Shaolin Temple

This blog relates to a conversation I had with Sifu Chu regarding the Shaolin temple in Southern China. His teacher Go Lo Tin was a lay priest from this temple and so it is a direct oral transmission.

Within the temple there were various chambers where a student would study with a teacher. Unlike the movies, progress was not through the chambers, but to stay within the one and learn everything the teacher had to offer. The student would be allocated to a teacher depending on body type, attitude and also to the needs of the temple and the people it served. The various teachings would be in weapons and empty hand, with the pole being the main weapon taught and the various animal styles would be studied.

After graduating the student could stay or leave. If he chose to leave it would be through a red door and the student would return to the world to help others, as they would also have studied healing as well as martial arts.

The significance of the red door is why the style is called Chu Gar Hung Kuen, Chu Family Red Boxing. It honours the Emperor Chu Hung Mo and the Shaolin temple.

History Of Chu Gar Kuen

Chu Gar Kuen is a short-range style of Kung-Fu that emanates from the Toisan district of Kwantung province, Southern China. It is said to have originated to combat the long-range styles of the Shaolin Temple. However, the authors of this article determine that this information is more than likely to be too literal a translation from the original Chinese as related to them by Master Chu. It is more probable that revolutionary factions who were trying to overthrow the Ming dynasty and restore the Ching devised this style. In the early 19th century when Chu Gar Kuen was conceived, the Shaolin Temple monks were active resistance fighters and taught lay disciples their Kung-Fu to help the resistance effort.

Shaolin Kung-Fu, however, was intricate and took a long time to master and so there was a need to develop a style that was quicker to learn, less intricate, but equally effective. It is also noteworthy that the new style was named after Emperor Chu Hung Mo who financed the building of the Fukien Shaolin Temple and became a shaven headed monk himself. This fact alone seems to quell the notion that the style was in some way opposed to Shaolin.

Though we are not sure of the exact origin or the originators of this style it is nonetheless an effective form of self-defense. Stripped of non-essential techniques, Chu Gar Kuen is designed to inflict maximum damage to an opponent with minimum effort.

Master Chu Shiu Woon is the current Grandmaster of Chu Gar Kuen and was originally sent to learn the style by his Siu Lum Hung Kuen teacher, Sifu Go Lo Tin. His new teacher was the brother of his master, and was named Go Tin Yat. Chu Shiu Woon soon found that Go Tin Yat was a hard task master and suffered greatly in learning this style, as development of the anatomical weapons is stressed, particularly the fung nan kuen (phoenix-eye fist ) .

In later years, the Cultural Revolution began and Chu Shiu Woon was urged to flee to Hong Kong to escape persecution. During the Cultural Revolution many great masters were put to death and since leaving for Hong Kong Chu Shiu Woon has never heard from his two beloved masters. The Fighting System Chu Gar Kuen consists of the following elements, which make up the style:
Empty Hands: fung nan kuen (phoenix-eye fist), tit sar jeong (iron sand palm), cum na sao (seizing hand), kiu sao (bridge arm).

Weapons: gow jit gwan (nine sections pole), dan dao (single knife). Weapons contain no forms, only single techniques, two-man drills and applications.

Internal Training: tit bo salm (iron shirt).

Wooden Dummy Training: A single pile wooden dummy with no arms or leg is used to sharpen skills and toughen anatomical weapons.

Forms: There are 3 empty hand forms, which cover short, medium and long bridge techniques.

Training the Anatomical Weapons

Anatomical weapons are toughened in a variety of ways, mostly against the wooden dummy or sandbag and may employ techniques such as striking, rubbing, grinding, hooking, and pushing. Also used are weighted devices using pulley wheels to strengthen the bridge arm and grabbing, etc. The most unusual method employs a silk sash suspended from the ceiling, which the practitioner grabs and pulls whilst striking with alternate phoenix-eye fists. This drill stresses “inch force” training.

All the methods employed do some degree of damage to each area worked and after each training session it is essential to apply herbal medicine to promote healing

Strange tales

Over the years at Master Chu’s I saw many strange things and though some people are sceptical, I was there and saw them with my own eyes.

The first thing was that the incense sticks that were left after they had burnt. They used to burn from the underneath and turn to ash. I asked Sifu one day why this was and he said “Because he was so busy treating people for nothing, he was too busy to clean the temple so he asked Kwan Kung to help and so Kwan Kung cleaned the incense sticks”. It was said matter-of-factly, as if an everyday occurrence for him though difficult for me to believe but I can offer no other explanation.

Another time a friend of Sifu’s came to the school, she was interested in the temple and Sifu explained what Kwan Kung did. She did not believe him so he said he would ask Kwan Kung to show himself to her. We went into Sifu’s office and waited, a few seconds later we heard a scream and the friend ran into the office and explained she had been looking at the statue of Kwan Kung when it opened its eyes and looked at her she became scared and ran away. Needless to say she did not come back and Sifu and I laughed about it.

One day Sifu was teaching me to transmit energy to an inanimate object and I could not get it, he disappeared for a few moments and came back with an envelope. He gave me the envelope and had me stand at the wall opposite him about twenty feet away, then he started to focus his palm at the envelope first starting at about six feet then making his way back toward the opposite wall to me the envelope was getting hot and by the time he got to the other wall I could not hold it! Sifu laughed took the envelope from me ripped it open and poured out sand onto the floor nothing else just sand, then he walked away laughing.

Lion Dancing

Once I had settled in at Master Chu’s I was very keen to learn Lion Dancing my ambition was to be the drummer something that would take about 5 years of hard work.

I first learned how to dance the tail before learning the head and was also taught the gong and cymbals so I could help more at lion dances and Chinese new year celebrations as this our busiest time and we had to put out multiple teams.

John Faz was the main dancer (and still is) and he taught me well. With my Kung Fu brother John Webb we set out to learn some tricks for doing the lion dance including climbing and balancing as well as practising picking different greens

We trained very hard and it showed in our performances over the years we have done lion dances for royalty, television and we opened the Trafford Centre in Manchester.

The most memorable for me were at Samye Linge monastary in Scotland where we did a dance for Tai Situpa and got to speak with him.

I have lots of memories of dances and demonstrations the ones that stay with me are of being in the Connaught restaurant van with all the guys and equipment and Lee Sing  shouting at the top of his voice “whiskey” as we hurtled along to our destination.

They were happy days!