Tang Syun

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Tang Syun

Part of the Audio Recording¹ of GM Tang Yik from the 1960s. Translation from Cantonese: Janet Yuen, Jennifer Kronovet and Peter Scholz. For a better understanding we reconstructed some year dates according to the described events. Therefor we used the listed references at the bottom.
Tang Syun was the most significant master within Wing Chun’s Tang lineage. He carried the past traditions of Wing Chun Kung Fu and opened up the art to further development. Tang Syun did not teach openly, although he brought his Kung Fu to Hong Kong. Tang Syun was very selective about who he took on as students in Hong Kong. After surviving and growing for several generations, Tang Family Wing Chun is now practiced worldwide.
Reproduction of a photograph of Siu Lam Tang Family Wing Chun Style Founder Tang Syun by the students of Ivan Rzounek. Many thanks to Ivan Rzounek for the friendly permission and to the students for the valuable repro work.

Tang Syun was the only son born into a well-off family in Xiaotang, Foshan, China at the end of the 19th century.  At the age of 18, he took the national academics examination but didn’t pass due to his bad handwriting.  He was not interested in spending time improving his handwriting, but he was motivated to practice martial arts.  In his early 20s, he started to learn Kung Fu from Tang Zau at the Tang village in Xiaotang.  Tang Zau’s Kung Fu was passed down by his father Tang Bun, who learned Wing Chun Kung Fu from the Zen Master Zi Sin at Feiloi Temple in Qingyuan.  Tang Syun studied the 6.5 Pole, Wing Chun Kyun, and Wing Chun Zong.  After learning from Tang Zau, Tang Syun often travelled into the town of Foshan to meet other Kung Fu practitioners in a drum shop named Jyun Wo.  The shop owner, Tang Pok, had learned the pole technique “Gau Dim Sap Saam Coeng” from Master Long who had fled from Ba Pai Mountain in Guangxi. Tang Pok taught Tang Syun this pole style with its effective and powerful force.  After that, they learned together from Yeung Tim, who was also a Wing Chun practitioner from Zi Sin’s lineage.  They both could master Seong Gung in Yeung Tim’s style. 

Tang Kwon Lan (the last student of Tang Yik in Tang Village) and Janet Yuen in front of the house of Tang Syun in Xiaotang, Nanhai

Because Tang Pok and Tang Syun were businessmen, they did not openly teach students.  However the Jyun Wo drum shop became a meeting place where they did train some students.  They were very open-minded in the exchange of knowledge.  They also welcomed the students from another Wing Chun master, Fung Siu Cing, including his students Dung Zik, Dung Jan, and Maa Zung Jyu, and taught them the pole.  Within this Kung Fu group, they shared knowledge for decades.  Because Tang Syun was the only son of a rich family that had a farm, factories, and grocery stores, he didn’t need to work to earn a living.  Admired for his Kung Fu skills, many neighbours and relatives invited him to teach, and he travelled around to teach them for free.

When Tang Syun travelled to Hunan Fenghuang, he met a woman who was skilled in Kung Fu.  They became good friends, and Tang Syun learned her art.  Later, when she became a refugee and fled to the south, she lived at Tang Syun’s home.  She taught him the soft whip, some hand technique, and the pole.  When she left after two years, she gave him her 3-foot-long soft whip because Tang had already mastered the whip.

Tang Syun knew that Zen Master Zi Sin had fled to the Ba Pai mountain and so he visited the mountain in Guangxi.  He went up the mountain and talked to people, and that way he got to know some new hand and pole techniques.   Meanwhile he learned about a local man who came to Xiaotang to do business after.  That man had brought his niece along.  At the time Tang Syun was married.  He got married at the age of 16, they had their first child two years later.  His wife delivered 5 girls.  In order to continue the family bloodline, Tang Syun decided to take on a concubine.  He took that niece as his concubine, and she then delivered 6 more children, and one was Tang Yik. Afterwards his first wife delivered one further son. One wife. One concubine. 12 children in total.   The concubine came from Ba Pai Mountain. She was also a Kung Fu practitioner from Zi Sin’s lineage.  After marrying Tang Syun, she studied from him.  Later, she assisted when he taught other people.

A pond in Xiaotang, Nanhai

Around 1909-1910, an accident during a conflict with a village neighbour became a turning point in Tang Syun’s life.  He saw his friends fighting neighbours over water for farming.  He ran out immediately to help them.  He used the 6.5 Pole and stabbed a guy, who fell into a pothole and died.  It was not clear if Tang killed him or if he fell accidentally. Tang had to leave his village, and he fled to Hong Kong alone with his 5th son, Tang Jau Jung.  He planned to go on to Singapore where he had a friend who ran a vegetable farm.  Tang Syun first settled down at an old inn by the coast.  One morning, he went to have breakfast at a Chinese restaurant.  When he wanted to light up a cigarette, he found he didn’t have a match.  So he asked a nearby guy to borrow one.  During the conversation, they recognized each other’s hometown accent and found out that they both came from the Nanhai area.  This guy was named Lei Jat.  He asked Tang Syun if he knew the well-known man from Nanhai Xiaotang called “Tang Syun” because he wanted to learn Kung Fu from Tang.  At first, Lei Jat could not believe that the man was really Tang Syun.  So they had a little test.  Tang Syun simply covered Lei’s hand and Lei could not move it at all.  Lei Jat was completely convinced.  He helped Tang Syun to settle down in Hong Kong and introduced him to more students. Tang Syun started to teach his very first handful of students in Hong Kong in the backyard room of Wo On Lane 9, Lan Kwai Fong, Central.

