Shaolin Quan, better known in the west as Shaolin Kung fu, is one of the oldest forms of Chinese martial arts which has over 1400 years of history, it has been the source for the creation of many other forms of martial art styles developed in Asia. If one is to grasp what is Shaolin Kung fu, one first must know some of the history that lies beneath its foundation.
The Shaolin (translates to "young forest") Temple was created approximately in the year 495 A.D. as a Buddhist temple. Shortly after its creation, a wandering Indian monk by the name of Bodhidarma, known as Da Mo by the Chinese, travelled to Shaolin in the year 527 A.D. to further instruct the Shaolin monks in the teachings of Buddhism. When he arrived though, he saw that the monks were physically weak and did not possess the physical strength or endurance needed to practice long hours of deep meditation. Bodhidarma than decided to enter a cave on the mountain above the Shaolin Temple and meditated for 9 years to find the answer to this problem. During his time in practice, he developed two types of Qi Gong that became the foundation for Shaolin training: The Xi Sui Jing (Cleansing of Marrow exercise) and the Yi Jin Jing (Tendon Changing Exercise). These exercises gave the monks added strength and flexibility to the muscles and tendons as well as promoted their health to legendary ability. Bodhidarmas' teachings also established Shaolin temple as the birthplace of Chen (Zen ) Buddhism.
Over the years, out of necessity the monks had to learn how to defend themselves and the villagers below the temple, as there were bandits and warlords that would seek to prey upon the weak. Many excellent martial artists passed on their techniques to the monks, which they refined and further developed over time, eventually creating the legendary 72 styles and techniques that are now known as Shaolin Quan (Small Forrest Boxing). Over the centuries, Shaolin Kung Fu gained much fame through the many trials it was put through. It has survived through times of growth and persecution, evolving to its current state today.
Shaolin Quan emphasizes the training of ones mind and body through the practice of Talou (fist forms) in low powerful stances, soft and hard Qi Gong, acrobatics, tumbling, strength training and practical combat application. Its movements are rapid and physically strong, sometimes mimicking an animals traits. Shaolin Quans' most powerful techniques lie within the use of their fists.
Shaolin Quan is an excellent foundation for those to begin their journey into martial arts for the benefits it provides to ones physical and mental state, developing a more sound and calm individual who is capable of defending themselves.
Although much of Baji Quans origins are shrouded in mystery since there is no written lineage, it is widely accepted that this style originated about 400 years ago in Hebei province China, passed down from a wandering monk. Baji Quan eventually found its way to a group of Muslim farmers in Hebei who further developed this martial art in their spare time. As time passed, Baji Quan spread to all peoples of the region. The original name for Baji Quan was Ba Zi Quan (Rake fist), due to the way the practitioners hands were loosely held slightly open, striking downward in a rake like manner. The name was considered to sound rather crude in its native tounge and over time the name was changed to Ba Ji Quan, which stands for: Eight Extremes Fist.
Baji is known for being the most practical of all the Chinese martial arts. Its techniques are famous for their sudden, powerful, close range strikes to the vital points of the body. In order to employ these techniques, a Baji practitioner uses feigning attacks and low kicks to distract and shoot into the close quarters of their opponent, than using stomping footword and dynamic hip movement to first generate power and displace the opponents centremass, it allows one to strike with either the elbows, shoulders, hips, knees or throws in order to decisively end a conflict.
One of the most notable masters of Baji Quan was Li Shuwen, better known as "Spear God Li". Li Shuwen was a Peking opera performer, as well as an expert fighter. He was known for his famous quote, "I do not know what it is like to hit a man twice". Li Shuwen was master to the famous practitioners: Huo Dian ge (bodyguard to the last emperor of China and instructor of many imperial bodyguards), Li Chenwu (Bodyguard to Mao Zedong) and Li Yun Qiao (Agent for the nationalist Kuomintang and instructor to the bodyguards of Chiang Kai Shek). Due to this notable lineage, Baji Quan quickly became known as the "Bodyguard style", truly earning its reputation.
The style of Baji Quan that is currently taught at the academy is from the Lineage of "Huo Zi Baji", descending from the last Emperors Bodyguard, Huo Dian Ge. Since Baji Quan is classified as an internal style despite its abrupt and powerful movements, its correct practice also has positive health benefits, granting a dedicated practitioner longevity and good health.
Chen Tai Ji (Tai Chi)
Tai Ji (Tai Chi) Quan, meaning "Grand ultimate" or "Grand extreme" fist, has spread far and wide across the globe in recent years and is famous for the health and longevity attained by its dedicated practitioners. For this reason, Tai Ji is commonly thought of only as a health exercise in the west. What many people do not realize is that Tai Ji Quan originated as a highly effective form of martial art (stemming from Chen Tai Ji), its supple and subtle movements in low stances, silk reeling, pushing, rolling back with the occasional release of Fa Jin (wet power), allow one over time to develop top notch martial ability and be able to use it well into their old age, along with developing great longevity and health due to the relaxed nature in which is is practiced.
