The Flying Dragon Tiger Gate System
By Robert Chu
(First published in Exotic Martial Arts of South East Asia, Spring 1999)
The Flying Dragon/Tiger Gate system, also known as the Fei Lung Fu Mun, brought to the United States by late Lui Yon Sang (Lei Ren Sheng) of Guang Zhou, China. Lui was a native of Toishan and had lived in New York City as a Traditional Chinese Medical doctor and herbalist. On the side, Lui taught some of New York's top masters of martial arts his specailty system, known as Fei Lung Fu Mun. Lui's art was not widespread and to learn it, one had to become a disciple. One must have performed the "Bai Si" ritual in order to gain entry. As a result, Lui only taught a select group of disciples his specialty, including Chan Bong (David Chan), Lee Gok Chung (Thomas Lee), Chan Jim, David Wong, myself and others.
Lui was 80 years old when I met him. Although practically unheard of in the West, Lui was famous throughout China during his lifetime. This was because of his knowledge presented in a long running series of articles during the 1980's in China's famous martial arts magazine "Wu Lin" ("Martial World"). So famous was he, he was named the "Nan Fang Gun Wang" ("King of the Southern Staff").
In the Filipino martial arts, it is common for a system of martial arts that involve weaponry. Chinese martial arts are also famous for their weaponry, but unlike most Chinese martial arts systems, Fei Lung Fu Mun primarily consists of weaponry skills. Weaponry skills are taught first, then progress to empty hand skills. Lui, during his youth, was taught by the famous Leung Tien Chiu. Leung was a champion boxer, who at 55 years old, entered a tournament in Nanjing in the 1920's and won 2nd place in open class full contact Lei Tai fighting (no protective gear, and winner throws the loser off the stage). Leung was famous for his mastery of many systems that included Wing Chun, Hung Gar, Choy Lay Fut and other Shaolin Fist systems. Leung Tien Chiu later created his own systems, which his disciples later passed on called "Fut Gar Kuen" (Buddhist Fist boxing), and another system called "Sae Ying Diu Sao" (Snake Form Mongoose Hands) which was featured in an old Jackie Chan movie. This was the source of Lui's boxing system. Lui also studied with a Manchurian named Gwong Sai Lung. Gwong was famous for his pole and spear techniques that came from the Yang family. His pole set was known as the "Fei Lung Fu Gwun", an ostentacious name which summed up his feelings for the staff. It was so named because the movements were as graceful as a flying dragon, and as powerful as a tiger.
The first weapon in the Fei Lung Fu Mun is the pole. We refer to it as the "Cern Gup Dan Gwun" (Single end staff, where both ends are used). The weapon varies in length with the height of the user, and it is properly measured by standing straight and extending your arm. The pole should be the length of the outstretched arm. The wood is the common Ba La White waxwood that is typically from Shangtung, and common in martial arts circles. We specially treat the pole by immersing them in Tung oil for a period of six months so that the pole remains flexible and virtually indestructible. A good Ba La Gwun is considered to obey the user's commands.
I had first heard of Lui Yon Sang by meeting with a training brother of mine, Patrick Chu. We bumped into each other in Chinatown and he told me he waws learning from a master of the Southern pole and that I should visit him. I had been studying Wing Chun Kuen for almost ten years at the time and very proud of my skill with the Wing Chun Luk Dim Boon Gwun (6.5 point staff), in addition, I studied the Hung Gar Fifth Brother Ba Gua Gwun under Yee Chi Wai (Frank Yee) Sifu. From Chan Tai Shan, I had also studied the Lama version of the Fith Brother Ba Gua Staff and numerous staff sets from the Bak Mei system. Patrick raved about this wonderful old man from China, and I thought it sound interesting. When I asked what staff system he taught, Patrick replied the "Fei Lung Fu Gwun"! I thought to myself, what a corny name! I didn't want to study a corny pole system from some crazy old man. In my head I was very proud of what I had already studied. I not only studied forms, but applications and power development of the staff from other systems. I told Patrick that I might look him up someday and take a look and let it go at that.
