Traditional Yet Progressive Choy Lay Fut's Hon Jerng Lin Wan Kuen
By Chris Childs
In the USA the idea of cross training was introduced by Bruce lee in the late 1960’s. Cross training gained prominence in the 1990’s with the MMA craze caused by cross trained athletes fighting in events like the UFC and Pride. It may surprise many to find out that this idea is not new. The founder of the Choy Lay Fut system was equally open minded as modern athletes in his approach. Chan heung lived from 1801-1881 before the practice of Chinese martial arts gained popularity in the United States. Chan Heung cross trained in two forms of southern Chinese martial art and one form of northern Chinese martial art. These different methods were later blended together to create the Choy Lay Fut style. The creation history of Choy Lay Fut in a way mirrors what mixed martial artists do today. Having trained in both southern and northern methods, Chan Heung was able to take what he believed was the best concepts and techniques to compensate for any apparent weakness that was found in any of the single methods.
This progressive approach was continued by later generations of Choy Lay Fut practitioners. Many of Choy Lay Fut’s past and present practitioners have had experience in multiple styles of martial arts. Fong Yuk Shu for instance was a famous Choy Lay Fut stylist who studied not only under the founder’s son, Chan Koon Pak, but also studied the Lama system under monk jing Han of nam Fook temple. The effect of his cross training can be felt by subsequent generations of his lineage whose Choy lay Fut practice still benefits from the additional insight gained through supplemental lama training. Another of these innovative Choy lay Fut practitioners was a student of Fong Yuk Shu and lived in the early 20th century. His name was To Hon Jerng.
To Hon Jerng’s fighting traditions
Sifu To Hon Jerng was a veteran of real life combat. Born in 1907, to Hon Jerng began his study of the Choy Lay Fut system at an early age under his teacher, Fong Yuk Shu. Through hard work and perseverance To Hon Jerng, at the age of 28, was promoted to head instructor stasis within one of his teacher’s martial arts schools. During the 1933 and 1934 Canton martial arts championships, to Hon Jerng competed in both staff and spear categories earning first and second place respectively. His accomplishments in the martial arts led to become the instructor of an elite militia known as the Da Dao Dui (big blade troops) while teaching at his school Tung Yi Kwoon in his native village of Go Yiu. During the second Sino-Japanese war (1937-1945), the Dai Dao Dui went on covert missions to fend off Japanese invaders. When To Hon Jerng relocated to Hong Kong in 1947 he opened the To Hon Jerng Martial Arts Athletic Academy. He continued to teach Choy Lay Fut using the concepts he gained through his life and death combat experiences. His experiences in close quarter combat prompted to Hon Jerng to create a form combining his most favored tactics for this type of encounter.
The form dubbed Hon Jerng Lin Wan kuen is a combination of Choy Lay Fut’s most effective concepts and techniques. This form combines elements found most notably in the kow Da (cross pattern) and Fut Cheung (Buddha palm) forms. Lin Wan Kuen is a concept used in many Chinese martial arts, and can be roughly translated to mean “continuous attack”. The fundamental idea of this aggressive concept is to overwhelm the opponent with a barrage of continuous but focused attacks. In contrast to sport fighting (I.e. boxing) in which participants often attempt to conserve energy in the early rounds, the concept of “continuous attack” encourages a quick finish. If you have ever been in a real street fight you would know that a real confrontation will rarely last more than a few minutes. Analogically speaking, sport fighting is a marathon, while street fighting is a sprint. This makes the concept of the aggressive continuous attack often necessary of you want to survive a real life confrontation. Having a wealth of experience and the entire Choy Lay Fut curriculum at his disposal when he created this form speaks well to the importance of the Lin Wan Kuen concept.
Lin wan Kuen or “continuous attack” is actually more complex than it appears at first examination. Making the assumption that Lin Wan Kuen is simple has left many practitioners to overlook the deeper concepts of this form. If one probes deeper, one will realize that there is more to “continuous attack” than merely chasing after your opponent while throwing punches. Many of Choy Lay Fut’s core concepts 9such as the gate theory), invasive and evasive footwork, and the ten elements come into play in this form.
The gate theory is essential to many Chinese martial arts methods. Draw an imaginary line down the center of your body, and then draw two more lines horizontally, one at the collar bone and one at the waist. Each section inside of these imaginary lines is a “gate”. There are two main ways to get inside a gate. The first is to open it. One way to open a gate is to throw a strike or feint at a different gat (usually the opposing gate) in an attempt to draw the opponent’s attention to that area. When the attention of the opponent is focused on the feinted area you would then strike the desired target at the opposite side. Another way is to “destroy” the gate by non stop attacks to the same target from multiple angles.
