Okay, we’ve covered western fighting arts in the first two installments, and then we covered the history of Asian arts yesterday up to its introduction to India.
India had a spice trade and a cloth trade worth trillions in the ancient world. He who ruled India would have wealth extreme. So the princes of India often stood in the gap to await challengers, and it turned very bloody very quickly. The sight of the weapons used by India’s Raja’s are blood curdling. Some are designed to flay a person, others designed to cut an invading army to pieces.
The martial arts proper (as we know them today) were invented by a man from India who traveled to China to assist Chinese monks. Bodhidharma is how his name is rendered, or sometimes Damo (depending on the language). Damo apparently was discouraged by the physical weakness of the Chinese monks, and abandoned them. He climbed the Songshang mountain in China, and dwelt in a cave. Legend has it a Chinese monk went up every day for months to beg him to return, but Damo wouldn’t answer. So supposedly the monk cut off one of his arms in front of Damo, and that convinced him.
The story has to do with the fact that the monks leave one arm uncovered, but that may be explained by the fact this is how Buddhist monks from India dressed, as well as Hindu beggar monks.
What can’t be contested is that there was a series of 18 exercises taught by Damo to the Chinese monks, and that there’s a cave at the top of Songshang. I have a video of a chinese monk teaching these exercises in front of the cave. They’re actually a poor man’s version of calisthenics and stretching.
The Chinese took Damo’s teachings and modified them. It’s very possible that Kung Fu is not an India invention, but a pure Chinese one. The theory is that animals fight very well in defense of their lives, and by adopting the movements of these animals, one could turn basic fighting techniques into an art form. The earliest forms of fighting are Dragon, Tiger, eagle, snake and Leopard.
Later forms would arise of Crane, monkey and praying mantis. Praying mantis Kung Fu being one of the more recent forms of Kung Fu, it is literally perhaps only 150 years old. Today, when one speaks of “five animals”, the five animals are always the later Southern China variety of Dragon, Tiger, Crane, Snake and Leopard.
There’s a funny tradition in China that only villains learn Eagle style Kung Fu, and the tradition is that the Chinese opera boats always portrayed their villains as knowing eagle style kung fu.
Explanations of Kung Fu strikes
Unlike boxing, Kung Fu has billions of techniques. There’s the standard fist, the phoenix eye fist, tiger palm, mantis hand, dragon hand, eagle claw, leopard fist, four styles of elbow strikes, knee strikes, and kicks. There are a series of blocks and footsweeps one learns as well.
Each animal style of Kung Fu has its specialties – the claw is common to Leopard (ba), Eagle (Yin), Tiger (Hu or Fu), and Dragon (lung). By the way, anyone who maintains dinosaurs died out millions of years ago has never seen some forms of Shaolin Dragon Kung Fu. There is a distinctive reptilian aspect to it that comes from observing a bipedal lizard fighting. I can count the number of bipedal lizards in China on no hands. And the Emperor in China in 1611 had a servant whose title was “Dragon feeder”. Just saying.
Since there’s so much to Shaolin Kung Fu to learn and no man can possibly learn them all (sorry, Kwai Chi’ang Cain), one usually is shown Ji Ben Gong (basics), and then a few animal forms. When one adapts a particular animal style, that style is then considered their particular strength, and their training from that point continues in that field. A lot of it is bound up in Chinese superstition, and one ends up in discussions about how the Hu (or Fu in Cantonese) style is Fire, the Sei style is wind, etc. I think the philosophy originates in that the snake style (or Sei) is linear, straight forward and back – and this suggests strong winds. The Tiger (Hu or Fu) is always in motion when the fight starts, rising dropping, turning – and it looks like fire. Sorry, can’t explain why Eagle is Gold. No clue.
The key to understanding Kung Fu is that if you don’t train your body, it doesn’t work. A great deal of time is spent beating one’s arms, hands and feet against things. Canvas bags filled with Mung beans start the training, and you spend time hitting the bags with the various strikes. This literally strengthens the bones, and makes them more resistant to breaking. One can increase the density of the bones in ones hands to the point it would require incredible force to break them. While Okinawan Karate shows practitioners punching and kicking baseball bats and shattering them, China sometimes shows off martial artists being HIT by the baseball bats – and the bats shattering.
To explain, any six year old can do a tiger claw. Only a trained martial artist can rip through flesh with the tiger claw. The snake hand strike would result in broken fingers to an untrained man – the same strike by a trained artist can pierce flesh.
Other training method involves using the bags on various parts of your body as well. The repeated beating thickens bone tissue and makes the bones harder to break. Other training methods involve carrying large clay pots filled with water to strengthen the hands, and one toughens your feet by kicking your hands (clap the back of your left hand against your right over your head, hold your arms straight out to either side, fingers pointed up. Now do a series of crescent kicks, bringing one arm in front to kick, then switch. Keep that up for ten minutes).
Kung Fu features a series of stances – cross leg (a moving stance), horse stance, cat stance, bow and arrow stance, and one legged (“Da-mo”). It literally is posture and stances that determine the effectiveness of martial arts. I’ve given lectures where I show a picture of a group of men working out, and pointed out the one trying to do Fu Jow (tiger claw), and explained what he was doing wrong.
