Chan Heung
Founder of Choy Li Fut (Cai Li Fo)

Choy Li Fut VirtuesChan Heung Founder of Choy Li FutChoy Li Fut Virtues

Choy Li Fut was founded in 1836 by Chan Heung, a well known and highly skilled martial artist of that period. Although known as a Southern style, Choy Li Fut has its origins in both Northern and Southern China . Since the system's founder had two teachers from the South and one from the North, Chan Heung decided to combine the teachings of all three masters into one system. Thus, Choy Li Fut is one of the few kung-fu styles that contains techniques from both Northern and Southern Chinese martial arts.

Chan Heung (1806-1875) was born in the lunar calendar 7 moon 10th day of 1806 (August 23, 1806) and began his martial arts career at the age of seven when he went to live with his uncle, Yuen Woo. The uncle, who was a famous boxer from the legendary Shaolin temple , trained the young boy in the art of Shaolin kung-fu. By the time Chan Heung was fifteen he became so proficient at his martial arts he could defeat any challenger from nearby villages. By the time he reached his seventeenth year, the youth was ready to learn more. So Yuen Woo took him to train with Li Yau-San , the uncle's senior classmate from the Shaolin temple. Chan Heung spent the next four years perfecting his kung-fu under Li Yau-San's careful eye.

It soon became apparent that after only four years of training that Chan Heung was again ready to move onto higher levels. In only ten years he had already reached a level of skill that had taken Yuen Woo and Li Yau-San twenty years to attain, The young man's potential was so great that Li Yau San suggested a Shaolin monk named Choy Fook , who lived as a recluse on Lau Fu mountain, as the best teacher for Chan Heung.

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. Chan Heung sought out anyone 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, Chan Heung was stunned when Choy Fook turned him down. It seemed that the monk was intent on being left alone to cultivate Buddhism, and no longer wished to teach martial arts. Finally, 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, and practiced his martial arts well into the night.

Early one morning Chan Heung was practicing his kung-fu, leg sweeping heavy bamboo trees, and kicking up stones into the air, then smashing them before they hit the ground. Suddenly, the monk appeared and asked him if that was the best that he could do. Chan Heung was shocked when Choy Fook pointed to a large rock weighing about eighty pounds, and told him to kick it twelve feet. Bracing himself, the student 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 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 accept 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 kung-fu.

When he was twenty-nine, Chan Heung left the monk and went back to his 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 his two principal teachers, Choy Fook and Li Yau-San, and using the word "Fut" which means Buddha in Chinese, to pay homage to his uncle, Yuen Woo, and to the Shaolin roots of the new system.

Today, though still relatively rare outside of China , Choy Li Fut is one of the most popular and widely practiced styles of kung-fu in mainland China.

For more information on Choy Li Fut look for the book Choy Li Fut Kung Fu by Grandmaster Doc-Fai Wong and Sifu Jane Hallander, published by Unique Publications.