From close attention to detail in training, to the need to get rid of ‘fly-by-night instructors’, Chan Hon Chung covered a lot of ground in this wide-ranging interview with Real Kung Fu magazine.
Tit Shien Kuen (Iron Wire Form) is a renowned legacy of Tit Kiu Sam (The Iron Bridge Sam), one of the ten tigers of Kwangtung province.
Tit Shien Kuen stresses on the use of bridging hand movements, contained in the 12 methods of the Kang (Firmness), Yo (Softness), Pi (Crowding), Che (Straight), Fen (Dividing), Ding (Steadiness), Chun (Inch), Te (Lift), Lau (Reserve), Wun (Sending), Chih (Control), and Ting (Finalise). It places equal stress on Yin and Yang and uses breathing to stimulate the energy for a pincer-like effect.
Frequently in releasing the breath during the practice of this form, one hears expression of joy, anger, sadness and happiness naturally uttered by the practiser. The effectiveness of the form of martial arts can penetrate the bloodstream to invigorate the physical being so that one can prolong life and retain good health. This is a most beneficial art.
Sifu Chan Hon Chung, in his early years, learned authentic kung fu methods from Lam Sai Wing, who specialised in Tit Shien Kuen. Though Sifu Chan is now a venerable 67, he is still going strong. He took time out to describe Tit Shien Kuen for RKF. The entire repertoire of Tit Shien Kuen involves more than 100 movements, each of which is able to invigorate and improve lung power.
If one’s breathing is not up to par, then the movements cannot be accomplished. But the still strong and vigorous Sifu Chan Hon Chung is able to retain his youthfulness to a remarkable degree. He is living proof of the efficacy of the Tit Shien Kuen’s health-giving propensities.
Sifu Chan Hon Chung has the name of “Mr Goodness and Kindness” in the world of martial arts. He is loyal, steady and works at all times for public good. His contributions to the now flourishing Hong Kong General Association of Chinese Martial Arts have been especially noteworthy. He has worked untiringly for the establishment, development and expansion of this association.
Since his youth, Sifu Chan has worked to propagate Chinese martial arts for the sake of martial arts itself. Ten years flashed by like the passing of a single day. In his early years, he was the instructor of a voluntary company of swordsmen in Shun Teh county in Kwangtung province and an assistant instructor of martial arts for the Kowloon YMCA Martial Arts Training Class for youth. In 1938 he established the Chan Hon Chung Gymnasium to teach Hung Gar (Hung Family) kung fu. At the same time he had a clinic of chiropracty.
His disciples grew to great numbers and he spent much effort in training new young talents. With the establishment of the Hong Kong General Association of Chinese Martial Arts, he took on the additional task of organising this group. He has served in the association as Chairman and President; Sifu Chan indeed merits his reputation as a pillar of the Hong Kong martial arts scene.
Sifu Chan was active from the day of his birth in 1909 at Hing Ling county in Kwangtung province. At the age of 19, he arrived in Hong Kong to participate in the Martial Arts Group branch of Lam Sai Wing’s Chinese Martial Arts Society. He took up the authentic Hung Gar style of kung fu.
“Hung Gar kung fu is one that is based on a low stance and one stresses firmness of the waist area. I was still quite young when I started learning this style and I had the vigour of youth then. I was greatly intrigued by this style of kung fu that depends so much on physical strength and energy. But I always used to feel that my hands and legs were much too rigid when I started my training.
“I would sometimes practise one single movement for as long as three or four months and still not feel satisfied. I felt I had to train still harder and I used to get up at 4 or 5 o’clock in the pre-dawn to practise. At night I returned to the gymnasium at 7pm. I would continue practising until midnight before calling it a day.
“During these hours, I would persist in areas that I knew I was weak in. I would also engage in practice bouts with my fellow students. I paid close attention to the bridging hand movements then. In those days, not many sparring partners could be found, and I often would have a terrible itch for action.
“Always, I practised until I had attained a standard set down by myself before I could feel at ease. Because I worked so hard at it, I was able to accomplish in one day what most people had to take a whole week to cover.
“Some people who saw me said that I had attained a stage possible only after a year of training; actually, I had only been training for a few months then.” Sifu Chan was describing his early days in learning martial arts.
“If one student at a gymnasium was especially hard working, then he was apt to influence the habits of all the other students, so progress was especially noticeable during the period when they trained together. By the time I had been at the gymnasium for a little more than a year, I was already an assistant instructor.
