What is Hung Gar?

Hung Gar translated into English, means Hung Family. Hung is a family name, like Smith or Jones in America. The word ‘hung’ () is often confused with the words for ‘red’ ()or ‘hero’ (), which are pronounced the same, but are written with different characters. There are two common uses for this character. The first and most common is an adjective used to describe things that are big, vast or overwhelming, but also used to describe a flood. The second use is as a surname. Gar is a Cantonese word which means “family” or “clan”. The Mandarin pronunciation is Hong Jia.

Hung Gar is known by its practitioners, as well as practitioners of other systems, as a complete martial art. Like many of the Southern Shaolin systems, it does not contain the fluff which is so common is many other systems of martial art. The fighting is real world fighting, and the health promoting benefits are readily seen in the many practitioners who live beyond age 90. The traditional training is very difficult. I underwent nearly traditional training, with my first six month spent solely on stance training. I was rehabbing from a severe knee injury, and would not have been able to train at all without the solid stance training which made my knee strong enough to handle the rest of the art.

Stance Training

Properly trained, Hung Gar should start with a heavy emphasis on building a stable foundation for your further training. Beginners should focus on the stance training and the practice of the fundamentals. Without this discipline in the initial stages of training, the student will never progress.

It should be clear that stance training is THE Fundamental of the system. Without this foundation, you will have no power. While stance training is boring, if the student overlooks this importance, the will be little real progress. There is no way to overstate the importance of this training.

In the times now past, it was easy for the traditionalist to force the student to train their stances for hours on end. But in the modern world, with the need to make a living paramount, the instructor must be realistic. Most people do not live for their training, and if they do live for kung fu, they are probably mentally unstable, and will not last in their training. In spite of the importance of stance training, and the large number of people who want to classify themselves as “old school”, most martial artists do not spend one minute each day on stance training.

There is no one reason which can stand alone as the reason that stance training is important. Of course, at the top of the list is to strengthen the leg muscles. But there is more than muscular strength. The tendon and ligament strength is also important. This training was also used to determine the dedication and discipline of the beginner student. Often overlooked is the strengthening of other parts of the body through stance training, such as the abdomen and spine. Traditional stance training will increase the student’s overall physical power to truly incredible levels. Perhaps the single factor missing most from the modern martial arts is the lack of true mental discipline. This is an area which stance training could correct, as easily testified by anyone who has ever attempted to hold Horse stance for five minutes. The oral tradition holds that the ancient practitioners were forced to hold Horse for three hours! If this is only partially true, the old masters were still much more disciplined than even the best of our current generation. Of course, in order to correct the problem and not drive our own schools out of business, a unified front would need to be presented, and this is not feasible with the massive egos and petty banter over the smallest details which is a constant in the Hung “Family”.

Since stances are an identifying characteristic of true Hung Gar, here we shall make a quick introduction of the basic stances. While to a Korean or Japanese stylist some of the stances may be strange, these stances are pretty common in the Chinese martial arts.

Sei Ping Ma: The most common translation I have for this is Horse stance. Literally it is “Four Level Horse”, which has to do with four check points to see if the stance is being performed correctly. Every style of martial art uses this stance in one form or another. This should be the first stance which is introduced to the beginner. Some factors which the beginner should keep in mind when training this stance are; the toes should point forward and not out, the knees should be pushed outward and not allowed to sink to the center (ride a fat horse and not a skinny horse), the ideal bend of the knee should have the thigh parallel to the floor, the back should be vertical (sink in the stance, do not hunch your back to fake the appearance of being lower – you will look like you are constipated if you hunch the back!), and keep the neck straight up. No other stance will challenge your leg strength to the degree that Sei Ping Ma will!

