by Robert Chu
The more boxing became a focal point of kung-fu, the more pole sets were ignored or dismissed entirely.
“Gwong’s pole set movements were as ‘graceful as a flying dragon, and as powerful as a tiger.’ ”
“With the fist, fear the young adept; with the staff, fear the old master.”
I first wrote about and published an article in the Spring of 1999 in Exotic Martial Arts of South East Asia Magazine on the Flying Dragon/Tiger Gate system, also known as the Fei Lung Fu Mun. This system was brought from China to the United States by my master, the late Lui Yon Sang (Lei Ren Sheng) of Guang Zhou, China. Lui was a native of Toishan and had lived in New York City as a Traditional Chinese Medical doctor and herbalist.
Lui was 80 years old when I met him. Although practically unheard of in the West, Lui was famous throughout China during his lifetime. This was because of his knowledge presented in a long running series of articles during the early 1980′s in China’s famous martial arts magazine “Wu Lin” (“Martial World”) and articles in Sun Mo Hop Magazine in the late 1970’s. Master Lui was so famous that he was dubbed the “Southern Staff King” or “Nan Fang Gun Wang” (Cantonese: “Nam Fahng Gwan Wong).
Since my youth, I had studied the Southern Fist in New York’s Chinatown, practicing Hung Ga, Wing Chun, Lama and Bak Mei Pai. I was no stranger to the fist methods and staff methods. Most systems of Chinese martial arts have weapons, and the sets of these systems, hail amongst the best. Hung Ga has the Ng Long Ba Gua Staff and Spear (5th Brother Ba Gua Staff and Spear), Bak Mei’s pole (called “Ng Ma Gwai Cho” – Five Horses return to the stable) set is short and practical, Lama and Choy Lay Fut have their versions of the 13 spear staff (Sup Sam Cheung Gwun) and Ba Gua Gwun, and of course, Wing Chun is known for the 6.5 point pole or Luk Dim Boon Gwun (6.5. point staff) and it’s highly effective use.
Master Lui’s Fei Lung Fu Mun system primarily consists of weaponry skills. Weaponry skills are taught first, then progress to empty hand skills. His boxing and spear and staff methods derive from the old traditions, and draw many parallels to the fist and weapons arts found in Qi Ji Guang’s Ji Xiao Xin Shu and Wu Shou’s Shou Bei Lu, both famous books on ancient military arts.
In his youth, Master Lui was taught by the famous Leung Tien Chiu. Leung was a champion boxer, who at 55 years old, entered a tournament in Nanjing in the 1920′s and won 2nd place in open class full contact Lei Tai fighting (no protective gear, and winner throws the loser off the stage). Leung was famous for his mastery of many systems that included Wing Chun, Hung Gar, Choy Lay Fut and other Shaolin Fist systems. Leung Tien Chiu later created his own systems, which his disciples later passed on called “Fut Gar Kuen” (Buddhist Fist boxing), and another system called “Sae Ying Diu Sao” (Snake Form Mongoose Hands). This was the source of Lui’s boxing system.
Lui’s specialty was the spear and staff, and he studied with a Manchurian named Gwong Sai Lung. Gwong was famous for his pole and spear techniques that came from the Yang family in Southern China. Gwong’s pole set was known as the “Fei Lung Fu Gwun”, so named because the movements were as “graceful as a flying dragon, and as powerful as a tiger”.
Master Lui taught some of New York’s top masters of martial arts his spear and pole system. Lui’s art was not widespread and to learn it, one had to become a disciple. One must have performed the “Bai Si” ritual in order to gain entry. As a result, Lui only taught a select group of disciples his specialty, including Chan Bong (David Chan), Lee Gok Chung (Thomas Lee), Chan Jim, David Wong, myself, and others. Of my training brothers, I know that the men I mentioned here have complete transmission of the complete system as taught by Lui.
The Fei Lung Fu Mun uses the “Cern Gup Dan Gwun” (Single end staff, but both ends are used). The weapon varies in length with the height of the user, and it is properly measured by standing straight and extending your arm. The pole should be the length of the outstretched arm. The wood is the common Ba La White waxwood that is typically from Shandong, and common in martial arts circles. We specially treat the pole by immersing them in Tung oil for a period of six months so that the pole remains flexible and virtually indestructible.
When I met with Lui Sifu, he asked me to perform a staff form. I demonstrated the Wing Chun 6.5 point staff form him with full speed and power. Lui Sifu said I had sufficient power, but surprisingly criticized my footwork and positioning. He asked me to attack him, and I obliged with a Biu Lung Cheung (Darting Dragon Spear) maneuver. Before I completed my maneuver, I was the recipient of five blows to the hand, groin, top of the head, instep, and neck! I was disarmed as a result of the blow to the hand.
All of this was done by an 80 year old man who was only about 5 feet tall and less than 120 lbs! I recalled the Chinese saying of “Kuen Pa Siu Jong, Gwun Pa Lo lang” (With the fist, fear the young adept; with the staff, fear the old master) came to me. I had found a real master of the pole.
