We Take Refuge in the Buddha!
We Take Refuge in the Dhamma!
We Take Refuge in the Sangha!
We Take Refuge in the Triple Gem!
Author’s Note: I have had the honour to train and spar with a number of very tough and yet very relaxed Muay Thai fighters over the years! All have been hardened fighters with a gentle spirit and respectful spirit. Muay Thai fighters (along with Goju Ryu Karate men) are amongst the few opponents in the world that I can trust with me hitting them ‘full-power’ with ungloved-hands during free-fighting. In return, their blows are sharp, powerful, decisive and repetitive! I have the utmost respect for this Thai Buddhist martial art! ACW (5.5.2021)
The deep-rooted foundation of Muay Thai – or ‘Thai Boxing’ - do not lie in the brightly and well-funded gymnasia of the modern Thai city, but exist in the poorest areas of the jungles and the remotest of Thai villages. Depending on where the art is still practiced, Muay Thai is often linked to an ancient local Buddhist Temple – with esteemed Buddhist bhikkhus (monks) acting as the instructors and preservers of the tradition. The cultural basis of Muay Thai represents the psychological and physical reality of what it historically means to be born ‘Thai’. Thai Boxing is form of ritual veneration for the Buddha, the Dhamma and Sangha – as well as the King of Thailand, the government and the Thai people. As a consequence, Muay Thai has no other purpose in its most traditional form.
Muay Thai is much more than preparing a fighter to compete in the modern ring. Muay Thai is a fully-fledged medieval military art designed to train Asian infantrymen as they advance into battle escorting battle-elephants (the infantry ‘protects’ the vulnerable underbellies of the elephant from enemy attack, etc). The male and female warriors are psychologically and physically ‘toughened’ so to produce effective and hardened soldiers fit to fight in prolonged hand-to-hand engagements on the battlefield. Through harsh and brutal training all day long – the mind is ‘calmed’ and ‘purified’ so that all greed, hatred and delusion are uprooted and eradicated in accordance with the Buddhist Vinaya Discipline. This is why a Muay Thai warrior is a ‘Buddhist’ warrior to venerates and applied the Buddha’s Teachings (‘Dhamma’) in every facet of his or her life. This activity is regulated by the educated eyes of the Sangha (or the ‘community of ordained Buddhist monks’).
We Take Refuge in the Buddha!
We Take Refuge in the Dhamma!
We Take Refuge in the Sangha!
We Take Refuge in the Triple Gem!
This is the ritualistic vow that every Muay Thai warrior repeats with a total and complete devotion early every morning as they rise from their simple straw mat which they use as a ‘bed’. After toileting and drinking a little water – the daily training begins by running two or three miles at a steady pace around the temple and local villages. The pace is slow but steady. Speed is not the purpose – but rather stamina, strength and endurance. Rubbing the shins and fore-arms with wooden rolling-pin type devices slowly develops into the anatomical weapons being sharply ‘struck’ by these heavy objects (at the advanced level – this includes striking different parts of the skull). This leads to rope-work (or ‘skipping) to work-up a sweat before body-conditioning begins.
After working on the strengthening of the bones it is time to strengthen the muscles, tendons and ligaments. Different Masters use different types of sit-ups, squat-kicks, back-raises, press-ups and loosening and stretching exercises. Relaxation coupled with strength and endurance is emphasised. All this voluntary suffering is designed to ‘burn-off’ the bad Kamma produced in the endless previous lives that have been lived by these Buddhist warriors. Next is the technique of striking, blocking, kicking, punching, head-butting and elbowing, etc. This includes groin-kicking and how to defend against groin-attacks. Devastating knee-attacks delivered at various (and unpredictable angles) are used to break ribs and paralyse the diaphragm of an opponent. This progresses to many different kinds of pad-work and bag-striking. Some bags are full of sand and others of small stones and the fighters must learn to punch and kick each with no injury or loss of stamina or will-power.
This leads to various forms of ‘sparring’ in the ring either with or without gloves. Nowadays, even the most traditional Muay Thai training temples usually ‘wrap’ the fighter’s hands early in the morning – although there are some traditional ‘hand-toughening’ exercises that involve punching trees, blocks of wood and various other objects. The hands are then treated with special (traditional) medicine. As violence is prohibited within Buddhism – greed. Hatred and delusion must be uprooted through long hours of seated mediation (usually in the evenings) and the reading of the Buddha’s Suttas. This distinctly ‘Buddhist’ training is the true foundation of Muay Thai and is the hidden conditioning ingredient to all the martial technique that this art involves.
Most people outside of Thailand only encounter the kick-boxing element of Muay Thai performed in a modern boxing ring. Traditional Muay Thai is fought on a raised stone disc or dais (after each performs a ritualised martial dance to the Hindu God Rama and the and the Buddha) Fighters have their hands wrapped by a thin and course rope (not Western bandage-wraps). Sometimes the hand-wraps are dip in a type of glue and then dipped into broken-glass – depending on the purpose of the fight. A rattan ring is worn around the top of the head as a form of skull-protection from the powerful round-kicks delivered with bare-feet, etc. For the King of Thailand, not only are his most trusted bodyguards all advanced Muay Thai warriors – but at least two specialise in the technique of double-swordsmanship incase a traditional ‘beheading’ is required of a convicted criminal.
As the Muay Thai warriors hold the status of ordained Buddhist monks – all are ‘celibate’ whilst they live and train in the Muay Thai Temple. There is no mixing with females allowed and certainly no girlfriends, or wives, etc. When not engaged in the actual physical training of Muay Thai – such a warrior-monk is expected to engage in studying the Buddhist Suttas, meditating, cleaning the temple and humbly serving the monks, etc. As they start training and fighting as young as 5 or 6-years old, a Muay Thai fighter could well in excess of two-hundred fights by the time he or she is 25-years old! Unless a Muay Thai fighter ‘retires’ and leaves his or her status as a Buddhist warrior monk – there can be no relationships with the opposite sex allowed.
