William Chung, 1935-2009

It is with the profoundest sorrow that I must mark the death of Grandmaster William J. Chung, who was my kung-fu master for many years. He had been suffering from cancer, and collapsed at his home in New Jersey a few days ago. Attempts to revive him failed.

Master Chung was one of the most important influences in my life. In late 1975 I was a wild and fractious 19-year-old, and a friend who had just joined a class being taught by one of Master Chung’s disciples at the youth center in Princeton, where I then lived, suggested I give it a try. I was deeply impressed by the grace and power of the Hung Gar system being taught there, and signed up at once. After a couple of weeks I was invited to attend one of the classes being taught by Master Chung himself, and was so bowled over by his formidable presence and obvious command of his art that I resolved at once to do whatever it would take to learn whatever he could teach me.

“Whatever it would take” turned out to be an awful lot. For two years I pretty much dropped everything and attended classes with Master Chung five or six days a week — in Princeton, at his home in Spotswood, at the firehouse in Jamesburg, and at the old Aaron Banks karate academy on Broadway in Manhattan. The Hung Gar system involves, perhaps more than any other style, ruthless conditioning of the body — in particular the training of the legs for its deep, low stances, and of the forearms with endless blocking drills — and Master Chung, who had been a drill instructor in the Army, was a pitiless taskmaster. But after a year or two under his lash I was transformed: my body and will were hardened, and my childish habits of sloth and indiscipline burned and beaten out of me.

It was not easy being one of his inner circle of students. He had grown up in New York’s Chinatown in the strict southern-Chinese kung-fu tradition — he was a disciple of the great Gin Foon Mark, as well as having trained in the Lam Sai Wing Hung Gar lineage — and expected total dedication from his own disciples. We were often called upon to run some errand or perform some menial task, and there were endless demands in the form of meetings, impromptu training sessions, performances, and ceremonial occasions, including the annual Chinese New Year trek through the frozen streets and alleys of Chinatown — which in those days before New York City’s ban on explosives, was more like a tour of duty in Vietnam than a parade. But for what we got in return it was a bargain.

Master Chung was a man of frightening phsyical mien. He was not tall, but was as stocky as a pit bull, and inhumanly strong. He had hands like meathooks, scarred and discolored from decades of Iron Palm training, and a round, grim face with jutting jaw and glittering dark eyes. His unslender middle belied an extraordinary agility, and his hands moved like lightning, with deadly accuracy. He had a quick temper, and every single one of us was utterly, abjectly terrified of him.

For all that, though, he was very fond of, and fiercely loyal to, his students, and he had a marvelous sense of humor. He also loved the opera, and sometimes, having invited some of us over for an afternoon of training, he would spend the time instead serving us tea and playing music for us. He was very fond of horses, and often took us on riding outings in the park near his house.

Master Chung in 1968

…and earlier this year

 
Much of what I am as a man today I owe to Master Chung. By the time I earned my black belt from him in 1982 or so I had learned, of course, an awful lot about Hung Gar and Praying Mantis kung fu — including some things that I think most students of such matters these days will never learn from anyone — but he had also taught me some far more important lessons: that there are some things in life that are worth working and suffering patiently for; that everything of value in this world, without exception, must be paid for; that the greatest blessings often require an act of submission; and that no matter how tough you think you are, there is always somebody tougher.

We parted ways in the late 1980s — I will not go into the details here — and I never saw him again after that. A few months ago, having heard he was ill, I sent him an email, and had been hoping to pay him a visit. The last I had heard was that he was cancer-free, and recovering; the news of his relapse and death was a terrible shock. My thoughts go out to his many friends, students, and disciples, and of course to his son Phil, an extraordinary martial artist in his own right.

Thank you, Sifu. May you rest in peace.

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25 Comments

  1. Condolences, Malcolm. I wanted to leave a message sooner, but my university computer made it difficult.

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

    Posted September 30, 2009 at 6:29 am | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Thanks, Jeffery.

