Choy Lay Fut

Harness the Knockout Power of Traditional Choy Lay Fut Kung Fu

Choy lay fut is one of the most widely practiced styles of kung fu in the world, and one of the art’s rising stars is Plantation, Florida-based John Wai. He began training in wing chun kung fu when he was a teen, then studied choy lay fut and ended up falling in love with its perfect combination of forms, weapons and full-contact fighting.

In addition to training with Wong Gong, a fourth-generation instructor, Wai spent time under the tutelage of his well-known godfather, the late Lee Koon-Hong, who was considered by many to be the most visible instructor of the hung sing branch of the Chinese art. Lee’s Hong Kong academy produced many full-contact champions — including San Francisco’s Tat-Mau Wong — and Wai was raised in that atmosphere of graceful forms and powerful fighting when Lee relocated to the United States.

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Wai says choy lay fut (also spelled choy li fut) is based on 10 elements: chum (downward block), na (grab), kwa (hanging backfist), sou (swinging hook punch), chop (straight punch or stab), pow (uppercut), cup (downward punch), biu (shooting or sideways swinging punch), chong (slamming hit) and deng (kick). One of the style’s nicknames, kwa sou chop, reflects the three elements that ring fighters consistently use with great success.

In kung fu lore, kwa is said to resemble an elephant swinging its trunk or a dragon swinging its tail. The kwa choy (blast) is perfect for attacking an opponent because its oblique downward angle makes it difficult to block.

John WaiJohn Wai

Wai relates a story of his teacher fighting full-contact against someone with a tight guard position and good blocks: “Lee Sifu did kwa against the guy’s guard hands, but he hit the guard hand so hard that the opponent’s hand went back and hit him in the face, knocking him out cold.”

The versatile kwa can also be used as a jab, block or follow-up to the sou choy by gearing these techniques toward the opponent’s head.

The second punch, sou choy, is a true knockout blow. It resembles the motion of a dragon with the waist swinging behind the blow to add power. This long-range hook punch is Wai’s favorite because it travels at a downward angle to hit the opponent’s head or body.

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“You can use the top knuckles or the forearm as your striking surface, depending on your range,” Wai says. “With the footwork, a sou choy executed with the rear hand carries a lot of weight, whereas a sou that is fired off the lead hand would have a longer range — so you can use the same punch for attacking different angles. The important thing is that the arm needs to be bent at the point of contact to prevent injury to your elbow.”

Because it is a long-range punch, the sou choy is easier for the opponent to see, so it must be delivered quickly to avoid opening yourself up to a counterattack. It is best executed after a combination of hand or leg techniques, Wai says.

The chop choy can be any kind of straight punch, not just the spade-shaped panther fist that many instructors teach. “The panther fist acts like a knife with a blade that can pierce or stab,” Wai says. “Thus, it is geared toward pressure points such as the solar plexus, throat, ribs and bridge of the nose — which gave it the nickname of cheun ngan choy, or ‘stealing the eyes.’ The chop choy is also used for quick counters and employs body torque to add more propulsion to the blow.”

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When you execute it, stay relaxed like a boxer, Wai says. “Don’t tense until the moment of impact so you get a whipping power with your body. That powers your strikes [more effectively] than brute tension and allows you to combine them in ways that really capitalize on your opponent’s weak or open angles.”

(Photo Courtesy of John Wai)

Dr. Mark Cheng is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer who researches the Chinese martial arts and traditional Chinese medicine.

Choy Lay Fut Kung Fu and Its Secrets for Fighting Multiple Attackers

One of the leading choy lay fut instructors in the United States is Chi Chung Kwong. Kwong was born and raised in Canton, China, where he began martial arts training as a child. During his youth, he fought and defeated some of the best kung fu instructors in southern China. By the time he was 16, he’d gained a reputation as a fierce fighter who never refused a challenge. When Kwong moved to Virginia, he brought a treasure trove of kung fu knowledge, including the secrets to fighting multiple opponents.

First Principle

The first principle of fighting multiple opponents is proper use of the horse stance, Kwong says. While this stance is taught in many martial arts, it’s often thought of as a static training position. In choy lay fut (also spelled choy li fut), however, the horse stance is more mobile. A practitioner of this style can turn 180 degrees to the right or left in a quick snapping motion while in the horse stance. This twisting action allows him to punch or kick in any direction with full power.

In addition to this wide range of motion, the way in which choy lay fut hand strikes are delivered from the horse stance also makes the art ideal for fighting multiple attackers. While the style has straight punches like other styles, many of its hand techniques are performed with wide, sweeping motions. The arms are held loose and swung from the shoulders, while the fists are clenched tight. The effect is like swinging a rock on the end of a string, Kwong says. The advantage of this kind of hand technique is that you can hit two or three opponents with a single strike. This is best illustrated by the choy lay fut whipping punch.

To perform the whipping punch, begin with both fists on one side of your body. Next, your right hand lashes out with a strafing backfist that swings in a wide arc to the right, stopping behind your back. Almost simultaneously, your left hand launches a vertical-fist punch into the opponent directly in front of you. Then, the same action is repeated with both fists starting on the right side of your body. The punches are performed in rapid succession to the left and right to clear an area of attackers.

A few words need to be said about the unique vertical-fist punch of choy lay fut. Unlike wing chun kung fu, which uses an upward snapping motion of the wrist and hits with the last three knuckles, choy lay fut teaches a vertical-fist punch that’s performed by keeping the wrist tight and striking with the second row of knuckles (where the fingers bend in half). The idea is the opponent will get hit twice with one punch: As the second row of knuckles hits, the hand collapses into a normal fist so the first row of knuckles also hits.

