Tiger-tail kick

A picture taken from an old Chinese kungfu magazine showing Sifu Wong demonstrating a tiger-tail kick in the pattern "Lazy Tiger Stretches Waist"

Question 1

Grand Grandmaster Lam Saiwing writes in his book on Gungji fuk fu kyun (Gongzi fu hu quan) that Venerable Jisin taught Luk Achoi (Lu Acai) in Hoitung (Haizhuang) monastery in Canton, and not in southern Shaolin temple. Can you explain this contradiction? Why are most Hungga (Hongjia) exponents today descendants from Luk Achoi and not Hung Heigun?

— Pavel, Czech Republic


As a great lover of kungfu classics, I too have a copy of the book you mentioned. The book was Grandmaster Lam Sai Weng's work, but was recorded by his disciple using the pen-name Nim Fatt San Yein (which literally means “Mountain Man who Recites the Buddha”). The part in question appears in “Introduction to Kung Tze Fuk Fu Kheun” written by the grandmaster's nephew, Lam Cho, who himself is a kungfu master. The following is my literal translation of the relevant part:

Firstly, one should realize that Chinese writing is concise. The above literal translation would give some idea of Chinese writing. Secondly, unlike many Westerners, the Chinese are generally not so concerned with factual details; they are more concerned with the practical benefits that the writing can give. Hence, the first “Shaolin” above may refer to “Shaolin Kungfu” or to “Shaolin Monastery”.

It does not matter much which is referred to because the end result is about the same. But it is more likely to refer to “Shaolin Monastery”, as the second “Shaolin” obviously indicates. However, it is not stated whether the Shaolin Monastery was at Henan in the north, or at Quanzhow in Fujian, or at Juilian Mountain also in Fujian. With some background knowledge, I would interpret it as the Shaolin Monastery at Juilian Mountain. Similarly, the adjective “first” does not necessarily mean that Luk Ah Choy was Chee Seen's first or most senior disciple. I would interpret it as amongst Chee Seen's disciples who had learnt the Taming-Tiger Set, Luk Ah Choy was the best.

The adjective “his” in “his uncle” was a mistake (which could be made originally, or by the printer). It should be “my uncle”. Wong Fei Hoong did not teach his own uncle, but Lam Cho's uncle, who was Lam Sai Weng. The term “grandpa” does not actually mean “grandfather”; it is a conventional term for a kungfu patriarch.

Now, we come to your questions proper. There was no contradiction why Chee Seen taught Luk Ah Choy at the Hoitung Monastery and not at the southern Shaolin Monastery. He might, or might not, have taught Luk Ah Choy this set at the Shaolin Monastery, but after the monastery was burnt and Chee Seen escaped to Guangdong, Lok Ah Choy often met up with his master.

Although Hoong Ka Kungfu is named in honour of Hong Hei Khoon, most of Hoong Ka exponents today are descended from the lineage of Luk Ah Choy. Please note that Hoong Hei Khoon and Luk Ah Choy did not call their kungfu Hoong Ka, they called it Shaolin. “Hoong Ka” is a modern term; even as recent as Lam Sai Weng's time, which was about 50 years ago, what is now called Hoong Ka by many people was then called Shaolin.

For example, in this kungfu classic Lam Sai Weng and all the others refer to the art as Shaolin, and not as Hoong Ka. Perhaps it may be more appropriate to ask the relevant persons why they call their Shaolin art Hoong Ka, than to ask me why I call my Hoong Ka art Shaolin. Nevertheless, for me there is one significant reason for calling my art Shaolin. i.e. my training programmes are generally “softer” and involves more of qigong than what is usually expected in Hoong Ka training today, which frequently uses sandbags and sometimes weights.

One reason why Hoong Hei Khoon's lineage is not as popular as Luk Ah Choy's, has something to do with the philosophy of his wife and his successors Hoong Man Ting and Wu Ah Piew. Although Fong Wing Choon, who was Hoong Hei Khoon's wife, was a superb fighter, she preferred peaceful living to fighting, knowing that there would be no end to taking revenge. She persuaded her husband not to go after Pak Mei.

Yet, the “crime” of Pak Mei in burning the Shaolin Monastery was too great to be ignored. She did not want the world to point at them and accuse them of choosing comfort over righteousness. So when Hoong Man Ting and Wu Ah Piew decided to fight Pak Mei, she let them go on one condition, that their fight irrespective of success or failure would be the last one.

