Translator's Note: Chinese martial arts are diverse in origination and influence. Although a broad designation of 'North' and 'South' can be made on the grounds of the geographical origination of the Founding Masters, and certain defining characteristics - a fighting style above all was premised upon its effectiveness in combat and there was little room for sentiment or an attachment to dogma! As a consequence, and despite the truth in the 'North' and 'South' designation, there are Southern styles that look Northern and their are Northern styles that appear Southern - and this to be expected considering the human propensity for adaptation! Furthermore, cross-fertilisation led to many hybrid styles and an outpouring of diverse variations - a phenomenon that is very much the norm within modern China! ACW (5.8.2022)
The term ‘idiom’ is from the Greek (and Late Latin) word ‘idioma’ - and was prevalent from the 1580s onward – where it refers to a ‘form of speech peculiar to a people or place’. Originating from the Greek word ‘idioumai’ (to appropriate to oneself) from ‘idios’ (personal and private, properly particular to oneself). The use of an ‘idiom’ involves a highly condensed (or contracted) linguistic expression which conveys far more in suggestion (or implication) than literally contained the few words used. As a rule, the meaning of an ‘idiom’ is culturally derived (and passed on from one generation to the next) as an important (and ‘underlying’) element of culturally conditioned education. As an expression, the meaning contained within an idiom is not predictable from the grammar or language used and cannot be easily ‘guessed’ by an individual who has not been privy to the relevant education.
Chinese Language Idiom: 南船北马
南 = (nan2) - South
船 = (chuan2) Boat
北 = (bei3) - North
马 = (ma3) - Horse
English Translation: ‘Southern Boat – Northern Horse’
Chinese Language Origin:
English Translation: Tang Dynasty Poet - Meng Jiao [孟郊] (751-814) - deriving from a phrase written in his book entitled ‘Journeying Together Expert Study Book Defining South Return’.
Meng Jiao was a famous Tang Dynasty poet who recorded his return journey beginning in the Northern Tang Dynasty capital of ‘Chang’an’ (Xi’an) to the Southern areas of China. He observed that the difference in terrain between North China and South China was so stark that it effectively altered the physique, psychology and everyday culture of the respective populations! This was best seen in the trade routes (or the commercial arteries) that saw the transportation of goods and produce throughout and around China. Within North China the mountainous terrain led to horse-reliant cultures developing (including the necessary horse husbandry) - whilst in the South the extensive waterways were best navigated using all types and sizes of boats (which they designed and built after harvesting wood cultivated from sustainable forests, etc). This separation in culture led to very different sets of skills being developed with Northerners being good at carrying heavy weights on their back whilst running or walking up and down steep inclines in all kinds of weather – whilst Southerns were good at swimming, diving, and maintaining their balance when stood on the deck of a boat in all kinds of weather! In turns, these indifferences were expressed in the martial systems developed in each region – which were an expression (or extension) of the already existing strengths and skills extant within the populations – with specialities extending out from these representations. A Northern Horse Stance, for instance is two shoulder widths apart with the upper thighs parallel to the floor and the knees directly covering the feet (with a 90-degree angle between the upper thigh and lower leg). This martial skill derived from riding a horse (or Steppe pony) without stirrups – where the rider had to grip the rotund belly of the animal and steer the horse by pivoting the pelvic girdle left, right and centre. This develops tremendous supporting strength in the lower part of the body. The Southern equivalent assumes an individual is stood on a small boat with the feet shoulder width apart and the knees slightly bent. Balance is retained through the expert transference and interchange of the bodyweight between the legs – with the bodyweight dropping down the centre of the bones into the floor of the boat and into the water the boat is floating within (although not all Southern stances are 'narrow' or 'high').
Nowadays, with the modernisation of China, many martial arts styles have ‘mixed’ and ‘combined’ their respective strengths, thus creating an all-round and vigorous fighting style. Even Chinese martial arts exported to Ryukyu in the 19th century – such as Yongchun White Crane Fist – was mixed with Okinawan ‘Te’ by Higaonna Kanryo (1853-1915) and later developed by his key disciple Miyagi Chojun (1888-1953) into the world famous Goju Ryu Karate-Do! From the Katas movements contained within Goju Ryu, there appears a very strong ‘Southern Fist’ (南拳 - Nan Quan) influence – but some of these movements appear ‘Northern’ in origination! This could well have been the product of Northern stylists either bringing or transmitting their fighting styles southward. Despite geographical differences persisting in China, the development and spread of modern technology has negated these differences and made everyday life very similar for most people. Therefore, the differences within traditional Chinese martial arts styles are ‘historical’ and must be protected and preserved for future generations to benefit from. Even considering the development of sports science – traditional Chinese martial arts still have a tremendous amount to offer as regards the psychological, physical and spiritual development of an individual! This is because the Chinese ancestors were very clever when adapting to their physical conditions and recording those adaptations!
Okinawan Goju Ryu Karate-Do Retains Characteristics of Both 'Northern' and 'Southern' Style of Chinese Martial Arts!
Chinese Language Sources:
Shifu Adrian Chan-Wyles (b. 1967) - Lineage (Generational) Inheritor of the Ch'an Dao Hakka Gongfu System.