Master Cheuk-Fai Chan
From Chinatown to Tinseltown
By Marc Wickert Ė photos by Lorraine Wickert
(previously published in Blitz)
Master Cheuk-Fai Chan first came to Australia from Malaysia in 1974, after being sponsored to teach karate in Sydney by Richard Bradford.
Richard had travelled to Malaysia the previous year with two of his students to compete in an international karate tournament, where he witnessed Master Chanís victory at the games, and invited him to come to Australia as an instructor the following year. Cheuk-Fai accepted the invitation and taught for four months, before returning to Malaysia after the contract expired.
In 1977, while Cheuk-Fai was living in Hong Kong, Bradford sponsored his return to Australia, and this time Master Chan remained after his contract finished.
"I decided to stay in Australia because the rent was very expensive in Hong Kong, and although people in Hong Kong love to watch martial arts tournaments and movies, they donít like to practise it, whereas people in Australia love sport and love to participate in martial arts," says Cheuk-Fai.
So Cheuk-Fai opened a gym in George Street, Sydney, where he instructed martial arts for eleven years. Being new to the area, he would often be challenged by other martial artists who would underestimate his abilities.
Cheuk-Fai remembers men entering his gym with gold striped, black belts that resembled piano keyboards. One 5th Dan challenged Cheuk-Fai to spar with him. All of Master Chanís students knew what to expect and vied for ringside positions. Cheuk-Fai toyed with his opponent for twenty minutes, stinging him with hits and kicks, before the 5th Dan pleaded for an end to the bout.
"I like sparring, and Iím not scared to lose or get hit, because Iím learning. A lot of people donít realize, but thatís how you become a good martial artist."
Master Chan soon became known as "Tree-Trunk" Cheuk-Fai, due to his powerful thigh and calf muscles, which were capable of delivering crushing thigh kicks that could end a fight instantly. "I didnít ask for this title," laughs a very jovial Master Chan.
He later became involved in acting and stuntman work for martial arts movies. And in 1985 he played a leading role as a Chinese Godfather in a Hong Kong movie.
"I liked the fighting parts and the story, but in Hong Kong, if you are injured in a movie, there is no compensation. And there is no insurance coverage. If you are injured you have to take care of it yourself. Whereas, if you are a stuntman for Jackie Chan, and you get injured, Jackie Chan takes care of you."
Cheuk-Faiís brother, Cheuk-San, is a practising herbal doctor and has likewise travelled down the martial arts road. Cheuk-San is Jackie Chanís doctor, and has to be on the film set constantly in case Jackie Chan is injured. Cheuk-San is well looked after.
In 1987, Cheuk-Fai moved to his present gym in Chinatown, where he instructs in kung fu, karate, Thai-boxing and kickboxing. When asked about ground fighting, Master Chan says he has only basic grappling skills. He believes a strong stance is necessary for defence on the street, and that it is important to stay on your feet, particularly if there is more than one adversary.
"I have a friend who is a very good wrestler. He says he could kill me on the ground. I say, ĎBut I could kill you standing, and you could never take me to the ground.í In UFC, and other no-rule matches, there ARE rules! In the street, I can pop an eye, deliver a punch to the throat, or kick to the groin."
Master Chan now supplements his training with weights, but says he only started using weights in the last fifteen years because, before that, it was generally believed that weights slowed people down.
"A bodybuilder then showed me how to exercise, using light weights and doing high, explosive repetitions. This technique improved both my power and speed."
Master Chan now trains with weights three times a week. He has coached many martial arts champions such as former kung fu world champion, Mick Spinks, Australian and Commonwealth kickboxing champion, Adam Edding, and four times world kickboxing champion, Adam Watt.
Master Chan is very critical of New South Wales laws governing kickboxing. "The problem in New South Wales is that kickboxers have to wear shin pads. In all other states, and overseas, they donít wear shin pads. Because they have to wear them in NSW, kickboxers here think they can take shin kicks. They can take four or five kicks without the kicks having any effect. In other states they have to learn to defend against shin-kicks by kick-checking.
"Outside of NSW, they are good kickers, because they see the results of their kicking, but this is not so in NSW kickboxing, where their kicks have little effect, and so they have to rely on their hands to defeat their opponents."
Kickboxing first came to Australia in the late nineteen seventies, and Cheuk-Fai Chan trained the first generation of kickboxers in Sydney. He organized the first kickboxing tournaments in Sydney with Bob Jones at a gym in Oxford Street, and everyone was welcome to enter the competitions.
"But now the standard has gone backwards in the last ten years. There are so many different state titles in NSW kickboxing. Everyone has their champions, and they donít fight against each other, so when someone says theyíre the NSW champion, theyíre not, because there are really four or five champions with that title from different kickboxing federations." He believes that the standard was much higher in the beginning, because there was only one federation and one champion.
Master Chan and his brothers have Jin Wu Koon academies throughout the world, including Australia, New Caledonia, Tahiti, Hong Kong, China, England, America and Canada. He often travels to these locations to conduct seminars in between his demanding martial arts schedule, and acting in movies such as The Punisher and Escape to Absalom, where he played The Skull.
During Cheuk-Faiís film career, he has acted alongside such noted stars as Dolph Lundren, Lance Henricksen, Ray Liotta and Brian Ellison.
In March, 2001, filming of the latest episode of the on-going George Lucas Star Wars saga will commence at Fox Studios, Sydney, and Cheuk-Fai Chan hopes to play a part in this inter-galactic extravaganza. In the meantime, Blitz readers can watch for Master Cheuk-Fai Chan in the Toyota RAV 4 television commercial currently being aired.
For more on the master click on the Chan & Spinks link under feature stories.