November 24, 2007
So why Penang, you might ask?
For us, it was a decision of expediency; Malaysia is celebrating this year’s “Chinese Cultural Festival” in that State and traditional martial arts are going to be notably featured, so there is good synergy for us to debut there.
Another reason, although I did not realize this earlier, emerged from an impromptu mini-conference attended by Por Suk, Teo Choon Teck, Lee Kam Yuen, Liu Chang I and other Zhou Jia elders, when we found ourselves stranded, on a heavy downpour day, at Por Suk’s temple – located at the foot of Penang famed Buddhist temple, Kek Lok Si.
We were talking about migratory paths of the various arts from the mainland to SE Asia.
Then someone brought up that Kek Lok Si must have special significance considering the fact that many prominent CKF figures visited, apparently to do more than just site-seeing.
Among them were the Zhou brothers (Zhou Jia Quan), Choy Lee Fut elders and other masters from Canton and Fukien.
And as the discussion continued, I was told than most CKF histories were passed down by KF families, scholars or the general population through folklores etc…
There is, however, another mode of transmission that is not regularly spoken of and that is through the “Hung Moon” or “Ang Men”. This is commonly translated to the “underground triads” which is right to a certain extent. Specifically, it’s referring to organizations formed to overthrow the Manchus.
We had masters from both Canton and Fukien styles present in the pow wow that day and it was captivating to hear them talk and compare “Hung Moon” poems.
One in particular stands out and loosely translated, it says “Honor the 3 heroes and respect the 5 ancestors”. This is something that is recited during initialization ceremony for admission into the Hung Doors.
The 5 Ancestors, contrary to popular beliefs, do not refer to 5 individuals.
Rather, it indicate escapees from the sacked Shaolin temple that fled to 5 locations.
The next stanza of the poem described exactly where the 5 locations are; one of these divisions fled to Malaysia and resettled in Malaca and Penang.
Coming from such a diverse group of masters, this info is something that I would not dismiss easily.
Later, I remembered a book that I read a while back, talking about Nanyang Chinese resettling in Malaysia.
Call it coincidence or what, the author spoke extensively about the Hakka, Fukien and Cantonese forming their various “kongsi” or “gangs” in those 2 places.
And many of these “kongsi” members were suspected to be solders or fighters fleeing the Manchus; they all brought fighting skills with them.
November 24, 2007
The Chinese has a phrase “prized sword still young” to refer to someone, senior of age, but still performing or functioning at the peak.
To use this phrase on someone like GM Wong Pak Chong is truly fitting.
In his 70s, vibrant in propagating his 7 Stars Praying Mantis and still find the time/energy to hike a local Penang hill every week is something you would expect only from a younger man.
I remember the first time I met him in Chin Woo Penang and we were on the rooftop watching his students; this is precisely the way I remember CKF training to be when I was a kid.
They were doing 2 men drills, applications, weapons training and solo forms in the way only Northern stylists are capable of… all over the place… over and over again……..
Sifu Chong is another one of those who don’t mince words when it comes to CKF. To him, too much time is wasted on theories and if a technique works, it’s simply that you train to make it work.
That’s why it’s called “kung fu” or “time, effort and work”.
Northern or Southern is nothing more than textbook demarcation to him. He went on to reveal how his “trapping hands” are just like any others found in more popular southern systems.
You know the more I talk to masters in their 60s and 70s, the more I feel their conviction in the individual styles that they picked.
Maybe, just maybe it’s not the art but the fact that these masters have spent 50 years or more into honing their skills…whatever the style.
Continuous polishing keeps the sword sharp.
Top 2 pictures, you see GM Wong.
Bottom picture showing Michael Khoo – GM Wong’s disciple.
November 24, 2007
Geok Gar Kuen or Yue Jia Quan is one of those styles that I knew very sketchily; mostly from old books and magazines that made brief references to it.
Tracing origin back to Yue Fei, personally, I always relate this with northern styles. Of course, the other 2 styles commonly linked to Yue Fei would be Hsing I and Ying Jow both having roles in the armies of historical China.
Then there is also this one old book featuring a form named Yue Fei Quan – the author, again, stemmed from northern pugilism.
When I first heard about a Hakka style with the same moniker, I just didn’t know what to make of it considering that I have never seen anything from this line.
I think it was my White Crane sifu who first mentioned the Hakka Geok Gar and his supposition was that the Hakka were initially from the “central plains”, thought of by many to refer to the harsh northern regions of China. Moving southwards was seeking for more conducive living environments according to many elders that I spoke to.
If they did originated in the north, then it’s rational that Hakka Geok Gar could be an offshoot from something Yue Fei formulated to train his troops.
And that the system should then consist of skill sets signifying northern persuasions.
So meeting Sifu Cheong Hon Heon, one of the very few still able to do Hakka Geok Gar, was a long awaited opportunity.
I got so many questions….
All of which kind of disappeared when I saw him in action; maybe it’s just me but his Geok Gar did show many techniques one would associate with northern folks.
Eeerrrh, northern kung fu done with a Hakka flavor maybe?
Something else very interesting also caught my eyes and that’s the way they open-salute; never seen this done anywhere else before except Malay Silats…
The “touching the chest” gesture is something you expect to see a Muslim do…and most Muslims in China are located in the North …….
Sifu Cheong is another lifelong CKF practitioner and now teacher, still very enthusiastically involved in all sorts of events all over Malaysia.
A food stall operator in the day, he was talking to me about how this generation must buck up to ensure that traditional arts don’t die out.
Many systems are on the verge of dying because of lack of promotion and commitment.
Well, this is one Sifu who is not all talks; he is setting a fine example of what must be done to retain the arts.
To quote someone from a Kung Fu forum;” I will not be the generation to kill the arts.”
Hear hear ……
November 24, 2007
Top – Cover of Master Cheong’s DVD. Bottom – Master Cheong and Sifu Liu Chang I.
Like many others, I suppose, my first impressions of Master Cheong Cheng Loong, come from reading the books he co-authored some years back.
So when I arranged to meet him in Penang, earlier this year, I was a little uneasy. I mean here’s a Sifu who is somewhat of a personality in the international scene and from the little I heard of him through friends, a strictly no-nonsense man.
That evening, climbing up the steps of Kek Lok Si to reach his school, I was mentally prepared to face the “been there, done that” attitude.
Boy, I couldn’t be more wrong.
Master Cheong is one of the nicest peoples I’ve met in Penang so far. So genteel that it hard to perceive him as a CKF man. Not until he starts cracking the air with his phoenix eye fists of course.
And I mean CRACKING – you really hear the “swooshing” when he executes that single-knuckle punch.
Plus he has that cat-like deftness that makes you doubt he is in his 70s … this is not real!
Here’s another man who has basically stuck to one “plan” all his life – the same profession (running his family nutmeg products business), the same kung fu and still teaching in the same school featured in his first book.
Now already a grandfather, he is showing no sign of slowing down as far as his kung fu commitments are concerned.
To be able to co-operate with a Sifu of this skill level and stature is really the best part of my “job”.
We need more of Master Cheong around ………..