CHAN HEUNG THE GRAN MASTER OF CHOY LAY FUT
by Gianni de Nittis
Wise men never die, because they live in things, they do not sink into oblivion of the omission; they live in the mists of history. The song handed down from mouth to mouth is bringer of values, customs and traditions of ancient people. The Kung Fu master, who conveys his art, is the poet who sings of ancient heroes. He’s a man who never dies, his being imprisoned in the movements that he groups by himself, to create his art of combat. He shapes the instincts, recreating the perfection of the movement as a means that leads to rediscover the spirit.
Grand Master Chan Heung can be not only remembered as a man who created a style of kung Fu, Choy Lay Fut, but also and especially as one of the most complete expressions of the martial artist. His loyalty to his masters and his continuous, endless, search for excellence of his art are an example.
Chan Heung was born in 1806 in the small village of King Mui in Kwantung province.
When he was about 7 years old he started to study kung Fu under the careful guidance of his uncle Chan Yuen Woo, who was, at that time, a famous fighter of the Shaolin temple. The young man immediately showed an outstanding talent in the art of kung fu and it’s not by chance that when he was 13-14 years old he defeated several practitioners in his region. The young Chan Heung proved to be more and more impatient in his desire for knowledge of kung fu. Chan Yuen Woo realized that, by now, his teachings were too limited for the fiery spirit of the young man, having seen the level of skills developed by his nephew.
So his uncle sent the young Chan Heung, seventeen year old, to train with Lay Yan San. Chan Yuen Woo knew that Lay Yan San, one of the best practitioners, his former fellow student at the Shaolin Temple, would have further shaped the young Chan Heung in the art of Shaolin kung fu. In fact Chan Heung was trained constantly for another 4 years under the careful guidance of Lay Yan San. At that time the potential of the young man exceeded that of Chan Yuen San and Lay Yan San, and it was just the latter to suggest him to join the Shaolin monk Choy Fook, who lived as a hermit on Mount Lau Fu.
However, it was not easy to find the monk and Chan Heung had to rely on all his willpower and his desire of knowledge to succeed. Finally, the tireless Chan Heung found the monk, but his reaction was not promising. In fact, when he presented the introduction letter written by the Lay Yan San to the monk Choy Fook, he threw it away, saying to the young man that he could only teach the principles of Buddhism and not the practice of kung fu. The reaction of Chan Heung was brave; he decided to remain with the monk, hoping that one day he could decide to teach him. So he started to study Buddhism with the monk, practicing kung fu by himself secretly.
One morning the monk Choy Fook appeared suddenly while Chan Heung was practicing in a bamboo forest to hit stones thrown into the air before they fall to the ground; the monk asked the young man to kick a big stone at a distance of at least 4 meters. Chan Heung succeed, but the monk, without any apparent effort, remade the same exercise by throwing a rock at a distance four times greater. Chan Heung, who had seen the extraordinary proof of strength, knelt down in front of the monk asking him to teach him the kung fu. This time Choy Fook agreed to the request of the young man. Chan Heung improved his kung fu studies and Buddhism principles with Choy Fook for eight years.
When he was 29 years old he came back to his native country (King Mu) and he decided to teach his new style, developed by the combination of all his experiences in martial field. He called his style Choy Lay Fut, to honor his three masters: Choy stands for monk Choy Fook, Lay for Lay Yan San and Fut (Buddha) to honor his uncle and the Buddhist origin of the art, that, as he said, “it was handed down to me from Shaolin”. Since then Choy Lay Fut became one of the most popular fighting systems in China, so as to be used in fight against the Qing government and during the famous Boxer Rebellion (1899-1900). The features that led it to be one of the most feared style in the world are, first of all, the speed with which the hit is taken and then its effectiveness in combat. These are techniques that merge the quick movements of legs typical of the North with the fast movements of arms typical of the Southern styles.
It is not by chance that one of the mottos that are handed down from this style is “move the stick with the lashing power of the dragon tail. Pull out a powerful punch as the majestic tiger lifts up its body toward an intruder. ” Choy Lay Fut encloses all the spirit and the materiality of a martial art. His story is a fragment of life in time, the expression of a historical moment.
So, if the art of combat, at first, was developed to not succumb to the war, then it becomes the application of spirituality and philosophy. The master who teaches his art to the student, he lives in it. The history of Chan Heung is a story of dedication and research of kung fu, it is a story of commitment and suffering, it’s above all a story of respect. Respect for great masters, respect for tradition. This is what inspired him to not call the style with his name, but with the name of the masters who had taught him, to remind posterity what he learned from the ancient Shaolin masters.