Bruce Lee & The “Choy Li Fut” Connections

August 16 2015 at 4:32 AM
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Choy Li Fut Kung Fu
“Choy Li Fut is the most effective system that I've seen for fighting more than one person. It is one of the most difficult styles to attack and defend against. Choy Li Fut is the only style of Kung Fu that traveled to Thailand to fight the Thai boxers and hadn't lost." – Bruce Lee ("BRUCE LEE" published in 1976 by Jesse Glover).

Besides Wing Chun, Bruce Lee studied and learnt various styles of martial arts from various masters in HK, such as Taiji, Hong Gar, Preying Mantis, Kung-Li, Jeet Kune, Boxing, Choy Li Fut etc. Bruce learnt Choy Li Fut from Master Chan in HK and from Richard Leung (a friend as well as a Choy Li Fut Master from HK) in Seattle. Choy Li Fut was founded in 1836 by Chan Heung. It was named to honor the Buddhist monk Choy Fook who taught him Choy Gar, and Li Yau-Sa who taught him Li Gar, plus his uncle Chan Yuen-Wu, who taught him Fut Gar, and developed to honor the Buddha and the Shaolin roots of the system.

This 3-in-1 system combines the martial arts techniques from various Northern and Southern Chinese kung-fu systems; the powerful arm and hand techniques from the Shaolin animal forms from the South, combined with the extended, circular movements, twisting body, and agile footwork that characterizes Northern China's martial arts. It is considered an external style, combining soft and hard techniques, as well as incorporating a wide range of weapons as part of its curriculum. Choy Li Fut is an effective self-defense system, particularly noted for defense against multiple attackers. It contains a wide variety of techniques, including long and short range punches, kicks, sweeps and take downs, pressure point attacks, joint locks, and grappling. Although it has a only a history of 100 years, it has been widely spread to southern provinces of China, HK, Macau, Southeast Asia and the rest of the world.

Like Wing Chun and Hong Gar, Choy Li Fut is well-known for its practicality and aggressiveness in real fighting. For instance, the “Knuckle Fist” is originated from Choy Li Fut. As a quick learner, Bruce picked up the essential parts of Choy Li Fut within a short period of time. He incorporated it into his Jun Fan Kung Fu. They could be seen in the demonstrations between Bruce and Taky Kiumura in his first martial arts book, “Chinese Gung Fu – The Philosophical Art of Self-Defence” published in 1963. Also, he used the “Knuckle Fist” in many of his early Kung Fu demos. There is a photo of Bruce performing “Knuckle Fist” with Jesse Glover in the International Trade Fair in 1961.

Bruce Lee & Master Chan Nien-Pak
According to the Chinese “Kung Fu” magazine interview in HK, Bruce personally admitted that he learnt Choy Li Fut from Master Chan, who was a second-world war hero, retired and living in HK in the 1950s. One day, while visiting a friend in Wong Tai Sin, he passed by a park and saw an elderly man practicing Kung Fu with 2 young men. Bruce observed for a while and started to criticise their Kung Fu style for being too fanciful, movements being too big and were impractical in real fighting. The elderly man overheard and asked Bruce to spar with him. Bruce agreed confidently. However, he soon found the opponent was too strong for him. To Bruce's surprise he was unable to penetrate into his opponent’s defense no matter how hard he tried. His opponent looked totally composed and relaxed as the situation was in his control. Bruce was almost knocked out by the elderly man. Finally, Bruce admitted defeat and earnestly pleaded the elderly man to take him in as his student. The elderly man was Master Chan Nien-Pak who accepted Bruce as his student and taught him Choy Li Fut for about 3 years. Bruce had also sparred with the 2 young men who were Master Chan’s sons but did not gain any advantage. Bruce was then convinced that this was a practical style that he needed to study for his street fighting.

Bruce Lee & Dave Macey
Master Dave Lacey is a famous Choy Li Fut Kung Fu Master who first taught Choy Li Fut Kung Fu in Perth (1966) and Melbourne (1989) and eventually relocated to California in 1995. His school was named The 'Buck Sing Gwoon.' According to Master Dacey, he was born in HK and began his martial arts training in 1958 with Bruce Lee and several other schoolmates of St. Francis Xavier's College on the rooftop of a nearby apartment block. They practiced Wing Chun. Dave first heard Bruce talked about Choy Li Fut and of a guy whom Bruce had a lot of respect for as a fighter. He was Richard Leung Yum-Gung whom Bruce had befriended. Bruce told Dave that Richard's hard forearms were so powerful that both he and his fellow Si-Hing (Senior student in Kung Fu) could not stop Richard's heavy swinging punches. It was obvious to Dave that whenever Bruce talked about Richard or Choy Li Fut, he was in awe of the style.

At the beginning of 1959, Bruce left Hong Kong for the United States but on the night before he boarded the liner for a new life in America, the 18 years old Bruce visited Dave at his home in Kimberly Rd., Kowloon, to bid farewell to his friend. Bruce talked of finding fame in America and Dave remembers clearly Bruce's words that night when he said, "When I get to America I will become famous with my Gung Fu." Although only 18, Bruce Lee was full of ambition and determination to succeed in his quest for recognition and fame in America.

