Natural Traditional Chinese Martial Arts articles by Sal Canzonieri
This was my 31st article, it is about the History of Hakka Martial Art and its relationship to Southern Chinese and Shaolin martial arts.
The story of traditional Chinese martial arts:
The Hakka people are thought to be originally from the Henan and Shaanxi (not Shanxi) provinces in the Yellow River area (not far from Shaolin). They speak their own language, said to be of the original Han Chinese people from there. It took a few thousand years for the Hakka to fully migrate to the south of China (to the Fujian, Guangdong, Jianxi, and other provinces). They also moved west to Sichuan province. Notice, everywhere that they settled are the same areas that the southern martial arts styles that look related to each other (White Crane, Southern Mantis, Yongtai Tiger, Dragon, etc.) and to Southern Tai Tzu Quan are mainly located.
The Hakka are noted for their preservation of certain cultural characteristics that are traceable to pre-Qin period (about 2200 years ago), which are expressed in their common customs, foods, spoken language, etc. The Hakka a mixed group that might include many ethnic groups as a result of 2000 years of migration, which makes things harder to trace. The original Han people were also of mixed ancestry to begin with.
It seems that the Hakka migrated southward in waves during different time periods. According to research by Luo Xiang Lin, at least five mass movements of Hakka took place as they moved south from their original place of residence in the Central Plains in the Huang (Yellow) River Basin. Most scholars agree that the Hakka people migrated from parts of northern China to the southern regions starting from the time of the East Jin dynasty (317-420 AD). Some even date the first migration as being further back, from the Qin dynasty (220 -206 BC), when China was under attack by five tribes during the time of Qin Shi Huang. The capital at Luoyang was removed to Nanjing and large numbers of people, including aristocrats, the general populace, and the ancestors of the Hakka, fled south to escape.
Subsequent migrations occurred at the end of the Tang Dynasty (907 AD) with the fragmentation of the Chinese empire, the displacement of the Tang drove the predecessors of the Hakkas to southern Anhui, southwestern Jiangxi, southern and western Fujian, and the border area of Guangdong; again during the middle of the Song Dynasty (between 960 and 1127 AD), which saw massive depopulation of the north and a flood of refugees southward; also when the Jurchens captured the northern Song capital (1127 AD); at the fall of the Song (1279 AD) to the Mongols in the Yuan Dynasty (The Hakkas that had previously settled down in southern Jiangxi and southern Fujian escorted the Song royal household as it fled to eastern and northern Guangdong Province. They fought bravely and many died courageously in battles with the Mongolian armies.); and finally when the Ming Dynasty fell to the Manchu (1644 AD), who formed the Qing Dynasty (causing the Hakka to move even further southwards).
Invading tribes from the north, severe flooding of the Yellow River, locust plaques, droughts, famines, and wars drove these people to move en masse to the south. The local Punti (Cantonese) people in the south called these northerners "guest families" when they started to settle in this area. But, in fact, many of the southern Chinese peoples also had come from the north at an earlier time.
Need for Hakka Martial Arts
With the obvious limited prospects in agriculture, the nomadic Hakka men have turned -- more often than have other Chinese -- toward careers in the military. The Hakka had a great need for martial arts to protect them. Not only did each emigration wave come as a result of resistance against fierce armies from outside invaders, but the native people in the new regions they went to also resented their presence in such large numbers and many fierce clan wars broke out. From the 17th century onwards, population pressures drove them more and more into conflict with their neighbours (called punti in Cantonese). The Punti’s resentment against the Hakka was the basis for these bloody conflicts, feeling that the Hakka were increasing too dramatically in number and thus encroaching on their land. From the Hakka’s point of view, they were marginalized, discriminated against, and had to farm left-over or unwanted, hilly land. Eventually, the tension between the two groups would lead to a series of 19th century wars known as the Punti-Hakka Clan Wars, and about a million people died or fled.
