Chan Heung 陳享 had two sons: Chan On-Bak 陳安伯 and Chan Goon-Bak 陳官伯. They both learned the Choy Li Fut 蔡李佛 system from their father and became great martial artists. Unfortunately, the eldest of them, Chan On-Bak, died young, and the task of transmitting their father's legacy was left in charge of his brother.
We know little about Chan Heung's eldest son. Born in 1839, he studied Kung Fu directly from his father and attended his younger brother in his training. We know he became an expert with the spear, which earned him the nickname of Yat Cheung Ng Mui Fa 一槍五梅花, or "Five Plum Blossoms with a Spear."
In 1894, two of his students, Cheng Si-Ling 鄭士良 and Chan Siu-Bak 陳少白, helped the revolutionary forces of Sun Yat-Sen 孫逸仙 to fight against the Qīng dynasty and establish the Republic of China.
A secret slogan
Choy Li Fut, since its inception, was linked to revolutionary movements, militias and secret societies struggling to overthrow the foreign government of the Manchu dinasty. In the mid-nineteenth century, the Hung Moon 洪門 (Hóng Mén in Mandarin) secret society united all the revolutionary factions. The practitioners of Choy Li Fut had a secret motto: Hung Ying Ji Sing, Ying Hung Wing Sing 洪英至聖, 英雄永勝: 'the heroes of the Hung party are superior; heroes always win'.
Chan Heung's school, as well as those established by his disciples, were called Hung Sing 洪聖 (Great Sage). But due to the risk of being associated with Hung Mun society due to the Character Hung 洪, it was decided to change the name of the schools to its homophone Hung Sing 雄勝 ("heroes win"). However, some schools did not accept this change, as will be seen below.
After the death of Chan On-Bak, one of his students, Chan Choeng-Mou 陳長毛, founded a school in Gong Zau 岡州, today Jiāngmén, and invited Chan Goon-Bak, who was established in the city as a merchant, to teach there. Thus, Chan Heung's youngest son began his teaching of the system that his father had founded, assisted by Chan Choeng-Mou.
Later, Goon-Bak was invited to move to Guangzhou 廣州 to teach, where he established a new school, leaving Chan Choeng-Mou in charge of the Gong Zau school.
The spread of the Choy Li Fut system
Chan Heung had had a group of disciples known as the eighteen Luóhàn 十八羅漢. From 1848, these disciples began to disperse throughout the south of China, establishing Choy Li Fut schools in different locations and initiating the propagation of the teachings of the founder.
One of these disciples was Chan Din-Wun 陳典桓, who is said to have established a Choy Li Fut school in Fatsan (Fóshān 佛山) in 1848, which in 1967 would inherit another disciple of Chan Heung, Jeong Yim 張炎. Again, this claim is disputed. Because much of this information comes from oral traditions and wasn't put into writing until much later, we can't be sure of its authenticity. According to the tradition of Choy Li Fut of Fatsan it was Jeong Yim himself who founded this school. Jeong Yim had studied with other masters besides Chan Heung and his style was somewhat different.
Jeong Yim was also known as Jeong Hung Sing 張洪勝 (note the difference in characters with the aforementioned Hung Sing, 洪聖 and 雄勝). Jeong Yim's nickname Hung Sing means "victory for the Hung", in relation to support for Hung Mun society and the revolutionary activities in which he was involved. As happened with Chan Heung's heirs, to avoid risks he also had to change this name to a new homophone, Hung Sing 鴻勝, this time using the character Hung 鴻 meaning "goose".
We will discuss more about Jeong Yim in an upcoming article.
The Three Kings of Lion Dance of Canton
Grand Master Chan Choeng-Mou was an expert in Lion Dance. His school had the best teams, competing to make a name for themselves against other schools in the province. His mastery earned him the honour of being among the so-called "Three Kings of Lion Dance of Canton". The other two were master Chan Ngau-Sing 陳吽盛, the successor of Jeong Yim at the Hung Sing School of Futsan 佛山市, and the master of Hung Ga 洪家 and legendary Chinese hero, Wong Fei-Hung 黃飛鴻.
Drum and head for Lion Dance
Meanwhile, in neighboring Futsan, Manchu repression was constant and the revolutionary activity very intense, which provoked continuous struggles between the forces of the Qīng government and the supporters of the revolution. The Futsan school was one of the government's main targets.
The survival of the school depended on training efficient combatants in the shortest possible time, so Jeong Yim modified the teaching system to reduce the number of forms and focused on teaching effective techniques and combat training. The school of Futsan produced many of Choy Li Fut's best fighters of those times.
