Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Monday, March 13, 2023

The Legacy of Hung Gar's Wong Fei Hung

Wong Fei Hung is a giant in Chinese martial arts history. Below is an excerpt from Crane in the Tiger's Shadow blog regarding his enduring legacy. The full article may be read here. A video accompanies the article and I have included it below. Enjoy.

There are thousands of stories about Wong Fei Hung and he is probably the most portrayed hero in movies. Up to today 123 movies were made about Wong Fei Hung.  Actors like Kwan Tak Hing, Jackie Chan, Gordon Liu and Jet Li played him in many blockbusters. And of course there are Wuxia like novels about the Folk Hero.

But who was Wong Fei Hung, what do we really know about him? Actually, we don’t know as much about his life and his background as we think. The stories and legends about him which we saw in the movies are just that: stories and legends. Wong Fei Hung had also a great impact on the development of Hung Kyun, so much that we can talk about old Hung Kyun and modern Hung Kyun. This will be the second part of the article. As i will try to concentrate on facts and not on legends the article could be a bit boring for some here.  So, let’s make a step backwards and have a closer look on what we know.

Wong Kei Jing, the father of Wong Fei Hung

Wong Fei Hungs father was Wong Kei Jing. He was born between 1810 and 1820 in a village of Nanhai county in Foshan. As legends are telling us already Wong Kei Jings father Wong Taai was a Hung Kyun master and had learned directly from Luk Aa Coi who in turn was a disciple of the famous abbott of the southern Shaolin Monastery Zi Sin Sim Si. Most historians instead believe that Wong Kei Jing learned directly from Luk Aa Coi, but it seems logically to me that he first started learning from his father and later continued to learn directly from Luk Aa Coi. From Wong Kei Jing it is known that he was not only an excellent Martial Artist but also a bonesetter with his own clinic called Bou Zi Lam. It is unclear if he learned these skills from his father or from Luk Aa Coi, but we know that since then many great masters that followed Wong Kei Jing and Wong Fei Hung were also very skilled in Dit Da or Bonesetting.

Wong Kei Jing was also a member of the «Ten Tigers from Kwangtung» (Guangdong). This title was given to a group of Martial Artists that lived in Guangdong at the same time and were famous for their skills, morality, Qing resistance and helping the poor. This group although didn’t act together but some of them knew each other, were friends and exchanged their skills. To get an understanding the name can be compared with the «Four Buddha’s Warrior Attendands», four Chen Style Masters from Chenjiagou who  represent the Taijiquan from the Village best. All the stories about the Ten Tigers from Kwangtung acting together as a group are legends and fictional mostly written in Wuxia novels and Hong Kong movies. On the other side it proves that already Wong Fei Hungs father had some reputation as a Martial Artist and Bonesetter. Wong also exchanged with other Martial Artists, like Wong Yan Lam who was another Tiger from Kwangtung. From him he learned long range Lama Pai techniques and integrated them in his Hung Kyun. It is also known that he was the Martial Arts Instructor for the Black Flag Army for some time but it is unclear for how long. Wong Kei Jing passed away in 1886.

Wong Fei Hung

Wong Kei Jings son Wong Fei Hung was born in 1847. Wong Kei Jing was beginning to teach his son Martial Arts when he was a five years old child. It is said, that Wong Fei Hung learned from his father a curriculum with Single Hard Fist, Double Hard Fist, Taming the Tiger Fist, Mother and Son Double Swords, Angry Tiger Fist, Fifth Brother Eight Diagram Pole, Flying Hook, Black Tiger Fist and the famous Tiger and Crane Paired Fist. When he was thirteen years old he met Tit Kiu Saams (Leung Kwan, who was another member of the Ten Tigers of Kwangtung) disciple Lam Fuk Sing and learned from him the essentials of the Iron Wire Fist. Later he also learned the famous shadowless kick techniques from Sung Fai Tong. He also often joined his father travelling within Guangdong to share the art and work as a bonesetter. With time he learned all Dit Da skills from his father and was later famous for both, his Martial Art and Dit Da skills. Wong Fei Hung was also skilled in Lion Dance. All following generations have and had Lion Dance as a part of their curriculum.

It is said that he followed his fathers footsteps as a Martial Arts instructor of the Black Flag Army and also being one of the Ten Tigers of Kwangtung. He also seemed to be a Martial Arts Instructor of the 5th Regiment of the Guangdong Army for a while but there are not much records about this time. He also wasn’t one of the tigers, he was more the tiger after the Ten Tigers of Kwangtung. During his professional life as a Martial Arts Master and Dit Da doctor he had a high reputation which later made him a folk hero who fought injustice and helped the poor.

Wong Fei Hung was married four times. His first wife died of illness short after their marriage in 1871. 25 years later he married again. With his second wife he had two sons and two daughters. While there’s no information about his daughters available, the names of his sons were Wong Hon Lam and Wong Hon Sam. Wong Hon Lam was later killed in 1919 when he worked as a Bodyguard. In deep grief Wong Fei Hung decided not to teach his surviving sons any longer. After the passing of his 2nd wife he married again in 1902. His third wife gave birth to two more sons, Wong Hon Syu and Wong Hon Hei. His third wife also passed away early. In 1915 he finally «married» again, the 22 years old Mok Gwai Lan who was already a very good Mok Gar practitioner, her family’s legacy. As Wong Fei Hung believed that there’s a curse on every woman he was marrying, he didn’t marry her, but took her as a concubine. She outlived him for decades and died in Hong Kong at the age of ninety on  03rd November 1982.

Wong Fei Hung’s last years of life challenged him hard. The loss of his son Wong Hon Lam in 1919 had hit him hard. In 1924, during the uprising against the National Government, his medical clinic Bou Zi Lam was destroyed and Wong Fei Hung lost everything. Saddened he fell ill and passed away half a year later on 17th April 1925.

So far the facts. Of course, there are a lot more stories about Wong Fei Hung but they are legends and many of them were told after he passed away. As there is not so much known about his life it is in a way surprising that he became so famous. There are two main reasons why it did happen. The first reason was that he had notable disciples who became famous themselves like Lam Sai Wing or Dang Fong. As they became famous themselves, they shared their experiences with their disciples and students. The expériences became stories, the stories legends and finally they became novels and movies. The myth Wong Fei Hung was born.

The second reason is much more important from a Martial Arts point of view. There is Hung Kyun before Wong Fei Hung and there is Hung Kyun after Wong Fei Hung. The influence he had on Hung Kyun is immense. Looking back on the origins of Hung Kyun there are several stories. Most trace the origins back to Zi Sin Sim Si, the legendary abbott of the southern Shaolin Monastery that probably never existed. Others see the origins in the Tiandihui or Hongmen, a fraternal society who wanted to restore the Ming Dynasty.

According to the legends, Zi Sin Sim Si had taught his skills to a layman called Hung Hei Gun who after he left the southern Shaolin Monastery later lived in Guangzhou as a tea merchant. From then on there are two versions. The first version is that Zi Sin Sim Si had another student after Hung Hei Gun already had left the monastery called Luk Aa Coi. But as he was already old he later sent him to Hung Hei Gun to complete his studies. In other stories did Luk Aa Coi learned only from Hung Hei Gun. Luk Aa Coi taught the system to Wong Taai, but in many stories he also taught Wong Taai’s son Wong Kei Jing directly (see above). So, it depends on how you count we already have three or four Hung Kyun generations before Wong Fei Hung. But many schools are counting the generations from Wong Fei Hung. Why is that so?



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