Lam Family Kung Fu Legacy
Generations of Martial Excellence
Lam family is one of the most respected and well know gung fu families in the world. Known through out the globe not just for their impeccable martial and medical skills but for their endless efforts to openly teach, promote and uphold the true spirit of Hung Gar kung fu. For generations, from master to disciple, father to son, the Lam family has been carrying and passing on the traditional art of Hung Gar gung fu and Chinese Medicine (Dit-Da) with integrity and pride.
Lam Sai Wing
The Lam Family’s Hung Gar legacy begins with Lam Sai Wing who is widely considered as one of the best martial artist of his time and most certainly one of the most well known gung fu masters of all times.
Lam Sai Wing (1860) was born in Ping Chow, a small village in Namhoi district of Kwangtung province, China. He was brought up in a family of expert gung fu masters and following his family tradition started learning gung fu and traditional Chinese medicine from a very young age under his father Lam Che-Chung, and grandfather, Lam Geui-Chung. His strong interest, natural ability and unbreakable dedication in gung fu allowed the young Lam Sai Wing to learn and progress rapidly.
In time he mastered his family style but was still yearning for more. His hunger to learn further and dedication to improve, perfect his skill led him to seek out and train with some of the most well know gung fu masters of his time.Lam Sai Wing’s search ended with the legendary folk hero Wong Fei Hung. For those who are new to Chinese martial arts, Wong Fei Hung is without a doubt one of the most renowned, respected and talked about gung fu masters of all time. His life and exploits has been immortalized by hundreds of movies, publications, TV&Radio shows, comic books etc. In-fact so famous, that he has become a household name all over China, Hong Kong and most parts of south-east Asia. For Hung Gar practitioners around the world, he is considered as the father of the modern day Hung Gar due to his additions and the pivotal role on the development of Hung gar as we know today.
The young Lam Sai Wing was fortunate to become one of Wong Fei Hung’s indoor disciples. He trained under the careful guidance of his master for decades, learning and mastering everything, including Wong Fei Hung’s famous dit da skills and lion dance. He eventually became the chosen successor of Wong Fei Hung to carry on the tradition and teachings of the Hung Gar style.
In those days open challenges within the martial arts circles were common and as part of tradition it was a known fact for the top disciple of a master to fight first in any challenge match. As a result of such tradition, Lam Sai Wing faced many expert gung fu fighters who came to cross hands (challenge) with his master. With his victories, his fame grew and he soon became one of the most respected figures within the martial arts communities. There are countless real life accounts, stories and incidents about Lam Sai Wing and his life, from open challenge matches to recorded incidents such as the Lok Sin theater incident where Lam Sai Wing and a handful of his students were trapped and forced to fight for their life against 100s of armed opponents and survived without a scratch. Sticking to the main topic we’ll leave these stories for another time.
Besides his martial and medical skills, Lam Sai Wing was respected for his strong character, honesty, righteousness and moral values. He is also well known for his endless efforts to teach, spread and preserve the art of Hung Gar and teachings of Chinese Martial arts. He was the first Hung Gar master to publish books on the style. To this day his 3 books are the best Hung Gar books ever published and considered as the treasures of Hung Gar style.
Lam was an excellent teacher and taught his skills openly to the public. Mass of students from all over southern China came to study under him. Being an excellent teacher, he trained many talented and high caliber students. He was also asked to instruct the army in martial arts and became the head instructor for the new Republics Chinese army in Canton.
Lam Sai Wing did not have children of his own, but adopted a young orphaned boy (Lam Cho) whose parents had passed away when the boy was still very young. Lam Sai Wing loved and raised Lam Cho like his own son and taught him everything he new about Chinese Martial Arts and Medicine.
Some years after the fall of Ching Dynasty and in early years of the Republic, Lam Sai Wing was invited to live and teach in Hong Kong. Lam Sai Wing eventually moved to Hong Kong, taking his nephew with him. Soon after moving to Hong Kong, Lam Sai Wing set up the Southern Martial Physical Culture Association (Nam Mou Taiyuk Wui) where he continued teaching and spreading the art of Hung Gar. Lam Sai Wing passed away in 1943.
A legend of Hung Gar, Grand Master (Si-gung) Lam Cho was the last of the great masters of his generation. He dedicated his whole life to the practice, research and advancement of Hung Kuen.
