Hung Fa Yi Wing Chun Kuen (Red Flower Righteous Praise Spring Fist), is one of the few Wing Chun Kuen (Praise Spring Fist) lineages known today that traces its historical roots to the 17th Century Southern Shaolin Temple (Southern Young Forest Temple) and its Wing Chun Tohng (Everlasting Spring Hall). It is also one of the few lineages to trace its roots to the formation of the Kihng Fa Wuih Gun (Beautiful Flower Association), known today as the Chinese Artist Association, in the beginning of the 18th Century. Hung Fa Yi was the only name used during revolutionary times from the late 17th to the mid 19th Century. Until recently, that name was known and used only among insiders. In the mid 19th Century a public version of the art began to be publicly demonstrated on the Red Opera Boats. The public name given it was Huhng Syuhn Wing Chun Kuen (Red Boat Praise Spring Fist). Ten generations of Hung Fa Yi tradition trace back over 300 years of Chinese history while most Wing Chun lineages trace their roots to either the descendents of the Huhng Syuhn Hei Baan (Red Boat Opera Troupe) or family roots, both with origins in the mid-18th Century.
Previous treatises by these authors and others of the Ving Tsun Museum staff have highlighted the Southern Shaolin Temple's formation and development of Wing Chun Kuen (Everlasting Spring Fist) as a military combat training system in the latter half of the 17th Century. Shaolin warrior monks joined high-level military strategists and fighters in molding their science and experience into Wing Chun Kung Fu. This article gives long-overdue credit to one of Wing Chun's developers and the founder of it's fielded namesake, Hung Fa Yi Wing Chun Kuen. Further research may well reveal him to be the greatest, most significant person in the history and realm of Wing Chun Kuen. His given name was Jeung Ngh (commonly Romanized as Cheung Ng).
Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, many legends and stories of Wing Chun Kuen's roots were created based on the burning of the Southern Shaolin Temple and the escape of the legendary Ngh Jou (Five Elders). According to Hung Fa Yi traditions, of those who survived the Manchu massacres, two known Southern Shaolin Temple disciples did indeed escape and were able to keep the Wing Chun system alive. The senior, a monk, was the twenty-second generation Shaolin Temple Grandmaster, Yat Chahn Daaih Si (Senior Master "First Dust"). The other, his disciple, Jeung Ngh, is credited with forming the Kihng Fa Wuih Gun as a front for activity conducted by revolutionary societies throughout Southern China. For the next century and a half, the combat art was referred to as Hung Fa Yi Wing Chun Kuen.
Many legends reflect that Jeung Ngh came from a family of generations of military men serving the Ming Dynasty until the Manchu killed his family. Seeking refuge and fleeing persecution, Jeung Ngh fled to the Northern Shaolin Temple (Northern Young Forest Temple) in the latter half of the 17th Century. After spending some time in the Northern Shaolin Temple, he heard of the gatherings at a place called the Huhng Fa Ting (Red Flower Pavilion) with the specific purpose of restoring the Ming Dynasty to the rule of China. Presumably to join in such efforts, he left the Northern Shaolin Temple and traveled to the Southern Shaolin Temple where he met the rebels and the Shaolin Monk Yat Chahn Daaih Si. It was there that he began his studies of the art that was to become Wing Chun Kuen.
Following the burning of the Southern Shaolin Temple, Jeung Ngh of Wuh Bak (a province in China, meaning "North Lake") also known as Taan Sau Ngh ("Dispersing Hand" Ngh), brought his skills to Faht Saan (a city in Southern China, meaning "Buddha Mountain"), in Gwong Dung (a province in China, also known as Canton) province. In order to keep his identity and the Shaolin Temple background from the Manchu government, Jeung Ngh organized the Kihng Fa Wuih Gun as a front to cover his revolutionary activities. He also passed on his knowledge of traditional opera and martial arts to the Red Opera followers.
