The Real History of Tai Shing Pek Kwar, Monkey Style Kungfu
By Chan Kai Leung and TC Media
Tai Shing Pek Kwar is one of the most sought after and yet one of the most secret kungfu styles in the world. Its current legends include Grandmaster Chan Sau Chung from Hong Kong, one of kungfu's most respected masters, dubbed the "Monkey King" throughout the world. Since the 1970?s he has become renowned for his incredible performances in Monkey style kungfu. His students have also won four straight championships in the highly competitive Southeast Asia Open Martial Arts Tournaments. We feel extremely lucky to have the opportunity to collaborate with Grandmaster Chan Sau Chung and his son Master Chan Kai Leung as they review the history of Tai Shing Pek Kwar, tell their own stories, and discuss the secrets of this evocative kungfu style.
What is Tai Shing Pek Kwar
There are two major styles of kungfu in Tai Shing Pek Kwar. The words "Tai Shing" refer to the wise monkey character Sun Wu Kung in the Chinese legend of Hsi Yu Chi (Journey to the West), which was written in the sixteenth century. Through the years Tai Shing has become synonymous with Monkey kungfu, a system originated by Kau Sze during the Ching Dynasty. Kau Sze was the chief of an armed escort service. On one particular job he was sent to escort some gold and silver being transported from north to south. When he reached a small village in Guangzhou he helped three young men to escape from being impressed into the army. Several army guards were hurt by Kau Sze in the fight, and, in turn, the army chief ordered his arrest.
Kau Sze was on the run. He went to a local Pek Kwar kungfu master named Kan Wing Kwai for help. After he had explained everything to Kan Wing Kwai, Kan decided to help him. Kan Wing Kwai let Kau Sze wear his kungfu school uniform and pretend to be his student when the army came to search for him. However, the soldiers returned many times and finally caught on to his disguise, and arrested Kau Sze. He was sent to prison for 8 years.
Kau Sze went to the prison near the forest inhabited by many monkeys. He wanted to escape from the prison, but he learned that other prisoners' attempts failed not because they were stopped by the prison guards, but the monkeys. Kau Sze was an expert of Tei Tong Kung Fu (a lower body kicking and ground rolling Northern Chinese kungfu style), so the security guards were not the obstacle; Kau Sze's problem was the monkeys. Therefore, he needed to find a way to win against them, and decided to observe the monkey fighting and playing through the small little window in his cell. Since there was nothing much else to do in the prison, Kau Sze dedicated all his time to watching and learning the monkey fighting.
Kau Sze discovered that each monkey had its own characteristic when it fought. Basically, monkey fighting places emphasis on movement (smooth, quick, unpredictable and clever), ground rolling and sudden attack. Since there are similarities between Tei Tong and monkey fighting techniques, Kau Sze decided to combine them together and call the style Tai Shing Kung Fu. Kau Sze categorized Monkey kungfu into five major styles: drunken, lost, stone, wooden and standing monkey.
Pek Kwar is a very popular Northern Chinese kungfu style dating back to the Ming Dynasty. The first written description of Pek Kwar kungfu dates back to around 1500. It was widely taught in the army because it is practical, direct and powerful. Pek Kwar concentrates on upper body, forearm, fist, low stance training and total body co-ordination. "Pek" means "chopping or downward arm or fist attack" and "Kwar" means "swinging or upward arm or fist attack," in Chinese.
Kan Wing Kwai learned Pek Kwar from his family and was the most famous Pek Kwar master in China. There are 128 unique forms in Pek Kwar kungfu, which include fist sets, sword, spear, staff, steel hammer, hook, axe, Kwan Dao, Chinese scholar?s brush pen and more. Each form has its unique history and application.
Pek Kwar is a practical kungfu style. When you learn a Tai Shing Pek Kwar form, you will first need to learn its history. After you have learned the whole movement of the form, you must learn it again for the application purpose. Each form, usually, can be separated into several sections and each section is unique. The forms can be used independently for self-defense and personal training. Many, many champions use Pek Kwar kungfu to win tournaments.
