蔡李佛雄勝第四傳宗師李耀齡

December 21, 2007 marked the end of an era for the Choy Lee Fut fraternity. Hung Sing Choy Lee Fut’s 4th Generation Grand Master Li Iu Ling (蔡李佛雄勝第四傳宗師李耀齡), passed away at the age of 91. Known as the “Golden Disciple” of 3rd Generation Great Grand Master Chan Yiu Chi (蔡李佛雄勝第三傳陳耀墀先師 ), Grand Master Li Iu Ling was personally taught by the Great Grand Master along with his son, Chan Wan Hon (陳雲漢 ), in Guangzhou (Canton). Grand Master Li was acknowledged by his 4th generation peers as one of the very few masters who acquired the true essence of Chan Yiu Chi’s divine art.

Grand Master Li had the distinguished c.v. of having learnt kung fu from three of the top zhong-shis in China during the era just prior to the Second World War. The first was Great Grand Master Chan Yiu Chi, the grandson of Choy Lee Fut’s Founder, Chan Heung Gung. The second was Great Grand Master Sun Yu-feng (羅漢門五省刀王孫玉峰), the inheritor of the Northern Shaolin Lohan School. In his late-teens, he learnt Tai Chi from Great Grand Master Yang Cheng-fu (楊澄甫), grandson of the Founder of Yang Tai Chi, Yang Lu-chan.

Choy Lee Fut Hung Sing Jo Gwoon, Guangzhou

Li Iu Ling entered the doors of Great Grand Master Chan Yiu Chi’s Choy Lee Fut Hung Sing Jo Gwoon (蔡李佛雄勝祖館 – Choy Lee Fut Hung Sing Ancestral School) in Guangzhou (廣州), at the age of thirteen at the introduction of a friend of the Li family. Chan Yiu Chi’s most senior disciples at that time were Woo Wan Cheuk, Kan Ying Kit, Har Pic Chi and Ngoi Kong Yeung who were called the “Four Great Heavenly Kings” (四大天王 ) of Choy Lee Fut’s 4th generation. Although Li Iu Ling was many years younger than his senior kung fu brothers, he was the one who Great Grand Master Chan Yiu Chi favoured the most because of his prodigious intelligence, loyalty and close relationship with his son, Chan Wan Hon, who was about five years younger. In time, he became a part of the family.

The young Li Iu Ling trained together with his master’s son, Chan Wan Hon, in closed door private sessions. He was a fast learner and was able to grasp the essence of his Sifu’s art thus acquiring his Sifu’s lightning fast hands and exquisite footwork. As Great Grand Master Chan Yiu Chi’s most outstanding disciple, he was nicknamed the “Golden Disciple”.  He helped his sifu trained several of his sidais, amongst whom he fondly remembers one called Wong Ho, who excelled and became his protégé. Grand Master Li Iu Ling gave freely of his knowledge. Many of his peers or their own disciples would seek him out for advice or additional tuition in the more advanced but subtle skills that his sifu had taught him.

While other disciples of Chan Yiu Chi addressed their master as “sifu”, Li Iu Ling was the only one who called his sifu “Ah Bak” (meaning Elder Uncle as in a family context). Considered as part of his mentor’s family, to this day, descendants of the Chan family still call Grandmaster Li Iu Ling “Uncle”.

In Guangzhou, the young Li Iu Ling’s Choy Lee Fut brothers were often getting into fights. He was often tricked into going out with them whenever they had fights so that with his superior skills they would always win. Grand Master Li Iu Ling used to recollect those good old days with a chuckle when he recalled how much trouble he would get into without knowing it. There was another time when he and two sidais were ambushed in a bus depot by about twenty people and they fought their way out.

Tender though his age, the young Li Iu Ling soon earned the respect of his sihings for true skills never lie.  Even Woo Wan Cheuk who was the most senior disciple of Great Grand Master Chan Yiu Chi and many years older than Li Iu Ling eventually deferred to him on matters of skills. In Hong Kong, in their later years, Woo Wan Cheuk used to call Li Iu Ling “lo yi” (老二 ), meaning “Old No. 2″. Another one of the Four Great Heavenly Kings, his sihing Ha Pik Chi who was renown for his iron-like claw techniques, would later in Hong Kong send his daughter Ha Kim Ping to learn from Li Iu Ling.

