Throughout the history of China, the Shaolin Temple has been the subject of numerous controversies. Many outlaws, bandits and subversive persons would take refuge there, so as soldiers in search for forgiveness for the blood they shed during times of war. With them came new techniques, weapons and fighting skills for the Temple, often changing the daily routines. In numerous occasions, the imperial court tried to put an end to these practices by attempting to destroy the Temple, but the Shaolin Monks resisted until the Ch’ing Dynasty (à very dark period of China’s history, who suffered the reign of the invading Manchurians).
They managed to burn down the Temple to the ground, and from we know, since these stories weren’t written down and had been passed on by word of mouth, several Elders managed to escape and create a new Shaolin Temple, Sil Lum, in the Fukien province. Amongst those to survive was Master Jee Sin Sim See, who might have been the spiritual leader of the Temple and taught the techniques of the Shaolin Martial Arts to many followers.
During his time, a young tea merchant, who went by the name Jyu Hei Gun, came to seek refuge in the Temple after a confrontation with Ch’ing Noblemen which resulted in him being a wanted man. As the legend goes, he became the first Disciple of Master Jee Sin Sim See in the Shaolin Tiger style and is considered to be the founder of Hung Gar.
Like many Chinese people of his time, Jyu Hei Gun held a grudge against the Ch’ing and spent most of his life fighting against theme to reinstate the Ming Reign. He chose to use the name Hung because he soon became one of the most wanted men in China. The name is thought to have been borrowed from, and to honor, the first Ming Emperor Hung Mo (Hong Wu), who is considered to have been one of the great, if not the greatest, Emperors of China’s History.
The Ch’ing government was well aware of what was going on in the Southern Shaolin Temple and felt threatened. They organized a new attack with the imperial troupes, the Monks and rebels were forced to flee in front of the size of the forces deployed against them, powerless as their second Temple went ablaze.
Master Jee Sin Sim See, Master Luk Ah-Choy, master Hung Hei Gun and many others fled further down south and vowed to teach the Shaolin Art wherever they went and to keep fighting against the Ch’ing Dynasty. The Manchu’s subsequently banned the practice of Gong Fu, so Master Hung Hei Gun decided to teach his Art in secrecy in the big Buddha Temple of Kwungtung, in southern China. Once the ban was removed, he opened a school and called his style the Hung Gar Kuen (the Hung Family Fist), in order to hide the Shaolin origins of his Art.
Although he excelled in the Tiger style, Master Hung Hei Gun never ceased to try to improve himself and to keep searching for a balance in his Martial Art. According to legend, he learned the Crane style from his wife Tee Eng Choon, and added techniques from the Snake, Leopard, Dragon and the 5 elements in order to perfect his movements and find a balance between power and fluidity.
Master Hung Hei Gun developed rapidly a reputation for being a remarkable fighter and was known as the “Fist of the South”.
Shaolin Hung Gar is based on powerful postures, great internal strength, ambidexterity and bare hand techniques as well as with weapons (18 mainly). Ambidexterity is very important as it allows the pairing of blocking and attacking at the same time. Hung Gar blocking techniques are most famed and feared as they usually cause just as much damage as the attacks, where strikes are frighteningly precise, fast and powerful.
Vo Su Hà Châu
On march 25th 1924, Grand Master Wong Fei Hung parts ways with this earth, and on august 19th 1924 in Hong Kong, Master Hà Châu is born entering this world with a stunning future ahead. He is the descendant of a familly with a long tradition for Martial Arts, his father, Vo Su Hà Chung, was a Master of Hong Gia Quyen Cho Lon, Vietnam. At a very young age, his family moved to Vietnam and lived in Ba Xuyen (Soc Trang), at the age of 5 he began to learn martial arts from his father in order to become stronger, as he was considered to be rather weak for his age. Vo Su Hà Chung was the owner of logging lands not far from Saigon; it was burnt down by the French when they got word of his harboring of Ho-Chi-Minh “rebels”. It should be noted that his support was never political, rather by sympathy for those fighting for their land.
Having himself been forced to leave China he felt he had to help them. At the age of 9, Master Hà Châu was sent to Hong Kong to study under the mentorship of Master Trinh Luân, becoming his sole Disciple.
Master Trinh Luân was one of the 4 or 5 only Disciples of Master Trinh Hoa, Su Tuc (brother of) Master Wong Fei Hung. After close to 15 years in Hong Kong, on top of mastering the many techniques and styles of Shaolin Hung Gar, Master Hà Châu became one of the few Masters to reach the highest level of internal and external energy. One of his most famous techniques was the Then Can Truy (or Thien Can Ta), which is considered to be amongst the 72 greatest Shaolin techniques. When Master Hà Châu returned to Vietnam, he brought Master Trinh Luân with him, who then spent his final years there. With the help of Master Minh Canh, a boxing (English boxing) champion in South-East Asia during the 50s’, aster Hà Châu started a travelling troupe of performers which would go around Vietnam. While Master Minh Canh gave boxing performances, Master Hà Châu would give his techniques, fights and cow wrestling performances.