Muay Thai is an ancient martial art that has been adapted to the modern, Western-boxing ring very well. I am of the opinion that it is one of the best all-round striking, grappling and throwing martial arts in the world today, that has retained its deep spiritual roots in modern times. Westerners, by comparison, possess a psychology and physicality that is all incorrect for Muay Thai. They do not possess the deep Thai cultural connection to the Buddha or to Buddhist culture. They have no understanding of Buddhism or any respect for the Dhamma, the Sangha or the Thai King. They know nothing about quietening the mind and uprooting greed, hatred and delusion. They think and move like a Western-boxer from a Judeo-Christian culture that has ‘secularised’.
This mentality is shot-through with the capitalist ideology and a one-sided effort defeats a multisided foundation. Westerners place all their and determination in the wrong place (as can be seen from the above video). When confronted with the best Muay Thai Masters – they incorrectly believe that if they just try harder – their inappropriate manifestation will somehow ‘work’ despite never working in the past during similar situations. They employ a lateral determination against the ‘deep’ and ‘profound’ training of a celibate Muay Thai warrior monk – as this is the case – why should they win? Why should this disrespectful and entirely incorrect interpretation of the Asian martial art of Muay Thai be allowed to succeed? This is where Western notions of ‘effort’ fall flat on their face – with no sympathy from me!
Although the martial arts term ‘Ninja’ is a distinctly ‘Japanese pronunciation – the two ideograms used to express this concept are of Chinese origin – namely ‘忍者’ (Ren Zhe). Whether this concept originally spread from China as a martial arts principle – or was distinctly developed in Japan - is open to debate. Certainly, the ‘Ninja’ of medieval Japan occupied entire clan-systems which ‘mirrored’ perfectly their Samurai equivalents with the only difference being that the Samurai clans were socially accepted and the ‘Ninja’ clans were clandestine and considered ‘illegal’. The ‘Ninja’ communities were made-up of the peasantry and any outcast members of the nobility and criminal fraternity, etc. Although the ‘Ninja’ communities were hidden from open view, they were disciplined, followed strict codes of conduct and were dedicated to perfecting many different martial skills designed to ‘counter’ or ‘negate’ every martial advantage the Samurai believed they possessed. In-short, the ‘Ninja’ communities represented a ‘different’ but related blue-print for Japanese feudal society – perhaps one that was internally democratic and fairer than its Samurai alternative, as women were considered ‘equal to men – and practiced martial techniques designed by women for women to use on the battlefield or during ‘assassinations’ - a key skill of the ‘Ninja’ warrior.
The character ‘忍’ (ren3) is comprised of a contracted version of the lower particle ‘心’ (xin1) - which translates as ‘mind’ and ‘heart’ - and the upper particle ‘刃’ (ren4) - which represents a ‘bladed weapon’ such as a ‘knife’ or ‘broad-sword’, The Japanese version of this ideogram appears to have a handle affixed to a blade – a blade said to be covered in ‘blood’:
When combined together, the ideogram ‘忍’ (ren3) suggests a situation where the human mind (and body) is said to be highly skilled swordsmanship – together with ‘tolerating’ the ‘lose’ of a certain amount of one’s own blood – as well as spilling that of the opponent. The training in this martial art is arduous and painful to experience – but this is the path that must be ‘endured’ if mastery is to be achieved. Whereas the ideogram ‘者’ (zhe3) is comprised of the lower particle ‘白’ (bai2) which carries the meaning of the colour ‘White’, whilst the upper particle is ‘耂’ (lao3) and refers to a ‘an old man who is bent-over and has long hair’ - usually implying ‘acquired wisdom overtime’. Therefore, ‘者’ (zhe3) appears to mean a ‘body of expert knowledge acquired by an individual over a long period of study’. The combined term of ‘忍者’ (Ren Zhe) - or ‘Ninja’ - refers to the concept of an ‘accumulated body of knowledge and martial arts skill and acquired by an extraordinary person overtime’. Or, an ‘acquired body of knowledge and martial arts skill that transforms an ordinary person into an extraordinary person’.
忍術 (Ninjutsu) - ‘Ren Shu’ = ‘Endurance Art’
忍法 (Ninpo) - ‘Ren Fa’ = ‘Endurance Law’
Ninjutsu originally derived from an indigenous, traditional Japanese fighting technique known as the ‘Thorn Kill Art’ (刺杀术 - Ci Sha Shu) - perhaps implying the ability to ‘assassinate an opponent using a poisoned-dart'. Later, this art absorbed several Chinese cultural influences such as the ‘Art of War’ by Sunzi", and the martial principles contained within the ‘Six Secret Teachings’, etc. There is a legend that a Chinese Buddhist monk travelled to Japan early-on, and brought various Tantric Buddhist and Traditional Chinese Medicine techniques (perhaps around the 8th century CE) which were combined with Japanese Shintoism. This mixture of Chinese and Japanese martial elements was integrated to finally form ‘Ninjutsu’. The techniques of ‘evasion’ and ‘invisibility’ in were emphasised in the city – whilst ‘ambushes’ and the ability to suddenly ‘disappear’ was perfected in the mountainous areas.
