Hung Gar Kung Fu is a form of self-defense originating from the Fujian Shaolin Temple hundreds of years ago. The Shaolin Temple was founded in 300 B.C., yet systematic martial arts were not taught at the temple until the time that the Buddhist monk Tatmor came to the Henan Shaolin Temple, at around 500 A.D.
Upon his arrival, Damo founded the Chan sect of Buddhism, which taught that enlightenment cannot be attained from merely reading a book, but must be gained through meditation and action. The previously weak monks at the Shaolin Temple were put on a training system of exercises developed by Tatmor to increase their health and strengthen their bodies. The exercises also contained elements of self-defense to enable the monks with the ability to defend the temple if necessary. The monks trained diligently, and added to Damo’s methods the knowledge of the finest martial artists in China. By the fifteenth century, the five methods taught by Damo had grown to 108 systems of self-defense, and the reputation of the fighting ability of the Shaolin Monks had grown so great, that the temple won the title “Sacred land of Chinese Kung fu.”
The Fujian Temple began as a branch of the first Shaolin Temple in Henan province, yet when the Henan Temple was destroyed by fire in 1570, the most skillful monks traveled to the Fujian temple to stay. With them, they brought the precious martial art books of Shaolin, and the status of the Fujian temple grew greatly as a result.
The Henan Temple was later rebuilt, but never regained its former prestige.
When the Qing Dynasty seized power in the mid-seventeenth century, the role of the Shaolin Temple was changed evermore. Previously, the Shaolin Temple maintained neutrality in most affairs, occasionally helping the government or nearby villages to defend against criminals yet the martial arts of the Shaolin Temple were only known to insiders of the temple and not taught to laymen. The cruel policies of the Qing Dynasty, however, caused the monks to reconsider their neutral policies and allowed escaping Ming government officials to take refuge in the temple, protecting them from the Qing government. The monks trained the most worthy of these officials in the Shaolin martial arts, for the first time accepting layman-followers into the Shaolin Temple.
Hung Hei-kwun, a tea merchant, became a layman-follower at the Fujian Shaolin Temple after the abandoning of his business due to a dispute with Qing nobles in Kwantung Province. The head of the temple at that time, the abbot Chi Zin, was so impressed with Hung Hei-kwun’s talent and hard work that he even taught him personally. Hung Hei-kwun was eventually ranked as the best of all the layman-followers of the temple at that time.
The Qing Dynasty had always been suspicious of the activities of the Fujian Shaolin Temple, but when one of the layman-followers, Wu Wai-kin, returned to his hometown and fought the Qing nobles in revenge for his father’s death, the Qing Government finally had the excuse they needed to take direct action. Bringing cannons, guns and arrows, the massive Qing troops set fire to the temple and began bombarding the monks within with the deadly cannon, gun, and arrow fire. The monks fought hard to protect their temple, but in the end, the firepower of the Qing troops overwhelmed them and those surviving were forced to flee the burning temple.
Only about thirty people escaped the temple, scattering southward. Among these were Hung Hei-kwun, and his teachers from the temple, monk Sam Tak and abbot Chi Zin. After fleeing to Kwantung Province, Hung Hei-kwun opened a secret martial arts school in Big Buddha Temple to fulfill his responsibility to pass on and spread the Shaolin Teachings. Ten years later, he opened a formal school in Fa City, naming it “Hung Gar Kung Fu” in order to conceal its Shaolin origins from the Ching Government, and in order to memorialize the first emperor of the the Ming Dynasty, Hung-mo Chu, whose line was ended when the Qing government took power.
Hung Hei-kwun’s school of Hung Gar Kung fu became widely known and very famous, and soon the art spread throughout southern China, being ranked as the best of the five big schools of martial arts in Guangdong Province. Hung Hei-kwun’s former teacher, the abbot Chi Zin, had also fled to Guangdong Province, and when he found out that Hung Hei-kwun had started a school in Fa City, he sent his own follower, Luk Ah-choy, to Hung’s school to further his knowledge. Luk Ah-Choy soon became an expert in the art, and Hung Hei-kwun sent him to Canton to spread Hung Gar Kung-fu.
Wong Tai was Luk Ah-Choy’s most talented follower, and his son, Wong Kay-ying, also mastered Hung Gar Kung fu under Luk Ah-Choy as his father did. Wong Kay-ying, however, was not content and searched for other followers of Hung Hei-kwun to deepen his understanding of the art. Wong Kay-ying’s skill grew so great that he was regarded as one of the “Ten Tigers of Kwantung”, the ten best martial artists in Guangdong Province.
Wong Fei-hung was Wong Kay-ying’s son, and his martial art talent equaled his father’s. Wong Fei-hung became so popular in southern China that his life story has since become the subject of over a hundred movies, television programs, radio shows and publications.
Wong Fei-hung’s top student was Lam Sai-wing, who took an important role in spreading the art of Hung Gar Kung fu, and in popularizing kung-fu among the general public as well. Lam Sai-wing abandoned the practice of past masters of reserving part of their knowledge as their own special skill, and taught all his knowledge to his followers. Thus he provided an example for other masters of his time to follow. Lam Sai-wing also published many books on kung-fu, and spent much time reorganizing and developing the Hung Gar kung fu style to suit the changing times. Because of Master Lam’s dedication, Hung Gar Kung fu enjoys great popularity in Southern China and Hong Kong to this day.