In recent years, the names of the Cho (Cao) ancesters have become more and more exposed to the public. However, this exposure has been fragmentary, including only bits and pieces of the Cho family Wing Chun Kuen. This article is intended to provide the reader with a brief, although more in-depth view of Cho family Wing Chun proper, to help clarify the Cho family Wing Chun Kuen history and system.
According to late sifu Cho Hung-Choy (Cao Hongcai), around 1850, there was a Cho family in Panyu, Guangdong. This family were practitioners of Choy Gar Kuen (Caijia Quan), the boxing art of the Choy family. The Cho’s had three sons. One of these sons, Cho Shun (Cao Shun), was sent to study opera aboard the Red Junks, where he learnt the Little Martial role, Siu Mo. On the Red Junks, Cho also met Yik Kam (Yi Jin), an actor who played the role of Cheung Tan, the Proper Woman.
One day, Cho Shun came back from the Red Junk Opera and told his brothers that actor Yik Kam was also a martial artist and that he practiced a system named Wing Chun Kuen (Yongchun Quan) that was soft but advanced. The Cho brothers did not believed there was such type of martial art. So, they went with Cho Shun to the Red Junks and challenged Yik Kam. Yik Kam accepted the challenge and defeated both of the Cho brothers. The Cho brothers immediately asked Yik Kam to accept them as his disciples. Later, the Cho family invited Yik Kam back to Panyu to teach them Wing Chun Kuen. This was the beginning of the Cho family practicing Wing Chun Kuen.
Cho Shun eventually opened a martial art school in Panyu and Wing Chun Kuen was passed down to his son Cho Dak-Shing (Cao Desheng). Cho Dak-Shing passed the art on to Cho Chuen (Cao Quan) and Cho On (Cao An), who were his close relatives.
Cho On later brought the art to Penang, Malaysia where his first student was Cho Hung-Choy. In 1947, Cho Onn brought Cho Hung-Choy back to Panyu to study with Cho Chuen, who had succeeded Cho Dak-Shing.
In the early 1950′s, Cho Hung-Choy returned to Penang, Malaysia where he met a student of Cho Shun’s named Sam Chan. From Sam Chan, Cho Hung-Choy picked up some more weapon sets, such as Dai Pa (Trident) and learned about Cho Shun class.
Origins According to the written record of late sifu Cho Hung-Choy, Miu Shun (Miao Shun) combined Ng Mui’s (Wumei’s) White Crane style with his own knowledge to create the Siu Lien Tao (Xiao Lian Tou, Little First Training). Siu Lien Tao was then passed to Yim Yee (Yan Er) who taught it to his daugther Wing-Chun (Yongchun) and son-in-law Leung Bok-Lao (Liang Boliu). Leung and Wing Chun then passed the art to the Red Junk Opera As to when WingChun Kuen was formally established, there are no records in the Cho family. Verbal accounts suggest that it was around 1830. Cho Hung-Choy sifu hinted that there was on a strong possibility that Wing Chun Kuen was involved with the Taiping Rebellion.
The involvement of Red Junks with the Taiping Rebellion, lead by Lee Man-Mao is well documented. This involvement ended with the Red Junk Opera organization, the King Fa Wui Goon (Qiang Hua Hui Guan, Fine Jade Flower Union) being totally destroyed by the Qing during the mid-1850s. Cantonese Opera was banned for almost a decade following the slaughter.
With the research conducted by Cho Hung-Choy sifu, his students, and grand-students in the U.S.A, other ideas have also come to light . Strong evidence exists in the form of written records with regards to the “mother system” of Cho family Wing Chun Kuen, the Siu Lien Tao.
This mother system was a Buddhist internal martial system created in during the Song Dynasty. The Cho family had no idea that any such connection existed until the late 1970s. With this finding, it was concluded that the tale of Miu Shun could have some truth.
There remains, however, no way to identify exactly who really was “Miu Shun”. As for Ng Mui, the latest reseach shows a great possibility that Ng Mui was a fictional cover, adopted by people such as Chan Wing-Wah or the founder of Hung Mun Wui who was also named the “White Crane Daoist” in the early 1670s.