Thus, after righting the wrong by killing Pak Mei, Hoong Man Ting and Wu Ah Piew as well as Hoong Hei Khoon and Fong Wing Choon retired from society to avoid further fighting. Personally I consider this to be good philosophy. The aim of kungfu training is not to seek fame, or worse, seek revenge, but to enable us to live rewardingly and peacefully

Many, many years later, when Hoong Hei Khoon was in his eighties, a young girl was found fainted outside his doorstep. Hoong Hei Khoon and his wife pitied her and adopted her into the family. She worked hard, serving them as a dutiful daughter, which pleased them very much as they did not have a daughter of their own.

One evening about eight months later she served tea to Hoong Hei Khonn as usual. As he raised the cup to drink, she drove a phoenix-eye fist into a deadly vital point on his left ribs. She fled, leaving a message that she took revenge for her father whom Hoong Hei Khoon had killed many years ago.

That single strike was fatal. In his dying breath Hoong Hei Khoon categorically instructed that no one should go after that girl nor to investigate any further, reminding them of his wife's wisdom that revenge would continue without end. He accepted his karma, blessed the girl and died peacefully, leaving us the memory and heritage of a great master.

On the other hand, Luk Ah Choy's lineage produced Wong Fei Hoong who taught thousands of civil guards during the early Republican period. Wong Fei Hoong was so well known that he was called the “Tiger after the Guangdong Ten Tigers”, and his adventures were made into movie films.

His disciple, Lam Sai Weng, brought his style of kungfu to Hong Kong, where it spread to various parts of the world. The top-class Hong Kong kungfu film director, Lau Ka Leong, who has been instrumental in spreading the popularity of genuine Shaolin kungfu movies throughout the world, is the son of Lau Cham, a disciple of Lam Sai Weng.

Question 2

Can you tell us more about "Ten Tigers of Gwangdong (Guangdong)?


All the "Ten Tigers of Guangdong" were Shaolin lay disciples. They did not studied in the Shaolin Monastery itself, but were directly connected to the southern Shaolin Monastery at Jiulian Mountain or at Quanzhow, having learnt from monks or lay disciples who in turn were from the monasteries before they were burnt.

Although they lived in the later part of the Qing Dynasty in Guangdong Province, they did not appear at the same time as a group. (A Hong Kong video series showing them at the same time and place, is fictitious.) They were about two or three generations after the Five Shaolin Ancestors. The Ten Tigers were Thit Kew Sam, Wong Yein Lam, Wong Khei Yin, Su Hak Fu, Su Hut Yee, Chow Thye, Tham Chai Wen, Wong Cheng Ho, Tit Chee Chan, and See Yu Leong.

Thit Kew Sam was the foremost of the Ten Guangdong Tigers. Thit Kew Sam, which literally means “Iron Bridge Three”, was his nickname because his arms were very powerful; his actual name was Leong Khuen. His internal force came mainly from his training of Thit Seen Khuen, or Iron Wire Set.

Wong Yein Lam was a master of Hap Ka (Family of Knights) Kungfu. Hap Ka Kungfu originated from Lama Kungfu of Tibet, but had been modified and taught by Shaolin monks or lay masters. Wong Yein Lam's teacher was a Shaolin monk called Sheng Loong.

Wong Khei Yin was a disciple of Luk Ah Choy and the father of Wong Fei Hoong. His was well known for his “no-shadow kicks”.

Su Hak Fu was a master of the Black Tiger Style. He was good at the tiger-claw. “Hak Fu” actually means “Black Tiger”; it is uncertain whether it was his real name or nickname.

Su Hut Yee, which means Beggar Su, was originally rich but squandered away his money. He was a master of Hoong Ka Kungfu. He learned from Chan Fook from the southern Shaolin Monastery, and was probably the same Chan Fook who started my lineage from Uncle Righteousness. (Please see below.)

Chow Thye was well known for his staff, known as Tai Cho Chooi Wan Khun, or “Soul-Chasing Staff of the First Emperor”. He shot to fame when he defeated an international boxing champion from France.

Tham Chai Wen was known as “Three-Leg Tham” because of his three kicking techniques. They were tiger-tail kick, sweeping-floor kick, and organ-seeking kick.