Chinese Language Reference:
The traditional Chinese martial arts probably evolved from ancient rituals pertaining to shamans ‘dancing’ or otherwise purposely ‘moving’ in a highly ritualised manner premised upon the behaviour of living animals and the spirit of animals, etc. The shamans dressed in furs, wore make-up, jewellery and elaborate head-dresses. The manifestation of the shaman would change depending upon which animals was being represented. The head-wear might well have contained various types of ‘horns’ or ‘antlers’, etc. Although communication with the ‘hidden’ spiritual realm – these shaman (around 2000 BCE or more) was believed to possess ‘special’ or ‘magical’ martial skills assumed to be the product of spiritual influence. The ‘Huangdi Neijing’ (黃帝內經) states that the daily ‘shapes’ made with the body, determine the strength of the internal energy-flow, and the general health of the individual’s mind and body. This observation is often used as one of the main medical principles behind the justification for the structure of ‘Forms’ as used within develop Chinese martial arts.
Overtime, the ‘dances’ took-on a special significance, and came to represent particular ‘styles’ of Chinese martial arts premised upon the behaviour patterns of animals ‘fighting’ for their lives in self-defence! Although the mind is ‘calmed’ and ‘strengthened’, martial skill is attained not from the spiritual realm, but is rather slowly acquired through continuous, physical repetition and critical assessment from those who have more experience. The ‘Forms’ of Chinese martial arts are vehicles for preserving, maintaining and transmitting the martial secrets of particular lineages. The concept of martial arts being practiced this way is thousands of years old in China, and was probably developed during the Zhou Dynasty and perfected during the Qin Dynasty, etc
Thousands of men, women and children would practice together in an open area, whilst instructors led the training usually to a count – demonstrating and correcting the movements when required. These ‘Forms’ were practiced in the daylight so that every movement could be clearly seen, communicated and copied. Martial arts ‘Forms’ designed to be practiced in ‘secret’ or in the ‘darkness’ of the night – are often referred to as ‘Black’ arts (as in ‘hidden’). These ‘Black’ arts are not practiced in the open, but rather behind ‘closed’ doors. Rather ‘Light’ or ‘dark’ martial arts – the ‘Forms’ involved serve exactly the same purpose and are structured in the same manner. Perhaps around thirty distinct kicking, punching, blocking, elbowing (and other strikes) are expertly weaved together in an integrated pattern of movements. Continuous practice builds technical skill and familiarity within the context of the style concerned.
The ideogram ‘形’ (xing2) is comprised of the left-hand particle ‘幵’ (jian1) - contracted to ‘开‘ - refers possibly to ‘two hairpins’ designed to make the hair ‘level’ and ‘straight’. This particle could also imply an ‘even’ and ‘flat’ open space within which martial art ‘Forms’ are practiced. However, ‘幵’ (jian1) is also created by doubling the particle ‘干’ (gan1) - with ‘干’ (gan1) representing a ‘two-pronged’ (shafted) weapon depicted during the Shang Dynasty as:
The right-hand particle is ‘彡‘ (shan1) - which literally translates as ‘three strands of hair’. This may be used to denote a large collection of objects so that when assembled everything becomes ‘clearly visible’. ‘形’ (xing2), therefore, can refer to martial arts practice being carried-out in the open and by many individuals - so that all the movements are clear and observable. Interestingly, ‘形’ (xing2) used to be written as ‘𢒈‘ (xing2) - with ‘𢒈’ being viewed as a variant of ‘丹’ (dan1). This refers to the ‘three’ energy-centres (丹田 - Dan Tian) spread throughout the body. These are areas of great importance for developing the various internal energies as found within Daoist self-cultivation. As martial arts practice develops these areas – the ideogram ‘𢒈’ would make more sense.
The related ideogram ‘型’ (xing2) is comprised of the upper particle ‘刑’ (xing2). The left-hand particle ‘幵’ (jian1) - contracted to ‘开‘ - refers possibly to ‘two hairpins’ designed to make the hair ‘level’ and ‘straight’. This particle could also imply an ‘even’ and ‘flat’ open space within which martial art ‘Forms’ are practiced. However, ‘幵’ (jian1) is also created by doubling the particle ‘干’ (gan1) - with ‘干’ (gan1) representing a ‘two-pronged’ (shafted) weapon. The right-hand particle is ‘刂’ (dao1) - a contracted version of ‘刀’ - which refers to a short, single-edged blade such as a knife. ‘刑’ (xing2), therefore, refers to the concepts of ‘punishment’, ‘sentence’, ‘punishment’, ‘massacre’, ‘slaughter’ and even ‘torture’! The lower particle is ‘土’ (tu3) which translates as ‘potters clay’, or the ‘broad earth’. As the area where martial art ‘Forms’ are practiced is thought of as ‘holy’ or ‘scared’, etc, ‘土’ (tu3) is related to the ideogram ‘社‘ (she4) - which refers to the ‘God of the Earth’. ‘型’ (xing2), then, refers to ‘martial’ or ‘violent’ movements performed in a wide-open (public) space – the technique of which can be ‘moulded’ and ‘improved’ through regular practice whilst exposed to continuous expert scrutiny.