Si-gung, also known as Lam Kwoon Kau was born in 1910 in Ping Chow, a small village in Namhoi district of Kwangtung province. His lifelong journey in Chinese Martial Arts began when he was still a young boy. At the age of 6 he began training in Hung Gar under the strict but caring guidance of his uncle Lam Sai Wing. Talented, young Lam Cho was not only a natural athlete but also very intelligent and hardworking. Lam Sai Wing taught his nephew everything he knew, including the traditional art of dit da medicine along with many secret herbal formulas which was only passed down to the next successor of the art. Not surprisingly, grand master Lam Cho was as famous as a dit da healer as he was for his Hung Gar. Using his first hand knowledge and years of experience in dit da, Lam Cho sigung helped thousands of people throughout his life.Treating the rich he never over charged, treating the poor he charged a very little or nothing at all.
In his teens, Lam Cho sigung had already become a well known and respected figure within the martial arts community throughout the whole of Southern China and Hong Kong. He was only sixteen years old when he began teaching. Initially he assisted his uncle in teaching at his Southern Martial Physical Culture Association which he eventually took over. Later, he set up his own kung fu schools and dit da clinics in and around Hong Kong. He was an excellent teacher and taught his art openly. Many students from all over southern China traveled to learn Hung Kuen from Lam Cho. Some of his students also became famous in Hong Kong and around the world. Si-gung was also one of the most celebrated kung fu masters of his time. He was often sought after to demonstrated his skills the public and was invited to all important events.
On December 8, 1941, during World War II, Hong Kong woke up to find itself in war. The Japanese invasion of Hong Kong was the beginning of almost four years of hardship and deprivation.The cruel treatment by the Japanese military soon resulted with a civil disorder. Recognised as a leading figure in the community, sigung came forward to maintain the peace and lead people to safety. Aware of sigung’s status and influence on the public, Japanese pressured Lam Cho to work for them, offering many privileges. Lam Cho refusal resulted with his kung fu school being burned down. He was a wanted man and had no choice but to flee to his native village of Ping Chow where he taught Kung fu in secret until the end of the war. Sigung returned to Hong Kong once the Japanese invasion was over. His deeds and efforts to help those in need during the hard, haunting times of Japanese occupation are still remembered to this day.
Back in Hong Kong, grandmaster reopened his school and dit da clinic. He also became the chairman of the Physical Culture Association, the martial arts consultant for the Paper and Boxes Association Union and the Dit Da herbalist of the Restaurant Workers Union. Sigung carried on teaching his art openly to the public and continued to treat patients using his Dit Da.
Even at the advance age of 100, Lam Cho sigung was still vigorous and full of life. He still practiced gung fu every single morning, operated a dit da clinic and occasionally taught hung gar to some of the students training at his famous studio and dit dat clinic located in Mong Kok. Grand Master Lam Cho is one of the most venerable and greatest grand masters Hong Kong has ever seen in its rather short history. An exceptional man, sigung has had an incredible life and accomplished much. Despite all that he always remained extremely humble and very much down to earth. To his last days every year Hung Gar practitioners from all corners of the world travel to Hong Kong to pay their respects to grand master Lam Cho and train at his legendary gung fu studio.
Lam Cho sigung passed away on 29 March 2012 but his spirit lives on strong in our hearts and his kung fu legacy and teaching will live forever through his students and future generations to come. He passed on his great legacy to his sons Lam Chun Fai, Lam Chun Chung and Lam Chun Sing. Like father, like son,all 3 are exceptional masters gifted with natural talent and decades of experience in their family art of Hung Gar and Dit Da medicine. As a matter of fact all of grandmasters children have been trained in their family art since childhood.
Lam Chun Sing
The youngest son of the legendary grand master Lam Cho, Lam Chun Sing sifu was born on 30th January 1952. Brought up in a family of expert gung fu masters, Lam Chun Sing sifu began his gung fu training as soon as he could stand on his two feet. The training was extremely hard and demanding. Like his brothers and sisters, Master Lam had to train everyday under the strict discipline of his famous father. He practiced day after day, year after year without fail. Not training meant severe punishment like being hanged upside down in the mid air by iron chain. Needless to say that correct training and becoming proficient in the family art of Hung Gar was taken extremely serious in the Lam Family house hold. Every move, every principle and concept of the art had to be perfected before moving on to the next. For Master Lam, this was the way of life. His natural talents and dedication together with years of painfully rigorous training, under strict discipline allowed Lam sifu to quickly grasp and master all that his father taught him. He is one of only hand full of masters who knows all the ins and outs of Hung Gar gung fu by heart.
As gung fu and traditional Chinese medicine goes hand in hand, Lam sifu also learned and mastered the traditional art of dit da alongside Hung Kuen. He was taught all the various methods of treating a patient as well as learning the traditional herbal formulas which were only passed down from father to son or master to selected student. As a young man Lam sifu assisted his father with teaching gung fu and helped him with treating patients.