When the Ming Dynasty was overthrown by the Manchurians, Ming loyalists, notably Koxinga Zhen Chengong, fled to Taiwan in order to raise troops to eventually retake China. The Qing government, during Emperor Qing Kangxi’s reign (starting 1644), had the coastal regions evacuated by imperial edict for almost a decade, in order to thwart these Ming efforts, and they commanded all residents of coastal areas in Guangdong and Fujian to twice move inland 50 li, approximately 30 km. The migration caused a large number of Punti people to die. The rebels in Taiwan were eventually pacified, and the Qing allowed people to move back. To aid the move, each family was given money to begin their new lives; newcomers were registered as "Guest Families" ( 客戶 , kèhù).
But, when the Qing government lifted the restriction on inhabiting the coast, far fewer Punti people moved back than was expected, and thus the Qing government decided to provide incentives to the Hakka to populate the coast. But the Hakka population soon grew too fast for the region to accommodate well, causing unrest. Eventually, because of political resentments (the Hakka aided the Qing army during the Red Turban Rebellion of 1854), bloody battles raged, with both sides fortifying their villages with walls, and raising armies as best as they could. Entire villages became involved in this fighting, forcing all able-bodied men to be called on to fight against the other side. Finally, the Qing government implemented a strategy of segregation to cool the conflict, and the Hakka were relocated to Guangxi Province.
As rivalry for resources turned to armed warfare, the Hakka began building special round communal living structures designed for defensive purposes, consisting of one entrance and no windows at ground level . Because of the undesirable mountainous regions, the Hakkas set up these unique heavily fortified homes to prevent attack from bandits and marauders.
Hakka Kuen and Southern Chinese Martial Arts
The Hakkas developed a system of martial arts called Hakka Kuen / Quan (Hakka Fist) that seem to share attributes with Southern Shaolin and other southern Chinese martial arts. From the Tang Dynasty to the Ming Dynasty, many temples, both Buddhist and Taoist, were built in Fujian, Guangdong, Jianxi, and other southern China provinces. “Fujian History” says that by the end of the Tang Dynasty, Buddhism has been evolved into 5 groups: Yang Zong, Caodong Zong, Yunmen Zong, Linji Zong, Fayan Zong. Most of them were founded by Fujianese. In other words, Chan Buddhism’s roots had moved to Southern China. Over time, the Putian and other temples developed their own Southern Shaolin based martial arts, complete with Qi and Nei Gong as well as self defense movements. During the passing centuries, these temple martial arts also interacted with the various waves of the Hakka people's migration from the north to the south of China.
The Song Dynasty's Hakka wave brought the martial art of Tai Tzu Quan, practiced by the Zhao royal family and it's followers, and also during the Southern Song era, Yue Fei Jia Quan and Chuo Jiao-Fanzi Quan, practiced by the troops of General Yue Fei, to the southern provinces. The Fantzi style that many military people learned was based on short strikes, like most southern Chinese martial arts. The Yue Fei Jia Quan style contained the Five Elements theory and movements. It can be seen that before the Qing Dynasty, the Hakka brought elements from Yue Fei Jia Quan and Fantzi to the Fujian area during the Song and Southern Song Dynasty era and these may have done a lot to influence Fujian martial arts. Later, during the Qing Dynasty, the Chu family martial arts were brought to Fujian as well, leading to the eventual development of the so-called Southern Mantis style, another Short Strike based style.
Hakka style was said to later be influenced by a monk who came to Guangdong in the 1700’s, known as Gee Sim Sim See (“Very Virtuous Master”). He taught his style of Shaolin kung fu to a number of people in the surrounding area. Some people learned it in more depth and detail than others, because of their aptitude and ability. These people in turn began to teach with several variations, due to the differences in their understanding and length of time in training. This style eventually combined with the local styles of the area and became known as Hakka Kuen due to the large number of Hakka people who lived in this area of Guangdong province.