Two Kungfu Styles Merged by Kan Tak Hoi
When Kau Sze was released from the prison, he went to see Kan Wing Kwai. However, Kan had passed away and left a son, (our Sigong) Kan Tak Hoi. To appreciate the teaching and pay tribute to Kan Wing Kwai, Kau Sze decided to take care of Kan Tak Hoi and teach him Tai Shing kungfu.
Sigong Kan Tak Hoi is the great grandmaster of Tai Shing Pek Kwar. He learned Tai Shing kungfu from Kau Sze and Pek Kwar from his family, and combined them together. Since he respected Kau Sze very much, he used Tai Shing as the first part of the combined new kungfu name. Since then, we call the style Tai Shing Pek Kwar.
Kan Tak Hoi learned Pek Kwar from the age of 8, and became the chief of security guard of an armed escort service when he was 17. After a few years, he joined the army and became the chief first class kungfu and self-defense instructor. When he was 30, he moved to southern China because of the war in the north. Eventually, he moved to Hong Kong and opened his Tai Shing Pek Kwar school.
Chan Sau Chung - Monkey King
Perhaps everyone thinks a kungfu grandmaster should be a tall, big, well built guy. But looks can be deceiving. Grandmaster Chan Sau Chung is 5 feet tall, and slightly built. This, in fact, was the reason for him to start learning kungfu. When he was young, he was very naughty. Most kids were taller and bigger than he was. Therefore, he was an easy target to tease and beat up. In order to protect himself, Chan started to learn kungfu with Sigong Kan Tak Hoi when he was 12 year old, along with his two brothers.
Chan Sau Chung had a natural talent in learning kungfu. Kan Tak Hoi taught him some Sanshou (self-defense techniques) in the beginning so he could protect himself, since street fighting among kids was common in those days. The first boy Chan fought after he had learned kungfu was someone a foot taller and 20 pounds heavier, when he was just 13. With the Sanshou he had learned, Chan was able to take down this boy in 10 seconds. It happened so fast that he thought it was magic, but he quickly came to know that kungfu really worked. Of course, Grandmaster Chan has always been against fighting or using kungfu to harm people. The purpose of kung fu is self-discipline and helping others.
This first fight changed Chan Sau Chung's perspective forever, and it created an interest and desire to learn everything about kungfu. Subsequently, he studied kungfu with Sigong Kan Tak Hoi every day. Kan Tak Hoi saw that Chan had the talent and dedication, and he invited him to learn kungfu full time, and manage his kungfu school. Grandmaster Chan respected Kan Tak Hoi greatly, and saw his future's path in the art. When he was 16 he quit his regular school and become a full time teaching assistant in Kan Tak Hoi's kungfu school.
Kan Tak Hoi also wanted Chan to learn kungfu full time because he believed that Chan was perfect for Monkey Kung Fu. Following his student's learning the entire Pek Kwar kungfu style, Sigong Kan Tak Hoi taught him all five styles of monkey kung fu. This follows the basic philosophy of learning Tai Shing Pek Kwar. You have to learn all the Pek Kwar kungfu and become an expert in that style before you will have a chance to learn Tai Shing.
Tai Shing, or Monkey Kung Fu, is a secret and rare kung fu style. Sigong Kan Tak Hoi and Grandmaster Chan will only teach this art to closed door students. Chan Sau Chung studied kungfu with Kan Tak Hoi for almost 30 years. During this time he helped his sifu manage the kungfu school, and promote the art of Tai Shing Pek Kwar. Every day they would go for dim sum in the early morning. Grandmaster Chan's respect and loyalty to Kan Tak Hoi and Tai Shing Pek Kwar is evidenced in the fact that Chan became the top closed door student and learned all five monkey kungfu styles and monkey staff. Now, Grandmaster Chan and his son, Master Chan Kai Leung, are two of the only people who know all five monkey kungfu styles.