Another important factor lies in proper footwork. In order to make Lin Wan Kuen successful you need to constantly advance on your opponent. Veterans of both street and ring fighting will know that once their opponent’s Balance is neutralized they become basically vulnerable. Disrupting you opponent’s base not only reduces his ability to defend himself but will also reduce his striking capacity. Driving forward with “invasive” footwork will not only disrupt your opponent’s balance, but will also increase the power you can generate for your own attacks. Proper evasive footwork requires you to move out of your opponent’s line of attack while putting yourself in position to strike your opponent, giving you the opportunity to drive forward.
The Choy lay Fut system utilizes what is dubbed the “ten elements” to form the basis for its devastating striking techniques. Each element has unique characteristics and methods of use. It is these ten elements that make up the basis of Choy Lay Fut’s techniques. Variations of these elements can be found in every empty hand form and every one of these ten elements can be found in hon Jerng Lin Wan Kuen. Knowing them and their variations is a must for the Lin Wan Kuen form. The Ten elements are as follows.
Kum- Slapping or pressing palm deflection
Na (chuen na)- Shooting arm bridge
Gwa- back fist
Sau- roundhouse punch
Chop- yin/yang fore knuckle strike
Pow- upward power shot
Kup- fist slap
Biu- outward, inside forearm strike
Ding- elbow or “joint” strike
Jong- small upward power shot
Choy lay Fut is well known for its powerful swinging punches like Pow, Gwa, and its signature technique, the Sau. Since Choy Lay Fut is best known for these techniques most people who are familiar with this system would expect to see them in Hon Jerng Lin Wan Kuen. While these techniques are present but the most prominent element of this for is the chop. The “chop choi” (panther fist) exists as several variations. The two most often used variations are the yerng (yang) chop and the yum (yin) chop. The yerng chop begins at the hip and travels slightly upward into the opponent’s torso. The yum chop is also aimed at the body but it travels downward from the ear in a twisting motion drilling into the opponent. It is a combination of yerng chop and yum chop that constitutes the continuous attacks of the Hon Jerng Lin wan Kuen form. Rapid fire use of these techniques are used to ‘destroy” or “clear open” a gate to devastate an opponent.
Perhaps the most important aspect of successfully utilizing the Lin Wan Kuen concept exists mentally. In order to successfully use the continuous attacks prescribed in Lin wan concepts of any style, you must be relentless and ruthless. In contrast to methods like judo or Aikido where your objective is to subdue your opponent without harm, the Lin Wan Kuen method calls for maximum aggression. This concept was well understood by to Hon Jerng during his war time activities where mercy to his opponent might have cost him his life. Though modern society differs for that To Hon Jerng had once lived, a modern day violent encounter could nonetheless cost you your life if you are not prepared to do what is necessary to protect yourself and your loved ones.
Though infused with important concepts and techniques, the Hon Jerng Lin Wan Kuen was designed purely for practical purposes and is devoid of overly complicated movements and sequences. When the adrenaline kicks in during a violent confrontation only the most pragmatic and well practiced movements will still be at your command. Hon Jerng Lin Wan Kuen manifests all of Choy Lay Fut’s most important concepts into the most pragmatic sequences of techniques.
Traditional and Progressive
There has been a lot of criticism against Chinese martial arts being ‘outdated”. The idea that Chinese martial arts are becoming outdated would imply that they are fixed and unable to adapt to the current needs of modern society. This could not be further from the truth. Hon Jerng Lin Wan Kuen is a prime example of this. Though Hon Jerng Lin wan Kuen is a form with set techniques, its concepts and principles can be applied to multiple situations and even to other systems and methods. This makes Hon Jerng Lin Wan Kuen relevant to the lives of many of today’s martial arts practitioners.
It seems the negative criticism expressed by some martial arts practitioners towards the traditional martial artists may come from a lack of understanding or depth of practice. Movements seen in forms are only one physical manifestation of an underlying concept. They are all ideas expressed through movement. If today’s modern cross trainers are truly progressive in their approach they would not be dismissive of traditional practices without fully investigating them. Past Chinese martial arts practitioners like Chan Heung, Fong Yuk Shu and To Hon Jerng knew how to be progressive without abandoning the valuable wealth of knowledge left by their martial arts ancestors. I hope we can all learn by their examples. In doing so, maybe more of today’s martial artists will learn to become traditional yet progressive.
About the Author
Chris Childs is a 6th generation practitioner and instructor of Choy Lay Fut Gung Fu under the supervision of his teacher Sifu Sam Ng (www.ngfamilymartialarts.com). Chris Childs currently teaches in Bourbonnais IL, and can be contacted through his website: www.HungSingChoyLayFut.com
This article originally appeared in the2007 March/April issue of Kungfu Tai Chi Magazine
C) 2007 Kung Fu Tai Chi Magazine, reprinted by permission"
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