As regards 'tradition', 'lineage' and 'respect' - these are aboth fundamental Chinese cultural aspects which were brought suddenly into the modern world in 1911 (the ‘Nationalist’ Revolution) and 1949 (the ‘Socialist’ Revolution). In Japan, this process began with the Meiji Restoration of 1868. This all evolves around the concept of 'face' (面子 - Mian Zi) - or the ability to walk through the public spaces with one's dignity fully intact and face on display. To traverse the public spaces used to demand a stern adherence to the teachings of 'Confucius' as defined by various philosophers and politicians, etc. Indeed, Confucianism regulated not only the society of China for over two-thousand years, but also many other countries including Korea, Japan, Vietnam and Okinawa (including large areas of South-East Asia). Furthermore, wherever Chinese people have migrated - Confucianism has followed. Confucianism still defines Chinese society, but the way this happens has evolved over the centuries and can still seem baffling to the uninitiated. Regardless of this, understanding ‘Confucianism’ is the only way ‘in’ and ‘out’ of a Chinese cultural grouping.
In the old days, breaking these rules led to the breaking of one's body - a simple correlation between spiritual morality and physical punishment. The individual body used to be the property of one's parents and belonged to the State (that is to the 'Emperor'). The body of a child used to represent the continuation of a family's ancestral 'Qi' energy and the lasting of the Clan Surname. Judicial execution often involved public beheading (the 'loss' of face through the loss of the head) – a punitive process which usually including the killing of all members of the same family (depending upon the severity of the offense). Social execution involved the 'exclusion' of an individual and a family (Clan) - from all meaningful social interaction. It is interesting to note that despite the differences in political and economic view that exist between Beijing and Taipei, for instance, Chinese people living in Taiwan and Mainland China would agree (both implicitly and explicitly) about what 'face' is, and about what 'losing' and 'saving' face actually entails - so important is this central aspect of Chinese culture.
Today, the forces of modernity have radically redefined this tradition - but occasionally murders and beatings do still occur throughout Chinese society - usually involving disputes regarding love affairs, relationship betrayals and intimate deviations, etc. Of course, if an individual is known to have behaved in a terrible fashion for whatever reason, social ostracization tends to follow. Remember, China is comprised of 56 ethnicities which enlarged through the Chinese diaspora as it intermixes with different people throughout the world. This means that 'saving face' and 'losing face' tends to vary in interpretation. For instance, my modern academic colleagues in China tend not to give 'face' much consideration - but the older members of our Chinese family still live their lives by this concept! Okinawa, for instance, is still being punished by the Mainland Japanese for being historically ‘Chinese’ – and this has involved the post-1945 US Military Bases being lodged of the Island. This US neo-imperialist presence has been compounded by an assault on Ryukyu culture that has been intended to eradicate all obvious ‘Chinese’ cultural tendencies and replace these with a blend of Americana and Nipponisation. Yet the robustness of the Okinawan way of life stands inherently strong – with an older version of ‘Confucian’ ideology lurking firmly in the background and regulating the martial arts, leisure and business communities.
Indeed, the Chinese concept of 'face' (面子 - Mian Zi) literally translates as 'Face Child' or 'Face Master'. The second ideogram '子' (zi3) means 'a child that is born already old and wise' - and is associated with 'Laozi' (老子) - one of the founders of Daoism. Perhaps 'Saving Face' would be better redefined as 'Preserving Face'. In England we talk of proudly holding our heads-up high in public.. Of course, in the strict Confucian model, the onus is on the individual rather than the social collective. Today, the social collective is just as responsible as the individual - so that the entirety of society works together to preserve the status quo. Now, it is as if the collective society has its own 'face' that has to be preserved in the 'face' of individual behaviour. It is a two-way street. Individual responsibility is now balanced with collective responsibility - creating a preserving 'tension' of positive interaction. An individual's 'face' is considered secondary and is only saved when the 'face' of orderly society is acknowledged and preserved. Having explained all this, there still exist pockets of Chinese culture spread throughout the world that uphold older versions of ‘Confucian’ ideology and expect all incomers to understand and respect this reality.
