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An Interview With Wai Lun Choi

An Interview With Wai Lun Choi

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Published by Declan Max Brohan

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Published by: Declan Max Brohan on Apr 23, 2011
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An Interview with Wai Lun Choi
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I was born in Toi Shan Country in Guang dong Province in China on March 29,1939, in the midstof World War II. My father was a medical doctor and died during the war. I began my martialarts training in 1955 at the age of 16, after my family moved to Hong Kong. I learned Lama stylefirst, under Chen Jung Wu (Chan Keun Ng). After that came Northern Shaolin and Mi Zong LoHan ( My Cheong Law Horn), as well as herbal medicine and bone setting from Pan Mao Rong( Poon Mao Yung), who was trained at the Shanghai Ching Mo Association and was alsooutstanding at Northern Praying Mantis. Liu Ho Ba Fa and the other internal styles I learnedlater from Chen Yi Ren (Chan Yik Yan), who was the lineage successor to Wu Yi Fan ( Wu Yik Fai). I was chosen as the successor to the Liu Ho Ba Fa system after I won the Southeast AsianHand to hand Martial Arts competition in Singapore in 1971. A couple of years later I came toChicago where I opened my first martial arts school in Chinatown.You first learned Tibetan Lama Northern Shaolin and Mi Zong Lo Han. You later studied XingYi, Ba Gua, Taiji, and Liu Ho Ba Fa with Chen Yi Ren (Chan Yik Yan). Can you tell ussomething about your transition from the Shaolin to the internal?The reason I found myself exploring several styles in my earlier years (Thai boxing and Judo, too)was that, despite being a proficient fighter using the external methods. I was always acutely awareof the disjunct, the gape, between what my mind was telling me to do and what my body was infact doing. The thought and the actual physical movement were somehow not conjoined. This,compounded with the fatigue that would come after a rapid series of exchanges and movements,resulted in a shortness of breath and inevitably a lessening of power. This was in spite of being intop physical shape. Trying to find a way around that is what eventually brought me to theinternal arts.I would like to illustrate at this point the difference between the
and the
approaches. These differences do not arise from the specific techniques employed by the variousstyles, but stem from the way the movements are produced. External styles emphasize speed andpower, but this is true of the internal arts too. What really differentiates them are the trainingmethods used to develop this speed and power. Internal styles require a precise unity of breathing, weight distribution, joint alignment, leverage, etc. any time a movement is executed.
Can you share some information about Chen Yi Ren (Chan Yik Yan)?
My teacher was born in Southern China but became a wealthy industrialist in Shanghai, the mostcosmopolitan city in the country. His social and economic standing quite naturally brought himinto contact with members of the political and military elite, and it was a friendship with GeneralChang Chih-Chiang that gained him his introduction to Wu Yi Fan (Wu Yik Fai). As a wealthymember of the elite, he was in a position to study with whatever teacher he wished. Before comingto Liu Ho Pa Fa, he learned Xing Yi, Ba Gua and Taiji very thoroughly from Jiang Rong Qiao(Chiang Jung Chiao) and Chu Gui Ting (Chu Kuei Ting). He also learned I Quan from his closefriend, Han Xing Qiao (Han Hsing Ch'iao), one of the top students of the creator of the style,Wang Xiang Zhai.
Wu, it is worth noting has the distinction of having been cited by Wang Xiang Zhai as one of "only three people in all China who truly know martial arts"Because of my teacher's social and economic position he was able to accompany Wu Yi Fan in histravels throughout the country. He was with Wu in Nanjing during his tenure at the national KuoShu Academy. During those years in Shanghai and Nanjing. Chan was able to meet and observethe leading exponents of every conceivable style. After the Communist takeover, though, Chanrelocated to Hong Kong.
What was your training with Chen Yi Ren (Chan Yik Yan) like?
My training with Chan was a very traditional one. In fact, it took over a year of courting andentertaining him before I was accepted as a student. As his student I was allowed to attend classfor three days a week, two hours each session. A movement would be demonstrated only threetimes, after which you were expected to perfect it without further instruction. Only when Chansaw that you performed it correctly did he explain its application. After the various techniqueswere explained, extensive shadow boxing was practiced in order for the mental and physicalaspects of the movements to become coordinated. In this way the student developed a sense of howthe techniques should be executed, but without the tension of confronting a sparring partner.That came later. The reason behind this training progression is simply that, under the stress of afighting situation, you will protect yourself. You will tense up, causing your breathing to becomeshallow, and hindering your ability to react quickly. So it was not until Chan recognized that youwere capable that you began with the actual sparring.
