Correspondents: Chen Hong (陈弘) & Zhou Lili (周莉莉) - Text & Photographs (Except Signatured)
Translated By Shifu Adrian Chan-Wyles PhD ( © )
Yongchun (永春) White Crane Fist (白鹤拳 - Bai He Quan) is one of the seven major martial arts styles developed in Fujian Province. It was created during the late Ming and early Qing Dynasties and has spread throughout China, Southeast Asia, Europe and the United States. It is a national heritage of immeasurable cultural importance!
The Southern Shaolin Fighting Method (南少林拳法 - Nan Shao Lin Quan Fa) - which developed during the Tang and Song Dynasties – was popular in Fujian by the middle of the Ming Dynasty. In the Fujian area of Yongchun - no matter whether in the city or the countryside - there were countless practitioners of martial arts! The Southern Shaolin System was prevalent but with such styles as ‘Taizu’ (太祖) or ‘Grand Ancestor’ and ‘Houquan’ (猴拳) or ‘Monkey Fist’ being very prevalent! The area was economically and culturally prosperous! The ‘History of the Ming Dynasty’ (明史 - Ming Shi), Volume 91, Martial Aspiration Three (兵志三 - Bing Zhi San) - Recollections (记载 - Ji Zai) states: ‘The people of Yongchun possess tremendous fighting-spirit and are highly skilled in martial arts practice!’ Therefore, it can be historically proved that the Yongchun people's practice of martial arts has been highly developed as early as the middle of the Ming Dynasty!
Yongchun White Crane Fist is one of the seven major fighting styles developed in Fujian Province. It was founded during the late Ming and early Qing dynasties. It takes the ‘White Crane’ bird as its spiritual, psychological and physical inspiration (形 - Xing) or ‘Form’ (‘Kata’ in Japanese martial arts) and manifests this inspiration in its general fighting method! The White Crane practitioner understands how to ‘move’ and remain ‘still’ - and how to transition between these two states with a smooth and non-confused accuracy controlled by an underlying higher knowledge that embraces the practitioner, the opponent and the environment! Furthermore, a White Crane practitioner fully comprehends the ‘empty’ (虚 - Xu) and the ‘full’ (实 - Shi) and how and when each is to be used so that the opponent is continuously ‘uprooted’ - whilst the White Crane practitioner is continuously strengthened! All the energy channels in the body (the eight extraordinary and the twelve ordinary) are opened, unified and fully functioning (transporting and strengthening Qi 精, Jing 氣 and Shen 神)! As this is the case, the mind, body and spirit are unified, just as the bones and joints are aligned (allowing the bodyweight to drop into the ground – and effortlessly rebound back up and out of the body – through the relevant striking areas). All movement is perfectly timed, and the speed is so fast that an opponent has difficulty discerning the blows as they are naturally ‘released’ from the limbs of the White Crane practitioner! The hands and feet alternate with a perfect timing and balance that is bewildering to encounter! The White Crane practitioner can ‘vary’ the 'speed’ of each blow so as to bypass the habitual (and expected) movements of an opponent’s defensive reactions! The White Crane practitioner can be as solid as a mountain or as light a feather – depending upon the ‘intention’ of the practitioner and the necessity of the moment! Those who master these ‘internal’ Shaolin martial arts can appear to ‘manifest’ and ‘disappear’ at will – as they manipulate the perception of the opponent! This is why there is said to be a blend of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ martial techniques! This style has been circulating in China and Southeast Asia for more than 300 years, and it is popular in Europe and the United States. As a consequence, this type of Chinese martial art is considered a quintessential manifestation of Chinese martial culture!
According to research - Ip Man (叶问 - Ye Wen) who is well-known at home and abroad as the teacher of the great Bruce Lee – taught his style of ‘Wing Chun Fist’ (咏春拳 - Yong Chun Quan) which was heavily influenced by the fighting techniques of Yongchun White Crane Fist. Bruce Lee used all this martial arts knowledge to later develop his system of fighting termed ‘Jeet Kune Do’ (截拳道 - Jie Quan Dao)! Furthermore, Chinese, Okinawan and Japanese scholars all agree that the style of fighting known as ‘Goju Ryu Karate-Do' (刚柔流空手道 - Gang Rou Liu Kong Shou Dao) has its theoretical and technical roots firmly embedded in the fertile martial ground that is Yongchun White Crane Fist!
Chen Hong (陈弘) - the President of the China Yongchun White Crane Fist Research Association - pointed out that there are many technical similarities between Fujian Yongchun White Crane Fist and the Guangdong martial style known as ‘Wing Chun Kune’ (咏春拳 - Yong Chun Quan)! For instance, before issuing a blow, the Yongchun White Crane Fist practitioner must first centre his or her own mind, body and spirit – gather up the accumulated energy and direct this ball of power toward the ‘centre-line’ of the opponent’s body! This gather and emitting ‘internal’ and ‘external’ power through the Conception Vessel 任脉 - Ren Mai) - whilst targeting the Conception Vessel of the opponent! This is the real meaning behind the ‘Centre-Line Theory’ which many only pay lip-service to. This is identical to the ‘Centre-Line’ theory as found in Wing Chun (and many other martial systems)! Furthermore, Wing Chun is also famous for the power its practitioners produce during their ‘one-inch punch’ demonstrations! This is termed ‘寸劲’ (Cum Jin) or ‘inch strength’ or the ability to generate ‘explosive short-range power’! Within Yongchun White Crane Fist, this same ability is known as ‘寸劲节力’ (Cum Jin Jie Li) or ‘inch power direct energy’! In both systems the feet are generally rooted with the knees remaining flexible to accommodate a dextrous upper body which delivers fast and massively powerful blows of all descriptions, landing at all levels! These include open and closed hands, fore-arms, elbow-strikes, upper-arms, shoulder and blows with the head! The torso ‘twists’ left and right through the pelvis and around the spine – whilst swaying and leaning left and right (forward and back at oblique angles) – all through, around, away from and back to the ‘centre-line’! The famous ‘chi-sow’ (黐手 - Chi Shou) or ‘stick hand’ technique of Wing Chun is very similar to the ‘pan shou’ (盘手) ‘enveloping hand’ technique found in Yongchun White Crane Fist! Although Wing Chun has been developed for more than 100 years, and is a renowned style of fighting, nevertheless, the shadow of Yongchun White Crane Fist still clearly looms in the background!
