For years I taught class of gongfu in a private and public capacity. The ‘private’ aspect involved my family’s Ch’an Dao School which involved a rented hall and two-hours of gongfu training on a Sunday morning. Initially, this only involved members of the British Born Chinese community in Sutton who were related to us (the Sai Kung Chan Clan), or who were associated through business, warfare or any other historical means. Just being ethnically ‘Chinese’ was not enough to train in our gongfu hall as we are of ‘Hakka’ Chinese ethnicity. This is the old way and very different to how many Westerners mistakenly view traditional Chinese culture. In this context, Chinese people of clans considered ‘enemies’ were termed ‘foreigners’ and excluded from consideration. However, although this was the reality, Master Chan Tin Sang (1924-1993) was of the opinion that we had to find a way of ‘evolving’ beyond this feudalistic attitude.
As more and more Westerners started enquiring about training, when I was promoted to the Head of the Ch’an Dao School, I decided to open our doors to a class of people we did not know and were not related to. This also included other Chinese people we did not know regardless of their surnames. Around this time (the late 1990s), I also started being approached by Mainland Chinese people living in the UK, who explained to me about how ‘New’ China was thoroughly ‘modern’ and how this attitude of openness and inclusiveness was being used in China to teach all foreign visitors about the beauty of Chinese culture and what it has to offer to the contemporary world! As this change in attitude dove-tailed with what Master Chan Tin Sang had in mind, I decided to transform our family style of Hakka gongfu and ‘revolutionise’ the way in which we managed our martial arts lineage!
Although I was brought-up in the old way, I never felt comfortable with its exclusiveness and ethnic clannishness. Although I was accepted as someone of mixed ethnicity – this acceptance only extended to my immediate Hakka clan and Chinese people who knew me. When outside of this group, I was subject to this ‘exclusive’ attitude and marked as a ‘foreigner’ who was not welcome within the inner workings of the Chinese community. When this happened – I would scurry back into my cultural safety zone knowing I had just experienced something very unsavoury! After 1949, Mainland China thoroughly rejected this feudal attitude and embraced ‘Internationalism’ which is designed to open-up the beauty of Chinese culture for anyone who would like to benefit from it! Since the early 2000s, I have defriended many Mainland Chinese people (living and working in the UK and in China via the internet), and have even started various academic projects and translation initiatives. Indeed, our family gongfu has evolved because of these experiences from an insular, feudal entity to a local practice premised upon universal principles!
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!
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.
As we get older, our perception of our training changes. This is not only crucial, but also essential. Getting old is important for Chinese martial arts mastery. Getting old is not an error or a failure. We must give-up all of our younger perceptions as they are now out of date. Younger perceptions are for younger people as that is where they belong. Ego ad its ‘giving-up’ is the key. Young people are taught that ‘winning’ is everything in this (Western) culture, but in China the prevailing attitude is that ‘cooperation’ and ‘assisting’ one another are the glue that holds a civilised society together. Even ‘sparring’ in the Chinese cultural sense is very different to its ‘hate filled’ Western counter-part. An opponent exists, within the training context, to assist you to develop, they do not exist as cannon-fodder for the ego! Training to boost the ego means that when the body ages and changes, the practitioner quite naturally ‘gives-up’ as he or she can no longer muster the required aggression to train or fight! What a pointless waste of time all this is! Grace under pressure is what Westerners should be aspiring to achieve. Psychological and physical relaxation in the face of potential violence and danger is the standard once the physical techniques of combat have been mastered! Getting older is important to deepen understanding and develop a more profound perception of reality. Fighting is awareness and understanding which manifests evenly through both ‘stillness’ and ‘movement’ performed at the right moment! Most people find it very difficult to be ‘still’, although generally people think they can ‘move’ around quite well. Both assumptions are false. Clearing and deepening perception will lead to correct ‘stillness 'of body and mind. Again, age leads to an enhanced awareness through which the body moves with an almost divine capability regardless of circumstance! This is why getting older is important and to be welcomed!
Shifu Adrian Chan-Wyles (b. 1967) - Lineage (Generational) Inheritor of the Ch'an Dao Hakka Gongfu System.