One of the leading choy lay fut instructors in the United States is Chi Chung Kwong. Kwong was born and raised in Canton, China, where he began martial arts training as a child. During his youth, he fought and defeated some of the best kung fu instructors in southern China. By the time he was 16, he’d gained a reputation as a fierce fighter who never refused a challenge. When Kwong moved to Virginia, he brought a treasure trove of kung fu knowledge, including the secrets to fighting multiple opponents.
The first principle of fighting multiple opponents is proper use of the horse stance, Kwong says. While this stance is taught in many martial arts, it’s often thought of as a static training position. In choy lay fut (also spelled choy li fut), however, the horse stance is more mobile. A practitioner of this style can turn 180 degrees to the right or left in a quick snapping motion while in the horse stance. This twisting action allows him to punch or kick in any direction with full power.
In addition to this wide range of motion, the way in which choy lay fut hand strikes are delivered from the horse stance also makes the art ideal for fighting multiple attackers. While the style has straight punches like other styles, many of its hand techniques are performed with wide, sweeping motions. The arms are held loose and swung from the shoulders, while the fists are clenched tight. The effect is like swinging a rock on the end of a string, Kwong says. The advantage of this kind of hand technique is that you can hit two or three opponents with a single strike. This is best illustrated by the choy lay fut whipping punch.
To perform the whipping punch, begin with both fists on one side of your body. Next, your right hand lashes out with a strafing backfist that swings in a wide arc to the right, stopping behind your back. Almost simultaneously, your left hand launches a vertical-fist punch into the opponent directly in front of you. Then, the same action is repeated with both fists starting on the right side of your body. The punches are performed in rapid succession to the left and right to clear an area of attackers.
A few words need to be said about the unique vertical-fist punch of choy lay fut. Unlike wing chun kung fu, which uses an upward snapping motion of the wrist and hits with the last three knuckles, choy lay fut teaches a vertical-fist punch that’s performed by keeping the wrist tight and striking with the second row of knuckles (where the fingers bend in half). The idea is the opponent will get hit twice with one punch: As the second row of knuckles hits, the hand collapses into a normal fist so the first row of knuckles also hits.
Kwong claims this type of vertical-fist punch has two advantages: It protects the hands from injury when you’re fighting without gloves, and it hurts more than other vertical-fist strikes because it hits twice with each punch.
Any discussion of the choy lay fut whipping punch leads to the art’s second principle of fighting multiple opponents: Always strike in two directions at the same time.
This is one of the most misunderstood parts of kung fu. When people see the wide arm movements in Chinese forms, they assume it’s just for aesthetics. In reality, techniques in which the arms are extended in opposite directions were designed for hitting two opponents at once.
The reasoning behind this principle is simple: Whenever you extend one arm to punch, the other arm naturally pulls back. So instead of pulling the fist back to the hip like a karate stylist or back to the chin like a boxer, the choy lay fut practitioner lets a punch fly to the back as he strikes forward. Even if he doesn’t hit more than one opponent, he’s given the ones behind him a reason to fear attacking his back.
Another advantage to using techniques like the whipping punch against multiple attackers is less obvious: The loose action in these powerful blows makes it hard for someone to grab you, even if he manages to get close, Kwong says. “It’s hard to grab hold of a whip when someone’s cracking you with it!”
The third and final principle of fighting multiple attackers is to try to keep all your opponents on one side of you. “It’s easier to fight a war with only one front,” Kwong says. “If a country has enemies on every border, they are harder to deal with.”
Getting all your opponents on one side of you can be a real problem, however. Kwong teaches several strategies to accomplish this:
• Don’t let your opponents surround you to begin with — if you can help it.
• When several people initiate an attack, don’t give them a chance to hurt you. Move in and strike first.
• If you have a choice, attack the weakest opponent first. When fighting multiple opponents, always try to put the weakest one between yourself and the other attackers. The weakest one is easiest to beat and acts as an obstacle to any of his cohorts who might try to lunge at you.
• Avoid the strongest opponent for as long as you can. If he attacks before you can maneuver someone between you and him, hit him right away and finish him as quickly as you can.
Judging by the use of the horse stance in many Asian martial arts and the often inexplicable postures found in many karate kata, defense against multiple attackers may have been more common at one time than the one-on-one fighting of today’s martial arts. In fact, common sense seems to suggest that before that advent of firearms, bandits stood a better chance of succeeding if they worked as a group.
Sadly, much of the knowledge of how to deal with these dangerous situations has probably been lost. But thanks to instructors like Chi Chung Kwong, some of the secrets have been preserved for future generations — at least, future generations of choy lay fut practitioners.
To read more from Keith Vargo, the author of this story, grab a copy of his book Philosophy of Fighting: Morals and Motivations of the Modern Warrior.