Shaolin Five Family Fists

Grandmaster Wong Ark-Yuey
Grandmaster Wong Ark-Yuey

The history of the Shaolin Temple Five Family Fists starts around 650 A.D. within the Fukien Shaolin Temple in the Fukien province. This system was what anyone entering the temple would learn. Although styles and techniques were added over the many years, the system still remained the Five Family Fists. The name "Five Family" comes from several monastic families who were the highest ranked and respected within the temple at the time; thusly they were charged with compiling the Shaolin system. The five families were Choi, Li, Fut, Mok, and Hung (These are not the same names as the Choi Li Fut system which was created much later). This system grew and developed while keeping the same core values of the original system throughout the years. (There are many styles that originated from the Five Family fist systems but are only a small piece of an entire whole). Because of the system's formidable value not everyone was allowed to participate. A person would have to be of noble Chinese blood, well respected and high ranking in the Chinese Military, or be someone with traits of extremely high character, moral values, and dedication in order to be trained.

For roughly 1150 years the temple survived and grew. Its martial arts system repeatedly had a large effect on Chinese history. It was always turned to in times of trouble, including the Manchurians. In fact it was then that a legendary account took place (the micro films of the original article are in the Kam Wah Chung museum in Oregon). It was in the late 1700's when 128 Shaolin Monks defeated over 1000 Mongol warriors who were attempting to usurp China from the Manchurians. The monks did this out of patriotic duty and defeated the Mongols without a single casualty. Afterwards the Manchurian advisor convinced the Emperor that if they could defeat the Mongols then they could also defeat the Manchurians. Because of this the Emperor burned the temple down during the middle of the night. Only eighteen monks escaped and of those only five masters survived to carry on the teachings of the Shaolin Temple.

A few years later some of the lesser monks who were in hiding were teaching underground. A student of one of these monks was Chan Heung. Chan Heung's teacher, Li Yao San, sent him to find a monk named Choi Fok who had escaped the temple and was hiding in the mountains. Once found Choi Fok eventually taught Chan Heung. During this time period, around 1800, the Guangtong temple was built and we know that Choi Fok was a participant in this temple which was a short distance south from the previous Fukien Temple. This temple was allowed to be built by the Manchurian government mainly because of lack of resources to stop it due to the influences of westerners at the time. This Guangtong branch survived and was the birthplace of Chan Heung's Choi Li Fut system which he had named for Choi Fok, Li Yao San, and the Fut Chinese character meaning monk. He had developed this system from the five family fists in order to aid in the boxer rebellion by creating a condensed, but ingeniously formidable, version of the five family fists which could be taught to the rebels.

As mentioned earlier, Wong Ark-Yuey began his training with teachers from the Guantong temple in 1906. Around 1920 he moved his family to the United States in order to protect them from the political strife in China at the time. He was well respected and his association is still the most respected association in the Chinese martial arts world.

A person must keep in mind that very few were allowed to train within the temple styles and systems of the Chinese martial arts, along with the fact that not that many people had what it took to complete the training. In other words flocks of Chinese did not enter and leave the temple or train in their systems on a regular basis. Only few students were accepted every year, and of these fewer had what it took to complete the training. We take special note of this because in 1927 the temple was burned down for the last time and the nationalist army slaughtered the remaining monks.