Later, I consulted with Chan Tai Shan and Yee Chi Wai. Chan Tai Shan told me that Lui was famous throughout Guang Zhou and that I should take a look. Yee Chi Wai told me he had heard of the old man and heard only good things about him. I also spoke with my Yuen Kay Shan and Gu Lao Wing Chun teacher, Kwan Jong Yuen who was also from Guang Zhou. Ah Kwan said he saw a demonstration of the old man's pole in China and that it was very good. Perhaps it was worth a look...
One Saturday, Lee Gok Chung (Thomas Lee) and I went to pay a visit to the Chinatown Chan Jim Herbal shop where Lui worked part time. Lui had just finished having his daily tea and greeted us. He first spoke in Cantonese, then finding that my Si Hing could speak his native dialect, began to speak in Toishan. I looked at the old man and studied him. This old guy was a master? He's so small - about five feet tall, and I can't understand a word he's saying. How am I going to study with him? Thomas was speaking to him of where he hailed and how long he was in the U.S. and spoke of his background and studies of the Tang Fong system of Hung Ga which we both studied under Yee Chi Wai. Thomas was quite good with the Ba Gua pole. Lui Sifu suggested if we were serious to study under him, to join him at the restaurant next week for tea the next Saturday. He mentioned that he would only teach disciples and very serious students. The old man was testing us! He wanted to see if we could come back.
After our meeting with Lui, Thomas and I discussed it for a while. I complained to Thomas if the old man was only going to speak Toishan dialect, I had no desire to study with him. New York City Chinatown in the old days was primarily Chinese of Toishan descent. They were the ones that built the railroads, opened laundries and brought the Southern Fist with them. Because I was from Hong Kong and my family was from Jiang Su, we spoke the Northern (Mandarin and Jiang Su Zhen Jiang) dialect at home, and I picked up Cantonese from my friends. At times, the Toishan looked at me as unusual for my height and pale complexion. We also had a language barrier and at times, I was the recipient of some prejudice from the Toishan, because I did not speak the same dialect. (Chinese are notorious for prejudice amongst the various regions and dialects.) This made it difficult to contemplate studying with Lui. I told Thomas to study with him and check it out for me.
The following Sunday, Thomas had come to visit me at my apartment in Queens for lunch. Thomas had said his meeting with the old man was very interesting. He was teaching some very talented martial artists, notably, Chan Bong (David Chan), an expert in Xing Yi Quan. I remember meeting Chan Bong once from my study with the late Gong Duk Foon (Kenny Gong), the first teacher of Shing Yi (Xing Yi) in the New York City area. Chan Bong was the most senior student and very talented at push hands. His Pi Quan (Splitting Fist) was famous throughout Chinatown. It was a small world! I asked Thomas what he had learned and he demonstrated the first 6 moves of the staff form. I was not impressed. He said the old man was very good and skillful in application of the staff. I crossed staffs with Thomas and found he had learned an interesting application, that of disarming me with his pole! I arranged to meet with Thomas the following Saturday so that I could see more up close and then make my decision to study.
I met Thomas at the restaurant and met Lui Sifu and his group of students at the dim sum restaurant. Lui Sifu sat at the head and related stories to elders Lao Deng, Ah Yau, Ah Chung, and Chan Bong. They spoke in Toishan again, but Chan Bong who had attended Beijing Da Xue (Beijing University) was fluent in Mandarin. We got reacquainted and had a good time discussing small talk about what I was practicing and my interest in Lui Sifu. He informed me that Lui Sifu was very famous in China and was the "King of the Pole in the Southern region of China". Fei Lung Fu Gwun proponents were also skilled in actual free fighting with the poles. Chan Bong went on, surely, I must have seen the series of articles in the past year of Lui Sifu in the Wu Lin magazine. I did. I explained to Chan Bong that I had never saw the staff form, besides what Thomas had showed me, but had heard of Lui Sifu's reputation locally from different sources. I told Chan Bong when I first heard of the staff form I laughed at the name, and asked why Lui's pole set was called "Fei Lung Fu Gwun". Chan Bong explained, "Sifu says the pole is named because it is as graceful as a dragon and as powerful as a tiger." I was very interested. With a name that corny, the teachings had better be good... We finished lunch and proceeded to our private training hall.