Grand Master Li Iu Ling shared many fond memories of his Shifu and his family in Guangzhou. He remembered fondly Chan Yiu Chi’s aunt, that is the sister of Chan Koon Bak, whom he called “gu por” (Cantonese for aunty) , when cutting wood used to tear chunks of wood apart with her bare hands. Even aunty had great kung fu!

Group photo of Great Grand Master Chan Yiu Chi (seated in the middle with his second son)’s family and disciples in Guangzhou c1934. On his left, in dark traditional  attire, was his eldest son, Chan Wan Hon. His daughter Chan Kit Fong was seated two seats to his right. Li Iu Ling, in white scholar attire, was seated two seats to his left while his sidai and protégé, Wong Ho (in dark attire) was seated on the extreme left of the photo. Grand Master Li’s position to the left of Great Grand Master Chan Yiu Chi in the photograph reflects his eminent position amongst his peers.

For a man with such an unusually high achievement and standing in the Chinese martial arts world, Grand Master Li has always been an enigmatic man. Although his pedigree was widely acknowledged by kung fu masters of his generation he did not take advantage of his status or sought fame through Choy Lee Fut. His friends included famous kung fu masters from other styles such as Grand Master Ng Yim Ming of the Hup Gar Style, Grand Master Shek Kin, his junior kung fu brother at the Northern Shaolin Lohan School who is better known to martial arts fans in the western world as Mr Han in Enter the Dragon, Grand Master Chew Chuk Kai of the Tai Chi Praying Mantis Style, Grand Master Lau Charn of the Hung Gar School, Grand Master Wong Siew Hup, his senior kung fu brother at the Northern Shaolin Lohan School, Great Grand Master Yip Man of Wing Chun, and many others.

A scholar first by choice and coming from a wealthy family, Grand Master Li never aspired to be a kung fu instructor. In addition, Grand Master Li  preferred to shun the petty politics in the world of wulin. He served as school headmaster in his native Gaoyau district and looked after his father’s vast property investments and business interest in Guangzhou and Gaoyau. With the end of the war and the eventual change of government in China in 1949, Grandmaster Li went into self-imposed retirement from the martial arts world when only in his mid-thirties. He led a quiet life in Hong Kong but kept in constant contact with his Choy Lee Fut brothers.

During the Cultural Revolution in China the teaching of all traditional and cultural arts was officially banned. Choy Lee Fut schools along with other kung fu schools in China were closed. Great Grand Master Chan Yiu Chi passed away in Guangzhou in 1965 at the age of seventy-three. His son, Chan Wan Hon died in 1979, at the age of 58.

Choy Lee Fut Hung Sing Dai Sei Chuan Lohan Kien Sun Hok Yuen, Hong Kong

During his retirement, Grand Master Li did not teach anyone kung fu. Even some close friends at that time such as the late-White Crane (Hup Gar) Grand Master “Harry” Ng Yim Ming with whom he would go for early morning yum cha did not know Li Iu Ling’s Choy Lee Fut background. Grand Master Harry Ng had a dislike for Choy Lee Fut practitioners and would boast that he trained his heavy fists to fight Choy Lee Fut people. Grand Master Li would always humour him and said nothing of his own skills. It was very much later in their firendship that Harry Ng discovered by accident Li Iu Ling’s kung fu peidgree. He asked to try out Li Iu Ling’s skills and in only two moves by Li Iu Ling, he realised his perceptions of Choy Lee Fut was wrong all those years. They remained good friends until Grand Master Harry Ng went to live and teach kung fu in America.

