At that time, according to available records, Chan Heung was already using that slogan in King Mui and named his school Hung Sing at the beginning of his teaching. Even today, is hard to have your student learn another martial art and then come back to teach you.

China in the 1800s was very close-minded. How could Jeong Yim bring kung-fu back from Bot Pai Mountain and then teach his sifu, who then became co-founder of the choy li fut kung-fu system? Nor was Jeong Yim the founder of the Hung Sing Studio in Fut San. According to records, in 1848 Chan Heung sent Chan Din Yao and Chan Din Fune to open the Hung Sing Studio. After 19 years, the first two masters retired from teaching in Fut San. In 1867, Chan Heung re-sent Jeong Yim to take over the Hung Sing studio. As you can see, there is little in the way of dates or names to prove the account written by Nim Put San Yen.

My late teacher, great-grandmaster Hu Yuen Chou, was a student of Chan Ngau Sing, who was the successor of Jeong Yim. Chan Ngau Sing knew the true history and was also a friend of Nim Put San Yen, the author of the fictional book. It is only through the martial arts of Chan Ngau Sing, as well as the accounts of the storybook author, that we know the true history of the Hung Sing Studio in Fut San.

Doc-Fai Wong writes a bi-monthly column for Inside Kung Fu.

Doc-Fai Wong writes a bi-monthly column for Inside Kung-Fu.

May 2002 Inside Kung-Fu