Chan Sau Chung opened his first kungfu school, approved by Sigong Kan Tak Hoi, in 1954 when he was 22. Kan Tak Hoi only allowed four students that he believed were qualified and loyal to Tai Shing Pek Kwar to open schools. Chan was the youngest one among them. Kan Tak Hoi believed kungfu is an art that is traditional and genuine, and he wanted only his very best students to open schools. Of course, they must teach genuine Tak Shing Pek Kwar, and his ultimate goal was to promote real, traditional Chinese kung fu internationally. We can see this vision in the design of the Tai Shing Pek Kwar logo, which is a monkey on the top of the globe. Now, the other three students allowed to teach Tai Shing Pek Kwar have passed away and Grandmaster Chan is following Sigong Kan Tak Hoi's footsteps to promote genuine Tai Shing Pek Kwar.
Real Kungfu Master, Real Champions
The Southeast Asia Champions
The first Southeast Asia Open Martial Arts Tournament was held in Singapore in 1969. All the competitions were "full contact fights" with no protective gear to wear. Chan Sau Chung sent Chan Koon Tai to join the competition. He achieved five straight wins with some knockouts and became the Middleweight Champion. There were more than 10 schools from Hong Kong joining the tournament and only two schools had champions, one of which was Tai Shing Pek Kwar. Chan Sau Chung was also invited to perform Monkey Style kungfu in the tournament and was highly commended. His school became very famous and Chan Koon Tai quickly received many offers to act in different kungfu movies. Eventually, he became a big kungfu movie star. Grandmaster Chan also became famous after this event, and could be seen on many kungfu TV programs, and in newspapers and magazines.
In 1971, the 2nd Southeast Asia Open Martial Arts Tournament was held again in Singapore, and Chan Sau Chung had 3 students competing in the tournament. Chan Siu Chuen got 5 straight wins and was crowned Lightweight Champion. Another student, Luk Kung Sung, took 2nd on the same grade. Among 13 Hong Kong martial arts schools, Tai Shing Pek Kwar was the only school to win the championship. After two winning champions in a row, there were at least 1000 people coming to join Tai Shing Pek Kwar to learn kungfu every week.
The 3rd Southeast Asia Open Martial Arts Tournament was held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 1973. Chan Sau Chung trained three boxers. Seem Lam Yuk got 5 straight wins and most of them were knockouts. He was famous for his powerful fist. Some opponents even forfeited the fight after seeing his match. He won Middleweight Champion. Another student Lau Wai Man took second. During this event Grandmaster Chan also gave a stage performance of Monkey kungfu.
The next year, in 1974, Chan Sau Chung was invited to perform in the United States. He brought Seen Lam Yuk along and gave a show in Hawaii. Chan played the "Drunken Monkey Style" and the applause was deafening. A chorus of "Monkey King" sounded for a long time. Once returning to Hong Kong, a filmmaker offered him the leading role in the movie Monkey Style Boxer Kau Sze. The film was very popular in Hong Kong and it was also shown in many countries. Taiwanese movie-makers and producers invited Chan to make other movies and he then became a kung fu consultant.
The 4th Southeast Asia Open Martial Arts Tournament was held in Singapore in 1976. Chan Sau Chung also trained boxer Wong Chai Wai who got, yet again, 5 straight wins. The last was a fight with the Hong Kong top Western style boxer Cheung Shu Kam. Wong Chai Wai won the fight and proved the strength of Tai Shing Pek Kwar and Chinese kungfu.
That same year both Boston and San Francisco invited Chan Sau Chung's school to perform and compete in tournaments. He agreed to participate in the show held on the West coast. He trained 6 of his boxers to fight a team made up of different martial arts champions including a U.S. Karate champion and a professional Thai boxing champion in Hawaii. Three of Chan?s fighters scored wins, 2 were draws and only one lost in the competition. It was widely known as the best full contact tournament in the U.S. Following this event Chan Sau Chung and his team went on a kungfu tour in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. They were warmly welcomed and Grandmaster Chan's nickname "Monkey King" became well known in the United States martial arts community.
In addition to the four outstanding Southeast Asian champions, Chan Sau Chung often sent students to compete for titles in free fighting in many countries, and Tai Shing Pek Kwar fighters won many competitions. Free fighting become popular in 1970?s. Kungfu free fighting instructor Li Pang led a group of professional boxers to Hong Kong to challenge Hong Kong Chinese martial arts boxers. Chan Sau Chung sent Sin Lam Yuk to fight Li Pang?s student Billy Chau. The result was draw. Tai Shing Pek Kwar was the only kung fu school to take on this challenge.