Grand Master Li was constantly being asked by close friends and his kung fu brothers to teach. Finally, after Great Grand Master Chan Yiu Chi passed away in Guangzhou in 1965 at the age of seventy-three, Grandmaster Li agreed to accept his first disciple in Hong Kong. His first disciple was Lam Kum Wah (林錦華), a senior exponent of Hung Gar kung fu (洪家功夫 ) who was introduced by a mutual friend. Lam had heard much about Grand Master Li and had asked this friend to introduce him. On meeting Grand Master Li, who was of lean built and had the demeanour of a scholar except for his fierce eye brows and piercing eyes, Lam wanted to test him. Grand Master Li agreed. In a few fleeting seconds, Lam saw his electrifying speed and immediately knelt down and begged to be accepted as a disciple. As they say, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

At Lam Kum Wah’s insistence, Grand Master Li eventually agreed to set up a private school at his flat at Fa Yuen Street, in Mongkok, Kowloon. Grand Master Li Iu Ling named his school “Choy Lee Fut Hung Sing Dai Sei Chuan Lohan Kien Sun Hok Yuen”, meaning the Choy Lee Fut Hung Sing 4th Generation Lohan Centre for Martial Learning.

Grand Master with some of his earliest disciples in Hong Kong c1967: Master Lam Kum Wah, third from right, Au Yeung Chung Sang, second from right and Chan Wai Ping, second from left.

Grand Master Li had no desire to open a large kung fu school. This is not to say that a large kung fu school is not good. There are many large kung fu schools that teach excellent kung fu. Grand Master Li Iu Ling simply preferred to give his students personal attention. He was also impatient in the sense that he preferred to spend his time teaching those who were serious about learning. He felt that the only way he could ensure that the precious art that his beloved Choy Lee Fut shifu had taught him would not be wasted would be to teach his students in small intimate groups under his meticulous supervision.  Students were accepted selectively at a time when many kung fu instructors were taking advantage of the kung fu mania sweeping the world in the late 1960′s to the 1970′s. Grand Master Li’s disciples in Hong Kong came from various backgrounds but most were outstanding if not illustrious. He was very strict when teaching but at the same time had his students interests at heart like a father. Grand Master Li Iu Ling’s early students included Chan Wai Ping, Au Yeung Chung Sang and Liu Foong King.

In the 1972 Special Journal of The Association In Memory of Chan Heung in Hong Kong (陳享公紀念總會), the official world organization formed in memory of the Founder of Choy Lee Fut, Chan Heung) , Grand Master Li Iu Ling was named its first ever Director, Martial Arts Knowledge (學術主任). In the martial arts world where there were often fractional rivalries and petty jealousies, it was a remarkable tribute to Grand Master Li’s kung fu achievement that he was unanimously awarded such a prestigious position. His sihing, Grand Master Woo Wan Cheuk, was President, while Grand Master Chan Kit Fong, the daughter of Chan Yiu Chi, who was living in Hong Kong was made Honorary Life Member. Grand Master Li Iu Ling declined to hold any executive post.

Article on Chan Heung by Li Iu Ling in 1969 Chan Yiu Chi Commemoration Program in Hong Kong

The Association in Memory of Chan Heung in Hong Kong, 1972. Grand Masters Li Iu Ling (seated 3rd from left), Woo Wan Cheuk (seated 4th from left), Chan Kit Fong, daughter of Chan Yiu Chi (seated 4th from right), Tong Shek (seated 2nd from right), Mok Mun Yan (standing extreme left), Law Kei (standing extreme right) and Leung Biu (standing 3rd from right).

The original official portrait of the Founder of Choy Lee Fut, Chan Heung Gung, was painted by two of Grand Master Li Iu Ling’s disciples and professional artists, Dai Hoi Ying and Tam Wan Pang, in Hong Kong during the late 1960’s. They later left for Paris where they studied under the great Pablo Picasso.

Grand Master Li’s students rarely gave public displays of Choy Lee Fut kung fu in Hong Kong. On the odd occasion when he allowed his students to partake in other kung fu functions or events, he would send only two of his disciples while others masters would send a whole contingent of students. Two would always be enough. For each time they performed people could see that their kung fu was “real and truly wonderful”. Such was the class of the man.

Indeed in Hong Kong, Grand Master Li never allowed anyone to call him sifu. He preferred his students to call him “Yiu Sook” meaning Uncle Yiu (Iu) because he treated his students like family and because he never considered himself a full time instructor.

