The Lam Family: Three Generations of Hung Kyun

Lam Family Hung Kyun

During the 20th century it is said that Hung, Lau, Choi, Lei, Mok were the five big Gung Fu styles of the Guangdong province. Different regions shaped distinctive styles of martial arts, like the Lung Ying Kyun, Southern Praying Mantis, Mok Ga Kyun of the Hakka minority in Eastern Guangdong. The area of Xinhui, Jiangmen, Yangjiang was dominated by Choi Lei Fat. In Chaoshan Choi Mok Kyun was the dominating style. In the martial arts schools as well as the martial arts culture of Guangzhou, Foshan and other big cities were influenced by external elements.

Especially in the beginning of the 20th century, along with the Jing Wu Athletic Association, and along with Northern masters moving South, and people from other provinces came to Guangzhou and Foshan looking for a livelihood, workers, businessmen, or people who, for political or social reasons immigrated to Guangzhou. They brought along a large number of “outer provincial martial skills to Guangdong. Wing Cheun, Baak Mei, Hap Ga and Yau Gung Mun are just some of new and developing martial styles that emerged in the province.

In this environment, filled with vitality and competition, Hung Kyun has developed during two, three hundred years. The main reason for this is the talented practitioners of the style. In the previous episode of martial sphere of Hong Kong we talked about the great master Wong Fei Hung, and how he improved the style. Along with the intensive martial studies and exchange between Fujian province and Guangdong province, the result was the set of Fu Hok Seung Ying Kyun. Together Gung Ji Fuk Fu Kyun, Fu Hok Seung Ying Kyun and Tit Sin Kyun created the core of the Hung Kyun system.

For a variety of reasons Wong Fei Hung did not have many students, in his later years he even stopped teaching. The one who developed and promoted the Hung Kyun system, Wong Fei Hung created, is his closed door student – Lam Sai Wing. When we trace Hung Kyun’s development during the past hundred years, it is necessary to look back at the three generations of Lam Family Hung Kyun and their experiences and contributions.

Lam Sai Wing

The Renovator of Hung Kyun

Lam Sai Wing was born into a martial arts family. He started practicing his family’s style “the Lam’s Hung Kyun” at a young age. Lam Sai Wing had a big and tall stature with extraordinary strength, besides he had a profound interest when it came to martial arts. He had already reached a high level at a young age. But he considered what he learned to be insufficient, he continued to search for new knowledge. According to his nephew Lam Jou, his third uncle Lam Geui Chung was one of his teachers, it is said that he had between six and seven teachers. In the Tit Sin Kyun Manual, composed by Jyu Yu Jai, Cheung Biu Wan wrote in the article “A Brief Introduction to Lam Sai Wing” that Lam Sai Wing’s teachers were Wu Gam Sing, Bak Sing Hong, Jung Hung Saan and Wong Fei Hung.

Lam Sai Wing Teaching

Lam Sai Wing started accepting students after he studied under Wong Fei Hung. According to Wai Siu Baak, who wrote “An Introduction to Lam Sai Wing”, Lam Sai Wing “was studying under Wong Fei Hung for 20 years, he learned everything Wong Fei Hung had to teach. At the age of 45 Lam Sai Wing established the Lam Gwun Association in Guangzhou. Mr. Lam Jou mentioned a couple of times that his uncle was 40 years old when he started learning from Wong Fei Hung [translator’s note: the Gung Ji Fuk Fu Kyun Manual (English translation available HERE) mentions that Lam Sai Wing was in his twenties when he started learning from Wong Fei Hung]. However, Wai Siu Baak mentions that “learning from Wong Fei Hung”. Because of this, I believe that Lam Sai Wing got acquainted with Wong Fei Hung quite early on, and that Lam Sai Wing learned some martial arts from him. But they did not have a teacher-student relationship, when he learned from Wong Fei Hung the circumstances were quite relaxed. Otherwise, we would not know the story of Lam Sai Wing selling meat, after which Wong Fei Hung accepted him as his student.

The Martial Arts of Lam Sai Wing

Lam Sai Wing was one of the first martial arts masters who used modern technology to record and openly distribute his techniques, he left behind a rich source of pictures and articles. Much thanks to this material, the martial arts of the Lam Family has continued to improve until today. So, we have a good understanding of Lam Sai Wing’s martial arts. Between 1923 and 1951 he published Gung Ji Fuk Fu Kyun, Fu Hok Seung Ying Kyun and Tit Sin Kyun. It can be said that every aspect of Lam Sai Wing’s Lam Family Hung Kyun has been recorded. As well as preserving the martial skills of Wong Fei Hung.

