Natural Traditional Chinese Martial Arts articles by Sal Canzonieri

This was my 25th article, 5th for Kung Fu Wushu Qigong magazine, it is about the Muslim Influence on Chinese Martial Arts.

kung fu qigong wushu magazine june/july 1996
Kung Fu Qigong Wushu Magazine
June-July 1996)
Article #25

(c) 1996, reprinted by permission.

A Moslem in China - Moslem Influence on Traditional Chinese Martial Arts

Salvatore Canzonieri

The Hui Peoples

A little known fact about China is that it houses the second largest Moslem population in the world. These people are called the Hui and number about fourteen million. During the 10th Century (the Song Dynasty - 960 to 1279 AD), many Persians and Arabs traveled to and from China. Eventually, some of these people made permanent settlements and intermingled with the various Chinese peoples they encountered (China contains about 55 different minority groups), causing the Islamic religion to spread to various parts of China. By the 13th Century, the Hui were widely scattered throughout China, but many mostly Moslem communities emerged in the Northern regions, particularly in the Henan, Hebei, Shangtung, and Shaanxi provinces.

Embracing of Chinese Martial Arts One of the things that the Hui people embraced most about China was its martial arts traditions. The Hui were a hardy and courageous people, surviving the long and perilous journey from the Persian (Iraqi/Iranian) Middle Eastern lands. The Hui quickly took a liking to ancient Chinese wu shu (such as Shuai Chiao or Chinese Grappling, Pao Quan, Tong Bei Quan, Liu Ho Quan, Tai Tzu Chang Quan, Ba Ji Quan, Pi Qua Quan, etc.) and worked long and hard at excelling in it. Eventually they developed their own unique styles of wu shu (such as the Cha Quan, Hua Quan, 10 Routine Tan Toi, Liu Lu Duan Quan, Toi Quan, Yong Chan Quan, and others) by assimilating the various styles of Chinese wu shu that were indigenous to the North.

Before the invention of guns, wu shu was the major means of combat and self defense in China. The Hui chiefs called upon their people to learn wu shu as a "holy practice" in order to help foster discipline and bravery during their struggle for survival in their adopted land. Even today, during their holy days of Lesser Bairam (festival of fast breaking), Corban, and the Prophet's Birthday, the Hui people gather at their local mosques and hold wu shu contests and exhibitions. In the past, many of the Hui joined the Chinese military and had illustrious careers in it, often rising to the rank of General. Also, because of this, many Hui were fiercely loyal about supporting the various Chinese Emperors, even though the Hui were of foreign origin.

Hui Loyalty to Chinese Empire

After the Mongolians had taken over China, forming the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368), many Chinese loyalists schemed to bring back the throne to China. A peasant uprising finally succeeded in uniting the Chinese people against their Mongol invaders. The rebellion was led by Zhu Yuan Zhang, who toppled the Mongolian imperial court and founded the much beloved Ming Dynasty, becoming its first emperor. Fighting with him were some of China's most famous generals (i.e., Chang Yu Chun, Hu Da Hai, Mu Ying, Lan Yu, Feng Sheng, and Ding De Xing), who were all Hui Moslem wu shu experts. Chang Yu Chan became famous for founding a spear fighting method that is still taught today, the famous "kai ping qiang fa".

During the turmoil of the later Ming Dynasty period (1368- 1644), when the invading Manchu tribe made many raids on the Chinese empire and eventually took it over, many Hui fought sought by side with the Chinese Han people in rebellions against the Manchu Ching Dynasty. Ma Shou Ying, a Hui Moslem, together with Li Zi Cheng (King Chuang) participated in the rebellion, leading a troop of mostly Moslem peasants. Ma was called "Lao Hui Hui", meaning "Hui the Senior" and his troops were called the "Lao Hui Hui Battalion". Even after the Manchu succeeded in controlling China, the Hui fought against them. In 1862, Du Wen Xiu lead an uprising of the Hui people in Yunnan Province (against Ching Emperor Tong Zhi) and swept over a dozen provinces in southwest and northwest China.

Because of the Hui's continued loyalty to the Chinese Empire, throughout the Ching Dynasty (1644-1911), the Hui were treated cruelly and ruthlessly suppressed whenever they showed the least bit of malcontent against the Manchu rulers. It was made forbidden for three or more Huis to walk together with weapons on them or they would be severely punished. If any Huis were caught committing crimes, they were tattooed on their faces with the characters "Hui zui" ("Hui rebel"). This punishment was meant to humiliate the Hui while at the same time serving to intimidate them from further rebellious actions. But, suppression only served to make the Hui people more determined than ever.