    Posted September 30, 2009 at 10:29 am | Permalink
  3. Rik says

    any information as far as services, funeral, etc? Where can lai-see be sent?

    Posted September 30, 2009 at 12:06 pm | Permalink
  4. bob koepp says

    “there are some things in life that are worth working and suffering patiently for; that everything of value in this world, without exception, must be paid for; that the greatest blessings often require an act of submission; and that no matter how tough you think you are, there is always somebody tougher.”

    Whatever you paid in the way of blood, sweat, tears or gold for these lessons, it’s a pittance.

    Posted September 30, 2009 at 12:15 pm | Permalink
  5. Malcolm says

    Thanks, Bob.

    I paid dearly, in every one of those currencies and several others — and it was the best deal I ever had.

    Posted September 30, 2009 at 12:27 pm | Permalink
  6. MikeZ says

    My condolences, Malcolm.

    – M

    Posted September 30, 2009 at 3:16 pm | Permalink
  7. Kevin Kim says

    I’m sorry for your loss.

    Posted October 1, 2009 at 4:15 am | Permalink
  8. Jack says

    Malcolm,

    That was a really nice piece you wrote on GM Chung. Thanks. It was nice talking to you today.

    By the way, Sifu was born in 1935.

    Posted October 3, 2009 at 5:31 pm | Permalink
  9. jeanne look says

    A very moving and beautifully written homage………Marc and I send condolences

    Posted October 3, 2009 at 6:14 pm | Permalink
  10. The Stiletto says

    A beautiful, evocative tribute. I grieve with you for your loss.

    Posted October 4, 2009 at 10:59 pm | Permalink
  11. Thank you for honoring Grand Master. I’m the Florida disciple in the photo with Grand master and my youngest son. This photo was taken at my school at his visit in May.

    Posted October 13, 2009 at 3:44 am | Permalink
  12. Malcolm says

    You’re welcome, Julio. Looks like a good kwoon you have there.

    Posted October 13, 2009 at 10:43 am | Permalink
  13. russell says

    He was a very Impresive teacher

    Posted April 12, 2010 at 9:38 am | Permalink
  14. Master Howard Sweeney says

    I am that disciple who was teaching in Princeton at the youth center. This is my first knowledge of sifu’s passing!!! He was truly a great man who spread the art of chinese kung fu,and his spirit still lives on in all of us that still practice and teach.

    Posted May 15, 2010 at 4:15 pm | Permalink
  15. Master Howard Sweeney says

    Malcom how is Tom, e mail me at wonglaoshi.van@g mail.com and where is philip?

    Posted May 15, 2010 at 4:26 pm | Permalink
  16. What a great loss to the martial arts world to hear that Master Chung has passed away….I knew him since the early 70’s when we both officated at S.Henry Cho’s early tourney’s.. I inducted him into my Hall of Fame in 1999 as a ‘Martial Arts Legend ‘ and he’ll always be one in my mind… May God bless him..

    Posted July 26, 2010 at 4:10 am | Permalink
  17. Malcolm says

    Yes, a very great loss indeed.

    I was at some of those tournaments with Master Chung, and remember them well.

    Posted July 26, 2010 at 9:52 am | Permalink
  18. Joe B says

    Grandmaster William J. Chung was a great man with fast hands and a big heart. It is sad he is gone. I first met him when I was only 15 years old after becoming one of his students. Sifu would have a way about him that would scare the daylight out of you but he was an incredible teacher who loved his students. I will never forget how kind he was to me when I was a kid and all I learned from him. I can still here this mans voice yelling horse stance hut!!!

    Thank you Sifu you will be missed!!

    Posted August 4, 2010 at 11:51 am | Permalink
  19. Timothy Jones says

    My brother and I both study under Grand Master Chung starting in 1972. I grew up with his son Philip and went to school together. My brother and I both became Black belts and disciples. We study for many years and with some of the real old time students. Not enough can be said about the great lessons of life that I learned from the Grand Master and I still think of him often. God bless you Grand Master. Tim

    Posted October 27, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Permalink
  20. Paul says

    Hi,

    I just revisited the page, and wanted to reach out and ask if there are still classes being held that have strict methods of GM Chung? I’m central NJ.

