To martial arts practitioners around the world, Grandmaster Chan Pui (Chan) is known for many things, such as being sixth generation of the Wah Lum Kung Fu System, 33rd generation disciple of the Shaolin Temple, and being a pioneer in traditional martial arts in the United States. To his students, Grandmaster Pui Chan is known for his dedication to his system, pride in his students, enthusiasm in training and teaching, and sincere respect for martial artists. Those who know Grandmaster Chan know him to be a powerful practitioner, an astounding performer, an honorable man, and a true friend.
Chan was first introduced to martial arts at the age of 6, when his father took him to Grandmaster Lee Kwan Shan, in hopes of improving Chan’s physical health and strength. Grandmaster Lee Kwan Shan, the fifth generation disciple of the Wah Lum System, had formed a system combining techniques from the Wah Lum Monastery with those of his own family’s Tam Tui (seeking leg) system. After testing Chan’s flexibility and ability to learn basic exercises, Grandmaster Lee Kwan Shan accepted Chan as a student, and he started intense training in the Wah Lum Tam Tui Northern Praying Mantis style. When Chan was 9, Communists imprisoned his parents, and had to leave school and go to work. While working and continuing his kung fu training, he taught himself to read Chinese, and learned at this early age to persevere through hardships. After becoming an accomplished martial artist, Chan escaped from China to Hong Kong, and from Hong Kong, set sail for America with no money, but with courage, ambition, and a dream.
After arriving in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1968, Chan took a job as a cook, and learned to speak and write English. He started performing lion dances for Chinese New Year celebrations in Boston’s Chinatown, and soon started teaching kung fu at the Bamboo Hut Sports Association. In 1970, he opened his first school, becoming one of the leading pioneers in introducing martial arts to the United States. From the start, Chan emulated the traditional teaching style from Grandmaster Lee Kwan Shan, stressing good basics for a strong foundation. Chan’s school flourished, and he became well known and highly regarded in both the Chinese and English communities in Boston. Then Chan’s dream grew; he wanted to build an authentic Chinese kung fu temple, with the potential to house live-in students and provide a well-rounded training environment. In 1980, when Chan decided to move his family to Orlando, Florida, he realized this dream, and seized the opportunity to build what he envisioned. The new headquarters of the system, referred to as the Wah Lum Temple, boasts a simple yet beautiful garden surrounding outdoor training areas, which encase the indoor training room. Bamboo plants grow around tall posts used for training balance, and a charming, intricate waterfall pond is home to Chinese Koi Carp. This peaceful setting is used for traditional and professional live-in students of both kung fu and tai chi. A dormitory is available for professional live-in students, many of whom travel from around the world to experience training with the Wah Lum System. Since then, pupils of Grandmaster Chan Pui have opened schools around the world, under the Wah Lum name, now totaling more than 30. Much more than just a business, this training system continues Chan’s dream to encourage dedicated martial artists to share the Wah Lum philosophy and training to achieve maximum potential in the art.
In addition to sharing Wah Lum training philosophy, Chan established and maintained a strong rapport with various organizations, martial arts systems, and other respected colleagues. Chan holds strong kinship with numerous martial arts systems and organizations, and supports and is honored at many tournaments and events in the United States and China. It was through a relationship with the Shaolin Temple in China that Chan coordinated the introduction of the Shaolin Monks martial arts performance team to the United States in 1992. Chan often invites instructors from other systems to teach a seminar or train a class, to share different styles with his students, to help them understand and appreciate different techniques and applications. When more kung fu organizations and schools were being formed in the United States, Grandmaster Chan and Grandmaster Wai Hong founded the United Kung Fu Federation of North America, to ensure the standardization and qualification of traditional martial arts schools, and establish an affiliation amongst martial arts schools for competition and other organized events. Chan started arranging through his wife’s travel agency (branched from the Wah Lum Temple) means for his students to travel to China with him, where they would visit the Shaolin Temple, get a firsthand glimpse of authentic Chinese and martial arts philosophies and culture, and test their martial arts technique and performance in international competitions. Grandmaster Chan continues to motivate his students’ training by offering seminars on forms that are not within the normal curriculum and workshops on techniques and applications.
To nurture fellowship among the schools within the Wah Lum System, Grandmaster Chan hosts an internal (Wah Lum) biannual tournament. At this time, students from all Wah Lum schools travel to the Orlando location to compete against each other, providing healthy competition among kung fu brothers and sisters, and spreading spirit, inspiration, and camaraderie within the family system. Profits from all tournaments and events hosted by Wah Lum are donated to the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital (more than $20,000 to date), to support their care and research of cancer patients and terminally ill children.