Some forums have suggested in recent years that Jeung Ngh's nickname, Taan Sau Ngh, is homorphic with the Chinese word for cripple, and that perhaps he was given the nickname because he always had a beggar's hand out for food and money. Such conjecture may be quickly dismissed as it runs counter to the preponderance of evidence present even in this century. Both historical pointers and scientific principles lend credence to Jeung Ngh's existence and his contributions to Wing Chun. Historical pointers begin with numerous opera records referring to Jeung Ngh as highly respected for both his military and operatic skills. No beggar could garner such respect from the highly sophisticated opera societies. Today's Cantonese opera groups still revere him as a Si Jou (term for founding ancestors in martial art cultures) and numerous opera history books refer to him as Jéung Si (Teacher or Master Jeung). The Faht Saan Museum in China also possesses historical evidence of Jeung Ngh's life as both an opera performer and a martial artist. Their historical analyses make no reference to Jeung Ngh as either a cripple or a beggar. Corroborating research into Wing Chun family lore done by the Ving Tsun Museum supports the evidence referring to Jeung Ngh as both a martial arts and opera master. Indeed, Hung Fa Yi Wing Chun practitioners have a 300-year history and have always recognized Jeung Ngh as the first generation Grand Master of Wing Chun Kuen. Museum records, opera records, and Hung Fa Yi traditions universally attest that Jeung Ngh's one Taan Sau (Dispersing Hand) was peerless throughout the martial arts world. With it alone, he could describe the science of Hung Fa Yi Wing Chun and its complete control of time and space during combat. The scientific proof of Jeung's Ngh existence lies in the fact that his Hung Fa Yi descendents can duplicate that same feat today.
This control of time and space is what makes Jeung Ngh's Hung Fa Yi Wing Chun different from all other martial arts. It guarantees simultaneous defense and attack with pinpoint accuracy. It is the hand-to-hand equivalent of range detection and radar/sonar equipment in today's high tech weaponry. Absolute precision in the positioning of body lines, coupled with equally precise control of distance between one's own body parts, allow the practitioner to use his hands and feet as range detectors. Similar precision focused on strategies and tactics designed to capitalize on structural flaws and motion occurring within six gates or zones of defense/attack become the practitioner's radar. Jeung Ngh (and today's Hung Fa Yi practitioners) could fully express the complexities of simultaneous defense and attack through time and space control from the use of a single technique - the Taan Sau dispersing hand.
In Hung Fa Yi Wing Chun Kuen, Taan Sau is trained consistently at one single point in space and time in all skill development methodologies, including Saan Sau (Separate Hand) exercises, Chi Sau (Sticking Hand) drills, and applications training. If a practitioner were to use Taan Sau at the wrong space, he would not be in a position for simultaneous attack and defense. If he used the Taan Sau at the wrong time, his opponent would not be denied the opportunity for challenge. Only one Taan Sau, applied at one specific point in space at one specific time will allow the practitioner to defend and attack while the opponent is denied the same. How, then, is this precision maintained in the chaos of combat? The answer lies in a disciplined structure that most efficiently enables employment of strategies and tactics developed from Hung Fa Yi Wing Chun's emphasis on the physics of three dimensional space and the fourth dimension, time itself.
Hung Fa Yi discussions of space begin with in-depth awareness of self. The word 'begin' must be emphasized strongly here, because Hung Fa Yi Wing Chun is a complete system for combat. Consequently, every aspect of the science of Wing Chun relates to every other aspect. Complete understanding of each individual part is impossible without in-depth comprehension of the symbiotic relationship of all parts acting in concert. Purpose techniques, structures, energetics, attributes, tactics, and strategies must all cooperate for any meaningful employment of space and time to occur. They affect even the description of time and space. For example, perfect alignment of one's body for the express purpose of horseback riding requires reference points in space that are distinctly different from those required for hand-to-hand combat alignment.
With that said, Hung Fa Yi examinations of space begin with analysis of one' s own body unity for the express purpose of engaging in hand-to-hand combat. Practitioners employ the precise structure of Wing Chun to develop innate awareness of the distances between each of their own body parts. Before any attempt can be made to precisely control an opponent's mass in motion while denying the time and space required to react, one must first possess absolute control over his own structure throughout its movement in space and time. This is known as development of martial self-awareness. It is what enables the Hung Fa Yi practitioner to maintain his own space while entering the space of another. In essence, his body becomes a calibrated instrument capable of instantly measuring distance. His structure becomes as effective as any modern day range detection instrument enabling pinpoint accuracy in weapons employment.
Development of martial self-awareness occurs in three stages. The first stage involves attainment of maximum efficiency in structural unity by aligning one's own body parts to provide an optimum mix of balance, strength and ease of use in relation to three-dimensional space. The second stage involves developing an awareness of an opponent's structures and flaws in relation to his own space. The third stage introduces the fourth dimension of time and involves movement of one's parts within defined space.
In the first stage, the practitioner examines the depth, height, and width of his own space in terms of 4 elements of the Hung Fa Yi Wing Chun formula: 1 centerline (focal point), 2 lines of defense (depth), 3 reference points (height), and the 3-line concept (width). In order to define one's own precise space and the most efficient placement of his own parts within it, he must be able to describe that space in all dimensions. These four elements of the Wing Chun formula allow him to do just that.
