Bruce Lee & Hung Gar’s Mania

August 20 2015 at 6:07 AM
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Hung Gar Shadows
According to Dan Inosanto, Jun Fan Kung Fu consists of many Chinese styles of fighting arts. One of them is Hung Gar which Bruce learnt and mastered in HK before he went over to U.S. in 1959. Hung Gar is well known for its low wide stances and rock hard forearms and overall, it is a very aggressive southern style Kung Fu. Hung Gar’s shadows could be found in many Bruce’s early Jun Fun Kung Fu demonstrations.

For instance, in the Charlie Chan’s No.1 son’s screen-test held in 4th Feb 1965, Bruce performed the “Tiger Crane Double Forms Fist,” one of the Hung Gar’s forms. Also, in the 1964 Long Beach with Taky Kimura, both Taky and Bruce started their demo with an opening “greeting fists” which strike resemblance to Hung Gar’s “Emergence of The Dragon & Tiger.” Jesse Glover also performed the Hung Gar’s set (taught by Bruce) in many of their stage demos, one of which was at the Trade Fair in 1961.

Wong Fei-Hung (1847 – 1924)
Hung Gar (aka Hung Kuen) was founded by Master Hung Hei-Gun (1745—1825). It belongs to the Southern Shaolin style and is associated with the Chinese legendary hero, Wong Fei-Hung (1847 – 1924). Wong was the master of Hung Gar. His father, Wong Kei-Ying (Ten Tigers of Guangdong) taught him Kung Fu when he was a child. Wong distilled his father's empty-hand material along with the materials he learnt from other masters into the "pillars" of Hung Gar, four empty-hand routines that constitute the core of Hung Gar instruction in the Wong Fei-Hung lineage: “Single and double Hung Kune and Taming Tiger Fists,” “Fierocious Tiger Fist,” “Shadowless Kick” etc. Wong was also adept at using weapons, such as the “Fifth Brother Eight Trigram Staff,” “Four Eleghants Standard Dragon Staff” and “Southern Tiger Rake.”

Due to his outstanding Kung Fu skills, Wong was employed as the Chief Martial Arts instructor of the National’s Black Flag Army. He and his soldiers fought the Imperial Japanese Army during the Japanese invasion of Taiwan in 1895. Upon retirement, Wong concentrated on running his “Po Chi-Lam,” a famous Chinese medical shop in Guangdong. In 1919, Wong was invited to perform lion dance and Kung Fu at the Jing Mo Athletic Association's (or Jing Mo School) Guangzhou branch during its opening ceremony. His heroic and legendary pasts (mixed with fictional accounts) were captured on films and his character was played by Kwan Tak-Hing, between late 1940s to 1960s. Like many kids in HK, one of Bruce’s childhood screen heroes was Wong Fei-Hung. Young Bruce was obsessed by his on screen Kung Fu fighting stances and often mimicked Wong’s speech, expression, and gesture to the amusement of his friends and family.

Lam Sai-Wing (1861 – 1943)
Wong Fei-Hung was succeeded by his student, Lam Sai-Wing who promoted the arts of Hung Gar in HK and Macau. Lam Sai Wing was considered the most outstanding senior student and teaching assistant of Wong Fei-Hung. He also learnt from other Kung Fu masters like Lam Fuk-Sing and Ng Chuan-Mi. Eventually, he beccame an expert in Hung Gar and Fut Kuen ("Buddhist Fist).

Towards the end of the Ching dynasty, Lam won first place in a large martial arts competition that took place at the Dongjiao ground. He also received a silver medal from Dr. Sun Yat-Sen as a token of recognition for his service and success. Between 1917 and 1923, Lam served as the Chief Instructor for hand-to-hand combat in the National Revolutionary Army of Fujian province. He later authored three popular martial arts books on the essential forms of Hung Gar: "Taming the Tiger Fist," "Tiger Crane Double Forms Fist" and "Iron Wire Fist".

Lam’s famous students included two action directors of the Wong Fei-Hung films - Leung Wing-Hang and Lau Cham, father of HK action director and star, Lau Kar-Leung. Lam Sai-Wing's Kung Fu legacy was mainly continued by his nephew and disciple Lam Jo (until his recent death) who resided and taught in HK with his own sons Anthony Lam Chun Fai and Lam Chun Sing.

Bruce Learnt Hung Gar
During his teenage years, Bruce was already keen in all kinds of martial arts and would spend enormous amount of time in studying and learning Kung Fu rather than concentrating in his schoolwork. According to the HK JKD martial arts magazine published in 1977 there was an account of his Hung Gar learning. After studying Wing Chun for quite sometime, Bruce was introduced to Master Tam (full name unknown), a Hung Gar expert. Young Bruce challenged him and was unable to defeat him. Thus, he modestly pleaded to learn from him. Tam accepted his request. Upon learning this style, Bruce’s arsenal in street fighting increased and hence, was even more confident in his fighting ability. Based on the record from Hung Gar Family Tree, Master Tam was the descendant of Grandmaster Tam Man, a student of the Hung Gar’s founder, Hung Hei-Gun. His relatives included Tam Yuk Chan and Tam Hon. Both came to HK and started their school in teaching Hung Gar (circa 1940s-1950s).

There was another account where Mr. Anthony Mirakian (1933-2015), Okinawan Karate expert and Bruce’s friend, spoke about Bruce’s informal learning of Hung Gar. Mirakian was once in HK and was told by Mr. Kwan Tak-Hing (1905 – 1996) that he was visited by Bruce many times in seeking development of his personal-style of martial arts. Mr. Kwan taught Bruce 'Dragon style' (One of the Five Animal forms of Hung Gar and Southern Shaolin style) with the forte of forward-leg and forward hand functioning which was in unison to his later self-creation - Jeet Kune Do. Mr Kwan was originally a practitioner of the Opera Martial Arts as well as the White Crane and Hung Gar Kung Fu which he learnt from Master Fok Hung. He was also trained in Wong Fei-Hung's style of Hung Gar by Leung Wing-Hang and Lau Jam, students of the famous Master Lam Sai-Wing.

