a brief history of Juk Lam Tong Long
Oral tradition states that Juk Lam Naam Tong Long Gung Fu was first developed in the Bamboo Forest Temples 竹林寺 located on Long Fu Shan / Mt. Dragon Tiger 龍虎山 of Southern China and then upon the Five Plateau Mountain / Wu Tai Shan located further in the North. These mountains are home to numerous temples from both Buddhist and Daoist traditions training in both martial skills and spiritual development. It was between these sacred locations [among others ] that the ancestors of our art would travel, study and teach. There are now I believe four official Bamboo Forest Temples in China stemming from the original, but they are not of the martial order– rather they are simply contemplation halls. The old temples have been rebuilt as needed. Some relics have been lost, others have not.
Bamboo Forest Martial Art ( Juk Lam Kyun) was developed and trained by high level practitioners of the era and thus similarities can be recognized from other historical boxing systems seen today, such a s Pak Mei, Dragon and White Crane. Juk Lam Kyun was a method reserved for high level practitioners who already had a firm grasp of fundamental Shaolin Martial Art. Juk Lam Kyun is a sophisticated distillation of techniques which heavily rely on; body mechanics, conditioning skills and metal focus. Much like today, the head monks would all cross train with each other developing their own unique flavor or style. The skills of striking, seizing, kicking and grappling are all studied within our fighting art. Iron skills are wrapped in cotton and meditative practices help keep the balance.
Gong Sai Juk Lam Ji Tong Long is said to be the original order of the Southern Praying Mantis Systems and eventually became adopted by the local villagers and subsequently spread around China and then the rest of the world. This exit from the Temple is credited to Saam Daats two disciples who gave lessons to local villagers giving birth to the three gates of Saam Daats Martial Art. Shortly there after leaving the Temple the original methods began taking on various family names. Note: I Personally am not a technical historian in these matters, I can not validate these stories as absolute fact and I do not simply presume it to be, instead I acknowledge it as the personal view of more then a few elders and also that it is written in books and essays available to the public. Again this does not make it fact because ive not seen with my own eyes but there are said to be temple records and name recognition which make these statements worth contemplating and perhaps tracking.
What is showing to be fact is that each branch of southern mantis has developed their own unique curriculum and philosophy of martial expression. All are based upon the same aggressive training characteristics, thus they compliment each other. I say they share more similarities then differences. I digress, in today’s world they matured and became independent in their paths…cousins if you will.
I have chosen to put my main focus on the study of the Bamboo Forest fighting methods in conjunction with supplementary training in the related southern arts ( chu,gar, chow gar, Pak Mei etc).
As I have read and been told and with many points verified by Master Gin Foon Mark, I will tell a story; partly truth and partly fiction.
Juk Lam Ji Naam Tong Long Pai is credited to the Martial Monk Saam Daat 三達祖師 who was born circa the late 18th century. It is told that Saam Daat was living in an orphanage associated with the Juk Lam Temple. He was exposed to all manner of monastic education, martial arts included. Saam Daat developed his technique to defend himself from his seemingly stronger peers who also trained in the monastery, many of whom were roughnecks, pirates and other ball-busters, all with strong fighting abilities. He was a young man maybe fifteen years old. The legend states that Saam Daat took the major animals and gave them the intensity of the praying mantis to formulate his method. While still confined to the Juk Lam Temple these methods of fighting and exercise came to be known as Dragon Tiger Fist or perhaps Bamboo Forest Temple Boxing….I believe the name to have changed a few times over the years.
What we know is that Saam Daat is credited with the initial syllabus as we know it. I have heard that Saam Daat was of Tibetan birth and this had a great deal of influence in his upbringing and is perhaps why he ended up on the mountain in the first place. What the story states is that while in the Juk Lam Temple he was confronted by the Temple Abbot (Tai Yueh Sienging ?) for a fight. Evidently he was in a fight where he injured another resident monk. In an effort to explain why and how he fought the more advanced boxer, he showed the Abbot the things he had been training. Saam Daat quickly gained approval and guidance as the Abbot naturally saw great potential in the young monks contribution. Subsequently, the Abbot elevated the status of Saam Daat’s hand to the highest ranks of the temple for further refinements with the elders. He was now training among the elites of his time. Saam Daat was eventually named to be Abbot of the Juk Lam Temple. He spent decades refining and living in and around the Temples of the region as his teachings were now the most high at the Bamboo Forest Temple. The Monk was well known for his abilities, but he was aging and had yet to take an official successor to see to the future.