Wong Cheng Ho was famous for his Iron Head. He learned his kungfu in a Guangdong temple from a monk belonging to the Shaolin tradition.

Tit Chee Chan means “Iron Finger Chan”; his real name was unknown. Naturally he was expert at the Iron Finger Art.

See Yu Leong was known for the Red Sand Palm. This is an advanced Shaolin art using internal force which leaves a red mark on the skin of an opponent after being struck.

Question 3

What is your Hungga lineage (I know you prefer to call your art Shaolin)? Because you practice Tiger and Crane form, there should be a connection with Wong Feihung or some of his students.


What I practise is Hoong Ka Kungfu, but I call it Shaolin just as my teacher, Uncle Righteousness, and other masters of the old did. (Please see above for more explanation of the terms “Hoong Ka” and “Shaolin”.)

My first kungfu teacher and with whom I learned the longest was Uncle Righteousness, a honorific nickname kungfu circles bestowed on him. His real name was Lai Chin Wah, and he learned from three teachers: Ng Yew Loong, Chu Khuen and Lu Chan Wai.

Ng Yew Loong, who brought Shaolin Kungfu from China to Malaysia, learned from Chan Fook. Chan Fook learned Shaolin Kungfu as a lay disciple at the southern Shaolin Monastery. I do not know whether it was the Shaolin Monastery at Juilain Mountain or at Quanzhow, but I think it was likely to be the one at Juilian Mountain.

It was unlikely, though it was possible, that Chan Fook learned from the Venerable Chee Seen. Judging from the philosophy and practice of the kind of kungfu I have inherited from this lineage, I think the most likely teacher who taught Chan Fook was the Venerable Harng Yein, although in name the Venerable Chee Seen was the master. It is worthy of note that when I was training under Uncle Righteousness, we paid homage to the Venerable Chee Seen on our altar every night before training began.

Chan Fook was not at the monastery when it was burnt by the Qing army. He had returned to his village in Guangdong. Once a bully with his gang terrorized some villagers. Instead of fighting them, he showed them his kungfu skills. He “sat” on his Horse-Riding Stance, put his arms around a hardy tree, and uprooted it! This act put to flight the bully and his gang.

My Tiger-Crane Set, the most fundamental set in Uncle Righteousness's teaching, is different from Wong Fei Hoong's. While Wong Fei Hoong's set consists of 108 patterns, mine consists of only 36.

Yet, there are more tiger patterns and crane patterns in my 36-pattern set than in Wong Fei Hoong's 108-pattern set. This is because while most of the patterns in the longer set are repeated and are from Lohan Kungfu, all the patterns (except the salutation patterns) in the shorter set are different, and almost all of them are of the tiger or the crane patterns. More than 25 years ago, a Chinese kungfu magazine ran a series of articles with me explaining this famous set. Some pictures are reproduced here.

My other teacher who had moulded my kungfu career was Sifu Ho Fatt Nam. He learned from Yeung Fatt Khuen, who in turn learned from the Venerable Jiang Nan who was a monk in the southern Shaolin Monastery. I am not sure whether it was the monastery at Juilian Mountain or at Quanzhow, but I think it was likely to be the latter one. The Venerable Jiang Nan escaped from the southern Shaolin Monastery when it was burnt by the Qing army.

After specifically seeking a successor for about 50 years, he finally transmitted the Shaolin arts to Yeong Fatt Khuen near the Malaysian-Thailand border. After about another fifty years Yeong Fatt Khuen transmitted the Shaolin arts to Ho Fatt Nam. Following the tradition at the southern Shaolin Monastery, disciples engaged in a grand free sparring competition once a year to select “Sap Tai Tei Tze” or the Ten Great Disciples.

From an unplaced position, my master Ho Fatt Nam fought his way through the years to occupy the third position. Before Yeong Fatt Khuen passed away, he appointed Ho Fatt Nam as his successor, because the first great disciple declined due to his old age and the second returned to China for some urgent reasons. My master often told me what his master told him, “hok mo cheen hou, dai che wei seen”, which is in Cantonese meaning, “there is no rule of seniority in learning; whoever achieves earlier is the more advanced”.

