By Tan Ka Hong
The following essay was written in 1956 by the late Sigong Tan Ka Hong under the pseudonym Hong Ho. It appeared in the Beng Kiam Souvenir Annual of 1956, published in celebration of Beng Kiam’s 21st Anniversary. –Editor
Pugilism is one of the best sports of our country. Ngo cho kun stands out as one of the most popular among the different styles of kung-fu from southern Fujian. Ngo cho kun is made up of Tai Cho kun, lohan kun, tat chun kun, peho kun, and kao kun. These five styles each have their own respective advantages: Tai Cho kun specializes in chang chuan (long fist boxing); lohan kun specializes in whipping strikes; kao kun specializes in agile legwork; peho kun specializes in clever techniques. By integrating the essence of these styles, Chua Giok Beng crafted ngo cho kun which has developed into a distinctive style in its own right—although the form looks like Tai Cho, but also resembles kao kun and peho. That is why many northern kung-fu masters are confused as to what style ngo cho kun belongs. Many of the popular kun-to (forms) such as the sam chien (three wars), se mun (four gates direction), and song sui (double banner fist), fall under ngo cho kun, thus establishing this art as a legitimate style in southern Fujian.
The founder of ngo cho kun is said to be the famous Chua Giok Beng, who came from Quan Zhou during the late Ching dynasty. He was a native from the Pan Be village of Chin Kang prefecture. Prior to becoming a martial arts scholar (official) Beng was already famous as a kung-fu master throughout the five prefectures of Quan Zhou. People called him Pan Be Ho (Crane of Pan Be). After he became an official they all called him Beng Lo (Venerable Beng).
It is said that as a youth, Chua Giok Beng was gallant and quite fond of kung-fu. He made many friends with masters of both the northern and southern styles. As a result of his training, in a few years he had spent the fortune left to him by his father. After 10 years of traveling around the country, coupled with his intelligence, Beng was able to learn many different styles from several well-known masters. Along the way, as he heard of many famous teachers, Beng would approach them for instruction. After just a few years, Beng became an expert in various northern and southern kung-fu styles. After that, he combined his knowledge and founded the famous ngo cho kun.
Although already quite famous in Quan Zhou, it wasn’t until his midyears that Beng returned to his hometown—this time as the founder of a new style. A lot of kung-fu experts went to challenge and test his skills. Not one of them could best him. That is why his fame echoed through southern Fujian, and why he was recognized as an eminent authority among the southern Fujian kung-fu circles. Famous masters in Quan Zhou, such as Wei Lin Pa (Wan Tian Pa) and Lim Kiu Lu (Kao Sai) of the Tai Cho style, became Beng’s student after their defeat. Lim Kiu Lu, a strong and muscular master of the chang chuan (long fist) style of Tai Cho, was already a famous teacher and only one year junior to Chua Giok Beng. When Lim tried to test his skills with Chua Giok Beng, he was sent back several feet by the power of Beng’s punch. Admiring his skills, Lim Kiu Lu quickly became Sijo Beng’s student.
When Wei Lin Pa heard of Lim Kui Lu’s defeat, he could not believe it and went to challenge Chua Giok Beng himself. Being an expert in kicking techniques, Wei Lin Pa attempted to sweep Chua Giok Beng, but was instead grabbed by Beng and thrown through the walls of the house. During those times, the walls were constructed of reeds and saw dust cemented by mud, thus being somewhat brittle. As a result of this encounter Pa also became Beng’s student.
In the southern Fujian kung-fu circles, Chua Giok Beng was nicknamed Mua Lo Hiong (Popular all the Way). This was because he had so many students, and everyone was trying to become his student. Chua Giok Beng was welcomed everywhere with open arms. While in his middle-age years, because of the number of students paying homage to him, Beng had few troubles with his life. In his older years, Beng always wore a faded blue coat, and no matter what his students gave him in terms of new clothing, he never seemed to take the jacket off. His students wondered what he did with all his new clothes. They later discovered Chua Giok Beng’s peculiar trait—he always wore the new clothes beneath the old ones. Since he never carried money with him, when he encountered a person in need, he would take off the new clothes and give them away.
Chua Giok Beng never had any intention of taking the exam to become a county martial arts official. As a result, he never paid much attention to archery and horse riding. Later on, however, in Quan Zhou, there were many martial arts scholars who admired his extraordinary skills and they persuaded Beng to learn the art of archery and horsemanship, in order to undergo the examination. At that time Chua Giok Beng was already 40 years old. He passed the test and became a bu siu chai (martial arts county official).
At that time there was no master in Fujian province who could defeat Chua Giok Beng in hand-to-hand combat. As a result, many of the established masters came to study under him and were thus influenced by ngo cho kun. Such influence made ngo cho kun one of the most popular styles in south China. In Quan Zhou, and other nearby places, many adopted his sam chien form to the beginner’s curriculum. Although the sam chien seems simple, with only three steps forward and three steps backward, these steps are the essence of ngo cho kun kung-fu.