The true origin of Pak Mei is deeply embedded in myths and folklore. Written records are either falsified or non-existent. Below are the references passed down to students based on the oral tradition within our lineage:
Master Kwong Man Fong was born in 1945, growing up in Hong Kong at a time when Chinese kung fu was prevalent. During his childhood, Master Kwong was quite athletic, with a particular interest in kung fu. Often times, he would pass by a Hung Ga school on his way home. Stopping off, he would watch and replicate their movements. The next day, he may be caught using these same movements in the school yard. Eventually, Master Kwong joined a Pak Mei school under Sifu Ling, a 7th generation instructor. Studying for just a couple of years, he and his “brother-in-law to be” were taught the highest level forms of 18 Ghost Hands and Ferocious Tiger Exits the Forest.
In fall of 1959, Master Kwong was fighting birds on a tea house terrace (Kei Heung Cha Leuw). One day, a fellow patron, Chum Hung Kay (Hung Suk), noticed the bruises on Master Kwong’s hands. After inquiring the nature of the bruises, Master Kwong proudly said they were from punching sand bags at a Pak Mei School. Surprised, Hung Suk asked the young Kwong if he ever met Grandmaster Cheung Lai Chun. It appears Grandmaster Cheung was also a frequent patron of the tea parlor and a friend of Hung Suk. After offering to setup a meeting, Hung Suk instructed Master Kwong when he should return. Upon the agreed upon date and time, Master Kwong returned to the tea house and greeted Grandmaster Cheung as SiGung. Grandmaster Cheung asked Master Kwong who was his teacher. Upon announcing the name of Sifu Ling, Grandmaster Cheung became confused. He didn’t recognize the name, nor recalled any students by that name. Grandmaster Cheung proceeded to ask Master Kwong to demonstrate the Pak Mei he had learned. Master Kwong reluctantly agreed and was rewarded with laughter. Grandmaster Cheung then informed him that he had been learning “Hak Mei”, a much-diluted version of Pak Mei created by Grandmaster Cheung to show students he didn’t fully trust.
To satisfy his curiosity, Grandmaster Cheung asked young Kwong to come back another day while he investigated the origin of Sifu Ling. After inquiring with his students, Grandmaster Cheung discovered Sifu Ling was a 7th generation Huk Mei student. When little Kwong returned, Grandmaster Cheung began to laugh and told little Kwong that he is his Sijo and not SiGung. Taking advantage of the opportunity, little Kwong immediately saw an opening. He outright asked Grandmaster Cheung to accept him as a student. Grandmaster Cheung asked why since he already had a teacher and has already learned the 18 Ghost Hands. Little Kwong answered saying that since Grandmaster Cheung is still alive, why would he want to learn from a 7th generation Sifu when he can learn from the original source instead.
Grandmaster Cheung initially declined. However, Hung Suk interjected and asked Grandmaster Cheung to reconsider. He believes this young boy has talent, and an eager will. Who knows…this may be the same person that will one day carry on his lineage. Upon reconsideration, Grandmaster Cheung showed little Kwong, Wah Kwong’s brother-in-law to be, and another friend, Di B, a simple exercise, Fing Sao. He instructed all three kids to come back in 3 months.
When time was up, Master Kwong was able to demonstrate the exercise to Grandmaster Cheung, proving he had the ability and willingness to erase all former training and to start from the beginning basics. As such, Grandmaster Cheung accepted Master Kwong, Wah, and Di B as students. Several days later, they performed a traditional Bi Sei ceremony in Grandmaster Cheung’s room, assisted by Grandmaster Cheung’s son Big Fatt, preceded by a dinner with Grandmaster Cheung, Master Cheung Bing Fatt and Master Chan Wok Wah.
Kwong Man Fong dropped out of school in order to train full time, while Wah and Di B remained in school. As a result, he followed Grandmaster Cheung day in, and day out; always at his side during yum cha (morning tea) in the early mornings at the Hong Kong tea parlor, Kei Heung, or during da jeerk (fighting birds) on the terrace in the afternoon. Since Grandmaster Cheung Lai Chun no longer maintained his own Gwoon, their training was conducted during early morning hours in outdoor gardens/parks in Kowloon. These sessions often resumed later in the afternoon. They were tough, unforgiving, and required the utmost discipline. In less then a year, Wah and Di B decided to quit. Wah wasn’t able to afford the financial commitment. However, Di B was scared away by Grandmaster Cheung for not being able to remember the teachings. After being scolded and told to go back to school, Di B did just that. Eventually, Master Kwong was the only remaining student. Grandmaster Cheung would also often bring Kwong to Master Bing Fatt’s Gwoon to learn some of the simpler adapted forms (from Cheung’s 3 former systems).
In time Kwong Man Fong mastered the system of Pak Mei Kung Fu, thus designating him as only one of a handful of instructors left in the world capable of teaching the system in its original form. He is a strict traditionalist that teaches based on the old school methods in which he himself was taught. After leaving Hong Kong in 1969 for the United States, Kwong Man Fong opened his first official school in New York City in 1974.
Master Kwong Man Fong is a 5th generation inheritor of the system. He is the last and youngest disciple to train extensively and learn the complete traditional system of Pak Mei Kung Fu under the personal instruction of Grandmaster Cheung Lai Chun. Master Kwong also taught many in his lifetime before his retirement in 2011, but only a small handful of indoor disciples were selected to carry on his lineage. Sifu Ben Tam is one out of seven.