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A Brief History of Pak Mei PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 30 April 2009 23:34

Pak Mei Kung Fu Grandmaster Chang Lai CheunWhite Eyebrow Kung Fu, known as Pak Mei (Cantonese) or Bai Mai (Mandarin) stems from Taoist martial arts traditions tracing back into Chinese history, probably starting at mount Ngor Mei (E-Mei) near the end of the Ming Dynasty. There are many legends and stories surrounding the art, as many false as true. What is known is that the style started between 1650 and 1700 with the life of a Taoist monk known for his long white eyebrows and has been passed down unbroken from teacher to student, often father to son until today.

The Style was formally brought to the secular world by Great Grand Master Cheung Lai Chuen (1880 -1964) who came from Guangzhou, in Cantonese China. In 1949 following WWII, he moved from Guangzhou to Hong Kong. His cousin and training partner was the equally famous martial artist Lam Yeu Gwai, the Grand Master of Loong Ying (Dragon) kung fu.

Earlier in his life he learned many different martial arts and fought many challenges building a fearsome and widespread reputation of extraordinary skill. After meeting a monk who demonstrated a remarkable kung fu, he was overwhelmed. He pleaded to learn, and thereafter spent several years in the Kwong How Monastery in Canton studying meditation, divination, healing and Pak Mei.

He learned Pak Mei from the monk Chuk Fat Wan, who learned from the Abbot Kong Wei, who learned from the namesake Pak Mei. He was the first "outsider' to learn the art. While rare outside China, the study still flourishes in the city of Guangzhou, in the southern province of Canton, and in Honk Kong.

Possibly due to its localised nature and absence for the most part in the "Western" world, the style has become known as a "secret" and "forbidden" style. Pak Mei, the monk himself, has become a Chinese folk legend for his fighting skill and dark background. He is a controversial figure in Chinese history, often considered an evil character for his brutality and betrayal of the Shaolin Monastery. He is a pivotal character in the story of the 5 Elders/Masters, which details the genesis of modern Kung Fu, much of which came from the popular fiction "10,000 years of Evergreen."

Some of this legend can be attributed back to the real life political conflicts leading to the end of the Ming Dynasty, the coming of the Ching "Manchurians" and the destruction of the legendary Southern Shaolin Temple.

Additionally, in keeping with Monk Pak Mei's brutal reputation, it is a lethal style, not modified for sporting applications. Great Grandmaster Cheung Lai Cheun was famous first and foremost for his exceptional fighting skills, proven repeatedly in combat.

Pak Mei Today

What the world knows as Pak Mei globally today, is the art as taught by Great Grandmaster Cheung Lai Cheun.  What he brought to the lessons taught to him by the monks at the temple is what is what makes the art of Pak Mei the ferocious and practical art it is today.  The Grandmaster was already a gifted and accomplished martial artist before he undertook his study at the temple.  It is the combination of the skills of this masterful Hakka prize fighter and the internal skills learned at the temple that make the art what it is. 

The art is characterised as a uniquely dual internal and external style.  By applying the higher level internal skills of Pak Mei to the more external techniques of southern style kung fu, the student develops their ability in Pak Mei.  The style is generally taught in traditional manner, with family structure and private or non-commercial orientation.  The skills of a top Pak Mei practitioner are highly prized and admired in the world of modern traditional Chinese martial arts. 

For more historical information about the life of Grandmaster Cheung Lai Cheun, the book by HB Un is the definitive reference.


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