Hakka Kuen is primarily characterized by its short steps (the peculiar hooked stepping is very much like the Hakka method of pulling rice plants out of a paddy using the feet instead of kneeling in the water and mud), routines that are short, with moves being simple and direct, using many repeated actions in training , and close range attack/defense. Also, the arms are kept close to the chest and the elbows lowered and kept close to the flanks to offer it protection. The style uses Fengyan quan ( Phoenix - a type of knuckle punch), Jianzhan (sword palm), and Jianzhi (arrow fingers) as the main hand forms. In practice, it is split into Ying and Yang forms that include attack and defence, deflect and strike. Both wrists do not leave the chest framework, being fast in attack and retreat, and the legs use stamping to increase strength. The internal power demands Baufali (explosiveness), Jieli (Intercepting power), Huali (deflective power), and Jiaoli/Wanli (wrist power). Body movements demand Jinjen. It is by nature a style that faces the enemy square on with powerful fist strikes, small stance, stable lower body, and shouting to increase power. The characteristic rounded shoulders and concave chest of Hakka styles are the features that distinguish them most from native Fujian / Guangdong styles.
But, the similarities between Hakka Kuen and the local martial arts of Fujian and Guangdong strongly suggests that they are related in some way. Also, the style of Southern Tai Tzu Quan appears very similar as well to both Hakka Kuen and local Fujian and Guangdong martial arts. Many Southern Chinese martial arts developed between the 1600s and 1800s, such as Fujian White Crane, Wing Chun, the Five Families (Choy Gar, Li Gar, Hung gar, Lau Gar, and Mok Gar), Southern Dragon (Lung Xing) and the related Bak Mei (White Eyebrows), the Five Ancestors style, and others. Many of these have been adopted by the Hakka people.
Until relatively modern times, Southern Praying Mantis was taught exclusively to Hakka. In fact, the general public of the Pearl River Delta referred to Southern Praying Mantis as "Hakka Kuen”. Supposedly the Chow / Chu / Zhou royal (Ming) family practiced this art and it was taught only to the Hakka after the royals arrived in the south.
There also exists the Hakka “Chu Gar Fu Zhuang” or “Chu Gar Tiger Boxing”. Also, there is the Phoenix Eye Fist style. The Beggar style is also considered a Hakka martial art. Another Hakka martial art is Li jia Jiao, originating in the areas of Wuhua, Mei county of Guangdong. It is believed that a man named Li Tie-Niu created it. During his years of travelling for trades, he got to know a Shaolin Monk, from whom he learnt martial arts. After years of development, he finally created his own style of Li jia Jiao. Pangai-Noon developed in a Shaolin temple in the Fujien province. It is a combination of many different arts considered effective. Some of the contributions include the Phoenix Eye Fist, Crane stance and strikes, as well as Chu Gar mantis techniques.
The San Zhan (3 Battles) set (and the Su Men - 4 Doors set) seems to be in common between many Hakka and Southern Chinese martial arts, including Southern Tai Tzu Quan. Three Arrow One Way and Yong Tai Tiger are two such southern martial arts that are similar to Hakka martial arts.
Three Arrow One Way is another style from the Putian area of Fujian Province, besides White Crane (Bai He). Putian is the location of one of the three South Shaolin Temples. This style uses short and long range movements. Close ties between Three Arrow One Way and other southern styles like the Crane System and Five Ancestors can be seen, in particular the use of Dun, or Spring Force, when striking.
Yong Tai Tiger is from Xiao Lian Temple, Yong Tai, Fujian Province. At Yong Tai is located a temple for Zhang Dao Lin, who was an expert in Monkey and Tiger, a mystic in Daoism and Buddhism, and the inspiration the 'Journey to the West' or of the Monkey King novel. Xiao Lian Temple is credited by some masters to be the center of southern Tiger Style Kung Fu. Crane sets are also practiced there that show many movements typical of crane. For example, the twin downwards palm strikes near the beginning of the pattern are seen in many crane patterns. Also the set shows a crane's claw in many movements.
Most of the more well known Southern Chinese martial arts arose during the 1700s to 1900s, and were said to be created in opposition to the Qing Dynasty, such as Wing Chun, Dragon and Bak Mei, various Southern Mantis branches, the Five families, and others.
