Natural Traditional Chinese Martial Arts articles by Sal Canzonieri

This was my 35th article, 12th for Kung Fu Tai Chi Magazine, it is about the The Origin of Shaolin Taizu Chang Quan and its relationship to Shaolin Long Fist and the internal martial arts.

Shaolin Kung Fu Tai Chi Magazine
(May / June 2010)
Article #35

(C) 2010 , reprinted by permission

The Origin of Shaolin Taizu Chang Quan – Grand Ancestor of all Shaolin Boxing

By Salvatore Canzonieri

There is much controversy surrounding the origin of Shaolin Taizu Chang Quan - 少林 太祖 长拳. People from China 's Henan ( 河南 ) area believe that Taizu Chang Quan was developed in the early Song ( 宋) Dynasty era, under the sponsorship of first emperor Zhao Kuangyin - 趙匡胤. Others believe it was developed during the Ming ( 明 ) dynasty era and is only named ‘Taizu'- 太祖 in honor of either the Song Emperor or even the first Ming Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang - 朱元璋 , who was known as Ming Taizu - 明太祖 and also as ‘Hong Wu' - 洪武 .

There is much similarity between the Taizu Chang Quan set and Tongbi / Tongbei Quan - 通臂 / 通背拳 and also Taiji Quan - 太極拳, including whole sequences of matching movements and postures from routines. The Taizu Chang Quan style is characterized by powerful strikes and movements, body shaking, being structurally aligned, postures flowing with coordinated footwork, being very firm and stable both in standing and stepping and is effective in evading, grappling, joint locking, and takedowns. All of which are present in Chen style ( 陳氏 ) Taijiquan today. It is known that Chen Youben ( 陳有本 ) redeveloped Chen Wangting's ( 陈王庭 ) original version of their family art by merging it with material from this Taizhu Chang Quan style.

Origin of Shaolin Song Taizu Chang Quan

Being a military family in the Yellow River area , the Zhao family was most likely known for its practice of Da Hong Quan - 大鸿 [ 雁 ] 拳 (Big Vast Fist or Swan Fist), so how did Zhao Kuangyin become associated with the famous Shaolin Taizhu Chang Quan set? Well, according to the Shaolinsi Wushu Baike Quanshu ( 少林寺武術百科全書 ), known informally in English as the Shaolin Encyclopedia, compiled by the late Shi De Qian - 釋德虔 (his family name is Wang Chang Qing - 王長青 ), Fu Ju ( 福居 ) became head of the martial monks at the beginning of the Song Dynasty. In the year 961, various meetings were held in which martial art head master Fu Ju called together various masters from various areas in China for a special purpose. This was a very warlike period in China 's history and people everywhere were in danger from brigands and armies. Fu Ju invited the best martial artists to come and share their knowledge while training at the Shaolin temple. Three times, for a period of three years each time, martial artists from many places came to the Shaolin temple to share their knowledge.

This is where the story of the 18 masters originally comes from. Fu-Ju was not of the Shaolin Chan ( 禪 ) religious order that is now traced down from Yuan Dynasty ( 元朝 ) Abbott Fu Yu ( 福裕 ), who lived from 1203-1275. “Not all the monks that resided at Shaolin during imperial times were of the same dharma lineage.” (from the Honan Shaolin Association book, The Dragons of Shanghai , by Rik Zak, 2003). Song era Fu-Ju was a military monk trainer. Before Yuan era Abbot Fu Yu's time there were many different sects operating out of Shaolin. Fu Ju was commissioned by Emperor Zhao Kuangyin to create a standardized set of material to prove that a person had been trained at Shaolin. A group of men had been arrested for impersonating Shaolin monks and their kung fu was poor, as they had been easily beaten up. Newly seated Song Emperor Zhao Kuangyin, being much interested in the martial arts, offered to send his best military experts to consult Shaolin (being that he had just retired all his generals). Most likely, Zhao was eager to keep them busy so that they were preoccupied from planning any possible military coup against him.

Zhao sent over a group of his best military men to help Fu-Ju develop a test. Zhao appointed General Gao Huailiang to reside in the temple to teach and learn. It was decided that in order to weed out imposters, and to prove that one had graduating from Shaolin as a martial monk, a set of specific martial art routines would be created. Before this time, there were not any specific routines, just strings of techniques or even single techniques practiced over and over until they became a skill. These routines would be combining these skilled techniques into special routines that only someone that really studied in Shaolin would know. (Note: Emperor Taizu's inner guards, his Nei Deng Zi - 内等字 (internal rank personnel), were from Sichuan (四川 ) province, and were versed in a local style from Emei Mountain ( 峨嵋山 ). The Shaolin monks recorded the routines and techniques into a library that was kept at Shaolin.