Lui Sifu asked me to perform a staff form. I demonstrated the Wing Chun 6.5 point staff form him with full speed and power. Lui Sifu said I had sufficient power, but surprisingly criticized my footwork and positioning. He asked me to attack him, and I obliged with a Darting Dragon Spear maneuver. Before I completed my maneuver, I was the recipient of five blows to the hand, groin, top of the head, instep, and neck! I dropped the staff as a result of the blow to the hand. The Chinese saying "Kuen Pa Siu Jong, Gwun Pa Lo lang" (With the fist, fear the young adept; with the staff, fear the old master) came to me. I had found a real master of the pole.
I became a disciple of the Fei Lung Fu Mun by undergoing the "Bai Si" (Bow to Sifu) ritual . A disciple must kowtow three times humbly while kneeling, then offer tea and a red packet of money to the master. In the red packet was a sum of money and a paper with the words, "100 bows to my Sifu. My name is Chu Sau-Lei (the author's Chinese name) and I hail from Jiang Su province, the city of Zhen Jiang, and my father's name is Chu Luk Yan, and my father is Chu Fook Yuen." With this, Lui Sifu took my tea and drank it, and helped me up. He held my hand and said in Cantonese, "I am 80 years old and will teach you all I know without reserve. You have come to me to learn, despite your being an accomplished expert, and just as I knelt to Gwong Sai Lung when he was 80, I must now teach you." Lui Sifu spoke to me in Cantonese, which I was surprised. Previously, he ignored me and now he treated me as I was part of his family, of which I was. "Ah Gee, ("Chu" as he would call me in Toishan dialect) there are six principles to our system. You should learn them well. The first principle is the concept of the live and dead gates. Do you know what I mean?" I shook my head. Sifu explained, "The live gate is when you can still attack your opponent, and your opponent can still attack you. You must try to position yourself to be in the opponent's dead gate." With staff in his hands and staff in my own, he positioned and moved to my dead gate. This principle corresponded to Wing Chun's mutual centerline facing principle and moving to the opponent's blind side.
The second principle is the concept of the Live and Dead staff. "When your staff is constrained and you cannot move without endangering yourself, this is a dead staff. If you can move freely about, your staff is alive." I nodded in agreement. It is best to have a live staff.
Lui continued, "You must understand your opponent's point of power - the Lik Dim (Power point). In a staff, you only use the last six inches, or the point. This is just like when you use a spear or a gim (Chinese two-edged sword). To understand this is to know where the focus of power comes from. You do not have to go force against force." To know the focal point is common in all martial arts, one has to know this in issuing force and when you want to absorb someone's force.
"The fourth point is to understand the concept of the circle and the point." Lui demonstrated by making a big arc with his pole. "This is the distance which you must be aware of." To illustrate the concept of the point, Lui demonstrated a series of thrusts with the pole. "We have eight major spear motions, you must know where and how the point is coming at you to be able to stop it."
Lui Sifu continued, "Mastering the fifth point is to know when you can enter the circle and when you can exit the circle." Lui demonstrated a series of steps called "Ng Hang Ba Gua Bo" (Five element and 8 trigrams stepping. "Stepping like this, one can enter in the circle or exit the circle with proper footwork." All of the steps were tiny and had made use of my previous systems' training. Lui drew an illustration for me. "These directions represent Gold, Water, wood, Fire and Earth and are so named the five elements. The eight directions are named Qian, Dui, Kun, Li, Xun, Zhen, Gen, and Kan and represent the Ba Gua." Lui was a scholar and was well versed in the Yi Jing, Chinese medicine, and other classics.