Hong Kong: D-Day 79th Anniversary (1944-2023) – Remembering Master Chan Tin Sang (陳天生) During WWII! (6.6.2023)
Our Chinese grandfather - Chan Tin Sang (1924-1993) fought as part of the 'People's Militia' (with his Section also known as the 'Hakka Resistance') in the Hong Kong and New Territories region. When he recalled these events years later – he often described this time period (1941-1945) as ‘The years covered in blood.’ - as there was never a time that he was not covered in his own blood or the blood of his enemies. Hong Kong had been under the imperialist rule of the British from 1841-1941 - when the Imperial Japanese Army successfully overran the area - killing thousands of ethnic Chinese POWs and civilians in the process! Thousands of ethnic Indian and 'White' British soldiers were killed in combat, wounded and taken into captivity (where many were tortured). What follows is description of what the ethnic Chinese people experienced throughout Hong Kong and the New Territories – a reality either deliberately ignored or simply not known by Western historians and biographers. Part of the problem is not simply political bias or historical preference (although these two issues undoubtedly play their part) - but rather that not ALL ethnic Chinese people understood fully what was happening! The ‘White’ British Administration did not trust the ethnic Chinese population – as they were afraid of homegrown uprisings – but positively detested the Imperial Japanese! This is why the British Authorities ‘refused’ to arm the ethnic Chinese population at the beginning of the Japanese troubles! Rumours of a fifth column in Kowloon turned out not to be true (these groups were comprised of Japanese sleeper cells activated to meet and assist the incoming Japanese troops).
As the British Authorities did not arm the local ethnic Chinese populations with modern firearms – these people (comprised of the Cantonese, Hakka, Hokkien and Teochew ethnic groups amongst others) had to rely upon their traditional martial arts skills to fight the Japanese invaders. This was NOT a problem as the ethnic Chinese attitudes were still very ‘feudalistic’ at the time and the martial arts incredibly effective on the battlefield and in self-defence encounters! How did (modern) British arms enter the area? This seems to have been through a behind-the-scenes agreement between the CPC and the British government. The People's Militia was organised by the Communist Party of China (CPC) - as the Nationalist government had no interest in Hong Kong being part of a united China again (for the British this must have been a tricky business as the CPC was not formally in power in China - nor was it ‘recognised’ by any ruling government outside the USSR). It is remarkable that given CPC troubles being experienced in Central and Northern China at the time (fighting the Nationalists and the Japanese) that it was able to 'project' its power into what was then a very distant and remote area – but the understanding that had been reached between the CPC and the British allowed a small trickle of UK arms into the region to be used by the local Chinese people! This 'Resistance' movement against the Imperial Japanese was permitted providing the CPC power structure (together with the British arms) be 'withdrawn' from the region following the eventual defeat of the Imperial Japanese!
Our Hakka Chinese family clan in Sai Kung suffered terribly at the hands of the brutal Japanese - with women and girls routinely 'raped', 'tortured' and 'murdered'! Not only do we possess eye-witness accounts of this barbarism - but long before the internet the Japanese liked to 'photograph' (and sometimes 'film') their crimes for all to see! These are crimes that the Japanese committed all over China and Asia - and which the Japanese government has yet to properly acknowledge and apologise for! Chan Tin Sang was 17-years old in 1941 and 21-years old in 1945 - when the war ended. During that time, he lost most of his immediate relatives and was accustomed to fighting ‘hand-to-hand' with the fanatical Japanese soldiers - using his Hakka martial arts skills to survive (his father died fighting in this manner in 1944). Later, in search of a better life - Chan Tin Sang came to England in 1956 when he was 32-years old. He worked hard for 10-years in what became London's 'new' Chinatown and finally saved up enough money to bring his wife and daughters to the UK (as they already possessed 'British Citizenship') in 1966 (when he was 42-years old). He passed away in 1993 when he was 69-years old - which was quite old at the time - but many believe that the years of deprivation (and continuous violence) he experienced between 1941-1945 definitely shortened his lifespan. Sometimes - as individuals and groups - we possess no choice. By the time the Western allies were landing on Normandy 79-years ago – the Japanese Occupiers were still strong and effective throughout Hong Kong and the New Territories! It would be with the entry of the Soviet Red Army (during late 1945) into Manchuria that begin the demise of the Imperial Japanese Army and signal the return of the British to Hong Kong!
