by Robert Chu
When Leung Jan retired from his pharmacy in Foshan he returned to his native Gu Lao village in the Heshan (Hok San) area of Guang Dong province. There, the renowned doctor passed along a simple yet remarkably profound style of Wing Chun, the sei sup dim (forty points) system, also known as Gu Lao Wing Chun. Leung Jan was known as the “King of Wing Chun Boxing” and the Gu Lao style of Wing Chun is his final legacy.
History and Development
Legends say that during the Qing Dynasty, Yim Wing Chun and her husband, Leung Bok Chao taught the 2nd generation of Wing Chun Kuen. These second-generation students worked undercover as a Red Boat Cantonese Opera troupe by day and Anti Qing terrorists by night. They were affiliated with many Anti Qing groups including the Heaven and Earth Society. Their goal was to overthrow the Manchurian government and restore the Chinese Ming to the throne of China. Wing Chun Kuen was their art of choice. They could hide knives in their loose fitting garments and assassinate Qing officials in the narrow alleys of Southern China. As an Opera Troupe, they moved about freely at any time without suspicion.
The second-generation students of Yim Wing Chun included Wong Wah Bo, Leung Yee Tai, Dai Fa Min Kam, Gao Lo Jung, Hung Kam Biu, and Leung Lan Kwai. Many of these Opera members had training in Shaolin Fist and pole techniques, acrobatics, and knowledge of two man sets. They were master choreographers, performing every night the Opera was in a town. Yim Wing Chun’s art consisted of simple, direct, economical moves and was conceptual in content. Training consisted of some 40 or so repetitive techniques that could be practiced solo, with a partner, or on a dummy, empty handed or with knives. It is speculated at this point in the history of Wing Chun Kuen development, there were no set forms, as it was the goal of this training to be applied immediately to serve the purpose of self defense or assassination.
Wong Wah Bo and Leung Yee Tai had a student named Leung Jan. Leung studied the original art and later studied the art in set forms after they were choreographed by the Opera members. Leung became known for his application of Wing Chun in “Gong Sao” (Talking Hands a real match) and became known as the King of Wing Chun, or the Gong Sao Wong (Talking Hands King). Leung Jan has become the famous subject of books written by the famous fiction author Au Soy Jee and today, movies. It is known that Leung Jan became an herbalist and opened an herb stop on Chopsticks street in Fut Shan. The shop was called Jan Sang Tang (Mr. Jan’s Hall). Leung Jan was a native of Gu Lao, not Fut Shan. Leung Jan went on to teach a few, select students like his sons Leung Bik and Leung Chun, Chan Wah Shun, Muk Yan Wah, Chu Yuk Gwai, and Fung Wah.
Upon reaching retirement, Leung Jan returned to his native Gu Lao. While there, he taught a few local students his synthesis of Wing Chun. Instead of focussing on teaching the Wing Chun forms, dummy set and weapon sets that were choreographed by the Opera members, he focused his training on the forty short routines and San Sao drills, pole techniques and double knife techniques. These became known as the Gu Lao Sae Sup Dim (40 points) Wing Chun system. The 40 points are the loose expression and application of Wing Chun Kuen. The forms Siu Lien Tao, Chum Kiu, Biu Jee and Muk Yan Jong sets, and the Yee Ji Cern Dao (Ba Jaam Dao) were created later. Training in Chi Sao and San Sao are emphasized, as well as practice of the 40 points on the wooden dummy. Since we consider them “points”, as opposed to techniques or postures, their applications can be limitless. Each point teaches numerous concepts, and it is the goal of the Gu Lao sifu to teach one how to combine the 40 points. I came to learn this system from my good friend and Sifu, Kwan Jong Yuen, who in turn learned the art from Leung Jan’s grandstudent from Gu Lao, Tam Yeung. I am told that one of Leung Jan’s students in Gu Lao taught Fung Sung, who created the Pien Shen Wing Chun system. The Pien Shen Wing Chun and Gu Lao systems are perhaps one and the same, with the only difference in how they have arranged their curriculum, and who have passed them down. I have also recently read an article from Mainland China that shows the existence of a 22 point Gu Lao Wing Chun system. Until further research indicated they are different, however, I will consider them the same system as the one I learned from Kwan Jong Yuen, owing only to stylistic difference or changes in curriculum.