In 1973, Lam Chun Sing sifu set up his own gung fu gymnasium and dit-da clinic in Jordan of Hong Kong where he taught the traditional art of Hung Kuen to anyone wishing to learn. A year later he closed down the Jordan school before venturing into business. In 1975, Lam sifu returned to teaching Hung Gar gung fu at his fathers legendary studio. He is currently in charge of the Mong Kok studio where he has taken his fathers place to pass down the family art to all those interested to learn. Every year students from all over the world come Hong Kong to train at grandmasters famous studio where they are personally instructed by Lam Chun Sing sifu.Over the years,Lam sifu has been invited to give demonstrations, lead seminars and teach private classes in various countries around the world. He has taught and continues teach Hung Gar to students from many different countries such as England, America, Italy and Checz Republic.
In a league of his own, Lam sifu is an exceptional master of gung fu and a first class teacher. He has devoted his life to the research, promotion and advancement of Lam Family Hung Kuen. Lam sifu is truly an excellent gung fu teacher and a living example of what he teaches. With years of first hand experience, in-depth knowledge and wisdom under his belt, Lam sifu knows exactly how to teach and pass on the complete art of Hung Kuen to the future generations. Patient and precise, he is extremely careful and accurate when it comes to teaching and guiding his students. He always takes the time to thoroughly explain what he teaches and encourages his students to train properly and devote the time & energy necessary to become proficient in what they learn.
Leon A. Dogan
I have asked sifu many times about his martial arts training and have been lucky enough to hear many stories. Some funny, some shocking, but all undoubtedly reflecting someone that has been born with martial arts engraved in their heart. I therefore wanted to share this short biography of Leon sifu. It certainly does not contain everything, but will hopefully provide you with a glimpse into how Leon became the sifu we all greatly respect. I have to note that sifu has never been concerned with telling anyone about his training, the numerous articles he has written or the behind the scenes work involved in promoting Lam family. He has always been truly humble in the skills and experience he has gained over many years and it has taken us a long time to convince our sifu to step out of the shadows, and this short article is that first step and first insight. He has many training stories that we believe are worth sharing and could not be featured here. We therefore have a feature that will appear in our monthly newsletter dedicated to it. Hope that you enjoy the read.
Best wishes, Heather (senior student of Leon Dogan)
Sifu Leon Dogan has always had a deep passion for martial arts, and has devoted his time and effort to train that passion from a very young age. Sifu grew up in Turkey, in a city where martial arts training was limited at the time, and the opportunity just to walk into a school of your choice was absent. The two main combat orientated sports available were wrestling, the Turkish national sport, and Taekwondo, a sport which grew in the 60’s, and for which Turkey gained a good reputation for producing high quality competitors. Initially, sifu began to wrestle, as this was the only one out of the two available in the city he lived in.
In 1983, at the age of 10, a taekwondo school opened in the city, but unfortunately, like most things, classes had to be paid for and sifu did not have the money to do so. Like any 10 year old child, he turned to his parents and begged, pleaded, for the opportunity to go (every child would naturally die without it, right?), yet his parents stood firm and persisted they would not pay for lessons. Undeterred by this, Leon decided to find jobs to fund lessons and began selling pastries for commission from a bakery, rising at 4am to sell everything before school, and even shining shoes with friends after school to make enough money to go. When he finally had the money together he went back to his parents for permission to train. Impressed by his determination and will power to succeed, he was allowed to start Taekwondo, his first and certainly not his last taste of martial arts. His teachers were impressed, not just by his skill, but his mature attitude and dedication to training. What is still clear to this day and something I’m sure his teachers saw in him then, was a hunger to train/ learn driven straight from the heart. A strength/ quality I believe has shaped him into the great martial artist he is today.
Martial arts training has changed dramatically over time, but back then, your teacher was seen as an important figure in your life, a second parent if you will, trusted unconditionally to do the right thing by his students. As a result, training then was very different and extremely tough. Children were often paired with adults, learning immediately to deal with the strength of someone at least three times their weight and twice their size. Focus pads and kick shields were non-existent, so you became the kick shield or your hand became the focus mit. Leon sifu was taught the effectiveness of strikes and kicks through experiencing them himself. Hands-on teaching was paramount. At the time, classes were disciplined; the teachers at school had sticks, his taekwondo instructor had his hands and his feet to deal out punishment. Competitions between members were frequent; a fond memory of Leon sifu’swas the ‘circle of pain.’ Surrounded by five individuals (mostly adults), you had to defend yourself against all of them at once for a set period of time. This was full contact, no pads, no guards and no mercy. Cuts, bruises, excruciating pain and the occasional joint dislocation were all delightful parts of training in those days, but although this may sound brutal, the underlying lessons to be learnt were clear. It was not mindless. For sifu this training was invaluable and he learnt to work hard, to be disciplined, and to persevere regardless of what got thrown at him. Something that has never left sifu since.