In addition, Bruce probably have studied and self-learnt Hung Gar from Master Lam Sai-Wing’s three martial arts manuals: "Taming the Tiger Fist", "Tiger Crane Double Forms Fist", and "Iron Wire Fist." Like his usual practice, he would analyse, modify and then incorporate the more practical and effiective techniques into his Jun Fan Kung Fu. In Seattle, he had taught some Hung Gar techniques to his early students like Jesse Glover, Ed Hart, Taky Kimura etc. Jesse Glover had peformed the Hung Gar set on stage many times. There is also a picture that showed Taky and Bruce performed “bridge-hand” blocking the “crane fist” during one of their training sessions.

Bruce & Lau Kar-Leung (1934 – 2013)
Lau Kar-Leung was a HK-based Chinese actor, filmmaker, choreographer and martial artist. Lau was best known for his Shaw Brother’s films in the 1970s and 1980s. One of his most famous works was “The 36th Chamber of Shaolin” which starred Gordon Liu, as well as “Drunken Master II” which starred Jackie Chan. Lau also played Lee Hoi Chuen, father of Bruce Lee, in ATV TV series, “Spirit of The Dragon”(1992) which starred David Wu as Bruce Lee.

Lau was the third child of Lau Cham, a Martial Arts master who studied Hung Gar under Master Lam Sai-Wing. Lau began training Hung Gar before the age of 5 and was very proficient in the style.
In the “Interview with Lau Kar Leung: The Last Shaolin” on 26th April 1984, Lau said that he and Bruce knew each other very well when they were kids in HK. He said Bruce was passionate about Kung Fu. It was his life. His contribution was recognised by those of us who were doing Kung Fu. He introduced it to the whole world. Also, he agreed that Bruce's Kung Fu was a blending of many techniques. There were elements derived from Aikido, Tae Kwon Do, Karate, Western boxing and Chinese Kung Fu. Bruce was very smart. He applied himself diligently, and when he practiced Kung Fu, he gave it all.

Both Bruce and Lau have different characters and mindsets. Bruce was more open-minded while Lau, more conservative and traditional. However, Bruce still treated Lau as an elder brother with respect. He discussed with Lau with regards to the martial arts and his film career when he visited the Shaw studio in 1972-1973.

In an interview video of 2012, Lau explains simply what he understood about Bruce Lee's JKD. He said, “The essentials of JKD are speed, power and accuracy. It counter attacks the opponents and knocks them out before the opponents know what had really happened.

Bruce & Chiu Chi-Ling (20th Jan 1941 - )
Another well-known HK Hung Gar master is Chiu Chi-Ling who was an actor/stuntman in the 1970s. His well-known movies are “Bruce Lee, The Man & The Myth”(1978) which starred Bruce Li and “The Kung Fu Hustle”(2006) which starred Stephen Chow. In the early days, he had worked with both Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. He also teaches Hung Gar Kung Fu at his own San Francisco-based martial arts school, and at the old Chiu Family Kwoon in HK. At the age of 6, he started learning Hung Gar from his father, Chiu Kao (1895-1995) who was the student of Lam Sai-Wing. Thus, both Chiu and Lau Kar-Leung are considered the 4th generation students of Grandmaster Wong Fei-Hung.

During his interview in Chi Kong Business Times on 12th March 2007, he said he started off working as a martial arts choreographer in the early 1970s and had worked along with Bruce Lee. However, he had already known Bruce before entering the entertainment industry. Chiu said Bruce was “like a monument while he was alive and a legend when he passed away.” Without Bruce, there would not be so many people paying attention to Chinese Kung Fu. He said from what he had personally observed, Bruce was always trying to perfect what he was doing and was under huge pressure most of the time yet he was very determined to achieve his own goals. During the shooting, he was like one man doing 10 men’s jobs, from action choreography, coaching of individual actor/ actress, constantly checking the camera shots to ensure the on screen results were up to his expectation etc. At the peak of his career, Bruce understood that his newly found reputation was “hollow” as it relied solely on his tip-top condition and the money he earned for the movie company. Chiu said, “Maybe he was too tired and over tensed, that’s why he left us so soon.”

Formless Form
Like all the various classical arts Bruce learnt in his early stage, Hung Gar did play quite a significant role in shaping Bruce’s own personal arts as well as influenced his martial arts philosophy to a certain extent. However, Bruce was not bound by all these classical arts he learnt, instead, he was enlightened and unburdened himself with the non-essential classical mess and walked his own path to success.

Bruce used to say, “Too much horsing around with unrealistic stances and classic forms and rituals is just too artificial and mechanical, and doesn't really prepare the student for actual combat…Their practitioners are merely blindly rehearsing routines and stunts that will lead nowhere…Each one of us is different and each one of us should be taught the correct form. By correct form I mean the most useful techniques the person is inclined toward. Find his ability and then develop these techniques. When one has reached maturity in the art, one will have a formless form. It is like ice dissolving in water. When one has no form, one can be all forms; when one has no style, he can fit in with any style.”

Photos of Bruce and the shadows of Hung Gar:

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  • Great! - Milo on Aug 20, 2015, 9:26 AM
  • Hung Gar Question - TopCrusader on Sep 5, 2015, 10:30 PM
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