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A History and Style Guide of Choy Li Fut Kung Fu


A History and Style Guide of Choy Li Fut Kung Fu - Bruce Lee is a martial arts hero to many. Muay Thai has already been proven to be a highly effective striking style. So when Lee speaks of Choy Li Fut in glowing terms relative to the Thai fighting art, such as he did in the book Between Wing Chun and Jeet Kune Do, he gives the kind of praise that can make an art famous.

"Choy Li Fut is the most effective system that I've seen for fighting more than one person," said Lee. "[It] is one of the most difficult styles to attack and defend against. Choy Li Fut is the only style [of kung fu] that traveled to Thailand to fight the Thai boxers and hadn't lost."

Ready to learn about Choy Li Fut now? Here is its story.

Choy Li Fut History

Choy Li Fut (Cantonese) or Cai Li Fo (Mandarin) is a style of kung fu. Of course, when it comes to the Chinese martial arts, origins are often difficult to trace. Though the history of Choy Li Fut isn't as complex as some, this is still the case. Therefore, like nearly all of the Chinese styles, assumptions based on little documentation have been made. Following are the general beliefs that many historians have regarding the style's origins.

The founder of Choy Li Fut was Chan Heung (AKA- Din Ying, Daht Ting, Chen Xiangong, and Chen Xiang). Heung was born on August 23, 1806, in King Mui, a village in the San Woi (Xin Hui) district of China's Guangdong province.

The story of Choy Li Fut, however, does not start with Chan Heung. Rather, it begins with his uncle, Chan Yuen-Wu, a boxer from the Shaolin Temple. At the age of seven, Chan Heung began training in the art of Fut Gar under Chan Yuen-Wu's tutelage. When Heung was 15, his uncle then took him to Li Yau-San, where he began learning the Li Gar style. And then we come to a legend that occurred during the Qing Dynasty to tell the rest of this story.

Namely, when the Shaolin Temple was attacked and destroyed many years ago, it is said that five elders survived. A man by the name of Jee Sin Sim See (AKA- Gee Seen Sim See) was one of these survivors. See was a great martial artist who taught five outstanding students, whom are reported to have started the five southern Chinese martial arts styles: Hung Gar, Choy Gar, Mok Gar, Li Gar, and Lau Gar. The founder of Choy Gar was Choy Gau Yee. Choy Gau Yee is believed to have trained a man by the name of Choy Fook.

Why is this important? Well, simply because Li Yau San recommended to Chan Heung that he seek out training from Choy Fook. Eventually, Heung found him on Lau Fu mountain, using the scars that were known to be on his head to help him in his search. However, even the letter of recommendation from Li Yau-San did not sway Fook to teach Heung martial arts, as he no longer wanted to do this. After some pleading, however, Choy Fook did agree to teach him Buddhism (only).

It is said that after a demonstration where Choy Fook easily propelled a rock through the air with his foot, the pleading eventually got Heung what he wanted; Fook took him on as a martial arts student.

At the age of 28, Heung returned to King Mui village. One year later in 1835, Fook sent Heung advice in the form of the following poem:

  • 龍虎風雲會, The dragon and tiger met as the wind and the cloud.
  • 徒兒好自爲, My disciple, you must take good care of your future.
  • 重光少林術, To revive the arts of Shaolin,
  • 世代毋相遺. Don't let the future generations forget about this teaching.

In 1836, Heung brought his vast martial arts knowledge together and honored his previous teachers (Choy Fook, Li Yau-San, and Chan Yuen-Woo) by formally naming his martial arts style Choy Li Fut. It is a system with both Buddhist and Shaolin roots. Later, many of his students opened up schools of their own, some of which led to substyles within the art.


  • King Mui Choy Li Fut: This is the style that came from the village of King Mui, where Chan Heung originally founded the system. It has a "Chan" family heritage, in that the current leader of the substyle, Chan Yiu-Chi, is Chan Heung's grandson.
  • Jiangmen or Kong Chow Choy Li Fut: In 1898, Chan Cheong-Mo, a student of Chan Heung, founded a school in Kong Chow (now Jiangmen). This substyle grew from those origins.
  • Fut San Hung Sing Choy Li Fut: The Fut San Hung Sing substyle or branch of Choy Li Fut was started by Chan Din-Foon in 1848. Jeong Yim, a student of Chan Heung's, was Din Foon's successor in 1867. It should be noted that Jeong Yim is a highly controversial figure, in that very little documentation followed him. Of course, this is the case with so much of Chinese martial arts history, so it comes with the territory.
  • Buk Sing Choy Li Fut: This is a substyle that can be traced back to Jeong Yim. Lui Charn was one of Yim's students. In turn, Charn taught a student named Tam Sam. Unfortunately, due to a problem with another student, Tam Sam was asked to leave Charn's tutelage and school. This compelled him to get together with some of Charn's students and open a school in Guangzhuo, Siu Buk, called Buk Sing Choy Li Fut. Buk Sing is known more for application of techniques than forms.

Choy Li Fut Characteristics

Choy Li Fut is generally a striking style with a variety of stances. In general, they tend to be of the lower variety, designed for movement. Fighting stances require the practitioner to hold their torso at an angle, giving an opponent more of a shoulder than a chest, in order to lessen the amount of their body that can be struck. This is starkly different than the straight on fighting stance of Wing Chun, for example.

There are several types of hand strikes within the art, including those that connect from the fist, open hand, claw hand, and more. There are many varieties of these, just like with any martial art. Kicks are also utilized within Choy Li Fut. The Long Fist and Buddhist Palm boxing styles are taught within the style as well.

Choy Li Fut Training

Usually stances are practiced over and over again at the outset of training before other techniques are delved into.

Many forms are practiced within the Choy Li Fut system, as its founder learned forms and arts from three different major influences before melding his own system. There are over 250 forms, in fact, that can be practiced. Weapons are also utilized within the style. Exclusive to the system is the Nine-Dragon Trident, a weapon with hooks and blades designed to shred anything it comes in contact with. This weapon was created by Chan Heung himself.

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