The first routine that they developed was named ‘Taizu Chang Quan', Great Ancestor Long Fist, in honor of Emperor Zhao. Another name for this long fist set is ‘32 Duanda' ( 三十二 短打 ) – ‘32 Short Strikes'. Many people assume that the movements in this routine were “created” by Zhao himself, and this idea has perpetuated over many generations and areas of the world, but this is not the case. Zhao Kuangyin's family martial art has always been the Da Hong Quan (even today his descendents in various parts of China all practice different versions of Hong Quan).

This routine was the base one from which all other Shaolin martial routines were developed from; it is the ‘ancestral' routine. The input to the creation of this routine came from two core sources, one was the military weapons and martial training from the masters outside of Shaolin, and the other was the Neigong - 内功 (“internal exercises”) that Shaolin monks practiced (which was the only thing they knew really), which used special body mechanics to move and transfer energy in the body.

From the outside people's guidance, the following important concepts were built into the routine. Being that the people helping to develop the routine had much practical fighting experience using the classic weapons (i.e., the Jian – straight sword; Dao – long knife; Qiang, the spear; and Gun, the staff), empty hand movements were done as if a weapon was being used, especially double weapons.

One of the most important things about this routine was that it had sudden changes in movement that would cause an opponent to lose track of where one was (and which also made the routine very difficult and hard to fake). This sudden changes idea was further developed by the Yan Qing Quan - 燕青拳 (also known as Mi Zong Quan - 迷蹤拳 Lost Track) style, which traces its far back origin point to this time period and this Shaolin event. The sudden changes necessitated the use of a “broken” rhythm in the timing of the movements. There was great use of dodging and yielding to get out of the way of an incoming attack, which came from the Ba Fan Men ( 八翻门 ) style of Shandong ( 山東 ) Province.

Also, “long fist” movements were cleverly used for close range fighting (which later greatly influenced Priest Dong Cheng's ( 董成) development of Tongbei Quan during the 16 th century), as would be the case if one had lost the use of his weapon. The movements could be used not only for striking but also as maneuvers for taking down, throwing, and grappling opponents, which came from the art of Shuai Jiao - 摔跤 (which by this time was already very old and vastly popular all over China ).

From the Shaolin monk's influence, the following important concepts were built into the routine. The nei gong movements allowed the long fist movements to generate great power inside a close range. In order to do this one had to coil within the Kua - 胯 (the inguinal fold or the hip fold region) to gain leverage before striking, instead of cocking far back to have room to strike. Thus, one was using circular “internal” movements, which became the original basis for today's ‘internal martial arts' that do exactly this same thing.

Also, a ‘body shaking' method was used for transferring this internally generated energy; the opening and closing of the Kua caused the heels to alternately press into the ground in such a way that the body was used as a lever to transfer the body weight up the legs, around the hip/waist area (the ‘dantian'), up through the spine, and out the striking area. The Long Fist idea itself consisted of moving this kinetic energy in an attack as one long fist, moving from one arm through the shoulders and back and out the other arm.

This idea was the original use of “tong bi” – “through the arm”, which was pointing and piercing movements for striking. The nei gong postures used movements that were “soft”, meaning that they yielded and redirected opposing energy in order to dissipate it, rather than confront it forcefully. Finally, through both inside and outside influences, the movements of the postures in the routine were made so as to dodge, yield, redirect, and absorb the incoming energy, and then transfer leverage from one leg to another, causing incoming energy to be redirected back to the opponent many fold. Thus, one was using ‘soft' and ‘hard' movements at the same time.

All these concepts can be found today used in various ways within Tongbei Quan and the ‘Big Three Internal Martial Arts'. They are also found in Zhang Songxi's ( 張松溪 ) Neijia Quan ( 内家拳 ), which makes use of very similar ideas that came from Wudang ( 武當 ) sword fighting methods and Taoist nei gong material. Note: Songxi Wudang Neijia Quan practices a 32 Posture Long Fist set, as well as a Liu Bu ( 六步 - Six Step) Quan set and an E Quan ( 囮– Decoy Boxing) set, all of which were mentioned in General Qi Jiguang's ( 戚繼光) famous military manual as being part of the Song Taizu Quan system.

