From Shaolin Temple to Bruce Lee - 100 Kungfu Styles of the Past Millenium
by Martha Burr and Gene Ching
As the Millenium turns, there is both a sense of promise and one of history. So for this issue we feel it is only fitting to take the long view, and celebrate the incredible diversity of the Chinese martial arts as it has developed over the past thousand years. However, to really give the big picture we had to back even further since for us, symbolically, kungfu is so well framed between Shaolin and Bruce Lee.
This was a mammoth undertaking and we don't claim to have arrived at a perfect history. So many origins of the styles are shrouded in legend, conflicting accounts and questionable history that for us to claim empiricism would be absurd. Nevertheless, these legends and multiple accounts are part of the history of kungfu, so we have tried our best to present and represent them as such as they appear.
We've arranged the 100 styles in chronological order according to when we found their first actual documentation. Since many of the origins are sketchy, this approach seemed to be the most fair. It also presented quite a challenge to our chronology, since some of the styles are attributed to mythical deities and many styles are undocumented in their origins. However, this chronological perspective was the most fruitful because the development of Chinese martial arts does tell a story. Within it, China's legendary warriors and rulers appear through the centuries of war and peace -- the first emperor of the Song dynasty, Taizu, the mighty general Yue Fei, the Shaolin rebel Gan Fengchi, and the most aggressive emperor of the Qing dynasty, Qianlong, to name a few. These heroes had a tremendous impact on China's history and inspired the evolution of its treasured martial arts.
Terms are also another sticky area. For the most part we try not to be too rigid about terminology, to keep it reader friendly. For instance, most people in the West use the Cantonese term Wing Chun, rather than the Mandarin Yongchun Quan, so we presented the more commonly used names first, as we deemed appropriate. When available, we give the Mandarin term, the Cantonese, the English literal translation, and the Chinese characters. Some Chinese words have different characters that wind up spelled the same in Mandarin Pinyin. This has caused great confusion with many previous English researchers. As always, using the character is the most accurate reference.
Other terms are translated directly, such as quan, (fist) and jia (family.) In English, fist is commonly substituted by "style." So is the suffix boxing. Americans also frequently use the suffix kungfu, more colloquially, and sometimes school, when referring to a style. Mostly we left the different terms as a matter of editorial choice to avoid redundancy.
Poised at the year 2000, we do not look at this piece as any kind of final word on 100 styles of kungfu, but rather a starting place. The lack of available facts also makes some of our entries uneven. However, we hope this will spur the other historians out there to help us collect more information, and eventually bring more and more kungfu history to light. We enjoin you, our readers, to write to us and help us correct our errors and add to our accounts (and let us know what styles we may have missed). Later this year we will print a Postscript to this article out of your responses, which our readers can use as an appendix to this collection. (Please list your sources, and if you can include a copy of photos or illustrations).
So without further ado, we now present you with 100 Chinese martial arts. As their practitioners, we all bear the honor and the responsibility to bring them into the next millenium - and keep them there.
From Shaolin to Bruce Lee - 100 Kungfu Styles of the Millenium
1. Shaolin Kungfu -- Shaolin kungfu originated in the Shaolin Temple on Mt. Songshan at Dengfeng in Henan Province. This temple was originally built for the Indian Buddhist monk Ba Tuo by Emperor Wen Di of the Liu Song period in 495. Later in 527, it became highly significant with the arrival of the Indian monk Bodhidharma (a.k.a. Ta Mo) who meditated in a cave on Wu Ru peak behind the temple for nine straight years. Following this meditation, Ta Mo conceived of Shaolin kungfu and Chan Buddhism, which would later be renamed Zen when it spread to Japan. Further legends even attribute the creation of tea to Ta Mo, which allegedly sprang from his discarded eyelids, cut off in disgust when he accidently fell asleep. Tamo created kungfu in order to strengthen the bodies of the monks for prolonged meditation. His initial contribution consisted of two forms of qigong and one fighting form, yijinjing (muscle tendon change) xisuijing (marrow washing) and lohan shibashou (18 hand methods of the lohan). Accordingly, Shaolin kungfu encompasses both internal and external methods. It also has a vast array of weapons. Shaolin is considered to be the birthplace of kungfu and many non-Chinese styles trace their roots to it as well. While fighting styles have existed for much longer, it is Ta Mo's contribution that is cited as the first true martial art. He elevated combat skills to be much more profound than just fighting. Following Ta Mo, kungfu became a vehicle for spiritual transformation. Over its long history, Shaolin Temple has created and influenced many martial arts. It became a research academy and martial resource, where traditional methods were cultivated and new concepts were constantly infused, and remains so to this day. The nature of Chan Buddhism permits Shaolin kungfu to constantly evolve to meet the needs of the times. Its ability to stay in the moment has been the source of its tremendous longevity. In essence, all styles aspire to Shaolin spirit, to find peace and self-actualization through the disciplines of war.
