Chinese History

Mulan: The Real Lady General, the Live-Action Film Character and the Disney Cartoon Hero

Most Westerners — martial artists and non-martial artists alike — know the name Hua Mulan because of a hit Disney film from 1998, which was titled, appropriately enough, Mulan.

Few know that the animated feature was based on a real historical figure and that she had been depicted on film a number of times.

The Real Hua Mulan

Mulan is believed to have been born in Henan province during the Wei dynasty (386-534 A.D.). She was reportedly an excellent seamstress and a skilled martial artist who was renowned for her archery expertise. At one point in her life, her infirm father was called to duty to help fight invaders from the Mongol Empire, and Mulan, fearing for her dad’s safety, donned men’s clothing and joined the army in his place.

(Photo Courtesy of National Taiwan Museum)

The defining moment in her military career came one night when she was on guard duty. Mulan observed crows flying at night and noted that the birds should be resting at that hour. She immediately suspected an ambush and alerted her superior. Then she devised a plan and proposed it to him.

When the Mongols attacked, Mulan sustained an arrow wound to the shoulder, yet she was still able to defeat the leader of the invasion force in hand-to-hand combat. Afterward, she refused treatment out of fear her brothers-in-arms would discover that she was a woman.

Mulan on Film

A proud soldier is shown riding atop a spirited steed as it gallops across the misty moors in a bygone era. The mare skids to a halt and rockets its warrior master toward the heavens. Still in flight, the hero loads a body-length bow with three arrows. Landing in her patented si liu bu stance, Hua Mulan — played by Nancy Chan — uses her famous three-fingered arrow release to impale three charging Mongol warriors.

That scene comes from a black-and-white film called Mulan Joins the Army. Made in Shanghai and released in 1939, it was actually the third movie to focus on Mulan’s exploits. Directed by Bu Wancang, it came from the Orphan Island period. The name refers to film production that took place in Shanghai’s foreign concessions, which were not occupied by the Japanese.

Despite its historical connection — China really was threatened by the Mongols — Mulan Joins the Army was intended to rouse patriotic sentiments with respect to how modern China was being threatened by the Japanese. Those circumstances led to Nancy Chan becoming the first Hong Kong actress to be catapulted to fame by the Shanghai film industry.

A more famous film adaptation of Mulan’s life came in 1964. Released by the Shaw Brothers, it was an opera titled Lady General Hua Mulan or Woman General Hua Mulan. It starred Ivy Ling Po as the famed female fighter.

(Photo Courtesy of Celestial Pictures)

Mulan by Disney

When Disney announced that it was planning its own version of the Mulan story, the project bore the title The Legend of Fa Mulan. Note the spelling of the surname — Fa instead of Hua. Disney execs said they were under the impression that “Fa Mulan” was the Cantonese spelling of her name. I contacted the production office and advised them that Fa is Cantonese but Mulan is Mandarin. I then suggested that the filmmakers should render her name as either “Fa Moklan” (Cantonese) or “Hua Mulan” (Mandarin). In the end, they opted to change the movie’s title to Mulan.

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There were other major changes, as well, the most obvious being the addition of Mushu, the dragon spirit (voiced by Eddie Murphy), and the pet cricket. Sadly, the script eliminated all references to Mulan’s renowned archery ability.

The Next Mulan?

Disney appears to be on a roll with live-action versions of its classics. For example, we were given Alice in Wonderland in 2010, Maleficent (from Sleeping Beauty) in 2014 and Cinderella in 2015. Beauty and the Beast is next, with a release planned for 2017.

The rumor mill has it that a live-action version of Mulan may be in the works. Rila Fukushima, who co-starred in Wolverine (2013) and appears in the CW television series Arrow, is reportedly being considered to bring the title character to life.

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History of Chinese Martial Arts: Bucksam Kong’s Lifetime Journey in Hung Gar Kung Fu (Part 2)

As one of the first masters to teach hung gar kung fu in the United States, Bucksam Kong is recognized as a pioneer in the history of Chinese martial arts. His name is of those that martial artists have heard for years — decades, even! Bucksam Kong was inducted into the Black Belt Hall of Fame as Instructor of the Year in 1974, and since then has gone on to run the Sil Lum Pai Gung Fu Association, based in Los Angeles. In Part 2 of BlackBeltMag.com’s look at the hung gar master’s life, Bucksam Kong talks about bringing his art to the United States.

Read History of Chinese Martial Arts: Bucksam Kong’s Lifetime Journey in Hung Gar Kung Fu (Part 1)!

Few kung fu instructors used any kind of ranking system back then, Bucksam Kong says. “The class was more like a family. The instructor was like the father, and the students were like brothers and sisters. Those who started taking lessons at the school first were addressed as ‘elder brother’ and ‘elder sister,’ and those who started after you were called ‘younger brother’ and ‘younger sister.’ ”

Toward the end of his days in the colony, Bucksam Kong decided to sample choy lay fut kung fu. “It wasn’t too difficult to do another art because all along I had been exposed to different styles through my friends,” he says. “I often got together with them to exchange ideas. The problem with this nowadays it that martial artists always like to think they are the best. Everybody wants to be No. 1; there’s no No. 2.”