Organizing Kung Fu in Hong Kong
Chan Sau Chung established the Hong Kong Kung Fu Association Ltd. in 1977 to better organize the kungfu community in Hong Kong. He was elected as the Chairman in 1978. Under his supervision, the Association gave many charity shows and all receipts from sales tickets were donated to charity institutions. The most significant one was the "Saving Child Sponsoring Schooling" campaign organized by the Hong Kong Wah Kiu Yat Poa. Grandmaster Chan was so famous at that time that the Malaysian Government sent a Senior Governor to Hong Kong to invite him to give performance charity shows in Malaysia in 1978. He led a group over 30 people and gave shows in 5 cities in Malaysia. Chan is also the chairman and consultant of the other major kungfu associations in Hong Kong, and he is the Permanent Honorary President & Vice Chairman of the Hong Kong Chinese Martial Arts Association.
Chan Sau Chung has dedicated his life to promoting Chinese kungfu. Although he now spends more time with family life and lets his son take care of matters related to Tai Shing Pek Kwar, he continues to participate in many major kungfu tournaments as a guest and consultant.
Little Monkey King - Chan Kai Leung
Being the youngest child in a big kungfu family, young master Chan Kai Leung grow up with kungfu. He is 25 now and has been learning kungfu since he was 6. The traditional way of kungfu training is tough. He remembers his dad teaching kungfu with a staff in his hand. When one of his dad?s students repeatedly made the same mistake, or was trying to slack off, one of two things would happen. His dad either asked the student to go home and come back when he was ready (if the student was lucky), or he would simply use the staff to strike the student?s legs (most of the time.)
Moreover, each training session was long and demanding, starting from the early morning everyday. It was the old way and it was difficult. However, everyone accepted this old way of training. Actually, people who came to learn Tai Shing Pek Kwar expected to learn the hard way because they knew it worked. Most of the closed door students and fighters going to the tournaments lived and trained in the school with the family. Chan Kai Leung?s mother Mong Koon Lin cooked for everybody. She also taught Chan?s family Tai Chi in her spare time.
It was just like a big family, and the young Chan Kai Leung has always been the center. His dad's students have, from the beginning, been good friends and great trainers. Most students, especially the four champions, shared their valuable and deeply personal kung fu experiences with him because they were just like brothers. However, some students would challenge him because they expected he had learned something special from his dad. Therefore, the little Monkey King needed to be prepared and up to the challenge all the time. Nevertheless, he has learned a great deal from them.
Chan Kai Leung has learned how to teach kung fu from his dad after seeing Chan Sau Chung teaching thousands of students. He has been teaching kungfu since he was in the high school. While other teenagers were going out to play soccer or stayed home to play video games, he used his spare time to teach kungfu in his high school and local community for free. Chan Kai Leung believes teaching is a way to propel his kungfu skill even further. When you teach kungfu, you will understand more and see how other people perform, which is much better than practicing alone. Having 128 unique Pek Kwar forms, weapons, five monkey styles, monkey staff and Chan's family Tai Chi, Master Chan Kai Leung wants to organize Tai Shing Pek Kwar kung fu more systematically and preserve it for generations to come.
Besides his dedication to kung fu, Master Chan Kai Leung is also a good student. He has just finished his accounting degree in Australia. Now, he is working on his CPA exam and his Masters degree in computer information systems. Although he still insists on the traditional kungfu, he also understands that having a good education can help him to promote kungfu. In running a kung fu school one needs good managerial and people skills. Moreover, technology plays a very important part of our lives, especially with the use of the Internet. Chan Kai Leung wants to utilize technology to help him to promote kungfu. The official web site of Tai Shing Pek Kwar www.TaiShingPekKwar.com (or www.ChineseKungFuOnline.com ) is designed and programmed by him.
