Natural Traditional Chinese Martial Arts articles by Sal Canzonieri

This was my fifteenth column in Han Wei Wushu, it is about Southern Shaolin during the Qing Dynasty (Part 3).

Han Wei Wushu Newsletter
Han Wei Wushu Newsletter
(April 1997 issues #29)
Article #15

The story of traditional Chinese martial arts: Southern Style During the Qing Dynasty (3)

By Salvatore Canzonieri, New Jersey

Southern Chinese Martial Art Styles During the later Qing Dynasty - from 1800s to 1900s

By the 1800s very different martial arts were developed in the southern provinces of China than those from the 1600s and 1700s.

In the 1800s, Feng Keshan developed the Mei Hua Quan or Plum Flower Boxing style. This style was strongly based on internal chi circulation and large external circular movements. It was developed out of the Shaolin system. In 1814, Feng recruited members for the Eight Diagrams Sect (Ba Qua Jiao) and participated in an anti-Ching uprising. He was caught by the Ching Court, found guilty, and executed by dismemberment. The Mei Hua style was attributed to Wu Mei (also called Ng Mui), who was a legendary figure - a Shaolin nun, in order to disguise Feng Keshan`s underground activities. The style was essentially a condensing of Shaolin`s best techniques into one system and with its own footwork patterns (five directions) unifying the techniques.

The Choy Li Fut style is another famous southern style derived from the Southern Shaolin Temple, although arising a lot later than Hung Gar and the other Five Families Styles. Choy Li Fut is a mixture of the Choy Gar style, the Li Gar style, and the various other monk styles practiced at Shaolin (such as Fut Gar, Five Animals, Lohan, etc.). The Choy Li Fut style is both a long range and middle range fighting style, composed of fast and balanced techniques that are hard and soft, with powerful extended movements. It was developed by Chan Heung, of Xin Hui, Guangdong Province, in 1836. Chan had learned Southern Shaolin martial arts (which the Fut part is named in honor of) from his uncle, Chan Yuen Woo. After he became proficient at this, in 1823, he was introduced to Li Yau San, founder of the Li Gar style. Li taught Chan his style of fighting. Later, Chan was sent to study with Choy Fok in 1827, who came from the Northern Shaolin Temple originally and practiced a long range fighting style, some think it was related to the Dragon style.

After coming back from Lau Fu Mountain in 1834, where he was studying, Chan went back to his village of King Mui and reviewed all he had studied. He began teaching his Choy Li Fut style in the village. Shortly after, he enlisted in the army and went to Canton to fight the British in the Opium Wars. China was defeated in 1842, and he returned home. He joined the anti-Ching rebellion and his schools taught many of the rebels his Choy Li Fut style for use against the Manchu. (His students finally succeeded in 1894, when they helped the revolutionary forces of Sun Yat Sen successfully fight against the government and made it possible for the Republic of China to come into being.) List of forms here: . Choy Li Fut contains ten staff routines. The staff routines are: Seung gup darn guen, meaning single and double ended staff form; Ng dim mui fa fa bot gua guen, meaning five point plum blossom eight trigram staff form; Dai hung kei guen, meaning great banner staff form; Chau sot guen, meaning lifting and smashing staff form;; Mui fa cheung guen, meaning plum blossom lancing staff form; Chim lung guen, meaning diving dragon staff form; Bin gwai guen, meaning flat crutch staff form; Poon lung guen, meaning coiling dragon staff form; Hang jieh guen, meaning monkey king staff form; and Seung lung kup hei guen, meaning twin dragons inhaling air staff form. Choy Li Fut contains four spear routines. They include: Saw hau cheung, throat locking spear; Sup ji mui fa cheung, cross pattern plum blossom spear; Mui fa cheung, plum blossom spear; and Jor yau sup sam cheung, left and right thirteen lances spear.

Jow / Zhou / Chow Gar - The Zhou Jia Quan Wushu, (Jow Ga Kungfu), was created by the Zhou brothers. The brothers came from the village of Safu in San Hui Country, Guangdong province China. They were renowned for their skills and techniques which was why they eventually became known as "The Five Tigers of the Zhou Family". Zhou Long, the eldest of the five were the fifth son in the family. He was followed by Zhou Hup, the 6th son, Zhou Piao the 8th son, Zhou Hai the 9th son, and lastly Zhou Tien the 10th son. Each of the 5 brothers had his own unique talents. Zhou Long was especially gifted with a natural disposition in wushu training. Since childhood, Zhou Long had been a follower of his uncle, Zhou Hsiung, who was a master of the Hung style of wushu. Zhou Long migrated to the south in 1910 when he was 19 to seek his fortune. Whilst there, he studied under a great master who specialized in the Chai (Choy Gar) style of wushu. Zhou Long returned to Guangdong 5 years later to be a carpenter. In his leisure, he would study the 2 different styles of wushu he had mastered and later on, he created his own style - the Zhou Jia Quan. So, Jow Gar is a combination of Hong Gar and Choy Gar styles.