Here’s the secret to Kung Fu. Kung Fu is not intended like Karate is. Kung Fu is designed for fighting on a battleground, or to create a whirling distance that keeps your foes at bay while you dispatch one or two at a time. Karate is designed so that you can save your life through the execution of a single punch or kick. As a result, Karate ends up demolishing Kung Fu students all the time, because most haven’t grasped how Kung Fu is designed to be used. Most styles of Kung Fu are designed to be done in sequences. “Golden Rooster reaches for the fruit” is Long Fist Kung Fu defense against a groin strike. “Black Dragon seizes the pearl” is Hung Gar defense against the BJJ or MMA “Shoot”. Why don’t we see Kung Fu masters cleaning house in MMA competitions? Because these techniques are dangerous. “Black Dragon” is a killing technique if you’re rushed, and I guarantee you’d be rushed in the MMA ring. Nobody’s willing to go to jail for decades to prove a point.
Along the way, someone began noticing if you hit someone in a certain spot, it hurt a lot more than anywhere else. These became known as the 108 nerve spots, and Chin Na was born. Chin na is gripping and manipulating joints, and is intensely painful. an untrained fighter engaged in Chin Na will be beaten quickly, and may have broken hands or arms – or possibly death, as the Songshang mountain variety of Chin Na features one head twisting technique that can be fatal.
Chinese martial arts feature a dizzying array of weapons you have to master in addition to empty hand techniques. Some are sword, sabre, broadsword, staff, iron head staff, flail, mace, and oddities like stool and wooden cane. The more hair raising forms I’ve ever seen are the whip-chain (which can flail the skin off of you), and the meat cleaver form. Yes, you read that right. For the king of forms, see Tiger Crane below.
By the 19th century, Kung Fu practitioners had achieved a legendary status in the minds of the world, because nobody had seen anything like it.
Here’s a plain, but elementary truth. Northern styles have more kicks – but are often not as highly developed fighting arts as Southern styles. Three of the more famous southern styles are Crane, Wing Chun, and Hung Gar. Hung Gar is known as Tiger Crane style, and for good reason. The first two forms are Gung Gee Fuk Fu Kuen, or I Shaped Taming The Tiger – and Fu Hok Kuen, Tiger Crane. Tiger Crane is a dazzling form, and the BBC showed a video special once where a famous Kung Fu actor did a move by move breakdown of the form – and included a short mock fight at the end using Fu Hok techniques in a street fight situation.
Study of Fu Hok (tiger crane) teaches 108 different combinations of moves. Some work better going from one to the other, others can be combined or joined. Study with an approved master in Hung Gar is recommended. Self study just leads to kicking your living room coffee table and breaking your toes.
There are some lethal moves in the tiger crane form.
There is a distinct possibility that the most brutal form of Kung Fu ever invented originated by creating Hung Gar to disguise its existence, and then when you’d proven yourself by your practice of Gung Gee and Fu Hok, the master would pull you aside after class and tell you, “There is another art…”
And you’d leave the Hung Gar where everyone else learned the rest of that style, but you went behind closed doors to learn Fu Jow Pai.
Fu Jow Pai is the tiger style, originally known as Hark Fu Moon. Flashy? Oh yes. Lethal? Yes. But you’re going to develop your hand strength to the point where you can do pushups on your thumbs. One of the exercises is tying and untying of 108 knots in a rope.
Most of the flashy, flowery plum blossom moves in traditional Kung Fu are stripped out of Fu Jow Pai. Your first encounter with a Fu Jow Pai practitioner includes a warning – they block the attack, slide their arm across yours, and make a slow tiger claw motion towards your eyes. It’s your only warning.
Best bet is to step back, bow, apologize profusely, and leave while you can. Because Fu Jow Pai artists can drive their fingers into the shoulder muscles beneath the skin – and drag their hands ripping down towards your elbow. If the shock doesn’t kill you, the rapid blood loss seconds later will.
Or they’ll repeat the move, but not stop at the eyes. Or they’ll go for the windpipe. A Fu Jow Pai practitioner demonstrated on a ballistic gel torso once that he could indeed grab the windpipe and tear a section out.
Anyone who doubts the effectiveness of this art has never encountered it. The Grandmaster of Fu Jow Pai was attacked by three men with knives in America. He was uninjured. They didn’t survive. The State of New York contemplated charging him with murder, then finally dropped the charges.
When a Chinese master issued a death match challenge in the 1980’s to American Kung Fu masters, they got together for a hurried discussion, and chose one American to do the match. He had learned Fu Jow Pai. He won the match by a knockout.
I’ve noticed parts of the class for the Fu Jow Pai has identical parallels to Shotokan Karate – and that raises a lot of questions.
- Fu Jow Pai begins the lessons with reciting character building oaths. Shotokan has similar worded phrases recited at the end of the class.
- There is a step and breath sequence at the end of the beginning class workout that is identical in both styles.
- core movements are identical.
- The tiger is the symbol of both arts.
- The advanced forms of Shotokan have sequences split up among the forms bear a strong resemblance to the first Fu Jow Pai form.
- There are abrupt switches from hard and fast movements to slow deliberate movements in both forms.
If, as a writer, you’re looking for the most lethal form of Kung Fu ever invented, here you go. But its extremely secretive, and most of the advanced techniques are taught to advanced students who’ve proved themselves, and they are amazingly tight lipped about what they learn. If you see a video of “The second Fu Jow Pai form” or “The third Fu Jow Pai” form”, don’t you believe it. I guarantee they will not divulge the forms to the public, and a beginner would never be allowed to learn it. If they’re taught a short form, it’s not the real form.
If you live near me and feel like sharing that knowledge, look me up. I won’t say a word to anyone!
Tomorrow, we move to Okinawa and Japan.