Master Lau Kim Hong is an unassuming bespectacled gentleman in his early sixties whose gentle looks belie his tremendous taijiquan skill. Indeed he earned his title as Southern Malaysia's God of War by competing in and making his way to the finals of one of the notoriously tough South-East Asian Pugilistic Championships. But the story does not stop there. In the first few seconds of his fight he struck his opponent in the shoulder causing so much damage that he was unable to continue. At that point Master Lau withdrew from the competition allowing his defeated opponent to go on to win the championship. When questioned by reporters about this amazing action the self-effacing Master Lau said that he had entered the competition to prove that a taijiquan exponent in his mid-thirties could rely on the effectiveness of his art even when faced by younger, stronger opponents. This he had done and there seemed little point in carrying on. The Chinese national press in Malaysia reporting on this event splashed across the page the headline "Guan Di Knocks his Opponent from his Horse but Spares his Life", comparing Master Lau to Guan Di - the God of War - who showed mercy to fallen opponents. They went on to praise this quiet family man who truly lived his taijiquan philosophy. No thousand pound sledgehammer for Master Lau, merely four ounces of grace, humility and supreme skill. What then were master Lau's special training techniques prior to the competition? When asked he smiled and said that they were really nothing special, just follow-stepping while repeatedly practising roll-back, press, split and relaxed punches as well as one stamping kick, together with, of course, lots of practice of the Cheng Man Ching form which is his speciality.
Master Lau's training history - the early years
To gain a deeper insight into what has made Master Lau the supreme martial artist he is, an examination must made of his training history. He first began practising Fujian White Crane boxing as a child, specialising in and mastering the staff. From White Crane he went on to study Fujian Yongchun 5 Ancestors boxing under the renowned Master Gan He Chiang. Under Master Gan's tutelage he made rapid progress until he was ordered to start his own class. The young Kim Hong was far from happy about this as he felt that his standard was not high enough. When he tried to explain this to his teacher, Master Gan was far from pleased, tersely advising his young student that if the teacher says that the student is good enough then the student is good enough. Lau Kim Hong started teaching! In those days in Malaysia teaching martial arts was far from simple as any teacher was regarded as "fair game" for challengers. During those early years teaching 5 Ancestors Master Lau had to face and defeat many challengers for to lose meant not only the closure of his class, but also "loss of face" and humiliation for himself and his teacher. Nor were challenges the only danger. As this was the time of the "Malayan Emergency" and public gatherings were strictly controlled and licensed the teaching of martial arts by the Chinese came under particularly close government scrutiny. One evening while teaching in a remote village, Master Lau was surprised to find the hall surrounded by heavily armed soldiers; all of this due to a misunderstanding over the licensing of his class. Wouldn't some of the martial arts "governing bodies" in the West love to have that kind of power!
Shaolin meets Taijiquan
Then one day an exponent of what was then in Malaysia, the fairly new martial art of taijiquan, came to Master Lau's house asking to see him and test his gong fu. Master Lau could not decline what was becoming an all-too-familiar scenario; young gun out to make himself a reputation by beating an established master. Pretty soon, however, he realised that this was no ordinary challenger for every time he attempted to punch his opponent, Kim Hong found himself thrown across the room. There was absolutely nothing he could do. Feelings of humiliation and shame struggled with a burning desire to learn this art that had enabled him to be defeated so easily. Humbly he asked how long his challenger had been training and was further shocked and shamed to find that he had only been learning the art for a year. This was something that Kim Hong had to explore for himself: an art that allowed a comparative novice to beat a shaolin boxer with years of training under his tightly tied belt.