The differences between the Northern and Southern Shaolin Temple styles is a vast and contentious subject of debate both within and outside of China! One school of thought suggests that the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BCE) - although relatively short-lived - set the blueprint for everything we now associate with 'Qin-na' (or 'Sina' as the Romans referred to it)! It is said that every village was turned into a military barracks and that the Qin government issued an 'official' martial arts manual (premised upon 'Longfist') that was to be replicated throughout the empire! Although not yet discovered, if such a manual existed it would have been a cross-reference of all the known martial arts styles of the day. The best and most effective movements were chosen which are still practiced today.
The thinking is that this single 'synthetic' style provided everyone with a single style which then 'evolved' into the hundreds of styles we know today after the Qin Dynasty collapsed and there was no longer any official pressure to keep the style exactly the same in all places! (The Qin introduced the idea that the same 'law' should be applied in all places and at all times for all people - Confucius had disagreed with this 'legalist' concept - stating that the upper-classes should do as they please whilst the peasants must be kept in order with severity). A modern equivalent of this type of manual is that of General Qi Ji Guang [1594～1644] (戚繼光). In fact, Chinese records state that he was a very well respected armed and unarmed martial artist who had trained with many renowned martial arts Masters and had applied these techniques on the battlefield! He wrote around forty volumes of books regarding martial and military matters. One that you might find interesting is his '拳经捷要篇' (Quan Jing Jie Yao Pian) or 'Fist Classic Victory Assured Record'.
It is said that General Qi Ji Guang took 32 of the best unarmed movements that he knew and combined them into a single 'Form' (Kata) that could be easily taught to soldiers and Officers! Therefore, this manual is a historical snapshot of many of the martial arts styles that existed during the 16th century CE. This is an interesting Chinese language page entitled 'Qi Jiguang's Experiment: In Order to Adapt to Military Needs - Innovating Traditional Martial Arts!' (戚继光的试验：为适应军事需要，革新传统武术拳种) - which contains a number of pictures from the above-mentioned manual:
This manual serves as 'evidence' - as opposed to 'hearsay' - or perhaps adds weight or takes weight away from legends and stories. As for the Hakka people - when they lived in Northern and Central China they practiced Northern martial styles - but when they migrated Southward - there was far less living room and so many Masters 'shortened' their styles - our Masters (in our family style) refused to do this and so we still have the old 'Northern' versions. Villages to the left and right of use, however, all practice the shortened (Southern) versions of Praying Mantis Fist (螳螂拳 - Tang Lang Quan) or developed shorter and more compact styles such as 'Iron Ox' (铁牛 - Tie Niu). Wing Chun (詠春) is a Cantonese art and so was not practiced in Hakka villages in the old days. Interestingly, in Fujian province, the Hakka people built 'Round House' fortifications so that all their life happened within the safety of a fort enclosure. This lack of space led to shorter martial styles. The Hakka-Punti Clans Wars (1854-1867) was fought between the Hakka and the local (Cantonese) people and killed about one million or more! (See: https://files.geistlib.xyz/sharing/rec/被遗忘的战争%2C咸丰同治年间广东土客大械斗研究%20-%20刘平.pdf). The Hakka were defeated and for a time their culture was suppressed - including their martial arts (which had to be hidden away or altered to look like indigenous martial arts)! Our ‘Chan’ (陳) martial lineage had settled in the Sai Kung area of the New Territories around 1600 CE and escaped from any direct Qing Dynasty pressure during the 19th century. Although Master Chan Tin Sang knew many of the ‘shortened’ Southern styles - (the family village next door was the ‘Lim’ - 林) - as he was the Clan Leader (Chief) the inner circle practiced the older and more prestigious ‘Northern’ styles of ‘Longfist’ (長拳 - Chang Quan) - which is what we preserve in South London. Gee is next in line (and our two daughters).
