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By Basilio Chen

The desire to understand and master the art of wushu exists in many practitioners in the world.  One such practitioner that achieve the highest level and fame in modern time was Bruce Lee.  However, the secret of mastery of the arts stems from an understanding and teachings that started as far back as the 5th Century AD and many attributes the growth and popularity of the arts to the influence and fame of the Shaolin Temple.  Here is a way to reach such supreme understanding.

Many systems of thought evolve from the Shaolin Temple leading to the next major milestone with the popularization of Taijichuan or simply called today, Taiji (or Tai Chi).

Today most of the traditional teachings of the Shaolin Temple have been lost however thanks to the continuing devotion of a few rebel monks that escape the Shaolin Temple during its burning, the system and essence of the art were handed down into a system that adopted the name Choy Li Fut.

Even according to Bruce Li, he considered to be most effective especially when having to maneuver more than one person at a time.

"Choy Li Fut is the most effective system that I’ve seen for fighting more than one person. [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." –Bruce Lee

Evernote Snapshot 20150423 075958(Autograph by Bob Wahl – Enter the Dragon, Disciple of Bruce Lee)

Choy Li Fut (蔡李佛) is one of the most widely known system in part due to a lifelong list of practitioners that promoted it and were skilled at the art.  From the start Choy Li Fut has it strong roots from Shaolin master Choy Fook (蔡福), Li Yau Shan (李友山) and Chan Yuen Woo (陈远護).  The founder of the system was Chan Heung (陈享 ) who learned from these Shaolin monk and expert practitioners.

Over a 180 years history (founded in 1836), many branches spread throughout the world, however the root system of the Chan family was reasonably preserved until Master Chan Yiu Chi (陳耀墀)who held the standard of its internal system.

Although Choy Li Fut is a great system, by itself and due to many generations of transmission, it can lose some of the key principle.  Either the transmission is incorrectly passed down by less than competent teachers or the recipient is not competent to understand the transmission and master it.  This leads to the need for any practitioner seeking the supreme truth to the search.

That search begins with many keen practitioners focus wrongly in searching for the perfect system, a perfect style (Wing Chun, Shaolin, Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Taiji, etc…).  There is none. 

Others believe combining the best techniques of all systems is the way but is not. The sum of many is worst than sticking and perfecting one even if it is an imperfect one. Ultimately, Bruce Lee contribution was not only his fame through his movies or demonstrations but his philosophy which at the heart of it was a system without system.

Yet the way to find it requires a system, once reaching the supreme understanding the system is no longer needed.

I have not invented a "new style," composite, modified or otherwise that is set within distinct form as apart from "this" method or "that" method. On the contrary, I hope to free my followers from clinging to styles, patterns, or molds. Remember that Jeet Kune Do is merely a name used, a mirror in which to see "ourselves". . . Jeet Kune Do is not an organized institution that one can be a member of. Either you understand or you don’t, and that is that.

There is no mystery about my style. My movements are simple, direct and non-classical. The extraordinary part of it lies in its simplicity. Every movement in Jeet Kune Do is being so of itself. There is nothing artificial about it. I always believe that the easy way is the right way. Jeet Kune Do is simply the direct expression of one’s feelings with the minimum of movements and energy. The closer to the true way of Kung Fu, the less wastage of expression there is. Finally, a Jeet Kune Do man who says Jeet Kune Do is exclusively Jeet Kune Do is simply not with it. He is still hung up on his self-closing resistance, in this case anchored down to reactionary pattern, and naturally is still bound by another modified pattern and can move within its limits. He has not digested the simple fact that truth exists outside all molds; pattern and awareness is never exclusive. Again let me remind you Jeet Kune Do is just a name used, a boat to get one across, and once across it is to be discarded and not to be carried on one’s back.

— Bruce Lee[2]

One of the greatest masters and teachers of the modern times was Professor Hu Yuen Chou (1906 – 1997), more well-known in Hong Kong by the name Woo Van Cheuk.  Professor Hu was born in Foshan, Guangdong Province in China and at the young age of 9 started learning the system of Choy Li Fut.  At 16, after moving to Guangzhou City for schooling, he joined the Choy Li Fut school under Master Chan Yiu Chi who was the grandson of the founder of Choy Li Fut and inheritor of the system.  Professor Hu studied for 20 years under Master Chan and became one of his top close disciples.

Besides Choy Li Fut and to further his knowledge in Wushu, he studied other systems such as: Northern Shaolin, Hong Quan, HeJia, Long Ying Mor Kiu, Lohan, Gee Yin Moon, Praying Mantis,Xingyi Quan and Baqua.  He also became at that time a self-defense master instructor at the police academy in Guangzhou City.  In 1929, at the age of 23, he began studying Taiji Quan under the instruction of Master Chen Wei-Ming who was sent by the famous Taiji Quan master of the times Yang Cheng-Fu who was the grandson and inheritor of the Yang style of Taiji, After studying for 3 years under Chen Wei-Ming and when Master Yang Cheng-Fu came south to Guangzhou, Professor Hu became his direct student and later received private transmission from Master Yang Cheng-Fu from 1932 to 1934.  Professor Hu who was also medical practitioner was also personal medical advisor to Master Yang in his last years in Guangzhou.

Professor Hu after studying Choy Li Fut became trained in the internal system of Choy Li Fut under the personal instruction of Chan Yiu Chi.  However, it was not until he learned the secret transmission of Yang Taiji Quan that he had the understanding of internal training.  20 years later in Hong Kong, he further his internal training with Yi Quan master Leung Pak Hei, a top student of Wang Xiangzhai (王薌齋).

