Exclusive Interview with Master Quek Heng Choon, Renowned Martial Arts Expert

17 Dec, 2022 | Martial Arts

Chinese martial arts are known as Chinese Kung Fu in the West, but the meaning of “Kung Fu” is not limited to martial arts (it means mastery in any discipline or skill achieved through dedication, hard work, and consistent practice). It is commonly misrepresented in a narrower sense. Chinese martial arts are diverse and include various types of punches and weapons, as well as internal skills, external skills, soft skills, hard skills, light skills, and Chi Kung, among others. At the same time, Kung Fu also includes Dao (道) and Zen (忍), which are closely related to the teachings of Buddhism and Taoism in terms of inhaling, exhaling, guiding, and practising of Chi.

Due to the ever changing social environment, and the difficulty of practising martial arts, many Chinese martial arts schools have fewer people willing to explore the exquisite and elite “Kung Fu”. In time, it is believed that only some martial arts legacy will remain, but the real skills will fade away within years.

As Master Quek Heng Choon (郭逢春 Guo Fengchun in Mandarin), nicknamed the “Iron Palm of Southeast Asia,” said that “martial arts practice today is very different from the past, perhaps because of the different times and living environment, most practitioners lack persistence and perseverance, pursuing physical and mental comfort, and refusing to suffer hardships and continue after less than a few months of study”. Whether Kung Fu is successful or not depends on the degree of personal training, at one point Kung Fu requires efforts, not trickery and jerry-building.

Master Quek Heng Choon

He said that it is difficult for young people to learn the basic level Kung Fu, not to mention some of the advanced but complex and profound techniques. Although there are masters who are willing to teach them, it is challenging to find disciples who are willing to learn them. When they compete with others and are not as good as others, they usually complain that Chinese martial arts are not good. What else can be said about such a lack of self-esteem and self-examination?

At the age of 13, Sifu Quek Heng Choon started practicing martial arts in his hometown. At the age of 19, he came to Malaysia alone and studied Shaolin Kung Fu for more than 10 years under the master of Shuang Lin Monastery – Master Shi Gao Can.

According to Master Quek, Master Gao Can’s martial arts skills were extraordinary. He traveled around the South Seas and eventually he chose to teach Shaolin Kung Fu at Shuang Lin Monastery to promote Chinese martial arts. He remembers that when he was a teacher, he knelt down and made a vow according to the ancient rituals and followed the rules of Shaolin. Including respect for teachers, filial piety and fraternal duty, no adultery, no personal vendetta, no fomenting right and wrong, no alcoholism, no bullying, one need to suppress the strong and help the weak, save the world and help others, fight for justice, etc. The Shaolin Monastery has a strict respect for the rules and regulations, whether a monk or a lay disciple, must take an oath to observe the rules.

In addition to teaching Shaolin Kung Fu, Venerable Master Gao Can also taught the 18 kinds of weapons in Shuang Lin Monastery, such as swords, spears, staffs, sticks, brass forks, steel palladiums, whips, polearm, moon axes, hooks and scythes, dragon claws, walking sticks, rattan cards, bows and arrows, as well as the convenient shovel and Zen staffs for monks.

However, Master Quek said that in the first three years of entering Shuang Lin Monastery, he only learned three forms – Single Plum Blossom, Eyebrow Stick and Broadsword. In the first two or three years, Sifu Shi Gao Can emphasised the importance of laying a good foundation for his students and never taught them indiscriminately. A poor foundation for martial arts training would slow down future development. At present, many young people come to martial arts school to learn martial arts, but they are greedy for more advanced techniques, even they cannot digest or integrate them, resulting in nothing.

He said that after the third year, his master taught him three other sets of Kung Fu forms within a month. In the end, he learned Monkey Fist (猴拳), White Crane Fist (白鶴拳), Eagle Claw (鷹爪), Tiger Fist (伏虎拳), Luohan Fist (羅漢拳), Bagua Fist (八卦拳), Plum Blossom Fist (梅花拳), Eighteen Bronze Men Fist (十八銅人拳), Sticky Palm Turnover (黏掌翻身), and so on. He said that when he was in China, he had learned Five Ancestor’s Fist (五祖拳) from Liu Ping Shan (劉平山), and it took him 40 days to learn the horse stance alone. If he were to teach the students in this way for 40 days, he believed that students would all leave in a few days. Therefore, he said that nowadays, the young people who stay in martial arts are very different from before, so the teaching method should be tailored to individuals.

Master Quek Performing Luohan Fist

He believes that the horse riding stance is critical in Chinese martial arts because it is closely related to the upper, middle, and lower stances, as well as the turning and retreating. If the horse-riding stance is stable, when bridging with the other party, there is no need to escape, one only needs to use the horse-riding stand to advance and retreat or dodge, which is more than enough. He said that a martial artist with a stable horse stance and a firm hand would not have a chance to be hit by his opponent because he would not have a chance to get close to him.

He believes that the Eyebrow Stick (齊眉棍) and the Bian Tan (扁擔) are also very practical. Although the Ban Tan only has a few moves, it takes 40 days to become proficient. On the other hand, the Zen Staff (禪杖) and the Da Gan Dao (大關刀) are bulky and impractical, movements are more powerful when used as a Zen Staff (禪杖) or a Da Gan Dao (大關刀) if the instructor is successfully trained with bulky weapons.