“I have a special way of training – I demand perfection in every single movement of every single style. That’s why I often spend two hours on one single movement when I practise it. One of the basic requirements of teaching is to demand correct hand movements. If you yourself cannot achieve this perfection, then you certainly will not be able to teach others to do so.
“The main advantage of being an assistant instructor at that time was that it enabled my own progress to speed up. Because I often feared that I was not good enough to instruct others, I worked doubly hard. This is how I gained such a good foundation for my basic martial arts knowledge.
“In 1936 I went to Canton from Hong Kong on business. This was just at the time of Japanese aggression against China and the wartime atmosphere was already tensing up. In Canton, they were forming companies of swordsmen and I was asked to help in training them.
“When I later had to go to Shun Teh county on business, I was asked by the county authorities to set up a company of volunteer swordsmen there. Each establishment was asked to provide two volunteers for this company and by the time the training class had been in operation for a few days, we already had several hundred volunteers taking part.
“It has been more than 30 years now since I first established the Hon Chung Gymnasium in Hong Kong in 1938. I have always held that Chinese martial arts is an athletic sport and not only to be used in fighting. The ultimate goal of athletics is, of course, self-protection. I often remind my disciples to keep in mind the teaching of Chinese martial arts that martial ethics must be maintained.”
Sifu Chan Hon Chung then changed the subject a bit to speak of the founding of the General Association. “In 1969 a group of Chinese martial artists came to Hong Kong from Singapore to discuss the holding of a Southeast Asian Chinese martial arts competition.
“Some of us in Hong Kong met the group over a dinner and the Singapore group leader Chan Hon Shing suggested that Hong Kong should have an association to co-ordinate and expand Chinese martial arts here. Everybody present at the gathering agreed it was a good idea and we immediately got together a preparatory committee.
“The next day we met again. Among others, Woo Siu Po, Kwan Wai Shin, Luk Chih Fu, and Lieu Chi Keung were present. Every style and school of kung fu was represented. I was elected one of the preparatory committee members and also as convenor. The registration came through formally on August 16 of that year and on May 16 1970 we held our first general meeting. This was how the Hong Kong General Association of Martial Arts came into being.
“I was startled by the speed with which the association progressed. Originally I thought our task would be none too easy, mainly because the components of the association all belonged to different styles and schools of training. To get all these diverse elements together was not so easy.
“But, quite unexpectedly, everyone seemed to understand that without unity, Chinese martial arts would never get anywhere. So everyone worked closely as one unit, and in a few years, there have been enormous achievements. We have had several martial arts exhibitions, every one of which has had considerable success.
“But this doesn’t mean to say that everything is roses with the association; there is a lot that remains to be improved. But we have exerted our best effort. I myself still have three points that I wish to see accomplished.
“First, I hope to see the establishment of a martial arts training class operated by the association. I wish every school of kung fu to choose one responsible, experienced person to be responsible for training its own personnel. For the advanced class, applicants must have at least six years of experience in the field and they must undergo one year of training. Instructors must be held responsible for the correction of errors in their disciples’ methods.
“At the end of the training period, the association must be responsible for sending out inspectors and invigilators to see how the students have done before they graduate. Those who pass through successfully will receive a diploma to testify that the graduate is now qualified to instruct others in that style of kung fu. This would raise the standard of teaching in the field. This would also get rid of all those fly-by-night instructors, who are too numerous at present.
Chan Hon Chung meets Queen Elizabeth II in 1973, when he was awarded a medal for for his contribution to the community and martial arts in Hong Kong
“My second hope is that aside from sponsoring exhibitions, the association will also sponsor competitions, in which the competitor will be graded as to his movements, prowess and strength to determine the winners.
“This is because some people who take up martial arts do so not to win fights, but as a means of keeping physically fit. All styles would take part and each would thus receive encouragement.
“My third hope is that a Southeast Asian competition can be held in Hong Kong. Hong Kong has lacked the facilities so far, so that none of the competitions have ever been held here. Once the Hunghom Sports Stadium (a large sports stadium being built by the Hong Kong Government) is finished, and if we can rent the facilities there, then we should have the ability to hold the Southeast Asian competitions in Hong Kong.
“If the competitions can be held under the auspices of the Association and use its funds, then we may eventually be able to erect our own facilities for long-term use by local competitors.”
Sifu Chan Hon Chung is a man of vision and of hope, as well as of a will to work. We can only hope, with him, that his dreams will be realised soon.