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'!
The ‘external’ component represented by the numerous ‘gongfu’ styles extant in China – perfects the ‘leverage’ of the joints on the horizontal plane. As this is generated by contracting muscles (which operate through the ‘awareness’ of the positioning of the bones and joints in relation to one another), very high levels of physical fitness and psychological conditioning must be pursued and mastered. This also involves the understanding of ‘torque’ or ‘deliberately’ employed muscular tensions to generate and increase impact. Bodyweight is also used across the horizontal plane – joint, bone, muscle bodyweight and psychological focus build ‘external’ power and erupt this force into a relatively small area of contact through the contacting limb and/or body-part. This type of power is quite often ‘shocking’ to encounter and difficult to recover from once a clean blow has been landed to a vulnerable part of the body. This skill can take five, ten or more years to perfect through traditional Chinese martial arts training (which builds a practitioner’s mind and body from the ground upwards – like the construction of a Book of Change hexagram). The most efficient martial arts style that I have seen that can convey this ability to a new student (with little prior experience) in the modern world – is that of the Shukokai Karate-Do style as formulated by O-Sensei Shigeru Kimura (1941-1995).
Integrated or ‘mixed’ power is a rarefied and highly refined skill of the highest martial order! A Master of ‘integrated’ power possesses the ability to continuously switch between power-generating systems (as in ‘external’ or ‘internal’), or apply only an ‘integrated’ approach. Furthermore, within the few seconds of a complicated fight – a fighter might have to switch rapidly from one power-expression to another because this is exactly what the situation calls for. The opponent could be highly skilled and a diverse approach necessary to ‘unlock’ their defensive patterns. Being ‘trapped’ in a restricted space might prevent certain techniques (and types of power generation) from being deployed – so the most appropriate mode should be selected. Where horizontal space is missing in the environment – then ‘vertical’ power can and should be used (with the orientation of power-generation adjusted to meet circumstances). Of course, the ‘iron vest’ ability to use the ‘aligned’ bones to absorb, reject or deflect any incoming attack is always in operation with the intention of ‘damaging’ the opponent’s attacking limb through using its own power and ‘deflecting’ it back into the structures of the attacking limb. This coincides with the maintaining of the perfect ‘rooted’ footwork.
External Power = 外功 (Wai Gong)
Internal Power = 內功 (Nei Gong)
Integrated Power = 雜功 (Za Gong)
The ‘neigong’ (or ‘neidan’) component is a vast subject that is very complex and directly linked to Daoist practice. This requires a qualified Master to lead the way. However, I have relayed above the basic requirements for ‘power production’ in our Hakka Family Style of Traditional Chinese Martial Arts.
The point is to bring an end to all greed, hatred and delusion in the mind, body and environment. Although this a distinctly ‘Buddhist’ solution to the ills of life – generally speaking, it is also the solution of most ‘secular’ models of reality! An individual can choose their path and express their development in any way they wish or see fit – but in the end a definite ‘purification’ process is experienced which changes the inner and outer being forever! Inner peace is expressed through a deadly martial technique that is NEVER personal but always ‘indifferent’ and in a state of continuous ‘healing’ of humanity, the world and everything in it! Although wild animals can be extremely dangerous in their natural habitats – nevertheless it is important not to produce thoughts of ‘anger’ or ‘violence’ when taking suitable action to ‘avoid’ the danger.
This is using wisdom. Sometimes, even wild animals can be seen responding to ‘kindness’ in a manner that is considered very unusual! Even domestic pets can be difficult – but this is all the more reason to maintain a sense of inner and outer peace. Human-beings, by way of contrast, are often far more dangerous with their habitual anger and potential violent outbursts! Traditional gongfu training prepares human-beings for the maelstrom of combat in the outer world – whilst maintaining a calm inner terrain that remains ‘unruffled’ regardless of circumstance. Life can be hard, but it can also be beautiful, truthful and full of justice! The point is to always be ready to build upon the foundation of ‘peace’ and make the world a better place for everyone to live!