"The last concept is for you to understand the old and young staff. The old staff is when it can not move easily, but it can still move. The young staff is when your pole is nimble and quick and can move about freely. You may not understand it all now, but you will when you have trained in the staff and it's applications."
All of the concepts were important in that they were principles of motion in relation to an opponent. Lui wrote down some Chinese characters for me. "The sixteen characters that follow here are the essential characters for study of our system. Lean them well. The first character is Bien - to change. Do you understand?" "Yes Sifu", I replied. Above all, if you must fight, there are changes, and if one tactic does not work, you must not be rigid, but flexible and change."
He continued, "The second character is Bik - to close in or press your opponent. With a staff, you can use body pressure and leverage your power and close in on your opponent." With my background in Wing Chun and Hung Ga, the words were very familiar.
"The next character is Jiu - movement. You must have movement with the pole or your footwork." It made sense, movement was essential in all combat.
"Sou - to withdraw, is next. Sometimes if you are in a bad situation, you must give it up. Withdraw your pole to protect your hands or your body. Withdraw with the pole covering your body." Lui's methods had a very scientific approach.
"Jim is next. Jim means to stick with an opponent's staff. As I know you are well practiced in Wing Chun, I know I do not have to tell you much about that." The Jim concept reminded me of the Chi Gwun (Sticking Staff) training in Wing Chun.
"Before you can Jim, you must Lien - connect with the opponent's staff. This is the sixth character." It made sense- in order to stick with another staff, contact must be made first.
"The next two characters are related", Lui expounded, "Gun - to be with, and Choy - to follow, are almost the same. Gun is when you have Lien - in contact with the opponent. Choy is when you are following the opponent's movement, but chasing after it without contact." Lui demonstrated with me, showing me the differences with staff in hand.
"The next two are self explanatory. The characters are Yum (Yin) and Yeung (Yang) - you should understand them."
"Sifu, I understand them, but what do they mean in relationship to staff fighting?" I asked.
"There are negative and positive in combat. At times you will be attacking, at times you will be defending, sometimes you will be long, other times you will be close. Sometimes you can have tall postures, and other times you can have low postures. This is Yum and Yeung." Lui was also testing my intelligence as a student.
"The next two are inseparable - they are Sen and Yik. Sen is to go against the opponent's force. Yik is to go with and add on to the opponent's force." Lui demonstrated with me. "Stab at me." I complied. The Sen movement went against my force, and the Yik movement went with my force, but left me out of control.
"The last four characters are common in Southern fist. Since you have learned Hung Ga, do you understand them? Fou (Float), Chum (Sink), Tun (Swallow), and Tou (Spit)?" I indeed did. They referred to body motions and were common in Southern mantis, Bak Mei and Dragon form, as well as some forms of Wing Chun, and of course, Hung Ga. "Sifu, do you mean body motions, or are you just referring to the the movement of the staff?" I asked. Sifu's reply was "Both!"
With these sixteen keywords, I could begin to understand the art that Lui Sifu taught.
It had its roots in old martial arts that dealt with keywords and Chinese cosmology. Having a good background in martial arts and notably classical systems had prepared me for much of the old man's teachings.
In the weeks that followed, Lui Yon Sang personally taught me the Fei Lung Fu Gwun set which consisted of approximately seventy six movements, but instead of just teaching me a form and following him, he showed many applications to every movement. The movements of his forms were done in Cheng Wu form, that is poetic names for each of the martial movements. Some were very descriptive, and some were very funny! The names like "Blind man walks the street", "Yee Long ascends the mountain", "Golden Chicken stands on one leg" showed the artistry and practicality of the movements. I have studied many staff forms and in composition, I can honestly say that the Fei Lung Fu Gwun set is one of the most complete in footwork, high, middle, low tactics, moving in all directions and having both long and short maneuvers with the pole. Unique was the grip of the pole, which rarely exceeded twelve inches on the end. In some staff techniques, the portal width of holding the pole spanned almost 36 inches! In our system, it only spanned a short distance in order to protect the lead hand. In fact, most of the staff applications were to strike the lead hand of the opponent. Lui explained, "To strike the lead hand of your opponent's weapon is render him helpless. He cannot hold his staff to fight with you."
