At the end of the decade of 1920, Choy Li Fut 蔡李佛 arrived at the American continent by the hand of Master Lau Bun 劉彬, who opened the first school in San Francisco.
Master Lau Bun
Lau Bun 劉彬 was born in 1891 in Toi San 台山, Canton province. At the end of the nineteenth century, Choy Li Fut had already spread throughout the region and had numerous schools and several thousands of practitioners. It was in this context that Lau Bun was raised, practicing martial arts from a very young age. He received private instruction from Master Yuen Hai of the Fóshān 佛山 Hung Sing Gun 鴻勝舘 and, when he died, became his successor.
Since the middle of the nineteenth century, many inhabitants of Toi San (Tái Shān, in Mandarin), Lau Bun's hometown, had begun to emigrate en masse to the United States, where they used to work in road construction. Lau Bun's father was one of them. He worked in California, from where he sent money to his family that had stayed in China, but he did not have American nationality.
With the establishment of the Republic of China by Chiang Kai-Shek's 蔣介石 Nationalist Party, martial arts were banned in China, and many schools were forced to close, including the Hung Sing Gun in Fóshān. This prohibition was subsequently maintained with the Communist regime of Máo Zédōng 毛泽东, and lasted several decades. Many masters were exiled in Hong Kong 香港 or Southeast Asia in order to continue teaching.
Lau Bun, following his father's precedent, decided to emigrate to the United States. However, only a few years before the US government had banned immigration from China and established rigorous border control to prevent illegal entry of immigrants from Mexico. Only the descendants of US citizens were allowed legal entry.
At that time, many immigrants were able to enter with false papers, which identified them as children of immigrants with American citizenship, who had returned to China to marry and have children. In addition, in 1906 a large earthquake in San Francisco had destroyed birth records, allowing many Chinese who had entered illegally to claim citizenship, assuring to have been born there. This was the case of Lau Bun, who entered the country under the false name Wong On.
However, US immigration officials were aware of these procedures, and on one occasion Lau Bun was in trouble when a group of agents tried to stop him in Los Angeles. Lau Bun ran out to take refuge inside a building. The agents chased him but he fought against them using Choy Li Fut and managed to escape by jumping from a second floor. Finally, he was able to get to San Francisco safely in 1931.
There he worked as a bodyguard until he founded a Choy Li Fut school, the Wah-Keung Kung Fu Club, attaining great renown as a martial artist and Lion Dance master. He was also an expert in herbal medicine and repositioning bones. Lau Bun used to raise funds for charitable causes through Kung Fu shows. He is considered to be the first master to open a Chinese martial arts school in America.
In 1951, his school had grown up to his fame, and he decided to change its name to Hung Sing Gun, to honour his roots in Fóshān. Lau Bun died in 1967 at 76 years old. Although he never taught Westerners, his successors did, and his emigration to the United States marks the beginning of the diffusion of Choy Li Fut to the entire world.