The physical techniques of the martial arts exist to empower an individual to protect their bodies, their community and their nation. The inner path is universal and transcends these narrow categories of potential violence! If combat happens, then the qualified Shifu must fight to prevail and never lose any encounters! However, this ‘victory’ should never be allowed to happen through ‘anger’ as this is ‘low’, ‘corrupt’ and ‘despicable’! As a situation can change in an instant, a martial artist must always be prepared to ‘adjust themselves to circumstance’ and never let a prejudiced view of reality take over the ‘flow’ of combat and conflict resolution. On the other hand, when combat must be successfully engaged within, then the sheer ‘weight’ of the cultivated ‘inner peace’ must quite literally ‘crush’ the violence that exists in the mind and body of the opponent! Peace must prevail over all.
The mastery of physical technique is an issue of training that should be achieved as soon as possible – even if the process takes a long amount of time in reality. This is irrelevant to the ongoing ‘inner process’ which continues continuously and without end regardless of physical circumstance, (i.e., standing, sitting, lying, walking or sleeping, etc). The mastery of physical fighting is the ‘external’ element of combat training – whilst the ‘inner’ processes far transcend the limitations of human conflict. Individuals can master ‘external’ combat without ever recognising the need or purpose of ‘inner’ training’.
Furthermore, it is also possible to participate within ‘inner’ training with no experience in ‘external’ combat. However, within genuine ‘spiritual’ Chinese martial arts – the student has to traverse the terrain of ‘external’ combat BEFORE being allowed access to the path of genuine ‘inner’ training. Many who develop a skill at ‘external’ fighting with no inner training, usually exhibit an increasing and strengthening of the egotistical mind-set and the tendencies to be one-dimensionally ‘selfish’, ‘aggressive’ and highly ‘ignorant’ in manifestation. As such a person becomes ‘older’ - their physical skills diminish and finally disappear – leaving them as a bitter person with no martial ability.
In fact, getting older is an important aspect of ‘inner’ training, as there are processes of internal mastery that are entirely reliant upon a profound transformation of the body chemistry and frequency of psychological patterning. Inner mastery can happen in a relatively younger person, but only within special circumstances, and only then if such a person retains a humble and accommodating attitude toward the further process of ‘maturing’ and ‘deepening’ of understanding as one’s age increases. Without this inner mastery – and older fighter will always be beaten by a younger fighter – but with inner mastery, the younger (less experienced) fighter will always be defeated.
Spiritual mastery defeats an opponent on the spiritual, emotional, psychological and physical level – and it does so BEFORE any movement is even made. Without spiritual mastery – two fighters physically ‘clash’ and entangle their arms and legs in a chaotic manner with the ‘winner’ being that who prevails through an arbitrary set of rules. Onces the movement of the arms and legs are mastered; the emphasis forever moves inward and away from the physical body. This is a preparation for the (natural) dying process experienced at the end of life. This is how the martial arts is a vehicle for ‘life’ and ‘death’ which has nothing to do with the rather banal activity of physical combat.
Probably from around 35-years onward, a serious practitioner of traditional Chinese martial arts should be beginning the slow transition from purely ‘external’ to predominately ‘internal’ training methods, exercises and understandings. The point of this is purely age-related – as we get older, we see more in different ways to a younger person – who naturally possesses a different type strength (which changes as age progresses). If a practitioner does not possess access to correct instruction, then he or she will not ‘understand’ how to accommodate these age-related changes, and almost always will ‘give-up’ their practice. Another factor that needs to be considered is the age that training start for an individual, as this will affect what objectives should realistically be sought-after. However, prior to 35-years old, a practitioner of gongfu should have experienced much of the ‘hard’, ‘external’ training, understand psychological and physical suffering (through direct experience), and ‘know’ how to defend themselves during a violent encounter. External ‘sensitivity’ training is very different from ‘internal’ sensitivity training. The latter example involves the turning of the mind’s awareness ‘inward’ so that a) the blood flow can be sensed, and b) after a deep-breath, the oxygen can be felt as it distributes throughout and around the entirety of the body! The point of ‘external’ and ‘internal’ training is a perfect ‘integration’ (zagong) of the two aspects so that qi-power can be manifested at anywhere on a scale from imperceptible to ‘massive’ and ‘highly destructive’. If none of this makes any sense, then train harder!
Shifu Adrian Chan-Wyles (b. 1967) - Lineage (Generational) Inheritor of the Ch'an Dao Hakka Gongfu System.