This original Song Taizu Chang Quan routine became the foundational material for all other Shaolin routines that were later developed during this event and that were developed in later time periods. The Taizu Chang Quan has 32 Postures and 108 Techniques (as does Tongbei Quan). Its long fist is also described as Coiling Boxing – Pan ( 盤 ) Quan. This main set was also called ‘32 Shou Duanda' – 32 Hands Close Strikes, as recorded by Liang Yiquan in his Qing Dynasty book, Song Shaolin Chang Quan of the Daoguang ( 道光 ) era (1782-1850), which he learnt from his teacher Shaolin Monk Zhang De ( 张德 ). It is considered to be softer than Chen Taiji Quan and harder than Pao ( 炮 ) Quan.

Eventually this routine and others related to it (such as Taizu Xi Nan Tang, Pao Quan, and other sets) from Shaolin became part of the Da Hong Quan ( 大洪拳 ) system that spread from Henan to Sichuan and Shaanxi ( 陕西 ), which then spread it all over China by the Qing dynasty as village folk Hong Quan. From Da Hong Quan, generations later this Taizu Chang Quan 32 postures set became part of the Tongbei system, from there it finally ended up becoming a major influence on the development of Chen Taiji Quan.

The actual 32 posture names for the Shaolin Taizu Chang Quan routine:  

  1. 海底捞沙 - Hai di lao yue (or sha) = ocean bottom scoop moon (or sand)
  2. 迎面扳手 - Yin-mian ban shou = face to face grab/wrench hand
  3. 撩阴截把捶 - Liao yin jie, ba chui = Pull up hidden (or genitals) cut/block and Grasp hammer
  4. 撑膀 - Cheng bang = support forearm
  5. 合身 - He shen = close body
  6. 提地擎天 - Ti di qing tian = lift ground seize sky
  7. 撂手撩脚挤手炮 - Lue shou hen jiao, Ji shou pao = (plunder) brush-past hand, step rudely foot (stamp), Squeeze hand cannon
  8. 撂手单冲拳 - Lue shou dan dong quan = Plunder/brush past single dashing fist
  9. 右二起脚 - (you) Er qi (fei) jiao = (right) two lifting (flying) feet
  10. 双括 - Shuang kuo = double embrace/ parenthesis
  11. 束身双抱拳 - Su shen shuang bao quan = close body double wrapping fist
  12. 左橛楔捶 - Zuo jue-xie chui = left plow (‘post wedge') hammer
  13. 凤凰单展翅 - Feng Hwang dan zhan chi = Phoenix single spread wing
  14. 摇山 - Yao shan = Shake mountain
  15. 扳手推腰 - Ban shou Tui yao = grab/wrench hand and push waist
  16. 虎扑 - Hu pu = Tiger strike
  17. 挑打器眼 - Tiao da qi yan = (carry pole on) shoulder striking tool eye
  18. 束身双抱拳 - Su shen shuang bao = close body double wrapping
  19. 右橛楔捶 - You jue-xie chui = right plow (‘post wedge') hammer
  20. 十字闯步前后冲拳 - Shi-zi kuo bu, qian dong quan = Cross-shape wide step, before and after rushing fists
  21. 盘肘 - Pan zhou = coil elbow
  22. 虚步亮掌 - Xu bu liang zhang = false/empty (hill?) step show palm
  23. 黑虎掏心 - Hei hu tao xin = Black tiger pulls out heart
  24. 左二起飞脚 - (Zuo) Er qi (fei) jiao = (left) two lifting (flying) feet
  25. 赘地炮 - Zhui di pao = elaborate ground cannon
  26. 燕子取水 - Yan-zi qu shui = Swallow-shape takes water
  27. 霸王观阵 - Ba-Wang guan zhen = Overlord observes battle formation (?bursts)
  28. 掏鬓捶 - Tao Bin Chui = Fish out (hair on) Temples hammer
  29. 磨腰掏肋捶 - Mo yao tao lei chui = Grind waist pullout rib hammer
  30. 虎扑 - hu pu = tiger strikes
  31. 双抱膝 - Shuang bao qi = double embrace knees
  32. 蹬足双冲拳 - Bing zu shuang dong quan = Gather feet, double rushing fists


That's it for this issue! Click here to read article #36

Sal Canzonieri -

(c) 1996 / 2007 BGT ENT / Sal Canzonieri