Learning in the Jing Mo Physical Cultural Association in China
Here is Li Sifu story of what it was like learning in the Jing Mo School in Canton. Sifu Li Hon Chia was the first generation of highly trained martial artist that the Ching Wu Physical Cultural Association produced in the late 1910’s. The master plan that the leaders of Ching Wu had was to produce their own instructors and spread the Chinese martial arts to the common people across China. This plan was very bold and was to prevent the traditional martial arts from fading away in the rapid changing world of the twenty-century. Sifu Li Hon Chia (Donald Li) was born in 1910 and here he will relate his early years in the Ching Wu school in Kwangchou (Canton), China.
Li Sifu's life in Ching Wu Physical Cultural School
“I joined the Ching Wu School in 1916. There were already eight children in the school’s program. Whenever there was a demonstration by the Ching Wu Physical Culture Association, we would always perform together as a group. Since I had a cousin in the school already, I did not need a formal letter of introduction which was the only way one can get accepted as a member. I was told that I was to live in the school and was expected to be in the school for twenty-four hours a day. I was to be part of a group called Ching Nin Chuen or Youth’s Association which was set up for future grooming of Ching Wu Physical Cultural Schools. Under normal conditions, the school charged $12 a year for adult and $6 a year for children and women.”
“In the school, I worked by doing chores like sweeping the floors. Class started everyday at 5:00 AM except on Sundays and we practiced until 6:30 AM. I would practice at least eight to ten sets a day. For every set we practice, Sun Yu Fung gave us a penny. The money was used to buy rice soup. In those days, four cents equal ten cents in the US currency. Since I already knew two sets, the other eight came easy to me and I finished learning them I one year. We practice in a group three times a day. Sun Yu Fung would go around and correct us individually. We learned only three moves at any given time. After a few years of experience, lessons were at a faster pace. Sun Yu Fung would then teach his regular class which consist of over one hundred students from 7: 00 AM until 9: 00 AM. The school would break for lunch then continue at 12 noon to 2:00 P.M. The next session for class was after dinner from 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM. These classes were open to the general public. The private classes, which consist of only 10 students, started at 9:00 PM and ended at 11:00 PM. This was the time that we learned applications. This was also a time when we test our skills and fought Sun Yu Fung. We practice hard and we got hungry. We ate eight bowls of rice for dinner.”
“There were about twelve of us living in the school. Together with my brother, Li Chung Chia, and Sun Yu Fung’s son, Sun Mon Yung, practiced together and learned the ten standard Ching Wu sets as created by the Chief Instructor, Chao Lin Ho. It took us two years to complete the program. We all learned in a group setting. We did everything together, eat, sleep, play and practice in school. We all became very close. Living with me in the school was Sun Yu Fung’s son, Sun Mon Yang, Sun’s nephew, Sun Shao Chu, Sun Shao Mon, Lin Sick Fun, Lin Shao Kwang and my brother Li Chuan Hou. The building that we practice was a large two-story building and it had a stage or platform inside on the first floor. We slept on the second floor and practice on the first floor. Much of the bricks in the building were shattered from the force of our practice. It was drilled into our heads from the beginning that Martial Arts was for health of one’s body and that we were not to consume any liquor. We first learn sets from Huo Yuen Chia’s son, Huo Tung K’o, who taught us various horse stances, Tam T’ui and Mi Tsung Chuan. We learned from him until he was transferred to the Indonesia’s Ching Wu school. We then learn from Chao Lin Ho and Sun Yu Fung. Since Sun YU Fung was the head instructor, he was paid thirty dollars a month while instructors were paid ten plus dollars a month by the Ching WU Association. There were other sifus such as Li Bun Si Fa (Cantonese) who taught Hung Chuan.”
“After completion of the ten sets, we were allowed to learn any style we wanted to learn for the next six years. We never really learn directly from Sun Yu Fung until we completed all ten standard Ching Wu sets. It was only when we learned Lo Han did Sun Yu Fung taught us full time. The term Lo Han means one step below Buddha. Therefore it can be interpreted that Lo Han was a specialized style and was regarded as a higher level than the common styles. It also means that the Lo Han techniques are the best moves and the most powerful. We all became assistant instructors and were allow to teach new students. I continued to learn under Sun Yu Fung until I completed everything in Lo Han which included eighteen hand sets and numerous weapon sets. I and twelve other students were selected to be disciples of Sun Yu Fung. This was the highest honor one can receive form his Sifu. The other twelve disciples were Wang Hsiao Hou, Jung Hwang, Sheng, Ts’ai Tso Shih, Li Chung Chia, Sun Mon Yang, Sun Shao Chu, Tai Chien who is better known as Shek Kin in Cantonese and was the main villain in the movie, Return of the Dragon, Shen Chao Wen, Shen Chao, Lin His K’un, Lin Shao K’un. We were al raised to the level of Sifu and I was the youngest of the group.”