The tradition from Banana Village in the Sai Kung area of the New Territories is that all the warriors of the Chan (陳) Clan should come together and train very hard to purify the mend and body of any bad karmic traits, and share and discuss personal combat experiences and the ‘secret’ teachings hidden within the style. Often, but not always, this regular training should within, without or near a Buddhist, Confucian or Buddhist Temple, as well as being within or near the Chan Clan Hall. When our Hakka-Chinese Chan Clan migrated to the London in 1956 – these traditions were maintained but adjusted to fit-in with the new culture! Now, we must rent a hall to train – or train for free in a local park! Many people train quietly within their own living space and no longer congregate to train. When Master Chan-Tin Sang (1924-1993) passed away I took-over as the Head of the Ch’an Dao Martial Arts Association and I decided to switch from 'closed' lessons to 'open' lessons to benefit humanity. This involved the teaching of the Sunday morning Gongfu classes designed for Chinese children only (as a cultural practice). I felt the parents and children should have a set venue that was neutral to all and safe for the children. Traditionally, the parents had to be a) present and b) supportive of their child throughout the lesson. When our ‘hidden’ training hall was discovered around 1995, the general people took an interest in what we were doing and asked to join in. This is how we opened our doors and let the entirety of humanity in. What follows is a chronology of all the training halls we have used for 'public classes'. This vital history evolves around a set of old photographs of Sunday morning training within Highfield Hall! Highfield Hall is on the road to Carshalton and the small hall used to be a swimming pool in the old days. The swimming pool had been filled-in and the resulting space declared a 'training hall'! The Hall is actually referred to today as the 'Sports Hall' and it was often dark and so cold in the winter that we had to bring our own heaters in to warm-up the air for the students who used to get cold hands and feet despite training hard! However, the hall was usually used for Badminton matches, and I liked its austere image and the rent was very reasonable (and still is)! We moved house around 1998 and relocated to a part of Sutton bordering with North Cheam and the training hall nearby (Club Constellation - next to Cheam Leisure Centre). When Sutton Council sold that hall into private hands, we relocated again to a very rustic training hall opposite Sutton Cemetery in Sutton Common. Master Chan Tin Sang (1924-1993) taught in various 'private' and 'secret' places known only to the participants around Sutton. I Trained with him in Hong Kong (when we were both visiting the Chan Ancestral Village) and in a large Utility Room situated in a High Rise Block of Council Flats which still exist in Sutton (near to Sutton Bus Station) not far from where I now live - next to Sutton United's Football Ground. Our last public training hall was in Stoneleigh (although for a three-month period during the Summer of 2010 we trained in a small park just off St Dunstan's Hill near Cheam Village - whilst a new roof was added to the Stoneleigh hall):
Ch'an Dao Training Hall (Public Classes) Chronology:
Highfield Hall (Sports Hall) - Photographs Available - 1994-1998.
Club Constellation CLOSED - Photographs Available - 1998-2007.
Youth Centre 21 (Sutton Common) DEMOLISHED - No Photographs - 2007-2009.
Sutton Life Centre now occupies the land the above once occupied.
Den Lane Scout & Guide Hall (Stoneleigh) - No Photographs - 2009-2011.
If you know of any more pictures of students diligently training in Ch'an Dao martials arts - please forward to me!
In late 2011, I decided to switch to 'closed' teaching to focus on building the inner and outer strength of those who have shown loyalty and respect to the Chan Clan and our Family Gongfu. This change of emphasis is normal within traditional Chinese gongfu practice and a reflective of the conditions of the time. Sometimes the Chan Clan will 'open the gate' whilst at others the gate will be firmly 'locked'! The public lessons in the training halls represents training 'outside' the gate as there are many life-lessons to be learned. However, there is a time when this type of training must undergo a complete frequency change if the students are to develop into entirely new avenues of endeavour and experience. If more photographs come to light regarding Ch'an Dao students using our old training halls - then we shell add them to this article.