I became a disciple of the Fei Lung Fu Mun by undergoing the “Bai Si” (Bow to Sifu) ritual. I knelt and kowtowed three times and offered tea and a red envelope, Lui Sifu took my offering and drank it, and assisted me up. He held my hand and said in Cantonese, “I am 80 years old and will teach you all I know without reserve. You have come to me to learn, despite your being an accomplished expert, and just as I knelt to Gwong Sai Lung when he was 80, I must now teach you.”
Lui Sifu spoke to me in Cantonese, “Ah Gee, (“Chu” as he would call me in Toishan dialect) there are six principles to our system – these are the “Sam Faat” (Nature or Mental Methods), which are passed down orally and physically. You should learn them well. The first principle is the concept ofSang Sei Muhn Faat – the live and dead gates methods. Do you know what I mean?” I shook my head. Sifu explained, “The live gate is when you can still attack your opponent, and your opponent can still attack you. You must try to position yourself to be in the opponent’s dead gate.” With staff in his hands and staff in my own, he positioned and moved to my dead gate. This principle corresponded to Wing Chun’s mutual centerline facing principle and moving to the opponent’s blind side.
The second principle is the concept of the Sang Sae Gwan Faat – Live and Dead staff methods. “When your staff is constrained and you cannot move without endangering yourself, this is a dead staff. If you can move freely about, your staff is alive.” I nodded in agreement. It is best to have a live staff.
Lui continued, “You must understand your opponent’s point of power – theLihk Dim Faat (Force Methods). In a staff, you only use the last six inches, or the point. This is just like when you use a spear or a gim (Chinese two-edged sword). To understand this is to know where the focus of power comes from. You do not have to go force against force.” To know the focal point is common in all martial arts, one has to know this in issuing force and when you want to absorb someone’s force.
“The fourth point is to understand the concept of Huen Dim – the circle and the point.” Lui demonstrated by making a big arc with his pole. “This is the distance which you must be aware of. ” To illustrate the concept of the point, Lui demonstrated a series of thrusts with the pole. “We have eight major spear thrusts, you must know where and how the point is coming at you to be able to stop it.”
Lui Sifu continued, “Mastering the fifth point referred to as Keoi Lei Hing Chuk Dou Faat – the methods of distance and speed.” Lui demonstrated a series of steps called “Ng Hang Ba Gua Bo” (Five element and 8 trigrams stepping. “Stepping like this, one can enter in the circle or exit the circle with proper footwork. This is referred to as Chut Yap Huen – you need to know when you can enter the circle and when you can exit the circle. ” All of the steps were tiny and had made use of my previous systems’ training. Lui drew an illustration for me. “These directions represent Metal, water, wood, fire and earth and are so named the five elements. The eight directions are namedQian, Dui, Kun, Li, Xun, Zhen, Gen, and Kan and represent the Ba Gua.” Master Lui’s illustrations drew the Wu Xing (5 Elements) and Xian Tian (Pre Heaven) and Hou Tian (Post Heaven) Ba Gua diagrams. Lui was a scholar and was well versed in the Yi Jing, Chinese medicine, and other classics.
“The last concept is Louh nyuhn gwan faat – the concept of the old and young pole methods. The old staff is when the pole cannot move easily, but it can still move. The young staff is when your pole is nimble and quick and can move about freely. These methods concern methods of extraction and retraction of the pole. You may not understand it all now, but you will when you have trained in the staff and it’s applications.”
All of the concepts were important in that they were principles of motion in relation to an opponent. Master Lui’s staff skill was so exceptional, he exemplified the Wing Chun saying, “Gwan Mo Leung Heung” (Staff has not two sounds) – meaning in application, attack and defense are one. One does not deflect first and then attack – one strikes in the first move, then delivers a finishing blow. Too often Wing Chun people were taught to defect with pole as in Tan Gwan (Dispersion), then strike with a Biu Gwan (Spear). After understanding Lui’s methods, one knows to immediately strike and disarm the opponent with the first move, then finish them in a follow up blow.
In learning the Fei Lung Fu Mun system, it enhanced my understanding of the Wing Chun Luk Dim Boon Gwun and how it is applied. I once asked Lui Sifu, “Why didn’t Wing Chun and other Southern Staff systems preserve the fighting applications of the spear and pole?”
His reply was, “They all once had it, but as they passed down, the teachings became distorted or neglected and became secondary to their boxing.”
I wrote this article for my fellow martial artists so that they may know that real skill and knowledge exist with the pole, and if they find this information interesting, they can understand the source of the information and research more. I have also placed copies of the original source material presented in Wu Lin magazine in the 1980’s and a related article from New Martial Hero as well as a picture of my discipleship with Master Lui, and the top New York martial artists that did the Bai Si with Master Lui. Interested parties may contact the author to obtain complete copies for further research.