Without a gifted and fully dedicated apprentice for Saam Daat to hand down his lifework, they would surely not last forever, as the methods required a lot of the student if they were to be considered capable of passing down the training syllabus. The search was on. Due to the intricate and tactical approach of Saam Daat’s method it would require a very strong willed person. Someone with great mental toughness and exceptional physical ability. Saam Daat began to examine all the resident monks, he traveled to various temples and put to exploring the countryside in hopes of finding his official disciple. It would be that he would find two students, Wong Do Leng And Lee Kwong Ching for the full transmission of his style. We turn our focus on Master Lee as Master Wong Do Leng did not spread the art in the same way. Perhaps someone should research this monk deeper.
Lee Kwon Ching, later known as Lee Seim Si 李禪師, born approximately 1830, was a skilled boxer and a young outlaw of sorts. He was the first to learn directly from Saam Daat the art in its entirety and carry it on as it was designed. Master Lee was a military minded man who perhaps believed that the rights of the people overshadowed the privileges of the elite; Master Lee made his way in the world fighting small battles for the people and testing the bounds of authority as he wandered the countryside. The Outlaw Lee acted in the same way as Robin Hood. It is said that when these two men met in friendly combat Saam Daat although much older defeated Lee but not before Lee impressed him with his martial abilities. Soon they made a lasting friendship based on core values and the natural rhythms that eventually brought them permanently together within the courtyard of the Dragon Tiger Mountain Temple. It ended up being that Saam Daat would take Lee Kwon Ching as his personal disciple and fully ordained resident Monk. As a Taoist adept he would take on the new name Zen Master Lee or similar terms such as red flower ( red symbolizing cinnabar?) . The Daoist Lee spent many years learning and nurturing the intricacies of Saam Daat’s gung fu and training the ways of the monastic order to a high level. He was eventually named the official Abbot of the Juk Lam Temple Monks. He would work to expand the teachings by building new learning temples and practicing Zen along the way.
Zen Master Lee would often take to walking the countryside teaching about life and sharing the simple fruits of his self discoveries to anyone who was willing to learn. This is the job of a sage. Leaving only foot prints and memories behind. It is said Master Lee quietly taught martial arts outside the Temple Walls and to one family in particular while he would travel South. This would be where the teaching first left Juk Lam Temple, as a complete art.
Chang Yu Chung 林榮輝 was born mid to late 1860’s and was living with his family in the south of China near the Temple that Master Lee oversaw. The Chung family often provided for the Abbot while he traveled the countryside, and in gratitude he taught them some exercises to practice with. Ive heard a few dates for when Master Lee first took on Chang Yu Chung as a student, it must have been around the age of 13. In any rate, Chang Yu Chung accompanied the Master back and forth a few times between the Juk Lam Temple and home. This is where he, as a citizen and not a full resident monk, began to learn in-depth the techniques of Dragon Tiger Fist with out taking monastic vows of residency. Together they traveled to the temple in the north and while doing so they studied the art to attain full insight into the three gates of Saam Daat’s fighting system. Some years later with the completion of his physical studies and harboring a gift for herbal medicine, Master Chung was given the blessing of Lee Seim Si to teach the system as his personal successor and laymonk. It was around 1890 when Master Chung then settled alongside his family and opened a medicine shop and fighting art school. Master Lee continued building monasteries and teaching Zen Buddhism as he over saw the various other monks training in the Temples their individual styles.
By the time Master Chung was teaching turbulent times where indeed at a boil. Secret societies were very much a part of the population, both good and bad. Revolutions and even Civil Wars were being fought all over the country. As the various masters were enduring extreme persecution, Many temples were burned during the Boxer rebellion and in its aftermath. Guns where becoming the new thing and Master Chung saw that in this environment of social conformity the arts were fading into show only skills. Perhaps due to the very very closed door policies of monks and citizens alike martial art was simply less respected then in days past. This was not acceptable to the young Master Chung. He openly advertised his undiluted and traditional Temple Art to the public. He accepted all challenges and refuted claims stating otherwise. He even had a sign board which read ” We repair broken martial arts”. .