The Forty Points
The 40 points include classical and metaphorical names for each of the movements. In typical Chinese Cheng Wu style, this was designed so that members of other systems would not be able to understand what the movements were unless they had studied the same system. Some of these may indicate the Shaolin origin of some of the movements. Most of these names in modern Wing Chun have been replaced using modern jargon. Although few in number and perhaps not as intricate as the classical forms of Wing Chun, the forty points serve to review the Wing Chun system to the advanced practitioner, and serve as an excellent teaching tool to beginning students. They are trained in sets of repetition, alternating left and right sides. One should not simply look at the 40 points as techniques, but look at them as tactics to teach the fighting skills of Wing Chun. When the basics are mastered, a student can then look to doing combinations and permutations of the techniques while moving left and right, with high and low stances, or done high, middle or low levels, to the front and back, and while advancing and adjusting your steps. The advanced practitioner can reach the level of being able to change and vary his movements with empty hands or the double knives of Wing Chun.
The 40 points are not inseparable or different from the other forms of Wing Chun as taught today. Leung Jan simply passed on the art of Wing Chun Kuen in its San Sao (loose hands) stage when he retired to Gu Lao. Kwan Jong Yuen tells me, that in Gu Lao, when Tam Yeung was a student, it would cost a small fortune to learn one point. This included the complete application of the point while standing, with steps, during Chi Sao and with an opponent during San Sao.
Forms and Training
Gu Lao Wing Chun’s basics are trained through the forty points outlined below:
- Ji Ng Chuie (Meridian Punch)- Also known as Yat Ji Chung Chuie, (Sun Character Thrusting Punch) this is Wing Chun’s signature punch with short explosive power with the vertical fist, the fists are held relaxed until impact and force is exerted with the entire body.
- Duen Kiu (Short Bridge)- The Short bridge is equivalent to the Cern Jum Sao (Sinking Bridge ) movements. In application, it teaches the concept of Por Jung, breaking the centerline. The hands are open and relaxed and cut down vertically to the opponent’s attacking bridge.
- Ba Gua Long Na (Eight Directional Dragon Grab)- Uses the double grabbing hands (Lop Sao), the lead hand held upwards in a clawing motion, while simultaneously the rear hand grabs and pulls the opponent’s bridges, setting the opponent up for a kick, throw or strike.
- Sae Mun (Four Gates)- refers to the four gates using the on guard stance (Bai Jong); one exercises the left and right positions of the forward stance (Ji Ng Ma) and the left and right Chum Kiu horse stance positions
- Siu Fuk Fu (Small Subdue the Tiger)- Uses an alternating left and right double Gaun Sao with phoenix eye fists; similar to the Gaun Sao section of the Biu Jee set.
- Dai Fuk Fu (Big Subduing Tiger)- This technique is basically the same as the above, but using triangle steps to enter at an opponent’s side gates
- Pien Shen Chuie (Slant Body Punch)- This is the Ji Ng Chuie using the Wing Chun shift. In application you may strike to your opponent’s outside gate, crossing over his attempted blow.
- Pien Jeung (Slant Palm)- This tactic uses palm heel with the fingers pointed to the centerline to strike the opponent. The same short explosive power is used.
- Biu Jee (Darting Fingers)- Although the movement implies the fingers, the technique in application utilizes the forearm when striking the opponent at the acupoints ST9 and LI 18
- Wan Wun Yiu/Tiet Ban Kiu (Emergency Bend at the Waist and Iron Bridge)- Trains the practitioner to bend forward or backwards at will and can be coupled with hand techniques. It is similar in application as the fade and slip in western boxing.
- Chum Kiu (Sinking Bridges)- Uses a double sinking bridge arm position that breaks into the centerline of the opponent
- Gwai Ma Chuie (Kneeling Horse Strike)- This tactic utilizes the kneeling horse and a phoenix eye fist to deliver a blow aimed at the groin. This gives an insight into Wing Chun applied at a low line level.