Yongchun White Crane and Southern Mantis are said to have been created earlier, during the early years of the Qing Dynasty, in the 1600s. White Crane is said to have came out of the White Lotus Temple (Bai Lian Si) in Fujian, created by Fang Qi Niang (female) and brought to the village of Yongchun in the mid 17th century. Around the same time period, Southern Mantis was said to have come from the Southern Shaolin temple in Fujian, created by Chu Fook-To, a member of the Ming royal family who took refuge there. The Hakka, having helped the Chu family reach the south, were taught Southern Mantis early on in its development. White Crane eventually became part of the Hakka martial arts, perhaps during the time of the Tai Ping Rebellion in the 1850s, which accepted the Hakka people as equals. Many Hakka sets show elements of both styles.
What southern Chinese martial arts styles existed or were brought to the south before the 1600s? Southern Tai Tzu Quan is thought to have reached southern China during the Southern Song Dynasty era. It was practiced by members of the Zhao family (Song) royal court, who were part of the Hakka wave that occurred after the Jurchen takeover in 1179 AD. The Southern Song royals were said to have reached South China by boat (by land would have been too dangerous) and the region became known for its strong naval fleet that was able to ward off the far northern invaders for a long time.
Perhaps Hakka military people went south as well. It is possible that they brought over the Yue Jia Quan that they learned in the army under the direction of General Yue Fei? Like Yue Jia Quan, one of the favored weapons of the Hakka was the 6-foot spear. The Hakkas formed three lines, with each person holding the spear at a particular height and angle that acted as a flange attack.
Obviously the Hakka had to modify whatever northern martial arts they knew to fit the environment of the south. Fighting was common then, and women fought side by side with the men to protect their compounds. Since space was at a premium, long range northern style movements were made more compact over time to make movements more efficient and effective. They continued their internal nei gung exercises that they practiced in their northern homes.
Southern Mantis - Chu Family Martial Arts:
Chu Gar, the Chu family style, probably a derivative of Northern Shaolin Practice, was established as the official martial art of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Chu Gar was originally taught only to members of Chinas royal family.
The first concern of China’s new Ming emperor was military strength and preventing Mongol resurgence. Chu Yuan-Chang established garrisons at strategic points and created a hereditary military caste of soldiers who would sustain themselves by farming and be ever ready for war. Chu Yuan-Chang made his commanders into military nobility. Troops were forbidden to abuse civilians. Chu Yuan-Chang’s regime executed many who violated the laws or were suspected of treason. Chu Yuan-Chang worked towards economic recovery. Farms had been devastated, so he settled a huge number of peasants on what had been considered wasteland and gave them tax exemptions. Between 1371 and 1379 the land under cultivation tripled, as did revenues. The government sponsored tree planting and reforestation programs. Neglected dikes and canals were repaired and thousands of reservoirs were rebuilt. Chu Yuan-Chang died in 1398 at the age of seventy. Chu Yuan-Chang’s death was followed by four years of civil war and the disappearance of his son and heir, Jianwen. Jianwen had been indecisive and scholarly and no match for his uncle, Yongle, who became Emperor in 1403. Yongle ruled until 1424. He often used eunuchs as spies and appointed them to high positions in the government. By the mid 1400’s the Mongols were again making border raids and appeared to the Chinese as the greatest threat since the rise of the Ming Dynasty.
With the independence from Mongol rule, Confucian influence had increased in the court. Confucian scholars were filling the ranks of senior officialdom and remained hostile to commerce and foreign contact. The Confucianists had little or no interest in seeing China develop into a great maritime trading power. In the wake of the Mongol rule, China’s leaders were eager to restore things Chinese, and that included shipping on China’s canals, which had fallen into disrepair under the Mongols. By 1592, China was engaged in a costly war with Japan over Korea. This was the beginning of the end for the Ming Dynasty. Over the next 50 years, the Ming military experienced heavy decline due to extensive defense programs in response to increased civil conflicts. In 1644 Li Tzu-Ch’eng, a domestic rebel, lead a campaign that captured the capital. The Ming had no choice but to enlist the help of the Manchu forces to remove Li Tzu-Ch’eng. However, the Manchu captured the throne for themselves, ending the rule of the Ming Dynasty. In 1646, Dorgon became the first Qing or Ch’ing Emperor and declared the Qing Dynasty.
