Hakka Martial History
Assistant Instructor at the CDMAA
The Ch'an Dao (禪道-Mind Way) Concept
The historical origins of this school are obscure, but inherently linked with certain family branches of the Hakka people and can be traced to the Shansi province of northern China. However, the 3 spear forms found within the style are of non-Chinese origination. Of possible Mongolian origination, tradition has it that they were once performed on horse-back. Indeed, nomadic tribes invaded north China and ruled as the Northern Wei Dynasty (386AD-534AD), ushering in a great period of cultural synthesis and integration between the indigenous Chinese people and the culture of the nomadic invaders. One result of this was outward looking nature of the Wei Dynasty, which saw the development of trade routes and commerce - a process that saw the importation of Buddhism into China, from India. Early in this process, Ch'an Buddhism made its first appearance.
As martial practice had always been associated with Chinese spiritual practice, many Buddhist monastic communities in China continued to perpetuate this tradition. Ch’an is the Chinese pronunciation for the Sanskrit term ‘Dhyana’ – this term is used to denote a state of meditative concentration, and the method to achieve such a state. The mind is focused on a method or technique, whilst the body assumes a posture suitable for the meditative practice. As is evident within the Japanese branch of Ch’an (Zen), the seated posture is the most fundamental. The Dao (道), or ‘Way of universal wisdom’ is used to denote the ideal of always moving in accordance with nature, and never acting out of step. Harmony is achieved by understanding physical change, and always aligning the mind and body with it. Therefore, Ch’an Dao (禪道)refers to a calm and still mind that allows for the perfect positioning of the mind, body and spirit, with that of environment. This is a realised state of inner calm, and outer correct positioning, with no contradiction between the two.
The Ch’an Dao (禪道) concept is an exercise in ‘de’, (德) or ‘virtuous authority’. An ideal often associated with Confucianism (儒家) or 'rujia' , and written to describe a path that develops the mind to lofty heights. Confucius himself advocated martial activity for character development. As Chinese Buddhism evolved within Chinese culture, it must be viewed as a synthesis of Indian Buddhism, with Chinese Confucianism and Daoism. Buddhism orders the mind. Daoism teaches order (or harmony with nature), whilst Confucianism advocates an orderly society through appropriate behaviour. Each has its own domain, with each of the three domains emanating from the common source of humanity.
The Hakka (禪道) People
The Hakka language is considered to be one of the seven languages extant in China today. The Hakka people are believed to have originated in northern China, and followed what can be described as a northern Chinese cultural pattern. For reasons such as invasion, famine, drought and commerce, populations of these northern people slowly moved southward over perhaps a two thousand year time-span. Today, the Hakka are an ethnic minority living in southern China. This martial system has been preserved in the Hakka Chan family lineage that up until the last forty years existed in a village in the Sai Kung area of the New Territories of Hong Kong. This village, called ‘Banana village’, is now virtually empty. In 1999, when the author was last in the village, there were six elderly people, and two young people in attendance. The clan leader was a lady in her eighties. The village is on the top of a small hill. There is a small Buddhist Temple amongst the houses that also doubles as a Name Temple for the Chan family. At intervals going down the hill, there are the ruins of houses used by earlier Chan people. As time went on, the clan slowly moved up the hill they occupied, building bigger and better houses as they went. This pattern of behaviour may well reflect the economic development of the clan itself.
The elders of the village, often spoke in terms of ‘calming the mind’, to ‘effect positive changes’ in the world. This idea was applied to all aspects of life, including the martial. In this village, the clan martial arts, decidedly ‘northern’ in appearance, were used on a community basis, to defend the entire village. Although men and women could often be seen individually practicing different aspects of gungfu, the over-all emphasis was on team work, and formation fighting. Squads of family units would train to specifically defend a particular area of the village boundary. Within the many families of the Chan clan, a strict hierarchy existed, which denoted a Clan Leader, and subordinates, very similar to military organisation. Community and clan based styles of martial arts often had a number of terms of reference. The broad term of Hakka Kune (禪道拳), or ‘Guest People Fist’ could be used, but this term in recent years, has become more or less exclusively associated with southern Hakka fighting styles. The term Chan-gar Kune (陳傢拳), or ‘Chan Family Fist’ was used widely, as was the term Xian Dao (仙道拳), or ‘Immortal Way’. Sometimes, people practiced with no known name for their art. It was so natural to practice an activity from childhood that no particular outstanding reference was made to it. The term Ch’an Dao (禪道) was chosen in this generation, to emphasis spiritual development within a martial tradition. The last time this art was used in warfare, was during the Japanese Imperial Army’s invasion and occupation of the New Territories and Hong Kong from 1941-1945.