Grandmaster Chan has been featured in magazines and documentaries for his revered style and prowess in the martial arts industry. Some of his features include the Discovery Channel’s Secret of the Warrior’s Power, Living Legends of Kung Fu (Vol. I), Warrior Within – Inside the Martial Arts, and various interviews and articles with KungFu Magazine, Inside Kung Fu, and Journal of Chinese Martial Arts. Grandmaster Chan has also received honors such as Instructor of the Year and Martial Artist of the Year by Inside Kung Fu Magazine and Black Belt Magazine. And he is a 2003 inductee to Martial Info’s Martial Arts Hall of Fame.
In response to requests for public exhibitions of the Wah Lum System, Grandmaster Chan assimilated and trained a professional demonstration team. Under the training of Grandmaster Chan and his daughter Master Mimi Chan, the demonstration team performs at theme parks (such as Walt Disney World, Florida’s Busch Gardens, Universal Studios, Sea World, and Florida’s Splendid China), conventions, tournament demonstrations, and ceremonial events. Recognized and esteemed by many, Grandmaster Chan has been an integral part of contributing martial arts knowledge to the world. Through all his endeavors and accomplishments, most important to him are his love for his family, his pride in his students, and his whole-hearted practice of his system’s motto of integrating respect, kindness, fellowship, and strength in martial arts. You will always hear him say, “It’s not just a job, but a way of life.”
Grandmaster Lee Kwan Shan was the founder of Shan Tung Wah Lum Tam Tui Kung Fu System. Since his death 50 some years ago, his disciple Chan Pui spread his style of martial art to various parts of United States and opened more than 30 Wah Lum Kung Fu schools.
Grandmaster Lee Kwan Shan (Lee) was born in Shan Tung Province Ping Dou Municipal. He loved to practice kung fu as his family was in the bodyguard business. When he was about 20 years old, he was sent to the famous Wah Lum Temple, where the Boxer rebels settled as monks, and were known to be excellent martial artists. Lee studied for 5 years. On a trip back home, Lee tried to settle a dispute between his kung fu brothers and some village bullies, and he accidentally killed a bully. Subsequently, he had to flee home and took refuge in the south. He went to Kwan Tung Province and visited the town of Sha Cheng twice. In his last visit in the summer of 1948, Lee got sick and died. Because Lee’s students were numerous and spread out, it took three days to complete the memorial service. Hundreds of his students attended his funeral and mourned the death of a great kung fu master. Lee was buried atop Sha Cheng Wan Lam Mountain.
The story of Grandmaster Lee Kwan Shan and Chan Pui dated back to the year of 1945. At the time, Chan’s oldest cousin Sin Ying Dang was an acquaintance of Lee and invited Lee to stay in his house at Sha Cheng. Every evening after dinner, Lee and Sin would drop by the Yu Hing Social Club next door. Though Lee was already in his 70s, the village elders urged him to stay and teach kung fu. Lee was overwhelmed by the enthusiasm. Despite of his old age, he decided to start a kung fu school there, but requested Sin Ying Dang as his assistant. In 1946, Chan’s fifth cousin Sin Ying Tim, formally inducted 6 year old Chan Pui, Chan Wan Ching, and several others into Lee’s kung fu school.
Of course, this arrangement was very convenient to Chan who lived next door to Yu Hing Social Club and Chung Sin Tong. Chan’s father, Chan Hin Man, was the president of Yu Hing Social Club, noticed that his son was very active and thought learning kung fu would be good for him. He took Chan Pui to meet Lee. Lee took a look at Chan, stroked his head, then asked him to bend down and touch his toes. Pleased with Chan, he took him as his student.
In the beginning, it was all learning the kung fu basics. The children practiced at noon and the adults in the evening, under the light of the gas lamp. Chan recalled one of the evening practices when Lee demonstrated the technique of Tam Hou Tui (high toe kick). His kick was so powerful that just the wind of the kick was strong enough to blow out the gas lamp. Lee also impressed many others with his Iron Arm technique. With a strike of his arm, he could split a granite slab into two. Everybody was fascinated by his inner strength and power.
Tragedy hit in 1948, in between April and May, when Lee was 80. He was stricken with severe food poisoning and died. Sad news spread to thousands of his students and they came from China and Hong Kong for the funeral. The memorial service lasted for three days and thousands mourned the loss of a great teacher.
Rumors had it that Lee taught mostly fighting skills in his later years. After his death, the communist liberated China and all his students scattered all over the country. One of his students, Leung Gun, nick named “the Shadow Kick of Kowloon City” had never lost a fight.