Baby Catch Butterfly
An Interview with Kenny Gong
In September of 1995, we had the very good fortune of having Master Kenny Gong of New York in our city. We asked, and he graciously took time out of his busy seminar schedule to allow the time for the following in-depth interview and application photos.
I found ShrFu Gong to be a most remarkable man with an obvious high level grasp of Hsing I and Internal Arts principles. His knowledge of the theories, kinetics, tactics and techniques of Hsing I is inspirational, and he is quick to back up what he says with concrete demonstration and action.
He is also probably one of the most humble and down to earth people I have met in some time and he and his students went out of their way to make us feel comfortable and welcome.
I think you will find his interview as informative and full of zest as I did. His Hsing I is as true to life as his personality. Enjoy...
HJ. Maybe if we could begin with your personal martial arts history; where you started to study and who taught you?
I learn from very young in Canton. And then my teacher is was An Fei. An Fei was a general in Canton. At that time, the people, even father and son, nobody use their true name. He is like my father in law, who was a general, but never tell me the true name. I don't know his true name but he lived with me, not next door. When I live in the front, he live in the back building. Everyday together, live years. Before he recommend me lot of martial art teachers. I escape. And then... first, he make me learn. Later, I ask him teach. I don't know he is teaching me Hsing-I. In the beginning, he ask me... because I go to fight with the street people, right?... and lost a few times. And he say, "You want learn martial art? You know martial arts, or you don't know martial arts, how can you get it. Right? So, you never win. So, he tell me go to Shrfu.. teacher. First I learn the Monkey, few days and skip. The rolling on the ground, that kind of style. He every time grab my heel, threw me away. I say "You good. But I don't like learn." I say why learn? I cannot fight on the ground whole life, right? Like that, maybe stone and glass on the ground. That's low class fighting. I don't want to learn that kind of thing. And then one guy teach me the big knife, like the Jen (straight sword) that kind of knife. I'm a little boy, how can I play that kind of knife, right? I quit. And one guy, I see him in the cigarette put some kind of medicine, like the cocaine, and smoke, right? And talking, the saliva always spit to me! That's dirty... I quit. Anyway, and I escape. And then one day, An Fei ask me "You want to learn martial arts?" And I say, yes but I cannot find a good teacher. Then everyday, I do home-work. he teach me the book of changes (I Ching) and then also, he ask me. "You every day read the book like that?" Now I sit down with the book... and then from the postures, and then I stand a little while, about three months. and then he talk story, and explain, and I ask him his homework, he explain to me, like the book. But first thing, you just stand like that. (Standing in San Ti). Not allow you ask any questions. You should do. Because I'm reading book, and then I feel tired, and everyday do, do, do, and then one day I go to fight with that guy, and I beat him, and so I think, that's interesting, and then he stop talking. Not talking martial art any more. I say, please teach me, teach me, right? And then he teach me. Start to teach me, many years.
James: How old were you then, Shrfu?
Thirteen years old. Before I learn... Hung Gar, that kind ... I was a little boy at the time. I forgot what is it, this style. Because the family temple pay to learn... my uncle wants me learn. You know as kid, they boss, they always wrong. Never, never stay. So every year they employed the teacher come back, the master come back to teaching for lion dancing, for show. Then, in old China before, they always fighting. Neighbor fights neighbor. They fight for the land or for river, for water... just fight. Adult fight with gun, we fight with hand, always fight. Because our family have money, they employed people come back to teaching martial art. But we all don't want to learn. Because too tired, like that. And no one have any freedom, right, they always boss you do. You must do. So after thirteen and then real start martial art training.
James: This was in Canton?
James: But your teacher was from Hebei?
No, no, no.... Anfei. He learned the north style Hsing-I, but he is Anfei people. Anfei in the middle of China, Huang Shan, Yellow Mountain. He's speak Cantonese very bad, Mandarin very bad. He teach me the bone medicine. But I learn internal medicine from other teacher.
HJ. By bone medicine you mean die dao, or tui na?
Like, set a bone, for new injury. Because army, he use. Ours is General Fei style, so... so must be know some secret of the real high medicine. So even very serious, just apply stop the pain, then can walk right away Right? Even very, very bad.
HJ. A lot of field emergency medicine.