With the ascension of the Qing dynasty, the Ming Emperor and his family fled to the northern Shaolin Hunan temple to seek asylum and escape certain death at the hands of the Manchurians. The military forces of the Qing dynasty hunted the royal family, knowing that a revolutionary spirit was being nurtured. Following them to the temple, the Qing army burnt it to the ground. The royal family escaped to the southern Shaolin temple in the Fukien Province. Knowing that the army would hunt and kill any person that practiced Chu Gar, the name was changed to Praying Mantis. This was done in the hope that the name would trick the Qing pursuers into thinking it was the same as the popular Northern Praying Mantis style. Still the Qing army found the exiled royal family and burnt the southern Shaolin temple down. Many of the royal family escaped and went deeper into hiding.
After the destruction of the temple many of the Chu family and other nobles and also many Shaolin monks from Honan moved to the South Shaolin temples ( Fujian and Jian Shi). The Chu Gar style legend mentions Tang Chan, (his real name was Chu Fook Too or Chu Fook To), who belonged to the Ming Imperial court (1) as one of this rebels that emigrated to the Southern temples.
At the Fujian temple (located in the Nine Little Lotus Mountains) the monks and rebels shortened the time it took to master the boxing styles from 10 years to 3 years with the purpose of train quickly the fighters to overthrow the Ching rulers and restore the Ming dynasty. The Chu Gar legend says that Chu Fook Too became abbot in the Fujian temple and changed his name to "Tung Sim" (anguish) due to his deep anguish and hatred for the Ching's reign of terror and suffering. In the style's legend he was the person that developed the Southern Praying Mantis style.
The monks (or Chu Fook Too himself) developed kung fu fighting styles that were faster to learn, based on close range fighting, designed to defeat a martial art skilled opponent (Manchu soldiers and Imperial Guard) with fast, powerful chains of attacks that left no time for counter-attacks. If we take as an example of those styles the Southern Praying Mantis one, we will see that it is a way of boxing developed with one purpose in mind: destroying the enemy. Restore the Ming; overthrow the Ching, was the primary purpose of the Southern Praying Mantis and the slogan of the day. It was violence of the Manchu rulers as they hunted down and destroyed revolutionaries of the Ming dynasty that caused Southern Praying Mantis to develop into a direct, deadly fighting style --- destroy the enemy before being destroyed.
The Chu (Jew, Chiao, Ju, Choi, Tsoi, Gee in Toishan, Zhu in Mandarin etc., all variations of the same name!) royal family was descendant of the Sung Dynasty by bloodline, and their members were by uncles and cousins related to the Ming Dyansty royal family.
The Chu Gar (Royal Family style) was a collection of techniques used by the Ming royal family. Emigrated Monks and rebels worked in the Fujian temple to develop a new style based on those techniques, but following their new concepts (no fancy movements, few forms to be learnt in a three year period, etc.). They created the new style combining the Northern Chu Gar techniques with the Southern Five Animals style. Therefore the new style has a southern flavor, but the remnant from the Chiao Northern family style is the phoenix fist punch, it is used in many northern styles, especially in the military ones (it is considered the hidden or special fist of some of these styles).
The main branches of Southern Praying Mantis are:
Chu Gar 朱家
Zhu Jia or Zhou Jia (chow gar). Also known as Chu Gar Gao ( Chu family religion).
Rebels and Shaolin monks went to another (Shaolin ?) temple in southern China, where one of them (Wong Dao Yun), circa 1800, taught the original Southern Mantis style to Chow Ah-Nam( 周亞南 ), a Hakka who as a boy left his home in Guangdong Province for medical treatment at the Southern Shaolin Monastery in Fujian Province where, in addition to being treated for his stomach ailment, he was trained in the martial arts and eventually created Southern Praying Mantis, who added more forms to the original three and founded the Chu Gar Southern Mantis. He was also the first person to teach the style outside the temple.
