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.

Sifu John Farrell

I am writing about my good friend John Farrell. John is not widely known in general martial arts circles but to many of the older generation martial artist, he is known as a long time practitioner of Shaolin Gung Fu and senior student of Chu Shui Woon.

John has over 40 years training and teaching most of that time spent with Chu Sifu. In the early days of the martial arts boom in the UK John trained with teachers Sifu Alan Lamb and Danny Connor before seeking out Master Chu and training with him at the New Moon Restaurant in Gatley.

He found what he was looking for and since has been devoted to learning, teaching and propagating his teachers way through demonstrations and Lion Dance.

John has an encyclopaedic knowledge of Chinese Gung Fu and in particular Northern and Southern styles, he is also an authority on Chinese Lion Dance and has a vast knowledge of the different greens to be picked.

I would encourage anyone to seek him out if you want to learn authentic, traditional Chinese Gung Fu and I find myself fortunate to be his friend and Gung Fu brother for over 30 years a friendship forged in a traditional system with a traditional teacher who has given us a gift to share with the world but only to those brave enough to seek us out.

John and his brother Peter have gone about training and teaching in their own way not involved with politics or commercialism just passing on what they have learned to those who ask, little known, appreciated by a few loyal students

But treasured by me.

My thanks to you both for you friendship and brotherhood.

Interview with Bob by Peter Farrell

This interview was written by my good friend Peter Farrell, it was written for a magazine originally but was never printed.

PF: You have studied Chu Gar Hung Kuen for many years with Grandmaster Chu Siu Woon and became one of his senior students, why did you become interested in Sun Style Taiji?
BM: During the 90s, I was diagnosed as being diabetic and was prescribed insulin quite quickly, my health deteriorated and I looked around for an art that was different but would enable me to get back to full health gently. Fortunately, I found Dave Martin in Leicester and as Dave was a disciple of Madame Sun Jian Yun I could not have wished for a better introduction to Sun Style. The training consisted of elements of Taiji, Xing Yi and Bagua which I found beneficial and fascinating on many levels.

PF: How does Sun style training compare to your training in Hung Kuen?
BM: The training is very similar as they are both traditional arts. A lot of time is spent working on the basics especially in Xing Yi, but in Sun style the body should be used more naturally, not holding or forcing the breath but allowing the body to find its way naturally. The aim is on self development through using the mind to move the body, while keeping alignments correct and natural so that less stress is  put on joints.

PF: You mentioned that training incorporates Taiji, Xing Yi and Bagua. Do people need to learn all these systems to gain health benefits or is it sufficient just to do the Taiji?
BM: I believe that to progress to the highest level in Sun style then all three arts need to be studied, as this will give martial as well as health benefits, but as there are elements of Xing Yi and Bagua in the Taiji form it can be used to train effectively for health. My teacher says that we learn Xing Yi for root and power, Taiji for concentration and relaxation and Bagua for speed and agility. Coupled with the push hands training it gives us an understanding of how to use Sun style.

PF: Is it important to learn the martial side of Taiji in order to gain health benefits?
BM: I think if you learn and practise the form in the appropriate manner then both the martial skill and health benefits will develop because they both rely on the same principles, for example, alignments and power development. So to answer the question, no, it is not necessary to learn the martial arts to gain health benefits as they are available in the form for all to develop. However, just as the concept of health is relative, the extent to which individuals wish to practice Sun style Taiji for health is also relative and I would encourage its practice at any level.

PF: Do people need to train in all 3 systems for martial purposes or is it acceptable to concentrate on one style, for example, Bagua?
BM: No, I think to understand Sun style completely, all three arts need to be studied. Many people like to learn a specific martial art and as Sun style is quite rare then obviously with the reputation of Sun Lu Tang  people think that they can just study the Bagua or Xing Yi but the three arts are linked and are meant to compliment each other. Clearly, some practitioners do train in an individual art for a variety of reasons and find it suitable as a martial system in its own right; I am specifically talking about Sun style in a holistic sense. However, commonly, the three “internal” arts are taught in progression, so just as my teacher does I would tend to teach all three arts as “Sun style martial arts” but it is important to remember that although we teach them separately they each give a specific attribute and come together in the Taiji form.

PF: Could you explain the importance of the three systems from a martial view point?
BM: As explained by my teacher, we practise Xing Yi for root and power development (Fa Jin), the Bagua is for speed, agility and nimbleness and lastly the Taiji gives us relaxed concentration. Together with Tui Shou (push hands) they give us attributes to use the art.

PF: We often refer to Hung kuen as an external or hard system of Gung Fu and Taiji as an internal or soft system. Apart from the obvious physical and stylistic differences are there any differences in the effectiveness of the two systems from a martial viewpoint?
BM: I think a lot of things come down to the individual not the system, as a system is only as effective as the person using it. If the basics are learned and practised, then skills built on a solid foundation can be effective. From a internal point of view, using the body more naturally over a long period of time the body suffers less damage to the joints and ligaments and so can function for longer in good health. I think an ideal balance would be to study an external art first then to move onto an internal art when in your 30s or 40s. This is only my personal opinion and of course there are many examples of hard external martial artists living a long and healthy life.