It was the very early 1920’s when Master Chung took on two young disciples; Lam Wing Fay 林榮輝 and Wong Yuk Gong 黃毓光. These two would carry the art forward through the next generation, despite much hardship brought on by both internal and external governmental disputes. Our story follows Lam Wing Fei all the way from Long Fu Shan across the ocean to America
Lam Wing Fei, later known as Lam Sang 林生, trained for several years with Master Chung as he was also from the local community, Lam was a young boy of 10-13 years old. He small and without great muscle build but as he grew he became fast as lightning and could pierce through a powerful blow with out much struggle. Lam Sang gained a high understanding for the arts strength and aggression through his Sifu, Master Chung. Being Smaller then his training partner and as Master Chung was a powerful person which required skill over strength to beat him, Lam Sang was forced to defend himself properly. Lam Sang also practiced the yin sensitivity and sticky hand skills with Madam Chung, Master Chung’s mother, which she learned from The Abbot Lee Seim See. This routine continued until the mid to late 1920’s when being the youngest of the disciples, Lam Wing Fei left his Sifu to escort the aging Master Lee Seim Si, who is now in his 90’s, on his travels from south to north and back to over see the various temples construction.
It is said that Lam Wing Fei traveled with Master Lee for between seven and ten years. In this time they rebuilt monasteries all over the countryside, seeding them with meditative skills and the occasional martial art exercise, essentially doing the work of wandering Taoist Monks. Again Master Lee found he was traveling the countryside moving from Wu Tai San and back to Long Fu San and all points in between with a disciple worthy of his full attention. Together they traveled throughout the countryside following the old ways, nurturing the principles of nature and practicing their skills together. It is in this time that Lam Wing Fei learned the spirit and the skill of Saam Daats martial art as taught directly by by Elder Lee Seim Si. The skills; Soft to overcome hard, the five elements, the breath and listening skills for sure were discussed. In the early 1930’s Lam Sang returned to Hong Kong, by now in his early twenties, and he opened his first Juk Lam Tong Long Pai Martial Art school.
By the late 1930’s the world wars were heavily oppressing mainland China. Mankind’s technology was racing through evolution at a dangerously ignorant pace as World War II was building steam. Something happened in these years involving Master Chung and the Japanese Army. Perhaps this led to the Death of Master Chung and the exodus of the warrior monks. Regardless, it became apparent to all involved that the longevity of these temple teachings and in fact the masters very lives all depended on the group’s separation. I’ve heard that Lee Seim See returned to the Juk Lam Temple branch seeded in Macao, where he subsequently becomes the Patron Saint. Lam Wing Fai, I believe to now be nearing his thirties, was advised to take the teachings and many lineage relics overseas to ensure the longevity of the art. Lam Sang would first go to England. Wong Yuk Gong stayed in China and the rest of the lay monks would scatter about or fight in the war. Within a short time Lam was again seeking a new home as England came under attack. Lam Sang boarded a ship to America.It is said that the ship Lam Sang was on was bombed at sea but he was rescued by the United States Navy. After much difficulty,Lam Wing Fai made his way to Chinatown, New York City, United States of America around 1942/43.
Lam Sang subsequently earned recognition for his intricate style. He gained a strong reputation by his countryman, many of whom had just recently found themselves in America and longed for a reminder of home. Benevolent societies and various tongs formed around the city, these where the foundations of Chinatown.It was here that Lam Sang made his reputation. When speaking of Lam Sang, there are many stories of mystical abilities as well as horse gambling, and backroom fights. It was also common knowledge that Lam Sang was not known as an easy teacher to gain acceptance from on a personal level, he only taught a few people at a time outside of the cultural centers where he had many public students doing basics. It was known that he turned down hopeful requests rather often for private instruction. In fact Even Bruce Lee sought him out and was denied entry in 1963 I believe. It would be Lam Sangs student, Gin Foon Mark, who spent some time teaching Master Bruce Lee.
Everybody in the time of the “monkey” knew who he was. He was said to be a kind man who spent considerable time in self cultivation. Like all men, Lam Sang was not with out his flaws. There is a good likelihood that he, like all immigrants, experienced a bit of a shock when he arrived in America. I try to remember this when I am told he refused all white students. My reasoning for forgiveness: He was now among a very busy society that did not respect foreigners, life had become in your face chaotic, he had witnessed first hand blood soaked greed. I assume that for this reason, Lam Sang adopted a very closed community mindset. It was Lam Sang who one who brought Southern Mantis to America, but life was certainly not like it was when he was traveling the countryside with his Taoist master. It was the 1940’s… New York City. If you know your American history you know this scene could take all kinds of forms. The new setting was sure to influence the future of Juk Lam Kyun.