Chu Gar Southern Praying Mantis tradition contends that the Hakka descend from loyalists of the Ming Dynasty who fled south when it was overthrown by the Qing Dynasty. The Chu family branch attributes its art to Chu Fook-To, who created Southern Praying Mantis as a fighting style for opponents of the Manchu Qing Dynasty (1644–1912) that overthrew the Han Chinese Ming royal family (1368–1644) of which he was a member. According to the Chu family branch, because Chu took refuge there, the Qing destroyed the original Shaolin Monastery in Henan, forcing Chu to flee to the Southern Shaolin Monastery in Fujian.
Kwong Sai Jook Lum 江西竹林 or Zhu Lin Shi Tang Lang Quan
The Kwong Sai Jook Lum style traces its origins to the temple Jook Lum Gee on Mt. Longhu ( 龍虎山 ) in Kwong Sai, where it was created in the early 19th century by one of the monks, Som Dot. In the mid-19th century, Som Dot passed the art on to fellow monk Lee Siem, who would visit Guangdong to the south and teach the art to lay practitioners there. One of Lee's students from Guangdong, Chung Yu-Chang, would return with him to Kwong Sai to complete his training at Jook Lum Gee. Circa 1900, Chung opened his first martial arts school and traditional Chinese medicine clinic in Bao'an County in Píngshān ( 坪山 ) Town, which his eventual successors Wong Yook-Kong and Lum Wing-Fay were natives of. Wong would be responsible for the preservation of Kwong Sai Jook Lum Praying Mantis within China and Lum (also referred to as "Lum Sang", literally "Mister Lum," out of respect by his successors) responsible for its dissemination without.
Also known as Kwang Sai Jook Lum ( Bamboo Forest) or kwong sai jook lum gee tong long pai, also known as mui fa tong long. The history closer to the reality is that some rebel Mings and monks from the South Shaolin temple moved to the Jook Lum temple after the destruction of the Fujian one. In the Jook Lum temple they taught the original Southern Praying Mantis to the monk Sam Dart (the Abbot of the temple). Sam Dart expanded the original three forms, adding some new ones, founding the Zhu Lin Shi Tang Lang Quan (Bamboo Forest Temple Praying Mantis) about 1835 AD. According to the Jook Lum legend (Lam Sang See), the original source of this style of Kung Fu came from Shaolin Kung Fu and was based on the root of Shaolin Gum Jung Jow Dit Bo Yee.
Additionally, Jook Lum is probably closer to the original Fujian style. Most Fujian/Guangdong arts seem to have only a very small number of core forms, with expansion happening later as they spread. Jook Lum still has that "core" system of forms (8, 18, 108), that would be similar to the Chu Gar's root.
Iron Ox 鐵牛
The Iron Ox branch is named after its founder, Iron Ox Choi (Choi Dit-Ngau), who fought in the Boxer Rebellion (1898-1900). The only system of southern mantis that has no link to Chu/Chow Gar is Iron Ox. The style was/is completely separate from Chu/Chow Gar. But note also, in the Chow Gar system a form from the Iron Ox system is taught. So there has been trade in techniques but the origins differ.
Hakka Southern Mantis
the Hakka Southern mantis looks a lot closer to the Wu Zu Quan (Go Chu Kune) root than the Southern mantis that comes from Chu Gar and Jook Lum. Southern mantis looks like a refined version of the Wu Zu Quan movements. At the same time, the stances, footwork and weighting are different when we compare the Jook Lum to the Chu Gar. Many times it has been said that Fujian Bai He Quan (Fujian White Crane Boxing) and Wu Zu Quan are the origin of the Japanese Karate. It is true that Wu Zu Quan style has exactly the same Sanchin form that the Uechi Ryu and Goju Karate styles (with some differences in the tension, and the Chinese version includes two-man version). But Uechi Ryu has a form called Som Bo Gin (Three Arrow Fist), the most famous southern praying mantis form, and both form have similar movements and also the Uechi Ryu foot movements mimic those of Southern Mantis. In addition most Okinawan and Japanese forms follow the same numerology, such as, San Chin Kata (3 steps), Seipa Kata (18), Sanseiru kata (36) and Pechurin Kata (108). May be these similarities between Karate and Southern Mantis are due to the common origin in the Fujian temple, but may be was Southern Praying Mantis, and not Wu Zu Quan the style that originated the Okinawan Karate.
