By: Leo Fong
Two Books by Leo Fong
Sil Lum Kung-fu: The Chinese Art of Self-defense
(Ohara Publications, 1971,160 pages)
Choy Lay Fut Kung-fu: Chinese Art of Self-defense
(Ohara Publications, 1972, 192 pages)
Review by Christopher Dow
Leo Fong was probably more familiar to Western martial artists back in the 1970s, when American interest in kung fu and kung fu literature was on the rise. In addition to writing a number of books on kung fu, Fong also was a martial arts actor back in the days when most Western-made martial arts movies were gut-wrenchingly bad—though a lot of the Hong Kong chop-socky flicks weren’t any better, supplanting the various Shaolin martial arts with Shaw Bros.-style and Golden Harvest-style.
Fong doesn’t water down paricular styles in these and his other books. Even if the movies he was in tended to be bad, he was obviously expert in kicking ass with external styles. And, as the offerings of these two books indicate, he was versed in several martial arts. His journey began in Canton, China, in 1929, but his family relocated to the United States when he was five. While living in Arkansas as a young teen, he was bullied because of his race, and following a fight with another student, he took up boxing at age 15. His amateur record was 18–7, and he had a knock-out punch.
Soon after, Fong took up Judo and Jui Jitsu, which were followed by a plethora of other martial arts styles. He would study one art then move on to another, continually adding to his repertoire and leaving a trail of instruction manuals in his wake. All this culminated in his own amalgam art called Wei Kune Do (Way of the Integrated Fist). In this, he was perhaps emulating his friend and sparring partner, Bruce Lee. In addition to being a superior martial artist, Fong earned a BA in physical education, a masters of theology, and a degree in social work. He also is, interestingly enough, a former Methodist minister.
Both of these books are basic Category I instruction manuals. Sil Lum Kung-Fu (an alternate spelling for Shaolin kung fu), which is his first book, begins with a brief history of kung fu, particularly at the Shaolin Temple. The history starts with Daruma Taishi (Bodhidharma) traveling to the Shaolin Temple and continues anecdotally through several subsequent Shaolin masters, ending with Wong Tim Yuen who, according to Fong, was the first Shaolin master to emigrate to the U.S. (No date or other information given.) Also included are the bare basics of how Shaolin forms were developed from animal movements.
I like the statement Fong makes at the outset of the next, very short, chapter: “Kung-Fu is as much mind as it is body. Concetration is an indispensable and integral part of Kung-Fu training.” He also says, “It is better to master two movements perfectly than to learn a thousand haphazardly.”
Warm-up exercises come next, and these include strengthening, stretching, rotation, squatting, and so forth. I used to do a lot of this sort of thing when I was younger, and I’m glad I did, but most of this stuff is definitely for those under 50.
A pictorial glossary of blocks and strikes come next. Each is illustrated against an opponent, and the strikes include fists, feet, elbows, and so on delivered to various targets. A method of horse stance training occupies the next chapter, and it looks pretty useful for any martial arts style, Tai Chi included. After that, Fong goes into the form training section. The form is Lin Wan Kune (The Continuous and Returning Fist). I don’t practice Shaolin, of which there are many styles, and I’m not that familiar with it, though I’ve seen a lot of its many forms demonstrated. But performance doesn’t usually encompass a full, classical form, and I don’t know if this is a standard form or not. But it is well explicated, with plenty of good photos to accompany the adequate text. For the most part, Fong presents each movement separately on different pages, which gives clarity to each movement. And they easily link together as the pages progress for sixty-two pages.
The next chapter shows just the photos of the form, reduced in size and strung out in sequence over fourteen pages so you can get a fairly uninterrupted view of how the form flows. A chapter showing applications against an opponent closes the book. There are a number of pages of these applications, and they’re about what you’d expect: blocking, punching, kicking, etc. against an opponent.
Fong’s next book is Choy Lay Fut Kung-Fu. It follows the pattern of the previous book, and the first three paragraphs on the history of Choy Lay Fut are identical to the opening of Shaolin history in the first book. But, hey. I don’t guess the history changed in the year between the two books, and a reader of one of the books might not read the other. And it really doesn’t matter, anyway, if Fong chooses to recycle text rather than paraphrase himself. After that, Fong tells how Choy Lay Fut was developed out of Shaolin kung fu by Chan Jeung of Kwang Tung Province. Chan’s martial arts lineage is detailed, but without dates, as is the subsequent transmission of the art through a series of practitioners.
Fundamentals of Choy Lay Fut follow, principally encompassing stances and footwork. After that, over the course of seventeen pages, Fong demonstrates the Choy Lay Fut Horse Form in photos and text. Two Choy Lay Fut exercises are then shown, both done with partners. The first looks a little like a vigorous version of Tai Chi’s single-handed push hands, and the other is a hard blocking drill.
The next chapter is somewhat unique. Often, the photos that accompany form instruction manuals will have arrows added to the figures to indicate the direction in which the limbs move. Fong doesn’t do that in the form instruction section, but here he breaks out twenty movements that recur in the form to examine them in more detail, usually in three to six photos that include arrows. I like this because presenting these in this way gives the user of the book a chance to perform them as repetitive drills to help nail down the movements more exactly.
The next chapter is form instruction in Cheung Kune (Long-range Fist). This continues over about eighty pages and uses an amazing 450 photos. The text is a little sketchy, but with that many photos, the sequence is quite well presented. A chapter of applications against an opponent end the book, and it’s about what you’d expect, though fairly long at fifty pages.
Again, I haven’t practiced any Shaolin kung fu style except a little Praying Mantis, so I can’t say how standard Fong’s forms are. But his pedigree is excellent and his skills significant. The material, though not supported by much in the way of background, is clearly explicated and very well presented. If you’re learning or already practice these styles, these books are worth a look.