Chen Tai Ji Quan is the eldest of and is considered the forefather of all other Taiji styles. It was created in Henan province, China, in the settlement of Chenjiagou (Chen Village) by the 9th generation village leader, Chen Wangting around the start of 1600 AD. Upon its emergence, Chen Tai Ji soon gained much recognition for its practitioners ability to deflect, absorb and redirect attacks as well as being able to "root" into the ground. This rooting ability made Chen Taiji practitioners quite effective when confronted by the powerful Shuai Jiao and Mongolian wrestlers of the time, making them difficult to throw, redirecting their force at every turn.
Chen style Taiji has been proudly handed down from generation to generation of the Chen family and in the 1800's instructed the practitioners who created the newer schools of Yang, Wu, Sun and Wu (Hao) forms of Tai Ji. Each of the newer schools took components of the Chen style and emphasized them to make their practice more specific, but only the Chen style still remains as the complete and most pure system of Taiji.
Since the Chen family kept mostly to themselves for many years, much of China did not know the true origins of Tai Ji due to the widespread popularity of the newer forms such as Yang Taiji. That was until Chen Zhaopei and later his uncle Chen Fake moved from Chen Village to Beijing in order to spread their families teachings. At first the people were confused by this radically different method of Taiji which differed from what were thought to be the established Taiji traditions of the time. Chen Fake proved the effectiveness of Chen Taiji through many private challenges and even a series of Lei Tai (ring) matches. It did not take long for the Beijing martial arts community to be convinced of the prowess that Chen Tai Ji possessed and soon its fame spread far and wide, eventually gaining international recognition and attaining its lauded reputation in this current day.
While the martial skill of Taiji is something that develops slowly, the benefits to ones health can be seen in a rather short period of a few months of continued practice. Due to its relaxed but constantly flowing nature in its practice. This is a style that most people can start at any time, regardless of their age or heath and can continue its practice well into their old age.
Sanda a.k.a San Shou
Sanda (free fight), or known better better in the west as San Shou (free hand), is a form of full contact Chinese Kickboxing that trains the practitioner to employ the use of punches, kicks, sweeps, throws, kick catches, knees and elbows. For most competitions the use of knees and elbows are prohibited and if clinching is allowed, is limited to a few seconds. Since Sanda emphasizes the transition from strikes into sweeps and throws, it is a useful martial art to employ in other hybrid systems of marital arts such as Sambo, Shoot Boxing or MMA.
Sandas origins date back hundreds of years ago to traditional lei tai matches or duels, where two opponents would partake in an unarmed fight on a raised platform. Unfortunately due to the no-holds-barred nature of these esoteric competitions, serious injury and even the death of one of the duelists was commonplace in these events.
Modern Sanda began in the Chinese military after the communist revolution in order to develop an effective method of hand to hand combat for their soldiers to use in battlefield situations. The military consulted many of Chinas top martial arts masters of the time to construct a well rounded combat system that could be learned in a relatively short period of time. The military version includes Chin-na (joint locks, chokes and submissions), as well as wrestling in addition to the skills mentioned above. After some time, the popularity of this martial art grew and the government created a set of rules in which civilians could practice and compete safely within. For being a relatively new martial sport, Sanda fighters have gained recognition in victories through international tournaments, competing against fighters from other martial disciplines such as Shootboxing, Muay Thai and various forms of Karate. In recent years Sanda has even been adopted into the curriculum of the Shaolin temple.
Was the first Chinese martial art in the west to gain mass fame due to the efforts of the late, great film actor and master Bruce Lee. While there is many different variety of Wing Chun, the base of the style remains the same: Through relaxation one develops the ability to strike rapidly along the centre line of their opponents body, on their centre mass in order to overcome them. Rather than using brute strength like some other styles employ, Wing Chun uses speed to its advantage in order to parry, trap or side step an opponents attacks than instantly resume the attack through the centre, ever moving forward.
Like many styles of Chinese martial arts, the genesis of Wing Chun is largely unknown due to there being little to no written lineage. While the most popular story of Wing Chuns' origins is of a Buddhist nun passing down the style to a young orphaned girl who was being forced into marrige by a cruel warlord. The nun helped her to escape her dire situation and trained her for two years in solitary. One day the girl came back to her villiage and was confronted by the warlord that once again, insisting on taking her hand in marriage. The girl agreed, but only if he could defeat her in single combat. Needless to say she beat him easily. The style was named after her, Wing Chun translates to 'Beautiful Springtime'.
The oldest traceable form of Wing Chun can be dated back to the start of the Qing dynasty and the traveling Cantonese opera group known as the "Red Boat Opera Troupe".
The Red Boat Opera troupe was an organization which consisted of many performance groups that would tour the rivers putting on shows in settlements wherever they went. The front of an opera performance troupe also provided a good cover for many of the performers who were anti-Qing rebels. Not all of the Red Boat troupe were Wing Chun practitioners, but they were instrumental at forming an uprising against the Qing dynasty in the late 1800s.
In modern times, Wing Chun has spread around the world as a straightforward form of self defence. Since it does not rely on physical prowess, people of any size, gender or age may learn to use it effectively in a rather short period of time.