Our Hakka family gongfu style is primarily 'Northern' in structure and was brought into the New Territories of Hong Kong by Chinese people migrating from around the Henan area (during the 1600s as the Ming Dynasty collapsed) - but sometimes much further North (my partner's family migrated to the Shenzhen area from Shandong). Our 'Northern Snake Fist' (北蛇拳 - Bei Shi Quan) is comprised of sixty-four movements - which mirror the sixty-four hexagrams (卦 - Gua) of the 'Yijing' (易經) - known as the 'Change Classic' or 'Book of Change' (I Ching) in the West. This text must be studied over many years supplemented by hours of seated meditation and the perfection of 'movement' and 'stillness' when this 'Form' (形 - Xing) is deployed. This is an integrated Form requiring the mastering of the 'external' (外 - Wai) and the 'internal' (内 - Nei) - or 'Zagong' (雜功).
All traditional 'Forms' begin with the practitioner facing 'South' - the area of warmth, good farming land, trade, plenty and controllable borders within ancient China. By comparison, the 'North' can be cold, overly 'hot', suffer from a scarcity of food and peopled by barbarian hordes all seeking to attack, destroy and steal! The 'Snake Form' unfolds on overlapping 'cross' formations - starting toward the 'East', West', 'North' and then 'South' repeating the same techniques - which then adjust into a new set of techniques. The 'cross' alters into 'Southwest', 'Northeast', 'Southeast' and 'Northwest', etc. There are a number of unique movements (such as 'Gorilla Punches the Ground') - but generally speaking the 'cross' (both 'cardinal' and 'ordinal') formation holds true. This section appears to the 'Southwest' and is the first repetition of 'three' performed in this direction. The structure builds-up just as a hexagram does in the 'Yijing':
1) Foundation (first two lines of a hexagram - representing the Broad Earth) - Free Stance - Bodyweight is primarily channelled down through the back leg 'bent' at the knee and into the ground 'rooting' the structure. A 'rebounding' force emanates from the ground and up the supporting leg - spreading through the torso, upper limbs, and non-supporting front leg. This arrangement generates a 'floating' orientation in the front-leg whereby the foot feels as if it wants to 'raise' automatically - and the practitioner must exert 'intention' to keep the toes of the free-foot gently 'touching' the ground. This is in preparation for the 'groin kick' which has its origination in this 'Form'. the foot swiftly travels upwards with the toes turned 'down' and the groin of the enemy is impacted with considerable force. Due to the expert position of the back-leg and pelvic girdle - the front-leg can continuously 'pivot' around the created leverage with very little effort and in a continuous manner - generating huge amounts of force with very little effort. The groin area of the enemy may be struck repeatedly without stopping. Although all this is present and taught as an application to the 'Snake Fist' Form - within the Form itself - the front-foot never leaves the ground. Stance work is generally quite 'high' in orientation - with foot-work premised on 'light', 'short' but 'precise' heel-to-toe steps (involving bodyweight being expertly 'shift' from side to side).
2) Torso (lines three and four of a hexagram - representing Humanity). The torso 'slides' and 'shifts' from side-to-side and 'forward' into newly acquired or 'opened' space. The torso retains a forty-five degree angle as its continuously 'shifts' one side forward and then the other (sixty-one movements in this 'Form' continuously move 'forward' with only three movements taking a step backward). The torso also 'tilts' left and right from the centre-line as movements are executed - creating a moving target that is difficult to hit as it advances. Gaps are created through the intimidation of asserted movement - space which the Snake Form practitioner then occupies by 'stepping' into - thus depriving the opponent of options. This works because the 'Snake' is limited to the lethal 'eye-strike' which must be defended against at all costs! The torso 'slithers' and 'slides' into the space generated through the intimidation of the opponent! Despite moving forward the onus is upon preventing the opponent from generating or landing any powerful or significant blows! The torso shifts left and right - and forward into front-left and front-right! The expert use of footwork establishes and maintains this momentum.
3) Upper Limbs (lines five and six of the hexagram - representing the Divine Sky). In this section the reverse hand is deflecting the opponent's attacking limb down and to the side of the torso. This involves an open-hand with slightly spread finger aligned with an empowered fore-arm and 'pointed' elbow. The alignment and rebounding bodyweight renders this arm as strong and as heavy as a block of concrete and yet as light and manoeuvrable as silk blowing in the wind! The footwork and torso can 'move' around this 'blocking' arm so that direct conflict is avoided and the opponent's natural strength is bypassed by a superior (and deadly) technique. Simultaneously, the lead-hand strikes with the middle (longest) finger to one of the enemy's eyes. The severity of this attack can be varied from 'gouging' to a light 'tap' and every level of vision-disruption inbetween. The Four-fingers can be separated to create a 'double' strike which hits both the enemy's eyes simultaneously with one-hand. The fingers then collapse palm 'inward' (toward the chest) so that a powerful 'back-hand' strike is delivered to the eye and nose area of the opponent. This is followed by the hand suddenly 'closing' and delivering a power short-range punch to to side of the nose or eye structures of the opponent. During training, these blows must be practiced both 'slowly' and very 'fast'!