2. Shuai Jiao (throw horn) - Shuai Jiao traces its roots to a primordial combat style called Jiao Di (literally "horn hit") attributed to the mythic Yellow Emperor Huangdi. Ancient books and drawing document wrestlers wearing helmets with horns during contests, which is the origin of the horn in the name. Over the dynasties, this style underwent multiple name changes and variations, but the spirit remained the same, so it can justifiably stake a claim as one of the oldest styles of kungfu. Renowned for their expertise in this wrestling art, Mongolians will hold contests as part of their cultural festivals. In 1928, under the Republic of China, the Guoshu Institute of Nanjing standardized these contests under the name Shuai Jiao. Today, it has gained worldwide acceptance as a popular combat sport and an effective method of self-defense.
3. Wudang Quan - Wudang Mountain in Hubei province is famous for Taoism. Like Shaolin's Song Mountain, it is home to a wide range of martial arts. According to one legend, it is the birthplace of Taijiquan and attributes it to founder Zhang San Feng. Accordingly, there is a unique style of Zhang San Feng taijiquan practiced here. The other internal arts of Bagua and Xingyi are popular as well, and Wudang is most famous for it straight sword. Even though it was originally a weapon, many Taoists have changed the way they use sword so it is more of a training aid than a tool for killing. They do not emphasize the external combat techniques. Instead they use it as an instrument to focus their energies and cultivate their internal power. The mind is focused on one's center and the energy is projected through the tip of the sword. The mind fluidly directs the sword. Beyond the internal styles, there are also external forms of kungfu practiced at Wudang, however it is their internal arts that have won them the highest regard. Because Wudang Quan requires peace, quiet and calmness, this style is not really popular in the big cities. This is one reason why authentic Wudang Quan is rarely seen. Although styles of Wu Dang are martial arts, they do not concentrate entirely on fighting, and more emphasis is placed upon longevity, improving health and strengthening the body. 220
4. Fan Zhu Quan - According to legend, this style was rooted in the Spring and Autumn period (770-476 BCE). This is probably because it comes from the Fan people, a Chinese minority tribe who have one of the oldest cultures of China. Unique to this style is a heavy emphasis on elbow attacks. The hand and arm are used primarily for defense. Accordingly, this is close distance combat, with little emphasis upon leg techniques or jumping. It has a 3-5 step fighting range. 770 BCE
5. Miao Quan - The Miao minority from Guanxi province traces the roots of this style to a period before the Emperors and associates it with a primordial combat style called Jiao Di (literally horn hit - Jiao means horn, see Shuai Jiao). The Miao believe their ancestral ruler was Si Yao, who was defeated by the first Emperor Huangdi (221-210 BCE) when China was initially unified. According to this legend, Si Yao created the five original weapons, Ge (dagger-axe), Mao (lance), Ji (halberd), Lu (arrow) and Jian (sword). This style is very combative since all of its techniques are based upon war and hunting. It is similar to many Southern styles of kungfu in that it is very powerful and has low, immovable stances. It also has powerful Fa Jing that makes an audible sound, as in Chen style taiji. Today, its most renowned exponent is Liang Wai Ling, who has combined his ancestral Miao lineage with the techniques of Hong Quan and Hou Quan to create Gui Bei Miao Quan (Gui from Guilin province, Northern Miao fist).
6. Hou Quan - Hou Quan, or Monkey Fist, can be traced back to the Han dynasty and is recorded in the Mi Hou Wu dance performed at the Emperor's court. During the Ming dynasty Song Taizu describes 32 forms of longfist and six steps of Monkey fist, indicating that it was widely practiced at that time. Hou Quan has both Northern and Southern Monkey styles. The Northern utilizes small, compact movements with powerful, damaging short-range techniques. The Southern Monkey also emphasizes short, continuous movements, and is effective for close combat. Both styles employ a lot of light jumping and imitation of the monkey's characteristic movement and expression. The modern monkey style is very vivid, and includes more jumping, aerial techniques, and tumbling.