Like my master himself before me, I was amongst his last students before his retirement. For me, the huge gap of years between generations in this lineage is a very lucky occurrence — it enabled me to be just three generations from the original source, i.e. the southern Shaolin Monastery before its burning, despite a century and a half between in time. For most people, it would be more than ten generations.

Question 4

Who created Sap ying kyun (Shi xing quan), Five Animals Five Elements Set of Hung style?


Traditionally there is Ng Yein Kheun, or Five-Animal Set, and no Sap Yein Kheun (literally Ten-Form Fist), although in Shaolin Kungfu besides the “five animals” of dragon, snake, tiger, leopard and crane, some masters mention five other minor animals, namely lion, elephant, horse, monkey and jaguar.

But the famous kungfu actor of Hong Kong, Kwan Tuck Hein, a kungfu master who acted as Wong Fei Hoong in a long series of movie films in the 1950s and 60s, invented Sap Yein Khuen, or Ten-Form Set. He combined the five animals of Shaolin with the five elemental processes of metal, water, wood, fire and earth.

These five elemental processes are from Lohan Kungfu. The metal, water, wood, fire and earth processes represent respectively separating, swinging, closing, thrusting and sinking. For example, if an opponent holds your two wrists, you first cross your wrists then separate them with a flick of your arms, yours is a manifestation of the metal process.

The five Shaolin animals and five elemental processes are already found in the 108-pattern Tiger-Crane Set of Hoong Ka Kungfu. Hence, while this Ten-Form Set is a new addition to the repertoire of kungfu sets, it does not add anything new to the philosophy and methods of Hoong Ka Kungfu.

While Kwan Tuck Hein acted extremely well as Wong Fei Hoong, and demonstrated genuine Shaolin (or Hoong Ka) Kungfu in his movies, it is generally not known that he himself was a White Crane Kungfu master. There are actually many styles of White Crane Kungfu, and the one of Kwan Tuck Hein is similar to Lama Kungfu and Hap Ka (Family of Knights) Kungfu, which had their origins in Tibet, with their characteristic techniques of long arms and close fists resembling the wings of a crane, and which are different from the comparatively shorter range techniques of Hoong Ka or the White Crane Kungfu of Fujian Shaolin.

Single-Legged Hungry Crane

Another picture taken from an old Chinese kungfu magazine published in 1972 with Sifu Wong demonstrating a crane pattern

Question 5

I live in a place where there are no kung fu schools and no private teachers, so I try my best on my own. I work out but I feel that something is missing in my workouts. There are 4 parts in my complete workout: A. Power and Strength B. Flexibility C. Techniques D. Chi Kung

— Igal,


It is obvious that you are dedicated to your art and are trying to make the best of what you can. Your classification of your training into the above four groups shows you have done some reading as well as thinking.

But — and this may come as a big surprise to you and many people who may think what you have done is very sensible — you have wasted your time! It is people like you, who are dedicated but are wasting their time, that I would like to help.

The problem is not with what you train, but with how you train. In fact, your classification above is a good move, but your questions and the description of your workout indicate that you have not been training correctly. You will understand more as you read on. You may find my comments unpleasant, but they are meant to help you.

Question 6

Could you tell me how much time I should spare for each one of them. Workout like that will take about 2-4 hours. Each day I exercise for 1-1.5 hours. By that time I only success to work on power exercises and a little of techniques.


What you have described is typical of someone imposing western concepts on kungfu or chi kung training. This is understandable for someone from a western society and has no access to a master or a good school, and therefore has to learn from books or videos.

In such a case, he needs at least 4 hours a day, and after training daily for 20 years (or for his whole lifetime) he achieves little in terms of kungfu or chi kung attainment. He could not, for example, defend himself or generate an internal energy flow, which are basic objectives in kungfu and chi kung training. Worse still, after all these years of training, he may not even be healthy. You probably belong to such a case; that is why I said you had wasted your time.

Someone who has access to a mediocre school or instructor would need about 2 hours a day, but in terms of health and vitality he would achieve in 10 years what the first person above would take 20 years to achieve. In terms of kungfu, he would still not be able to defend himself well because combat application has not been part of the training.

Someone who learns personally from a master will take far less time to achieve the same or better result. For example, instead of spending half an hour or an hour for one exercise in each of the above four categories, students in my intensive chi kung course need to spend only 15 minutes for just one exercise, yet they obtain benefits in all the four categories of power and strength, flexibility, techniques and chi kung!

