A Legend's Story

A young Master Chiu WaiA Memorable Visit
Everyone has those pinnacle moments in their life. For a hockey fan it might be meeting Wayne Gretzky; for a young teenage girl, perhaps the Jonas Brothers. For myself it was Master Chiu Wai, a legend in Hung Gar kung fu. Some years ago I arranged a trip to Calgary (for those of you south of the border, that's right smack in the middle of Canada) to present him with an honorary membership in the Canadian Hung Kuen Association, and looked forward to having our plaque adorn his wall amongst hundreds of others.

Arriving in Calgary, I received a call from Master Chiu Wai's son Ambrose. We met in the Dit-ta medical clinic that he operates, located in the downtown Chinatown area. Ambrose, a mild-mannered soft-spoken man with a big smile, greeted me warmly. I was immediately drawn to all the photos and certificates on the walls. One could literally look for hours at all the incredible history that was on display.

As our conversation turned to Hung Gar and his father, Ambrose and I headed to a local Chinese restaurant. We found Master Chiu Wai already waiting for us there, and I could feel the staff's reverence for him. Before we joined him, the waiter told me what a special customer Master Chiu was and that the table had been specially set up for him. Master Chiu smiled as we approached. He is not a big man, but very well built, and though in his 60s at the time, he had the physique of a man half his age. I bowed and saluted him, and he greeted me with a very firm handshake. This was not a chicken fried rice and chicken ball kind of Chinese restaurant, but very traditional, and one that Master Chiu and his son frequented often. As we dined, we talked about Hung Gar and its rich history. Finishing our meal, Master Chiu asked if I was ready to come over to his house to exchange training ideas and for him to take a look at my form. My excitement mounted as we got up from the table and bowed.

Master Chiu and his wife made me feel at home the moment I entered their house. After the formalities and small talk, Master Chiu showed me a videotape of one of his recent performances while on a cruise ship vacation. It was very plain to see Master Chiu loved to share his kung fu. When we went into his training room, I saw hundreds of pictures and certificates adorning the walls. The greatest treat was seeing the free weights that Master Chiu's father Chiu Kow used in his school in Hong Kong. I felt like a kid in a candy store, because I had seen these weights in many old photos, and it was like seeing a part of history. Master Chiu asked me to perform the Fu Hok Seung Ying Kuen (Tiger and Crane fist set) for him. Though very nervous in his presence, I managed, and was very pleased to receive guidance and encouragement from him. He then proceeded to perform the Moi Fah Kuen (Plum Flower fist set) for me. To see a great master such as Master Chiu Wai perform was breathtaking, and like a hockey fan getting to shake Wayne Gretzky's hand, I felt greatly inspired. My visit with Master Chiu was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

A young Master Chiu WaiThe Royal Family of Hung Gar Kung Fu
Master Chiu Wai was born in 1931 in Hong Kong. He grew up in a Chinese martial arts family. His parents, Chiu Kow (1895-1995) and Siu Ying (1904-2002), were disciples of late great Hung Gar Master Lam Tsai Wing (1861-1942). Master Lam was one of the prominent prot?g?s of the famous Hung Gar Master Wong Fei Hung (1850-1925).

When Chiu Wai was a toddler, his parents had their own Hung Gar Martial Arts school and Chinese Dit-ta clinic in Hong Kong. He started learning Hung Gar at the ripe old age of seven, under the guidance of his parents.

Days Gone Past
Master Chiu still has fond memories of the good old days (we are talking about 70 years ago) when a Chinese martial arts school was like a family. Members in the school took care of each other. Students respected their Master as a senior member of the family. Not only did they pay for their training lessons, they provided staple goods to the Master whenever they could afford it. The students shared daily chores around the school. Usually, new students took up most of the jobs. Training was relatively strict and very tough. The only training for new students was basics such as (Ma Gong) horse stance training and bridge drills, which could last for upwards of a year. It was a good way to establish a solid foundation for the future of the training style. Most students today would not tolerate this type of rigorous training, finding it monotonous and time-consuming.

Nowadays, students learn the horse stance in the first three to four lessons, quickly followed by a short form (hand set) to make the learning process more interesting. Though training the horse stance is still emphasized in Hung Gar today - to develop stamina and strength of the hips and legs - it has been modified to suit the needs of modern-day students.

When a Chinese martial arts school was like a family

The Japanese Occupation
During the Second World War, the Chiu family took refuge in mainland China after the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong (a British colony at the time). They settled in Chiu Kow's hometown in Guangdong province. At the age of ten, Chiu Wai walked from village to village to teach Hung Gar with his parents and his elder brothers, Chiu Kam Feng and Chiu Kam Ching. Life was hard during this time, and they had to do farming to grow their own food. In 1941, the Chiu family had a new member, Chiu Chi Ling, the youngest son of Chiu Kow and Siu Ying.