Hui Contribution to Chinese Martial Arts

After the Ming Dynasty, in opposition to the martial arts prohibition forced upon by the Manchurian Ching Dynasty, many Hui wu shu masters developed their own schools of wu shu that continue to exist to this day. The contributions of these Hui wu shu masters have been far reaching and embraced by many styles of Chinese wu shu kung fu. In the Jixiao Xinshu, written by the famous Ming military strategist Qi Ji Guang, three famous spear schools are listed (the Yang, Ma, and Sha families). Both the Ma and Sha families were Hui. These spear methods are still taught today among their family descendants. Also, the "Hui Hui Shi Ba Zou" (18 fist fighting exercises of the Hui) was considered to be the very best in combat exercises. The noted anti-Ching public figure Gan Feng Chi included the exercises in his book Hua Quan Zong Jiang Fa (A General Talk on Flower Boxing).

There have been many famous Hui wu shu martial artists, with them often winning national wu shu competitions that were open to all styles. Wang Zi Ping (1881-1973) was a very famous Cha Quan master and he won honors by defeating many foreigners in wu shu contests with his swift and fierce attacks, while representing China. Wang was vice-president of the Chinese Wu Shu Association. At 80 years of age, he accompanied the later Premier Chou En Lai on his visit to Burma and gave an exhibition that astounded the audience with his dexterity and vigor. Ma Fengtu set up the patriotic China Warriors Society (in 1919). His brother Ma Yingtu won the title at the first national wu shu contest held in 1929. Chang Wen Quang was another great Cha Quan master, winning many tournaments. In 1936, he attended the 11th Olympics Games in Berlin as a specially invited member of the Chinese Wu Shu team. There he gave demonstrations ofvarious routines from the Cha Quan style. He later became vice-president of the National Wu Shu Association.

The Shaolin Temple even adopted the Hoi people's Tan Toi (springing leg) style of wu shu as a training form to develop the legs and stamina of it students, as did many other Northern and Southern schools of kung fu. It is a common saying in traditional Chinese wu shu circles that "if your tan toi is good, then you're kung fu is good", because mastering the demands of tan toi allowed one to master the basic fundamentals of wu shu kung fu in general. The Hui's Tan Toi became very popular all over China, leading to another saying, " From Nanking to Beijing, the best players of the lower-leg exercises come from Islamic religious circles". The Cha Quan and Hua Quan boxing styles that are today enjoyed by Northern Long Fist schools also were developed by the Hui peoples. Other styles developed or adopted by the Huis are Ba Ji Quan (Eight Diagram Boxing, handed down by the Moslem Wu Zhong), Liu He (six combination) spear, Liu He Quan, Hebei Xing I Quan, Tong Bei Quan, Pi Qua Quan, and Liu He Ba Fa. There are conflicting but similar origin stories between the Cha/Hua Quan styles and the Tan Toi style.

The Origin of the Cha/Hua Quan Styles

According to the Cha family boxing chronicles, Cha Quan is a popular and very old Northern Chinese fighting style, originating around the same time as Shaolin was developing. The style is based on quick, agile movements interspersed with sudden stops and steady still stances, performers are said to be "now moving like the wind, now standing nailed to the ground." During the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), the Emperor sent a military crusade on an expedition to eastern China, to fight off foreign invaders. When the army reached Guanxian County in present day Shangtung Province, a young general (and Hui Moslem) named Hua Zong Qi was forced to remain behind to recuperate from serious wounds. When he recovered, he was most grateful to the villagers who cared for him, and he decided to teach the local people his martial art, which he called Jianzi Quan (Frame Boxing).

A great number of people became his followers due to his good wu shu skills and earnest teaching methods. Soon, his classes grew so big that he sent for his senior student from his home town to help him, Cha Yuan Yi. Cha was quite proficient at martial arts as well, but his Jianzi Quan had a different emphasis than that of General Hua's. Hua's version had fully extended movements and was called Da Jia Quan (big frame boxing); Cha's version had fast, compact movements and was called Xiao Jia Quan (small frame boxing).

The two versions were taught as one style. The villagers discontinued the Jianzi Quan name and instead calledthe style, Cha-Hua Boxing. The Hua version had 4 routines (or forms) that were long and full of varied tricky moves. The names of the four forms are are known simply as Hua Quan 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4thLu.

The Cha version had 10 routines of varying lengths and complexity. The names of the ten forms are:

  1. Mu Zi (Mother and Son)
  2. Xing Shou (Parallel Hand Movement)
  3. Fei Jiao (Flying Foot)
  4. Sun Bin (Rising Horizon/name of famous General Sun Bin)
  5. Quan Dong (Eastern Gate)
  6. Mai Fu (Ambush Tiger)
  7. Mei Fa (Plum Flower)
  8. Lian Wuan (Continous)
  9. Long Bai Wai (Shake Dragon's Tail)
  10. Chuan Quan (Vertical Fist)

Many of the Cha routines are used today in various Northern long fist schools, especially the 4th Routine and5th Routine. Both versions have made a huge influence on the modern Chang Quan (long fist) practiced inChina today, which has chosen to use many of the techniques from theHui style.