The system had numerous matching staff exercises done with a partner. These included Tang Lan Gwun (Slanted Obstruction staff), Tai Lan Gwun (Raising Obstruction Staff), Chin Ji Gwun (Thousand Character Staff), Chuen Sie (Binding Silk) and Yu Kay (Waving Flag) staff. There were also numerous formal staff two man exercises that we practiced. The first one was the Dui Gwun Dai Yat (First Matching Set) and used the major movements of the solo set in a two man pattern. The second set, Fei Lung Fu Dui Gwun Dai Yee, was based on using both ends of the staff and switching left and right leads. Students had to practice both sides of the matching sets to know them well. We also trained with various lengths and weights of staffs and staff of different materials.
Lui also taught a set of eight spearing maneuvers which he called the "Jung Ping Cheung Faat" (Center Balanced Spear Methods), This was based on the eight major spear maneuvers of the Yang Family Ba Gua Spear. The eight spear methods include- Jung Ping Cheung (Level Spear), Sou Hou Cheung (Throat Locking Spear), Ha Ma Sou Hou Cheung (Dismount Throat locking spear), Biu Lung Cheung (Darting Dragon Spear), Charp Fa Cheung (Planting Flower Spear), Chim Dae Cheung (Low Skimming Spear), Wui Ma Cheung (Returning Step Spear), and Pao Tan Hei Mun Cheung (Upwards Springing Spear). The eight spear methods are also found in the Ming dynasty book by Wu Shou Ling called "Shou Bei Lu". In this time of Wu Shu and tournament martial arts, Lui's martial arts preserved the old, classical, battlefield martial arts. My senior classmate, Chan Bong, specialized in this training and was adept at the eight spear methods. During freestyle sparring with him of staff vs. staff and spear vs. spear, he always bested me with his excellent spear maneuvers.
In addition, we learned Lui's San Sao (Separate Hands - Fighting applications) based art taught to him by Leung Tien Chiu. They consisted of two man partner exercises called "Fei Gim Sao" (Flying Sword Hand) and "Kum Na Sup Ba Da" (Control and Seizing 18 strikes). Lui was a scholarly man and did not like hard methods of force against force. All of his motions include taking an opponent's outside gate and striking the opponent from behind, and were economical and brief. Unique was his "Tib Kiu" motion, which resembled Wing Chun's double Tan Sao position. Lui used it to jam an opponent's attack and entered.
I spent 3 years learning from Lui Yon Sang from 1985 to 1988. He taught his entire Fei Lung Fu Mun system to me in that time and also included copious notes, Dim Mak charts, herbal medicine, and history so that I could refer to it. Sifu later suffered from poor health and memory and later went back to Guang Zhou to retire from teaching, and to be with family. He passed away in 1991. I will always remember the man for his openness and kindness to me and for teaching me without reserve. Since Lui Sifu's passing, my Si Hing in Guang Zhou and in New York City have been teaching the Fei Lung Fu Mun system, and I have also passed it on to my students, James Ng and Steven Eng in New York City, and Anant Tinaphong of Bangkok, Thailand. I have recently taught Ng Yew Mun of Singapore the first level of this system, and have begun to offer it as part of my student's curriculum here in Los Angeles. My training with Lui had influenced my thinking of weaponry and its practical application. His teachings led me to study my Wing Chun and Hung Ga pole and recognize the combative elements in the sets. His teachings also influenced my footwork and empty hand applications, too. Had I not become his disciple, I would not have realized the treasure he had to offer.
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