Chen Hong (陈弘) has been researching the theory and practice of Yongchun White Crane Fist for many years, particularly with regards to practitioners living or taking refuge within Guangdong! During the Qing Dynasty reign of emperors Xianfeng (咸丰) [reigned 1850-1861] - and the Tongzhi (同治) emperor (reigned 1861-1875) - there lived a couple of Yongchun White Crane Masters named ‘Lin Jun’ (林俊) and Chen Hu (陈湖) who took an active part in the Peasant Uprisings! Indeed, many such martial arts Masters participated in these uprising! Hong Xiuquan (洪秀全) led the ‘Taiping Heavenly Kingdom’ uprising which engulfed large parts of China – including Fujian province! ‘Lin Jun’ (林俊) was personally appointed by Hong Xiuquan (洪秀全) as one of the ‘Strong Kings of Three Thousand Years’ - stationed in the Fujian area! This gave him command of thousands of Taiping troops! Despite many early victories and tremendous battles – the Taiping were defeated, and the surviving rebels had to flee! Many of these fugitives fled all over China whilst being pursued by a Qing Army led by ‘Zou Zongtang’ (左宗棠) - which drove them out of Fujian and into the Guangdong and Zhejiang areas – where the Yongchun White Crane Fist practitioners had to adopt disguises and live secret lives (whilst teaching disciples behind the scenes – often at night)! These survivors were inspired by ‘Lin Jun’ (林俊) - where his reputation is still bright and shining in China today!
During the mid-Qing Dynasty, with the increasingly frequent unofficial cultural exchanges between Okinawa (Ryukyu), Japan and Taiwan, some White Crane Fist disciples went to Dongying (东瀛) to teach martial arts; many Japanese merchants who travelled to the Mainland for business and employment, also began to learn White Crane Fist and transmitted it back to Japan. During 1877, Higaonna Kanryo travelled from Okinawa to Fuzhou and studied Yongchun White Crane Fist. After three years of intense training, Higaonna Kanryo returned to his home in Okinawa – transmitting White Crane Fist as he went! After integrating White Crane Fist with Okinawan fighting techniques – the art of ‘Goju Ryu’ Karate-Do was eventually developed (by Miyagi Cholun – the key disciple of Higaonna Kanryo in Okinawa). It is clear from this example that White Crane Fist rejuvenated the Okinawan fighting arts! Another example lies with ‘Wang Xiangui’ (吴贤贵) who used to work for the Fuzhou Tower River Water Ministry (福州台江水部的 - Fu Zhou Tai Jiang Shui Bu) - but in 1912 he travelled to Okinawa where he met Higaonna Kanryo – who had established the ‘Eternal Light’ (永光 - Yongguang) Tea Shop (茶行 - Cha Xing). As he saw that Higaonna Kanryo and his disciples already knew ‘Yong chun White Crane Fist’ - he decided to teach the Okinawans the ‘Whooping Crane Fist’ (鸣鹤拳 - Ming He Quan) variant! It was the disciples of Higaonna Kanryo who had trained with Wu Xiangui that formed the ‘Okinawa Strong Foundation Association’ (冲绳刚泊会 - Chong Sheng Gang Po Hui)! Tokashiki, the President of Japan's Okinawa Goju Ryu Karate-Do Association, has been searching for many years to find the identity of the Chinese Masters who taught Higaonna Kanryo! Finally, the source of Yongchun White Crane Fist in Okinawa was discovered in Fujian - and a "remarkable monument" was raised in the Fujian Provincial Sports Centre (in 1990)!
During October 1928, the first national martial arts examination was held in Nanjing since its abolition in 1911 – following the overthrow and abolition of the Qing Dynasty and its feudalist and imperialistic system! Yongchun County in Fujian sent a martial arts expert known as ‘Jin jing’ (晋京) - who placed first in every category and won every available award! Indeed, Yongchun as a place was awarded with the title ‘Central Hall of Martial Arts Execellence’ (中央国术馆 - Zhong Yang Guo Shu Guan)! This meant that a government-sponsored centre of martial arts practice was established, legally protected and funded in the Fujian area! The advent of Yongchun White Crane Fist in the 20th century served to strengthen China not only in the eyes of its own people – but also in the eyes of those across the world – a view held and expressed by Mr. Tan Kah Kee (陈嘉庚) - who further stated, ‘China as a country has been strengthened by the vigour of our own martial arts!’ He also said, ‘Promote the strengthening essence and eradicate the weak!’ During August 1929, in his honour, he requested that the Yongchun White Crane Fist School contribute to the formation of a ‘Central Martial Arts Hall Southern Fujian Martial Arts Touring and Exhibition Group’ be formed to travel around China and to do so abroad! Its first performance was at ‘Xingma’ (星马) - but became the first martial arts delegation to go abroad in the history of Chinese Martial arts - creating a precedent for overseas cultural exchanges focusing upon martial culture!
