THE HISTORY OF HOP-GAR KUNG FU
As told by Grandmaster
Ku Chi Wai
Hop Gar kung fu is rooted in the Buddhist monasteries
of Tibet. Buddhist monks spread the seeds of this ancient art from
Tibet through southern China. These spiritual masters developed
an understanding of both mind and body through the practice of
meditation. It was in this state of consciousness that Hop Gar
While meditating beside a mountain stream,
a Tibetan monk observed a crane and an ape fighting. The ape attacked
quickly using powerful circling blows intended to crush the defenses
of it's opponent. The crane moved gracefully in and out of range
evading the ape's outstretched arms. With speed and precision,
the crane used its beak and wings to strike openings in the ape's
attacks. The ape was struck in the eye by the crane's beak and
ran into the jungle. Inspired by the techniques and power of the
crane and ape, the monk developed an overwhelming martial art he
called Lion's Roar, named after the breath of Buddha.
During the rein of the Ming dynasty, the Chinese
oppressed the Tibetan, Mongolian and Manchurian peoples. Being
the minority, they were used as cheap labor and were looked upon
as third class citizens. They were not afforded the same rights
as the ruling majority peoples, the Han. In 1644, the Ming dynasty
was overthrown by the Manchurians, thus beginning the Ching dynasty.
For the next 276 years, rebellion swept the country.
The Shaolin sect of Buddhism, being Han, aligned
themselves with the Ming supporters. The Shaolin Temples became
the training ground for Ming rebels. There were two main temples.
The northern and original temple is located in Henan province.
The southern temple was located in Fujian province. Branch temples
were organized in remote areas.
It was in this political climate that the Ching
emperor allied himself with the Tibetans. The Tibetan monks were
renowned for their fierce fighting style. Fearing a return to depravity
under Ming rule, the Tibetan King offered their fighting skills
to the Ching emperors. Monks came to the Ching court as teachers,
not warriors, refusing to engage in combat. They trained the imperial
guards and assisted in protecting the emperors.
Late in the 1860's, a Tibetan monk named Sing
Lung was traveling in the Canton region of southern China. While
walking in the countryside, he happened upon a young man practicing
kung fu. He quietly watched as the young man went through his routine.
Sing Lung returned every day for several weeks to watch. He would
sit quietly for hours observing the young man's practice. In need
of a guide and impressed by the young man's dedication, he approached
and introduced himself. The monk offered him a deal; kung fu lessons
in exchange for guide services. The young man was offended by the
offer. He arrogantly asked what the monk knew about kung fu. Sing
Lung asked the young man to strike him. He tried and was discarded
with ease. Several times, he attacked the monk only to be thrown
aside. Sing Lung evaded punches and kicks with the grace of a crane,
then attacked with the power of an ape, destroying his opponent's
defenses. Sing Lung took his balance by continually moving forward
against his attacks. The young man named Wong Yin Lum (a.k.a. Wong
Yan Lum) became Sing Lung's student and companion.
Wong Yin Lum was a master swordsman and master
of Lion's Roar kung fu. He became a personal bodyguard, escorting
rich families and dignitaries through southern China. At that time,
bandit tribes ruled the countryside. He was known for his lightning
speed and powerful hands. He was highly paid by those who wished
to reach their destination alive. He came to be known as master
Hop (Cantonese for Knight).
Wong Yin Lum is famous for challenging China's
masters to join in a kung fu tournament. He had an open-air stage
built in Canton to display his skills for prospective students.
Wong Yin Lum planned to open a kung fu school and needed money.
This would be the perfect arena to popularize his name. He also
expected to make a lot of money wagering on the fights. For one
week, he fought all challengers, defeating each opponent decisively.
He moved forward taking his opponent's balance.
Then he destroyed their defenses with powerful blows. Master Wong
defeated 150 opponents and then was declared kung fu champion of
China. He organized a group of the ten best kung fu masters in
southern China. They were called the Ten Cantonese Tigers. Master
Wong was the number one tiger.
Wong Yin Lum had two senior disciples, Wong
Lum Hoi and Choy Yit Gong. Wong Lum Hoi assisted Grandmaster Wong
with running the school. The school was popular and made a living
for Wong Lum Hoi and himself. Choy Yit Gong was from a wealthy
family and was not interested in teaching. He would later achieve
fame as the bodyguard of Dr. Sun Yat Sin, the leader of the Nationalist
party of China and was the man responsible for the overthrow of
the last emperor of China.