However, there are many sets among Lam Sai Wing’s barehanded martial skills that were not recorded, they are Sap Ying Kyun, Ng Ying Kyun as well as the Lam Family set called Jin Jeung and the Gung Ji two-man set. Jin Jeung is one of the oldest Hung Kyun sets I have ever seen, before Lam Sai Wing this set was not taught to outsiders. Lam Sai Wing took his family’s martial skill and made it available to the public, in those days this was most likely frowned upon. Sap Ying Kyun and Ng Ying Kyun are first-class sets of the Hung Ga martial arts system, normally students who did not have seven, eight years of experience did not learn these two sets. However, the foundation of Sap Ying and Ng Ying comes from Gung Ji Fuk Fu Kyun and Fu Hok Seung Ying Kyun, but in terms of skill those two sets are richer in techniques. In the past, people were uncertain of what Lam Sai Wing learned from Wu Gam Sing, I personally think that the skills that Lam Sai Wing learned from his previous teachers are all included in these two sets.

Download Lam Sai Wing Memorial Book

Furthermore, Lam Sai Wing was also an expert when it came to weapons. First off, was the Geui Chung Seung Dou which is a good example of classical South Chinese double knife skills. Here I should also mention the staff techniques, originally people practiced Baat Gwa Gwan and Luk Dim Bun Gwan as well as other classical Cantonese staff skills. Lam Sai Wing had an exceptional knowledge of staff techniques. Through many years of practice and research Lam Sai Wing combined these two sets into Ng Long Baat Gwa Gwan. In 1936 when Lam Sai Wing published Gung Ji Fuk Fu Kyun Manual, one chapter in the end of the manual is called “The Baat Gwa Gwan Staff Techniques”, which makes it clear that Lam Sai Wing really valued this weapon set. Lam Sai Wing was also an expert in using the single and double three-sectioned whip, these two sets are also good representatives of the Lam Family’s weapon skills.

Lam Jou and the 18 Weapons of Hung Kyun

Lam Jou, nicknamed Gun Kau, had his ancestral home is Ping Jaau village, Naam Hoi County in Guangdong province, he was born in the first month on the eighteenth day of the lunar year in 1910. He lost his parents and was raised by his paternal uncle, Lam Sai Wing, he started learning Hung Kyun at a young age. Under the strict tutelage of his uncle, Lam Jou worked hard on his martial arts. By the time he was 10 years old he was sent to the “Red Boats” to study Cantonese opera. In order to deepen his knowledge in martial arts, he became the assistant instructor of his uncle, helping him teach martial arts when he was around 10 years old. At 16 he opened his own school. In those days the title “Sifu” (meaning master) was not something to be taken lightly, just like his uncle and his predecessors, Lam Jou was often challenged in a so called Bei Sau (Comparing of Skills) as a way to prove one’s strength and skill. Afterwards the Naam Mou Athletic Association (Southern Martial Athletic Association) was established, it was one of the most prominent martial arts establishments of its time. The Naam Mou Athletic Association had a deep impact on the martial arts sphere, comparable to the Hong Kong Jing Wu Association.

Hung Gar Kuen Lam Cho

Lam Jou was vigorous throughout his life, he was devoted to spreading his knowledge and conducting research about martial arts. Lam Jou had an extraordinary memory and very keen eyesight, he was able to see something and remember it directly. After seeing a set once, he was able to repeat every movement directly after seeing it. Through this method, Lam Jou brought a large number of popular martial arts techniques into Lam Family Hung Kyun, after which techniques from different kinds of martial arts were fused into the sets and techniques of the system.

Lam Jou had a very powerful tiger claw technique. His students would often described his tiger claw as “bone crushing”. Except from having extraordinary martial skill, he was a very modest and easy going man. People had a deep respect for his generosity and his kind-heartedness, people really admired his martial virtue, this continued throughout his life. In 2008 it happened to be the 160th anniversary of Wong Fei Hung’s birthday, Lam Jou was the most senior representative at the celebration. He was invited to Sai Chiu village, Naam Hoi County, this was his last public appearance. In 2009 during his birthday, the financial secretary of Hong Kong, John Tsang, attended the celebration as a grand-student to congratulate the master.

Constructing the System of Lam Family Hung Kyun

The current Lam Family Hung Kyun owes a lot to the reforms and innovations of master Lam Jou. His core skillset consists of Gung Ji Fuk Fu Kyun, Fu Hok Seung Ying Kyun and Tit Sin Kyun. All of these sets originate from the lineage of Wong Fei Hung and Lam Sai Wing. But when it comes to passing their martial arts forward, Lam Jou has unceasingly reformed, adjusted and complemented the old techniques into the Lam Family Hung Kyun that we know today.