Ji Ng Ma: This stance is also called the Bow and Arrow stance. Most people say this term is from “front leg bent like a bow, back leg straight like an arrow”. When attacking or defending the front, this is the stance to use. Push the front knee out beyond your toes. In many styles it is said to not allow the knee to push beyond the toes, but this is part of the defensive posture. With the knee past the toes, an attack to the front knee can be absorbed without much damage other than bruising. To truly understand any stance, one must keep in mind that you cannot understand the behavior of a river by scooping out a bucket of its water. But when this stance is used in fighting, this pushing of the knee aids in the forward momentum of the attacking technique. A more shallow stance here would check that momentum and weaken the attack.

Dui Ma: This stance is literally the “hanging horse”, but is commonly referred to as the Cat Stance. All of your body weight should be on the back leg. Your body should be centered on its vertical axis, and the weight should sink straight down. Keep the spine straight; again do not allow yourself to hunch the spine to feel that you are lower. This stance is perfect for allowing a quick snap kick with the front leg at the opponent’s knee or groin. This stance also allows for a retreat without it turning into a steady retreat (back step after back step).

Gam Gai Duk Laap Ma:  Literally translated, this one is “The Golden Cock Stands on one leg”. Some styles call the stance “cold chicken stance”; based on how a chicken will stand on one leg when it is cold. I was taught that this is a Crane Stance. You will have 100% of your weight on one leg. Obviously, one should not assume this position for a long period of time, unless you enjoy being knocked down. The lifted knee should be held as high as possible.

Kei Lun Bo: This is commonly referred to as the Unicorn Step, the stance itself is Quai Ma. For many years I looked at this as something unique to Hung Gar, but over the years I have seen it turn up in other systems. I cannot say if they got it from Hung or the other way around. Done properly, the performer will take a step forward and across the other leg. The body turns and sinks. The front foot should end flat, and the rear heel will be raised off of the floor.

Nau Ma: This is a much lower version of the stance used in Kei Lun Bo. This stance has many uses in both offensive and defensive situations. It can be used as a false retreat, and converted quickly in to an attacking posture. One example of this would be in sinking underneath an attempted high kick (a very common attack in many styles), and attacking the exposed groin area.

Tau Ma: Tau Ma (Stealing Horse) looks a lot like Quai Ma, but the difference is in usage. Tau Ma is used exclusively as a retreat step. In using this as your retreat step, you create distance (read opportunities). Your vital areas are well protected, and you afford yourself the time and space needed to turn and attack without any loss of balance.  The retreating step is commonly taken whit Tiger or Dragon claws for protection, and followed with a twisting or unwinding movement which facilitates the follow up attack. In Hung, we are taught to protect and clear as we come out of the unwinding motion.

Lok Quei Ma: Lok Quei Ma means kneeling horse. This stance increases power through sinking, and with proper training, it is easy to rise out of this stance to continue the fight. The entire body is well protected when sinking into this posture, as typically you will be dragging your opponent down with you. It is also used against attacks to the lower gates.

Yi Ji Kim Yeung Ma: Literally “Yi Character Catch the Goat Stance”. Yi is the character for the number two (which is pronounced Yi in Cantonese and Er in Mandarin).

In my school, the knees are pushed inward, creating something of an hourglass shape with the lower half of the body. This stance creates tremendous stress on the ligaments in the knees, and produces incredible strength if trained regularly and properly.

It is never too late for a martial artist to begin including regular stance training in their daily schedule. All practitioners of Hung Gar should train their stances every day if we are ever to regain our notoriety. True Hung devotees should be hard to knock down. Sadly, this is not so in our modern world. Even people who have been training in Hung Gar for years can be seen in improper stance, and with poor balance.

The People

Hung Gar is a system of Chinese Kung Fu which was developed prior to the destruction of the Southern Shaolin Temple. As a system, it can be said to have been founded by Hung Hei Guen. Hung’s real family name is said to be Zhu. Tradition states that Hung made his living as a Tea Merchant. Hung trained under the legendary Gee Sin Sim See. Gee Sin’s main area of study was the Tiger System. Unlike modern martial arts practice, it was common then for the devoted student to specialize in one form, not in collecting and amassing more and more forms. Hung was trained by Gee Sin for quite some time, and helped Hung to earn a real depth of knowledge about the Tiger System. There are those who believe that Gee Sin was the creator of Hung Gar. However, there were many changes prior to the actual birth of Hung Gar.