Translator’s Note: Although ‘劍‘ is pronounced ‘Jian’ within Putonghua (which is the dialect of the Chinese language spoken in Beijing) - also known in the West as ‘Mandarin’ (the language of the scholar-officials) - within the Hakka language ‘劍‘, is pronounced ‘Kiam’ (in the ‘Sixian’ variant) and ‘giam’ (in the ‘Meixian’ version). As the Hakka language is considered far older as the language of Northern China used by the ruling elites, It would seem that ‘kiam’ and ‘giam’ were the normal ways of pronouncing ‘劍‘ - and that the Cantonese people of the South (originally the ‘Tang’ people of the North before they migrated en masse) - logically adopted ‘gim’ as their rendition of ‘劍’. Of course, I am assuming that the Hakka pronunciation is ‘older’ and probably the ‘original’ rendition of ‘劍‘. The Hakka people, in full or in part, probably ruled China through the Qin and Han dynasties from the North of China (but not Beijing), before being forced into a number of historical migrations Southward over two-thousand years. Certainly, our ancestral ‘Hakka’ village in the Sai Kung area of the New Territories of Hong Kong not only upholds the Hakka martial traditions of North China – but when I was young, we were taught to refer to the ‘long sword’ as the ‘giam’ - a tradition we retain to this day. The ‘long sword’ is used within our practice of the single and double sword routines as is exclusively associated with advanced Taijiquan practice. ACW (21.2.2021)
This ideogram dates back to the Bronze Inscription Characters of the Shang and Zhou Dynasties (c. 1600 BCE – 300 BCE) and was depicted in the following manner (amongst a number of similar of variants):
This means that swords designed to be ‘long’ and ‘thin’ to varying degrees (made out of metal) probably developed during this era. Today, these ‘劍‘ (jian4) swords are around three-foot long and constructed from a sharp double-edged blade. Although designed for the expert (and ‘effortless’) ‘piercing’ of the opponent – such a weapon can be used to ‘hack’ and ‘slash’ if the situation demands (although this is considered very much a ‘secondary’ skill). The Confucian scholar carries this type of sword as a symbol of his ‘learning’ and his ‘academic’ authority – although like with the bow and arrow – such a scholar was expected to be a ‘Master’ of self-defence, particularly if he held Public Office. The opponent’s defence (and body) must be decisively penetrated without any undue effort due to a perfect timing, positioning and movement. Furthermore, as such a scholar possesses a ‘calm’ and ‘wise’ mind – at no point in the execution of his sword technique does his weapon become ‘entangled’ with the weapon of the opponent! All ‘movements’ pursued with the long-sword must be effortless and ‘touch’ nothing other than the surface of the body that is to be ‘pierced’.
‘劍‘ (jian4) is composed of the left-hand particle ‘僉’ (qian1) - the top part of which is ‘亼’ (ji2) - an ‘inverted mouth’ that is used here, to denote the meaning of ‘gathering in from three-sides'. The bottom part of which uses a double ‘兄’ (xiong1) which refers to ‘an elder brother’. The right-hand particle is ‘刂’ (dao1) which refers to a ‘knife’ or a ‘single-edged; blade. ‘刂’ (dao1) is a contraction of ‘刀’ which within the Bronze Inscription Characters is drawn in this way (despite the character dating further back to the Oracle Bone Inscriptions:
When all this data is assembled into the ‘劍‘ (jian4) ideogram – it seems (to me) to read ‘community defence’. The elders of the community – symbolised by two mature but physically ‘fit’ older brothers used to bearing responsibility – unite to ‘protect’ a community (that is drawn together on three-sides) to form a more ‘solid’ centre that is easier to defend with ‘weaponry’. The ‘weapon’ in question has evolved from a simple (and shorter) single-edged blade – to that of a longer double-edged ‘sabre’ or ‘sword’ that requires an incredible amount of skill to use effectively in combat. As ‘劍‘ (jian4) is so complex when compared to the far simpler ‘‘刀’ ideogram depicting a short-knife – it would seem that an element of ‘elaborate’ ritual is implied in the formulation of a long-sword' that extends to its ‘ownership’ in peace-time, and its ‘usage’ in times of war!
Certainly, Confucian scholars are considered academic ‘warriors’ who often carry the scabbarded long-sword in their right-hand which means they have no intention of ‘drawing’ and ‘using’ it. Order within society is maintained simply by the ‘presence’ (and the ‘use’) of the long-sword – although this level of harmony and tranquillity manifest in the outer world implies exactly same level of attainment within the mind and body of the scholar-warrior! Should a ‘divine’ violence be required on the physical plane, then the scholar-warrior carefully places the scabbarded long-sword carefully into his left-hand whilst he right-hand secures a firm grip upon the long-sword handle... Having to resort to ‘violence’, however, would be thought of as a ‘failure’ by the scholar-warrior – as ‘peace’ is always preferable to ‘violence’.
Master Chan Tin Sang (1924-1993) was of the opinion that ‘Taijiquan’ (太極拳) is an advanced martial art developed by Confucian scholars for the perfect of archery skills. After twenty-years of my own research - I would agree. Of course, Taijiquan is very much part of the Daoist tradition – but as it is premised upon the philosophical principles of the ‘Change Classic’ (易經 - Yi Jing) - specifically those elucidated within the ‘Great Treatise’ (大傳 - Da Zhuan) of the associated commentaries. This is where we learn about the ‘Tai Ji’ (太極) concept which serves as the centre of the Confucian world view - ‘cosmology’. Tai Ji’ (太極) literally translates as ‘Grand Ridge-pole'. In this early model of the cosmos (the content of the ‘Da Zhuan’ probably developed over a thousand-year period – c. 500 BCE – 500 CE, etc, with the concept of ‘Tai Ji’ being included in its earliest strata – perhaps 300 BCE). The ‘ridge-pole’ equates to the human-spine which unites the ‘head’ to the pelvic-girdle and legs – which in transit also includes the arms and hands. This is the human-body as it exists in the material world. The early Confucians assumed that the spiritual (unseen) realm mirrored exactly the material (seen) realm – and so the human-spine was transposed onto the cosmos so that it linked the ‘divine sky (head) - with the ‘Broad Earth’ (lower body, legs and feet). Just as a developed martial artist positions the limbs in perfect repose through the timely ‘turning’ of the spine – the cosmos rotates its cycles around the ‘grand ridge-pole'! Just as the cosmos turns around a central-point – and the planets rotate around individual suns – the seasons come and go in a timely manner – just as night turns into day and vice versa.