7. Emei Quan - Emei Mountain is one of the four major Buddhist mountains (the others are Wutai, Putuo and Jiuhua). It is also one of the major martial mountains, just behind Song Mountain (Shaolin) and Wudang Mountain. Just like those other mountains, a wide range of kungfu has descended from this venerated sacred place. As the mountain is renowned for its wildlife, Emei Quan is famous for its animal styles, particularly monkey style, and its unique Southern styles. Emei Quan is characterized by low stable stances with little hopping. Jumps are executed very lightly and quickly. Its movements are very diverse. Many of its most lethal techniques are derived from the wrist. 600
8. Yao Quan - The Yao minority of Guanxi province attributes this style to an ancient deity of their culture known as Pan Wang. Its origin has been estimated around the Sui/Tang Dynasty period. During the Ming Dynasty, there are records of a powerful female master of this style named Yuan Tan Liang. At that time, this style was known as Man Yao Quan (barbarian Yao fist). In 1847, Lei Zai Ji organized a meeting of the top exponents of this style to improve the techniques. Because the Yao are mountain people, they typically had very strong legs and powerful grips from climbing. Accordingly, this style emphasizes these attributes. Beyond hand forms, this style practices large broadsword, axe, staff and guandao (general's lance). Lion and Tiger dancing are also a large part of this curriculum. 618ish
9. Hua Quan (China-style boxing) - This style is believed to have originated in Jining of Shandong Province. It is said that during the Kaiyuan reign of the Tang dynasty (713-741) a Mount Hua knight named Cai Mao killed his enemy of a noble family of Chang'an, and went to hide in Jining. Cai Mao excelled at combat and swordplay. About 400 years later Cai's offspring, Cai Tai and Cai Gang, were also proficient at combat and often competed in local and national wushu contests. They developed their style in to the present-day Hua Quan. Cai Wanzhi of Jining, during the Jiaqing reign of the Ming dynasty (1522-1566), further developed Hua Quan and wrote a book The Secrets of Hua Quan. He based his book on the traditional philosophy of combining spirit, breath and ego. Cai Guiqin, grandson of one of the few remaining martial artists of Caixing, was born during the reign of Emperor Guangxu of the Qing dynasty (1877) and was fond of wushu as a child. He learned martial arts from his grandfather and after his death, was forced by poverty to move away from Caixing to a district outside the southern gate of the city wall of Jining. There he met with Ding Yushan, a well-known expert in Shandong Province for his mastery of Hua Quan. Cai studied with Ding for three years, and he later became a contemporary Hua Quan master during the late Qing dynasty. In the 1897 Cai Guiqin traveled in the south of China where he met and discussed martial arts with Qiu Jin, a woman revolutionary from Shaoxing in Zhejiang province, in Shanghai in 1906. In 1920 Cai Guiqin met with Dr. Sun Yat-sen before going to teach wushu to government officials in the headquarters of the Republic in Guangzhou. After the death of Sun, Cai went on traveling before settling in Shanghai for the rest of his life. Hua Quan was spread as he traveled through Hubei, Jiangxi, Hunan and Henan provinces. 720
10. Zhuang Quan - The Zhuang minority tribe has the greatest population of any minority, over 15 million, with 90 percent residing in Guanxi, and the rest in Yunnan. They trace their kungfu to 777 during an unstable period of the Tang dynasty. During this period China suffered invasions from the Border States of Tibet and Yunnan, and the Tang dynasty never fully recovered. The Zhuang staged their own revolution named Du Lau Qi Yi, and recorded in cave paintings in southwest Guanxi. These paintings display early renditions of Zhuang Quan armed fighters and horsemen. Until the Song Dynasty, their fighting style was called Nan Man Quan (Southern barbarian fist). This style has a wide arsenal of weapons, including broadsword, straight sword, spear, bow, blowguns and throwing darts. Its character is very powerful and hard. It is a close range combat style that and focuses only on methods of killing. Shouts to channel the qi are in the Zhuang language.
Click here for Feature Articles from this issue and others published in 2000.
Written by Martha Burr and Gene Ching for KUNGFUMAGAZINE.COM