Mr. Tan Kah Kee met with all the members of the martial arts troupe many times to promote the concept of ‘strengthening the country by promoting martial arts’, and on the spot, he gave the correct title to the Southern Fujian Martial Arts Troupe: ‘Who is the sick man of East Asia – Certainly not the Chinese people! This shame is eradicated by the mastery of Wu Weiyang (武维扬)! Do not forget that the grandsons and granddaughters of the Yellow Emperor can be reborn anywhere – even as fishes! Perhaps the Heros of the Central Plane Create Cities that are dry!’
In 2008, Yongchun White Crane Fist was included in the national heritage list as being of immeasurable cultural value! Today, there are an estimated 100,000 practitioners of Yongchun White Crane Fist, with thousands of experts and hundreds of top-class Masters! Fuzhou has also successfully held the first World Conference for Yongchun White Crane Fist – which attracted thousands of diverse people from all over the world – including many hundreds of Karate-Do practitioners! Yongchun White Crane Fist has also been a vehicle for good-natured and friendly exchanges across the straits! Throughout the martial arts competitions of the world - Yongchun White Crane Fist practitioners won more than 1,000 awards in various competitions at all levels! This style of martial culture is deeply rooted in Okinawa and across the world! As the theoretical and technical foundation for Okinawan Karate-Do – particularly GoJu Ryu – Yong Chun White Crane Fist has inspired a rich academic research genre, that has spread from educational facilities and on to the internet, as well as in books and in films! There have even been theatre performances, plays and other ‘live’ action and educational activities! At the same time, Yongchun White Crane Fist is entering the fields of health, culture and tourism, etc., and its comprehensive and all-round positive effect is becoming increasingly apparent. The United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, Moldova, Poland, the United States, Sweden, Switzerland, Iran, Malaysia and other countries, as well as Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, have all established professional organizations for the inheritance and practice of Yongchun White Crane Fist - in order to establish the ‘World Yongchun White Crane Fist Association' - which now has now laid a solid foundation.
Reporter: Ceng Guangtai (曾广太)
Correspondents: Chen Hong (陈弘) & Zhou Lili (周莉莉) - Text & Photographs (Except Signatured)
All the Goju Ryu Kata names are written in the Chinese language. Although today, this is often related in the 'Simplified' script - older Okinawan texts record these names as being written in the 'Traditional' script. This does not alter, change or otherwise disrupt the concept being conveyed - at least not when in the hands of a competent translator!
9) 久留顿破 (Okinawan Pronunciation 'Kururunfa' - Chinese Pronunciation 'Jiuliudunpo')
a) 久 (jui3) = long (time), moxibustion and endure
The ideogram 久 (jui3) is said to be in the same series of ancient indicators representing a man receiving medical treatment over a long period of time. Indeed, he is receiving 'moxibustion' On the other hand, there is also the hint that this might be a 'foot-print' left in the ground a very long time ago. Some dictionaries indicate this ideogram might refer to an 'old man', etc. 'Time' and the 'observing' and/or the patient 'experiencing' of the passing of time seems to be the working hypothesis.
b) 留 (liu2) = stay, remain and hold one's ground
The top element '卯' (mao3) relates to the fourth of twelve earthly branches, a rabbit (as found within Chinese Astrology) and the time of early morning, etc. The bottom element is '田' (tian2) which indicates a 'field'. Every is correct if it is properly 'timed' to coincide with environmental and psychological conditions.
c) 顿 [頓] (dun4) = pause, stop, stamp, halt and wait
The left-hand particle is '屯' (tun2) which represent a 'sprout' of a plant growing out of the ground. The right-hand particle is '頁' (ye4) which relates to a wise person's 'head' (perhaps a leader) - but which later came to represent a sheet of paper that wise instructions were written upon.
d) 破 (po4) = break, destroy, rout, smash, tear and drive away
The left-hand particle is '石' (shi2). The lower element is a 'stone' or 'rock' which has fallen from a great height with considerable force. This is indicated by the upper element of '厂' (han3) which symbolises the 'cliff' from which the stone or rock has fallen. The right-hand particle is '皮' (pi2) which is comprised of the lower element of a hand '又' (you4) holding a stone knife which is being used to strip away the fur from the pelt of a dead animal. Therefore, 破 (po4) denotes the 'attacking' and 'destroying' of the outer structure of the enemy.
Translator's Note: The Kata 'Kururunfa' (久留顿破) shares the same last ideogram as the Kata 'Saifa' (碎破) - namely '破' (po4) pronounced 'fa' in Okinawa. Again, we have the heavy rock which has fallen with a great force from a high ledge situated on a remote cliff top! It is interesting how the Kata names of Goju Ryu contain recurring martial concepts - as would be expected from a well established and ancient martial art!
It is interesting how the inner and outer body develops in relation to each fully rounded system, style and school, etc. Each lineage, although comprised of diverse elements from various and very different historical and/or cultural backgrounds, are welded together by a dominant founding-figure, so that a central (interpretating) ethos makes sense of it all! Therefore, if an individual practices a particular system for decades, the inner and outer 'frequency' of how their psychological and biological processes operate - takes on this exact ethos to the exclusion of all other alternatives. In other words, an individual becomes the epitome of the very martial tradition they have committed their life to following! Their thought and physical processes all start to manifest in a specific manner. Health is optimised - even when accidents happen or genetic illnesses appear. A transcending awareness starts to operate whereby the body (regardless of its state or function) is perfect just as it is regardless of conventional issues of health, well-being, ability or disability, etc. This is the mind transcending the body, with the body learning to operate through and around its own limitations, hindrances and obstacles. From a martial perspective, the job is done with efficiency and through the path of least resistance. This is particularly important for the experience of the ageing process - whereby a certain type of inexperienced strength and vigour gives way to a far more profound depth of understanding that is so powerful and exact that it lifts up the physical body (regardless of its state) like a cork floating on the ocean. The young people do not understand this and cannot predict its movement - hence their youth renders them susceptible to defeat through not paying attention and not applying the learning experience. Furthermore, although all aged Masters from different traditions no longer conflict and are well aware of the uniqueness of one another's path, they themselves also appreciate that their own style has bestowed upon each a specific frequency of functionality. Although they can progressively exchange technical information and advice - they also know the true meaning of 'lineage' and how it is like a flowing river from the past to the present, and from the present to future! I suppose we all get used to our own particular frequency of current!
