Thomas Chan Abstract, July 2017 Conference

Transformation of Kung Fu and Martial Club in a Capitalist city –Hong Kong

The research contextualizes the discussion on spatial changes in Martial Clubs (武館) and its relationship with transformation of Kung Fu techniques and skills in a capitalist city –Hong Kong. Hong Kong is claimed as an important place to promote the Chinese Kung Fu Culture after the great changes in Mainland China in 1949. This view emphasizes the importance of historical changes in mainland China and Kung Fu Sifus’ immigration to Hong Kong. The claim seems to highlight the preservation of Kung Fu Sifu for the “traditional” knowledge of Kung Fu in Hong Kong which may be lost in mainland China. The claim oversimplifies the process of preservation and knowledge transfer of Chinese Kung Fu, especially for ignoring the complexities of preserving the arts in the specific contexts of martial club in Hong Kong.

Martial Club is the physical and social space providing the following functions: 1) training and preservation for Kung Fu, 2) identification with the Kung Fu school and disciple, 3) social stratification for members (Sifu師父, Daizi弟子, Sihing師兄, Sidai師弟 and etc), social gathering and even the living place of Sifu. The imaginations of martial club (武館) are commonly found in Hong Kong action movies and even the articles about Chinese Kung Fu.

In a capitalist city –Hong Kong, the imaginations of martial club (武館) are illusions for the fields of Chinese Kung Fu. In highly urbanized Hong Kong, the development of city has made two impacts on the field of Chinese Kung Fu: 1) the decrease in the number of martial club and 2) compressing the spaces of martial club. The Sifu may change the body movements in such as steps and movements of Kung Fu forms to adapt to the physical environment in the context of urbanization. In this research, the researcher adopts in-depth interviews with Six Sifus of Southern schools (南派) and Northern schools (北派)[1] and the field study for their martial clubs to investigate the impacts of urbanization on the transformation of traditional Kung Fu with their narratives and demonstrations of Kung Fu forms.

Biographical note

Thomas Chan is a lecturer of The School of Professional Education and Executive Development of The Hong Kong Polytechnic University. His research area includes Urbanization and Cultural Heritage in Hong Kong. He has practiced Fujian Yong Chun White Crane Kung Fu and Okinawa Goju-ryu Karate for over 26 years. He travels to Fujian, China and Okinawa Japan regularly to research and practice the arts and culture.


[1] “South Fist and North Kick” (南拳北腳). It is believed that the Southern Schools of Kung Fu emphasize the skills of short distance fighting and higher stance (短橋窄馬). The northern schools of Kung Fu stress on the long distance fighting and lower stance (長橋大馬).