    Thank you

    info@greenfuseservices.com I don’t want to give out my personal email.

    I was a student in middlesex collage, and visited GM many times. So sad still.

    Posted December 4, 2013 at 7:53 pm | Permalink
  21. Chris K says

    I was one of his disciples for many years and that was a huge part of my life. For a while, I used to teach his classes at Middlesex County College. I moved away and never got back in touch with him, and never knew about him being sick or about his death. I really wish I had gotten to see him again before the end.

    I’m older and my body is out of shape now, and I miss training. But even after all these years, my body still clearly bears the marks of more than a decade of heavy hung-gar training, like that wonderful forearm muscle that sticks out at a right angle to my elbow like somebody implanted a golf ball under my skin.

    I can still remember crossing hands with Grandmaster in his living room like it was only a couple years ago.

    Thank you for this wonderful memorial.

    Posted April 2, 2015 at 10:07 pm | Permalink
  22. Jonel says

    I will miss the one on one sessions in the garage after shoveling snow.

    Posted May 21, 2015 at 12:43 am | Permalink
  23. Mac says

    Thank you for posting this tribute to William Chung. I have been searching the internet for years looking for info on Mr. Chung or his son Philip, but my searches were in vain until tonight. I hope no one will take offense when I refer to the great master as “Mr. Chung”. That is what I knew him as, and that is what feels most comfortable to me as I type these words.

    I took Kung-Fu classes under Master Chung in the early 1970’s. I remember the “Master’s Bow” that we had to execute at the beginning and ending of each class. We didn’t call him “Master” in those classes, but everyone knew that he was an 8th degree black belt. We also knew that any person who was a 7th degree black belt or higher was considered to be a Master.

    Most of the time, Mr. Chung was quiet, attending to paperwork in a small corner of the room, whilst black belts such as Vinnie Immendola or Rocky Edison tended to run the classes. But Mr. Chung made his presence known during every class with the following exchange:

    Master Chung: Anybody tired?

    Class: NO SIR!

    Master Chung: Everybody happy?

    Class: YES SIR!

    One evening was very memorable. The pilot for the TV series “Kung-Fu” was shown for the first time, as an ABC “Movie of the Week”. Two television sets were brought into the gym, and we stopped to watch the pilot and then continued with the rest of the class.

    His son Philip had become a black belt in kindergarten, and he attended nearly every class. He was a superb fighter. But his father, Master Chung, was beyond belief. The handful of times I watched him free fight with a student, he did so with one hand held behind his back. He didn’t need the other hand; he was as fast as lightning.

    Each class ended with the following exchange:

    Head Instructor: Master’s bow, HUT!

    Master Chung: On your feet…(and then in a very pleasant tone of voice)…Good Night!

    Good Night Master Chung.

    Posted July 3, 2015 at 7:51 pm | Permalink
  24. I was a student for a short time of one of Master Chung’s students(Peter Robinson) back in the mid to late 70’s. I attended a master’s ceremony in 1975 for Peter and Master Chung’s son(Philip). Peter died in 2010. See FB page – Chinese Shaolin Kung Fu Association

    Posted August 26, 2016 at 2:51 pm | Permalink
  25. John C says

    Sorry to hear of Grandmaster Chung’s passing. I actually learned about it from a karate master who used to train with him. They bonded over Grandmaster Chung’s Iron Palm and the karate guy’s gnarled knuckles. I was disciple in the early-90’s and trained at MCCC and his house. Watching Wheel Of Fortune in the living room before we started training. Many Chinese New Year parades before the fireworks ban! It was a great time to train and I learned much.

    Posted November 14, 2016 at 8:41 am | Permalink