Lau Gar Kuen is derived from a style of Chinese boxing that was practiced in the Kuei Ling Temple in the Kong Sai Province (Guangxi) of west China. It was taught to Master Lau Sam Ngan, a tiger hunter, by a monk on retreat from the temple. This first Master Lau had the nickname Three Eyed Lau, because a deep scar in the middle of his forehead resembled a third eye. The first Master Lau is honoured as the founder of the style, with the phrase Lau Gar Kuen literally meaning Lau Family Fist. Only four other ancestral families have been honoured by having a kung fu style named for them: Hung Gar, Choy Gar, Li Gar and Mok Gar.

The rise of Lau Gar Kuen
In the late 1800s, at the age of 13, a young Chinese boy named Yau Luk Sau left his home in Kowloon for the Kong Sai Province, where he wished to learn kung fu. He became a student of the respected Master Tang Hoi, and trained for nine years before earning the right to teach students of his own. He subsequently studied under Master Wan Goon Wing, and served him like a faithful son until his Master's death six years later. Eventually, Yau Luk Sau returned to Kowloon and taught the art to his family and close friends before extending his teaching to members of the public. Over time, Lau Gar became one of the most popular kung fu styles practiced in South West China.

One of Yau Luk Sau's most dedicated students was his grandson, Jeremy. From the age of six, Jeremy Yau trained four hours a night, 360 nights of the year, and for 15 years. In 1961, he travelled to Britain and introduced the Lau Gar style to a new cohort of enthusiastic students. It became so popular that in 1973 the British Kung Fu Association was established to promote the practice and virtues of this exciting martial art, with Master Jeremy Yau as the Chief Instructor.

Classifying Lau Gar Martial art styles are classed as being external or internal, hard or soft, long or short and northern or southern. Lau Gar is a Shaolin, southern kung fu style that is short, hard and external in nature.

The term Shaolin, which means young forest, refers to the ancient origins of the art itself and the five animal styles on which the Lau Gar movements are based.

As an external style, Lau Gar emphasises strength, body conditioning and fighting techniques, while internal styles focus on the internal organs, improving the circulation of energy and training the mind. (However, like all kung fu styles, Lau Gar does incorporate some elements of internal training at the more advanced levels). As a hard style, Lau Gar involves delivering powerful physical blows in a controlled manner. A soft style martial art, on the other hand, delivers blows in a more relaxed manner, and deflects a forceful blow with non-forceful means to use the opponent's energy against them. The long style describes the fully stretched movement involved, compared to short styles that use tight movements and blows.

The southern classification simply indicates that it originated in southern China, where short, fast hand movements and stable, low stances and kicks were favoured.