Ngo Cho Kun became popular in China’s Fukien province because it was constructed by Chua Giok Beng of five of the most famous styles of the area: Grand Ancestor Boxing (Tai Chu Chuan), Lohan Chuan (Shaolin Boxing), Tat Chun (Da Mo’s Iron Body Method), Pe Ho Chuan (White Crane Fist) and Kao Kun Chuan (Monkey Boxing). Each style brought something different to the new art of Five Ancestor Fist. 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 became a distinctive style in its own right.
There are roughly 200 individual techniques in ngo cho kun, each with unique uses and combined applications. These techniques are learned through the practice of empty-hand forms known as kun-toh. The forms increase in length, difficulty and diversity as training progresses and advances are made through the system. Proficiency in ngo cho kun is gauged in part by the number of forms that a practitioner understands and can correctly perform. Correct delivery of the ordered movements consists of proper body positioning and mechanics, smooth transitions from one technique to another, with proper expression of power, timing, and precision in each moment.
Empty-hand forms are the nucleus of ngo cho kun. The transmission of the system itself is embedded in their movement sequences. As one progresses through the ranks of the art, they will see many of the same techniques repeated over and over again. To outsiders, this makes it seem as if there are only a handful of techniques in ngo cho kun and that the forms are excessive in number. This is not actually the case, as certain techniques are grouped with others in different offensive and defensive ways, with different footwork and varying timings. Yes, certain techniques are found in abundance within the 44 emoty-hand forms, illustrating their significance to the system as a whole. Moreover, it is these “repetitive” techniques that not only “bind” the system, but give ngo cho kun its distinct “flavor.”
Each form in whole is not to be thought of as one long fight sequence against one or multiple opponents. The individual techniques that comprise the forms are sometimes performed in such a way for the student to practice their specific motions. At other times they are trained in combinations as attacking or counterattacking movements. The techniques are linked or grouped together according to mini sets of combinations. These combinations or linked techniques are identified by the timing of the forms. Where cadence starts and breaks, the combinations begin and end. When one knows the correct timing of the forms, they can know the correct number of individual techniques that are grouped into a mini set or combination sequence. The forms then begin to make sense in pragmatic and practical ways.
As students begin their training they are taught the gross movements of the forms, which they practice until they are ready for the specifics. Specifics include the application of proper strength, power, tension, release, speed, timing and breath cycles. The movements and combinations of the forms are repeated ad nauseam, but their actual use or application against an opponent is only understood by training in the qi kun structure tests, developing the five parts power, understanding the four movement concepts, then through the two-person forms and applications training where specific combinations are taught in specific combative scenarios.
Although the world is filled with thousands of traditional martial arts, many are believed to have “lost” their authentic applications. This is the case, many believe, because the founding fathers and subsequent generations of head masters had obscured their real use by “hiding” the movements within the forms. This, it is said, was done so convert onlookers from other systems could not “steal” their deadly secrets. Of course, over time, the hiding was done so well that not even the head masters knew what techniques were for what application! This is not the case with five ancestor fist.
If we look to the forms of ngo cho kun as an inheritance, as a record of the physical martial ways of one specific fighting art, then the reason for so many forms becomes apparent. Chua Giok Beng, the art’s founder, did a diligent job of categorizing the techniques of his art, and of setting out their combinations and applications for future generations of practitioners to not have to “discover their meaning.” In fact, if we take kung-fu forms as a whole, those found within the five ancestor fist tradition are among the most accessible for immediate use. The movements are clean, the combinations clear, the techniques make sense and require no special or “secret” knowledge to apply. Indeed, the quantity of forms, each pulling techniques from past forms while introducing new techniques and movement concepts in measured ways, serve this end well.
The compositions of the forms themselves are structured for specific purposes. Some forms begin with defensive movements and combinations, while others begin with offensive movements and combinations. Some forms are meant to train the body in lieu of calisthenics and weight training, while others teach agility in movement and rapid succession of techniques with specific timing cycles. Some stress blocking and striking techniques while others focus on joint locking and take down maneuvers. There are forms that bring mind and body together to forge a centered meditative state, and there are forms that exemplify the martial spirit in its many expressions.