The 'Horse Stance' (馬步 - Ma Bu) Developed from the Need to Sit Upon the Back of a Horse (or Pony) and Control that Animal by the 'Gripping' of the Legs as They Envelop (and Control) the Belly of the Horse! The Pelvic-Girdle Shifts Left, Right or Centre as it 'Directs ' Force! The Horse Moves in the Direction of the Line of Greatest Force! This Technique, When Applied to Standing on the Ground, Generates health, Longevity and tremendous Martial Power! This is Channelled Through the Torso, Head, arms, Legs, Hands and Feet! This is Seen in All Chinese Forms and Japanese Katas!
It is interesting what you say about the idea the of Seiunchin and Seipai Katas once forming a single unit of practice (that is a 'single' Kata). This is exactly the same situation with the three Longfist Forms in our family Hakka style - which contain 32 movements each - but once was practiced as a single Form containing 96 movements! To assist the investigation we can have a look at the etymology of the names of these two Goju Ryu Kata and see if any evidence presents itself:
Kata - Seiunchin = 制引戦
制 (Chinese) = Zhi - 制 (Japanese) = Sei - Control, Plan, Regulate, Law, Limit
引 (Chinese) = Yin - 引 (Japanese) = In - Draw (a bow), Pull, Lead, Stretch, Admit, Evade (Leave)
戦 (Chinese) = Zhan - 戦 (Japanese) = Sen - Battle, Fight, War and Conflict
Seiunchin Kata = Careful Bow-Drawing in Battle
Chinese Name = Zhi Yin Zhan (制引戦)
Japanese Name = Sei In Sen (制引戦)
Okinawa Name = Sei Un Chin (制引戦)
Kata - Seipai = 十八手
十 (Chinese) = Shi - 十 (Japanese) = Ju - Ten, 10, X, Perfection and Utmost
八 (Chinese) = Ba - 八 (Japanese) = Hachi - 8, eight, VIII, Divide and Differentiate
手 (Chinese) = Shou - 手 (Japanese) = te - hand, open (hand), grip and handle
Seipai Kata = Eighteen Open Hand
Chinese Name: Shi Ba Shou (十八手)
Japanese Name: Ju Hachi Te (十八手)
Okinawa Name: Seipai (十八手)
It looks to me that the last word of the written name '十八手' (Shi Ba Shou) is missing in the way the Kata is named in the West. It seems that the Okinawan 'Seipai' equates to the Chinese 'Shi Ba' (Eighteen - as in '10' + '8') - but that the ideogram '手' (Shou) is missing from the name. The Okinawan name should probably read 'Seipaisou' or something similar. We are probably seeing the Fujian dialect preserved through the Okinawan language - with a descriptive word missing when the Kata is vocally discussed! I do not know why this is. What might be of significance is Pan Yu Ba's 'Arahant Fist' (羅漢拳 - Luo Han Quan) - which is also known as 'Arahant Eighteen Hands' (罗汉十八手 - Luo Han Shi Ba Shou).
Does the Seipai Kata represent the 'Arahant Fist'? Even so, there is the closed 'fist' (拳 - Quan) and then there is the 'Open Hand' (手 - Shou). As you know, Sensei, both types of hand are always used - together with the 'palm' (掌 - Zhang). When I was in various Buddhist temples in China, most had statues of the Eighteen Arahants (all enlightened visitors from India thousands of years ago) spread around the periphery of the grounds facing outward with each statue holding different positions with their hands and feet (this sometimes reminds me of Tensho Kata).
I spoke and practiced with Warrior-Monks and Nuns who all talked about rebirth, karma and 'meeting' one another again in different lifetimes. There was no violence at all with the flowing hand and foot movements 'evading' every violent movement. However, these people 'sensed' exactly when greed, hatred and delusion was present in the mind of the opponent - and they immediately took action to dissolve it with loving kindness, compassion and understanding! Most of these 'Arahant' Forms involve 'evasion' and simply 'not being there' rather than any forceful application. When power was needed, however, it was generated a) from the ground, and b) from the body-mass of the opponent - as their bodyweight was momentarily 'borrowed' before being 'given back'!
What we might be looking at is a combined Goju Ryu Kata entitled 'Arahant Eighteen Hands Regulate and Drawing the Battle Bow'! It could be named like this '羅漢十八手制引戦' (Luo Han Ba Shou Zhi Yin Zhan).
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!
This is not exactly the same as Bare Knuckle Boxing as practiced in the contemporary West – but might be nearer to the ‘bare knuckle’ equivalent (under the ‘London Prize Fighting Rules’) practiced in the West prior to the advent of the Queensbury Rules and the implementation of ‘gloved’ fighting (in the late 1800s). Indeed, the further back in time the comparison is taken – the nearer the two forms of combat become – with Western boxing originally involving throwing and kicking, and used as an unarmed augmentation to fighting with staffs, swords and pistols, etc. A book I read in my youth in the UK was entitled ‘Cross-Buttocks and Claret’ - referring to bloody public spectacles of punching, kicking, tripping and throwing!