 

Hung trained hard in order to better himself. He trained at the southern Shaolin temple until it was attacked by the Qing Imperial forces. Gee Sin and Hung Hei Guen were among those who managed to escape (there are conflicting reports from other sources which state that Gee Sin was killed in the destruction of the southern temple). It was after the destruction of the temple that Zhu changed his name to Hung. The family name Hung means “to stand tall, with integrity”. Hung then dedicated his life and work to the overthrow of the Qing, and to restore the Ming.

 

Some sources point to the selection of the name Hung being based on the first Ming Emperor. Remember, the Ming dynasty was looked upon as a real “Golden Age” in China. The country was prosperous for most of the Ming era.

 

Hung worked for a living as a traveling tea merchant. It must be assumed that in addition to earning a living this way, he was also able to be on the move so much that it would be difficult for the Qing to track him down. At some point, he met and married Fong Wing Chun, who was either the daughter or niece of Fong Sai Yuk (there are differing accounts on this point). In most accounts, Fong Wing Chun learned the Crane system from Fong Sai Yuk. Fong was busy trying to avenge the loss of her family to Bak Mei and his group. Hung Hei Guen was involved in her revenge mission. Fong Sai Yuk was not only a fellow rebel, he was a fellow Shaolin.

 

After marriage to Fong, Hung continued to fine tune his system. He combined his wife’s White Crane system with his Tiger system. Later still, Hung added movements from the Dragon, Snake, and Leopard to bring his system into a “five animals” category. However, many modern practitioners believe Hung Gar is truly a “two animals” system.

 

There are some sources which state the Hung lived well into his 90’s. Other sources claim he was killed by Bak Mei at a much younger age. This is where some feel that the Hong Kong movies have done a disservice to Hung Gar. The author disagrees. The Hong Kong movies are entertainment, not history. Those who do the disservice to Hung Gar are those who learn form a book or video, and make up a lineage and history based on what they saw in a movie. One example of this is the claimed son of Hung Hei Guen, Hung Man Ting. He didn’t exist. This was a character created by the Hong Kong movie industry. And yet, there are Hung Gar schools which include his name on their lineage. The most reliable source I have found states that Hung was killed young, by Bak Mei. And this source also credits Luk Ah Choi as the real creator of Hung Gar.

 

In the southern Chinese kung fu systems, it is commonly stated that there are five “fighting family styles”; Hung, Lau, Choy, Li and Mok.

 

The next person of interest in the History of Hung Gar will be Luk Ah Choy. Luk was reportedly a Manchurian, whose father had been sent to Guangdong. Reportedly orphaned while still very young, and mistreated throughout his childhood, he left home at age twelve. At some point he met a Shaolin student who brought him to his instructor (some accounts say this instructor was Gee Sin Sim See, other sources state Luk’s first instructor was Li Baifu, and later Gee Sin). His only known student was Wong Kei Ying.

 

While little reliable information is available on Wong Kei Ying, there is some that is known, and most of the further “information” can be traced directly to movies. He was reportedly born in Xiqiao, Nahai, Guangdong. Some resources state that he worked from a young age as a street performer. The stories state that he was noticed by Luk Ah Choy, who took him in and began teaching him kung fu. He is said to have trained with Luk for as much as ten years, and reportedly gained tremendous skill levels. It is reported from some sources that he also opened an herbal medicine shop to support his family. Wong Kei Ying was the father of one of the most famous martial artists in history, Wong Fei Hung.

 

Wong Fei Hung was born in 1847, in Guangdong. He died in 1924, aged 77 years. In his lifetime (and much more so after his death) he became one of the most famous martial artists in history. It is a common popularly held misconception that Wong Fei Hung was one of the famous “Ten Tigers of Canton”, but that was his father in that illustrious group. Much of what people think they know about Wong Fei Hung is false. After his death, many books were published telling fantastic tales of his skills, and the movie industry took things even further. While there is a wealth of written information on his life, none of it is reliable. Often, it is reported that one of his sons dies when shot by gangsters, but the more reliable sources state that his son was hit by a car. There is the much disputed report that he was the head of, or taught martial arts to, the Guangdong army, but more reliable accounts suggest that he taught to a civilian militia, and other reports that he did neither. Wong Fei Hung was married more than once. Some accounts say three times, and others suggest five or more.

