"LAI DAI WAI" - Buck Sing Choy Lay Fut's Unrepentant "Black Panther"
Interview by Karl Longley for Impact International martial arts magazine (NEWLY UPDATED!)
In Chinese Martial Arts circles around the world, Master Dave Lacey is viewed upon as one of the Chinese martial arts most revered and vibrant personalities.
He is one of the few recognised "Living Legends of martial arts" alive. and his story will
"Being born in Hong Kong of British and Chinese parents, Vince and I began speaking fluent Cantonese at a very young age, as all of our Hong Kong based relatives were Chinese - this eliminated the problem of a "language barrier", as all of the Chinese Kung Fu masters could not speak English. So, in March 1959, after a brief traditional Kung Fu initiation ceremony, we became the disciples of Master Lai Hung. Despite the fact that we were not "full blooded" Chinese, Lai Hung took a special interest in wanting to teach us martial arts. At that time, we became the first known non -pure Chinese to be officially accepted into the Hong Kong Chinese martial arts circles. Choy Lay Fut's reputation as the most effective, powerful and complete system in existence, a fact that cannot be disputed when one third of Hong Kong's martial artists train in Choy Lay Fut."
Master Lacey's remarkable skills earned him a place in Chinese martial arts history as one of the 5 Black Panthers of Choy Lay Fut who were selected to participate in challenge fights against practitioners of the wing chun system in the early 1960's in Hong Kong.
Even to this day, his approach to Choy Lay Fut is extremely practical and anyone who doubts Choy Lay Fut's efficiency as a fighting system should do themselves a favour and view Master Lacey's demonstrations.
Along with his brother Master Vince Lacey, Master Lacey was the pioneer of the authentic Choy Lay Fut Kung Fu in Australia when they founded the Australian Buck Sing Gwoon in Perth in 1966 and as such, have been instrumental in propagating quality Choy Lay Fut in Australia and more recently overseas.
It is therefore extremely surprising that this legitimate Sifu has received minimal coverage in martial arts magazines in this country, where as other teachers of far less quality receive substantially more, That is until now!
IMPACT: Could you please enlighten the readers of Impact International as to when you initially started to learn Buck Sing (northern) Choy Lay Fut?
LACEY: It was at the age of seventeen in early 1959 that my twin brother Vince and myself commenced our long and dedicated study of Buck Sing Choy Lay Fut. One day while discussing various kung fu styles, a Chinese friend of ours advised us to learn Choy Lay Fut, a fighting art renown for its aggressiveness and effectiveness against multiple attackers. Fortunately for us, our friend told us of a well known Choy Lay Fut fighter whom he knew by the name of Lai Hung, whose fierce and eccentric character earned him the nicknames of "Crazy Jung" and "Dare-devil Hung". Additionally, we were told that Master Lai Hung had gained immense fame in the Hong Kong Chinese Martial Arts circles. After the Kung Fu championships in which he displayed great skill in defeating four top fighters to claim victory Lai Hung's Si-Hing (Senior fellow student), Chan Woo Leung who was a fellow member of Lai Hungs' at the Lee Chow Buck Sing Choy Fut Gymnasium, also won 1st place in his middleweight division, so our minds were made up immediately that Choy Lay Fut was the fighting style for us.
Our friend informed us that he would arrange for us to meet Lai Hung, and after a formal introduction at our home after school, we were accepted as his students.
IMPACT: What was it like training under the auspices of Master Lai Hung? As I have heard much about him.
LACEY: It did not take us long to understand what Lai Hung meant when he said to us our first meeting, "Choy Lay Fut is an offensive fighting art developed purely for combat", the training is very tough and strenuous - those who are weak minded, timid or lazy orientated can never hope to properly master the style! The first two weeks of training under Lai Hung were the hardest for Vince and myself. Our bodies were aching from the strenuous workouts and my legs were so tired and sore from squatting in the low horse stance for long periods, that when I returned home after school, my legs hardly had the strength to climb the stairs to the 3rd floor, in fact, I had to use my hands on the wooden hand-rail to help support myself.