Becoming a disciple of taijiquan Master Lu Tong Bao
Finding out who the challenger's Master was Lau Kim Hong resolved to become his disciple and to beat the man who had so humiliated him; furthermore he vowed to do this within two years. The very next day he went to call on Master Lu Tong Bao, the man responsible for founding a taijiquan dynasty in Malaysia, and begged to become his disciple. Master Lu, pleased that an already acknowledged shaolin boxer should wish to kneel at his feet, accepted Kim Hong and so began his training. For two years, remembering his vow, Lau Kim Hong trained eight hours a day, in two-hour blocks spaced around his business work schedule. Then he went back and challenged his former victor and turned the tables on him, severely trouncing him and so winning back his lost face. While, at first, he tried to continue practising and teaching 5 Ancestors it soon became apparent to Master Lau that the two systems were not compatible. Furthermore, on seeing his heavily conditioned hands, Master Lu publicly scolded him, holding up his own smooth-skinned hands for comparison. "Real gong fu is on the inside not the outside", he chided. Master Lau closed his 5 Ancestors class, stopped the hand-conditioning and dedicated himself afresh to his taijiquan training. It wasn't long before Master Lu recognised his talent and dedication and ordered him to open a class. Heeding his earlier lesson from Master Gan, Kim Hong did as he was told.
Master Lau and the boxer
The challenges started afresh but this time Master lau was a taijiquan exponent. On one occasion two strong-looking young men in their early twenties visited one of the classes and just stood at the back of the hall watching. Something about their physical attitude alerted Master Lau to the possibility of trouble and he left the class under the supervision of an assistant while he went to see what they wanted. They explained that they were interested in the class but were particularly keen to learn how such a slow art as taijiquan could help the exponent to cope with an attack from an art as fast as western boxing! Master Lau was beginning to get the message and asked the man who was doing all the talking whether he had ever done any western boxing. He said that he hadn't but that his friend had; at which point the friend started to take off his shirt. Master Lau stepped back a pace and asked if the boxer wanted a practical demonstration. It was obvious that he did because he started bouncing on his toes and firing off machine-gun-like jabs into the air. Master Lau didn=t even take off his glasses but instead stood calm and still, watching for the boxer to commit himself. When he did Master Lau moved slightly, deflecting the blow and aimed an open-hand slap at what he thought was going to be the boxer's cheek. Surprised by the speed of the attack, however, the boxer turned his head and Master Lau's palm impacted full across his nose and the front of his face. The boxer dropped to his knees, both hands clutching his obviously-broken nose. The previously vociferous spokesman, whose look of smug superiority had turned to one of horror, bent over to help his friend up but he could not or would not. Instead he remained bent double on the floor for the next fifteen minutes, uttering a high-pitched, keening sound. In the background Master Lau's students continued their slow, gentle movements and as Master Lau describes it, "eventually the moaning stopped." That was not the end of the story, however, for when the erstwhile challenger finally got up off the floor to leave, all present could clearly see the imprint of Master Lau's palm across his face.
Excitement in a staff class
On another occasion Master Lau was teaching staff techniques to a class of students when one of them suddenly said, "Well how would you block this then?" As he said it he launched a vicious attack with his staff at Master Lau's head. Master Lau side-stepped to avoid the attack and jabbed the end of his own staff sharply into his assailant's stomach. Doubled over and gasping, the student stammered out his surprise at the power of Master Lau's counter. Regarding him calmly, Master Lau replied that the force of his counter had been dictated by one thing and one thing alone; the ferocity of the abortive attack.
Master Lau's curriculum
Since those early days Master Lau has been active throughout Southern Malaysia, teaching and otherwise promoting both taijiquan and qigong. At an age when most people are considering retirement he is still an active full-time instructor. In his classes Master Lau emphasises the yin and yang of taijiquan, in the form of both the art's therapeutic and martial aspects. Before even learning the solo form students are taught a combination of standing post exercises to build up their strength and self-defence applications to illustrate the martial aspects of the art. Once the solo form has been mastered and basic pushing hands introduced, the students engage in Master Lau's unique staff training system. This he has developed by combining the methodology and techniques of White Crane staff with the footwork of taijiquan. Students progress from solo exercises with the staff to intensive two-person practice. Master Lau also teaches the two-person san shou form, broadsword and straightsword.
Master Lau's legacy - his students
Many of the thousands of students that Master Lau has taught have gone on to achieve considerable success in both form and pushing hands competition, one of his female students Lee Lu Yi even winning a gold medal in international competition in Taiwan. Students such as Koh Ah Tee and Wong Jian Chen have gone on to become recognised teachers in their own right. With masters like Lau Kim Hong Malaysian taijiquan seems assured of a bright and successful future for who can fail when the God of War looks over them!