More than forty years after the end of the Second World War, an interesting true story about Grand Master Li Iu Ling was related to his students by one of his si-dais. It was a story that Grand Master Li himself had never told anyone himself before. When his si-dai’s family came to visit him in Sydney in the late 1990′s they revealed that during the War, Grand Master Li gave shelter to a number of his Choy Lee Fut brothers who were seeking refuge away from the big cities. During the war, food was scarse. They lived at his family’s countryside property where he fed his brothers’s families for almost six months without expecting anything in return.  His generosity towards his kung fu brothers was well known to all.

A new chapter in Australia

In 1974, Grand Master Li underwent gall bladder surgery in Hong Kong. Among the team of specialists attending to Sifu was Mr Paul Chia, one of Sifu’s private disciples and one of Hong Kong’s top anaesthetists. On 18 November, 1974 Grand Master Li Iu Ling arrived in Sydney for what was intended originally to be a short stay of three months to recuperate.

Amongst Grand Master Li Iu Ling’s first group of new students in Australia were Alan Yee, William Louie, Francis Ho and Victor Wong. Grand Master Li’s most senior disciple in Australia was Andrew Kwong who had previously learnt Choy Lee Fut from him in Hong Kong. As news of Grand Master Li Iu Ling’s presence in Sydney spread by word of mouth, the Choy Lee Fut following in Australia quickly grew. In April 1975, under instructions from Grand Master Li, Alan Yee and William Louie formed the University of Newcastle Chinese Martial Arts Club. That was the official beginning of Choy Lee Fut in Australia.

Later in 1975, another club was opened at Macquarie University in Sydney. In 1976, one of Grand Master Li’s close friends, the late Mr Lau Onn, provided the use of one of the floors in an office building on Dixon Street in Sydney’s Chinatown to him to establish the official Choy Lee Fut head quarters. His son, Barry Lau, who started learning Choy Lee Fut from Grand Master Li at the age of 9 is also an Alumni member now.

In 1977, Grand Master Li Iu Ling returned to Hong Kong where his beloved wife had died during his absence. While in Hong Kong, he received news that Chen Yong-fa, eldest son of his close childhood friend, Chan Wan Hon, and grandson of his mentor, Chan Yiu Chi, was hoping to leave China to start a new life. Grand Master Li marshalled the support of his students as well as influential members of the community to make it possible for Master Chen Yong-fa to come to Australia in 1983. Upon Chen Yong-fa’s arrival in Sydney, Grand Master Li Iu Ling, true to his unselfish nature and in honour of his sifu, ceased teaching Choy Lee Fut publicy and handed over the Choy Lee Fut gwoon to his “nephew” so that he could take over the task of spreading the glory of Choy Lee Fut. Over the years, Sifu and his disciples, particularly Victor Wong, unselfishly gave their support to Chen Yong-fa. Notably, none of Sifu’s disciples taught Choy Lee Fut in public in Sydney.

Grand Master Li Iu Ling returned to live in Sydney in 1986. During the 1980’s other Choy Lee Fut practitioners who had immigrated to Australia further contributed to Choy Lee Fut’s success. Grand Master Tong Shek, another 4th generation master and sidai of Grand Master Li Iu Ling came to Sydney in the late 1980’s. His disciple, Lai Shing, was an ardent supporter while his son Master Tong Wai Ming trained the early groups of Choy Lee Fut lion dance performers. Mr Kan Chi Yan, a Buc Sing Choy Lee Fut practitioner from Hong Kong, also assisted in lion dances and ceremonial matters. The unicorn dance was added to the repertoire by Victor Wong, who had learnt it in South East Asia. Other Choy Lee Fut personalities who joined the growing ranks of Choy Lee Fut in Sydney included Master Leung Cheung, a disciple of the late Grand Master Wong Ying Sum. One of Grand Master Li Iu Ling’s student, Geoff Hui established schools in Brisbane as well as Papua New Guinea. Master Victor Wong, one of Grand Master Li Iu Ling’s most senior disciples in Australia became Chairman of the Choy Lee Fut Federation Australia.

The then Grand Master of the Chinese Masonic Society in Sydney, Grand Master Lau Ting offered the position to Grand Master Li Iu Ling but he declined. He and the late  Grand Master Lau Ting were close friends and he was content to support him as an Elder of the Chinese Masonic Society. Grand Master Lau Ting’s grandson, Eugene Lau, learnt Choy Lee Fut from Grand Master Li at a young age and is now a member of the Li Iu Ling Martial Arts Alumni. In 2005, when the Chinese Masonic Society celebrated its 150th anniversary, Grand Master Li Iu Ling composed a Chinese poem in its honour. This composition in now adorns the wall of the Society.