He moved to the UK in his early teens, unsure whether he would like London, but excited for the ample opportunities that would be available to do other martial arts. He quickly immersed himself in that world, reading books and magazines and training all different types of martial arts, including Hung Gar. Every spare moment around his education was spent training. For many, martial arts is merely a hobby, but for sifu it became a lifestyle. He would train as much as he could and with as many different people he could find. This allowed him to practice what he knew and discover through that practice the effectiveness of what he had learnt. This is something that shows clearly through his teaching. Always challenging what you think you know and opening your eyes more and more to what Hung Gar has to offer. After spending a few years in London and following advice from his teacher, he pursued his learning/ training of Hung Gar further under Lam Family’s guidance in Hong Kong.
This was certainly not a straightforward or easy task. Leon worked several jobs and sold everything he had to make his first initial trip to Hong Kong. Armed only with a picture in a magazine, he set out to find Grandmaster Lam Cho’s school. Unable to speak the language, travelling school to school with no clue on where to go or who to talk to, at times completely disappointed and unsure what to do when people were unwilling to help and doors were slammed to his face, he finally found Grandmaster’s school through a friend he met in Hong Kong. This was a life changing moment for Leon sifu. He became part of Lam Family, training at Great Grandmaster Lam Cho’s legendary school, under the personal guidance of his sifu, Lam Chun Sing. After training for many years, Leon sifu knew he had found where he belonged and after travelling back and forth many times, he made the decision to move to Hong Kong to fully immerse himself in his training and dedicate his time to the practice of Hung Gar. He also pursued other interests, learning traditional lion dance and certain aspects of Chinese medicine. Leon sifu trained every day and was lucky to have the opportunity to still train at the school at times when most students could not. His training was intense, and he was fortunate enough to learn from different members of the Lam family and indeed has fond memories of all of them. Leon sifu was pushed to his limits and beyond. Phrases such as ‘lower,’ ‘faster,’ ‘again’ from Master Lam have not left him and are very familiar sounds used in his own school today. Master Lam continually challenged him and was extremely hands-on, readily showing applications/ techniques. Leon sifu was also extremely lucky, as despite Great Grandmaster Lam Cho officially being retired, he would still correct and help the students training at the school. He was a perfectionist and naturally demanded that perfection from everyone and Leon sifu was no exception. He often referred to Leon sifu as “Ying Gok Jai”(English boy) correcting/ helping him as he saw fit.
Leon is forever grateful to Lam family for accepting him into their Kung fu family and openly teaching him their family art of Hung Kuen. He is also thankful to all his senior Kung fu brothers in Hong Kong for all their guidance and help. Leon has spent many years following and learning from Lam Chun Sing sifu and his family and still continues to do so today. He has assisted his sifu with teaching Lam Family Kung Fu to students from all over the world, organizing seminars, workshops and private lessons, promoting and representing the family style in many different countries. Leon sifu is the official representative of Lam Family Hung Kuen in the United Kingdom and has dedicated his life, time and effort to the practice and promotion of Lam Family Hung Kuen.As a student, it was also important to him to help promote Lam family and help them as much as he could. Leon sifu has always remained selfless in that respect, doing all he can, writing articles, designing web sites, helping new students, often driving and participating in projects without wanting any acknowledgement or credit in return. A rare quality to be admired and perhaps one of the main reasons this article has taken so long to write. Leon sifu has always made it clear that it is completely unnecessary. It does not contribute to his training or make him a better Kung Fu practitioner, but as his student, I feel it’s my duty to merely highlight his commitment to martial arts goes beyond just training and teaching.
Now with over 30 years experience, Leon sifu is dedicated to teaching and passing on the system the way he learnt it, holding martial values, such as respect, honesty, perseverance, loyalty, generosity and humility close to his heart. We are lucky that Leon sifu teaches from the heart and therefore cares about every single student at his school, demanding perfection from everyone and openly teaching the system the way he learnt it. Since I have been here, sifu has always said that there are three key ingredients to make a good martial artist. A good teacher, a good method of teaching and a good student. There are certainly two out of the three here already, and I believe it is up to you and and I to become the third.