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.
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.
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.