Which of the four systems (Xing Yi, Ba Gua, Taiji, Liu Ho Ba Fa) did you learn first?
I learned Liu Ho Ba Fa followed by Xing Yi, Ba Gua and then Taiji. I as taught in this orderbecause it was the most expeditious. Liu Ho Ba Fa has elements in common with each of theinternal styles. Consequently, after you have understood it. It was mush easier to see thedifferences between the other styles. It enabled you to see more clearly how and why these stylesproceeded as they did.Nowadays Taiji is riding a crest of popularity. Ba Gua and Xing Yi are also gaining in exposure.However, Liu Ho Ba Fa remains fairly obscure. Can you please give us some information about ithistory, principles and characteristics?The founder, Chen Hsi I, was a famous scholar/hermit who lived in early Song Dynasty (about the11th century). He was a noted mathematician and Daoist. During his youth he demonstratedexceptional intellectual ability, reciting Chinese classics from memory and offering extensiveinterpretations of the
Yi Jing 
, the
 Book of Changes
. Still, he was unsuccessful when he took theimperial examination, the route to employment in the Confucian bureaucracy. This was not anexamination that rewarded original thinking and after his failure, he decided to become a recluseand devote himself to the study of Taoism. Nonetheless, he was still courted by several Sungemperors, who sought his help in administrating the government. Chen was resolved, however, tocontinue living the life of a hermit. It was during his many years on Mount Hwa in central Chinathat he developed the Qigong postures still used today. He also developed Liu Ho Ba Fa, whichoriginally was called
Water Boxing 
because of its smooth, flowing, continuous character.Several generations later, Tung Fun Lee discovered Chen's manuscripts in the cave where hedied. Intrigued by the precision, with which the Daoist sage had laid out his system, Tung studied
until he mastered it, passing the style on in turn as shown in the lineage tree. The lineage is veryclear in this style.The core of Chen Hsi I's art, its principles, are the six harmonies and eight methods.1. Body and heart together. "Heart" as used here does not refer to the physical heart, butto the feeling of confidence you have within. To bring the body and heart together, youstart by using something as an example, as a model. It can be anything. In Liu Ho Pa FaTwelve Animal Forms are used to develop this. Every animal moves differently, has adifferent manner and attitude. It is this attitude that we are trying to copy, not its physicalattributes. When an animal fights, its body instinctively, automatically works together. Itsimply reacts without thinking. You must practice until you are completely used to it, thenwhen you move you will have confidence.2. Mind and Heart Together. Once the body is ready, there is no longer a need to copy. Butsomething more is required; the body has to obey the mind. What the mind tells it, it mustdo. When this occurs, you will have confidence that you are able to do what you want todo.3. Mind and Chi Together. Chi means energy, which comes from breathing. Once youpractice enough to get confidence, then you can move without hesitation. The body and thebreathing, in other words, the energy, will move naturally and will automatically betogether.4. Spirit and Movement Together. “Spirit” does not have any religious meaning here. Itrefers to a high level of alertness. When you are relaxed you have energy. Once you havereached a state of relaxed alertness, the energy will always be ready in the body and willautomatically go with you.5. Spirit and Movement In martial arts the spirit uses the senses: mostly sight, hearing andtouch. If you have achieved the previous four harmonies, when you are with an opponentand you see or hear or feel anything, your body will automatically react. An example mightbe when you are driving your car and a child dashes in front of you. Instantly you jam onthe breaks.6. Movement and Emptiness. When you have the benefit of the first five harmonies, youwill not need to think about anything. You must empty your mind and follow theopponent; never focus, just react. The techniques you have practiced are at this levelsecond nature. You are like a flag in the air. The flag has no mind at all; it follows the windto move.Six Harmonies (Outside)1. Torso Joints Together. “Together” means in harmony, connected, not separate in theirmovement. The three joints of the torso are the lower spine, the back and the neck. To saythe torso and joints must be together, means that movement is from the lower spine to theback and then to the neck.

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