Ngo Cho / Wu Tzu Five Ancestors Style - Chua Giok Beng was the founder or at least the organizaer of the Ngo Cho, Five Ancester, style. He was born in 1853 in Chuan Chiu, Fukien Province. He was a student of Ho Yang until his death. At that point he returned his teacher's body to Henan Province. While returning home, he undertook the study of additional martial art styles. He enjoyed fame for his skill in iron palm techniques and jumping skills. The five Ancestors / Ngo Cho Kun is a combination of  Shaolin White Crane, Tai Zu (aka Tai Cho), Lohan, Monkey Fist, and Damo or Fut Gar; the white crane, for its intricate hand techniques; the monkey fist kung fu, for its mobility, agility, dexterity, and many evasive tactics; the Lohan, for its foot work and internal exercises; the Tai Zu, for its leg techniques (including scissor leg attacks and sweeping); and the Da Mo, for its breathing techniques (the basis of iron-body training and of regulating breathing to enhance both stamina and energy). Many schools adopted the sam chien form to the beginner’s curriculum. Although the sam chien seems simple, with only three steps forward and three steps backward, these steps are the essence of ngo cho kun. The style is popular amongst the Hakka peoples of Fujian province.

It was highly influential upon the development of Okinawan Karate. In its approach to iron body training, its reliance on the sam chien stance, and its special emphasis on hard and soft techniques, this Fukien style of kung-fu is believed to be the root of the Goju-ryu and Uechi-ryu Okinawan karate systems. It can be classified as both external and internal – “external” referring to concentrated striking power (the principle of a one-strike kill), and “internal” referring to the breathing technique used to improve physical health (by stimulating and exercising internal organs). This style utilizes agile body movement to evade the opponent's attacks by using low squatting stances and jumping. The style includes an emphasis on grabbing, clawing, and palm striking as offensive actions. There seems to be a large element of Beggars Style incorporated into the Ngo Cho Style.

The Hard Soft Fist is a tiger, crane and dragon style from Fujian Province called Pan Gai Noon, taught by Shaolin monk Shushiwa (1874-1926). In 1897, Uechi Kanbun traveled to China from Okinawa and studied Pan Gai Noon under Shushiwa. After training for ten years, he was allowed to teach Pan Gai Noon in China. After teaching for three years, he returned to Okinawa. He did not again teach Pan Gai Noon until he moved to Japan for employment. Only at the end of his life did he returned to Okinawa to teach what had become known as Pan Gai Noon Ryu, which his son renamed Uechi Ryu.

Throughout the Qing Dynasty the popularity of Yongchun White Crane system, together with all the other styles and systems of Kung Fu, were fed by the people's antipathy towards the Manchu government. This popular feeling at times overflowed into open resistance and rebellion. Chinese resentment against their Manchu rulers kept growing and between 1843 and 1850, many secret societies were started.

Li Wenmao (李文茂), a historically verifiable opera performer and leader in the 1854–1855 Red Turban Rebellion in Foshan, is said to have been a Wing Chun White Crane practitioner.

Following the defeat of the Qing at the hands of the British (and the ceding of Hong Kong), however, the dynasty was revealed as vulnerable. This fanned the flames of anti-government sentiment. From these flames emerged one of the largest rebellions the world has ever seen--the Taiping (Great Peace) Rebellion.

The Taiping was founded in 1845 by Huayuan, Guangdong native (and Hakka) Hong Siu-Chuen (Hong Xiuquan). After several failed attempts at passing the licentiates exams, and exposure to the translated bible tracts of Chinese Christian converts, Hong fell gravely ill and dreamt he was the second son of God, charged with driving the Qing demons from the land. When he recovered, he began a movement that spread rapidly among his own Hakka people and on into the general population. The Rebellion began in 1850 and lasted to 1864, and with it the attempt to establish the Taiping Tien Kwok (Taiping Tianguo, Great Peace Heavenly Kingdom). Manchu troops in 1850 had basically ruled southern China for the next fourteen years. The Tai Ping Heavenly Kingdom rebellion arose in direct opposition to the now weakened Manchu rule. By 1853, the Taiping had seized the city of Nanjing, but failed to take control of nearby Shanghai.

