History of Choy Lee Fut
Chan Family Choy Lee Fut is a cohesive and intricate system of martial arts. Its comprehensive structure has been kept integral through five generations of the Chan Family lineage holders. Chan Heung fused the values of his three teachers, each one’s training derived directly from Shaolin instructors, and passed his new style to his heirs. The Jeung Mun is the Keeper of the Style, an office of life-long devotion to preserving and enhancing the invaluable inheritance. Across nearly 200 years, the vital essence of this Shaolin treasure has been safeguarded even into today, by Chan Heung’s great-great grandson, Master Chen Yong Fa.
Chan Heung, the founder of Choy Lee Fut, was born in the first years of the 19th century, CE, in King Mui (Jing Mei), a village in the San Woi (Xui Hing) district of Guangzhou in Southern China. His family had originated in the North of China, but had fled the Mongols many generations prior. He began his training at the age of seven with his uncle, Chan Yuen Wu, of the lineage of Shaolin Abbot Duk Jung.
With his natural ability, Chan Heung became an instructor and ran a school for his uncle until his early twenties when he met Lee Yau San, a disciple under a direct lineage of Shaolin Abbot Gee Sim. Bested by the other’s superior technique, Chan Heung gave up his teaching post, and Lee Yau San accepted him as a student.
After five years of hard training, teacher and student travelled to Mount Law Fu searching for a reclusive monk, a refugee of the destroyed Shaolin Temples. This man was renowned for his skill in dit da, treatment of muscular and skeletal injuries. With such a specialty, they were curious to see his martial ability. Locating the hermitage, they were met by what appeared to be a sixty year-old man tending to some wood, who claimed his master, Choy Fook, would be back soon.
When they saw he was chopping the wood with his bare hands, Lee Yau San sought to demonstrate his ability in return by kicking a rice grinder.2 It flew a few meters, then the man walked up to it, broke off a piece and crushed it. Realizing he must be the master himself, the humbled Lee Yau San thanked the master and left. At Chan Heung’s sincere request, Choy Fook gave him three conditions to meet in order to be accepted as a disciple: to kick the rice grinder displaced by Lee Yau San back into place, to apprentice in the hermitage for a minimum of ten years, and to never utilize the knowledge with bad intention. When the rice grinder settled smoothly into place—a sign from Heaven—Choy Fook accepted him as a disciple. In six years time he regarded him as a son, and spent six more years divulging an art form “endless and full of subtle changes, like nature itself.”1
After twelve years of training with Choy Fook, during which he learned medical theory, feng shui, wooden dummy training, as well as a great trove of technical wisdom, he re-settled in his hometown. He founded a clinic to treat the sick and poor, calling it Wing Sing Tong. As his mastery of martial arts became apparent, the villagers coaxed him into establishing Hung Sing Gwoon, the School of the Sage. There he taught his new style of kung fu, forged from the traditions of his three teachers and his own work and subsequent travels.
In that time, most founders named their styles after themselves, taking the family name plus gar.3 Choosing to, instead, initiate the school with humility and grace, setting the standard for his students to come, Chan Heung named his style “Choy Lee Fut,” in homage to his teachers: Choy Fook, Lee Yau San, and Buddha, honoring the Shaolin monasteries in which the kung fu of all three of his teachers originated.1
The monasteries, like those of other ideologies, were magnets of culture, science and art for centuries. Warehouses of knowledge. Around 600CE, the first of a new order was established amongst newly planted trees (lin) in an old forest clearing of Shao Shi, the Sacred Mountains of Honan. Thus, the shao lin temple (Sillum in Cantonese) came to be.
Due to alternating epochs of prosperity and destruction, a great mythos has arisen around these temples. They had been home to countless documents and historical treasures of all areas of study, but the majority of those were lost to the fires set in different centuries and places by imperialist, Nationalist and Communist decree. Their temples aflame, the monks fled to the hills, took up non-monastic lives, or sought asylum in the temples and monasteries of Taoist orders and others not besieged by the presiding political will4 Choy Fook was one of those monks. Lam Tol War Seun, Rotten Head Monk, was his nickname, referring to the wounds and subsequent scarring he sustained in his flight from the burning Song San Temple in the North, to the southern temple at Fukien. The safety of Fukien was not long-lasting. As that temple, too, was razed, he relocated to a hermitage on Law Fou San, a sacred Taoist mountain. Then, in his 96th year, he accepted Chan Heung as a disciple.
Through that turmoil, some have called the historicity of the Shaolin temples, their fighting acumen and practices, into question. The hallowed 36 Chambers and the Hall of Wooden Men, or LoHan Palace, have become difficult to verify outside of martial lineages which trace the ancestry of their styles to the Shaolin.5,6 Among those lines, none have a comparable bank of written treatises and meticulously kept historical documentation to that of Chan Family. These treatises and much of the information, especially concerning the wooden men, has been taught and received strictly within the Chan family bloodline. The current Jeung Mun, Chen Yong Fa, is the first to open dummy-training and many other forms to a broader student base throughout the world. It has been his life’s work, and that of four generations of Jeung Mun before him, to protect the information and fulfill the impetus of Choy Fook’s couplet: to ensure that the legacy of the Shaolin will endure in this world.
One electrifying part of that living legacy is the full system of dummy-training in Chan Family Choy Lee Fut. While Chan Family is not the only lineage that trains with dummies, no other has more than two. After nearly two centuries, only now is this form of training being opened up to the broader student-base of the School of the Sage. And only now is the rest of the world even seeing them.
Most of the Eighteen were passed directly from Choy Fook to Chan Heung. A direct Shaolin time-capsule kept alive. A few have been created by subsequent Jeung Mun and high-level masters within Chan Family. This culture of building off the past and enhancing has kept the system vital and adaptive to the ever-spinning Earth.
Master Chen Yong Fa began training under his grandfather and father at the age of three. From the earliest days of his youth it was decided that he would be the next Jueng Mun of the precious family knowledge.