Nanyang – The South Seas.

July 19, 2009

I’ve spoken about this with brevity before; in fact, about 2 years ago in both  forums that I used to administer and when this blog was created.

The reception wasn’t too warm back then as reflected in the many messages that I’ve received and I, now think, it could be because I spoke prematurely.

The topic of the function that SE Asia played in the migration and evolution of the major arts is not one that is well-documented not even in Mandarin texts.

You have to look hard to find archived documents and even then, most owners are averse to showing it to those outside the immediate kung fu families.

This is also one subject matter that Bun Chung Cho Gar Wing Chun Sifu Ku Choy Wah and I spent  many tea sessions comparing notes.

And really we both agreed that there are good reasons for this indisposition to share attitude.

Starting with that many CKF exponents left the mainland to come to these parts, not so much by choice but because they were involved in fighting the government of the day back then in China and SE Asia is a nearby sanctuary outside the dragnet of the invaders’ government. Many CKF pioneers were “wanted” by the authorities and fled here clandestinely and when they taught students, it’s with an air of secrecy, shunning any publicity of any sort. Over time, this attitude got kind of ingrained and hard to lose.

Gotta tell you I cannot recall the number of times that I’ve heard how early day’s masters resettled here because they had killed someone on the mainland…….

And this is not something that I got out of some Hong Kong movie; you scarcely ever see any of those movies focusing on SE Asia, but through the mouths of many of the custodians of styles/sects that found new homes around here.

Even my own Grand Ancestor’s Sigung, Quek Yong Hor, reportedly killed a Thai boxer in a match and fled to Singapore for fear of reprisal from the locals there.

When we did our “Martial Arts Gathering 2007” in Penang, a group of masters including:-

  • GM Lee Kam Yuen – Current Cheong Mun  of Jow Gar Singapore
  • Sifu Teo Choon Teck – Southern Fukien Grand Ancestor
  • Sifu Liu Chang I – Feeding Crane Taiwan
  • Sifu Ruan Dong – Singing Crane China
  • Sifu Xiong De Lu – 5 Ancestor Boxing Sibu Sarawak
  • Sifu Ting Huat Yong – Fong Yang Dragon/Tiger Boxing Sibu Sarawak
  • Sifu Ting Tiong Kong – Shaolin White Crane Sibu Sarawak
  • Sensei Russ Smith – Goju Ryu Karate USA
  • GM Cheong Wai Por – Cho Gar Ban Chung WCK Malaysia

Sat at a round table meeting in GM Cheong temple premises and the topic discussed was precisely the one that I am talking about here.

The masters started talking about famous CKF personalities who visited and lived in Malaysia during the early days of the Chinese in both east and west Malaysia and that name list is impressive, to say the least!

Names that included the likes of GM Chan Heong/ Choy Li Fut, Jow Lung/ Jow Gar Kuen, Ven Sek of Fukien Saolim and Cho Gar elders from Poon Yu all, at one time or another, relocated from the mainland to Malaysia for a variety of reasons. And this name list is nowhere near comprehensive; they were many others that I am still compiling.

Just these last 2 years, I discovered many more names to add to that list – personal bodyguards of Sun Yat Sen, all experts in the fighting arts and are still mentioned with much respect around here. Kung Fu masters brought over from the mainland to guard the wealthy Chinese conducting their businesses in this region.

And that day in Por Suk’s temple meeting, Shaolin was the central theme. I was told that if you visit some of the temples in Penang, there are remnant articles that attest that Penang is one of the sites that fleeing Shaolin monks used as a safe haven.

The normally portrayed “5 Elders of Shaolin”, according to the masters, really refers to “5 Divisions” and 2 of those 5 left the mainland during that era.

One found roots in Taiwan and Penang is considered by CKF elders to be the 5th and that’s why over years, many CKF luminaries called here.

Through my White Crane elders, I have always knew that Penang is unique in the migratory paths of the arts but to hear that it could be one of the 5 Shaolin divisions is startling.

Those of you familiar with “Hung Mun” or “Chinese Triads” must know what position Penang has in that realm; this is not something that I want to discuss openly.

The one thing that I love most browsing mainland websites is reading their versions of what happened to the arts prior to the “cultural revolution”; before the streamlining and reforming to meet “central committees” policies.

This is the missing piece that I need for a better understanding of the history of CKF in SE Asia.

Got another piece of a CCTV documentary here about the history of Choy Li Fut and in the clip, you’ll hear how GM Chan Heong actually left China for a spell and came to SE Asia.

He taught his CLF to the local Chinese before returning to the mainland eventually.

And folks I an NOT saying that this applies here in the case of CLF, but the so-called “village styles” that you sometimes hear, I think, could be precisely this.

Masters coming here to teach the locals and leaving seeds for new trees to sprout that many are just now beginning to find out.

It’s like what someone said in a forum – it’s simpler than you think!

And I couldn’t agree more………

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