And then I'm interested. Because my grandmother is a Chinese doctor. But when she died I was very young; only 7 or 8 years old. No chance to learn. But every time I dream my grandmother I cry, so I like to learn medicine, just like a little acupuncture, that kind of thing. My grandmother did not teach me, but she made me interested to learn. I learn just because I want to, for no purpose. To earn money we have business. My family do have business. And even I move to Hong Kong, my parents in here long, long time. My father in here long long time. So our family have money. So, I never worry to earn money, to learn something. In Hong Kong, I do import export too. At nighttime I'm want help people. So... then I move to Hong Kong. Because I'm not practice my martial arts for a long time, right? Work in a office. And downstairs one day, I'm crippled. Because I'm alot of times injured, my teacher hit me too much. When you are young, you don't care. You're hurt, OK, hurt. I rub some lotion and OK, I walk away. I get bruise and I don't care. But, I had stopped the practice one year. And then one day I walk to upstair downstair, and like all the needle in my leg. I kneel down. So I called to see my cousin. My cousin is a MD. He give me injection. And over one month, no pain. Wow! Great! I say why I learn Chinese medicine? Useless, right? At lease few days, OK. This is just one injection, OK. And then about one month no pain, and then pain again come back. And then injection. And then no pain again. About three injections no work, and then more pain. So then I start to relearn again the medicine, and then go to look book about injury, and then cure myself. And then I go to work for other offices, to help people. My choice. Because I didn't need money? I only have my friend, the doctor. Lot of doctor. At nighttime choose important patient to treat. And I do import export. So then I start practicing hard again. Because I stop one year, the practice, and then I feel terrible. And then I come here, I'm teaching in the Tai Chi club. You know Cheng Man Ching, right? Cheng Man Ching is move out of Chinatown, change to Bowery, so I take over the teaching over there. Only me teaching over there. That's a long long time ago. 1970. In 1970 my son's just born. And then I teach over there only weekend. Daytime I do waiter. Just come to New York at that time. And I was teaching martial arts in the T'ai Chi club weekends. Everybody now even now, no instructor have salary. Only me. Twenty dollar an hour I'm teaching over there. Teach Hsing-I over there. And then I'm teaching private, teach a few students... they open a school for me, I don't know. They go to rent the place, and fix the place, in Christie Street. And they set up the school, and they say, Shrfu please come out teaching us. And then I teach. I start teaching this from 1975 up to now. Before, I treat patients first, And then teaching martial arts. My private students, I'm teaching at home. And then teaching in the club. Now I still take care that place (Tai Chi Club). Any year, I donation... some people even want to go there teaching. Some people from mainland China or Taiwan they want money. But that place is non-profit. So... anyway the people said if you at that level, you can teaching over there. So if they pass me, they can teach over there. They must have an exam, and test their power to teach. If they want money, I push hands or something. I test if they true. But cheat people, can't do that. But not all the people pay, so no money.
HJ. What do you emphasize when you first start teaching people Hsing-I? What's first in your mind? What should they learn first?
Pi Chuan stand. San Ti stand. San Ti (three leg) stand. Most exercise. First we learn Dragon turns head. Loosen of the body. Have four main exercise. Because we... like the school, the whole system, you have many things. We do first learn exercise. To see if they have muscle foundation. If they have learned karate, learned south style hung gar, very hard, I teach longer forms, soft forms. Make them soft. If their body very weak, for health, I teach the five element form. Called Ming Jing. Like him come, (points at a student) he asthma. Very bad, go to hospital more than go to restaurant! (laughter) And then I tell him, this corner yours. You not allowed to turn back to watch other people practice. You practice half year, and then start teaching you. He just do his own exercise. He pass half a year, then I start teaching him. I tell the students, you want to be my client? Or my student? Or my boss. You want be my client right? Like a department store, I show everything on the paper. Any-thing you want, I just do. You want one year finish, one year can finish; five months finish, five mouths can finish. You my boss, you can order me. Anything you want, I teach you. But I'm not guarantee you get it now. Right? You want my student, you learn what I teach you, you learn more. There's three kind thing. But a lot of people want do my boss. But if my boss, only allow them three month; I don't want to be employed that long! (laughter) You want what, I just teach you what. But you correct or no correct, I no guarantee. But my students must learn one year. First the basic, at least one year. Just loosen the tendon, right, just one year. But other things do learn. But not pay attention that much. Main thing how to learn the power, technique in the first year. And do exercise, lot of exercise. Make a big list, schedule, one by one. So we have form, push hand, self defense, power training, like that. Internal training, internal power training. But most come do the Dragon turns head. So lot of people, long time visit my school. Oh, Kenny Gong teaching Dragon turns head, right? Because they come ten years later saying this the exercise. They see my Students do two and one years, still do the san shou, stand over there... I do thirty years I'm still do the same thing. Knowledge is like the dust. We cannot see it. But you go away a few days, you can see the dirt. Right? So repeat; every