Although Master Quek is 50 years old, he has been practising Iron Palm (鐵沙掌) for 30 years, so his palm power is very strong. In the past, he has performed many incredible palm strikes that have left a deep impression. He was able to break a marble table with his palm, break a brick and a coconut with his palm, and smash a five inch iron nail into a wooden board with his palm. He uses his palm to clamp four bricks, and then hits them with a ten-pound hammer, shattering the four bricks above and below his palm, but the palm remains intact and unharmed.

He said he had been practicing Iron Palm since he was a child. He used this method to practice – the first, spear hand strike into a pot with white beans for about a year, and then into the sand. The most important point is to have a medical oil to wash hands after practice. In addition to the spear hand strike, he also frequently strike sand bag with the front and back of his palm. After a long period of dedicated hard practice, then one can practice the actual Iron Palm. After the work is done, brick and stone can also be broken. A face slap by his palm will be seriously injured and bleeding. Master Quek not only has hard hands, but also has very hard muscles. Those who practice Iron Palm and use this for Phoniex Eye Fist (鳳眼拳) or Maddening Hand Fist (麻瘋手) will give devastating internal injuries to their opponents.

When Shi Gao Can sits down, his hips are six inches above the futon and only the edges of his feet are on the ground, a feat that cannot be followed by ordinary people. Master Quek said that although Shuang Lin Monastery has taught its disciples to learn light feet and test their foot strength on the tile surface, he has not done any hard work on light feet. Still, he understands how to practice it, and at present, his martial arts school has also practised light feet with foot pedal lead sheet. Light feet Kung Fu requires determination and hard work, unfortunately, no student is interested.

In the martial arts, the so-called flying on the wall, grass, and water, soaring, lifting, transcendence, etc. are all in the category of light Kung Fu, focusing on lifting the Chi (or Qi), training the spirit and lifting the weight, one cannot achieve this without years of hard work, so light Kung Fu techniques are rarely practiced.

Master Quek not only practised palm strength, but also spent a lot of time practising Iron Cloth Shirt (鐵布衫). The Iron Cloth Shirt is second only to the Golden Bell Mask (金鐘罩) in hard Kung Fu, the latter is invulnerable to swords and spears when the Kung Fu is completed and is very powerful, divided into the practice of Chi and tendons, except for the Zhaomen (罩門) pressure point. Other parts of the body can hardly be hurt. But the Iron Cloth Shirt is less effective, some important pressure points can not be hit.

Master Quek Practising in a Park.

For the first six months, Master Quek used a bunch of chopsticks to hit all over the body, then washed the body with medicated oil, and did not take a shower after four hours. He then gradually changed to using iron or stones to hit all around the body, and then further used iron hammer to hit with, with extra attention to exhaling when practising.

Speaking of exhalation, Master Quek also learned Chi Kung from Venerable Shi Gao Can. He learned Chi Kung standing, and sitting in various ways, so that the accumulation of Chi can be stored, dominated, controlled and then able lift with intention. When sitting down, you need to be astringent in the Dantian (丹田), and then focus on breathing, you also need to meditate internal Chi to be connected to the two veins. But he said that regular practice of punching and kicking will invariably enhance Chi. Practitioners of Chi Kung should be able to cope with beatings in the abdomen. However, this needs a long time to master the techniques.

A year ago, when a local movie Paper Tiger (1978) was shot, more than ten of Master Quek’s disciples were hired as temporary martial arts actors and actresses. Each disciple earns a few thousand dollars, a windfall from their martial arts training.

He said martial artists focus on inhaling, exhaling, loading and sinking. When fighting, you need to be able to see and be quick, and when the opponent starts to strike, you have to kick, so speed is essential. Learning martial arts require lots of practice, you should understand the energy, redirection, flexibility, rigidity and technique. When learning martial arts, one should follow its nature and be good at gathering power to hit with force.

A few years ago he returned to Fujian and said that the Kaiyuan Temple (開元寺) in Quanzhou (泉州) was a very famous place for martial arts training. His mentor also came from the Kaiyuan Temple. Nowadays, there are still thirteen monks who are highly skilled in martial arts in Kaiyuan Temple. The personnel of Fujian Acrobatic Troupe also learn from here, and outsiders are not easily allowed to visit the temple. The monks of the temple have a high level of education, and the temple has a lot of Shaolin martial arts equipment, including the 18 Luohan rooms.

Master Quek Heng Choon

In modern times, China still pays attention to the development of martial arts, but combat competition has been cancelled in China due to a life case before, and only martial arts performance and sparring are allowed. However, Taiwan often hosts national or worldwide combat ring competitions. Chinese martial arts do not have systematic development and teaching. With the rapid development of society and changing living environments, some unique and challenging martial skills are likely to be eliminated if they are not well preserved and passed on. They will only become historical terms in martial arts history!

Source of Chinese Article: Huang Yu-Lin (1979), the Collection of Interviews with Famous Martial Arts Masters. Salam Press Sdn. Translated by Simon Wang.