Kwong claims this type of vertical-fist punch has two advantages: It protects the hands from injury when you’re fighting without gloves, and it hurts more than other vertical-fist strikes because it hits twice with each punch.

Second Principle

Any discussion of the choy lay fut whipping punch leads to the art’s second principle of fighting multiple opponents: Always strike in two directions at the same time.

This is one of the most misunderstood parts of kung fu. When people see the wide arm movements in Chinese forms, they assume it’s just for aesthetics. In reality, techniques in which the arms are extended in opposite directions were designed for hitting two opponents at once.

The reasoning behind this principle is simple: Whenever you extend one arm to punch, the other arm naturally pulls back. So instead of pulling the fist back to the hip like a karate stylist or back to the chin like a boxer, the choy lay fut practitioner lets a punch fly to the back as he strikes forward. Even if he doesn’t hit more than one opponent, he’s given the ones behind him a reason to fear attacking his back.

Another advantage to using techniques like the whipping punch against multiple attackers is less obvious: The loose action in these powerful blows makes it hard for someone to grab you, even if he manages to get close, Kwong says. “It’s hard to grab hold of a whip when someone’s cracking you with it!”

Third Principle

The third and final principle of fighting multiple attackers is to try to keep all your opponents on one side of you. “It’s easier to fight a war with only one front,” Kwong says. “If a country has enemies on every border, they are harder to deal with.”

Getting all your opponents on one side of you can be a real problem, however. Kwong teaches several …

Leo Fong: Kung Fu Artist of the Year (2006)

Throughout the decades, Leo Fong has worn many hats—actor, writer, director, producer, minister, social worker and fitness coach—but his most important role has been that of kung fu master.

Born in Guangzhou (formerly Canton), China, Leo Fong moved to Arkansas at age 4. In his youth, he used his pugilistic skills to become an Amateur Athletic Union and Golden Gloves champion in Arkansas and Texas. He then enrolled at Hendrix College in Arkansas and later received a master’s degree in theology from Southern Methodist University. After beginning his career as a Methodist minister, he earned a master’s degree in social work from Sacramento State University.

Leo Fong moved to Northern California, where he began training in a variety of martial arts. He attained master-level rank in taekwondo, jujutsu, si lum kung fu, choy lay fut and wing chun kung fu. He had the good fortune to train with three legends: choy lay fut’s Lau Bun, sil lum’s T.Y. Wong and then-wing chun practitioner Bruce Lee. Leo Fong often receives credit for inspiring Bruce Lee to develop his boxing skills and for helping him formulate jeet kune do.


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But Leo Fong opted not to spend his days promoting Bruce Lee’s art. Instead, he founded his own style, called wei kuen do, the “way of the integrated fist.” It’s a complete system based on boxing, kung fu and street self-defense, Leo Fong says.

Leo Fong’s impact on the American martial arts community dates back to the 1970s. First, he penned Sil Lum Kung-Fu and Choy Lay Fut Kung-Fu for Ohara Publications (now Black Belt Books). They were the first books about those arts written in English and aimed at the general public. Leo Fong was recommended to draft the text by his friend and training partner, Bruce Lee.

During the 1970s and ’80s, Leo Fong became one of the first people to produce and star in martial arts instructional films. He continued to inspire and educate through his books, which included Wei Kuen Do, Winning Strategies for Karate and Kung Fu, and Power Training in Kung-Fu and Karate (co-authored with Ron Marchini).

In the mid-1970s, Leo Fong started working in the film industry. He starred in Kill Point with Cameron Mitchell and Richard Roundtree, as well as more than 20 action and adventure movies.

While living in the Philippines making motion pictures, Leo Fong began learning the stick arts. He studied under Remy Presas, founder of modern arnis. When Leo Fong returned to California, he trained with Angel Cabales, founder of serrada escrima. Leo Fong later assembled all that he’d learned into a new system called modern escrima.


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In 1984 while visiting George Dillman, Leo Fong was introduced to pressure-point fighting. Although the art was still in the developmental stage, Leo Fong realized the self-defense value of being able to effortlessly strike vulnerable points. Over the next two decades, he watched George Dillman refine his martial art, then incorporated parts of it into wei kuen do.

As a martial arts teacher, Leo Fong integrated self-defense techniques and principles with spiritual lessons, and the result inspired and educated thousands. He was one of the first people to create a martial arts program at a church and to develop a youth program based on the arts. With help from Ron Marchini, he ran a successful chain of schools in Stockton, California, and together they promoted hundreds of tournaments, attracting the likes of Chuck Norris, Mike Stone, Howard Jackson, Joe Lewis, Bob Wall, Steve “Nasty” Anderson, Billy Banks, Steve Sanders, Cynthia Rothrock and John Chung.

After retiring from the church, Leo Fong dedicated himself to mastering the arts of healing and energy. By combining fitness training, psychology, spirituality and the martial arts, he created chi fung, a complete mind-body-spirit workout. He teaches it 10 times a week to hundreds of followers.

For his efforts to spread the Chinese martial arts and boost the fitness level of all students, Black Belt is pleased to name Leo Fong its 2006 Kung Fu Artist of the Year.

(This profile originally appeared in the December 2006 issue of Black Belt.)