My father (Peter Wyles) – from the working-class slums of Leicester was taught by his father (Alfred Gregory Wyles 1916-1976) the bare-knuckle style passed-on by his father (Archibald Britton Wyles 1887-1941 – born in Duddington, Northamptonshire). A bolt upright – two-armed affair that relied on a solid and repetitive jab occasionally follow by a straight-right – the closed hand of which would habitually be used to protect the chin when not being thrown (the 'point' of the chin 'sits' in the 'eye' of the closed-fist). Coupled with elaborate foot-work and ‘swaying’ from the hips – no hooks were used. The arms were used like ‘bats’ to ‘catch’ and ‘hit’ away any incoming blows – including head-butts and elbows. Correct-positioning overcame rapid and continuous movement whilst power of punch overcame diversity of punch. I suspect that in an era when people in the West had never encountered Asian martial arts (or ‘French Savate’), the general paradigm around ‘fighting movement’ would have been quite different and premised upon historical Western institutions involving fighting arts and any innovations that had developed out of these entities.
Modern weaponry and service in the professional military (and particularly experiences of combat) may have developed variants and styles of fighting all over the UK. Brutal hand to hand fighting to the death on the battlefield may have ended in unarmed combat when weapons broke, bayonets snapped and ammunition ran-out. Fighting in fairgrounds and outside public house is, of course, a British institution and I have met a number of Romany people in the UK who have been brought-up fighting ‘bare-knuckle’ in what they call the ‘Gypsy Style’! Generally speaking, these Romany people have treated both my Asian and Western martial history with a great respect. As Romany people have had to fight to defend their very existence throughout the years – obviously as a people they have developed a very healthy respect for the fighting arts!
Foundational Taijiquan is practiced by those with health or mobility issues. This is a gentle set of physical movements designed to get a person moving around in a dextrous manner. Taijiquan can be very useful for those who are not fit and need some type of co-ordinated physical movement combined with deep and full breathing. With repetition this training process can build strength in the legs, improve balance and dexterity, and enhance the circulation of oxygen throughout the body by relaxing any and all unnecessary muscular tension. Through aligning the bones (and dropping the bodyweight into the ground), the bones, joints, ligaments and tendons are made more ‘robust’ through correct weight-bearing! Many people spend years working on this practice and quite often gain a considerable suppleness through this relaxation and the sharpening of ‘awareness’ in the mind!
For many practitioners in the West, Taijiquan is encountered only later in life, and quite often is not the common spectacle it is in China and throughout many diasporic Chinese communities. The popularity of basic Taijiquan (even in China) relies on quick courses which involve a ‘coach’ who has learned a Short Taijiquan Form over a six-week time period and is then tasked with conveying these movements to two or three classes of students a few times a week! This approach certainly gets the basic techniques ‘out there’ and gives dedicated individuals a training platform which they can build upon at a later date. This can involve longer and more complex Taijiquan Forms (of which there are many Styles), and can even include competitions, seminars and demonstrations, etc. However, even if this type of practice results in winning a World Title for ‘moving about effectively’ - this is still not the complete Taijiquan practice.
If you want to master the proper and in-depth practice of Taijiquan, you will have to find a genuine gongfu Master who is knowledgeable in Daoist self-cultivation technique and knows how to ‘fight’ in real life without compromising the sublime spiritual vision that underlies the Chinese martial arts. Following decades training with Master Chan Tin Sang (1924-1993) - I now occasionally have the honour of meeting the odd male or female Taijiquan Master through ‘invitation’ so that my physical and spiritual understanding of Taijiquan can be ‘tested’ and ‘confirmed’. Such encouragement ‘dissolves’ difficult to see ‘habitual blocks’ in the mind and body and moves onward or deeper into penetrating the empty essence of the Dao – as all movement is equally ‘empty’ and ‘still’ - this is why an immense power emanates through the channels that connect the ‘broad earth’ to the ‘divine sky’. This is why every perfect technique is both immensely ‘powerful’ and equally ‘empty’ from beginning to end – and within this freedom is vibrating a positive light that is a combination of wisdom, loving kindness and compassion for the entirety of existence!
Advanced Taijiquan is a product of a perfected state of mind and body that expresses the perfect Taijiquan technique – but which is no longer ‘limited’ to the practice of the physical Taijiquan Form - which naturally manifests every moment of everyday, whether formally training, lying in bed, going to the toilet, meditating, making love or carrying-out your work! As many of you reading this either have a low opinion of Taijiquan or believe Taijiquan cannot be used for combat (viewpoints that are a product of a lack of direct cultural knowledge), the manner in which Taijiquan technique is used on a kick-bag is simple and straightforward.
Advanced Taijiquan expresses the entire ‘bodyweight’ through any part of the body without any undue effort. Just as the bodyweight ‘drops’ into the ground through the aligned bone-structure – a re-bounding force naturally rises up continuously and without a break in the circuit. This remains true just as long as a practitioner is stood within a strong gravitational field. I start a suitable distance from the kick-bag and carry-out a mini-form set of co-ordinated movements that brings my body nearer the kick-bag and sets-up the power-technique! Today, I started with the left leg forward and threw on the spot a left-lead punch, right-reverse punch and left-lead punch. Weight shifted back onto the reverse right-leg (with bent left-leg forward in ‘cat stance’) and I throw a front-snap kick – landing forward on my properly placed left-foot and bringing the weight onto the left-leg. The power-shot is the reverse right roundhouse-kick – which swings through the air and impacts the bag with considerable and unhindered power! The process is repeated on the other side of the body and I repeat this for three-minutes.
Any combination of techniques can be used that test the ‘smoothness’ of Taijiquan technique on the one-side – and the unbroken (and considerable) power on the other. Obviously, being ‘rooted’ is important as is continuously changing sides so that left and right are properly trained and tested (as true combat is unpredictable unlike fighting with rules during sporting encounters). The mind should be calm, still, aware and all-embracing so that it is ‘reflective’ of all phenomena (like a mirror). The Buddhist Surangama Sutra explains this principle, as do various Daoist texts such as the Laozi and Zhuangzi, etc, and the ‘Book of Changes’ (Yijing). Not everyone is trained to this depth of Taijiquan attainment, and not everyone wants to be trained to this degree – but it is an option with the proper training and instruction.