More significantly, the result is far superior; they will achieve in 6 months what the others may not attain in 20 years, or actualy in their whole lifetime. Although it may not be obvious, the reason is simple. My students do chi kung, but the others do not; and because they do not practise chi kung, no matter for how long they train, they will not get the benefits of chi kung.

Although you, like many other people, may learn chi kung techniques from my books and practise them, you are not doing chi kung although you may think you are. As I have not seen you practise, how do I know you have not been practising chi kung? From your questions. If you had practised chi kung and enjoyed its benefits, you would not have asked me the questions you asked. You would have got the answers from your own experience.

But my chi kung students would not know how to defend themselves because self defence is not an objective of the course. If they want self defence, they have to take my intensive kungfu course, where combat application and internal force training are important components.

For how long a kungfu student needs to train before he is combat efficient, depends on what and how he trains. If he just learns from a book or a video (apart from those who are already well trained, where the book or video is only a supplement), he is unlikely to be combat efficient even if he trains for a whole lifetime. If he learns from a good master, he should be able to handle a blackbelt within three years.

Question 7

Anyway now I'll tell you my weekly workout.

Wake up

  1. The pose of the horse rider.
  2. A little flexibility exercises.
  3. Eight Standing Pieces of Brocade.


  1. Power exercises
  2. Three sets of “Thirty Punches” with dumbbells.
  3. Sparring with dumbbells in hands
  4. Standing on hands trying to walk for 30 seconds
  5. Hitting each leg 36 times as in Thai Boxing.

Before sleep

  1. Flexibility exercises.
  2. Horse-Riding Stance.
  3. Breathing exercises.
  4. Eight Sitting Pieces of Brocade.
  5. Muscle/Tendon Changing Chi Kung (from Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming's "Muscle/Tendon Changing and Marrow/Brain Washing Chi Kung).


You will need at least 3 hours a day to complete this routine, and by the time you have completed it you would no longer have time or energy to do other things. If you continue like this for three years you would become a wrech.

For those looking for secrets of the masters, here is one, though many people may not believe in it. Choose just one suitable force training exercise, and stick to it for at least a year.

In fact, any master seeing your routine will easily conclude that you have not really understood what kungfu or chi kung is. You will have a better idea of your situation if you ask yourself these two questions and sincerely answer them. What do I really want to achieve in my kungfu or chi kung training? Have I after training in these exercises any nearer to my goals?

Question 8

All that I wrote I do every day, but still I feel that it's not all. Maybe power exercises should be done less or should I make any other changes? I feel that all my workout doesn't worth a thing because I don't feel any progress. I'm thinking about buying a Wing Chun Dummy. Maybe then I'll progress.


You have wasted your time, and now you want to waste your money. What are you going to do with a Wing Chun Dummy? It may be useful to those practising Wing Chun Kungfu, but not for you.

Masters have warned that internal force training, which is what some of the exercises you mentioned aim to develop, needs to be practised under a master's supervision, yet you are training at the same time in three or four different types of internal force on your own when you do not have even elementary kungfu experience.

On the other hand, masters have advised that to get the best result, and in the most economical time, learn from a master, yet you are trying different things on your own, presumably from books. If you are serious about kungfu or chi kung, search for a master. This of course is not easy. If there were a master in your area dying to teach you, you don't have to search. You may be unable to stay with the master for a long time, but at least get yourself initiated, then you can practise on your own. This will be your best use of money, time and effort.

Question 9

Once I was a bodybuilder and 3 times I hurt my back. I did many exercises and it helped but still I feel my back hurts like a tootharch. I believe that there is an exercise which restores the back, something like the Horse-Riding Stance, maybe static or active. What should I do first, power exercises or flexibility?


Your back still hurts because what you did were only physical exercises which only relieved your symptom temporary, and that symptom is pain. The cause of the problem, which is energy blockage, remains. To overcome the cause you have to do energy exercise, i.e. chi kung exercise.

Almost any chi kung exercise that “cleanses” can solve your problem. The Horse-Riding Stance and most power development methods are chi kung exercises that “build”, and are therefore not suitable.

