The Best Evidence of
Southern Shaolin's Legacy
Co-Authored by Richard Loewenhagen
articles by the Ving Tsun Museum have been published recently
highlighting the work of China's government and several historical
societies that have reconstructed the Linquan Yuan Temple in Putian and
claimed that it is the original Southern Shaolin Temple. If the
assertions of these organizations are correct and the Southern Shaolin
monks practiced and developed their Kung Fu in Putian for almost 1100
years before the temple's destruction, then abundant evidence should
exist throughout Fujian Province of the three treasures of Shaolin: Chan
philosophy, internal and external qigong, and extensive combat science.
Likewise, one could reasonably expect to find evidence of other general
martial arts developed in a community both supportive of and supported
by a great Shaolin heritage. The Ving Tsun Museum chose to focus its
research on corroborating the findings of the historical societies that
rebuilt the Linquan Yuan Temple by looking at the corroborating evidence
in the surrounding community and province.
In short, Ving Tsun
Museum investigative trips and research specifically sought traces of
the three Shaolin treasures and closely examined peripheral martial arts
systems throughout the Fujian Province. In addition to the evidence from
the scientific archeological community for Southern Shaolin Temple's
existence, there is much circumstantial evidence within the martial arts
community around the Putian area to support the Temple's existence. The
Museum concludes that there is clear evidence of a current fervor for
wushu / kung fu in the Fujian province around Putian and that fervor has
existed from ancient times up to this day. Both written documentation
and the existence of fully developed kung fu systems still practiced
provide ample evidence of extensive martial activities in Putian in both
modern and historical times.
Over the centuries
there were many styles, systems and famous martial artists produced in
the Putian area. In the ancient book, Nation of Documents, it is
recorded that a large quantity of scholars, Sifus, warriors and generals
came from the Putian area. With the Dynastic implementation of military
testing, many warriors from Putian successfully tested for high-ranking
positions. During the Ming Dynasty alone, Putian had 307 successful
military candidates winning leadership positions through contests that
included the whole of Fujian Province. These candidates were given
governing roles at the levels of city, county and provincial government.
In the early 20th Century, one of the province's best martial artists,
Yang Siu Chi, was given the nickname Southern Fist Leader (nam kuen si
jou) by the Fujian martial arts community due to his prowess and wide
renown. He was a specialist in arm bridge (kiu sau) and crane fist (hok
proliferation of this documentation during most of the 11 Centuries of
Southern Shaolin heritage, there were certain periods of history where
no public activities were recorded. One such period was the beginning of
the Qing Dynasty. The lack of documentation during this period
conspicuously supports the claims of revolutionary activities of the
Ming loyalists in the Southern Temple that ultimately led to its
destruction. Clearly, the government's claims that the martial arts
within the temple went underground to establish secrecy from the
government and the public are well supported by this period specific
lack of documented martial activity in a community with a long history
of such. Following the destruction of the Shaolin temple, the Qing
government also curtailed the folk martial arts around the temple area.
Those that lived through the destruction of the temple presumably left
the area in order to escape. They took their kung fu along with them and
eventually propagated it in other places.
The second period of
history where martial arts activities appeared to decline and/or were
hidden from public view started during the 18th century when China came
into increasing contact with western civilizations. Western modern
athletic sports were introduced to China in the late 19th century and
Putian was no exception. These sporting activities became so popular
that they replaced most of the classical martial arts as a folk pastime.
Yet even after 200 years of martial arts decline, today there is still
an abundance of martial arts resources in the Putian area. Putian
practitioners still maintain the heart of the southern kung fu system.
Ving Tsun Museum research reflects that there are many martial arts
systems still being taught today in the area of Putian.
Examples of southern
systems include the Lohan Fist, Plum Blossom Fist, Hung Fist, Five
Ancestors Fist, Shaolin Five Thunder Fist, Buddhist Patriot Fist, Dragon
Fist, Tiger Fist, and Ann Hoi Fist. Some of the specialized skills
include Iron Shirt / Golden Bell, Shaolin Saam Jin (Three Battle) Fist,
Shaolin Thirty-Six Treasures, and Southern Shaolin One-Finger Chan. In
addition to the arts in the main area of Putian, the coastal areas of
Putian contain additional systems and skills, including Ox Horn Fist,
Six Superior Steps, Plum Swords, and Four Gates Combat. In the mountain
areas around Putian, there are Horse Fist, Bodhidharma's Cane, and Nine
Treasures. Other systems that originated from the Shaolin temple such as
Wing Chun, Southern Praying Mantis, and Bak Mei are no longer in or near
Putian but became popular in places such as Guangdong and Guangxi
Provinces, Hong Kong, Macao, Southeast Asia, the United States, and
other places. Interestingly, these three systems were the main ones
involved with the underground anti-Qing activities of that period. After
the destruction of the temple, they disappeared from the area. Many of
te referenced southern systems contain a combination of the
characteristics of Northern Shaolin, the five elements theories, the
Chinese meridian theories, and chi gung practices. Even though they
contain all of these theories, they maintain their own characteristics
of Putian martial arts.