In 1957, he gave a demonstration of “Không chê song xa” (holding 2 carts), at the Thi Nghe fair, each of his hands holding onto a chain attached to a bus, both buses driving in opposite directions but unable to move due to Master Hà Châu holding them back. In 1958, at the Xuân Huong lake in Da Lat, he let 10 buses, each carrying 50 passengers, roll him over one by one. The next day, he was forced to take up a fight with a Cambodian Master nicknamed “Thiêt Cuoc” (Iron Foot) for having, on numerous occasions, broken the necks of cows and buffalos with one kick. During the fight, Master Hà Châu broke “Thiêt Cuoc” leg with his “Thiêt Sa Chuong” (Iron Palm) technique.
In 1961, in the Trà Vinh stadium, he gave an internal energy demonstration by letting a 12 ton steamroller roll him over. But midway through the passage, right above Master Hà Châu, the driver cut the engine claiming he was too frightened to continue, it turns out that it was an assassination attempt order by a Cambodian Master, and a French Gendarme (law enforcement officer) was forced to threaten the driver with a pistol in order for him to start the engine, 5 minutes later, and drive the vehicle off of Master Hà Châu. “20 seconds more and I would have been out of breath and my body would have been flattened like a piece of paper”, Master Hà Châu explained countless times when asked about that feat. From that day until 1975, he asked on numerous occasions to have the permission to give that performance again, but the authorities never dared give him the permission to do so.
At the beginning of the 70s, Master Hà Châu nearly quit on the Martial arts World. In 1974, one of his close acquaintances happened to be the head master of the Tan Dan College in My Tho, and hired him as a professor in Calligraphy, and at the start of 1975 he placed him as head master of the Dan Tri School in Cai Be. Moved to Ho-Chi-Minh City and worked as a mechanic in the textile factory of Ben Nghe, Binh Thanh. It was then in 1976 that Master Hà Châu patented the “Diamond shape milling machine”, and thanks to that experience, he was able to create and build all the tools you can now find at the school to work on the different strengthening techniques of our style. In the early 80s, the Vietnamese government reduced the restrictions on practicing Martial Arts; a few schools were allowed to open to preserve the “feudal heritage” of the country.
Numerous Masters had already begun promoting their Styles in local villages around the country since 1975, and Master Hà CHâu was amongst them. In 1985 in Thu Thua, Long An, and again in 1987 in An Phu, Thu Duc, he was forced to leave after only 1 month of giving performances, because the local population thought he was bringing dark magic into the district due to the superhuman nature of his feats. In 1988, he returned to An Khanh to give demonstrations and found back his Disciples. With their help, he ended up staying and settling for life. In spite of having faced many difficulties promoting Martial Arts in the past, he did not give up and was a big contributor in the development of the Traditional Martial Arts Association of Ho-Chi-Minh City. He was amongst the founders of the Association (Hôi Vo Thuât TP.HCM) and received multiple medals from the government.
In 1989 and 1992, he was invited to Italy and Russia to give demonstrations and got the nickname “Ummo” in reference to the beings that came from another planet with extraordinary powers with which no human being could rival. Master has been placed amongst the most incredible people on this earth along side an Indian yogi that accepted to be buried under the sand for a month and came back out in perfect physical condition, and Master Hoken Soken, a member of the Japanese White Crane on Okinawa island, who performed techniques of thin planks of wood floating on water. In 1997, Master Hà Châu retired from the Martial Arts World and took up forging weapons and building training tools for the School. He continued to train relentlessly everyday and working from morning to night, as well as practicing his Calligraphy and Poetry.
He spent time creating a tool to train “Thiên Cân Ta” (lifting 1000 tons) and explained that “before, when I would train “Thiên Cân Ta”, my Master would ask me to lie on my back and he would take a plank of 8cm x 60cm x 12m rolling several metal chains around it and would put it on my body. I would then have to use my energy to resist the pressure, when I would manage to stay more than 3 minutes several weeks, he would add pieces of metal and blocks of stone to make it heavier. It took nearly 10 years for my body to reach the capacity to withstand 15 tons.” Master Hà CHâu is faous for many extraordinary techniques such as : “Thiêt Sa Chuong” (Iron Palm) : His hands were so hard he could break coconuts, hammer 20cm nails into 3cm thick planks and then pull them back out with 2 fingers. “Thiet Trao Công” (Iron Fingers) : during performances he would bend a metal bar around his neck, tear a deck of 52 cards in one go, use 2 fingers to crush betel nuts, etc.
“Thiêt Dâu Công” (Iron Head) : using his head to break a wall of bricks, or squeezing his head beteen 2 blocks of granite and having a person from the public smash the top bloc with a sledgehammer. “Thiêt Kiêu Công” : He would lie on his back, and have a chair placed on his shoulder another on his thigh and a 6m plank placed on his stomach, with 20 people taking place on the plank. “Khinh Công” : He would lie on 2 terracotta pots, have 3 granite blocs of 150kg placed on his chest, and an assistant would use a sledgehammer to smash the blocks without breaking the terracotta pots, and Master Hà Châu for that matter.
In spite of his age, in 2006, Master Hà Châu went to France on a trip organized by his Disciple Master Phi Liet, Philippe GAUDIN. They also performed, in September 2006, at the “Da Lat reunion” which gathered Masters from Vietnam and foreign countries to give Martial Arts and Dragon dance performances in the Military zone 7 stadium in Ho-Chi-Minh city. Young Disciple of our school: “I remember that the week before he passed away, he was still practicing his Martial Art and forging tools and weapons like any normal day.”
In memory of Grand Master Hà Châu,
who passed away on the 20th October 2011 from complications due to his illness.