Combative interaction can occur in a myriad of ways. It can be psychological, emotional and/or physical. Intense combat can involve all three realms of existence. This is a serious situation where the ‘immediacy’ of the threat generates the inherent danger! Relaxation, awareness and superior positioning is the way to meet these challenges in the physical world. How this unfolds is dependent entirely upon an individual’s experience and the style they have been practicing for decades. Spiritual maturity is defined as the ease with which a person occupies their mind and body, and their ability to predict aggression and quickly counter ‘shock’. This is how the Master makes what is hard for most people appear to be ‘easy’. In other words, this is unhindered ability of an individual to come to terms with ‘change’ (易 - Yi4). In other words, a traditional Chinese martial artist, regardless of style or lineage, should make a point of studying the ‘Classic of Change’ (易經 - Yi Jing). This study should be ongoing, deep and profound. Furthermore, it should be free of all profit-seeking and worldly limitations. No one can ‘tell’ you how to understand this text and you must take responsibility for your own understanding of it.
What does ‘易’ (yi4) mean? The upper particle is ‘日‘ (ri4) is the Moon that lights up the Earth through its reflection of the Sun! This probably refers to a light in the darkness or a cultivated light which dispels darkness (the exact definition of the Sanskrit term ‘Guru’). The bottom particle is ‘勿’ (wu4) which composed of the left sub-particle of ‘刀’ (dao1) or ‘blade’ and the right sub-particle of ‘𠚣’ (dao1) or ‘dripping blood’. When placed together, these two sub-particles generate ‘勿’ (wu4) which literally depicts ‘blood dripping from a blade’. As a distinct character, this ideogram appears on the Shang Oracle Bones (c. 1766 to 1122 BCE) and was used as a ‘warning’ ‘not to do something’, ‘not to carry-out a specific action’, or to ‘stop doing what has already been done’. The emphasis is from ‘movement’ to ‘stillness’. Within modern (everyday) Chinese language use, ‘勿’ (wu4) is used to refer to the word and concept that denotes ‘no’ as opposed to ‘yes’.
When combined, and taking all this data into consideration, ‘易’ (yi4) seems to imply a situation where once there was difficulty (勿 - Wu) - but this difficult situation is transformed into its opposite by the presence of ‘日‘ (ri4) - which is the Moon that lights-up the entire landscape through its glow! What was previously ‘hard’ is now made ‘easy’ by a ‘change’ of circumstance. When beneficial ‘change’ is experienced, it is generally the case that actions that were once ‘blocked’ or ‘hindered’ now become ‘open’ and ‘free-flowing’. This explanation demonstrates how the ideogram ‘易’ (yi4) can simultaneously mean both ‘easy’ and ‘change’. However, another version of this ideogram is ‘蜴’ (yi4). It is related and exists within the same series as ‘易 (yi4)’. The difference is that this version - ‘蜴’ (yi4) - has the extra left-hand particle of ‘虫’ (chong2) which refers to a dangerous, venomous snake, or a similar type of animal or insect.
When expressed as ‘蜴’ (yi4) - this ideogram takes on the meaning of a ‘lizard’ which can adapt its outer skin to ‘blend-in’ with the ever-changing environment (I.e., a ‘chameleon’). This type of lizard knows how to ‘not stand out’ and how to ‘achieve things’ in an ‘effortless’ and ‘unassuming’ manner. As the external temperature changes – so does the pigmentation arrangement of the Lizard’s skin. As a means of temperature control – the lizard also manages to remain ‘unseen’ as an evolutionary by-product. An advanced practitioner of martial arts can adapt to the physical environment in a manner that preserves his or her life, and which removes greed, hatred and delusion from the mind (and body) of the opponent. When this type of change is mastered in every position, a practitioner literally seems to perceptually ‘disappear’ as they no longer react in a dualistic manner. There is no one to chase and no one to hit...
Shifu Adrian Chan-Wyles (b. 1967) - Lineage (Generational) Inheritor of the Ch'an Dao Hakka Gongfu System.