Yi Quan was a name variation of Xing Yi Quan.  Master Wang Xiangzhai, a top student of the renown Xing Yi Quan master Guo Yunshen, found out that most students were more focused in the style and movements during practicing of the system than in the internal mind training.  Thus, he changed the teaching method and rename the system to Yi Quan (“Mind system”).  It is Yi Quan that gave new thinking to Professor Hu to finally synthesize all of decades of studying the Wushu to come to what Bruce Lee called the system without a system.

At this point, Professor Hu decided to summarize his decades of training, studying and search into the theory and practice of Choy Li Fut, Taiji and Yi Quan.  He he would use Choy Li Fut for techniques emphasis because it had the richest techniques while Taiji Quan became his internal development and he adapted Yi Quan concepts to Taiji Quan in order to complement missing pieces lost during a long history of transmission over several generation.

The gap in transmission came about due to China’s civil wars in the beginning of the 20th Century and at the time when the next generation of master and their respective son’s were more preocupied with making a living than practicing the arts. Thus, it was not until later that Master Yang Cheng Fu became serious and able to practice his father’s transmission.  And in the similar manner, in the Choy Li Fut lineage, the son and next generation of Master Chan Yiu Chi had a gap in transmission.  This gap was closed thanks to Professor Hu discipline and dedicated studying and searching for the supreme knowledge who he found.

It is further important to note that many systems are labeled internal and external.  Such as Taiji Quan is considered an internal system while Wing Chun is considered an external system.  Professor Hu was of the belief (and correctly so) that you cannot reach supreme levels of training without internal training.  Furthermore, he also discovered over his long years of practicing and studying that many so called internal systems emphasize too much external techniques and forms and results in lack of internal development.  (this was the same conclusion arrived at by Wang Xiangzhai (王薌齋).

Having studied Xingyiquan with Guo Yunshen in his childhood, Wang Xiangzhai travelled China, meeting and comparing skills with masters of various styles of kung fu. In the mid-1920s, he came to the conclusion that Xingyiquan was often taught wrong, with too much emphasis on ‘outer form’, neglecting the essence of true martial power. He started to teach what he felt was the true essence of the art using a different name, without the ‘xing’ (form). Wang Xiangzhai, who had a great knowledge about the theory and history of his art, called it "Yiquan" (意拳) In the 1940s one of Wang Xiangzhai’s students wrote an article about his "school" and named it "Dachengquan" (大成拳), which means "great achievement boxing". This name was not used by Wang Xiangzhai. Wang thought the name was a poor choice as it was boastful and not very descriptive of the intent. (from Yiquan).

Professor Hu was more focused on the essence of the system than in its style and form (the same conclusion expressed by Bruce Lee).  As such, he would drill in perfecting a form by using the form to project the internal strength rather than learning many forms.  He felt that the use of form teaching especially Choy Li Fut would provide a basic framework for practical application  (and the internal training would manifest in the ability to project supreme results.  This can be appreciated by watching his fast movements in video (Dr. Hu Yuen Chou Video) and observing what he called his “waist generating power”.

Furthermore, Professor Hu emphasized the beginning of internal training in the understanding of the classics, staring with the Tendon and Sinew Changing Classic (易筋经) and the Marrow Washing Classic (洗髓经).  This includes body twisting and bone striking techniques. 

Even though Choy Li Fut did not have classics per se, these classics and the Taiji Classics (including but especially Wang Tsung Yueh’s Taijiquan Classic) can be integrated in the practitioner that memorizes and pounders on the classics over a long period while practices diligently.  This search shall lead to self-discovery through action and internal awareness that no other way would achieve.

“One of the many lost techniques in Choy Li Fut and the arts in general, is the emphasis in spiral strikes instead of straight punch.  The best punch is not straight – and the key – it comes from the waist.”  Professor Hu Yuen Chou

“Like silk reeling out of a cocoon” From the Taiji classics ().

The final synthesis taught by Professor Hu is to simplify the many into the few (the real buddha seeked simplicity ie is not complicated) emphasizing the natural tendencies with connection with the universe and awareness of natural gravity as a force – in order – to develop supreme power generation – from maximum relaxation to maximum extension in the shortest timeframe.

“During training practice sequential (chained) intercepting hits.  During meditation seek stillness in motion. And when executing apply opposite motions.” Professor Hu Yuen Chou (Opposite motion is what the Taiji classics refers to “There is no left without right and no up without down” and the “Intercepting Hits” this is based on the theory that “two bodies cannot occupy the same space” Basilio Chen).

Once understood, the Kung Fu (Gong Fu) is achieved, the Taiji technique is no longer needed as every move of one is Taiji. – Author: (Basilio Chen)

Stance training being most important.  Weight must be in the back leg.  With no double weight (meaning weight is not in both legs, most in one leg, most in the back leg. Focusing in slow small movements.  Using the mind to feel each move, naturally direct each move without affecting each move.

In practice, direct narrow focus toward the centerline, triangulating and concentrating with maximum impact in minimum time.

Professor Hu Yuen Chou, demonstrates an application of Choy Li Fut.


Professor Hu demonstrate fast strike to the temple of Author Basilio Chen with continuous sequential attacks. 


Author attacks back just to find Professor Hu get out of range with swift effortless waist motion followed by Professor immediate kick.