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Bucksam Kong believes the martial arts had a good reputation in Hong Kong then — and continue to have a mostly good reputation around the world — because they’re not just about learning self-defense. “The main reason is that they teach you the kung fu virtues: honesty, humility and all those things. You also learn a lot of culture.”

In an effort to spread kung fu and Chinese culture, Kong moved to Hawaii in 1957 and started teaching hung gar late in 1963. “Back then, karate had just come to Hawaii; there weren’t a lot of schools,” he says. “When I started teaching kung fu to the public, people in the Chinese society there didn’t like it. They said I was teaching locals who would learn kung fu and use it to beat up our own kids. They didn’t like it at all.”

But Bucksam Kong didn’t back down. He argued that there are good kids and bad kids in every country, and he said he was training only the good kids.

“I said, ‘If you train them right, there’s nothing wrong with that,’ ” he says. “So I kept on teaching the public, and gradually the Chinese society gave in.”

Kong taught in Hawaii for more than 13 years. He moved to Los Angeles around the end of 1976, where he still teaches and practices hung gar. Although his love for the art has never faded, he advises kids to take up any style that appeals to them. “The health benefits of kung fu can be gotten from virtually any martial art,” he says. “They are the most important benefit for the average student.”


More About Hung Gar Kung Fu
One more tidbit about hung gar kung fu from Bucksam Kong: “The art is from the Sil Lum Temple (Cantonese for Shaolin Temple). It’s based on the five animals: tiger, dragon, leopard, snake and crane — and the five elements: wood, fire, earth, metal and water. There are more hand techniques than foot techniques because it’s a southern art. It uses about 75 percent hands and 25 percent feet. We never kick higher than the chest.”…

History of Chinese Martial Arts: Bucksam Kong’s Lifetime Journey in Hung Gar Kung Fu (Part 1)

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. “Compared to now, Hong Kong was very different then,” he says.

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.


The history of Chinese martial arts changed forever when “Grasshopper”
came into the public eye. Learn more about him in this FREE download!
Kung Fu TV Series Flashback: Behind the Scenes
With David Carradine (“Kwai Chang Caine”)


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.”

To be continued in History of Chinese Martial Arts: Bucksam Kong’s Lifetime Journey in Hung Gar Kung Fu (Part 2)

Ted Wong and William Cheung on Wing Chun History and Jeet Kune Do Origins (Part 3)

Editor’s Note: This is the third and final part of a three-part excerpt from the out-of-print book Wing Chun Kung Fu / Jeet Kune Do: A Comparison Vol. 1. More than 20 years ago, two legendary martial artists — Bruce Lee protégé Ted Wong and wing chun kung fu grandmaster William Cheung — collaborated on the book. In it, the two legends present histories regarding the origins of their respective martial arts in an opening essay — Part 3 of which we’re proud to present in adapted form from the Black Belt archives. Read Part 1. | Read Part 2.

Obstacles That Shaped Jeet Kune Do

Bruce Lee found it difficult to practice chi sao (sticking hands) with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — the 7-foot-plus basketball star who, at the time, was the center for the University of California, Los Angeles. The length of his arms made him difficult to hit during prep for the film The Game of Death. Size was still too much of a factor.


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He also found that although the sensitivity in the arms developed by wing chun training allowed him good defenses in close range, it did not completely eliminate the threat of being hit. He found, however, that staying outside the opponent’s effective range did eliminate that threat and that he could still hit the opponent because of his superior gap-bridging skills.

The training in Los Angeles was very contact oriented, using striking pads for practice and body armor for full-contact sparring. All techniques were geared toward realistic combat on the street. Conditioning was also heavily emphasized to solve the problem of fatigue encountered in his fight with Wong Jak Man. (See Part 2 for more on Bruce Lee vs. Wong Jak Man.)

Ted Wong: One Interpretation of Jeet Kune Do

At this point, it should be emphasized that Ted Wong’s interpretation of jeet kune do is by no means completely representative of Bruce’s Lee’s entire martial arts progression. Ted Wong learned from Bruce Lee during the later years of his development when his martial art was changing rapidly.

The greatest contrast between students of Bruce Lee is seen between Taky Kimura (one of Bruce Lee’s earliest students) and Ted Wong (one of his last). You would not think that both were taught by the same teacher, yet both claim to keep Bruce Lee’s teaching as pure as possible.

The movements each was taught were merely what Bruce Lee believed was important at the time they each studied with him. Therefore, neither Taky Kimura’s nor Dan lnosanto’s nor Ted Wong’s interpretations of jeet kune do are fully representative of Bruce Lee’s martial arts spectrum.