Bruce Lee & Richard Leung
Master Richard Leung was born in HK and he befriended with Bruce after their sparring in the 1950s. He is a third generation Buk Sing stylist, who developed his skills under the tutelage of Lai Chou. His experiences include bare-knuckle bouts and coaching in HK. By the end of 1959 Richard Leung also left Hong Kong to further his studies in America in Washington D.C. but after much persuasion from Bruce, he later moved to Seattle where the two got together to train martial arts and exchange Kung Fu knowledge. After his graduation, Master Leung stayed in U.S. and helped to pioneer the art of Kung Fu in San Francisco, in the early 1960s, and continues to be a true practitioner of the Art. He was also a friend of David Lacey. Currently, Master Leung is teaching Buk Sing Choy Li Fat in Toronto, Canada.

HK's Street Fights & Feuds
Growing up as a teenager in the 1950's in HK in an environment of antisocial tension Dave, like Bruce, found himself a favorite target for street confrontations and fights with hostile street gang members or other individuals seeking a reputation for themselves as tough guys. As he did not belong to any street gang, Dave realised that his only option was to learn the dynamic fighting art of Choy Li Fut, a style originally developed for warfare and therefore had to be both practical and effective. It was not surprising that in the early 1960's Bruce Lee had high praise of Choy Li Fut and saw it as an effective fighting system for fighting multiple attackers and was one of the most difficult styles to attack and to defend against. These and other comments Bruce made back in 1958 in HK incited Dave to learn Choy Li Fut in early 1959.

He learnt Choy Li Fut under two famous young masters of the Buck Sing branch of Choy Li Fut. When some of Dave's friends who were friends and fellow Wing Chun colleagues of Bruce found out that Dave was learning Choy Li Fut, they got offended and began to ridicule and taunt him. One of them was a guy by the name of Hawkins Cheung. They kept rubbishing Choy Li Fut and trying to convince him that their Wing Chun was superior etc. but Dave remained undaunted.

The fact that Dave had done a few months training in Wing Chun with them (and Bruce) they expected loyalty from him and strongly resented him learning Choy Li Fut - a style that Bruce himself had often spoken highly of and had a lot of respect for. The conflict between them escalated into a feud and eventually led to a challenge duel on the rooftop of a building in Kowloon City. Dave kept his appointment but the other party never showed up for the challenge match. News of these private or secret challenge matches traveled abroad and it was through Richard Leung that Bruce Lee in U.S. was kept informed of the current occurrences on the HK martial arts scene.

Similar to Bruce, Dave engaged in numerous HK street fights and won most of the times. In October of 1961, the controversy over the sensational 3 days newspaper coverage on a secretly held fight match between a 20 years old Choy Li Fut fighter and a 28 year old Wing Chun Master (in a car park behind the North Kowloon Supreme Court) generated great excitement in the local Chinese Martial Arts community. For the first time a non-full blood Chinese had gained recognition and respect in the HK Chinese Martial Arts circles.

In the following week, Dave's name was to appear again in the local Chinese journal and he became known as the "Black Panther" of Choy Li Fut in an article announcing a "Five vs. Five" challenge match between Choy Li Fut and it's rival school's top selected fighters. This match was to be held at a secret location in the New Territories. When rumors circulated that Choy Li Fut's rival had contacted Bruce Lee in the U.S. to try to persuade him to come back to take part in the grudge match, Dave knew from Lai Hung's remarks who would be fighting Bruce Lee if he returned. With the publicity surrounding this illegal match and the legal risks taken by those involved, the chosen referee pulled out and no one wanted to be implicated in such a sensational grudge match. Facing a dilemma, the match was postponed.

Bruce & Macey’s Reunion & Farewell
It was not till 1963, four years later that Dave and Bruce met again on the streets of HK. In those 4 years saw many new changes and challenges that shaped their lives and destiny. When both of them met again that day, it was a moment of anxiety for the two old friends but they were excited and happy to see each other again. Bruce told Dave of his life in America - his fights and encounters with other martial artists and of the recognition and respect he gained from his Kung Fu skills. He also spoke of Richard Leung who had joined him in Seattle where they got together to train in martial arts - something that Bruce had wanted to do for quite some time as he always had a strong desire to learn Choy Li Fut in-depth from Richard Leung besides from Master Chan.

Neither Dave nor Bruce realised when they parted company in 1963 that it was to be the last time they would see each other. In July of 1973, almost 10 years to that day, Dave heard of the sad news of his friend's sudden and tragic death. Bruce died in HK at the young age of 32. In life he had lived to see the pinnacle of his success and fame and saw his dreams all come true, and in death he left a name that was to be immortalised in martial arts around the world.

Though Dave never saw Bruce again, he was fortunate enough to meet two of his former students (of the 1960's era, probably Jesse Glover and James Demile) many years later at a martial arts competition in America when they came up to him and introduced themselves. They told him that they knew of him well because Bruce had on occasions mentioned his name and had spoken commendably of him to his students. Knowing Bruce had shared his sentiments about his old friend with his students left little doubt on Dave's mind that Bruce had always valued their friendship and had not forgotten him the years they lived worlds apart.

Bruce, Macey & Richard Leung photos:

 Respond to this message   

  • Great article! - Milosz on Aug 16, 2015, 12:20 PM
  • Photo Wanted. - Tony on Aug 16, 2015, 11:12 PM
  • Choy Li Fut history and mystery (HK 1950s) - Chuan Jun Fan on Aug 17, 2015, 1:35 AM
  • Re: Bruce Lee & The “Choy Li Fut” Connections - panttelis on Aug 17, 2015, 4:27 PM
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