Advanced martial arts practice is ethereal even though it involves the movement of the body. In fact, moving the body is basic gongfu training, a mastery of which should be gained in one’s youth if possible. When the body ‘ages’ - a practitioner does not want the problem of mastering martial technique whilst coming to terms with how ‘ageing’ changes the mind and body. Knowing how to stand, fall, get-up, moving, kick, punch, block and evade, etc, are foundational issues that must be thoroughly absorbed into the deepest levels of the mind and body well before middle-age is reached. Of course, this is not always the case, as some people take-up the practice of traditional Chinese martial arts late in life – but with regards the more robust and rugged ‘external’ techniques – youthful practice is preferred. This is why many older people (with no previous experience) start their martial arts training through one of the ‘internal’ arts – which are a product of an ‘advanced’ and ‘mature’ mind-set.
On the other hand, if an individual is able to build 20-30 years of training prior to hitting 40-50 years of age – then the bones, joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons and inner organs have all had time to experience a ‘hardening’ process over-time - and are far more ‘robust’ whilst the individual traverses into older age. Probably the greater reason for early martial arts practice is that the ability to produce massive (internal and external) impact power (with minimum) effort must be mastered before the body transitions into older age. This observation does not mean that older people cannot achieve this ability later in their life – but to already possess this devastating power is one less burden – particularly as we may also have far more responsibilities as mature people than the average young person. However, with the right type of instruction from a genuine Master, anyone of any age can ‘master’ gongfu regardless of circumstances. Motivation is the key to it all.
The mind must be ‘still’ and ‘expansive’. Its psychic fabric must be simultaneously ‘empty’ and yet ‘envelop’ all things without exception! Although there is much experimentation in the West with the physical techniques of the many (and varied) gongfu styles – very few practitioners are interested in the spiritual or higher psychological aspects of traditional Chinese martial arts. This is because gongfu has been taught the wrong way around in the West to suit the cultural bias of the fee-paying audience. Whereas in China kicking is learned before punching – in the West punching is taught before kicking (because of the influence of Western Boxing). Whereas in China a gongfu practitioner learns to stand still and to stand ‘solid’ whilst defending the ten directions – in the West students are taught to move around before being taught how to ‘stand still’ (this is because Western students do not understand the important of achieving inner and outer ‘stillness’). Whereas in China gongfu student learn to ‘relax’ before assuming postures – in the West students are taught to ‘stretch’ using yoga-like techniques (mostly unknown in China). Whereas students in China learn to ‘strike’ various wooden objects to condition the bones of the hands and feet – in the West, students are encouraged to hit ‘soft’ pads that give a false impression of what it is like to hit a ‘real’ body! In the West, the mind is ‘entertained’ as a means to secure continued fee-paying through class attendance – whilst in China the Master continuously looks for new ways of ‘testing’ the virtue of the student and for any reason to ‘expel’ them from the training hall!
All this ‘inversion’ must be remedied if the highest levels of spiritual and physical mastery are to be achieved. This has nothing to do with rolling around on a padded floor wearing padded-gloves – and everything to do with ‘looking within’ to refine the flow of internal energy. The awareness of the mind must permeate every cell of the physical body whilst the practitioner sits correctly in the meditation posture. What else is there? When advanced practitioners ascend to a certain age of maturity, reality has nothing to do with the ego pursuit of ‘winning’ or ‘losing’ in petty disputes that ultimately mean nothing. Most of the combat sports of the moment are fleeting and exist merely to make money – and they are ineffective on the modern battlefield and not practiced by the military! The final lesson is to ‘leave the body’ with the minimum of fuss when the time presents itself. In a very real sense, a genuine Master of martial arts has ‘already’ transcended the boundaries of material limitation whilst still living. This sense of ‘completion’ and ‘transcendence’ is what draws the already perceptive into his or her presence to receive instruction...
Author’s Note: I have had the honour to train and spar with a number of very tough and yet very relaxed Muay Thai fighters over the years! All have been hardened fighters with a gentle spirit and respectful spirit. Muay Thai fighters (along with Goju Ryu Karate men) are amongst the few opponents in the world that I can trust with me hitting them ‘full-power’ with ungloved-hands during free-fighting. In return, their blows are sharp, powerful, decisive and repetitive! I have the utmost respect for this Thai Buddhist martial art! ACW (5.5.2021)
The deep-rooted foundation of Muay Thai – or ‘Thai Boxing’ - do not lie in the brightly and well-funded gymnasia of the modern Thai city, but exist in the poorest areas of the jungles and the remotest of Thai villages. Depending on where the art is still practiced, Muay Thai is often linked to an ancient local Buddhist Temple – with esteemed Buddhist bhikkhus (monks) acting as the instructors and preservers of the tradition. The cultural basis of Muay Thai represents the psychological and physical reality of what it historically means to be born ‘Thai’. Thai Boxing is form of ritual veneration for the Buddha, the Dhamma and Sangha – as well as the King of Thailand, the government and the Thai people. As a consequence, Muay Thai has no other purpose in its most traditional form.
Muay Thai is much more than preparing a fighter to compete in the modern ring. Muay Thai is a fully-fledged medieval military art designed to train Asian infantrymen as they advance into battle escorting battle-elephants (the infantry ‘protects’ the vulnerable underbellies of the elephant from enemy attack, etc). The male and female warriors are psychologically and physically ‘toughened’ so to produce effective and hardened soldiers fit to fight in prolonged hand-to-hand engagements on the battlefield. Through harsh and brutal training all day long – the mind is ‘calmed’ and ‘purified’ so that all greed, hatred and delusion are uprooted and eradicated in accordance with the Buddhist Vinaya Discipline. This is why a Muay Thai warrior is a ‘Buddhist’ warrior to venerates and applied the Buddha’s Teachings (‘Dhamma’) in every facet of his or her life. This activity is regulated by the educated eyes of the Sangha (or the ‘community of ordained Buddhist monks’).