Hakka Boxing sets:
* Som Bo Jin (Three step arrow punch)
* Som Bo Jin (two person version)
* Say Moon San Sao (Four gate single hand form)
* Tong Long Chut Dong (Praying mantis coming out of the cave form)
* Boon Ben Lin (Half lotus form).
Hakka Mantis Weapons sets:
* Liu Tien Pan Kun (6 1/2 pt staff)
* Mei Hua Kun ( Plum flower staff)
* Sho Ho Chian (Neck locking long spear)
* Shih Sun Chian (13 pt. long spear)
* Chu Toh (Farmers hoe)
* Tze Mu Tau (Double butterfly knives)
* Tieh Cher (Iron rulers)
* Kun Twee Chai (Prearranged long stick sparring set)
East River Fist:
In Guangdong in the 1750s, the closely related martial arts of Bóluó ( 博羅 ) and Huìyáng ( 惠陽 ) counties, which occupy either bank of the Dongjiang in the prefecture of Huizhou just east of the Pearl River Delta, came to be collectively known by the name East River Fist.
Because this area is part of the Hakka heartland of inland eastern Guangdong, East River Fist is associated with Hakka Kuen, the martial arts of the Hakka people.
Though the origins of Southern Praying Mantis may be contested, what is indisputable is its association with the Hakka people of inland eastern Guangdong. The region that is home to Southern Praying Mantis begins in the very heart of Hakka territory at Xingning , where Chow Gar founder Chow Ah-Nam came from. From Xingning, the Dongjiang flows west out of the prefecture of Meizhou through Heyuan , where Iron Ox founder Choi Dit-Ngau came from. In the prefecture of Huizhou, the Dongjiang forms the northern border of Huìyáng ( 惠陽) County, where Kwong Sai Jook Lum master Chung Yu-Chang and Chow/Chu Gar master Lau Shui came from. From there, the Dongjiang flows into the Pearl River Delta at Bao'an County (present-day Shenzhen), where Kwong Sai Jook Lum masters Wong Yook-Gong and Lum Wing-Fay came from. These masters all belonged to the Hakka people, who kept Southern Praying Mantis to themselves until the generation of Lau Shui and Lum Wing-Fay.
Both Guangdong and Fujian are provinces that the Hakka call home, both are strongly associated with the southern Chinese martial arts, and both saw strong and persistent opposition to Qing rule, such as the Hakka-led Taiping Rebellion and the Heaven and Earth Society, whose founders were from the prefecture of Zhangzhou in Fujian Province, on its border with Guangdong. Societies like Heaven and Earth were noteworthy for how their membership transcended traditional Chinese social barriers like those separating Hakka from non-Hakka. In fact, a precursor to the Heaven and Earth Society was organized by Ti Xi, one of the Heaven and Earth founders, in Huizhou, part of the aforementioned "heartland" of Hakka Praying Mantis. The Heaven and Earth Society developed myths of Shaolin origins as part of a larger anti-Qing narrative. Perhaps the Hakka opposed to the Qing Dynasty did something similar, redacting their own migration and the southward flight of Ming loyalist refugees into a single narrative.
The martial art of Southern Mantis and the East River martial arts of Lung Ying (Dragon Claw) and Bak Mei (White Eyebrow) all seem to be related to each other. The founders or popularizers of these styles all first learned Hakka Martial arts. The Lung Ying master Lam Yiu Quai first learned Hakka Kune from his father and grandfather. His close friend, Bak Mei master Cheung Lai Chun first learned the Hakka styles of Li Jia Quan, Vagabond or Beggar's Style, and Lung Ying, and others.
(c) 1996 / 2007 BGT ENT / Sal Canzonieri