Interview With Master Fung - Part 2 - Understanding the Yi Chuan Method

2022 Forward

Below is the second in a series of posts that are a republish of a piece I did in 2009. The text is verbatim from the version that is on Sifu's current website. I am republishing it here for several reasons.


Fist, I think Master Fung's own words speak for themselves. He is always very particular on how he phrases stuff, the examples he uses and relationships he points out. Every so often I go back an re-read what he said and I notice something I missed before.


Second, If you are using the materials on IntentionFist to help your practice, I think its helpful to understand where the information comes from. This section in particular articulates the many sources my Sifu has drawn on in formulating his personal expression of the Art.


You see a big 'Yi Chuan' stamp on everything here, and that is absolutely true, I am using Yi Chuan theory in order to organize and present The Method, but that does not mean that what is being is or could even be purely Yi Chuan, whatever that would be.


Yi Chuan was something my Sifu came to after extensive experience with Chinese Kung Fu, growing up in and around Hong Kong at a time when it was a melting pot of martial artists and ideas. Sifu draws heavily from his experiences with Hop Gar, Mok Gar, Tai Chi, Tong Bei and others, sometimes incorporating exercises from those arts into his method or simply relating ideas that may be clearly expressed from that point of view. In addition his dedication to the practice of Esoteric Buddhism informs and inspires his entire approach.


Third, it gives me an opportunity to reflect on how some of the points he makes have impacted my understanding of Yi Chuan and may be useful for helping you. I have included those thoughts at the end of the article.

 

The original interview with pictures is available here.

Master Cheuk Fung on Yi Chuan

by Steve Ehrenreich April 2009

The following interview has been assembled from Master Fung's teachings and conversations I have had with him over the years as his student. The questions and answers on the following pages have been selected to give you a broad overview of Master Fung's teaching philosophy and his perspectives on Yi Chuan.


Student: What first attracted you to Yi Chuan?

Master Fung: Yi Chuan's theory and approach is very similar to what I learned in Hop Gar even though their respective training methods are different. In each the goal is to develop oneness or 'Hunyuan' strength as the foundation for health and martial arts. This is done through single movement practice until the gestures are linked inside and out.


Student: I thought Hop Gar consisted of numerous sets and exercises. Master Fung: My Hop Gar lineage emphasizes single movement practice with supplemental exercises to build and use strength. Forms or other choreographed routines are merely arrangements created by different teachers to help their students. They are not core to the method.


Student: Do you still teach Hop Gar today? Master Fung: Of course! It's already incorporated within my teaching method.


Student: I thought you taught Yi Chuan? Master Fung: I do, but you can say my Yi Chuan has a strong Hop Gar flavor.


Student: I don't understand. Master Fung: Yi Chuan and Hop Gar are basically trying to do the same thing, develop Hunyuan (whole body) strength as the basis for health and martial arts. While the exercises, routines and training methods may look different on the outside they serve the same purposes.


Student: I don't remember learning Hop Gar in class? Master Fung: That's because I have integrated it into my teaching method. Chuen-Pao-Cup, the shoulder stretching routine and many of the casual strength training exercises come from Hop Gar. Jam Jong, sensing Strength and Jow Bo are typical Yi Chuan exercises. Even though they come from different arts they have common origins as exercises to cultivate, train and deploy Hunyuan strength. The arts seem different because each uses its own unique set of ideas and concepts to convey the meaning.


Student: So by integrated you mean much more than added, right? Master Fung: Yes, it took me more than twenty years to fully integrate my Hop Gar and Yi Chuan. Bit by bit I had to address each apparent contradiction in theory and method. Eventually I realized that while each art had its own distinct flavor, they were both built with the same basic ingredients. Now I can explain Yi Chuan using Hop Gar theory and train Hop Gar mechanics with Yi Chuan exercises. Today I don't even bother distinguishing which route or shape came from which method. I just teach them within the overall Yi Chuan categories without distracting students with fanciful names and mystical origins. Whatever the shape and whatever the method, as long as you stay within the perimeter of developing Hunyuan strength, you won't be too wrong.


Student: You've described Hop Gar, Yi Chuan, Mok Gar, Dragon Style, Tongbei and Tai Ji as having influence on your development. Can you give me an idea of what each has contributed to your understanding of Kung Fu? Master Fung: Hop Gar is really my foundation. I was fortunate to have a teacher that taught me very directly. From him I learned that real Kung Fu is holistic in its approach to health and self-defense. I also learned that a fighting art must be practical. Hop Gar is well known for its fighting prowess so I learned that no matter how esoteric or bizarre a training method might be it must, in the end, contribute to success in combat. Mok Gar is another very effective fighting art. Of particular value is its use of small circles to deliver rapid and dynamic hand techniques and its kicking method. Dragon Style on the other hand emphasized the undulating body movement and changes necessary for each movement to have power. Tong Bei teaches how strength comes through the back and helps to develop more elasticity in the strength. I also like its no-nonsense approach to footwork. Tai Chi helped me deepen my level of relaxation and I find the form fun to practice with. Of course I could say a lot more about the styles but that should give you the gist of it.