The initial stage of training was bad enough, but what made it even more agonizing was that we had to also persevere with physical punishment, especially when sitting in the horse stance, Master Lai Hung had arms and legs of steel (he practiced the old Thai boxers method of hardening the limbs by shocking his shins and forearms with an iron pipe) and he would come up behind us whilst we were in the horse stance and if our backs were not straight or if we were not squatting low enough in our stances, he would slap us on the back or kick us in the thigh and from time to time, he would check to see if our stances were firm by tripping us with his foot.
After weeks of initial training in the basics, Master Lai Hung commenced teaching us fighting techniques. In his method of teaching, Master Lai Hung placed the utmost importance on training actual combat techniques and applying them in free sparring and though his method of teaching was rough and often brutal, it was most effective as it enabled the student to get a thorough grasp of the technique by actually feeling the force and body dynamics behind it. The aggressive approach Master Lai Hung used when demonstrating a technique often sent me sprawling across the room or being knocked down to the ground - but I was never seriously injured as he was always careful in controlling his power when he executed a technique. Sometimes we wondered if he was actually enjoying inflicting pain upon us, for he often had that hostile look in his eyes - when he talked he had the habit of shouting "indirect" abuses at us...
Lai Hung's speed and power was frightening - it scared the hell out of me. An example of his remarkable ability was when he would stand in front of me and execute a front crescent kick over my head without moving his body - his foot would have returned to the ground before I even knew what had happened. Master Lai Hung's speed was such that he could, from a distance of 8 feet, take one leaping step and strike you with his fist before you could attempt to block or evade it telling you before hand precisely where he was going to strike.
The most noticeable thing about Lai Hung was his aggressive character and his rather defiant and irrational behavior - even when he talked he has this habit of shouting. His thick eyebrows, high cheekbones and fierce piercing eyes, made him look a hostile and menacing figure. Lai Hung's almost sadistic approach to teaching techniques made it easy for Vince and myself to understand why he was nicknamed "Crazy Hung". His other nickname, "Dare-Devil Hung" was given to him on account of his bold and brash criticisms and outspoken remarks he made when reproaching injustices in the martial arts circles. Though this made him un-popular with some martial artists, it won him commendations from many people in the Chinese martial arts circles of South-East Asia.
In my 37 years of continual martial arts involvement, I have known and seen many good martial artists, but I have yet to come across anyone that could surpass Lai Hung's speed and incredible fighting skill, except for one man - brilliant young Kung Fu fighter who commenced giving us further private instruction in Buck Sing Choy Lay Fut in 1959. The name of this brilliant and outstanding young master was Kong Hing.
IMPACT: Master Kong Hing is a very famous Kung Fu fighter. How did you come to be taught be this famous master?
LACEY: At that moment in time, Lai Hung was an employee at a bus company. After he has been teaching us intensively for several months, his shifts were re-arranged so he was unable to spend as much time tutoring us at our home after school. Also, Lai Hung was pursuing further studies to expand his martial arts knowledge by learning the Lost Track Lohan style under the instruction of Grandmaster Yip Yui Ting, as well as training for his fight in Cambodia (Thailand) Muay Thai Boxers. With his employment, teaching responsibilities at his kwoon (school) and his own personal training, he was finding it increasingly difficult to find the time to teach us privately, so he said that we could attend his kwoon where he would continue to privately instruct us by night. But, as was the situation in those days, we were not permitted out late. Lai Hung, seeing our enthusiasm and progress in martial arts, as well as foreseeing the "troubles" that lay ahead for us, told us not to despair for he had arranged for a close colleague of his to give us further private instruction in Buck Sing Choy Lay Fut. This gentleman was King Hing and Lai Hung brought him to our house to introduce us. Upon being introduced to Kong Hing, Lai Hung informed us that he was one of the most fierce and best fighters in the Choy Lay Fut clan.
Obviously, this was very exciting opportunity for Vince and myself, so we accepted the proposal and commenced training under Kong Hing everyday after school, as well as on weekends at his father's kwoon in Temple street, Kowloon. Once again, we were very fortunate to be taught privately and Kong Hing continued our training in Buck Sing Choy Lay Fut. As Vince and myself were constantly being challenged by the many street gangs that were in existence, we really had not time to learn forms due to the fact that we were fighting constantly. So we learnt and trained a lot of basics, body conditioning, etc.