Lam Sang had a few select groups of disciples whom he openly shared and lived among. Small groups who trained and perhaps taught the youth in local halls. It is from these groups that we find the few branches of his teachings that exist today. It was about the middle of the 20th century that Master Lam would meet a young Sifu by the name of Gin Foon Mark. These two would begin a long lasting friendship.
Gin Foon Mark (Gin Fun Maak, as it would be romanized as yale cantonese) was born in 1927. His martial education began in the temple and then from his family who resided in Toisan, southern China. When he was a young boy he entered into a temple for classical studies and hopefully evade the hardships of the times. This is where he learned Mok Gar Kuen and various other skills such as calligraphy. It was in this time that he first saw Bamboo Forest Praying Mantis, being demonstrated by a resident monk. He eventually returned home where he and his uncle trained and taught the White Crane methods of boxing. Around 1947 the family decided that it would be best to leave China and come to the West.
When Gin Foon Mark arrived in New York he was considered a young but well established Sifu. He soon had work teaching in the various society halls. Sifu Mark eventually found himself in the right place at the righ ttime because he felt the very real power found in Master Lam Sang . He promptly dedicated himself to more than a decade of training first hand with Master Lam. Sifu Mark had experienced Juk Lam Tong Long while still in china and was eager to dedicate himself to the study. Gin Foon Mark would become a private (or what is referred to in America as a “closed door”) student of Master Lam in mid 1950’s. They lived and conducted business together for many years after. Gin Foon accompanied Master Lam wherever he went absorbing the numerous details of Bamboo Forest Praying Mantis. Gin Foon Mark continued this until Lam Sang retired to Taiwan in about 1969. This is when Gin Foon Mark became the official voice of Juk Lam Temple Gung Fu in America.
Gin Foon Mark had a different view of America then his teacher had. He decided to take on any student that wanted to train and from this pool he would find the most gifted from which to really teach- regardless of race. Master Mark Opened the doors to all nationalities. He taught each person based on character. He proved to be in the right place at the right time. Kung Fu was all the rage in the United States, thanks to the movies from actors such as Bruce Lee and the shaw Brothers. Folks were being exposed to more and more Chinese martial arts and they wanted to learn it. This made marketing a very simple matter. Students came from all over to train with Master Mark. Master Mark and a few of his training brothers would capitalize on this interest as they worked to ensure that the art would carry forward to another generation. Master Mark picked individuals from his public classes to focus training on and by the 1980’s he was putting out strong roots in a new generation of sifu. It was from students of this generation that I was first introduced to Juk Lam sticking hands. (More on this story later perhaps).
Master Mark is living and teaching in Minnesota. He is 88 years old at the time of this writing.
Juk Lam is a system of martial skill which I find opens the door to a lifestyle worth pursuing. One which revolves around simplicity and the natural relationships to the world around us. Through classical marital art all energy makes more sense. Juk Lam is a true system of study, one which encompass yin and yang so very well. Along the path to self perfection we are confronted by personal weakness, doubt, fear and ego. Through physical discipline and personal awareness we learn our minds, our bodies and in that the spirit. We train daily to avoid distractions. Most of all we learn about ourselves. If your into philosophy, meditation and other life skills we have them too.
The fact is, we can follow these methods directly to their inception to the Juk Lam Temple, where they where distilled by Saam Daat and his mentors from classic Shaolin techniques. Juk Lam Boxing was developed in the mountain temple, by Martial Monks and Taoist Priests, as a part of the last generation to do so before globalization. The techniques encompass both empty hand as well as weapon training and have stood the test of time. But this does not guarantee a damn thing for us today, if we are slack in our studies. It is very much up to us to train the arts with as much dedication and diligence as possible if we are to maintain the standard of excellence laid out before us. We must honor tradition by not becoming subject to delusion. We must not become fixated on the finger pointing to the moon. Martial art training is hard work.
Reality based examination is the only way. It is up to each person to train the methods they learn and analyze them against another human being as well as against themselves. If you are not touching you are not learning. If you find a hole, fill it. Refuse to let life’s busy hustle deter you from your simple lifework. Read the classics and experiment with mobility. Have patience and teach true.
If you think martial art is just about fighting, then your confused.
If you think you can understand life without fighting…your a fool.