characteristics of Putian martial arts contain forms and training
methods that focus on ging lik. They tend to utilize all four limbs in
close range, but their specialty is still the arm bridge. The basic
exercises and movements of the southern systems commonly focus on the
arm bridge, the waist / hip, and the use of Jong training, including
standing Jong and Muk Yan Jong (collectively known as jong gung). The
ging lik focuses on cheun ging (short power) and sticking energy.
Speaking in realms of applications, they tend to operate with close
range strikes and kicks, containing expertise in kam na as well as
pressure point technology.
Out of all those
systems and skills, which are more originally systems that were
practiced in the Southern Shaolin temple? Which systems and skills were
created after the destruction of the temple? Before anyone can answer
these questions, researchers must know the DNA and characteristics of
both Northern and Southern Shaolin.
There are three
characteristics that mark an art as belonging to the classification of
Shaolin: Chan (Zen) philosophy, internal and external health
development, and martial skill based on combat reality. We call these
the three treasures of Shaolin.
The first treasure,
Chan (Zen), is the heart of all Shaolin Kung Fu. Chan (Zen) places
emphasis on instant awakening rooted in awareness of 'here and now'.
Equally important is the Chan (Zen) mandate for practicality. This
refers to Chan's (Zen) emphasis on understanding and relating to reality
through the senses of the body and intuition in harmony rather than
creating complex philosophical models of thought that are not directly
tied to daily experience. Finally, Chan (Zen) insistence on
'completeness' refers to looking at issues or situations from all angles
rather than one's personal, subjective, frame of reference.
The second treasure of
Shaolin, internal and external health development, deals with keeping
the body in good working order and living in harmony with the needs of
the body. Medicinal and qigong practices are used to heal the body and
maintain a proper internal functioning of the viscera in harmony with
the muscles and bones. Forms achieve multiple aims from moving
meditation to external strengthening of the body to internal
conditioning of the viscera through static postures and rhythmic
movements of the limbs.
The final treasure,
martial skill, was also an important facet of Shaolin Chan (Zen). The
body must be kept in balance and self-defense is necessary to keep the
world in balance. Shaolin monks use the process of learning self-defense
in addition to fighting scenarios to delve into their personal demons
and attachments to root out the source of ignorance, fear and greed.
To consider a martial
art to be original to Shaolin, it must contain Chan, health, and
self-defense modalities. Further, these three components have to be
united and consistent in terms of training methodologies, employment
strategies, and philosophical focus.
Within the martial
treasures of Shaolin, there are three layers of skills. The first of
these three layers consists of the specialized skills (gung) that focus
on combining qigong with physical conditioning but are not directly
related to fighting skill. Examples in the Putian area consist of Iron
Shirt / Golden Bell, Shaolin Thirty-Six Treasures, and Southern Shaolin
One-Finger Chan. The second layer of skills involves the use of training
sets or patterns (tao lu). These are the forms of Shaolin, functioning
as both physical conditioning and meditational training, as well as
serving as a means to preserve and communicate the principles and
identity of a particular system. The third layer of skills is realistic
fighting ability (ge dou). This is the actual ability of self-defense
trained by the monks. In Southern Shaolin, these skills focused on
bridge training (kiu sau).
Armed with the
knowledge of the the three treasures of Shaolin, Ving Tsun Museum
research into Wing Chun history, specifically looking for the roots of
Wing Chun, has identified two systems that contain all three treasures
of Shaolin. In other words, both systems are complete in realms of Chan,
health, and self-defense skills. These two systems come from the Weng
Chun Dim in the Southern Shaolin Temple and the Hung Fa Ting led by the
Hung Fa Wui revolutionary Anti-Qing secret society located just outside
the Southern Shaolin Temple. Today they are referred to as Chi Sim Weng
Chun and Hung Fa Yi Wing Chun.
knowledgeable of the other systems referenced in this article should
closely examine them for their adherence to the treasures of Shaolin as
well. The next article in this series by the Ving Tsun Museum will focus
specifically on Chi Sim Weng Chun and Hung Fa Yi Wing Chun adherence to
Chan (Zen), internal and external qigong, and fighting skills and
strategies. Specifically, it will highlight the consistent philosophy
that knits these systems together.