In general, the forms of ngo cho kun are classified into two main groups: chien (“conflicts,” used for training) and kun (“fist,” used for fighting). While all forms begin with the eight-movement qi kun opening fist set, the chien forms close with the movement known as hi li po pai (child holding the tablet), while the kun forms close with the movement known as chiao yung chiu (enticing hand).
There are 10 chien (battle) forms, through which ngo cho kun practitioners develop their strength, breath control, power, and conceptual understanding of the movement principles and application concepts to the entire art. The chien forms are the core of the system, and include: sam chien (three battles), tian te lin chien (heaven, earth and man battle), pieng ma chien (even stance battle), cho chien wat (ancestor battle), ho chien wat (crane’s battle), tit kieng chien (straight bow battle), lieng tao chien (dragon’s head battle), hong be chien (phoenix tail battle), ngo ho chien (five tiger battle), swi hwa chien (elegant battle).
During the execution of chien form movements, tension and breath are combined to strengthen the body. If properly trained, this combination simultaneously develops the “iron vest body” (ti po sha), which enables the practitioner to withstand the receipt of powerful blows, while increasing one’s striking power by integrating the five parts power into the form. Other attributes developed through the practice of chien forms are: proper body structure, breath control, coordination, unity of mind-body-spirit, correct stance, enhancement of strength, body conditioning, relaxation within activity, tension and release, physical application of the art’s principles, discipline, power, patience, perseverance and stamina.
The kun (fist) forms number 36 and hold fighting techniques, combinations and applications as their main focus. It is said that the kun forms are useless to practitioners who have not yet sufficiently developed themselves within the chien forms. The most common kun form is known as li sip kun (20 punches), wherein students learn how to punch with coordination and power while utilizing turning steps.
Kun forms are not performed with the tension of the chien forms, but with sharp, swift movements wherein the sound of the energy is heard through the vibration of the sinews. Tan Ka Hong used to say, “lien kun pi se.” Roughly translated, this implies that with proper chien form training power and force will generate with little effort in the kun forms. The attributes developed through prolonged practice of the kun forms include: proper use of force, short and long snapping power (jing), speed, agility in movement, proper application of technique, release of tension and force, cadence of movements, breath and movement timing, how to properly combine movements, correct timing, warrior spirit, focus, use of energy, and confidence.
The 34 traditional kun forms are: li sip kun (twenty punches), sang sau kun (double roundhouse punch), se mun pa kak (hitting the four corners), song sui kun (double banner fist), sam chien sip li kun (three wars cross pattern), se mun kwa sau (four direction sweep), chian li ta (chopping attack), tui chong (pursuing fist), se mun cho tue (attacking the lower four directions), se mun tiao cha (deflecting/intercepting the four directions), cho be se mun kun (walking the four direction fist), sip li kun (cross punch), lak hap kun (six harmonious fists), in tin tat (entwining kick), liong gi (two segments), sam chay (three segments), se hong (fourth segments), sa kak yiao (three corners rocking punch), sam to tin to (three times hitting the head), ngo to tim tao (five times hitting the head), tiong kwan wat (controlling the center method), sang plan wat (double whip strike), wey ma yiao (turning stance rocking punch), lian kwan pa kua (linking the eight trigrams), sang lieng po in (double dragon fist), sai tze wan sin (lion body turning fist), hi li po pai kun (child-holding-the-tablet fist), hui ho sang liao (claws of the flying crane), ko twi pi (drummer’s flog), pe guan chu tong (white ape exits from the cave), chieng hong wat (cool breeze method), sa chap lak tian kong wat (36 steps of the monkey), chi chap li tije swat wat (72 steps comet fist).
There are many additional kun forms, outside the standard transmission. And of course there are dozens of two-man sets and also weapons sets, both solo and paired. Within Beng Kiam Athletic Club and Beng Hong Athletic Association we keep them alive.