Student: Why do you call your art Yi Chuan when you could teach several different arts or even start a new one? Master Fung: Good question . . . I've considered changing. I could call it Hop Gar - Yi Chuan to commemorate my integration of the two arts. Or I could use a new fancy new name and develop my own theories, principals and routines, but I don't see the point. What I'm teaching is actually very old, not new. Besides, it's had so many names already, what good is another one going to do? I'm teaching my understanding and integration of Yi Chuan. That's good enough for me.


Student: So what does Yi Chuan bring to the table that made you decide to adopt its theory and methods as your primary teaching framework? Master Fung: Your great-grand teacher did something very bold when he created Yi Chuan. He took what was a closely guarded secret and made it central to the practice and openly declared its purpose. At the time it was typical for teachers to be highly selective about handing down the keys to real Kung Fu. In many lineages the skill itself was lost, replaced with forms, exercises and myth. Master Wang Sheng Chai, after learning intensely from childhood and traveling extensively to visit and learn from various masters, founded Yi Chuan in opposition to this trend. Master Wang included not a single fixed form or routine into his method. Rather, he took the essence and formerly secret methods he learned during his lifetime and condensed them into a direct method for developing Kung Fu. Yi Chuan is a gift to martial artists, a way to put aside much of the misplaced tradition and superstition hindering practitioners of all styles and train in a more clear and direct way.

 

2022 Comments

Every time I re-read this section I thank my lucky stars to have a Teacher who provides so much clarity on what real kung fu is and how to develop it. I honestly think I could have wandered about for my entire life collecting forms , exercises, philosophies, belts, patches and fancy jammies. Hell, maybe two or three lives..?


Yi Chuan and Hop Gar make for an interesting pairing. From the outside looking in they seem like opposites, Hop Gar emphasizing big long movements with Yi Chuan doing much of its work from stillness. Add the north/south flavor differentiations and the two methods seem to be from different planets.


On one hand we work big extended shapes, conditioning and elongating the muscles and connective tissue, building strength, stretching tissue and extending ranges of motion. On the other hand we work to internalize those routes, programming and conditioning our frame to amend and optimize itself automatically. I shudder to think what my Teacher must have put himself through to resolve those differences.


It does not take a genius to extrapolate the hypothesis that if two arts such as Yi Chuan & Hop Gar are built on the same DNA, that that DNA is common to other variations of The Method as well. This would mean that what Bodhidharma brought to the Shaolin Temple (or developed while meditating in a cave if the legend is true) has acted like a virus through time. First it infected the monks then began to spread, albeit at a speed governed by the time it takes to develop the skill. As it hit different populations it mutated into a form that was more contagious in the populations it found.


Some versions took on a we designed by militarists, The Method applied to making formations of soldiers far more formattable by training the to use their internal body mechanics to drive shields and spears into the enemy. Some versions were optimized for the security industry, becoming the skill used by those guarding the palace, the caravan, the village. The Method also morphed into a personal arts, helping the practitioner not only defend self but cultivate their being, using the tools to look beyond the façade, to listen through the hearsay, to find some experiential truth.


Its worth noting that when Master Fung speaks of Hop Gar, he is talking about the real stuff, not the pop culture stuff you see online. Its single movement practice, not sets and exercises at the core. Let me extrapolate here because I think there is an important point Master Fung makes that can be missed.


Forms and sets are like the box a present comes in. They are packaging, nothing more. The real work is in unpacking how our being works at a fundamental level, to resolve the apparent contradiction of stillness within movement, steel within cotton, withdraw inside of issue, sink inside of rise, hardness from softness, speed from sloth, knowing from not knowing.


Gung Fu is not set or an exercise, it does not care who you are, where you come from or even whether you believe in it or not. The real Gung Fu is discovering, developing and figuring out how to apply a latent potential that is genetically hard wired into the sacred geometry of our bodies.


This has to be worked out "one move at a time". That's not even accurate. Each 'move' must be itself dissected into and assemblage of micro-movements that results in the macro gesture. So, from a purely logical point of view, no Martial Art is truly form based because the only way to achieve proper form is to directly slave the gesture to the intent that created it. Mind-Fist.


The Yi Chuan Method embodies this approach and, as such, can support the development if Integrated Strength in any 'move' whether it be dragon, tong bei, hop gar, mok gar, karate, silat, systema, tai chi, liue he ba fa, akido, wrestling, jujitsu, etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., or etc., flavored.


The right approach is surprisingly simple.

  1. Figure out how to connect the frame in a simple static stance

  2. Figure out how to move from that simple stance to another simple stance without breaking the unity

  3. Repeat this procedure with increasingly challenging shapes & timings

Repeating transition between a couple of shapes we call an exercise, repeating a sequence of shapes we call a form. The quality of either of these thing is based on the quality of those individual transitions between shapes, nothing more. If you hear what my Sifu said in this interview, really hear it, his advice completely reframes the problem in a way that will help you navigate the warren of internal Gung Fu you have found yourself in. -Steve

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