 

Wong had a martial arts school called Po Chi Lum. He is reported to have had a huge following of students, but the two most famous are Lam Sai Wing and Tang Fong.

 

Lam Sai Wing was born in Guangdong in 1860. He is reported to have been an exceptionally bright child. He died in 1943. No records indicate exactly when he began his study of the martial arts. He is, however, said to have been an accomplished martial artists prior to meeting Wong Fei Hung. Even though the stories about Wong Fei Hung are mostly fiction, he must have been incredible in the flesh for the legends to have any point of departure. Lam Sai Wing studied under him, and worked hard to try to comprehend the essence of the martial arts.

 

This was the time when the Qing was collapsing, and the People’s Republic was rising. As stated in the previous section, this was a very chaotic time. Being a time of transition, there were crimes of many natures, and danger to one’s personal well being were everywhere.

 

While there are stories floating around about martial arts teachers in China of this time needing to seek out students, these stories are false. The people who promote such fiction are falsely basing their ideas on how martial arts school operate in the modern time in the U.S. Traditionally, martial arts instructors did not seek students, as they do now. For a start, the training of martial skills was secondary to making a living. A master of martial arts usually had another job which provided his living. When someone wanted instruction in kung fu, they first had to be accepted. In and of itself, this was a tedious process. The prospective student had to first prove their sincerity. This process could take anywhere from weeks to years. If accepted, the next stage was to be handed to a very junior instructor. If the student was persistent, and stayed with the training long enough, he may end up receiving instruction from the head instructor.

 

This gives lie to the many stories floating around that Lam Sai wing wandered throughout the country looking for martial arts students. Most reports state that his students numbered around 10,000. Master Lam also was known to be kind hearted. In 1921 there was a collection for the Guangzhou Orphanage.
Lam Sai Wing demonstrated his skills and got the attention of president Sun Yat Sen, who praised his martial prowess. Sun Yat Sen handed Lam a medal for his good work for the society.

 

Many Hung Gar practitioners, especially those of the Lam Sai Wing lineage, feel that Master Lam is one of, if not the most important people in the history of Hung Gar. Some factors pointed out are Master Lam’s membership in both the Southern Kuoshu (National Arts) Institute, and his association with the Jingwu martial club. There are three books printed with line drawings of Lam Sai Wing performing Gung Ki Fuk Fu, Fu Hok Syong Ying, and Tit Sin Kuen. People tend to view these books as Lam breaking the silence of the martial arts. Others state that the books were published after Lam’s death. However, with a little research, one will find that one book was published while Master Lam was alive, and the rest were published well after his death. Regardless, the books have had a powerful influence on modern Hung Gar within the Lam Sai Wing lineage. The author has witnessed people argue hand position based on the Lam line drawings from the books, and has personally witnessed some schools following the books so closely that in one position (which is shown in the books in a reversed image) is done backwards, exactly as pictured in the books! Among Master Lam’s many students were Lau Jaam, Chiu Kao, and his own nephew, Lam Jo. These three men were to hold a heavy influence on Hung Gar for many years to come.

 

It should be known that prior to Wong Fei Hung and Lam Sai Wing, Hung Gar looked very different from what is commonly seen today. In the current world, there is a wide range of Hung Gar practiced. The Wong Fei Hung lineage is not the only one out there, in spite of being the most widely practiced. Even within the Wong Fei Hung lineage, there are multiple branches. The lineage tracing through Lam Sai Wing is only one of many. There are many non-Lam Sai Wing Lineages. Tang Fung is one of the more famous of these. There is also Ha Say Fu (Four Lower Tigers), and other village Hung systems.

 

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