This fits-in with the Confucian attitude of everything occupying its rightful place at the correct time. Movement is always timely and only performed for a good reason and never impulsive or ill-disciplined. A Confucian scholar brings order to the mind and body – and through his or her example – a similar order is brought to the material world. The Confucian scholar practices the unarmed martial art of ‘Taijiquan’ so that the foundations of ‘long-sword’ and ‘archery’ can be imbued in the mind and body well before a bow or a sword is ever picked-up. The ‘Taijiquan’ practitioner learns effortless ‘penetration’ of the opponent – this gives an insight into how a sword and arrow-tip ‘penetrates’ the target. More to the point, the ‘Taijiquan’ element of ‘inflating’ the joints with a buoyant qi-energy prepares the mind and physical-frame for the drawing and releasing of the arrow from the bow! When a bow is drawn (a Confucian scholar was expected to draw and fire with an equal accuracy from both sides of the body) the physical-frame is brought under a great intrinsic ‘pressure’ from the draw-poundage of the bow! When the arrow is released – this accumulated energy ‘rushes’ out of the body with the arrow!
By aligning the bone-shafts and joints so that the body-weight drops into the floor through the centre of the feet – a rebounding ‘force’ is generated from this ‘rooted’ stance that raises up through the body and which can be released through any part of the body. Any stance and shape that is ‘held’ can be ‘rounded’ to such an extent that an ‘intrinsic’ force is accumulated in the joint areas – which can be ‘released’ as a striking-force where needed (adding to the rebounding body-weight). This ability of the advance ‘Taijiquan’ practitioner to accumulate this force mimics the reality of drawing a bow. It just so happens that when accomplished without holding a bow – this ‘massive’ force can be ‘released’ through any part of the body as an overwhelmingly powerful strike. This skill can also be used as a ‘brick wall’ that stops an opponent in his or her tracks! When I have demonstrated the ‘immovable’ posture – usually the biggest man present puts all his strength into pushing my palm – but as I ‘reflect’ his force back at him – the more he tries the greater the force I have at my disposal to reject his intention! He gives me all the energy I need. This is just like drawing a bow...
“At age fifteen years of age I set my heart and mind upon learning (whilst transcending inner confusion and outer chaos). At thirty, I planted my feet firmly upon the ground (and achieved ‘rootedness’). At forty, I no longer suffered from perplexities and doubts (as the mind and heart were ‘stilled’). At fifty, I fully understood the Will of the Divine Sky (as the mind and heart were all-embracing). At sixty, I clearly perceived reality through a docile ear (as none of the ‘senses’ discriminated). At seventy, I could follow the dictates of my own heart and mind; for what I desired no longer overstepped the boundaries of what was right in the Divine Dao.”
Confucius – Analects (Lun YU) 2:4
This is a famous blue-print that the Great Sage Confucius (Kong Fuzi) constructed during his lifetime (551-479 BCE) within ancient China. It is a remarkable set of observations that have stood the test of time. There is a natural ‘mastery’ of mind and body which unfolds providing the aspirant is a) ‘aware’ and b) is ‘seeking’ such an achievement of mind and body maturity. If an individual merely fumbles aimlessly through life with no grounding or higher yearning, then these stages often remain unrecognised and unfulfilled. As I get older, I find a deep sense of ‘certainty’ pervading my mind and body. This is a permanent state that does not fade or intensify but which is forever present – still and shining. It seems to be the underlying reality of sensual and psychological existence. It is comforting, empowering and healing.
When the mind is permanently ‘stilled’ and has become ‘all-embracing’ - a certain ‘wisdom’ (Prajna) is activated which allows the mind to naturally (and instantaneously) perceive reality and understand exactly what physical action is required in a particular situation. This is true for help others with education, healing, housing or feeding, etc, as it is during times of human conflict. Within the limitations of martial arts practice, such mastery manifests in the expert manifestation of ‘action’ and ‘non-action’ and vice versa. Moving forward (with tremendous generated force) or seeming to ‘disappear’ inti thin air by a radical ‘withdrawing’ from direct contact and-or confrontation. As every moment is both ‘identical’ and entirely ‘different’ without inner or outer contradiction – all momentary decisions emerge in a pristine and timely manner.
Such a state of being is not fleeting but always present. The nature of such an awareness is both peaceful and tranquil. It is like a permanent sense of inner ‘Spring’ whilst stood in a beautiful forest clearing. All animal and plant life understands this directly – with other humans perceiving that something is present that is out of the ordinary. Although ‘nothing special’ this sense of mastery is exactly the same for all of humanity regardless of life activity, culture or time-period, etc. It is like a might river that all martial arts systems quite naturally flow into. Masters do not argue despite their very different life-paths and distinctive martial schools. The state of true Mastery sits quietly in the centre of the universe and attracts all things to itself. All is ‘healed’ and ‘reconciled’ and there is no ‘conflict’ or ‘contradiction’.
My personal preference is inner development through the life of a hermit (i.e., ‘eremite’) – rather than through the ‘coenobitic’ (i.e., ‘community-based’) life of a monk living in a cloistered - but interacting community. This may stem from my upbringing as a Chinese-Buddhist and my experience of being a Buddhist monastic attached to a Ch’an lineage in Hong Kong – but ordered to spend hours, days, weeks, months and years sitting alone in the local Name Temple of a Hakka village in the New Territories. This also included a period of some months sat in the isolation of the Devonshire moors in the UK – where the weather (and culture) was very different! The details do not really matter – what matters is the quality of the ‘inner gazing’. Whilst experiencing further and higher education in the UK, for reasons I cannot fathom, I was befriended by a number of Irish Roman Catholic priests and at least one Anglican vicar. As I do not believe in a theistic god – this was something of a surprise to me and them! Those I knew were good people – despite others not being so good (due to their conditioning) – such is life and there is no judgement on my part. People are human-beings and life does not always unfold slowly or as we would like it to.
