What is Choy Li Fut Kung Fu?
Choy LI Fut (sometimes spelled Choy Lee Fut), is one of the 3 most well known Chinese Kung Fu styles, along with Wing Chun and Hung Gar. It is a martial art which is derived from Shaolin Kung fu. This is a hybrid art which is a combination of Chow Gar, Li Gar, and Fut Gar Kung Fu styles. Fut Gar is itself a combination of of a Northern Kung Fu Style and a Southern style. Choy Li Fut is thus a combination of multiple Northern and Southern Kung Fu styles, and has the low stances, long range kicks and fast footwork of Northern Kung Fu, along with powerful long range and short range hand techniques, sweeps, throws, and joint locks of Southern Kung Fu
However, Choy Li Fut looks very different from all other martial arts styles. Because it combines so many different Kung Fu styles, some people do not consider it to even be a traditional martial art. As seen in the first video above, Choy Li Fut combines straight punches and back fists with wide swinging haymaker type strikes, which can are delivered with the fists or forearms. The style emphasizes very fast and powerful rotation of the hips in order to maximize the power of the strikes, and they are indeed very powerful.
Choy Li Fut uses relaxed, internal power, exaggerated hip rotation, and “whip” in order to combine speed with power.
Choy Li Fut experts will explain that the very wide haymakers are practiced largely for training purposes (although they can be very effective), but can be shortened and tightened in order to make them harder to defend against. Some experts can actually pull these haymakers off if they are fast enough, especially since they are combined with backfists and straight line punches. The windmill like strikes can also be used to knock the opponent’s guard down to open him up for other strikes.
Unlike many other martial arts, Choy Li Fut contains a very wide variety of techniques, including long and short range punches and other hand techniques, a large arsenal of powerful kicks, effective sweeps,takedowns, joint locks, and stand up grappling, making it one of the most well rounded fighting systems. It also has very good footwork. Although the system does not include ground fighting, because it is so well rounded, it translates well into real world self-defense situations.
There is a lot of conditioning of the hands, forearms, and shins, and strength training, like in Kyokushin and Okinawan karate.
There was a time when there were a fair number of rooftop fights between Choy Li Fut and Wing Chun fighters, which is not surprising since they were both prominent styles which were very different from one another.
A typical Choy Lee Fut school will emphasize discipline and Chinese culture.
The History Of Choy Li Fut
The founder Chan Heung was an actual person who was pretty much a martial arts prodigy. The reason why Choy Li Fut is a hybrid of 3 styles was because he quickly mastered each of the 3 styles in a row, and his first 2 instructors were honest enough to tell him when they had nothing left to teach him.
Choy Li Fut has always been a hard core style, with training intensity similar to Kyokushin karate, and like Kyokushin, they have often challenged Muay Thai fighters, even on their own turf. To this day there are some very strong Choy Li Fut fighters from Australia who fight against elite Thai fighters and kick boxers. Some have actually done quite well.
Choy Li Fut fighters In The Ring
The second video above, shows Marco Tentori, a Choy Li Fut fighter, in a bout against a strong muay thai fighter from Malaysia, which was held with full Thai rules. When I first looked at the videos of this fighter I was impressed by his skill, but my first thought was he looked like he was just doing Muay Thai himself. However, you can see that he uses a much larger repertoire of kicks than Muay Thai fighters, in particular spinning back kicks and side kicks, although there is a lot of Muay Thai in there too.
Also, although he doesn’t use the windmill style punches, he does use a ton of hook punches, and a closer look shows his very strong Choy LI Fut roots.
My second thought was that it looks like Choy LI Fut can be quickly modified to adapt to Muay Thai, and thus it is likely that it will also work againt other styles and in the street with very little adaptation. The Choy LI Fut student who has developed speed and power will, if he also uses it to practice sparring against other styles, will likely be able to hold his own in practically any standup encounter.
Choy Li Fut Forms
Choy Li Fut forms are circular, powerful, beautiful to watch, and contain many individual movements. Like Bak Mei, these forms are ususally practiced at full speed, increasing fighting attributes.
There are around 150 forms, though few if any practitioners learn all of these. Experts are usually satisfied learning from 30 to 50. There is also a focus on weapons training, with a number of weapons that are used, and they have their own version of the wooden dummy, which is quite different from the wing chun dummy.
Most popular lineages
The most widespread lineage today is the Hung Sing branch founded by Lai Hip-chi. Lai was one of Chan Heung’s first disciples and helped establish Choy Li Fut clubs and schools after his teacher’s death. The Hung Sing schools emphasize strong stances and the trademark punches, kicks, and sweeps of the style. Notable exponents of this lineage include Yuen Hai, who promoted Choy Li Fut in Vietnam, and Li Man-hing, who brought awareness of the art to the United States in the 1960s.
Another major lineage is the King Mui branch, named after Chan Heung’s hometown. Founded by his student Su Ruzhang, King Mui Choy Li Fut practitioners focus more on the simpler techniques and forms contained within the extensive Choy Li Fut curriculum. Prominent fighters of this lineage include Chen Kai, known for his iron palm skills, and Chang Tung Sheng, who published widely read books popularizing Choy Li Fut.
In contrast, the Jiangmen branch established by Zheng Ran emphasizes the external hard aspects of the system, with vigorous training methods and martial applications. Famed Jiangmen stylist Chan Ngau-sing was one of the top fighters in Guangdong Province. Lastly, the Fut San branch combines Choy Li Fut with kickboxing and acrobatic techniques from other arts. First generation master Yue Ying specialized in crane style and pole techniques taken from Fut San’s eclectic blend.
Choy Li Fut schools
For whatever reason, there are relatively few Choy Li Fut schools in the US, and the few that exist are mostly in the Chinatwons of big cities with large Chinese populations. Choy lee Fut used to be very popular in Hong Kong before the recent popularity of MMA, and at one time there were around 10 million students worldwide.