Eventually, Jeong Yim's Choy Li Fut began to be known among his heirs by the name of Hung Sing Choy Li Fut 鴻勝蔡李佛. His followers considered Jeong Yim to be the founder of that system.
Thus, there was a differentiation between the systems of Choy Li Fut followed by Chan Heung's heirs, Hung Sing 雄勝, and those following Jeong Yim, Hung Sing 鴻勝, both homophones in Cantonese.
The Hung Sing 鴻勝 School at Futsan (Fóshān 佛山).
After Chan Gun-Bak's death, his son Chan Yiu-Chi 陳耀墀 (1892-1965) succeeded him in teaching the style. Chan Yiu-Chi was a scholar, physician, and possibly one of the greatest masters of Choy Li Fut who ever existed. From him we have received a great number of stories and anecdotes that show his complete mastery of martial arts.
Grand Master Chan Yiu-Chi had a school in Báiyún 白云区 district of Guangzhou. My Sifu Poon Seon Seoi 潘顺遂 met him when he was a child and studied Choy Li Fut under his guidance.
In Futsan, Jeong Yim had many pupils. One of his main students was Leoi Chan 雷粲, who in turn had a student named Tam Sam 譚三. Tam Sam had great friendship with a master of Northern Shàolín named Ku Yu Jeung 顾汝章, with whom he used to train, and both exchanged techniques of their respective styles. Tam Sam combined in his Kung Fu the techniques of the Choy Li Fut of Jeong Yim with some of the new ones he learned from Ku Yu Jeung.
Tam Sam had a school in the Siu Bak 小北 ('Little North') district of Guangzhou, which he called Siu Bak Hung Sing Choy Li Fut 小北鴻勝蔡李佛. As the name was very long, his students began to refer to the school as Bak Sing 北勝, and the particular style of Tam Sam, as Bak Sing Choy Li Fut 北勝蔡李佛.
The three branches of Choy Li Fut and the Gong Zau (Jiāngmén) lineage
The evolution of the style after Chan Heung's death led to a diversification of techniques divided into three large "branches". Today, within China, these branches are regarded as different styles in themselves. Each branch considers a different master to be the founder of the style, and draws its lineage from him. These branches are, in order of appearance:
The King Mui branch, ie the original of Chan Heung; that is why it is also called the 'Chan family' branch. His followers consider Chan Heung as the founder of Style, and trace their lineage from him, through Chan Gun-Bak to Grand Master Chan Yiu-Chi and his descendants and disciples. The forms from this branch tend to be short but fast and explosive, like Siu Mui Fa Kuen 小梅花拳 or Pa Kwa forms, but there are also some surprisingly long, such as Ping Kuen 平拳.
The Futsan branch, also known as Hung Sing 鴻勝. Jeong Yim is considered by his practitioners as the founder of that branch. It is characterized by its long and powerful movements and a greater prevalence of palm techniques than in the King Mui branch. Its forms are long and require great physical resistance. Among the most widely practiced we have the Long Fist 鴻勝長拳, the Plum Blossom Spear 梅花槍, the Plum Blossom Broadsword 梅花单刀 or the Hung Sing Cross Pattern 鴻勝十字拳.
The Bak Sing branch has Tam Sam as its founder and is characterized by including hard techniques from the North, such as the Iron Palm.
Sometimes it is heard about a fourth branch, that of Gong Zau 岡州. However, this is not a branch in itself, but a lineage, since its practitioners trace their lineage from Chan Heung as the founder master. The Gong Zau lineage comes from the school founded there by Chan Choeng-Mou. Among his students, Master Wong Gong 黄江 is still alive and is considered the current guardian of the school founded by his master in Gong Zau. In the twentieth century, the city of Gong Zau was renamed Jiāngmén, so this lineage is also known as the Jiāngmén lineage of the King Mui branch. Many of the forms practiced by the students of Sifu Pedro Rico come from the Gong Zau lineage, and its origin goes back to the eldest son of Chan Heung, On-Bak, who taught them to Chan Choeng-Mou. Among these forms we can highlight the Tiger form 虎形拳, the Golden Dragon Fan form 金龍扇, the Drunken Luohan form 醉羅漢拳, the Dai Hung Kuen 大雄拳, the Farmer's Hoe 農夫鋤頭, the Snake form 蛇形拳 or the Hurricane Double Axes 旋風双斧, among many others.