Late in his years, Grandmaster Wong was almost
blind and no longer taught. Wong Lum Hoi taught classes and supported
Grandmaster Wong. He was considered to be a great kung fu master
as well. Wong Lum Hoi had very little time to spend with Grandmaster
Wong who lived by himself just outside of town. It was at this
time, my teacher, Ng Yim Ming, became a student at the school.
Ng Yim Ming's family had no money, so at the
age of four, he had been given up to a local Peking opera troop.
He grew up on the road learning acrobatics, kung fu and acting.
Even at an early age he displayed an incredible talent for kung
fu. He was fast, agile and flexible. His movements were elegant
and flawless with explosive power.
In 1920, at twenty years old, he enrolled in
Wong Yin Lum's kung fu school. He would go to school in the morning,
practice in the afternoon, then perform in three evening shows.
The years of pain and hard work in the opera had prepared him well
for what was to follow.
Wong Lum Hoi taught as much kung fu as his
students could afford. Ng Yim Ming not having much money was taught
few moves, which he practiced repeatedly while the other students
advanced. He never complained and mastered what he was taught.
Wong Lum Hoi would send him on errands and have him clean the school
as the others trained.
Wong Lum Hoi started sending Ng Yim Ming with
food and medicine for Grandmaster Wong. Grandmaster Wong was put
off at first, but, he was lonely and he began looking forward to
Ng Yim Ming's visits. They would sit for hours and talk. After
a short time, they developed a close relationship.
One day Grandmaster Wong asked Ng Yim Ming
to show him what he had learned. Ng Yim Ming asked how the old
man would see his kung fu. Grandmaster Wong said he could hear
his movements and feel their power. After a few moments, he stopped
Ng Yim Ming saying he had learned only a small amount of White
Crane. Grandmaster Wong told him to continue going to the school
during the day, and then come by his house after nightfall. Ng
Yim Ming would spend mornings at the school and evenings performing
in the opera. After the last show, he would practice with Grandmaster
Wong until three in the morning. This kung fu was not what he had
learned at the school. He asked Grandmaster Wong what was the name
of this style. Grandmaster Wong had not been given a name for the
style. Grandmaster Wong asked Ng Yim Ming to call it Hop Gar, meaning
Family of the Knight. Ng Yim Ming studied with Grandmaster Wong
for eight years.
Ng Yim Ming joined an opera troop traveling
through southern China in 1928. His mastery of kung fu made him
an instant star. He dazzled the crowds with great feats of kung
fu and acrobatics. His speed and precision were without equal.
He had mastered Hop Gar and was making extra money by competing
in the streets. He was known as crazy Ming due to his brutal fighting
He stayed with the opera troop until 1935,
when he moved to the United States. Late in 1938, he joined a group
of men being trained as pilots to fight the Japanese in China.
This group of pilots later became known as the famous Flying Tigers.
He became a fighter pilot flying missions over the south of China.
He joined the Chinese Nationalist Army Air Corps in 1941 and worked
his way through the ranks to colonel. After the Japanese were defeated,
he became the personal pilot and bodyguard of my father, General
Ku Ding Haw. They became close friends over the next four years.
In 1949, the Communist forces led by Mao Ze
Dong defeated and exiled the Nationalist sympathizers. We went
to Hong Kong along with millions of other refugees. I had been
learning Choy Lay Fut since the age of seven from Grandmaster Fong
Yu Su, but I was forced to quit when we left China. Ng Yim Ming
came to our house often for dinner parties. It was at one of these
parties that my father asked him to take me as a student. My mother
died when I was young and my father was away at war. I was raised
by my grandparents and had become arrogant and spoiled. My father
hoped Ng Yim Ming's strict training style would help shape my character.
