Kong Sai Tith Ngaw Pai – Iron buffalo fist - Chung Family Branch
Our history told to me by my Sifu Chung Kang Yau
The Iron Buffalo Fist from our lineage is a Hakka martial art which once was Hong Kong based. It was practiced in the Maan Uk Pin village, New Territories, just at the foot of the mountain range nearby the Chinese border, a village that already exists for more than 700 years.
This martial art was brought to Hong Kong by my grandmaster Chung Tjong Wah. He had learned it from his father Chung A Yan, while they were still living in China in the Pow Meej Tsuen village, Hakka Djie Kam Yan province. The father in his turn had learned it from the Lee brothers who were the originators from this fighting art. He had heard of the widespread reputation from Lee Tith Ngaw and Lee Kam Kong, the two brothers who once practiced their own village art named: The Lee Family Fist Style. When an aged martial monk returned from the Kong Sai province to retire in his hometown, the Lee brothers heard about his highly developed fighting skills and they wanted to learn from him. They asked the monks sister to introduce them to him. The monk accepted them as his students. They learned a few years from him and afterwards they revised all what they had learned from this monk and their own village art too. They developed and created Tith Ngaw Kune. A no-nonsense practical fighting art. It was said that Lee Tith Ngaw excelled in non armed skills and Lee Kam Kong in staff skills.
When the father had finished his studies with them, he returned to his village. But; in those days it was a difficult time to survive in China and Chung Tjong Wah and his family decided to flee from China to Hong Kong in search of a better life. Through Sam Chan (Shenzhen) they arrived in Hong Kong. They brought some weapons with them to sell and with the profit they opened a small bun stall ( maan tow) on the well known market of Tuen Moon. One day seven people didn’t wanted to pay after eating their buns, when Chung Tjong Wah insisted; they pulled knives and swords. Chung Tjong Wah took his “carry stick” (pien taam gwan) and beated them in a flash. This event drew the attention of the mayor of Tuen Moon. He asked Chung Tjong Wah to join his martial art competition which had for about 70 participants. This competition was organized for finding a skilfull bodyguard for the mayor of Tuen Moon. Chung Tjong Wah came out as the winner and became the body guard of the mayor. (To note that at that time there were a lot of criminal activities in Tuen Moon) .
This news had reached the Chung family members from the Maan Uk Pin village and Chung Kang Yau was sent out to ask Chung Tjong Wah to teach in their village. He accepted and very soon after that the first official school from Tith Ngaw Pai opened its doors in the Maan Uk Pin village, where lessons were given in the Chung family temple (Chit Tong) at first, afterwards they took place in the village club house. Later on four more schools were established in the New Territories, so; in total five schools: Maan Uk Pin, Tuen Moon, Ping Che, Fanling and Hung Leng. It was Chung Tjong Wah who gave lessons in all of those five schools, and later on Chung Kang Yau was positioned as the only official teacher in those five schools. Training took place in the early evenings, but because of the hard labor on the vegetable fields not everyone trained as hard as they would like to. Chung Tjong Wah had an open mind on the acceptance of his students, he used to say: when someone steps through our door and becomes our student, he becomes family too. Nevertheless he followed very strict martial rules and ethics (mow tak). This was necessary because some people had a bad background and they had to promise to stop all of their bad activities before being accepted as a student, or others had an aggressive nature, so they were taught lesser and received no indepth knowledge. This was to protect the good name of the art and not to bring any trouble to our school. Because of those reasons some people couldn’t learn the complete art. Like Mr. Ling who lived in the Maan Uk Pin village and had to promise to abandon his criminal activities, or Mr Man from Ping Che who had the tendency to fight easily. Chung Tjong Wah ordered Chung Kang Yau to not teach them too much. He said: if you give them one finger, they understand one arm, what they learn today, they will put into practice today. And so Chung Kang Yau did. Both of them had already learned other kung fu, and later on in history they mixed it with some elements of the Tith Ngaw art. Chung Kang Yau Sifu was their teacher, and he stated that under the advice of his sifu they were only allowed to learn superficially! Chung Kang Yau came from a well to do family and he mainly collected rent money from the vegetable fields. Therefore he had lots of time to spent with his sifu and learned the complete art from him. After some time Chung Tjong Wah allowed Chung Kang Yau to assist him in teaching. He told Chung Kang Yau the following: “No one understands our Kung fu better than you, I allow you to teach.” He was the only official teacher who was able to learn the complete art and therefore the inheritor from this kung fu style. Sadly enough Chung Tjong Wah suffered from severe asthma and couldn’t teach anymore. In those days, good appropriate medical treatment for Chinese people was difficult or even impossible to have.
More bad news came to influence the existence of our art in Hong Kong, very bad economical times in Hong Kong forced many people to emigrate and to look for a better life overseas, and support their family who stayed behind. This was also the case for Chung Kang Yau, he left Hong Kong for going to England on old year’s eve in 1957. All of the Tith Ngaw schools were closed down and there was no more official teaching. At that time the condition of Chung Tjong Wah became worse, he was very weak and couldn’t get out of bed anymore. Chung Kang Yau didn't fail to send his Sifu money on monthly basis to support him and buy medicines... sadly enough after two years Chung Tjong Wah passed away.
In England Chung Kang Yau was requested to teach the Chinese overseas community, but he refused because he wanted to focus on building up a quiet and peaceful life in England. It was there in England that many years later I met Chung Kang Yau. I was introduced to him through a family member named Chung Peng San, who lived in Antwerp, Belgium, just like me. Chung Kang Yau accepted me as his disciple. I went to live regularly in my sifu’s home and was able to learn about all the aspects of the Tith Ngaw art. In 1999 the Chung family had their family temple renovated, I went to England to pick up my sifu and travelled to Hong Kong with him for joining the celebrations. It was there that he said the following to me: “A Kong, sit; listen; what I know; you know, what I do; you do, so, before Tith Ngaw belongs to me, now; Tith Ngaw belongs to you, anything for the future of Tith Ngaw; up to you.” From that day on I became his successor and official inheritor of his art. Unfortunately he passed away in November from the same year. So, after many years I decided to bring the history of our style in the open, in the honor of my sifu Chung Kang Yau, and to give this style its rightful place in the martial forest.
It is very difficult to trace the roots of different arts, at least we can say that every generation really knew the previous one. I knew my sifu, my sifu knew my si-gung, my si-gung knew his own father and saw him going away to learn and coming back with the Tith Ngaw art from the Lee brothers. Since all of them were Hakka Chinese we may assume that it is a genuine Hakka martial art. Also, since the last three generations were Chung family members, we call it the Chung family branch.
To grasp the characteristics from the Tith Ngaw art in an overview is not that difficult. Especially since the content is not quite that big. But, it takes years to master the art. It is there were the real meaning of the term Kung fu appears: The accomplishment of a person through work, study and time.
May the fruit of your kung fu be happiness!
Kong Han Lei