Like any other art of some antiquity, there are areas of dispute in the history of Choy Lee Fut. The following sets out some of the traditional ideas about the origins of the art in as dispassionate a way as possible, without delving into some of the more modern theories surrounding the origins of the art.
Choy Lee Fut originates from Master Chan Heung who was born in Guangdong in around 1805, and was a native of Ging Mui village. From an early age he studied the Fut Gar ("Buddha") family style of martial arts with his uncle, Chan Yuen-Wu. By his teenage years Master Chan had gained renown in defeating challengers from local villages. At his uncle's recommendation Chan Heung also started learning from another master, Master Lee Yau-Shan, who was the founder of the Lee Gar (Lee Family) school of martial arts.
After several more years training with Master Lee, and continuing to train with his uncle, Chan Heung set out to find a Shaolin Monk who was said to live at Luofu Mountain. This monk was known by the religious name Choy Fook ("Green Grass") and was a master of the Choy Gar style. Upon being accepted as a student by Choy Fook, Chan Heung remained with him for several years before returning to his own village.
Out of this process of learning three different styles, Chan Heung now started the long process of combining them into a single style. At some point this single style became known as Choy Lee Fut, after his three masters and the names of the three styles he had studied.
It came to happen that when Chan Heung started to teach others that he followed the tradition of his village and only taught family members, and today, the Chan family still practice Choy Lee Fut. However, his most famous student ended up not being from the Chan family at all.
Cheung Yim was introduced to Master Chan Heung through his own uncle who proved to be unable to look after Cheung Yim properly following the death of Cheung's own parents. He therefore asked Chan Heung to accept Cheung Yim as an "inside door" (i.e. live-in) student. As a result of the pressure from the other villagers Chan Heung could not accept Cheung Yim on this basis as he was from outside the Chan family, however he agreed to take him in as a servant or "odd jobs man".
Cheung Yim secretly observed the Choy Lee Fut training that went on in Chan Heung's household and practiced what he saw dilligently by himself. Inevitably, Master Chan found out about it, but was so impressed with Cheung Yim's dedication that he agreed to teach him in secret, which he did successfully for several years. In the end the villagers did indeed find out about the secret training and demanded that Cheung Yim be expelled.
Rather than cut Cheung Yim off completely, Master Chan instead sent him to study with another good martial arts teacher of the same Fut Gar style that Master Chan had learned from his uncle. This teacher was a monk of the Zhajian Temple called Ching Cho, who went on to teach Cheung Yim for several further years. It was during this period that he became involved in anti-Manchu politics and changed his name to a more patriotic one, Cheung Hung-Sing.
When Cheung Hung-Sing graduated from his studies with Master Ching Cho, Master Chan Heung then hired him as a martial arts teacher at his Gwoon (practice hall). Since Master Cheung Hung-Sing was taken on as a teacher and not as a student, the tradition of the village did not in this instance forbid his presence in the Gwoon of the Chan family.
One of Master Cheung Hung-Sing's top students was Master Liu Charn, who became the teacher of Master Tam Sam, founder of the Bak Hsing style of Choy Lee Fut.