According to legend, the southern Shaolin (Sil Lum in Cantonese) temple in Fukien was destroyed by the oppressive Ching dynasty at the end of the 18th century. As it was being attacked, fires spread throughout the temple. Five elder monks - Master Gee Sim Sum See being one of them - were trapped by the flames as they tried to find an escape route. Miraculously, a golden tarp (or banner) fell upon them and protected them as they fought their way to a back wall. They punched and kicked their way through the brick wall to safety. Upon escaping they made a vow to rid their homeland of the Manchu leaders. Their motto was "Destroy the Ching, restore the Ming." From this secret society of warriors arose one of China's most powerful styles of Kung Fu, Hung Gar (Red clan or Red School).
Gee Sim Sum See sought refuge among the floating opera boats, or "Hung Soan" (Red boats), teaching his skills covertly to rebels. Master Gee Sim would continue to teach his five animal styles. Since space was a factor, even more so on the boats, Master Gee Sim's instruction stressed close-quarter fighting methods. The stances were only fourteen inches apart. Four square feet would be enough room to perform an entire set. This made it extremely effective for the busy streets and small alleys of Southern China.
One of his students in the temple was Hung Hei Goon (Guen or Gung). He studied the Shaolin Tiger Style. Hung Hei Goon was a Fukien tea merchant who met his future wife, Fong Wing Chun, at the temple. Fong Wing Chun (no relation to Yim Wing Chun) was also a student of Master Gee. She came to the temple to learn the White Crane system and avenge the murders of her entire family, who were slaughtered by bandits. Hung, being a curious man, always sought to improve his skills. He thus added to his Tiger Style elements from his wife's White Crane system; movements from the Dragon, Snake, and Leopard (or Panther) forms; and techniques from the five element fists. Hung Hei Goon developed a reputation for being a fighter of great skill and was known as "The Southern Fist." One of the contributions of Hung Hei Goon was the development of the form Kung Gee Fook Fu (Taming tiger). This form serves as the basic foundation of most Hung Gar schools.
Throughout the beginnings, there have been three main styles of Hung Gar (or Hung Ga). The first is called Sil Lum Temple Hung Gar (which is where our Ha Say Fu [Four Lower Tigers] Hung Gar is derived). The second is called Hung Moon or Hung Door. The third is the standard "Canton" Hung Gar, which is founded by Hung Hei Goon. This style is the most commonly seen today. The art was passed down from generation to generation from Hung Hei Goon to his son Luk Ah Choy, then to his son Wong Tai, and to his son Wong Kai Ying, and finally to his son Wong Fei Hung (1850 - 1933) who was one of the most famous folk heroes within martial arts. In his later years he would be credited for formalizing the Hung Gar system as well as developing the famed Tiger & Crane (Fu Hoc Kuen) form. The heroic adventures of this renowned Hung Gar exponent have been dramatized in Chinese cinema in over 100 films, and he has been portrayed by such martial arts stars as Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and Kwan Tak Hing. One story dictates that when Wong Fei Hung was 13, already being an accomplished martial artist, traveled with his father demonstrating Hung Gar and selling medicines in different villages. In one village there was a famous teacher of another style, Sifu Gwan Dai Hung, demonstrating on the same day. He became jealous because the Wongs had a much larger crowd watching their performance. Sifu Gwan felt these two were invading his territory and, long pole in hand, approached Master Wong Kai Ying to issue a challenge. Master Wong smiled and told his son Wong Fei Hung to take up his long pole and match skills with this sifu using the Ng long ba wan gwun (8 diagram pole techniques). Wong Fei Hung eliminated the challenger and word of it spread far and wide.
One of Wong Fei Hung's top students was Lam Sai Wing (1861 - 1942). At an early age, Lam had learned Hung Gar from his father (giving us the Arrow Hand and Butterfly Knife forms), and Sifu Wu Gum Sin. Lam also learned Buddha's palm kung fu from Sifu Jung Hon San, and the Iron Wire (tit sing kuen) form from Sifu Lam Fook Sing. Sifu Lam Fook Sing was a disciple of another famous Hung Gar exponent, Tit Kiu Sam, the Iron Wire developer. Master Tit Kiu Sam and Wong Kai Ying were two of the original 10 Tigers from Canton in the late Ching Dynasty, with Wong Fei Hung to be inducted later. At 18, Lam Sai Wing sought out the famous master Wong Fei Hung to learn more. After four attempts to enter into the tutelage of master Wong, he was allowed to demonstrate his skills. Master Wong found him skilled, but not at the master level. Nevertheless he was impressed and accepted the young man. A few years later, Wong Fei Hung, accompanied by his young student Lam, went to the Hoi Tung Gi (Hoi Tung Temple) to discuss a matter with the Abbot monk. At the temple, someone known as the Iron Head Monk, greeted them. The monk told them that the abbot wasn't available, and instead offered them tea. While sipping tea the iron head monk boasted of how he could never be beaten or touched in any confrontation. The monk asked to spar with Wong or Lam. Wong sent Lam to match skills with the monk. The monk attacked with his head. Lam responded with the Mo Ying Gerk (shadowless kick) and knocked the monk back ten feet. As Lam ran over to pick him up, the monk expressed a newfound respect for Wong and Lam and they became friends.
There was another famous incident that took place at the Luk Sin Theater. Lam, Tang Fung (who was also a student of Wong's), Tang Yee, Gwan Kwan, and a few of Lam's disciples became trapped by a rival instructor at the theater. The rival instructor led an attack with about 80 other men, while Lam and his colleagues had fewer than 10. Lam's students and colleagues sustained a few minor injuries. All 80 of the rivals were sent to the hospital. Lam escaped the incident uninjured. Through hard training, dedication, and a few secret techniques from master Wong, Lam Sai Wing had become unbeatable. It would be around this period, the end of the Ching Dynasty (1644 - 1911), that Lam would enter a fighting tournament in Canton and earn first place. In 1917, Lam Sai Wing would write three books on Hung Gar. These books were the first to formally introduce Hung Gar or any southern kung fu to the general public.
With his compassion for the art and his sense that the Hung Gar system (in it's entirety) had to be passed down, Lam would leave his kung fu and medicine formula notes open to all, - even the secret techniques of master Wong. He actively participated in his students' lessons and spent time to guide and help the lazy or slow. Lam Sai Wing would bring up many great pupils, including his successor Lam (Lum) Jo.
Lam Jo was adopted by his uncle, Lam Sai Wing, at an early age. With many years of hard work and dedication, Lam Jo would eventually take over Lam Sai Wing's school in Hong Kong. Some years later his inherited fame from Wong Fei Hung and Lam Sai Wing was accentuated and augmented by his own natural talents, strong physique, and determination. Many students flocked from the southern region to learn Hung Gar from Lam Jo. One of those students was Lam Kwong Wing (or Kwong Wing Lam in english), who eventually moved to San Francisco and began to teach in 1967.
Chiu Chao, another student of Lam Sai Wing's, would also be one of Kwong Wing Lam's teacher's. Chiu Chao and Lam Jo studied at the Hong Kong kwoon (school), at the same time. Lam Jo resides in Hong Kong today and continues to teach.
© 2013 Robert Daniels. All rights reserved.