Due to a lack of written records, it is difficult to investigate the appearance of Hung Kyun during the nineteenth century. Luckily we can get a glimpse of that appearance through a small number of surviving Gung Fu styles, of what is known as “Old Hung Kyun”. Jin Jeung and Lo Hon Fuk Fu Kyun are two examples of this variety. We can see that their focus is on a rigid Horse Stance, while these sets contain quite few agile stances. Another focus was the Saam Jin (or “Three Extensions”), as well as other forearm strengthening exercises. In other words, the old version of Hung Kyun had “Hard Forearms and Stable Stances” which was its specialty.

Lam Cho Tiger Crane

Whereas Lam Jou advocated agile body movement, stances and a more suitable way of developing power. Although the basic techniques and movements have not changed, the body movement has changed fundamentally. The early Hung Kyun emphasized power development on a straight line, Lam Jou created a more complex system of movements. Except from understanding the straight line principle, Lam Jou also developed an understanding of moving about in an agile way. This quite complex way of developing power requires a high level of technical proficiency from the martial artist; where exquisite features are crucial, where the bigger focus is placed on handling transitions and meticulous techniques. With a regard for the technical aspect, the most fundamental reform of Lam Jou is the aspect of how to use the body behind the techniques, the so called “Body Work” (San Faat).

How to use your body and how to effectively develop power depends on the technical variation, to use these minimal changes in the techniques and stances, can further be derived into more fundamental changes. When describing this with contemporary words, Lam Jou reformed and improved the mechanics of the more traditional Hung Kyun. In the process of developing power, the biggest limitation had been the latent energy that rarely came into play. In comparison to the “hard power” method of training, Lam Jou focused on perfecting the techniques of Hung Kyun. We can even say that Mr. Lam Jou has been the most important renovator of Hung Kyun since Wong Fei Hung. He created a completely new system of Hung Kyun, which had not happened since the era of Wong Fei Hung. Summing up the technical innovation and reforms of Lam Jou, I would like to use a quote:

Master Lam Jou successfully took the “Hard Forearms and Stable Stances” of the Old Hung Kyun and changed it into a new quick and agile style of movement; at the same time, he emphasized distance and control of postures. Through deft body movement, dodging or blocking an attack and that is how you bring the latent power into play

Lam, Chun Fai, The Origin and Development of Hung Kyun, in: Journal of Chinese Martial Studies, no. 1. 2009)

In comparison with the methods of Old Hung Kyun, we realize that the focus of this kind of martial art was to strengthen your limbs, whereas Lam Jou emphasized technical aspects as well as postures and drills. On countless aspects, the late Lam Jou was a living example of his own teachings, he was an evidence that his training method gave him a long life filled with activity.

Other Aspects of Reformation

Weaving together new sets: another key point of Mr. Lam Jou’s reform was to incorporate new barehanded and weapon sets into the Hung Kyun system, he doubled the amount of sets. Among the sets he passed forward to his students were new barehanded and weapon two-man sets, and as for the traditional Gung Ji Fuk Fu Kyun and Tit Sin Kyun he also made minor but nonetheless important modifications.

Barehanded techniques: Lam Jou understood the importance of innovation, so he made effective and reasonable adjustments to the Hung Kyun sets he passed forward. Lam Jou improved Gung Ji Fuk Fu Kyun – and especially the last part of the set, called Fuk Fu Kyun, where he renewed the structure of the set and reduced the repetitive movements and increased the agility of the set. Simultaneously, Lam Jou really payed attention to practical training. Thus he created a two-man set Fu Hok Seung Ying Kyun, which would help people understand the more complicated movements and use their application. Furthermore, he also included sets from other styles into his Hung Kyun system, such as Lau Ga Kyun, Bang Bou Kyun, Hau Kyun and so on.

Weapons sets: with regards to quantity, Lam Jou put a lot of effort into developing weapon techniques, which was his most remarkable achievement. Compared to his uncle, who taught five weapon sets, Lam Jou passed forward a great collection of weapon sets, including Lau Ga Gwan (also called Lau Seui Gwan), Wu Dip Seung Dou, Seung Lung Dou, Hang Je Paang, Daan Dou, Siu Tiu, Mui Fa Cheung, Kwan Leun Gim, Yiu Ga Daai Pa, and many more. This makes it quite evident that master Lam Jou spent a lot of effort when selecting and rebuilding the weapon sets of his Hung Kyun. In addition, every weapon set are outstanding examples of South Chinese weaponry. Take the Yiu Ga Daai Pa as an example, it is the most well-known trident set in Southern China. Except for the trident, other weapon sets have undergone similar scrutiny, each of them represents a well-known or classic Southern Martial Art. Mui Fa Cheung, Gwaan Dou and Wu Dip Seung Dou are the most popular weapons, even though each set has their unique features. Throughout the Lingnan area many styles have traces of these weapons in their style. The Mui Fa Cheung, Gwaan Dou and Wu Dip Seung Dou that Lam Jou introduced to the system are proof of this tendency.