Wing Chun Kuen has had different branches since the middle of 1850. Perhaps the discovery of the Cho Siu Lien Tao and the connection the the “mother art” will apply to other branches. Perhaps not. Perhaps it was Yik Kam himself was a disciple of this particular Buddhist internal martial system, and modified what was later taught to the Cho family.
Sets Unlike other branches of Wing Chun Kuen, where there are separate sets for Siu Nim Tao, Chum Kiu, and Biu Jee, in the Cho tradition these three sets are grouped together into the first 3 sections of a much longer, super-set, called Siu Lien Tao. The first section (similar to Siu Nim Tao in other systems) is the “understanding of principle” section which is performed in the Yee Jee Ma. The second (similar to Chum Kiu) is the “accept and response” section. The third (similar to Biu Jee) is the “smoothing the flow” section. The fourth (similar to the separate techniques seen in some other branches) is the “ natural transport” section. Another way of looking at it is that these four section are arranged as standing, moving and rotating, angling, and walking.
In addition to the Siu Lien Tao, there are several other core components including the six-and-a-half point pole method, with spearing pole as the half point. Another is a salutation sequence which is a brief summary of Cho Wing Chun kuen techniques. This salutation sequence consists of “V” shape structure, and “V” shape positioning or angling. A four cyclic basic movements were used as a basic structure training and Chi Sau. A pole set named six and half pole thirteen spear and a knive set named the “V” shape butterfly knive were two standard weapon sets. Finally, there also was a wooden dummy set. In late sifu Cho Hong-Choy’s words “ “V” is the symbol and the four fundamental cycles are the trade-mark of Cho family Wing Chun Kuen.”
In addition to the core sets, there are additional sets in the Cho curriculum that have taken the concepts of Siu Lien Tao and been created to emphasize certain points. The “Sui Da” or essential fighting is an un arm set which is a collection of sequence of applications. (Sui of Sui Da offten was mistaken as “broken” due to the same pronounnciation of the chinese character “broken” and “pure” or “essential” ). The “ Huu Hock “ or Tiger and Crane set, introduces both the tiger tail kick and the ground figthing kick. “Chi Sau Loong” or a two man set which ilustrates techniques application. “Jin Cheong” or the arrow palm introduces the entering front kick and single arm continuous techniques.
In addition to the “Sui Da” group of the un-arm sets, there are suplement sets like Fa Kuen ( the Flower set ), Tap Chui (Hamering punches set), Chien Chui (arrow punches), Chui Pat Sin (Drunken set) etc. These were sets that created either to illustrate the Siu Lien Tao or basic fighting application cases. One of the set sifu Cho Hung-Choy taught was the Cho family Choy Lee Fut set. This set was a combination of five points (“Pow” “Kup” “Sou” “Kwa” “Chap”) from Choy Lee Fut with some Wing Chun Kuen techniques such as OiLin sau, Kang Sau, etc. This set sometimes generated controversy on wherether Cho was WingChun or Choy Lee Fut. According to sifu Cho Hung-Choy this set was created by the Cho to memorized Choy Lee Fut friends which has closed relationship with Cho family. However, Cho students must not modified the Siu Lien Tao to accord to Choy Lee Fut or other Nam Kuen such as Hung Gar. At one incident, sifu Cho Hung-Choy was particular unhappy about one of his student modified the first section of Cho Siu Lien Tao with Hung Gar elements in a public demonstration due to lag of understanding of Cho Siu Lien Tao .
At a later study, it seems that the Cho might had picked up some Choy Lee Fut’s “points” while involvement with Taiping Rebellion directly or indirectly. As for the arm sets, Cho included various of weapons such as double head pole, spear, hook, three section staffs, single broad knife, kwan dao, chair, hammers, trident, and etc.
Conclusion Almost one hundred fifty years after Yik Kam taught the Cho family WingChun Kuen, there are different branches or spin off from the Cho family WingChun. These spin off might be due various reasons such as personal taste, personal characteristics, different angle of viewing, art modification, art combination, or even incomplete training. In the issue of Cho family WingChun spin-off branches, Sifu Cho Hung-Choy had mentioned, “ Sole authenticity is difficult to be defined since different students had their own different characteristics. Every student has his/her own way, and people are not robots. However, one needs to ask oneself whether one’s system is a complete one.”