PF: Pushing hands is considered to be an essential aspect of Taiji. I understand that it might be difficult to elucidate in a couple of sentences but could you say something about how this training relates to martial technique?
BM: When I first went to my teacher master Lei Shi Tai he said he could teach me how to use Sun Style through push hands, and over the past 3 years we have practiced many hours of push hands and he has shown me how to use the techniques including Fa Jin. These techniques have also included Xing Yi and Bagua. We first learn Da Lun to train the four corners and get used to ward off, rollback, press and push. We then progress to stepping and lastly to freestyle push hands where the techniques can be trained effectively and safely.

PF: You have trained to a high level in other systems such as Hung Kuen and Escrima. Does your knowledge of these systems enhance your Taiji and perhaps vice versa or are they completely different systems that have little bearing on each other?
BM:
I think I have been lucky in that all my teachers have been at the top of their art and as such have complimented me as a martial artist. Each one has contributed to my development and added to my skills, knowledge and experience. Whilst the art is important and will undoubtedly have particular relevance for particular individuals, I feel to use the art effectively is down to me as an individual, so everything I have learned becomes part of me and internalised. I teach Sun style martial arts in the way I am taught by my teacher but use them in a way that is best for me using the skills and knowledge he has imparted to me. I think that is something that comes from many years of training.

PF: Many systems have particular basic training methods to develop strength, root etc, for example Mabu in Hung Kuen, does the Sun style emphasise any particular basic training or are such things inherent in the forms?
BM: In Xing Yi it is San Ti and the five element fist; in Bagua it is single and double palm change; in Taiji it is open and close hands. These things are all in the Taiji form in various guises but are essential and, importantly, complimentary elements within all three.

Sil Lum Hung Kuen Baat Charm Dao (8 Cutting Knives)

These are some of my favourite weapons in the system and the forms are difficult in having jumping and rolling techniques. The knives themselves are much like the ones commonly seen in Wing Chun, but the guard is a rolled bar not square which makes it easier to reverse the knives.

There are two forms to be learned the first is relatively easy jumping and blocking in four direction performing the cutting as well. The second is more difficult in that it has rolling techniques as well has jumping techniques.

This is a very flexible weapon and because of the length can change height and direction quickly enabling the practitioner to defend against multiple opponents.

Within the system there is also a two man set involving the knives against the pole. Myself and John Farrell performed this many times, it is a very fast set and the pole is used double ended which is a real test of speed to defend and counter against.

We performed the set for Lama Yeshe Losal the Abbot of Samye Linge temple who told us he could see our energy in colours spiraling as we performed the moves it was a great experience.

The Baat Charm Dao can also be called mother and son knives and that is their traditional name within Hung Gar, but for us they were 8 Cutting Knives.

History of Chui Siu Woon

Chu Siu Woon

Chiu Siu Woon was born in Tibet in 1923, his father worked as an artisan repairing the temples, his early exposure was to the practice of Virgin Hei Gung which can only be learned before puberty, and I personally feel this practice has helped maintain his good health and vigor as a basis for what he later learned.

When his father passed away the young Chiu his mother and sister took the body on a pilgrimage through India and back to China to Kwantung province.

Unfortunately Chiu’s mother and sister became opium addicts and gambled away what money they had, this forced him to find a job cleaning. He was asked to work for a local doctor cleaning and keeping the house. The doctor observed the young man and eventually asked him if he would like to learn medicine and Kung Fu, the doctors name was Go Lo Tin and he taught the young Chiu medicine, bone setting and Kung Fu. The name of the style was ‘Chu Gar Siu Lam Hung Kuen’. The name means ‘Chu Family Red Fist’ and is different to the other styles of Hung Kuen. It was predominantly a village boxing art, the history of the style is that a temple was dedicated by Chu Hung Mo an emperor, the practice of Kung Fu was done at this temple and in deference to the emperor the style was called Chu Gar, the red fist comes from the red door the graduates passed when leaving the temple.

When Chiu had learned all he could from Go Lo Tin he was sent to his masters brother Go Tin Yat, to learn Chu Gar Kuen a style purely for fighting and used to counter the long arm styles. The cultural revolution was starting and so Chiu was sent by his teachers to Hong Kong to preserve what they had taught him. He never saw or heard from them again. After traveling to India and Australia Chiu eventually settled down in Manchester, England and began to teach a small group, one of the first westerners was John Farrell and John is now Dai Si Hing (big elder brother) and has been for many years.

Bob began his training with Chiu Sifu in 1981 and is a Si Hing of the style second only to John Farrell, Bob underwent 5 years of daily training to learn the Chu Gar Kuen. He believes he is the only one to have done this training in its totality and though others have learned some they have not had the same training over a sustained period.

Chiu Sifu said Go Lo Tin was a lay priest and had been at the Shaolin Temple, he had left to pursue a worldly existence and help people.

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

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!