By the time of the Ching Dynasty, under the reign of Emperor Qian Long (1736-1795), the Cha-Hua style became divided into three technical schools at Guanxian County and Rencheng County in Shangtung Province. The Zhang style, represented by Zhang Qi Wei from Zhangyin Village at Guanxian, is fast, agile, and more compact. The Yang style, represented by Yang Hongxiu from the southern part of Guanxian, is more upright, comfortable, and graceful in execution. The Li style, repesented by Li Enju from Jining, is more powerful, continuous, and direct.

The general characteristics of the Cha-Hua style are that its movements and techniques are graceful, easy, clear, continuous, and rhythmic in execution. Strength and force is generated abruptly and there is economical use of energy. The boxing method stresses using both the hands and feet at the same time when executing fighting movements. Continuous attacks are employed, combined with various tricky moves to evade and deceive the opponent, in order to quickly overcome the enemy.

The Origin of the Tan Toi Style

The Tan Toi or "springing leg" style is more modern in origin, said to be developed during the Ming Dynasty. (1368- 1644). Ten Routine Tan Toi is one of the most favorite martial arts enjoyed by the Hui peoples. Tan Toi was said to be developed by a Hui native of Xinjiang, in Northwest China, named Cha Shang Yir. His Moslem name was Chamir and he lived from 1568 to 1644. In the mid period of his life, the Chinese coast in Fukien and Zhejiang Provinces was besieged by Japanese pirates. Ming Dynasty rules had amassed troops to fight back these invaders. Chamir joined the army to be part of this crusade. The troops had to march on foot a long way to get to the southeast under very harsh conditions. While climbing mountains and crossing rivers, Chamir contracted a strong illness due to the coldness and wetness. He was left behind to recuperate in a mountain village in Guanxian County in Shangtung Province.

He was treated and cared for by the villagers for a few months. When he was fully recovered, being the Autumn season, he noticed that the local peasant villagers had finished their harvesting and were now practicing riding and shooting. Chamir, in wishing to repay them for the hospitality and caring they showed him, offered to teach the villagers the Tan Toi and 10 Routine Boxing that he had developed and performed for many years. The villagers welcomed his martial arts lessons and many people came to learn from Chamir. Over time, the villagers called his boxing style, Cha Quan. The boxing style originally consisted of 28 routines, which were put in alphabetical order, according to the Arabic language commonly used by the Hui. Later, the 28 routines were synthesized into the 10 Routine Tan Toi known today. The names of the Ten Routines and the original song for them are translated as follows:

  1. Coherent Steps
  2. Cross Pattern
  3. Slash and Squash
  4. Uphold Palm
  5. Uphold Fist
  6. Crook and Sprinkle
  7. Flower Bending
  8. Stamp and Thread
  9. Lock and Stick
  10. Flying Kick

The Original Song of the Ten Routine Spring Leg:

Handed down from the ancestors, the Ten Routine Spring Leg consists of "four work and one exertion".
Routine One teaches you coherent steps that are hard to resist.
Routine Two passes on the skill of cross that gives you the knack of springing and shooting.
Routine Three tells you how to slash and squash so that you can brave the darkness.
Routine Four enables you to block the advesary with a shooting palm.
Routine Five instructs you to prepare for an incoming ill intent.
Routine Six guides you to advance and grapple by artifice of crooking and sprinkling.
Routine Seven teaches you the flowery elbow-bending as a means of defense.
Routine Eight directs you to stamp and tread with body rotation and hands waving.
Routine Nine gives you the skill of locking and sticking with a sweeping leg of a Manadarin duck.
Routine Ten teaches you the flying kick - the key skill of spring leg.
If not following set rules, your practice is a waste of time.
Plain and simple though the skill may be, you will find it a powerful weapon after persistent training practice.
Protecting body and building up strength, it offers you many fold skills in fighting the enemy.
As the first technique since the beginning of history, the Ten Routine Spring Leg has been handed down from generation to generation.