Lin Jun (also called Wan Qing) was a famous practitioner of Yongchun White Crane Fist of that period, son of master Lin Jieyun from Xia Ning village in Yongchun, who organised thousands of people to demonstrate in support of the Tai Ping rebels in De Hua county. This mass demonstration took place in April 1853, the third year of the reign of Emperor Xianfeng. The demonstration was preceded by gatherings of people in Jing Feng Dian, Wan Chun Zai, Kui Xing Yan and Shan Men Yan areas of the Province for open practice of Kung Fu, in defiance of the Qing prohibition of the study of Martial Arts. For his support of the Rebellion, Lin Jun was granted the title of 'King Nie' by Hong Xiuchuan.

The soldiers of the Tai Ping Rebellion used different martial arts than those of the early Qing dynasty rebels. They were taught the Fan Zi Chuo Jiao style, which originated in the north during the early Song Dynasty era..

The Tai Pings fought in 14 provinces. They appointed their own King, Shi Dakai, who died in 1863. This caused the rapid downfall of the Tai Pings and the Manchu again took over the south in 1864.

By 1900, the famous Boxer Rebellion occurred in which martial artists from all over China, spurned on by the various secret societies to which they belonged, tried to overcome the Eight Nation Allied Forces that had infiltrated the weak Ching government and thereby were ruining China. The rebellion was initiated by Yi He Tuan`s Anti-Imperialist Patriotic Movement, which had gained support all over China, especially in the north. Many martial artists armed only with spears and broadswords participated, some in a trance like state, feeling that they were invincible because they truly believed in their cause. Some famous people there were: Li Cunyi, a Xing I master who led his disciples against the foreign forces armed with a single broadsword and survived; Wang Zhengyi, Pi Qua/Ba Ji master, led masses of people to join the struggle, and was killed by invading German troops; and Cheng Tinghua, founder of Cheng Ba Qua, attacked a detachment of a German patrol by himself, killing many of them before he was shot to death. Finally, by 1911, the various secret societies and triads weakened the Ching government further and helped the revolutionary forces of Sun Yat Sen take over China.

Non-Fujian based Southern Chinese Styles

There are many, many non-Shaolin derived styles in the south of China, because of its long history of being culturally and physically separated from the North. At one time, the south was predominantly Taoist and there are many such temples and priest-hoods there. All these Taoist styles of martial arts are internal (Nei Chia) based systems, resembling Tai Ji in essence of style. (many of these were discussed in previous Parts 1 to 4).

One non-Shaolin derived southern style is the Ziran Men (Natural School). This style was created by a dwarf named Xu of Sichuan Province in the later years of the Ching Dynasty. Xu taught his style to one disciple, Du Xinwu of Cili County in Huan Province. Du followed Xu for eight years and learned this style by watching, since there are no forms. Ziran stylist do not use specific techniques, instead they practice focusing the mind, spirit, and chi circulation inside the body. Also, they believe in the good application of eyesight, footwork, and body movements. They can fight with any part of the body and from impossible angles and situations. They believe combat basics are wholly connected to the flow of chi. The mind guides the flow of energy, when the mind reaches a certain point, so does the chi, which guides movement. When the mind stops, so does the movement. Movements come out naturally, as the mind/chi flow sees fit. The hands flow along a straight line, as the feet move circularly, similar to Ba Qua. Strikes are both hard and soft.

Lanshou Men, or Blocking-Hand Boxing, was developed by Zheng Tianxing at the turn of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. It is a popular style of Kung Fu especially in the areas along both sides of the Yangtze River. Zheng Tianxing was a famous Kung Fu master that is renowned through his skills and was responsible for spreading the style Lanshou Men.
Practitioners of Lanshou Men rely on power to beat and to stimulate speed. Lanshou Men have techniques that stress pushing, turning, shaking, and drawing. Kicking techniques are focus on hitting the abdomen and the groin area of the opponent. Lanshou Men focuses on blocking the hands of the opponent. By doing this it benefits from the forces of the opponent while using power to beat quick and fast techniques. Lanshou Men is characterized by its simplicity and practicability in combat.

Chang quan (long fist) is a martial art style from the southern coastal province of Zhejiang. It developed from fighting on boats. (Not to be confused with the generic term meaning all of the northern Chinese long range styles.) This style is said to originate from Tai Tzu, the Song Emperor. It is also known as cheng kuen.
(More Styles will be discussed on a style by style basis in future articles)


That's it for this issue! Click here to read article #16

Sal Canzonieri -

(c) 1997 / 2007 BGT ENT / Sal Canzonieri