This is a loose translation from an old Chinese kung fu manual found in a library. It is written in "old Chinese" with illustrations of monks doing stances, and a photograph of the author as an old man. The author turned out to be Lam Sai Wing, student of the famous Dr. Wong Fei Hung, one of the Ten Tigers of Kwantung (portrayed in books, plays, movies, and TV; most recently of Jet Li's movie series "Once Upon A Time in China"). Unfortunately there is no copyright date, however the picture of Lam Sai Wing is of an old man, Wing died at 81 in 1942, so the book was probably written in the 1930's. Wing got the story of Hung Hei Guen from his teacher Wong Fei Hung who got it from his father Wong Kay Ying.
Tiger-Crane System by Lam Sai Wing
Hung Hei Guen was the student of a highly respected monk named Gee Sin, under whom he diligently studied hard styles of wushu. At one time Hung traveled to Fukien Province, while there he stopped to rest at a temple in Wing Chun County. He saw a nun practicing martial arts and watched her performing beautiful movements. Having studied martial arts himself, Hung was fascinated. After a time the nun heard a noise and noticed Hung watching her. Hung asked her what style she was doing. The nun replied that it was not an existing style but one she had created out of boredom and a sense for self-protection. She went on to tell Hung that one day while drying sesame seeds a crane had come out of the woods and was walking all over the seeds making a mess. To frighten the bird off she had taken her staff and tried to shoo it away. Instead of being afraid the crane easily evaded the staff. Being skilled in the martial arts she attacked the crane more vigorously, and still the bird rffortlessly evaded the strikes, even daring to attack the wooden staff.
The nun was quite intrigued with the bird's agility. The next day the crane returned and again she tried to shoo the bird away with out success, now the nun was keenly observing the birds movements; this went on for several days. Out of this she began to fashion the movements into a system of self-defense. While it helped pass the time outside of her regular duties in the temple, she had no idea just how effective the system would be against a real opponent.
As they talked some more Hung found out her name was Fong Wing Chun. Her brother had been killed in a fight, before he died he asked that Fong Wing Chun take revenge for him. However as a nun she could not break her vows and intentionally take a life. Hung begged the nun to teach him her system of fighting and she agreed on the condition that he take revenge for her. Hung agreed to this and Fong Wing Chun taught him her new system. Hung sought out and found the man who had killed Fong Wing Chun's brother, he accepted Hung's challenge and the fight ended with Hung taking the man's eyes out.
Hung Hei Guen was known as a gentle man with a great interest in wushu. He believed that it was not possible for any one person to know it all, and always sought out and learned the best moves from others, then practiced hard to develop them, eventually becoming a famous wushu instructor. Hung is attributed to creating the Hung Gar, or Hung Family, style of wushu. It is believed that the elements of the art were passed on to him and that he further evolved them by combining his hard style with Fong Wing Chun's soft style into the Tiger-Crane system.
This story differs from the standard myth that Hung Hei Guen was a rebel who learned Tiger style at the Shaolin temple in Fukien from monk Gee Sin. That the temple was destroyed by Ching troops with the help of a traitor monk named Bak Mei; Bak Mei, along with three other monks and a nun, escaped. Hung Hei Guen married a woman named Fong Wing Chun who was skilled in the White Crane system, and eventually he took revenge on Bak Mei. Mean while the nun, whose name was Ng Mui, went on to develop a Snake and Crane system that she would name after her first pupil, a girl named Yim Wing Chun.
In Lam Sai Wing's story we can see from where the components of the above myth came. Hung Hei Guen learned hard styles of wushu from a "highly respected monk named Gee Sin." There is nothing hinting at Hung being a rebel or had any anti-Ching sentiments. At the time Wing wrote this the Ching Dynasty had already fallen so he would not have feared government reprisals for writing anti-imperialist statements. Hung was on his way to Fukien Province from where he lived in Kwantung Province, while there he stops at a temple--not a Shaolin temple, just a Buddhist temple--in a county called Wing Chun; the name itself meaning "eternal spring," possibly a common name in that area. (This county is found half way to the capital city of Fukien, in Mandarin it is: Yongchun.) Enter the nun named for youth, beauty and hope, creator of a Crane based wushu system. Finally there is the quest theme where in order for Hung to learn the system he must show honour by defeating evil.Hung Gar lineage (this is not from Wing's manual, so Fong Wing Chun is not mentioned):
Monk Gee Sin->Hung Hei Guen->Luk Ah Choy->Tit Kiu Sam->Fong Sai Yuk->Hung Man Ting->Lam Fook Shing->Wong Kay Ying->Wong Fei Hung->Lam Sai Wing->Lam Jo->Tang Fung
As we can see from this "tree" there is quiet a time gap between Hung Hei Guen and Wong Kay Ying. Wong Kay Ying would probably have told his son the story as a boy. How then did Wong Fei Hung recount the boyhood tale to his student, Lam Sai Wing? What you have read above is my translation as was told to me by the woman I had read it, not a word for word account of what Wing wrote. The "real" story is long lost, what is left to us is the myth teaching of honour, fortitude, humility. The exact origins are not so important as what these stories have to teach us.
- Written by: RJ West