By Norman Chin
NOTE: The following article was excerpted from the 2017 New York Kwong Sai Jook Lum Gee Tong Long Pai Headquarters 60 Anniversary publication.
The Southern Praying Mantis System has a history of over 200 years and is credited to Som Dart. He was a monk at Jook Lum Gee (Bamboo Forest Temple) in the shadows of Lung Fu San (Dragon Tiger Mountain) in China’s Kwong Sai Province. Som Dart spent much of his life perfecting the system and later taught it to a fellow monk, Lee Siem. Due to Lee Siem’s exceptional intelligence and physical prowess, he was able to master the system’s intricacies under the skillful guidance of Som Dart.
Traditionally, the Chinese martial arts were taught at monasteries. Outsiders were usually not accepted as students. Due to political changes towards the end of the Ching Dynasty, the monks began accepting students from beyond the monastery walls. The first outsider to be taught this unique system was Chang Yu Jung. He was taught by Abbot Lee Siem, and later became the foremost authority on the system.
From Chang Yu Jung, Lam Wing Fai (Lam Sang) became the second outsider to learn and inherit the system. After immigrating from China to the United States, Lam Sang introduced the system to New York’s Chinatown during the 1950’s. It was taught only to Chinese within the community. By 1969, Great Grandmaster Lam Sang retired to Taiwan leaving Grandmaster Chin Ho Doon the responsibilities of teaching the system at the Chinese Free Masons Athletic Club.
In 1972, Grandmaster Norman Chin inherited the responsibility of teaching the system at the Chinese Free Masons Athletic Club after Grandmaster Chin Ho Doon returned to China to fulfill business obligations.
After more than forty five years of teaching, Grandmaster Norman Chin is still teaching in Chinatown New York, with branches in Brooklyn, New Jersey, Los Angeles, Montana
and Kentucky. The Late Great Grandmaster Lam Sang, of Hakka descent, immigrated to the United States from China by way of England during the early 1950’s. He made his home in New York City’s Chinatown. For a short time, he taught at the Sung Tsing Association in the evenings after a long day’s work.
By the mid 1950s, he was invited to teach at the Hip Sing Association at 3 Pell Street. His stay there was also brief. Great Grandmaster Lam Sang taught and established his association with the Chinese Free Masons Athletic Club by the late 1950’s. It was at the Chinese Free Masons Athletic Club, 96 Mott Street, where he accepted his most dedicated disciples. By 1963, Jook Lum Tong Long Pai was the largest kung fu school in Chinatown New York. He continued teaching until 1969 when he retired to Taiwan. He returned to New York in 1981 and taught privately until his passing in 1992.
Grandmaster Norman Chin is a recognized authority of the Southern Praying Mantis System. Besides his exceptional knowledge and skill in kung fu, he is also one of the top performers of Southern Lion Dance. Grandmaster Norman Chin has made his community proud by performing for a President, Governor , Mayors and many other important dignitaries. Grandmaster Chin has demonstrated this unique system in China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea, France, Mexico and many other countries throughout the world. He now has schools in New York, New Jersey, California, Montana and Kentucky. Grandmaster Norman Chin studied under Grandmaster Lam Sang from 1961 through 1969. When Grandmaster Lam retired to Taiwan in 1969, Grandmaster Chin Ho Doon was the designated disciple to continue his lineage. Grandmaster Ho Doon with Grandmaster Norman Chin as his assisting instructor at the Chinese Free Masons helped expand the school making it one of the largest in New York’s Chinatown. In 1972, due to Grandmaster Chin Ho Doon’s busy schedule and business ventures in Hong Kong and China, he appointed Norman Chin as chief instructor of the Chinese Free Masons Athletic Club.
During a visit to Bruce Lee’s home in Culver City, Bruce invited Norman to stay, train and maybe work in the Los Angeles area. Due to Norman’s busy design work in New York, he had to decline. Since Wing Chun and Tong Long are both short hand styles, Bruce suggested that Norman open a school in New York. Norman informed Bruce that permission must be granted by Grandmaster Lam in order to proceed. Grandmaster Lam and Grandmaster Chin Ho Doon needed time to think about expansion when Norman told them about what Bruce said during his visit. It was not until 1972 that Grandmaster Lam thought it was a good time to expand the school. Grandmaster Norman Chin was able to find a prestigious location on 210 Fifth Avenue in New York.
In 1981 when Grandmaster Lam returned to the United States to live, Norman Chin continued his studies in Jook Lum kung fu. Grandmaster Lam taught Norman in his office and Norman often accompanied Grandmaster Lam to the Hakka Clubs to meet and have a Chinese 13 card game with old friends. In 1988, Grandmaster Lam met with Grandmaster Chin Ho Doon and the senior disciples to promote Norman to Master. In 1990, Grandmaster Chin Ho Doon passed away. Grandmaster Lam together with his disciples recognized Grandmaster Norman Chin’s ability and strength to further lead the school to it’s martial ethic goals; therefore, they appointed Grandmaster Norman Chin to represent Grandmaster Lam to head the school. After Grandmaster Lam’s passing in 1991, Grandmaster Norman Chin and the remaining disciples of New York’s original group continue to build a successful and renown team till this day.
**Lead-in Photo by Ken Eng, used with permission**
Chang Yu Jung lived in my grandfather’s house in Ping San and taught the village. My father and Lum Sang had traveled to England and USA together, where my father was the #2 cook under Lum Sang. My father, who is 99, told me many stories about the art and its history.
Peter, that is a terrific memory! Please share more experiences, stories with us. Send me an essay or something, and pics if you have… or interview your dad. Would be fun and informative.
Glad to see tradition will continue. My teachers were Richard Mecurio and Thomas (Tommy) Chin. Tong Long Pai Kuen !!!
Have any of you heard of Grandmaster Lo Suh-that (not sure of the correct spelling) who taught for the Hip Sing school in Philadelphia for many years. He was also referred to as Lo Lau and/or Lau that. It is our understanding that he and GM Lam were friends and visited each other frequently. I studied under one of GM Lo’s students and am trying to compile research on his background and lineage. The Hung style he taught was a village style and is very unique compared to other Hung styles commonly seen today. There are now only a few of us practicing this version and we would very much like to speak with anyone that can provide us with background info on GM Lo and his style.