The Legendary Fist of the North (Choy Li Fut History V)

At the end of the 19th century, Choy Li Fut 蔡李佛 was booming in southern China. There was at that time a legendary wrestler, called Tam Sam 譚三, who is considered the founder of one of the main branches of the style.

Tam Sam, Bak Sing Choy Li Fut

Tam Sam 譚三

Tam Sam was born in 1873 in Hoi Ping 開平, a small town in Canton. Since childhood he practiced martial arts of the Hung Ga 洪家 style. Arrogant and somewhat quarrelsome, he liked to test his abilities by defying other practitioners, and he always emerged victorious.

At that time, the fame of the Fatsan 佛山 Hung Sing 鴻勝 school of Choy Li Fut was on the rise, and Tam Sam decided to challenge that who was then the main master, Leoi Chan 雷灿. However, it was one of the students of Leoi Chan who accepted the challenge and fought with Tam Sam. Even though he managed to beat his rival, he ended up being defeated. Despite having fallen, Tam Sam, proud, still wanted to face Leoi Chan. Leoi Chan was already a little old, but he was still a formidable rival, and in a matter of seconds he vanquished Tam Sam.

Defeated, but deeply impressed by the efficacy of Choy Li Fut, he asked Leoi Chan to accept him as a disciple, to which he agreed. Tam Sam progressed fast and eventually became a school instructor. However, his arrogant spirit did not ebbed, and one day he had an argument with other school fellows older than him, whom he faced and defeated in a bout. These struggles between school brothers posed a transgression of the Choy Li Fut code of conduct.

Master Leoi Chan, upon hearing of the incident, and very much to his own regret, had to expel Tam Sam from his school. His apprenticeship was not complete, and for a time he continued to train secretly with some of his former companions. He continued to defy other masters and forging a reputation as a great fighter.

Hung Sing Gun, Foshan, Choy Li Fut Kung Fu

Among the pictures of the master ancestors of the Hung Sing Gwoon 鴻勝舘 in Fóshān
we can see Tam Sam, in the top row, the fifth on the left

Eventually, he moved to Guangzhou 廣州 and settled in the Siu Buk 小北 ('Little North') neighborhood. There he founded a school called Siu Buk Hung Sing Choy Li Fut 小北鴻勝蔡李佛. As the name was long, people referred to his school under the name of Buk Sing Choy Li Fut 北勝蔡李佛.

In Guangzhou, Tam Sam's fame continued to rise, to the point where people began to call him the "Legendary Fist of the North", referring to the Siu Buk neighborhood in northern Guangzhou.

At that time, a master of North Shàolín had also settled in Guangzhou. His name was Ku Yu Jeung 顾汝章, and he was a renowned expert in the technique of the iron palm. Tam Sam did not lose the chance to challenge him and they both clashed in a closed-door fight. Although no one knew the result of such an encounter, it is believed that it ended in a draw. In any case, since that time on, both fighters had a great deal of mutual respect and became great friends. Often they themselves and their students exchanged techniques from both schools. Eventually, Tam Sam's Choy Li Fut became known as Buk Sing 北勝 and considered a separate branch.

Tam Sam died in 1942, at the age of 69 years. His descendants regard him as the founder of the Buk Sing branch and trace his lineage from him. As the learning of Tam Sam in the Hung Sing school was not completed, this branch is characterized by very few forms but a great profusion of techniques and to focus on combat. The most famous of these techniques is the Lin Wan Chap Chui 連環插搥, or 'continuous thrust fists', which use the characteristic Leopard Fist of Choy Li Fut.

Some of Tam Sam's disciples settled in Hong Kong and Malaysia, where they keep their legacy alive until today.



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