The first element, centerline, provides a vertical reference line allowing for centering the depth, height, and width components of the practitioner's space.
The second element, 2 lines of defense, tells the practitioner how far both of his hands need to be away from his body. This is the 'depth' component of his own space. The height element, referred to as the 3 reference points, gives him the proper vertical positioning for aligning each of his limbs. Lastly, the 3-line concept provides a precise description of the width of his space on a horizontal plane. Properly understood, these four elements allow him to quickly align his body parts for optimum simplicity, efficiency, and directness in relation to his opponent when motion is introduced.
In the second stage, the opponent's structure is examined to determine one's own weapons alignment. The same four elements of the Wing Chun formula are used to analyze the opponent's structure. Are his hands and feet at the proper distances from his torso? Are his elbows, hands, knees, and feet aligned according to the 3-line concept? Are they at the correct height, or are they too low? All of these factors are taken into account, because they will directly affect control of space and time.
In the third stage, time comes to play. This stage begins when the practitioner aligns his structure with his opponent's. Time can only be referenced when there is a second object to be interacted with in space. Optimum alignment allows the simultaneous use of offense and defense. It also requires the opponent to make adjustments in his own structure before employment of his own weapons. This gives the practitioner a time advantage over his opponent. He trains to align his structure so that his opponent is only able to use a fraction of his body and weapons against the practitioner 's full arsenal. While the opponent is adjusting to bring all of his weapons into proper alignment, the Hung Fa Yi practitioner is in control of time and is already using it to advantage.
Hung Fa Yi practitioners train to recognize three different time frames in relation to combat. The first is called Fauh Kiu (Floating Bridge). It represents a temporal window in space during which one has no control of either time or space. In short, no part of the Wing Chun formula is expressed in alignment or structure. The second time frame examined is called Saan Kiuh (Separate Bridge). This timeframe addresses conditions and results of having time, but not space, or having space, but not time. Any strikes landed during this timeframe are considered nothing more than "lucky strikes" because the practitioner could not guarantee the outcome. The third time frame is called the Wihng Kiuh (Everlasting Bridge) time frame. It represents complete control of time and space, allowing simultaneous offense and defense.
These concepts of space and time relative to combat are foundational to the total comprehension and employment of Hung Fa Yi Wing Chun. By knowing what structures enable the quickest determination of 'when to act' and 'where to act' most efficiently, the Hung Fa Yi practitioner is prepared to control space and time. He uses the Wing Chun formula to recognize distortions in time and space, both his own and his opponent's. He trains to remove his own distortions while amplifying those of his opponent. Coupled with strategies and tactics designed to capitalize on space-time distortions, he simultaneously disables an opponent's weapons while employing his own.
The ability to explain these complex concepts in motion with a single technique, the Taan Sau, gave Hung Fa Yi Wing Chun's founder, Jeung Ngh, his nickname. Today, that ability remains alive as recently demonstrated by Master Garrett Gee , the 8th generation inheritor of Hung Fa Yi, at a Ving Tsun Museum seminar. Master Gee was asked if it matters whether the Taan Sau is used to engage the opponent with one's front hand or back hand (depth dimension). He used the Taan Sau to clearly demonstrate that front hand employment denied the use of simultaneous offense and defense because the back hand was out of range for striking. The time required to bring the back hand within range following front hand engagement was time the opponent could use for reaction. Clearly a time-space consideration was needed.
Master Gee was then asked if it mattered whether the Taan Sau was high (upper reference point level - height dimension) or low (shoulder level - height dimension). He replied that dealing with an upper gate attack requires covering that gate. Upon contact, adjustment can be made. Making contact low and trying to adjust is dangerous. There is insufficient leverage. Making contact high provides sufficient leverage for adjustment with fast motion in time and space.
The last dimension is width. In order to allow for simultaneous attack and defense, proper setup in accordance with the Wing Chun formula should result in applications of the Taan Sau occurring inside the opponent's offenses.
Like his Si Jou before him, Master Gee emphasized that there is only one most efficient way to use Taan Sau when time and space are taken into consideration. There is only one way to enable simultaneous attack and defense. Like his predecessor, he can express the entire system through this single hand. He and his own descendants represent today's scientific proof of the unprecedented effectiveness of Jeung Ngh's Hung Fa Yi Wing Chun system of combat training and application.