I would say that what is important is the ‘quality’ of the ‘gaze’ as it is turned within. Many have endless problems perfecting the ‘gaze’ and so cannot ‘look within’ clearly. This is a common problem – East and West. Once the ‘gaze’ is perfected – it becomes vast and all-inclusive like a wide wall! Bodhidharma spoke of this but it is a concept often mistranslated or misunderstood. A mature mind is expansive like the surface of a wall-face that never ends – as if a practitioner is sat meditating with ‘open-eyes’ in-front of a wall – the edges of which cannot be perceived when the gaze does not ‘wobble’! An external wall (that does not ‘move’) is like the ‘empty mind ground’ that lies deep within! If a practitioner spends hours contemplating an external object that stands as a metaphor for an internal level of attainment – then eventually the internal level will spontaneously ‘materialise’! This is why Bodhidharma came from the West – at least this is what the Caodong (Japanese: ‘Soto’) Masters say.
I was taught Chinese martial arts from a young child as a cultural pursuit which equated to the necessity of ‘communal defence’. This was the ancient Hakka tradition – with our Great Master Chan Tin Sang (1924-1993) - being the son of the Chan Family Name Clan Leader. He – and the Chan Family Clan – fought the Imperial Japanese invaders of Hong Kong from 1941-1945 – after the British Army was over-run in the region. The Sikhs in the Hong Kong Police changed sides and joined the Japanese and assisted in the massacre of ethnic Chinese and Europeans. For this treachery the Sikhs were forever expelled from the British Police and Military! Japanese soldiers stormed through hospitals raping nurses and bayonetting the ill and the wounded in their beds! At least 10,000 Hakka men, women and children died as a consequence of those years of resistance! The returning British even raised a monument praising the bravery of the Hakka people! I do not support warfare and would prefer a world without it – but as long as some humans use force to persecute other groups of humans – we must defend ourselves or die-out.
Master Chan Tin Sang possessed a progressive mind-set and believed in developing a better world – this is why he decided to bring his family to the UK in 1956. It was a difficult time of transition – but transition he did. Coping with the very real problems of the outer world is a skill a true spiritual martial artist must acquire. In this regard, this path is very much like that of Vimalakirti – the enlightened lay-man who was a contemporary of the Buddha. He had four wives and plenty of children – and yet never broke the vow demanding celibacy! He taught that the ‘Mind Precept’ is the essence of ALL monastic and Bodhisattva vows (a Chinese monastic must take and uphold the Vinaya and Bodhisattva Vows)! This is the penetrating and realising the ‘empty mind ground’ or that part of perception – non-perception that is the basis of all human ‘awareness’. The ‘empty mind ground’ is what the ancient Greeks refer to as the ‘psyche’ - or ‘breath of life’. It is interesting that the ancient Greeks understood that ‘breath’ and the ‘essence of conscious awareness’ are one and the same at the deepest level of perceptual attainment. Later, the Christian theologians re-interpreted the Greek term ‘psyche’ to mean ‘soul’ (possibly of Germanic origin) to refer to a movable spiritual entity that enters the mind and body at conception – and leaves the body at the point of death, etc.
As I get older it becomes ever clearer to me that martial arts mastery is not ‘physical’ but rather conceptual. It is a mind-body nexus of permanent and intimate association. Such an attainment is no longer limited to designated periods of physical training – but is present whether awake or asleep. It exists as the backdrop to everyday life and influences opinions and behaviour. It is an innate awareness of the ‘position’, ‘alignment’ and ‘interaction’ of the joints, the long bone-shafts and the solid ground. Every position and movement are permanently ‘powerful’ with no hesitation, fore-thought or doubt present. The seated meditation position is as combatively perfect as standing in stance, sat in chair or lifting up a weight, etc. The consciousness is calm, vast and unruffled like a perfect seascape at sunset! Always available bodyweight grants instant ‘power’ without any sense of weakness or problem with attitude. Each moment naturally folds into the next and there is no worry, contradiction or complication. There is only the eternal perfected moment of being – clear and vast for all to see!
Being a hermit means that a spiritual practitioner does not get entangled in the world he or she happens to exist within. Sitting ‘still’ and ‘clear’ means that the essence of being in the world is understood to be nothing but an all-embracing ‘void’ of reality that has no beginning and end. The material body exists within this ‘void’ and seems to be ‘nothing’ when it is required to ‘disappear’ in an instant. This happens when an opponent cannot ‘perceive’ your presence when stood in-front of them. On the other hand, when the ‘void’ needs to manifest with the heaviness of a mountain – then the body becomes ‘solid’ and ‘immovable’ for all concerned. This has to be the case as there is no longer any duality to befuddle understanding and certainly nowhere for ‘hatred’ or ‘anger’ to manifest and sully the situation. Indeed, the underlying frequency of human love continues to ‘colour’ the entire situation regardless of the nature of the encounter. This is what happens when the seated meditation posture is assumed correctly and the empty mind ground penetrated. This is what it means to be a monastic who practices the hermetic path of self-development and material transcendence!
A very interesting (internal) Longfist Form! Master Zhao Ming Wang forwarded this video of a Qianfeng Disciple. This is a traditional mode of practice just like our own in the Ch’an Dao School. Of course, what follows is not a discussion on the movements perse, but rather the manner in which these movements are performed. Developed insight and seasoned will-power is a matter of a good and fully-rounded ‘intent’. This is the exact opposite to what is expected in the training and technique designed found in the ‘audience-pleasing’ practicing for sport. For sporting purposes - the movements are speeded-up for dramatic effect.