“With the encouragement from my first teacher, Sun Yu Fung, I learned Northern Praying Mantis Seven Star from Lo Kwong Yu and Pa Kua from Fu Chen Sheng. Lo Kwang Yu was a good friend of Sun Yu Fung and he came to Ching Wu Association in Canton in 1929. I continued to teach in the Ching Wu Physical Cultural Association and my primary assignment was to teach Tan T’ui and Praying Mantis, even though I knew other styles such as Pa Kua and Mi Tsung, etc. My older classmate, Hwang Hsia Hou taught Tam T’ui and Lo Han, even though his first style was Ts’ai Li Fut. Yang Chien Fu, who was the son of Yang Chien Hai, was my associate and he taught Yang style Tai Chi. By this time I knew well over sixty sets.”
“A new time table was developed: 5:00 AM to 7:00 AM we practice, 7:00 and onward, we taught the new students, 3:00 to 4:00 PM we practice alone and at 10:oo PM to 11:00 PM, we practice sparring with each other an d with Sun Yu Fung. He would fight us blindfolded and still none of us could hit his body. He always knew exactly where we were going to attack. When we asked him how does he know, he said, “ I hear the wind of the punch and the kick” and from that information he can determine the direction.”
“After six years of specialized studies, we had to pass an examination before graduation. For the test we had to demonstrate whenever we were asked to do. At age of nineteen, I was one of the three who passed the examination and graduated. I had already learned Northern Shaolin Lo Han, Seven Star Praying Mantis and Fu Style Pa Kua.”
“It was not my decision to become a teacher or where to go and teach. We had no say in those matters. In December of 1930, Ching Wu Physical Cultural Association in Shanghai sent a letter requesting me to teach in Kwangtung’s Ching Wu Physical Cultural Association School. The students in the school would test me by either fighting a match or asking questions on applications. If I answered anything wrong on the application they would refuse to learn from me. The method that I was selected was a very long process. It started when the Ching Wu Physical Cultural School in Kwangtung Province wrote a letter to the Ching Wu Physical Cultural Headquarters in Shanghai. They dispatched a team of Directors to exam and evaluate potential students in all thirty Ching Wu Physical Cultural Schools. They had a complex grading system After the evaluation process, the Directors would sit down and discuss each potential instructor and would come to some agreement on one or more instructors. Every Director had to approve each of the selections. In this particular process, I was the only one selected out of fifty-nine participates. I received a letter that I was selected and I must go to whatever they decided to send me. The selected instructor had no input as to where they could go. These particular Directors of Ching Wu Headquarters in Shanghai had full power on who was qualified, who was selected and who goes where. The Directors never considered what style the instructor knew. They were only concern was to appoint the most qualified person, as long as they were sure that the instructor knew the ten standard Ching Wu sets. So it was really luck that Praying Mantis and Eagle Claw went to Hong Kong because the whole process was a random selection.”
"Later I was requested to go to Kowloon near Hong Kong to teach at the Ching Wu Physical Cultural School. This is when I met Lau Fa Meng (who is Sifu Lily Lau and Sifu Gini Lau’s father) of Eagle Claw, Huang Han Hsun of Praying Mantis and Yip Yee Ting of Mi Tsung Lo Han.”
“At the age of twenty one, I and my brother, along with Bac Lin Jung (Cantonese) applied to teach in San Francisco, California, USA. After much waiting the Board of Directors of the Ching Wu Physical Cultural Association in Shanghai decided to award Bac Lin Jung as the head instructor or the USA school. I was their second choice. The school never opened because he was transferred to another location in China. I thought I would be the next person to step up into the position but the Board of Directors never called me. The Ching Wu Physical Cultural Association never opened a school in the United States until about thirty years later. In 1935, there was no interest in Chinese Martial Arts.”
“In 1935, I came to the United States and in 1937, I was asked by the Chinese American Citizens Association (CACA) to demonstrate Praying Mantis. S.K. Li was my uncle and was President of CACA. Therefore I felt that I had to demonstrate. Ts’ai Hawk Pan (Cantonese) was the other person who demonstrated Tai Chi. Later I taught in the Association for a few months. There was no interest in Chinese Martial Arts and I left the Association.
"Currently only two sifus are teaching Northern Shaolin Lo Han style. One is in Canada who is my lower classmate, Ma Ching Fung and the other is Wong Chia Man who is one generation below me, is in the United States.”
Ed Note: GGM Ma Ching Fung passed away in Canada in the year 2001. GM Wong Chia Man (Jack Man) is currently the head Instructor of the Ching Wu (Jing Mo) Physical Cultural School in the San Francisco Bay Area with two branches: with locations in San Francisco and in San Bruno.