When the war ended, the family returned to Hong Kong. They continued to teach Hung Gar and operated a Dit-ta clinic. Besides Hung Gar training, Chiu Wai and his brother Chiu Kam Ching did bodybuilding exercises. Chiu Kam Ching was quite active in the body building community in the early 1960s. This explains why many students from Chiu's Hung Gar school do weightlifting as part of their regular training program. Though some people think that muscle building does not go well with martial arts training, because well-developed muscles will hinder speed and flexibility, the Chiu family has proven that weight training is beneficial.

Master Chiu weilding Hung Gar Butteryfly SwordsHis Own School
Master Chiu Wai married in 1957 and had his first child Chiu Kwok Keung (Ambrose) in December of that year. In 1958, Master Chiu Wai established his own school on the roof of an apartment building in Mongkok, Kowloon. That was on the seventh floor of a building with no elevator. Students climbed about a hundred steps to reach the rooftop for classes, and walked down the same way after class. That was not an easy task for new students who already had a hard time with horse stance training. Master Chiu remembered that one day, after all the students had left his school, he went out for a late-night meal. He passed one of his new students on his way down the stairs. That student had spent about an hour trying to descend to the ground floor! Master Chiu told the student his training continued even after class.

In 1960, the school moved to the second floor of another building down the street, and stayed there for the next twenty-eight years. In the late 1970s, Master Chiu was invited to teach Hung Gar to movie stars and extras in the Shaw Brothers film studio at Sai Kung, Kowloon. His own student, Chik Kwun Kwon, became a famous kung fu actor.

In the early 1980s, though very busy, Master Chiu made time to teach Hung Gar at a technical high school. Hung Gar training went on at that school for years. When Master Chiu could no longer spend time there, senior students took over the teaching duties and kept the Hung Gar classes going.

Master Chiu Wai a distinguished performer

The King of Kung Fu
From a young man until well into middle age, Master Chiu Wai distinguished himself with impressive performances in Chinese martial arts tournaments. Mentioning only a few of his achievements during his days of competing:

From 1957 to 1959 Master Chiu Wai held first place honor prize, Guangdong Martial Art Tournament. In 1979 he received first place honor prize, Southern Chinese Martial Art, Nanning, Guangxi. In 1980 he earned first place honor prize, Southern Chinese Martial Art, Taiyuan, Shanxi. And in 1985 first runner-up in Southern Chinese Martial Art, First International Tournament of Chinese Wushu, Xian, Shanxi. In 1986 he received first runner-up, Southern Chinese Martial Art, Second International Tournament of Chinese Wushu, Tiayuan, Shanxi. In 1986, Master Chiu Wai (known as the King of Kung Fu) decided to retire from tournaments; it was time to let some of the young guys win. In the Second International Tournament of Chinese Wushu, he was fifty-five years old and competed with young men at least half his age. The champion in that category was a twenty-year-old man from Mainland China. Wushu (as opposed to traditional martial arts) had taken center stage, emphasizing presentation over application, making it very much a young man's sport/art.

A Legend Retires
Master Chiu Wai retired in 1983 after teaching Hung Gar for well over fifty years to thousands of students. Many of his students have moved to different parts of the world, and some have kept on teaching Hung Gar in North America, Europe and Australia.

His contribution to the promotion of his art is very evident. One of his students - Wing Lam - is well-known in Chinese martial arts in the San Francisco area (Wing Lam trained under Master Chiu Wai for years in the early 1960s). Another student, Lam Chuen Ping, has taught Hung Gar in Barcelona, Spain. Now Lam's students have established schools in different parts of Europe.

Also following in their father's footsteps are his eldest son Kwok Keung (Ambrose), who also lives in Calgary, and Kwok Kei (Dennis), who still lives in Hong Kong. They are both devoted to carrying on their father's legacy, and both teach kung fu and operate Dit-Ta clinics as well.

Master Chiu Wai a distinguished performer

New Life in a New Country
After his retirement, Master Chiu immigrated to Canada. He currently lives in Calgary, Alberta. He turned seventy-eight in October of last year and is still active in the Chinese community. Being an honorary committee member of the Calgary Chinese Elderly Citizen's Association, he volunteers his teaching skills to all ages on Sunday mornings. In recent years, Master Chiu and his wife travel two to three times a year to different countries. Master Chiu still participates in talent shows while on cruises abroad.

His demonstration of Hung Gar skill at the age of seventy-plus always impresses the audience and staff of the cruise ship - a testament to his willingness to share his art.

A Champion of Traditions
Old traditions are rapidly vanishing from the martial arts landscape. However, one royal family of Hung Gar still spreads the word of the old ways - tradition, honor and respect - keeping them alive. The family's patriarch - Master Chiu Wai, a true legend - is still at the helm, keeping this beautiful art from disappearing.

Discuss this article online

About Curtis Kautzman (background provided Master Chiu Wai, translations and photos Ambrose Chiu) :
Find us on facebook Sifu Curtis Kautzman is the President of the Canadian Hung Kuen Martial Arts Association. Master Chiu Wai and his son Chiu Kwok Keung are honorary members of the Canadian Hung Kuen Martial Arts Association.

Print Friendly VersionPrint Friendly Version of This Article