It has only been within the last 50 years that non Chinese have been allowed to learn this order of Temple Style Gung Fu. This is all thanks to Master Mark who has spent his life in America openly cultivating and teaching Bamboo Forest Temple Arts. If he did not so openly teach, I would never have had the opportunity to learn this art and subsequently become his student as I, to this day, continue my studies. Master Mark has opened the door to a vast amount of knowledge among the American population and the world wide. Many seeds sowed into the landscape waiting to flower. Sifu has encouraged the development of old skills while maintaining a living criterion. By introducing the healing sounds into the Juk Lam Temple as well as the numerous two person formulas Master Mark has proven that the art is fully alive. The hands of Saam Daat live on in United States as a fighting method designed by martial artists to defeat martial artists.
All reputable Juk Lam People in America owe Gin Foon Mark their utmost gratitude and respect.
Many of us have come together to help the arts further develop as we hone our knowledge and abilities…a few have taken on students of our own. The Southern Hands family in America may be scattered and in fragmented numbers but we are all active in our unique expressions, social contributions and personal studies…. Long Live Naam Tong Long Pai!
“We must remember that every generation will bloom a new flower but only if the roots are properly maintained.”
It is my dream to someday have a location of my own from where I can build from…a place where interest is expressed so we may be preserving these arts as I study and teach them.
An estimated timeline of major events:
NOTE: The year of Saam Daats death is unknown by me at this time. I figure I am with in a couple of years with the life of Lee Seim Si… one article I read states that the Macao Juk Lam Temple has records of a gathering in 1943, for Master Lee Seim Si’s birthday celebration where Lam Sang supposedly attended. I personally can not understand this; in 1943 Lam Sang had just arrived in USA? Perhaps he meant Lee Seim Si and Chung Yu chung where there or perhaps he meant 1933? Well another article also claims Lee Seim See to have been born in 1863? But Master Mark argues that as being about the time he would have become ordained Abbot….so reborn I guess. In Master Marks historical Book (linked below), he says that Saam Daat probably closed his hands in 1851… perhaps in 1861. Another site states that Saam Daat was born in the middle of the 1700’s but I cant figure that one. He was an old man when he retired for sure. Then there are accounts told of Lee Seim Si and Lam Sang traveling all the way to India, but again I find no evidence of this. In fact I find rumors to the contrary showing them in the North of China. But it is possible I suppose. Some folks make the argument that juk lam fist is over 300 years old, but this seems to be false as well…at least as it concerns Saam Daat. Again though, Saam Daat had been trained in the temple…so technically the art is older then even Saam Daat..He just set a new standard. Its almost better not to get too hung up on this stuff…it can drive you nutty, its maybe better to do horse stance.
As you can guess we may never know the exact years of a few these early events but it might go something like this.
- 1780’s/90’s Saam Daat Born
- 1790’s Saam Daat inducted into the Temple.
- 1825 Saam Daat Becomes the Abbot of Bamboo Forest.
- 1830 Lee Seim See born
- 1850’s Lee See siem became private disciple to the Abbot Saam Daat.
- 1860’s Monk Lee became Abbot of Juk Lam Temple
- 1860’s Chung Yu Chung born
- 1870’s Lee Seim Si starts teaching Chung yu Chung
- 1890’s Chung Yul Chung returns home opens first school / medicine shop
- 1910 Lam wing Fei Born juk lam orphanage
- 1917 Chung Returns from a trip to Wu Tai Shan with Lee Seim Si
- 1921 Lam wing Fei begins learning kung fu.
- 1925 Lam wing fei goes with the Monk Lee Seim Si
- 1927 Gin Foon Mark Born
- 1935 Lam Sang opens school in Hong Kong
- 1937 Lam sang goes to England
- 1938 Lee See Seim Dies age 108
- 1942 Lam Sang comes to the USA
- 1947 Gin Foon Mark Comes to USA
- 1957 Gin Foon Mark begins his studies with Lam Sang
- 1968 Lam Sang retires the art to Gin Foon Mark and moves to Taiwan.
- 1970 Master Mark moves to Minnesota
- 1979 Master Mark traveled to Honk Kong to find Master Yut Kai Faat Si and others to train with.
- 1982 Lam Sang Returns to NYC
- 1991 Lam Sang dies.
- 1995 Riley J Boyer begins active study Hakka Tong Long.
- 2007 Riley Boyer Begins teaching
- 2012 Master Mark sanctions Riley J Boyer, Sifu
- 2016 Master Mark turns 88
oral telling from Master Mark, 5th Generation Master.
chatting with others in the Paai over the years
( RDH article)