We Take Refuge in the Buddha!
We Take Refuge in the Dhamma!
We Take Refuge in the Sangha!
We Take Refuge in the Triple Gem!
This is the ritualistic vow that every Muay Thai warrior repeats with a total and complete devotion early every morning as they rise from their simple straw mat which they use as a ‘bed’. After toileting and drinking a little water – the daily training begins by running two or three miles at a steady pace around the temple and local villages. The pace is slow but steady. Speed is not the purpose – but rather stamina, strength and endurance. Rubbing the shins and fore-arms with wooden rolling-pin type devices slowly develops into the anatomical weapons being sharply ‘struck’ by these heavy objects (at the advanced level – this includes striking different parts of the skull). This leads to rope-work (or ‘skipping) to work-up a sweat before body-conditioning begins.
After working on the strengthening of the bones it is time to strengthen the muscles, tendons and ligaments. Different Masters use different types of sit-ups, squat-kicks, back-raises, press-ups and loosening and stretching exercises. Relaxation coupled with strength and endurance is emphasised. All this voluntary suffering is designed to ‘burn-off’ the bad Kamma produced in the endless previous lives that have been lived by these Buddhist warriors. Next is the technique of striking, blocking, kicking, punching, head-butting and elbowing, etc. This includes groin-kicking and how to defend against groin-attacks. Devastating knee-attacks delivered at various (and unpredictable angles) are used to break ribs and paralyse the diaphragm of an opponent. This progresses to many different kinds of pad-work and bag-striking. Some bags are full of sand and others of small stones and the fighters must learn to punch and kick each with no injury or loss of stamina or will-power.
This leads to various forms of ‘sparring’ in the ring either with or without gloves. Nowadays, even the most traditional Muay Thai training temples usually ‘wrap’ the fighter’s hands early in the morning – although there are some traditional ‘hand-toughening’ exercises that involve punching trees, blocks of wood and various other objects. The hands are then treated with special (traditional) medicine. As violence is prohibited within Buddhism – greed. Hatred and delusion must be uprooted through long hours of seated mediation (usually in the evenings) and the reading of the Buddha’s Suttas. This distinctly ‘Buddhist’ training is the true foundation of Muay Thai and is the hidden conditioning ingredient to all the martial technique that this art involves.
Most people outside of Thailand only encounter the kick-boxing element of Muay Thai performed in a modern boxing ring. Traditional Muay Thai is fought on a raised stone disc or dais (after each performs a ritualised martial dance to the Hindu God Rama and the and the Buddha) Fighters have their hands wrapped by a thin and course rope (not Western bandage-wraps). Sometimes the hand-wraps are dip in a type of glue and then dipped into broken-glass – depending on the purpose of the fight. A rattan ring is worn around the top of the head as a form of skull-protection from the powerful round-kicks delivered with bare-feet, etc. For the King of Thailand, not only are his most trusted bodyguards all advanced Muay Thai warriors – but at least two specialise in the technique of double-swordsmanship incase a traditional ‘beheading’ is required of a convicted criminal.
As the Muay Thai warriors hold the status of ordained Buddhist monks – all are ‘celibate’ whilst they live and train in the Muay Thai Temple. There is no mixing with females allowed and certainly no girlfriends, or wives, etc. When not engaged in the actual physical training of Muay Thai – such a warrior-monk is expected to engage in studying the Buddhist Suttas, meditating, cleaning the temple and humbly serving the monks, etc. As they start training and fighting as young as 5 or 6-years old, a Muay Thai fighter could well in excess of two-hundred fights by the time he or she is 25-years old! Unless a Muay Thai fighter ‘retires’ and leaves his or her status as a Buddhist warrior monk – there can be no relationships with the opposite sex allowed.
Muay Thai is an ancient martial art that has been adapted to the modern, Western-boxing ring very well. I am of the opinion that it is one of the best all-round striking, grappling and throwing martial arts in the world today, that has retained its deep spiritual roots in modern times. Westerners, by comparison, possess a psychology and physicality that is all incorrect for Muay Thai. They do not possess the deep Thai cultural connection to the Buddha or to Buddhist culture. They have no understanding of Buddhism or any respect for the Dhamma, the Sangha or the Thai King. They know nothing about quietening the mind and uprooting greed, hatred and delusion. They think and move like a Western-boxer from a Judeo-Christian culture that has ‘secularised’.
This mentality is shot-through with the capitalist ideology and a one-sided effort defeats a multisided foundation. Westerners place all their and determination in the wrong place (as can be seen from the above video). When confronted with the best Muay Thai Masters – they incorrectly believe that if they just try harder – their inappropriate manifestation will somehow ‘work’ despite never working in the past during similar situations. They employ a lateral determination against the ‘deep’ and ‘profound’ training of a celibate Muay Thai warrior monk – as this is the case – why should they win? Why should this disrespectful and entirely incorrect interpretation of the Asian martial art of Muay Thai be allowed to succeed? This is where Western notions of ‘effort’ fall flat on their face – with no sympathy from me!