day, do little bit, little bit. But all... if you saw from one, you understand from very simple to complicated. From complicated, come back to simple. My method's like that. Means you learn everything. And then, choose one thing. Like we teach the twelve animals: if you're middle sized, you can learn everything. If you're too big, or small, small, only choice. But everything they know, too. But is not special. Some people special this one, some is this one, that's all. Some, like my teacher, do the Snake better than me. A lot better. Lot better than me. But I do Dragon better than him. Because the size limits sometimes, big guys do Bear, Tiger; that kind of thing is better. But smaller do the Monkey, Horse, Hawk, that kind of thing. So the different level learn different thing. But general course, learn everything. First you get idea and then one by one figure out. Like element; first learn Pi (Pi Chuan). Because the condition, the human lost that kind of power, long time. You see the Horse, Ma, any animal, they run, why so quick? Because the ribcage can move. I see a lot of patient; a baby punch them, they get hurt. Difficult breath. Pain. Car accident: they lot of give, a soft thing hit it, they can x-ray nothing, but they are hurt. They're very weak. The ribcage. Right? Human, in ancient times should be can do same as the other animals can do. But now, we lost. The Hsing-I is not on outside of form. Hsing-I have one high level form called "Baby Chase Butterfly". Now is lost. Hsing-I have three kinds of things. Main thing is "Thunder Voice", "Baby Chase Butterfly", and "Take Off Root". We still teach two. Baby chase Butterfly, they (students) not enough level to learn. But we start learn take up root, they... they even one month start learn already. What is take away root? Means every body same amount strong. But how to... Hsing-I is, hid the strong. Why they strong. Why they weak. So the different idea ... similar things idea. Hsing-I is straight circle. So the people thinking Hsing I straight steps, stay forward is not true. Because like the drill. So the circle like... like very quick movement; you cannot see the drill. So is the circle forward. Pa Kua because running circle. Use the... Pa Kua use the revolution location circle. So you can see the circle more. Tai Chi is empty center. Hsing-I is straight center. Pa Kua rounding center. Tai Chi because empty center, can see the circle. So they thinking Hsing-I is no circle. But Hsing-I is all a circle. They don't know the circle is where only. Hsing-I more circle than Pa Kua and Tai Chi. Because the action bigger. Inside the motor turning, but outside rev up. So you don't know the motor is turning still. Is because the circle like that. Too sharp. So you cannot... your eye, wrong. Cannot see the circle. But always have circle. Hsing-I is more circle than everything. Because Pa Kua, the rounding circle the movement. Very big. Uhh... rotation circle small, so you not see that clear. But running circle you see the step, outside, that's running circle. Pa Kua is no forward, backward, is in and out. So is different. But a lot of people misunderstand that Hsing-I is only straight... Hsing-I is all a circle. Circle means have curve. Because I don't care the curve how small. But still have curve, like that. Because most of Hsing I look more straight. So you don't know... they thinking is not a circle. No circle, you cannot support, right, like a drill. Any forward action by the drill forward. Any action backward... by spiral backward. It's different.
HJ. Would you be willing to discuss what you're going to talk about today in a kind of shortened format, the Eight Powers...
Ah, the Eight Powers. Eight Power.... Eight Power is come from Five Elements, and swallow and snake. That kind of power. Eight Power the principle is up and down. Open and close. Contract and expand. Coil, wrapping. Wrapping power. And picking up power. Like the Snake form, picking up. Guiding power. Like the Swallow form. Guiding power. That kind of power. Another, not Turtle, Alligator power. Not look like alligator. Only China has that kind of alligator.
HJ. You mean Tow Hsing?
Tow. Yes. Is not real alligator, but cannot make translation. That's called one type of power. Like the T'ai Chi have one, right? Cloud hand. This one many circle, go in, like a wind blew, like that. So, difficult to see. We talking eight principle power. Because cloudy hand, inside one big circle contain many small circle. So very difficult to see. Look like very dumb, but not. Yesterday we talking sixteen words, how to... one action contain sixteen words. Means like intercept Hsing-I. Because Hsing-I forward or backward must front foot forward. Hsing-I's way you cannot see, in back leg or front leg. Look like in the middle, 50-50. But we change the way, very quick. To not allow the people see. My back leg or front leg. So we train, talking step, talking yin and yang, five elements, talking... in the body, like hiding, the mind, mind and form, one piece, how to do one action contain sixteen words in your body. Any action, like that. And we talking, fighting, how to counter your position, change my position, timing. Because in martial art, difficult understand position, timing. and technique. Power, right? Tech-nique. So your power don't know timing, you lost. You have power, no position, you lost. You have power, no tech-nique, same lost. But we have to learn Dong Jing (movement, no movement). Some people said, "Move quick. conquer the slow." I'm waiting, relaxed, over there, waiting. Some people, I say, slow can conquer quick. Very difficult. We have to learn to know timing's timing. Trigger the movement. Know movement's movement. Have movement, no movement. But, you cannot see my movement only. That's called timing, Dong Jing. (How to be moving but appear to not be moving).
HJ. It seems to me you're very knowledgeable on the physics and kinetics of Hsing-I. Would you be willing to discuss fajing with us?
Fajing? Fajing is called density change.
HJ. Density change....