The Monks at the nearby Shangtung Long Tam Buddhist Temple learned of the Tan Toi from the local peopleand wished to incorporate it into their fighting routines that they practiced. The Monks further developed itinto the 12 Routine Tam Toi (named after the temple). The main difference between the temple versions andthe Hui version of the style is that in the Hui version the kicks are done at waist height and higher and in thetemple versions the kicks are generally made at the knee level and lower. In comparing the original Hui 10Routine and the original 12 Shangtung Long Tam Routine styles, Routines 1 through 5 are the same, Routines6 through 8 are very different, Routines 9 and 10 are essentially similar but with definite variation intechniques, and Routines 11 and 12 are only done by the 12 Routine style. The names of the 12 Tan Toi Routines are translated as follows:

  1. Striking Forward
  2. Crossed Legs
  3. Hitting and Smashing
  4. Waving with Palm
  5. Strikingwith One Fist & Protecting with the Other
  6. Revolving Both Fists
  7. Striking Forward with One Arm Swinging ni Circles
  8. Kicking and Striking
  9. Locking the Hands Together
  10. Kicking Forward in Jumping Position
  11. Striking Forward in Advance Position
  12. Cover Body with Fists (Pi Shen Quan)

The 10 Routine Tam Toi Song:

Routine One is to hit the enemy as you hit with a whip.
Routine Two is to strike with both fists crossed.
Routine Three is to knock the enemy's head.
Routine Four is to bar the road with fists.
Routine Five is to strike and protect yourself with the arms.
Routine Six is to hit with single fists.
Routine Seven is hit with both fists.
Routine Eight is to swing your fists sideward or backward.
Routine Nine is to hold the fists together.
Routine Ten is to kick with your foot as if it is an arrow.

The 12 Routine Tam Toi Song:

Strike forward with a single fist in advance position.
Hit the enemy with both fists crossed.
Knock the enemy's head with your body turning backward.
Strike with the fists and kick the enemy with the feet.
Protect your head and hit the enemy's chest.
Strike with both fists; prostrasting legs.
Hit the enemy's ear with one fist and kick him hard.
Protect your head and groin with the fists.
Hold the fists together and separate them.
Kick your enemy with the foot as you hit him with an arrow.
Strike sideward with hook fists.
Recover the original position.

The Long Tam Monks also later developed other tam toi forms, in total they practiced the 10 Routine form,the 12 Routine form, the Two-Man Tam Toi form, and the Liu Lu Tuan Quan Tan Toi form (6 Routine ShortRange Boxing). Later still, the Shaolin Temple adopted the 10 and 12 Tam Toi styles andthen developedtheir own very different versions of the routines. Other people developed the Liu Ho Tan Toi (6 HarmoniesSpring Leg), Toi Quan (Leg Boxing), Jie Tan Toi (Suceeding Spring Leg), a 16 Routine Tan Toi, and an 18Routine Tan Toi, based on the original Hui style. Today, the Tan Toi (and Tam Toi) routines have beenadded to the curriculum of most martial arts schools.

The 12 Tan Toi version taught by the Jing Wu Association has become the most famous and widely practiced throughout the world. It is considered a prerequisite for all beginners in the Chinese martial arts and serves to lay the foundation for all the essential basic elements of one's wu shu kung fu practices. All the techniques and movements employed by the Tan Toi style can be found in all styles of long fist/ long range fighting. Thus, by mastering the Tan Toi form, one is able to master tradtional Chinese wu shu kung fu in general and is able to progress and learn many otherforms.

The Tan Toi forms build up the body due to its strenuous demands for low body height, precise movements, and forceful execution. Also, it teaches such combat skills as springing, kicking, stamping, sweeping, thrusting, grappling, punching, pushing, hooking, sticking, etc. Body mechanics are coordinated so that maximum force is issued with smooth effectiveness and efficiency. The waist is used as an axis to set the upper and lower limbs moving in coordinating movements. Relaxation is emphasized in posing correct postures, coordinating various parts of the body, exerting force smoothly, and making nimble movements. Through relaxed, smooth exertion, force can be quickly concentrated on the striking point, so that there appears a sudden springing or snap force that is produced as the movement picks up speed and then a sudden tightening of the muscles is made at the instant of force exertion.


Although the Hoi Moslem Chinese people are originally of foreign descent, they strove to adapt to their new homeland. In doing so, they embraced the traditional Chinese martial arts and made it part of their own culture. Eventually, their expertise in these martial arts allowed Hui martial arts masters to develop their own styles and methods of wu shu kung fu. By today's times, the Hui martial arts became an influence on traditional Chinese martial arts and their ideas for combat and routines have been assimilated into the curriculum of many Northern Long Fist schools. The Cha/Hua Quan techniques have found their way into modern Chang Quan Kung Fu and the Tan Toi routines have been made a foundation for many people's martial arts training, both in China and in the rest of the world.


Salvatore Canzonieri © 1996.

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(c) 1996 / 2007 BGT ENT / Sal Canzonieri