Altar at Wo On Lane, Hong Kong 2018

In 1911 ², Tang Syun got a chance to go back to his hometown in Foshan.  During the collapse of the Qing dynasty, the imperial army lost power and many warlords were fighting against each other.  After the Xinhai Revolution, the Chinese Revolutionary Alliance declared the independence of Guangdong.  Chen Jing Hua³ was appointed as the chief of police⁴ and he wanted to recruit a police trainer.  A guy from the Tang village sent Tang Syun a letter to inform him of this news.  If Tang got this job, it might help to exonerate the fight that had happened.  However, Tang hesitated because of the unforeseeable risk.  Lei Jat and a friend who was another Wing Chun practitioner encouraged him to try.  Out of consideration for all his other children still in the village, he packed and went to Guangzhou.  When he signed up to apply for the job, he used the name “Tang Gan.” There were 40 other participants and they had to fight with the pole.  After fighting with some competitors, all the rest did not dare to fight him, so Tang Syun won the position.

Pictures of the former police station in Guangzhou

The chief, Chen Jing Hua, helped him to settle the conflict back home.  After that Tang could go back to visit his family in Foshan.  However, after only two years, Chen Jing Hua was assassinated and the police station was surrounded in September 1913.

Chen Jing Hua 陳景華 (1863—1913)

The anti-Qing activitist group Chinese Revolutionary Alliance overthrew the Qing Dynasty.  Then the Cantonese military governor Hu Han Min appointed Chen Jing Hua as the chief of the police in 1911.  Chen fought savagely against gambling, armed fights, bandit and mafia, thousands people were arrested and executed.  Through his brutal and strict ruling, the criminal rate was dropped rapidly in turbulent times and the chaos was under control.  Because Chen supported Sun Yat Sen (the leader of Chinese Revolutionary Alliance, then the first provisional president of the Republic of China), their political competitor Yuan Shi Kai (the first official president of the Republic of China, he attempted to restore the monarchy too) sent a Cantonese warlord Long Ji Guang to kill Chen Jing Hau on the Mid-Autumn Fest 15th September 1913. ² ³ ⁴

Tang Syun had to flee to Hong Kong for the second time, this time he took his son Tang Yik along with him. During the difficult time of civil war, Tang Syun lost most of his children or lost contact with them.

Back in Hong Kong, he continued to teach.  He kept teaching privately at a few unofficial schools.  He taught few people because he was picky.  His students included Chan Gaan Jin, a calligrapher,  Ze Gwan Luk, a jewellery shop owner’s son, and “Ah Tang,” a woman with a university degree.  There was a theater in the Central on Hong Kong Island, called “Kau Yau Fong Theatre,” which was set to be demolished on 1 August, 1949.  Ze Gwan Luk suggested that Tang Syun put on a performance there to promote Kung Fu before the theater got knocked down, and he said he would finance it.  Fung Siu Cing found out about the plan. He sent his students Dung Zik, Dung Jan, and Maa Zung Jyu to help in the performance.  Tang Syun invited more masters from Guangzhou to join too.  It was a successful performance.

Tang Syun passed away in the early 1950s.

Besides the Wing Chun Kyun, Wing Chun Zong, Seong Gung, 6.5 Pole, and Hung Kyun, Tang Syun also mastered the soft whip, knife, and Waang Tau Dang (bench).  His favourite was the long pole and would fight with the pole against any kind of weapon.  His son Tang Yik helped the pole technique to continue to flourish and evolve, and he is honoured with the nickname “King of the Pole.”

List of References:

  1. GM Tang Yik told the history of origins of the Siu Lam Tang Family Wing Chun Kung Fu in terms of an interview in the 1960s. This interview was led by his student Chan Hoi Syun, during presence of GM Tang Yik, Chan Hoi Syun and Kwong Chack Cheung, and was recorded onto an audiotape.
  2. https://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E9%99%B3%E6%99%AF%E8%8F%AF (date of access: 2019 February 20th)
  3. http://www.baike.com/wiki/%E9%99%88%E6%99%AF%E5%8D%8E%5B%E5%8E%9F%E8%B4%B5%E5%8E%BF%E7%9F%A5%E5%8E%BF%E3%80%81%E5%B9%BF%E4%B8%9C%E8%AD%A6%E5%AF%9F%E5%8E%85%5D (date of access: 2019 February 20th)
  4. https://baike.baidu.com/item/%E5%B9%BF%E4%B8%9C%E7%9C%81%E8%AD%A6%E5%AF%9F%E5%8E%85 (date of access: 2019 February 20th)
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