By: Bucksam Kong
Hung Gar Kung-fu
Chinese Art of Self-Defense
by Bucksam Kong and Eugene H. Ho
(Ohara Publications, 1973, 224 pages)
Review by Christopher Dow
Hung Gar kung fu has its roots in the northern Shaolin Temple just prior to its destruction by the Manchus during the Qing Dynasty. The art was originally developed by Hung Hei-gun, a monk at the temple, by combining forms taught to him by two other monks: Gee Seen Sim and Fong Wing Chuen. Soon after, Manchurian forces burned the temple, forcing the monks to flee. Many of them went south, some to the Shaolin Temple there, others into towns and communities, carrying with them the roots of the five southern Shaolin styles.
Once relatively safe in the south, Hung and his disciples formed the Hung Mun, a secret society of anti-Qing rebels, and their martial art became known as Hung Ga, Hung Gar, or Hung Kuen. Hung Gar is characterized by deep, low stances and strong hand techniques, though due to a great variety of practices among Hung Gar’s many branches and its several descendants, there is no standardized curriculum or method of practice. One of the most famous of Hung Gar practitioners was Wong Fei-hung, who founded one of the art’s several major branches. Bucksam Kong, the author of Hung Gar Kung-fu, has a place on an alternate branch founded by Lam Sai-wing.
Hung Gar often is considered a hard style of kung fu, and its practices and forms might start out in the manner of a hard style, but over time, the practitioner learns to soften and internalize the movements, giving the mature art a more Tai Chi-like quality.
Kong opens the book with a history of kung fu that is oriented, of course, toward Shaolin styles in general and Hung Gar in particular. Kong’s history is brief and does not really do justice to Hung Gar’s complex background. Next are several pages devoted to displaying examples of Hung Gar’s five animal styles: tiger, crane, snake, dragon, and leopard. The philosophy of kung fu is next, but at a mere half-page, it’s almost a pointless addition.
Kong devotes more space to several important concepts or points: strength, speed, the tantien, breathing, lines and circles, soft and hard, and long and short range. In each of these sections, he makes observations that Tai Chi Chuanists would be interested to note. First, he categorizes strength into muscular strength (hei lek) and refined force (gin lek). Tai Chi folks will readily recognize these as li and jin. Kong also emphasizes that power and movement originate in the tantien. Breathing, he says, should be abdominal, deep, and cyclical. Also interesting is that, though Hung Gar is basically an external style, it emphasizes blocking and striking along curvilinear lines. It also trains one to redirect force instead of absorbing it by meeting hard with soft. “Hard and soft are not fixed levels of strength,” Kong writes. “They are interchangeable and applied spontaneously.”
Stances are the topic of the next chapter, with Kong demonstrating five major stances used by Hung Gar practitioners. A couple of hand drills follow, which are as much chi kung exercises as they are physical ones. Ten basic exercises or drills come next, some of the photos showing Kong alone, some with an opponent. Several blocking methods round out this section of the book.
The next 140 pages are devoted to Kong demonstrating various techniques against an opponent. Illustrations of stepping patterns accompany the photos. He finishes the book with a conclusion that touches on meditation and the need to internalize martial arts movements so thoroughly that they become instinctual, spontaneous, and instantaneous.
Hung Gar Kung-fu is a Category I book for Hung Gar practitioners. Even when the book was first published, Kong was an expert practitioner, and he’s now considered a master of the art. While this book is principally for students of Hung Gar, it was interesting to me to observe the parallels between this obviously external style and the internal art of Tai Chi.