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.

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 Sei Mun Gwan (4 Gate Pole)

It took me three months to just learn the beginning of this set, Chu Sifu needed it to be fast and precise and each day I saw the look of disappointment that I could not do it as fast or precise as he wanted.

Then one day it clicked and I learned the rest of the form in a day, I perfected it in a few weeks and this form became the basic pole set of the system.

After the opening which is a complicated block and counter, the form moves in four directions and attacks the four gates of the opponents body with thrusting and striking movements.

The basic training for this pole form.

Included bouncing the pole off the ground and retreating while it did a 180° flip re-catching the pole and sitting in cat stance. We also have strength exercises to help with finger and wrist strength and dynamic tension exercises against a wooden dummy.

An excellent form for any level to learn and get the benefits.

Sil Lum Hung Kuen Fut Dao (Buddha Knife)

This weapon is one of the first to be learned, but it has two forms both bearing the same name one a little more difficult than the other.

The name comes from the hand configuration which is predominantly held at the chest height with open palm as a traditional Shaolin salute.

Both forms involve all the basic striking and blocking but as this weapon is a hacking type it has some spinning and jumping techniques to add power to strike.

Within the forms there are also kicking techniques coupled with twirling the Dao and also rolling and cutting low.

This weapon was mainly used against a long range weapon like a spear or pole but we also practiced close range techniques.

Control was one of the main training exercises you would twirl the Dao then attack a dummy and stop the Dao an inch from the dummy. Eventually you could control the weapon, as the idea was being able to change the angle quickly if your attack was blocked at full speed and power. I also learned the Chu Gar Dao, completely different from the two forms I learned in Sil Lum Hung Kuen. The training was also different with more emphasis on close range and manipulating the Dao at soft targets on the body, instead of hacking them and cutting and blocking at the same time.

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.

Sil Lum Hung Kuen Dai Pa (Big Fork)

Within the system this is a formidable weapon, it is approximately 7 feet long and weighs between 30 and 40 pounds it was not a weapon I chose to learn but it was what Chu Sifu thought would be best for me as I was a big guy back then and I think he gave it me to develop the attributes of stable fast footwork with power.

I am so pleased he decided to teach me this weapon I grew to love it but it was as with everything in the system difficult and very hard work.

First I was taught the basic movements pressing, uplifting, sweeping, thrusting, twisting and striking with reverse of the Pa. This was done in a straight line involving horse stance, bow and arrow stance and twisted stance turning and repeating until Chu Sifu said enough. This was repeated daily and after about 6 months I felt the Pa was not heavy and I could control it without it controlling me.

Over the next five years I was taught two forms each about 12 moves long which eventually linked into one form. The moves were what I had been practicing but in a set of movements with some additional flourishes and designed so I could perform it when needed at events and Chinese New Year.

As well as the basic movements there are exercises designed to strengthen the grip and forearms.

Some of you might think that learning an archaic weapon such as this is not relevant to today’s world of Martial Arts, but to keep alive a tradition and also to develop the strength and skill this weapon bestows was well worth the effort.

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.