Little Monkey King inherits the kungfu talent from his father Chan Sau Chung. But, while most people think he could learn anything he wanted from his dad, he actually learned his first Monkey kungfu after he was 18. Grandmaster Chan wants to build him to become the next generation of great kungfu masters. Therefore, fundamentals and discipline are very important. No one has really learned Monkey kungfu until they have learned all the Pek Kwar kungfu, with more than ten years of experience, and demonstrated a full dedication to Tai Shing Pek Kwar. There is no exception, not even his son.
Master Chan Kai Leung also understands this tradition and the reason behind it. Using his Pek Kwar kungfu, he won numerous tournaments when he was young. The most recent one was the gold at the 3rd International Kung Fu Masters Performance & Championship in Hong Kong last year. Now, he devotes more time to practicing Monkey kungfu and performing it in the major kungfu events.
The Monkey's Future
For all the American and Canadian kungfu lovers, Tai Shing Pek Kwar is coming to you. Grandmaster Chan Sau Chung, Master Chan Kai Leung, his family and some of his best students moved to Vancouver, Canada in January, and have established the Tai Shing Pek Kwar International Kung Fu Federation. It is the official headquarters of Tai Shing Pek Kwar. A celebration dinner with over 500 guests from the kungfu community and movie stars was held in Hong Kong last December to celebrate the formation of the federation.
Although Grandmaster and Master Chan do not have any schools in the U.S. yet, they will have seminars periodically in the major American cities to fulfill the growing desire to learn Tai Shing Pek Kwar. The next upcoming seminars will be held in San Francisco and Los Angeles in March 2001. You can visit their web site www.TaiShingPekKwar.com or www.chinesekungfuonline.com for more information and reserve your place online. Grandmaster Chan will teach all the seminars personally with his son Chan Kai Leung.
With the web site designed and programmed by Chan Kai Leung, Tai Shing Pek Kwar will promote traditional kungfu without the limits of boundaries. The history of Tai Shing Pek Kwar is easily accessible on their web site, and the first book of the History of Tai Shing Pek Kwar will also be released in the near future. Moreover, kungfu lovers can register on the ?kung fu friend finder? on the web site to meet other kungfu advocates. Since kungfu lovers are all over the world, Master Chan Kai Leung hopes people can use the media to meet and share their experiences regardless of their kungfu or martial arts backgrounds. Projects like free downloadable kungfu sessions, and an online Monkey kungfu store are also in progress. And, finally, Grandmaster Chan and Master Chan Kai Leung are recording and organizing all the 128 forms of the system on digital format.
Rather than passing the art to a handful of few students, or even letting it disappear, it is efforts like this that will preserve and promote kungfu to everyone.
Kungfu grandmasters from Chan Sau Chung's generation have either passed away or are retired. Sooner or later you will be able to learn a few basic forms at home or online. Of course, this is only a basic foundation, and most forms will still need to be learned from the instructor in person, in the old traditional way. And the most advanced forms, as well as Monkey kung fu, will only be taught to those who show their dedication to and respect for Tai Shing Pek Kwar. Technology can only help to better organize and promote kungfu without boundaries. However, kungfu learning is ultimately about personal dedication, tough training, self-challenge and a proactive journey.
Do you want to be the 5th on the championship? This is exactly what Chan Sau Chung wants to do for you. With years of unique full contact fighting teaching experience and a track record of four straight Asia international full contact fighting champions, Grandmaster Chan wants to train the next generation of champions. He is looking for someone who has good kungfu background and is willing to take hard training. This is a real challenge. We look forward to seeing a new star coming out. May be you will be the next Chan Koon Tai.
Click here for Feature Articles from this issue and others published in 2001 .
Chan Kai Leung and TC Media :
Tai Shing Pek Kwar has a long history, and it has become more famous in this century being led by Grandmaster Chan. Master Chan Kai Leung will continue to promote Tai Shing Pek Kwar with the help of media and new technology. There are more stories and secrets of Tai Shing Pek Kwar and we will continue with this fascinating history in the next issue. If you have questions about Tai Shing Pek Kwar, please write to monkeyking@TaiShingPekKwar.com to grandmaster Chan. The Grandmaster will answer them in the upcoming issue. Or you can post your question on the discussion board of their web site.