Southern Style

Visitors to this site (they already number in the tens, in just a few short months) may have noticed the “Martial Arts” link category over in the sidebar. As of this writing there are four links, of which three-quarters seem to be about something called “Hung Ga”, or “Hung Gar”.

So what’s the deal? I shall explain.

Hung Ga, aka Hung Gar, aka Hung Kuen, is a southern Chinese kung fu system that is at least four hundred years old, but which incorporates martial-arts methods far older. As with much of Chinese history, it is hard to separate fact from legend, but the stories all go back to the Siu Lam (Shaolin) Temple, where fighting monks loyal to the Ming emperors were slaughtered by the invading Ch’ings. The temple was burned, and only a few escaped, to become the core of a resistance movement that is the subject of countless tales. These five spread the Shaolin fighting arts throughout southern China.

The word “ga” means “clan”, or “family”, and by the 1700s there were five principal family styles in the south. They were Hung Ga, Choy Ga, Lau Ga, Lei Ga, and Mok Ga. The Hung family system is named for Hung Hei Gwoon, who had studied Siu Lam kung fu in secrecy from the master Gee Sim, and took the surname Hung (his original name was Jiu) in honor of the first Ming emperor Jiu Hung Mo. He called the system Hung, rather than Siu Lam, to conceal its source. An excellent, and greatly more detailed, history, can be found here.

Hung Ga is an exceptionally fierce close-quarters fighting system. It is characterized by low, strongly rooted stances and forceful hand techniques. The training is grueling, and many who begin practicing the style give it up after a few weeks or months. But those who have the temperament for it, and who are willing to suffer the long hours of conditioning for the months and years that it takes for the training to take hold, are able to block and strike with extraordinary power, and to absorb heavy blows without noticeable effect.

There are several stances used in Hung Ga, but the central posture, and the gateway to all of the system’s power, is known as the “horse-riding stance”, or simply “horse stance”. The feet are planted wide and parallel, the knees are spread, and the body is lowered so that the thighs are almost horizontal. The back is erect, the shoulders relaxed, and for training purposes the fists are closed and held at the hips, with the elbows pulled together behind. Students spend a great deal of time in this posture. I recall once having to maintain this stance for forty-five minutes in my second year or so of training (my teacher was in a foul mood that day).

In addition to strong stancework Hung Ga also emphasizes the concept of the “bridge”, which refers to the connection between the body, where power is generated, and the striking hand. To this end students spend countless hours conditioning the hands and forearms. The forearms harden to the point that blocking takes on an offensive quality; it is not uncommon for a skilled Hung practitioner to numb or even break an opponent’s arm with a forearm block.

The Hung system includes in its organizing principles the traditional Chinese elements of Earth, Water, Wood, Fire, and Metal, and also features stylistic components based on the movements of five different animals: the Tiger, Crane, Leopard, Dragon, and Snake. Each of these animals moves in a different way, and has a different fighting “spirit”. Mastering the subtleties of these ten features, in their various combinations, is a lifelong study.

I first came to the Hung system in January of 1976, at the age of 19, when a friend of mine invited me to try out a class he had just discovered in my hometown of Princeton, New Jersey. I had some previous experience in Judo (my father was a world-class expert), and was curious to try something new. The teacher was a formidable man by the name of William Chung, who in addition to being a kung fu grandmaster had also been a drill instructor for the 101st Airborne Division. I was terrified of him, but sensed immediately that I had stumbled across something quite extraordinary. Master Chung, who taught the version of the system named for the master Lam Sai Wing, was one of the few Chinese masters to teach authentic kung fu to “round-eyes”, and by the end of the first class I was hooked. I studied with him until we had a “falling out” (I won’t tell that story here) in the mid-80s; by that time, as a black belt, I had already reached instructor’s rank, and with a demanding new career, and a growing family, I withdrew from formal training, practicing often, teaching a few students, but pretty much putting serious activity on hold.

My second wave of learning began in 1993 when I met my present teacher, Sifu Peter Berman, in my new hometown of Brooklyn. He was in turn a disciple of the Grandmaster Yee Chee Wai (Frank Yee), and began teaching me a closely related branch of the Hung system that derived from the early 20th-century master Tang Fong. I have been with Sifu Berman ever since.

Blog posts are supposed to be of reasonable length, and it is late, so I will take up this topic again another time. Meanwhile, I invite the curious to browse the sites linked to in the sidebar back at the waka waka waka homepage.

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  1. By waka waka waka » Blog Archive » The Real Deal on November 10, 2006 at 1:44 am

    […] I began my instruction in Chinese martial arts in late 1975, when I was 19, under the tutelage of Sifu William Chung, a native New Yorker who had by then moved to Spotswood, New Jersey. For the first couple of years, having no other urgent business, I attended my sifu’s classes six days a week — one day in Princeton, my home town, two days at a karate school run by the noted sensei and tournament impresario Aaron Banks (that was in Manhattan, on Broadway somewhere in the 50’s), one day at the Jamesburg, N.J. firehouse, and two days at Master Chung’s house. Master Chung, in turn, had got most of his own instruction from his sifu, the great Master Mark, though he had learned much of his Lam Sai Wing Hung Ga from other teachers — in the lineage, if memory serves, of the renowned Lum Jo. […]