- Pien Shen Jeung (Slant Body Palm)- Uses the side palm as a slashing palm maneuver using the front/back shifting
- Gao/Dae Jeung (High and Low Palms)- The high and low double palms are actually horizontal butterfly palms with palms facing the opposite direction
- Lian Wan Fai Jeung (Linked Fast Palms)- utilize are a Tan Sao/Pak Sao combination followed with a circular Saat Jeung/Chong Jeung combination
- Hoc Bong (Crane Wing)- uses the arm in an upwards 90 degree or 45 degree maneuver to attack or defend
- Dai Bong (Big Wing)- the Big wing is a low Bong Sao position used to defend against a low attack
- Jung Bong (Middle Level Wing Hand)- is the standard middle level Bong Sao
- Noi Liem Sao (Inside Cutting Hand)- This is the inner line hand utilizing the Fuk Sao in a circular fashion
- Oi Liem Sao (Outside Cutting Hand)- the outer line hand position utilizes Tan Sao in an outward circular fashion
- Fu Mei (Tiger’s Tail)- The tiger tail is a short backward hammer-fist strike to the opponent’s groin
- Gua Long Jeung (Hanging Dragon Palm)- Combines the dragon claw and Ji Ng Chuie in combination similar to a Fuk Da or Lop Da
- Fu Biu Chuie (Darting Tiger Blow)- The darting tiger blow is the equivalent to Fuk Sao combined with a phoenix eye strike
- Sam Jin Chuie (Three Arrow Blows)- Is done with one hand (high, middle and low straight punches or equivalent with Lien Wan Chuie
- Sam Bai Fut (Three Bows to Buddha)- utilizes the Tan, Pak Sao and Gum Sao to stop multiple blows
- Dip Jeung (Butterfly Palm)- Is the equivalent to the Bao Pai Jeung attack and defense
- Siu Poon Sao (Small rolling hands)- Trains the Luk Sao or rolling hands of Wing Chun
- Poon Sao (Rolling Hand)- This tactic is similar to a Pak Sao/Lou Sao combination, but close to the body. It is the main transitional move in Wing Chun
- Juk Da (Slanting Strike)- The slant strike is equivalent to the slant body Jut Da
- Juk Kiu (Slanting Bridge)- The slant bridge is essentially Tan Da done with a shift
- Dang Jeung (Hammer Palms)- The hammer palms are the equivalent to the second section of Siu Lien Tao utilizing the Gum Sao. There are 4 positions: left, right, double frontal and double rear.
- Ping Lan Sao (Level Obstruction Hands)-The level bar arms is the equivalent of the Kwun Sao or Tan/Bong position
- Lui Kiu (Double Palms)- Utilize a double Tan Sao position to bridge the gap on an opponent
- Chong Jeung (Thrusting Palm)- is the equivalent of the forward palm strike of Wing Chun done to the opponents face or chest.
- Fan Cup Chuie (Flipping Upper Cut)- Is similar to the Chou Chuie from the Chum Kiu set
- Cup Da Sao (Covering Hitting Hand)- utilizes th Bong Sao immediately followed up with a Lop Sao and downward back fist (Gwa Chuie)
- Cern Lung (Double Dragons)- The double straight punches
- Pien Shen Dip Jeung (Slant Body Butterfly Palm)- alternating low palm strike
- Charp Chuie (Piercing Strike)- is basically a Wu Sao with a fist combined with a straight punch
- Bik Bong (Pressing Wing Hand)- is the Wing Chun elbow strike
Training includes the complete application of each point while standing, with steps, during chi sao (sticking hands) and with an opponent during san sao (separate hands). Also taught in the curriculum are Chi Sao, application of the Gu Lao 40 points on a wooden dummy, practicing the Gu Lao points with knives (called “Yee Ji Cern Dao”) and pole exercises collectively known as the Luk Dim Boon Gwun.
Concepts & Principles
As with all Wing Chun systems, the Gu Lao 40 point system requires that the practitioner utilize the principle of “Lai Lou Hui Soong, Lut Sao Jik Chung”.
Gu Lao Wing Chun practitioners utilize the entire body, are principle oriented martial arts as opposed to the technique oriented systems. Timing and positioning are most important, and we utilize simple, direct economical movements in self-defense. A practitioner of the Gu Lao art is expected to learn the classical point, modify the technique according to circumstances, and combine a point with another point, while utilizing footwork and foot maneuvers (Gerk Faat).
It is interesting to note that the Yuen Kay Shan Wing Chun curriculum begins with many techniques similar to those in the Gu Lao curriculum. There is also a trend of modern Wing Chun (Wing Chun Do, Jeet Kuen Do, and other arts) variations to take many of the loose or separate techniques of Wing Chun Kuen.
The Gu Lao Wing Chun Kuen is a glimpse of the teachings of Wing Chun Kuen in a San Sao format. It is an ideal system to learn quick, simple, direct, economical movements for combat purposes.