Bucksam Kong is one of those names that martial artists have heard for years — even decades. As one of the first masters to teach hung gar kung fu in the United States, he is recognized as a pioneer in the history of Chinese martial arts. In 1974 Bucksam Kong was inducted into the Black Belt Hall of Fame as Instructor of the Year. He currently runs the Sil Lum Pai Gung Fu Association, based in Los Angeles.
Hung gar kung fu master Bucksam Kong was born and raised in Hong Kong, a city (and former British colony) tacked onto the southern part of the People’s Republic of China. Unlike a lot of martial artists who tell stories about street fights and running battles with the police, Kong says that because he was so young, he never really felt threatened.
That’s why Kong ended up starting his martial arts training not for badly needed self-defense skills but for the often-overlooked health benefits.
“When I was young, I was sick all the time,” he says. “I would catch colds and get fevers. That’s why my mother wanted to start me in kung fu.”
And Kong did start training — with his mother as his instructor. “She started teaching me eagle claw kung fu when I was 6,” he says. “She had been learning that art for a long time, but she didn’t teach anyone — except me.”
At first, the young martial artist and future hung gar master wasn’t really sure if he liked eagle claw or not. If you’ve ever been forced by your parents to take any kind of lessons, you’ve probably been in the same boat.
“But as I grew older, I started loving it,” Kong says. “I kept practicing with my mother for a couple years.”
When Kong turned 8, he began training under a hung gar kung fu instructor named Lum Jo. The boy must have liked hung gar because he stayed with Lum Jo for more than 17 years.
“The training then was a lot different from the way I train people now,” Kong says. “Classes were very strict. The sifu (master) always emphasized very low stances. We had to put a lot of force into every movement.
“We spent long periods of time learning each technique until we became very good at it,” the hung gar master continues. “Only then would the sifu teach us something else. If an instructor tries to do that these days, a week later he’ll have no students.”
Lum Jo ran a clinic in which he set broken bones and administered other medical treatments. So he probably didn’t care how many students dropped out of his hung gar classes because the training was too severe.
“He never had a lot of students,” Kong says. “Nobody in Hong Kong did because the place was so small that getting 15 or 20 people into any room was hard.”
Because it was so crowded in the hung gar training hall, Kong and his classmates practiced a lot on their own out of doors. “We learned all the forms first in class because they taught us how to apply the techniques,” Kong says.
“Then some classmates and I would get together and play around doing the forms and sparring. Sometimes it got pretty rough, but there weren’t a lot of injuries because we always used a lot of self-control.”