This changes the leg use, balance and coordination. Sporting forms are practiced 'top down' which is good for audience entertainment but sacrifices a good and effective 'root'. Proper (traditional) form training for fighting is practiced 'ground up' (like the building of a hexagram in the Book of Changes) and unfolds like an arrow fired from a bow (or a bamboo stick stuck firmly in the ground - which is pulled back and suddenly 'released'). Sporting forms push the generated power downwards whilst simultaneously denying any strong or stable leg structure for 'rooting' - so that its is wasted and dissipates into the air without effect. Traditional forms - such as seen here - generate the power from a firm and stable base and then radiate that power upwards and outwards in all directions.
The 'shape' or 'technique' chosen or assumed (such as a lead straight punch front and back - or a front-kick and a palm-block, etc) - harness and directs this generated power, into a focused emission suitable for a particular self-defence requirement (expressing 'stopping-power'). Although practicing forms at lightning speed is good every now and again (whilst retaining the 'root'), it is better to practice like the practitioner in this video so as to continuously perfect the 'foundation' - as each repetition removes a layer of doubt in one's ability (from the mind and body). As the body ages, this type of 'internal' exercise ensures a constant standard of practice as the physical processes and psychological perception both mature.
Notice how the drop-down stances are not as deep as those found in Taijiquan to facilitate a smooth interaction of the movements. These Longfist forms possess drop-down stances that can be performed ‘deep’, ‘moderate’ (as seen here), or ‘high’ for various adaptions of training. Each type of low-stance must be perfected by the Longfist practitioner as a preparation for the different requirements of all-round self-defence. It is best to master the low-stances when young so that this ability can be retained and applied to the body as it ages.
Original Chinese Language Article By: Qu Lishi (趣历史)
(Translated by Adrian Chan-Wyles PhD)
Now, when many of my friends are watching classic heroic novels made into films - such as the "Water Margin" and "Sui and Tang Dynasty" - or classic works of modern martial arts masters (such as Jin Yong [金庸} and Gu Long [古龙]), they are being subjected to a number of powerful martial arts hero-images. This includes invincible (and fierce) generals, as well as knights effortlessly galloping over the land (and across rivers and lakes without getting wet), whilst climbing (or flying) over high walls and defeating the enemy on the other side - despite being out-numbered by as much as ten to one! The question is this – are traditional Chinese martial arts effective in battle – or are they an outdated mode of ‘attempted’ self-defence?
With this question in mind, this author accessed a great deal of information upon this subject and finally worked-out the difference between ‘ancient’ Chinese martial arts and the modern ‘dance’ that passes as martial arts practice in many gymnastic halls throughout China today. Ancient Chinese martial arts are divided into two distinct (but related in essence) branches (or ‘Families’) – namely the ‘external’ (外 - Wai) and the ‘internal’ (内 - Nei). Those who have achieved great success in ‘external’ gongfu, can prevail against any opponent (in any situation) using only ‘empty-hands’ and expertly applying a refined brute force through deceptive movements of great and dynamic speed - with such an outstanding Master of this method being ‘Bruce Lee’.
The mastery of internal gongfu is much more complicated, complex (and subtle) - and its perfection is not easy – even for those who gain access to genuine teachers. Internal gongfu has three sections that must be fully understood and mastered:
1) Bright (Pure) ‘Shooting-Force’ (Emitting-Power) = Ming Jin (明劲) - ‘Ming Jin’ looks very strong and even ‘tough’. This ‘external’ power stem from a permanently aligned posture and bodyweight dropping into the floor – and ‘rebounding’ back up through the centre of the bones – to be ‘emitted’ through whatever technique is being applied. However, at the highest level of mastery (and in a split second) - It can be transitioned into ‘An Jin’.
2) Dark (Secret) ‘Shooting-Force’ (Emitting-Power) = An Jin (暗劲) - ‘An Jin’ only manifests when proficiency is already advanced. An Jin is comprised of the mastery (and swift interaction) of both ‘hard’ (刚 - Gang) and ‘soft’ (柔 - Rou) power. The enhanced mind (and ‘awareness’) replaces all physical effort. This skill remains ‘hidden’ and is difficult to comprehend in combat and learn in practice. When the mind (and body) of the practitioner is suitably ‘matured’, then the ability to transition to ‘Hua Jin’ will naturally manifest.
3) Transformative (Changing) ‘Shooting-Force' (Emitting-Power) = Hua Jin (化劲) - ‘Hua Jin’ is the perfect ‘synthesis’ of ‘Ming Jin’ and ‘An Jin’ so that no difference can be discerned by the opponent – who cannot perceive what is happening – and cannot suitably ‘adapt’ to what is happening in his or her immediate environment. There is no discernible difference between the mind and body – with the body and environment appearing to manifest within an expanded consciousness that free of all greed, hatred and delusion.
This level of traditional martial arts mastery requires a long process of accumulated insight and gathered internal energy. When young, a martial artist must be brave and ruthless at the beginning – but radically ‘stills the mind’ and ‘relaxes the body’ as a means to gain access to the ‘invisible’ and ‘intangible’. One of the most famous martial artists in ancient times is known as ‘Hua Tuo’ (华佗), who was originally a famous doctor living during the Eastern Han Dynasty, but the ‘Wu Qin Xi’ (五禽戏) or ‘Five Birds Playing’ System he created is considered to be the earliest known martial arts routine in China. This is why some people call Hua Tuo the founder of Chinese martial arts. Cases can also be made for Zhang Sanfeng (张三丰), the founder of the Wudang (武当) Sect – which is a superb school of internal martial arts. Then there is Chen Yuting (陈玉廷), from Chenjiagou - Wen County, Henan Province – who is the founder of Chen Style Taijiquan. Dong Haichuan (董海川) is the founder of Baguazhang (八卦掌) or ‘Eight Trigram Palm’ - who was considered an amazing man. He was a martial arts teacher for Emperor Guangxu (光绪) and also served as a guard for Empress Dowager Cixi (慈禧). After him, there are more famous martial artists such as Huo Yuanjia (霍元甲), Du Xinwu (杜心武) and Huang Feihong (黄飞鸿), etc., all excellent martial arts masters.
