The “tigress” Mok Gwai Lan was joined with Wong Fei Hung in the concubinage when she was in her early twenties and he was already over sixty. Accordingly, she survived him by several decades. She was a fighter, lion dancer, medical assistant and cook and probably one of the most famous women in the history of Hung Gar Kung Fu.
Mok Gwai Lan was born on October 15, 1892 in Kao Yao (Guangdong) and raised by uncle and aunt who had no children of their own. Already as a child she learned Kung Fu from her uncle, naturally in the style of her family. Mok Gar Kung Fu was and is after all one of the most important lines of all. Her aunt, on the other hand, was against it because she thought Kung Fu was unfeminine. However, Mok Gwai Lan continued to learn and was also trained in osteopathy by her uncle. When she was sixteen years old, she was both a good fighter and a trained osteopath.
According to legend, Mok Gwai Lan and Wong Fei Hung met at a performance. Wong Fei Hung lost his shoe during a lion dance. He met Mok Gwai Lan, who became very angry and confronted him. Her fire and courage impressed Wong Fei Hung and he began to woo her.
Mok Gwai Lan himself reported this in an interview, however, much more unspectacular and probably truthful. Her uncle and Wong Fei Hung were friends. One day, Wong Fei Hung asked Mok Gwai Lan to marry her and her uncle agreed despite strong protests from her aunt. She was married to Wong Fei Hung at the age of twenty-three. However, since he believed he was cursed and had sworn never to marry again, she became not his wife but his concubine. (After her, two other women came after her – but each of them left Wong Fei Hung again after a short time).
Instructor and Lion Dancer
No sooner did Mok Gwai Lan live with Wong Fei Hung than she supported him in many ways. She taught Kung Fu (and was further trained by Wong Fei Hung), worked as an osteopath and kept his school in good shape.
I was a saleswoman, osteopath and doctor, the kung fu instructor and the cook. I cooked for twenty employees of the school. Sometimes I had to work through the night. In short, I just took care of everything.Mok Gwai Lan to Andre Lam
Mok Gwai Lan was not only busy at her husband’s school. Just like Wong Fei Hung, she became an instructor in the army. She was also (as far as known) the first woman in Guangdong to perform the Lion Dance in public. Likewise, she was always present at Wong Fei Hung’s performances – not as an unimportant secondary person, but as an invited guest.
After Wong Fei Hung’s death
After Wong Fei Hung died in 1925, Mok Gwai Lan continued his legacy. With the support of Wong Fei Hung’s student Dang Sai-King and Lam Sai Wing, she moved to Hong Kong with Wong’s surviving sons in 1936. There she opened a Dit Da clinic. From 1944 to 1969 she taught Hung Gar at the ‘Wong Fei Hung National Art Society’ and then at the ‘Wong Fei-hung Physical Fitness Institute’ until its closure in 1980. Mok Gwai Lan died on November 3, 1982.
In 1970 Mok Gwai Lan gave an interview to the magazine ‘Real Kung Fu’, conducted by Andre Lam. Unfortunately, from the time of the ‘wedding’ onwards, the article in question tells us very little about Mok Gwai Lan, apart from anecdotes (which I will be writing separately). But I hope that I will find out more about the life of this fascinating woman in the future.