Ng Yim Ming trained in the tradition of the
old masters of the opera. The student was required to live with
and work for the master. Ng Yim Ming was reluctant to take on this
responsibility, but felt he owed it to my father. In 1950, at the
age of 12 years old, I became the student of Ng Yim Ming. My father
was always gone on business, so we had never been close. Over the
next few years we saw each other less frequently. Ng Yim Ming became
We were often in the company of his best friend
Law Wei Jong. He was a Shaolin monk who lived in the Ching Yuan
Si monastery on Ding Wu Mountain near Canton. It was a branch of
the Fujian Shaolin temple. Law Wei Jong was a scholar and master
of many skills. He was an accomplished artist and calligrapher.
He was a doctor of herbal medicine and a kung fu master. He represented
the monastery when dignitaries would visit, acting as diplomat
In 1910, a high ranking Tibetan monk visited
the temple. He was an elderly man about 100 years old. The monk's
name was Sing Lung. He had come to visit his old friend, the Abbot
(head monk). Law Wei Jong acted as escort for Sing Lung. In appreciation,
Sing Lung taught him the "Great Five Elements" chi kung
Ng Yim Ming escorted a lady friend to Ding
Wu Mountain once a week for worship services. It was in 1946, on
one of these trips that Ng Yim Ming met Law Wei Jong. Every week
they would sit, drink tea and discuss philosophy, politics and
kung fu. Over the next three years they developed a close friendship.
Law Wei Jong left China in 1949, as did Ng Yim Ming never to return.
Ng Yim Ming was a hard teacher expecting all
of my time and attention. I awoke at 5:00 a.m. and trained from
breakfast until 7:00 a.m., then from 8:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m.
I trained, taking breaks for lunch and dinner. Ng Yim Ming was
very secretive about training. If anyone except Law Wei Jong came
to our house, we stopped training until they left. Often I would
fall asleep only to be awakened after a guest had left to resume
Training consisted of forms, meditation, and
iron robe. I punched rock filled bags. I beat my body with a bundle
of chopsticks. I kicked trees until my legs were bruised and bleeding.
We would apply some of Law Wei Jong's herbs, and I would be kicking
trees the next day. Ng Yim Ming would teach me a move, then send
me out in the streets to fight. If I lost I would have to train
twice as hard, so I learned not to lose. I would join a kung fu
school only to defeat it's teacher, then collect twice my money
back to leave. Ng Yim Ming said Hop Gar was a fighting art and
must be learned by fighting.
Life was hard in the Peking Opera business
of 1950's Hong Kong. We did not have much money. In 1958, at the
age of nineteen, my uncle got me a job as a policeman with the
Royal Hong Kong Police Department. Within three months, I was appointed
the department self defense instructor. I maintained this position
for twenty-one years. I spent five years as a policeman, then sixteen
years as a civilian. I quit the police department to become a fireman.
After four years, I left to become a bouncer. I found I could make
more money in the nightclubs of Hong Kong.
In 1959, after nine years together, I became
Ng Yim Ming's disciple. In 1966, we opened the Hong Kong Hop Gar
Kung Fu Headquarters. At the same time, I was learning herbal medicine
from Law Wei Jong. We would workout early in the morning, then
I would teach at the police academy until noon. I would go to San
Shing temple after lunch to work in the clinic. San Shing temple
was founded by Law Wei Jong in 1960. I would arrive at the school
in the early evening and lead the school exercise until 9:30 p.m.
I had to be at the nightclub by 10:00 p.m. and work until closing.
In 1970, Ng Yim Ming left Hong Kong to start
a business in San Francisco. I remained in Hong Kong to run the
school until I could get a visa from the United States. Ng Yim
Ming had a school in San Francisco for about a year and a half.
In 1972 he was shot and killed.
I moved in with Law Wei Jong after the death
of Ng Yim Ming. I became his disciple in 1973. Over the years from
Law Wei Jong I learned the 72 Shaolin kicks, Chin Na, weapons and
hand forms. He taught me several chi kung exercises. Of these,
the most important was the "Great Five Elements". Law
Wei Jong died December 26, 1989, in Hong Kong at the age of 108.
In 1981, I moved with my family from Hong Kong
to Atlanta, Georgia. I opened Ku's Holistic Health and Martial
Arts Center. Currently, I have a Chinese herbal and pressure point
therapy office where I specialize in bone and muscle injuries.
I continue to teach by appointment and serve as Hop Gar Kung Fu
Grandmaster. KU CHI WAI. Ku Chi Wai