Tradition Chinese Martial Arts are ‘Too Dangerous’
Generally speaking, ancient Chinese martial arts are both internal and external, and there are routines, such as unarmed punching and kicking forms, as well as weaponry forms involving sword, spear and weighted-chain, etc. Most of these styles focus on developing the ‘awareness’ capacity of the mind, which is essential for all physical martial arts mastery. Only those people born in the modern-age who possess a certain type of character are qualified to be accepted for this type of genuine Chinese martial arts training. However, the current martial arts cater for everyone and their stricture and scope of development is too rigid and limited. Such martial arts only require a basic external performance, but the internal spirit being completely non-existent. Therefore, practicing for several decades can only lead to the acquisition of a very a basic skill that diminishes with age. The main difference is that the ancient martial arts technique evolved for ‘killing’ enemies and prevailing during ‘self-defence’, whilst modern martial arts belong only to the category of sports – and therefore only reflect the limited requirements of success needed in that environment.
Humanity’s martial arts practice began in warfare and represent a summary of the experience of being exposed to brutal and bloody fighting on the battlefield. This old body of knowledge has into the modern world and has been integrated as a martial art practiced within the category of sports. Under the constraints of rules and referees, it strives to be fair and avoid injury, defeats opponents with strength and wisdom - declaring a winner and a loser. As for why this is done, it is because when modern martial arts were practiced in New China – fights often ended with opponents being ‘killed’ in competition. The government took control of the situation and stopped this type of gongfu-fighting in public. Instead, martial arts training was limited to the exercises concerned with the performing and perfection of artistic-looking routines. It was not until the reform and opening up that the ‘traditional’ Chinese martial arts practice returned for public scrutiny yet again. The more aggressive sport of Sanda (散打) or ‘Free Fighting’ was developed as a sport, and finally determined that blows to the groin, neck, and back of the head were forbidden. This led to a system of punching, kicking and throwing that although ‘aggressive’ lacked much of the martial sophistication that defines traditional Chinese martial arts practice and fighting.
Comment: Ancient Chinese martial arts are historically designed for real fighting, and I can only say that the so-called ‘Martial Arts Masters who are constantly promoting their own style – who are always ‘challenging’ others - are nothing but a group of ‘loud mouthed-kings'. Their actual combat capability is almost zero. Why do I say this? This is because these so-called martial artists have not developed their inner or outer strength and do not possess the unique speed (or skills) associated with traditional Chinese martial arts practice. They value theory and pretty routines, but lack actual combat experience. In the old days, the Master earned their abilities the hard way – through prevailing in actual martial arts conflicts.
Of course, this author always believes that there are peerless gongfu Masters in the world. However, those who have achieved this kind of martial arts mastery often live very low-key lives. They quietly practice and perfect the genuine traditional Chinese martial arts, and pursue a simple life of self-sufficiency and isolation. Such authentic Master keep away from publicity and are difficult to track-down! Indeed, they hide in plain sight amongst the people!
Chinese Language Reference:
点评：古代武术才是真正格斗，而看到现在动不动在哪个频道里推广的武术大师 我只能说都是一堆嘴强王者。实战能力几乎为零。为什么这么说呢?这是因为这些所谓的武术家的力量 速度都没练出来 他们重视理论和套路，缺乏实战与灵活， 纵观中国历史武术名家 那个不是大量实战的基础上在结合拳理 内外兼修而成为一代武术宗师的?哪像现代这帮武术家 ，太过功利化了，一个个都是绣花枕头，中看不中用也。
Many renowned martial arts masters are known to have spent many hours in quiet and still meditation and contemplation. I carried-out three-years of intense meditation (from 1989-1992), or there abouts, in a monastic setting. I gave-up physical practice, as well as all reading and writing. I used the hua-tou ‘Who I hearing?’ (given to me by my Ch’an teacher – Richard Hunn), and eventually penetrated the empty essence of the ‘mind ground’. This also happened to be the ‘empty essence’ of my physical existence and changed my entire perception of reality. This change in base – or ‘foundational’ - view has been permeating through my mind and body ever-since. It is a gradual process of discovering different ways of viewing reality, as various situations arise and fall away. It is the ‘difference’ in sensory stimulus that generates the circumstances for a new and deeper insight. A new understanding is always in response to an environmental challenge, although it is true that the ‘environment’ can be the outer world, just as much as the ‘inner’ world of the interior of the mind, emotionality and perception of the inside of the body. There is much to work-on as insight is continuously upgrading into an ever-improving understanding of reality. There is a fundamental ‘turning-about’ in the deepest recesses of the mind - this is the permanent and radical change achieved in an ‘instant’ often after years of intense struggle – which permeates through to the conscious-mind – but only over-time. At least, this has been my experience confirmed by my teachers. When the body assumes a martial stance, the perception of the entirety of the structure is far more profound, intricate, precise and ‘exact’. This is the change in the perception of ‘stillness’, but as the body ‘moves’ into different martial stances, there is an equally profound alteration in the perception of ‘movement’, and how ‘stillness’ and ‘movement’ continuously interact with one another (effectively ‘merging’ whilst remaining ‘distinct’). The observations associated with these changes are endless, as it is a never-ending improvement of human perception not only within martial arts, but also within (and throughout) life.
Shifu Adrian Chan-Wyles (b. 1967) - Lineage (Generational) Inheritor of the Ch'an Dao Hakka Gongfu System.