Kong Hing has us drilling the straight sharp Chui (panther fist) punches on the leather wall bag (which was filled with blue metal and fixed to a wall) till our knuckles bled and swelled up like a big boil, as well as making us perform with a partner for long periods to harden our arms. When our arms became more conditioned, we progressed to the stage where Master Kong Hing had us tossing a heavy wooden log (approximately 3-3 1/2 foot long x 5 inches in diameter) six foot into the air and have it come crashing down horizontally onto our outstretched lower forearms, letting it hit the wrists. This drill was not common practice among martial artists, as very few dared to attempt it - not only is it very painful, but it also requires precise skill in performing to hit the proper balance of the log whilst it is in the air. The other method of arm conditioning that we utilised was that of striking the various types of Choy Lay Fut dummies.
Our training under Master Kong Hing was very demanding physically. One drill that Master Kong Hing has us performing was holding dumbbells in our hands while executing the uppercut and swing.
One of the most vital parts of our training under Kong Hing was the practice of "Teet Jeung Kung" or "Teet Sar Jeung" (iron palm". The iron palm training was performed on a flat leather punching bag (filled with blue metal) which was placed on a square wooden stool. Each blow was delivered with the whole force of the body's own weight crashing down hard from a standing position (with the striking hand above head level) into a low horse stance. The power generated from the impact of such a blow, is devastating as its powerful force virtually penetrates through the body causing severe internal damage and hemorrhage - usually the recipient does not feel the initial pain until hours later. (According to Sifu Lacey, this happened to two of his students back in 1970. During separate sparring bouts with him, both had been on the end of a downward smacking backfist, on the left side of their chests. The following morning both students spat blood resulting from internal hemorrhage caused by the shock vibration of the blow upon retraction).
Master Kong Hing's notorious reputation as a fierce and highly skilled Kung Fu fighter was becoming more and more evident to me with each passing week. His incredible fighting prowess never ceased to amaze me and helped to make me even more determined to excel at Choy Lay Fut. Kung Fu became the most important thing in my life - I devoted every spare moment that I had into my martial arts training, practicing 7 days per week. Learning Choy Lay Fut gave me a whole new perspective to fighting and an immense feeling of self confidence.
Kong Hing's dedication in teaching us and the mutual brotherly affection and respect we had for each other formed a very special and close bond of friendship and loyalty between us - we became like blood-brothers. Although officially he was not our "Sifu", Kong Hing helped our martial arts skills to greater heights and we credit most of our martial arts achievements to him. In appreciation and respect for all that he achieved for us, as our tutor and mentor, we humbly expressed our deep gratitude by later acknowledging Kong Hing as our second Master.
IMPACT: Both of your Choy Lay Fut masters are reknown Kung Fu fighters and masters. Your training under these two extraordinary masters must have been priceless.
LACEY: Yes, of course, it is true to say that my training under Master Lai Hung and Master Kong Hing is priceless. In fact, words cannot justify how important their teachings and friendships have been to me.
Both of my masters have immpecable lineage in Chinese martial Arts. Lai Hung's master, Lee Chow learnt Buck Sing Choy Lay Fut from the legendary martial arts fighter Grandmaster Tam Sam (the founder of Bick Sing Choy Lay Fut), as well as Buck Sing Lim (Northern Shaolin) from the famous Ku Ye Jerng. Equally as impressive is the lineage of Kong Hing as he was taught by his father Kong On who learnt Jow Gar from the system's founder Jow Loong, Buck Sing Choy Lay Fut from Tam Sam and also Buck Siu Lum from Ku Ye Jerng.
It has always been my firm belief that a martial artist's fighting ability is not only greatly dependant on his own adaptitude and dedication, but also on the type of instructor he was learning under. A martial arts student who is taught by a reputed fighting master would undoubtedly benifet immensly from his teacher's personal experience in actual combat and obviously be influenced by it. Both my brother Vince and myself, were very fortunate to be taught privatly by two of the greatest Kung Fu fighters in the Chinese martial arts.