Dan Inosanto: Carrying the Jeet Kune Do Flame

Dan Inosanto, however, is one of the people most responsible for keeping the jeet kune do flame alive. He has done a great deal to expose the art of jeet kune do to the entire world by holding seminars and writing articles and books since the passing of Bruce Lee.


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Were it not for Dan Inosanto, jeet kune do might possibly have died with Bruce Lee. Dan Inosanto has also gone into his own roots — searching out the many Filipino martial arts and many of the Southeast Asian arts to offer his students jeet kune do concepts through the interpretation of other vehicles such as kali, muay Thai and pentjak silat.

Dan Inosanto’s take on JKD is considered an added dimension in the jeet kune do timeline. He has followed his own light and found the best within himself.

Transmitting Jeet Kune Do in Its Original Form

Although Bruce Lee disliked the word “style” for describing jeet kune do, there was a distinctive character to his way of fighting and training that was unlike any other martial art. In order to preserve this art, jeet kune do has to become somewhat of a style in the sense of being standardized and systematized, because unless some kind of structure is imposed on it, it will not survive in its original forms.

Bruce Lee did not have any plans on how to preserve jeet kune do, so it is the responsibility of his elder students to offer the present and future generations the experience of the original training, formulas, principles and progression of jeet kune do.

A teacher should provide the foundation for the student, then offer his own interpretations and assist the student to find his own best way.

Wing chun does indeed form the foundation of jeet kune do …

Ted Wong and William Cheung on Wing Chun History and Jeet Kune Do Origins (Part 2)

Editor’s Note: Two legendary martial artists collaborating on a writing project is typically quite rare. But this is exactly what happened when Bruce Lee protégé Ted Wong and wing chun kung fu grandmaster William Cheung wrote the now-out-of-print book Wing Chun Kung Fu / Jeet Kune Do: A Comparison Vol. 1. In it, the two legends present their perspectives on the origins of their respective martial arts in an essay — Part 2 of which we’re proud to present in adapted form from the Black Belt archives.

The Origins of Jeet Kune Do

Although Wing Chun Kung Fu / Jeet Kune Do: A Comparison Vol. 1 deals solely with wing chun and jeet kune do, it is advisable to research the whole spectrum of Bruce Lee’s martial art in the context of his life in general — from his beginnings in wing chun to his modifications with Jun Fan kung fu (or, as he called it, “gung fu”) to his own discovery of jeet kune do.


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In order to fully understand jeet kune do, you must understand Bruce Lee. Lee’s martial arts journey began in Hong Kong, where he learned wing chun as a tireless youngster, practicing the direct and economical close-range techniques of that style every chance he got.

He trained diligently with his sifu, Yip Man, and seniors William Cheung and Wong Shun Leung. However, his training was cut short when, at age 18, Bruce Lee’s parents sent him to America to claim his United States citizenship.

Wing Chun in Transition
After a brief stay in San Francisco, his birthplace, Bruce Lee moved to Seattle to live with a family friend. It was at this time he began to modify his classical wing chun method. Bruce Lee began to adjust the stances, angles and positions of his wing chun techniques, also adding longer-range kicking techniques from some of the northern kung fu styles. Among notable people who learned from Bruce Lee in this time period is Taky Kimura.

After his marriage to Linda Emery (Linda Lee Cadwell today), Bruce Lee moved to Oakland, Califomia, to live with James Yimm Lee and his family. James Yimm Lee was a very good friend, and they had daily contact with each other during his stay in Oakland. Bruce Lee continued to make minor changes to his modified wing chun style (which he called Jun Fan gung fu out of respect for traditional wing chun and his sifu, Yip Man, in Hong Kong).

The well-known fight with Wong Jak Man is considered the turning point that led Bruce Lee to the development of jeet kune do. Until the Wong Jak Man encounter, Bruce Lee had been content with improvising and expanding on his original wing chun.

But after the altercation, Bruce Lee judged that the modified system had limited his performance. He concluded that a strict adherence to wing chun was too confining for him because it had very few long-range kicks. He also found that he had become quite tired after the fight. He therefore began to add new dimensions to his art. He searched for the best within himself. He also studied other fighting arts. From that research, he absorbed what was useful and rejected what was useless. This became the basis of jeet kune do at a higher level.

Bruce Lee in Los Angeles

Bruce Lee eventually moved to Los Angeles to be closer to the entertainment industry. At first, he trained only a few students behind a pharmacy in Chinatown. Among them was Dan Inosanto, circa 1967. It was the third of the Jun Fan Gung Fu Institutes — the first two being in Seattle and Oakland, respectively.


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By the time Bruce Lee came to Los Angeles, he had decided to scrap his modified wing chun (Jun Fan gung fu) and search out the roots of combat — to find the universal principles and concepts fundamental to all styles and systems. It was at this time that Bruce Lee emphasized wing chun less and less because of its perceived limitations.
To be continued in “Ted Wong and William Cheung on Wing Chun History and Jeet Kune Do Origins (Part 3).”

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