To Follow the Past and Herald the Future

When examining the contribution Lam Jou made to Hung Kyun and to Chinese Martial Arts at large, we must first understand his important process of training, as an initial student and later a great master. It is unquestionable that Lam Jou is the most important Hung Kyun practitioner of the 20th century, he systematically reformed the martial arts passed on to him from Wong Fei Hung and Lam Sai Wing giving it a more rigid framework. At the same time, through ceaseless collaboration and innovation, Lam Jou improved the structure of the Lam Family Hung Kyun one step further.

Lam Sai Wing's Taming the Tiger (Gung Ji Fuk Fu Kyun)

In inheriting the martial arts of Lam Sai Wing, Lam Jou allowed Hung Kyun to develop into a proper international martial art. He combined various styles of martial arts and enriched the content of Hung Kyun, from the original core of Jin Jeung, Fu Hok Seung Ying Kyun, Gung Ji Fuk Fu Kyun, Tit Sin Kyun, Ng Ying Kyun, Sap Ying Kyun, Seung Bin, Daan Bin, Ng Long Baat Gwa Gwan and Geui Chung Seung Do. He also created a couple of important two-man sets, such as Seung Dou Deui Cheung, Daan Dou Deui Cheung, Gwaan Dou Deui Cheung, and Fu Hok Deui Chaak.

He expanded the number of Hung Kyun sets enormously, which transformed it into one of the most complete and comprehensive Southern martial arts. Many martial art techniques and sets that were introduced to the Hung Kyun system started to disappear on their own, which made Lam Jou’s work extra important. Lam Jou recorded and rearranged these sets just in time, he brought almost extinct Southern martial gems into his own system and preserved them in the process. This is Lam Jou’s treasure and cultural heritage that he left to his successors.

Lam Chun Fai Heading towards the World

Lam Chun Fai is the oldest son of Lam Jou, he started learning martial arts at the age of five and he started teaching when he was 12. He grew up in the Blue House in Wan Chai. During his teenage years he was responsible for teaching and developing Lam Family Hung Kyun. At that time, master Lam taught in four martial arts schools where he also treated patients in Dit Da, two of the schools were on Hong Kong Island and two on the Kowloon side (one of which was the famous Lam Sai Wing’s Athletic Academy). When he was 18 years old he opened his own Dit Da clinic on King’s Road in North Point, where he continued to practice medicine and teach Hung Kyun. According to Master Lam, by the time he was around 10 years old, he performed two partner sets with his father whenever there was a big celebration, and one of these sets were Fu Hok Deui Chaak and the other Seung Bei Sau Deui Cheung. Lam Jou was exceptionally strict when it came to his oldest son’s training. Although master Lam started teaching martial arts at an early age, it was not his full-time profession. On the contrary master Lam was a bank manager for several years, while practicing bone setting and teaching martial arts was more of a spare time job. Fortunately, due to the fact that master Lam did not rely on martial arts for his livelihood he could be very particular when it came to his students. In more recent years, master Lam has observed possible students’ moral character and self-cultivation as well as their comprehension of martial arts.

Lam Chun Fai - Daai Pa

Master Lam is an easy-going person, but he can analyze people, he treats every student as if they were family, and he understands their personalities. When teaching, master Lam requires a lot from his students, but he never force them to do something that lies beyond their capability, so master Lam’s students have a profound respect for him. Many have been learning from him for many years. Furthermore, master Lam implements a proverb from Confucius “to teach in line with the student’s ability”, so many of his students have been taught barehanded- and weapon sets that are in line with their ability.

In his everyday life master Lam is very modest and he never flaunts his martial skills, but for many years master Lam has gotten recognition from Hong Kong, as well as International martial arts circles. But when it comes to the promotion of traditional martial arts, master Lam has done his utmost for almost two decades, and he has been invited many times to teach Hung Kyun in Europe and America.

After Mr. Lam Jou’s passing, master Lam Chun Fai is the highest authority of Lam Family Hung Kyun, he is also an international representative who assemble Hung Kyun practitioners from all over the globe. He is the chairman of the Lam Sai Wing Alumni Association, vice chairman of the Hong Kong Wushu Union, member of the Hong Kong Traditional Wushu Federation’s committee, as well as an adviser for the International Guoshu Association.