Master Lai Hung was only in his early twenties when we initially met him and had only opened his gwoon shortly beforehand. As he had returned from the South East Asian Full Contact Kung Fu Championships hosted in Taiwan in 1957, he was very famous as he has brought back a lot of glory for the Hong Kong martial artists. This tounament had fighters from Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Macau Hong Kong, etc, and it did not last for one day - it lasted for a period of four days. The tournament was very rough as the fighters only wore fingerless mitts and due to the large number of fighters who were seriously injured, the tournament was described as a "bloodbath". Lai Hung had to fight four elimination fights and he was pitted against Taiwan's toughest champions - fighters with nick names like "Iron Leg Lim", "King of the kicks", etc. Undaunted though, Lai Hung displayed great courage and superior martial skills by defeating all four of his opponents - sending two of them flying out of the ring, with blood splattering everyone near the ring. Of all the fighters representing the Hong Kong Chinese martial arts circles, only two managed to gain victory in the championships - Lai Hung and his si-hing, Chan Woo Leung. All of the other Hong Kong fighters among them Wing Chun's well known Wong Shun Leung, were all defeated.
It so happened that when Lai Hung and Chan Woo Leung returned in triumph to Hong Kong, they were discussing their success in the tournament to Kong Hing who requested them noth for a friendly sparring match, as they were all friends and close colleagues. The match ended in both Lai Hung and Chan Woo Leung being unable to gain the upper-hand over Kong Hing.
Personally, it is my opinion that the manner in which I was taught by my masters is the only way to learn martial arts - you cannot learn from someone who is going to be soft and gentle. You have to learn from someone who is mean and aggressive. So, I beleive that if you want to be tough and a good fighter yourself, then it is immperitive that you learn from someone that is a really good fighter and who is very tough and aggressive. On the other hand, if you learn from someone who is a bit passive and possesses a more gentle approach, then you will never be a good fighter. To be honest, I did not mind at all the agony, pain and all the punishment that I experienced training under Lai Hung and Kong Hing as it assisted in moulding me into the martial artist and fighter that I am today.
IMPACT: Having known you for a while Sifu Lacey, the immense loyalty and respect that you posses for your Sifu is extremely commendable.
LACEY: Of course I possess enormous loyalty and respect for my masters. I owe all of my success to my masters due to the fact that all of the knowledge that I possess I owe it to them as they taught me. This is the reason why I have the greatest respect and admiration for my Sifu. My reputation, my name, my career and the reputation of my school, the Australian Buck Sing Gwoon everything I owe to my Masters.
Basically. I owe my Sifu my life, because if not for them, I would be nothing. My masters taught me more than fighting they also taught me spirituality.
IMPACT: Sifu Lacey, Choy Lay Fut is renowned for its large quantity of forms. In your opinion, what importance do forms have in martial arts, especially, Chinese martial arts?
LACEY: AII styles of Chinese Kung Fu have their own ’set forms’ which are of paramount importance to the practitioner. Some styles have as many as 50 or more ’set forms’ while others have only a few. For instance, the Wing Chun system has only 3 ’sets’ the first Siu Leem Tau is performed stationary and appears to be rather plain and short compared to the northern styles and Choy Lay Fut, whose forms are very long and sophisticated. They are artistic and graceful movements with their spinning, rolling, leaping and jumping tactics makes them matchless against any other styles. These poetic and fancy ballet-style movements are laughed and frowned upon by some martial artists & non martial artists worldwide, not only for the depth of his knowledge and flawless form in Buck Sing Choy Lay Fut, but also for his highly developed fighting skills and his benevolent character. This combination epitomizes the traditional Chinese martial arts master a rare occurrence in this country, as well as the rest of the world.
IMPACT: Could you please list the forms that are taught in the Choy Lay Fut syllabus.
LACEY: The fist-set ’forms’ of Choy Lay Fut exceed any other style of Kung Fu, but vary according to the master of each kwoon; this is due to the fact that some masters have trained under the auspices of two or more Sifu and as such, they would include a larger variety of set forms in their training. the most popular empty-handed forms of Choy Lay Fut are:
IMPACT: Pertaining to Buck Sing Choy Lay Fut, how many forms are taught?
LACEY: In regard to Buck Sing Choy Lay Fut, there are only meant to be three forms, though these are very long. Out of these three forms, you can make up as many forms as you want from them. The reason as to why Buck Sing Choy Lay Fut only contains three empty-hand forms, is that the founder of the system, Grandmaster Tam Sam (3rd generation Choy Lay Fut), was far more interested in fighting than learning 50 forms, so be concentrated on the sparring and the fighting aspect of Choy Lay Fut. By emphasizing this approach, he not only refined his sparring aspect of Buck Sing Choy Lay Fut, but additionally developed and refined a vast quantity of fighting techniques.