Ngo Cho Kun became popular in China’s Fukien province because it was constructed by Chua Giok Beng of five of the most famous styles of the area: Grand Ancestor Boxing (Tai Chu Chuan), Lohan Chuan (Shaolin Boxing), Tat Chun (Da Mo’s Iron Body Method), Pe Ho Chuan (White Crane Fist) and Kao Kun Chuan (Monkey Boxing). Each style brought something different to the new art of Five Ancestor Fist. Tai Cho Kun specializes in chang chuan (long fist boxing); lohan kun specializes in whipping strikes; kao kun specializes in agile legwork; peho kun specializes in clever techniques. By integrating the essence of these styles, Chua Giok Beng crafted Ngo Cho Kun, which became a distinctive style in its own right.
There are roughly 200 individual techniques in ngo cho kun, each with unique uses and combined applications. These techniques are learned through the practice of empty-hand forms known as kun-toh. The forms increase in length, difficulty and diversity as training progresses and advances are made through the system. Proficiency in ngo cho kun is gauged in part by the number of forms that a practitioner understands and can correctly perform. Correct delivery of the ordered movements consists of proper body positioning and mechanics, smooth transitions from one technique to another, with proper expression of power, timing, and precision in each moment.
Empty-hand forms are the nucleus of ngo cho kun. The transmission of the system itself is embedded in their movement sequences. As one progresses through the ranks of the art, they will see many of the same techniques repeated over and over again. To outsiders, this makes it seem as if there are only a handful of techniques in ngo cho kun and that the forms are excessive in number. This is not actually the case, as certain techniques are grouped with others in different offensive and defensive ways, with different footwork and varying timings. Yes, certain techniques are found in abundance within the 44 emoty-hand forms, illustrating their significance to the system as a whole. Moreover, it is these “repetitive” techniques that not only “bind” the system, but give ngo cho kun its distinct “flavor.”
Each form in whole is not to be thought of as one long fight sequence against one or multiple opponents. The individual techniques that comprise the forms are sometimes performed in such a way for the student to practice their specific motions. At other times they are trained in combinations as attacking or counterattacking movements. The techniques are linked or grouped together according to mini sets of combinations. These combinations or linked techniques are identified by the timing of the forms. Where cadence starts and breaks, the combinations begin and end. When one knows the correct timing of the forms, they can know the correct number of individual techniques that are grouped into a mini set or combination sequence. The forms then begin to make sense in pragmatic and practical ways.
As students begin their training they are taught the gross movements of the forms, which they practice until they are ready for the specifics. Specifics include the application of proper strength, power, tension, release, speed, timing and breath cycles. The movements and combinations of the forms are repeated ad nauseam, but their actual use or application against an opponent is only understood by training in the qi kun structure tests, developing the five parts power, understanding the four movement concepts, then through the two-person forms and applications training where specific combinations are taught in specific combative scenarios.
Although the world is filled with thousands of traditional martial arts, many are believed to have “lost” their authentic applications. This is the case, many believe, because the founding fathers and subsequent generations of head masters had obscured their real use by “hiding” the movements within the forms. This, it is said, was done so convert onlookers from other systems could not “steal” their deadly secrets. Of course, over time, the hiding was done so well that not even the head masters knew what techniques were for what application! This is not the case with five ancestor fist.
If we look to the forms of ngo cho kun as an inheritance, as a record of the physical martial ways of one specific fighting art, then the reason for so many forms becomes apparent. Chua Giok Beng, the art’s founder, did a diligent job of categorizing the techniques of his art, and of setting out their combinations and applications for future generations of practitioners to not have to “discover their meaning.” In fact, if we take kung-fu forms as a whole, those found within the five ancestor fist tradition are among the most accessible for immediate use. The movements are clean, the combinations clear, the techniques make sense and require no special or “secret” knowledge to apply. Indeed, the quantity of forms, each pulling techniques from past forms while introducing new techniques and movement concepts in measured ways, serve this end well.