My personal preference is inner development through the life of a hermit (i.e., ‘eremite’) – rather than through the ‘coenobitic’ (i.e., ‘community-based’) life of a monk living in a cloistered - but interacting community. This may stem from my upbringing as a Chinese-Buddhist and my experience of being a Buddhist monastic attached to a Ch’an lineage in Hong Kong – but ordered to spend hours, days, weeks, months and years sitting alone in the local Name Temple of a Hakka village in the New Territories. This also included a period of some months sat in the isolation of the Devonshire moors in the UK – where the weather (and culture) was very different! The details do not really matter – what matters is the quality of the ‘inner gazing’. Whilst experiencing further and higher education in the UK, for reasons I cannot fathom, I was befriended by a number of Irish Roman Catholic priests and at least one Anglican vicar. As I do not believe in a theistic god – this was something of a surprise to me and them! Those I knew were good people – despite others not being so good (due to their conditioning) – such is life and there is no judgement on my part. People are human-beings and life does not always unfold slowly or as we would like it to.
I would say that what is important is the ‘quality’ of the ‘gaze’ as it is turned within. Many have endless problems perfecting the ‘gaze’ and so cannot ‘look within’ clearly. This is a common problem – East and West. Once the ‘gaze’ is perfected – it becomes vast and all-inclusive like a wide wall! Bodhidharma spoke of this but it is a concept often mistranslated or misunderstood. A mature mind is expansive like the surface of a wall-face that never ends – as if a practitioner is sat meditating with ‘open-eyes’ in-front of a wall – the edges of which cannot be perceived when the gaze does not ‘wobble’! An external wall (that does not ‘move’) is like the ‘empty mind ground’ that lies deep within! If a practitioner spends hours contemplating an external object that stands as a metaphor for an internal level of attainment – then eventually the internal level will spontaneously ‘materialise’! This is why Bodhidharma came from the West – at least this is what the Caodong (Japanese: ‘Soto’) Masters say.
I was taught Chinese martial arts from a young child as a cultural pursuit which equated to the necessity of ‘communal defence’. This was the ancient Hakka tradition – with our Great Master Chan Tin Sang (1924-1993) - being the son of the Chan Family Name Clan Leader. He – and the Chan Family Clan – fought the Imperial Japanese invaders of Hong Kong from 1941-1945 – after the British Army was over-run in the region. The Sikhs in the Hong Kong Police changed sides and joined the Japanese and assisted in the massacre of ethnic Chinese and Europeans. For this treachery the Sikhs were forever expelled from the British Police and Military! Japanese soldiers stormed through hospitals raping nurses and bayonetting the ill and the wounded in their beds! At least 10,000 Hakka men, women and children died as a consequence of those years of resistance! The returning British even raised a monument praising the bravery of the Hakka people! I do not support warfare and would prefer a world without it – but as long as some humans use force to persecute other groups of humans – we must defend ourselves or die-out.
Master Chan Tin Sang possessed a progressive mind-set and believed in developing a better world – this is why he decided to bring his family to the UK in 1956. It was a difficult time of transition – but transition he did. Coping with the very real problems of the outer world is a skill a true spiritual martial artist must acquire. In this regard, this path is very much like that of Vimalakirti – the enlightened lay-man who was a contemporary of the Buddha. He had four wives and plenty of children – and yet never broke the vow demanding celibacy! He taught that the ‘Mind Precept’ is the essence of ALL monastic and Bodhisattva vows (a Chinese monastic must take and uphold the Vinaya and Bodhisattva Vows)! This is the penetrating and realising the ‘empty mind ground’ or that part of perception – non-perception that is the basis of all human ‘awareness’. The ‘empty mind ground’ is what the ancient Greeks refer to as the ‘psyche’ - or ‘breath of life’. It is interesting that the ancient Greeks understood that ‘breath’ and the ‘essence of conscious awareness’ are one and the same at the deepest level of perceptual attainment. Later, the Christian theologians re-interpreted the Greek term ‘psyche’ to mean ‘soul’ (possibly of Germanic origin) to refer to a movable spiritual entity that enters the mind and body at conception – and leaves the body at the point of death, etc.
As I get older it becomes ever clearer to me that martial arts mastery is not ‘physical’ but rather conceptual. It is a mind-body nexus of permanent and intimate association. Such an attainment is no longer limited to designated periods of physical training – but is present whether awake or asleep. It exists as the backdrop to everyday life and influences opinions and behaviour. It is an innate awareness of the ‘position’, ‘alignment’ and ‘interaction’ of the joints, the long bone-shafts and the solid ground. Every position and movement are permanently ‘powerful’ with no hesitation, fore-thought or doubt present. The seated meditation position is as combatively perfect as standing in stance, sat in chair or lifting up a weight, etc. The consciousness is calm, vast and unruffled like a perfect seascape at sunset! Always available bodyweight grants instant ‘power’ without any sense of weakness or problem with attitude. Each moment naturally folds into the next and there is no worry, contradiction or complication. There is only the eternal perfected moment of being – clear and vast for all to see!
Being a hermit means that a spiritual practitioner does not get entangled in the world he or she happens to exist within. Sitting ‘still’ and ‘clear’ means that the essence of being in the world is understood to be nothing but an all-embracing ‘void’ of reality that has no beginning and end. The material body exists within this ‘void’ and seems to be ‘nothing’ when it is required to ‘disappear’ in an instant. This happens when an opponent cannot ‘perceive’ your presence when stood in-front of them. On the other hand, when the ‘void’ needs to manifest with the heaviness of a mountain – then the body becomes ‘solid’ and ‘immovable’ for all concerned. This has to be the case as there is no longer any duality to befuddle understanding and certainly nowhere for ‘hatred’ or ‘anger’ to manifest and sully the situation. Indeed, the underlying frequency of human love continues to ‘colour’ the entire situation regardless of the nature of the encounter. This is what happens when the seated meditation posture is assumed correctly and the empty mind ground penetrated. This is what it means to be a monastic who practices the hermetic path of self-development and material transcendence!
Shifu Adrian Chan-Wyles (b. 1967) - Lineage (Generational) Inheritor of the Ch'an Dao Hakka Gongfu System.