You may attain flexibility through physical exercises, but it may aggravate your problem, or at best only remove the symptom. Flexibility attained through chi kung will solve your problem.

application of the crane pattern

As Ah Bah strikes Sifu Wong's solar plexus with a phoenix-eye fist, Sifu Wong moves his body backward, hooks Ah Bah's attacking hand with a crane beak, strikes his right eye with another crane beak to distract the opponent, and kicks at his groins with the instep of the left foot in a pattern called “Single-Legged Hungry Crane”.

Question 10

I appreciate that there is a paradox in Taijiquan — that in order to obtain the ultimate health benefits it is necessary to learn Taijiquan as a martial art. Do you have any advice for Taijiquan students who practice pacifism?

— Dr Hillebrand, South Africa


Yes, and you can choose from the following alternatives the one that is most congenial to your feeling and thinking.

  1. Practise Taiji dance instead of Taijiquan. Taiji dance still gives many benefits, such as socialization, recreation, relaxation, gracefulness, loosening of joints and muscles, and better blood circulation. This in fact is the reason why Taiji dance is so popular although most of its practitioners think, mistakenly, that they themselves are performing Taijiquan.
  2. Practise Taijiquan and not Taiji dance, but leave out the combat dimensions in your training. Basically it means develop internal force in your Taijiquan training but do not engage yourself in sparring. You would have to make some special arrangement with your instructor. Although you will not get as much health benefit as you would participate in the combat dimensions — you would, for example, not be as fast in your thinking and physical reaction — but you will be healthier and fitter than Taiji dancers.
  3. Practise Taijiquan as a martial art, and (not but) convince yourself that it is exactly for pacifism that you want to be combat efficient. This is a paradox, which means it is true although it appears to be contradictory. If you are not combat efficient you cannot have peace, or cannot enjoy peace. If you are weak and cannot defend yourself, you cannot have peace of mind walking down to an underground train station at night, or even walking along a busy street in daytime.

    You can more readily accept this paradox when you realize that pacificism or its counterpart, hostility, and combat efficiency are two different issues. When you are combat efficient, it does not mean you are hostile. In fact it is easier for you to have peace when you are combat efficient than when you are not. Iraq would not invade Kuwait nor would Serbia invade Kosovo had the victims been combat efficient. Indeed it needed the combat efficiency of the UN to restore peace in these war torn countries.

  4. Forget about Taijiquan or Taiji dance, and practise chi kung. If one aims for health and vitality, and leaves aside combat efficiency, practising chi kung is more cost-effective than practising Taijiquan.

Question 11

I have the greatest difficulty applying myself to the learning of combat skills which I regard as not only frighteningly ineffective, but unethical. It is difficult to reconcile the current technologies of violence with the art of hand-to-hand combat designed for use in ancient China.


What you have said above is a matter of opinions, not of facts. And you may change your opinions if you view them from another perspective. The learning of combat skills is ineffective if you learn incorrectly. If you learn Taijiquan as Taiji dance, for example, your learning will be ineffective. If you learn Taijiquan correctly as a combat art you will logically be combat effective.

Your learning of combat skills is unethical if you abuse your skills. If you use your combat skills according to your code of ethics, your learning will be ethical. In other words, whether your learning is ethical or otherwise depends not on what you learn but on whether the application of your learning is guided by your code of ethics.

Let us say your code of ethics dictates that you should help a child in need. On the other hand, because of your pacifism you learn to get yourself away from hostilities. Suppose you see an adult cruelly beating a child. You walk away as you have learnt that confronting the cruel adult would cause hostilities. Here your learning is unethical.

Your linking of current technologies of violence with the ancient art of hand-to-hand combat is your perspective. Someone with a different perspective may see no relationship at all between killing a person with a gun and defending himself with hand-to-hand combat. His perspective is that killing someone is a violent act, whereas defending himself is an act of survival. For him, therefore, there is no basis for reconciliation.

Question 12

Under the circumstances, I have great difficulty understanding how I can ever travel from what you describe as Taiji dance to Taijiquan as a martial art, much as I would like to enjoy the benefits that you describe.


It is like someone saying I want to be a medical doctor but I do not like studying medicine. If you want the benefits of Taijiquan as a martial art, you have to practise Taijiquan as a martial art. If you practise Taiji dance, naturally you will get the benefits of Taiji dance.



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