Assembling Hung Kyun Practitioners from Around the Globe

In the 90s, master Lam received many invitations from America and Europe asking if he could come and teach Lam Family Hung Kyun. In -94 he went to Harvard University to hold a seminar and teach martial arts for a while, that can be said to be the first time Southern Chinese martial arts were taught at the most prestigious institution of education in the US. After this master Lam has been traveling to various countries in the West to spread the teachings of his family’s martial skills, bringing Hung Kyun to the many corners of the world. In recent years the martial skills of the Lam Family has had a flourishing development in Europe, this is a result of Lam Chun Fai’s unceasing promotion of Hung Kyun. Today the students of Lam Family Hung Kyun can be found in America, Canada, England, Germany, Italy, Czech Republic, Greece, Holland and Sweden.

Lam Chun Fai Tiger Claws

During the years master Lam has participated in countless competitions and performances. In 1985 the Chinese government invited martial arts masters from Hong Kong to participate in an international Wushu competition held in Xi’an. In 1986 master Lam was invited to Tianjin to take part in the Second International Invitational Wushu Competition. Here, master Lam joined the traditional Wushu category, and he performed Fu Hok Seung Ying Kyun and Seung Lung Dou, for which he was given a medal for outstanding martial skills.

In 2004 Lam Chun Fai and his students were officially invited by the Chinese government to participate in the First Traditional Wushu Festival held in Zhengzhou, Henan province. Master Lam brought 10 students and they participated in 18 single and group disciplines. When the 2500 contestants, from all over the world had competed, Lam Chun Fai’s troupe had had great success. Every contestant had obtained a gold medal, they brought 13 gold, six silver and one bronze medal back home. During the 160th anniversary of Wong Fei Hung’s birthday in Sai Chiu, Naam Hoi County, Lam Jou and Lam Chun Fai were honored guests. At the celebration Hung Kyun practitioners from all over the world participated

The Struggle of Introducing Hung Kyun as a Cultural Heritage

When Master Lam has been promoting his family’s Hung Kyun abroad, he has also been concerned about developing Hung Kyun in Hong Kong. In recent years, the popularity of traditional martial arts has declined and young people in general have neglected martial arts, in this unfavorable circumstance, master Lam has struggled to prepare a larger space for the development of traditional martial arts in Hong Kong.

Lam Chun Fai Kung Fu

In 2010, the Home Affairs Bureau of the Hong Kong S.A.R invited the general public to investigate all areas of Hong Kong, in order to distinguish the various cultural practices of Hong Kong. This investigation resulted in the first list of Hong Kong’s intangible heritage. At the same time, the supervisor of the Hong Kong Museum authorized the South China Research Center at Polytechnic University of Hong Kong to make a comprehensive collection of material.

When master Lam received news of this project, he immediately contacted the International Guoshu Association to declare Lam Family Hung Kyun, Gung Ji Fuk Fu Kyun, Fu Hok Seung Ying Kyun, Tit Sin Kyun, Ng Long Baat Gwa Gwan and many more, as an intangible heritage. Master Lam gathered his students and contacted his cooperation unit, the International Guoshu Association, to conduct documentation. The passing of Lam Jou reminded everyone of the frailty of culture and the urgency of preserving the cultural heritage of Hong Kong. Master Lam Chun Fai published the book Hung Kuen Fundamentals: Gung Gee Fook Fu Kuen along with some of his students, in order to take the first step in the process of preserving Lam Family Hung Kyun, and traditional martial arts in Hong Kong.

 

Author: Hing Chao

This text is translated from Chinese to English by Viktor Nordgren. The original text comes from Ming Pao Weekly. Issue no. 2325, 01 June 2013.

About the TranslatorViktor Nordgren been training Hung Kyun since 2002. He started to learn from Mattias Lindh Sifu in Umeå, Sweden. Viktor has been practising under Raymond Wong since 2010. Håkan Andersson, Viktor’s Sihing, started training under Mattias in 2001 and under master Wong in 2010 as well. Viktor is an author of excellent English translation of Lam Sai Wing’s Taming the Tiger Manualavailable in our PHK Eshop HERE.

References

  • 趙,式慶。林,鎮輝 & 三三。承傳與創新。明周。2325期,2013年6月1號。
  • Chao, H., Lam, C, F. & Sam, S. About Carrying the Tradition Forward and Innovation. Ming Pao Weekly. Issue no. 2325, 01 June 2013.
  • Lam, Chun Fai, Hung Kuen Fundamentals: Gung Gee Fok Fu Kuen, International Guoshu Association. 2013. Print.

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