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'!
For about a six-month time period between 2005-2006 - myself and a number of Chinese friends would get into a car and drive the three and a half hour journey from Sutton in South London - to Hereford to train with Sensei Tony Smith 5th Dan of Goju Ryu. At some point in all this activity, Tony Smith invited us to a martial arts symposium in Birmingham held on one Sunday (I think in Summer). This had hundreds of people attending, all demonstrating their own particular martial arts and this is exactly where I had the honour to meet (and talk) with Sensei Frank Johnson 6th Dan. Although my family style is (Chinese) Hakka Gongfu - Master Chan Tin Sang (1924-1993) instructed me to explore other styles whilst travelling around the country as a young student. This is where I encountered 'Southern Karate-Do Wado Kai' - and where I trained under Sensei Alan Bound 1st Dan (1983-1984). I was told that this was a lineage emphasising a return to the principles of 'traditional' Wado Ryu! This why I was very interested in talking to Frank Johnson as I believe Wado Ryu is a very advanced and sophisticated style emphasising the highest level of 'internal' awareness and development. Wado Ryu is like Taijiquan where exact positioning and timing is used - coupled with the use of dropped (and rebounding) bodyweight - which replaces the need for forceful muscle contractions (which wastes and depletes the available 'external' energy). Obviously, muscle-contractions can be used - but only when required rather than as a matter of habit. When I shook Frank Johnson's hand - and put my arm around his shoulders in 'thanks' for him signing my book - I sensed immediately the advanced state of his mind and body. This is an ability following years of advanced Taijiquan 'Pushing-Hands' practice - and the need to quickly assess anyone who walks into our training hall!
Shifu Adrian Chan-Wyles (b. 1967) - Lineage (Generational) Inheritor of the Ch'an Dao Hakka Gongfu System.