A History and Style Guide of Hung Gar Kung Fu

This style of kung fu has origins in the 17th century

kung fu
Dirk Anschutz/Getty Images

Chinese martial arts types such as Hung Gar kung fu are shrouded in secrecy for a number of reasons. For one, China has a long history of martial arts as well as several eras of political upheaval and a lack of written documentation. This has made it difficult to simply describe the martial arts in an easily digestible book or guide. So, every historical account given of kung fu in China, including those about Hung Gar, involve some guesswork.

The Origins of Hung Gar

Hung Gar's earliest beginnings have been traced to the 17th century in Southern China. More specifically, legend has it that a Shaolin monk by the name of Gee Seen Sim See was at the heart of Hung Gar's emergence. See was alive during a time of fighting in the Qing Dynasty. He practiced the arts during an era when the Shaolin Temple had become a refuge for those that opposed the ruling class (the Manchus), allowing him to practice in semi-secrecy. When the northern temple was burned down, many fled to the southern Shaolin temple in the Fukien Province of Southern China along with him. There, it is believed See trained several people, including non-Buddhist monks, also called Shaolin Layman Disciples, in the art of Shaolin Gung Fu.

Gee Seen Sim See was hardly the only person of significance that fled to the temple and opposed the Manchus. Hung Hei Gun also took refuge there, where he trained under See. Eventually, Hung Hei Gun became See's top student. Hung Gar was named after Hung Hei Gun, causing most to consider him the founder of the system.

That said, legend has it that Gee Seen Sim See also taught four others, who became the founding fathers of the five southern Shaolin styles: Hung Gar, Choy Gar, Mok Gar, Li Gar and Lau Gar. 

Historical Significance

The character "hung" (洪) was used in the reign name of the emperor that overthrew the Mongol Yuan Dynasty to establish the Han Chinese Ming Dynasty. Therefore, the character was highly esteemed by those who opposed the Manchu Qing Dynasty. Hung Hei-Gun is an assumed name, intended to honor the first Ming Emperor. Along with this, rebels named their secret societies "Hung Mun." The martial arts these people practiced came to be known as "Hung Gar" and "Hung Kuen."

Wong Fei Hung

Though it is widely believed that Hung Hei-Gun started the art of Hung Gar, Wong Fei Hung is an important historical figure in the art as well. A popular folk hero in China, Wong Fei Hung learned Hung Gar from his father, who learned from Luke Ah Choi (ironically a Manchu descendant), one of Hung Hei-Gun's classmates. Wong Fei Hung is known for moving the art forward, including choreographing and developing the Tiger and Crane set.

Hung Gar Characteristics

Strong low stances and powerful punches are a staple of Hung Gar. In addition, correct breathing (strong and clear, but not necessarily fast) is important in the system as well. That said, each sub style of Hung Gar has its own specific differences.

Hung Gar Training

Forms, self-defense, and weapons are taught within the majority of Hung Gar systems. Both hard and soft techniques are practiced; although many look at Hung Gar as a hard style. Generally, like other kung fu styles, it encompasses the five animals, five elements, and 12 bridges.