SF Bay Area, CA - More bullshido for your buck: Cheuk Fung's Yi Chuan kung fu
First a word for those who those who have read the report of my lessons at West Wind Bok Fu. If you are expecting the same sort of hiliarious hijinks, I regret to inform you that you will be disappointed. This story is not a comedy, it is a tragedy, and a little part of me died this night.
Recently, someone on Bullshido stumbled across the Master Cheuk Fung's Yi Chuan kung fu website (I recommend video clips #6 and #4). Unable to ignore such blatant bullshido in my own backyard, I called the number on the website. The man who answered first asked if I was training anywhere else. I may have inadvertantly given him the impression that I wasn't, following which he gave me permission to come observe a class.
As always, I arrived with an open mind, ready to listen respectfully and give the instructor every possible opportunity to prove that he isn't teaching utter crap.
I arrived on time and was greeted by Master Cheuk Fung, who sat down with me for a while to tell me about Yi Chuan. First, though, he wanted to reconfirm that my only martial arts experience was the semester of Tae Kwon Do that I mentioned, and that I wasn't currently training elsewhere. Fortunately, he was sitting on my cauliflower ear-free side, which I think made my story more believable. He also gave me a flyer outlining the history of Yi Chuan, which is attached below.
To be honest, my first impressions of the class were quite positive. West Wind being my only other experience with a traditional school, I expected to see a lot of rigid formality and bowing. However, the environment was quite relaxed and laid back. In fact, Master Fung is extremely personable and spent the first 20 minutes of the class period just sitting around drinking hot tea from a thermos, chatting and laughing with students.
Eventually, however, it was time to get down to business. Class began with about 30 minutes of slow Tai Chi-like breathing and arm-waving "exercises". I say "exercises" in quotes because the entire session would be an inadequate warmup for anything requiring more physical exertion than stretching.
I will say this for Master Fung: His movements were fluid, graceful, and powerful. Regardless of what he is teaching now, I would not be surprised to learn that he has some fighting ability. However, I cannot say the same for his students. If I ever end up in a 9-on-1 fight situation, I hope it's against Master Fung's Yi Chuan class.
After 20-30 minutes of these exercises, Master Fung came back to drink more tea and talk to me, leaving the rest of the class to wander aimlessly about the room. I asked if they had been training their internal energy, and Master Fung replied that you could say that, but it's a bit of a misnomer, since all energy is really internal. Even so called "external styles" are just really good at using their "internal" energy. I asked if they did any external work in his class, and Master Fung said, "Of course." It's necessary to train both ways. This was why Yi Chuan was so revolutionary. In Yi Chuan, you train your core energy and then use your limbs only as a delivery system to transfer the energy.
After this chat, we moved into the second phase of the class. I should add that by this point there was only about half an hour left in the 90 minute class period, and all the class had done so far were some half-assed arm waving drills. I was hoping that they would start doing some of their "external" work now, but I was totally unprepared for what happened next.
I should take a moment here to describe the class composition. Out of the 9 or so students, most were middle-aged white guys. There was one guy who looked about my age, mid 20's, and was the only person in the class who looked remotely athletic. There were also two other Chinese men in the class (one middle aged, wearing a black sash, and one elderly), whom Master Fung had mentioned had been training with him for about 20 or 30 years. We'll call them Number Two and Number Three for clarity.
At this point, Master Fung decided it was necessary to show why the "energy training" exercises they had just completed were so important. The class gathered around to watch as Master Fung called over Number Two, who held his hands out in a brace position as though he had a focus mitt on. Master Fung then threw a light punch at No.2's hands, who responded by leaping a couple feet in the air and backwards about three or four feet! "Holy cow!" I thought. "Master Fung's working a plant! They must be splitting the money up afterwards! This is incredible!"
A few more demos of a similar sort followed, and then Master Fung called over Number Three and did the same thing to him! Then No.2 and No.3 took turns using their explosive chi on each other! "Good lord!" I thought. "The Chinese are all in this together, and they're suckering all the stupid roundeyes!"
But I was still wrong, because then Master Fung went around to each of his students demonstrating his explosive chi on each of them. Sometimes he exploded his chi through his hands, sometimes through his shoulder, sometimes through his ass. (I refer you again to the videos, especially #6 and #4). I did notice, however, that on some students he resorted to Tai Chi Push Hands to shove them backwards, while others were more "susceptible" to his chi. One guy whimpered in pain for several seconds as Master Fung waved his hands in front of his face before Master Fung finally touched him and sent him flying backwards to put him out of his misery. The single exception was the one athletic-looking guy ("Michael") in the class. Master Fung didn't touch him or demonstrate any techniques on him. I found this interesting because Michael also happened to be the newest student. More on this later.
After half an hour of this, I was utterly flabbergasted. I haven't seen so many grown men leaping around like idiots since the hypnotist show at the last state fair. (On the other hand, I still haven't seen Riverdance.) When Master Fung sat back down afterwards to chat with me some more (leaving the class wandering around aimlessly once again) I told him honestly that that was one of the most incredible things I'd ever seen. He smiled appreciately. Then I asked if I could feel his chi. (I know 99% of the Bullshido membership is snickering right now. What are you, in seventh grade?)
"Absolutely not," he said.
"No. It's too dangerous. I've tried it before on new students and it always turns out badly. I could dislocate your shoulder or knock you out or worse. You must train your body to be able to control the energy first."
"Ah. So how long would it take before I'm able to do that?"
"Well, it depends. Some students, it takes a few weeks. Others, months or years."
I was somewhat disappointed, but I can't say I was surprised. Then I asked about price.
"So how much do lessons cost?"
"You're not training anywhere else right now?"
"No." (Not at this instant that I'm answering your question.)
"Ok. And do you talk about martial arts on the internet?"
"Do you talk about kung fu with other people online?"
"Oh. No, of course not."
"Ok. For classes just at the San Francisco location, it is $80 a month, three month minimum, paid up front."
So that was that. My mind was still reeling from what I had seen, and in the back of my head I was trying to figure out a way to talk to Michael one on one. But I figured I'd give the chi one last shot, and as Master Fung and I walked out of the classroom with all his students I asked again if he'd demonstrate his explosive chi on me.
Up to that point, I had wondered whether Master Fung really believed what he was teaching, or whether he was just a con artist. This time when I asked, I saw the faintest glimmer of a smirk before he answered, and I knew that he knew that we both knew he was full of it.
Of course, he didn't say that. He said that he once had another student who couldn't take a hint and kept asking for Master Fung to demonstate on him. Finally, Master Fung got fed up and told him that the only way he would show him was if the student attacked him. Evidently, the student dropped the subject after that. I, on the other hand, found myself pondering the pros and cons of doublelegging Master Fung onto the concrete floor in the middle of the hallway while surrounded by his students.
In the end, I realized it was really a no-win situation. Given the two possible outcomes of me beating up a 60-year old or a 60-year old beating me up, I don't really come out ahead in either one. Plus, I kind of like Master Fung. Like most con men, he's extremely personable. And to a certain extent, I can't help but feel that the people who actually believe something this ridiculous deserve what they get.
At any rate, while chatting with Michael on the way out, I discovered that he lived in Berkeley! Near me! I got his email address and biked back to the subway planning an intervention.
Next episode: the tragic conclusion. But first, a message to Master Fung.