Choy Lee Fut in Australia

In 1994, Grand Master Li Iu Ling instructed his disciples to assist his kung-fu nephew Master Chen Yong-fa establish a federation to represent all Choy Lee Fut followers in Australia. Consequently, Choy Lee Fut Federation Australia, a not-for-profit company was established in Sydney. However, by 1998, Master Chen Yong-fa’s gwoon in Sydney ceased to be a member of Choy Lee Fut Federation Australia. The rest as they say is history.

Choy Lee Fut Federation Australia 1995

The Grand Master doting the eyes of a new lion at a Founder's Day celebration.

In Sydney, Grandmaster Li continued to practice qigong in the mornings and mentored a few of his closest disciples, some of whom are teaching Choy Lee Fut privately. A few of Grand Master Li Iu Ling’s disciples in Hong Kong are teaching in private capacities of whom most notably is Master Chan Chi Tai, a qualified practitioner of Chinese traditional medicine in his own right. Master Patrick Law started the Choy Lee Fut Federation in the UK many years ago.

Master Chan Chi Tai, one of Grand Master Li's best students in Hong Kong.

Grandmaster Li’s contribution to martial arts in Australia cannot be overstated for he made available the unadulterated Choy Lee Fut of Great Grandmaster Chan Yiu Chi to serious students of this beautiful art.

In addition, he was the first true kung fu grand master in Australia, showing the path for others to follow. It is said that the difference between a true master and a mere kung fu instructor could be observed in the way they conduct themselves. Grand Master Li Iu Ling’s reputation as a righteous master who is unselfish to anyone who had ever sought his help was well known amongst his peers as well as his students. Underlying his generosity are the values of martial morality (dao de) that he tusght his students and disciples. A man of cultivation shows courtesy and respect for others. These are the foundations of one’s relationship with one’s teacher, elders, students, peers, parents and others in society.

Although he had learnt from famous grand masters, Grand Master Li Iu Ling’s first and foremost loyalty was to the Choy Lee Fut clan. He never sought to create a new martial art in his own name. Having seen much in his lifetime, he had the utmost respect for all systems of martial arts but his love for Choy Lee Fut stemmed from the fact that he truly understood its essence. His loyalty to his Shifu, Great Grand Master Chan Yiu Chi was down to the fact that he valued the sincerity of his Shifu for teaching him unreservedly the true secrets of Choy Lee Fut when in those days such “secrets” were kept only for family members. As the Chinese say “kung fu secrets are passed on to offsprings, not to students” (傳子不傳徒). In the case of his relationship with his Shifu, it was like father and son. He continued to honour his Shifu until the day of his own passing.

Because of his loyalty to Great Grand Master Chan Yiu Chi, Li Iu Ling did not actively teach Chin Woo forms. He always said that his banner is that of Choy Lee Fut. The only Chin Woo forms that he taught his students were Tam Tui (潭腿 ) and Gung Li Quan (功力拳), and sometimes Bagua Dao (八卦刀), as these were good foundation building forms for his students before they actually learnt Choy Lee Fut kung fu. This is a fact verified by all his senior disciples. Grand Master Li Iu Ling did however teach a select few of his closest disciples elements of Lohan kung fu and saber skills as well as Tai Chi.

Grand Master Li Iu Ling with his closest students in Sydney c1996

Prior to his passing, Grand Master Li Iu Ling entrusted the mantle of leadership of Li Iu Ling Choy Lee Fut to his two closest disciples, Victor Wong and Alan Yee. He said “I am old and I cannot always prevent what others might do in my name. But worry not, for my name is just a name. No one can fake the real kung fu that I have taught you and your brothers. My kung fu resides in the both of you. Therein lies the truth.”

Grand Master Li Iu Ling with Alan Yee (left) and Victor Wong (right)

Alan Yee

Disciple of Grandmaster Li Iu Ling

President, Li Iu Ling Martial Arts Alumni Association

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