Although the martial arts term ‘Ninja’ is a distinctly ‘Japanese pronunciation – the two ideograms used to express this concept are of Chinese origin – namely ‘忍者’ (Ren Zhe). Whether this concept originally spread from China as a martial arts principle – or was distinctly developed in Japan - is open to debate. Certainly, the ‘Ninja’ of medieval Japan occupied entire clan-systems which ‘mirrored’ perfectly their Samurai equivalents with the only difference being that the Samurai clans were socially accepted and the ‘Ninja’ clans were clandestine and considered ‘illegal’. The ‘Ninja’ communities were made-up of the peasantry and any outcast members of the nobility and criminal fraternity, etc. Although the ‘Ninja’ communities were hidden from open view, they were disciplined, followed strict codes of conduct and were dedicated to perfecting many different martial skills designed to ‘counter’ or ‘negate’ every martial advantage the Samurai believed they possessed. In-short, the ‘Ninja’ communities represented a ‘different’ but related blue-print for Japanese feudal society – perhaps one that was internally democratic and fairer than its Samurai alternative, as women were considered ‘equal to men – and practiced martial techniques designed by women for women to use on the battlefield or during ‘assassinations’ - a key skill of the ‘Ninja’ warrior.
The character ‘忍’ (ren3) is comprised of a contracted version of the lower particle ‘心’ (xin1) - which translates as ‘mind’ and ‘heart’ - and the upper particle ‘刃’ (ren4) - which represents a ‘bladed weapon’ such as a ‘knife’ or ‘broad-sword’, The Japanese version of this ideogram appears to have a handle affixed to a blade – a blade said to be covered in ‘blood’:
When combined together, the ideogram ‘忍’ (ren3) suggests a situation where the human mind (and body) is said to be highly skilled swordsmanship – together with ‘tolerating’ the ‘lose’ of a certain amount of one’s own blood – as well as spilling that of the opponent. The training in this martial art is arduous and painful to experience – but this is the path that must be ‘endured’ if mastery is to be achieved. Whereas the ideogram ‘者’ (zhe3) is comprised of the lower particle ‘白’ (bai2) which carries the meaning of the colour ‘White’, whilst the upper particle is ‘耂’ (lao3) and refers to a ‘an old man who is bent-over and has long hair’ - usually implying ‘acquired wisdom overtime’. Therefore, ‘者’ (zhe3) appears to mean a ‘body of expert knowledge acquired by an individual over a long period of study’. The combined term of ‘忍者’ (Ren Zhe) - or ‘Ninja’ - refers to the concept of an ‘accumulated body of knowledge and martial arts skill and acquired by an extraordinary person overtime’. Or, an ‘acquired body of knowledge and martial arts skill that transforms an ordinary person into an extraordinary person’.
忍術 (Ninjutsu) - ‘Ren Shu’ = ‘Endurance Art’
忍法 (Ninpo) - ‘Ren Fa’ = ‘Endurance Law’
Ninjutsu originally derived from an indigenous, traditional Japanese fighting technique known as the ‘Thorn Kill Art’ (刺杀术 - Ci Sha Shu) - perhaps implying the ability to ‘assassinate an opponent using a poisoned-dart'. Later, this art absorbed several Chinese cultural influences such as the ‘Art of War’ by Sunzi", and the martial principles contained within the ‘Six Secret Teachings’, etc. There is a legend that a Chinese Buddhist monk travelled to Japan early-on, and brought various Tantric Buddhist and Traditional Chinese Medicine techniques (perhaps around the 8th century CE) which were combined with Japanese Shintoism. This mixture of Chinese and Japanese martial elements was integrated to finally form ‘Ninjutsu’. The techniques of ‘evasion’ and ‘invisibility’ in were emphasised in the city – whilst ‘ambushes’ and the ability to suddenly ‘disappear’ was perfected in the mountainous areas.
Chinese Language Reference:
Shifu Adrian Chan-Wyles (b. 1967) - Lineage (Generational) Inheritor of the Ch'an Dao Hakka Gongfu System.