The Fist of the Bodyguards
by Debbie Shayne
is a dish spiced by many cultures. There are over 50 minorities
among the Chinese besides the Han people themselves. A significant
number, over five million of these, are Moslems - known in Chinese
as the "Hui" people. In the tenth century large numbers
of Persians and Arabs extended the Moslem trade routes deep
into China. Many settled and widely dispersed through the country;
some living among the general population, some sticking close
to concentrated communities of believers.
Practitioners of Moslem Kung Fu have overcome persecution
and constact reprisal to carve an important niche in modern
for toughness, courage and high spirit the Moslem population
of China has not been passive in its growth. Often exploited
and suppressed they maintained a stubborn reliance on their
beliefs and fighting skills. Butreprisals often came. In the
Ch'ing dynasty (1644-1910), for instance, three Hui people walking
together with weapons could be punished. If caught committing
a crime they might even had their faces branded Hui Zei (Moslem
Rebel). Such was the discriminatory treatment of Moslems throughout
the empire. On the other hand, in the 13th century Moslem generals
rallied under a new banner and helped establish the Ming dynasty
- a high point of Chinese history. Unceasingly, Moslem martial
artists adopted and perfected the indigenous arts of China.
They developed a number of fists that are still practiced with
honor today. But at the base was one particular exercise known
Moslem Spring Leg
If there is one universally recognized set for the Moslem style
it is the "springing leg" or Tan Tui. At first blush
Tan Tui seems callously unimpressive. The moves are repetitious,
stretched out, almost mechanical and performed up and back as
though on a track; each segment is termed a "road." The original
style was subdivided into ten such roads. Later, a southern
version was introduced that split some of the harder roads into
more digestible bites and expanded the set to 12 roads. To this
day, if you say you practice Tan Tui, those in the know will
immediately ask "10 or 12?" Tan Tui is a popular set adopted
by many styles and lent a special flavor by each. For instance,
in one branch of mantis, there is a 14-road Tan Tui. With such
popularity Tan Tui became one of the first universal kung-fu
sets and therefore can claim a part as forerunner of contemporary
wushu's standardized forms.
Tui, as we have said, is not a flashy looking set. Mostly straight
punches and kicks, it seems to some to possess a robotic aspect
that makes it look more like work than fun. But tan Tui is so
profound that many boxers throughout history have specialized
in its technique. For instance, the wide-open punches of Tan
Tui, known as yoke punches, are designed along the lines of
Chinese medical practice to stretch and invigorate the meridians
of the body. Simultaneously,
the yoke punch, with its exaggerated arm extension, is a perfect
indicator of the placement of the student's waist. Shoulders,
which normally fly upward in the beginning student, are so stretched
they naturally drop and relax. The same benefits go for the
extended long leg kicks of the art. As the name suggests Tan
Tui attempts to strengthen the abdominal muscles of the practitioner
by forcing him to extend while kicking. The striking leg must
immediately elevate from the ground with minimal cocking action.
"Bao" not only blocks but controls the opponent's
ability to continue attacking.
true northern kung-fu long fist fashion, Tan Tui encourages
the student to find his maximum range of motion before tightening
and shortening up. Tan Tui disallows the beginner's tendency
of bent limbs and tensed muscles to create power. It lives up
to its name of long fist by making the student think in a new
way, in a sense reprogramming his ideas of power generation
and range of motion.
due course, after the student has learned the ten basic roads
the real training should begin. This is a good example of ancient
training methods versus more contemporary ones. Nowadays, having
completed the tan Tui, the student immediately moves onto another
more interesting and diverse set of actions. This is too bad
because the training has really just begun. For instance, since
the ten roads are each separate they can be done in any order.
A good Tan Tui instructor will then have the student mix and
match roads until any road can be done in any order at will.
Then the roads are again practiced with shuffling steps, changes
of speed, and angled steps breaking the robot-like aspect completely.
This challenges the students' creativity and ability to respond.
Finally the actions from the roads are completely mixed so the
student may start with No. 1, switch to No. 8, and finish with
No. 5 without losing place or direction. From a simple series
of movements the student is now only a small step from basic
"yoke punch" of the famous Spring Leg, (Tan
Tui is said to have been created in the Ming dynasty by ChaShagmir
(a distinctly Moslem name even in Chinese). Chamir, as he was
called, was among those who went to the coast to protect the
shores of China against raids by Japanese pirates. However,
on this long journey he became sick from the harsh weather conditions.
He was left to recuperate in a mountain village in GuanXian
County. His hosts in this small village were so kind to him
that when he recovered that autumn and watched them practice
their kung-fu after harvest he decided to teach them the art
he had devised. They were grateful and his art spread far and
wide from this origin. People took the first syllable of his
name "Cha" and thus the style known as "Cha Chuan"
- Cha Fist, was born. Originally its basis, the Tan Tui set,
was composed of 28 routines – one for each letter of the Arabic
alphabet. Eventually everything was compiled into the ten road
spring leg which remains with us today.
familiar with Arabic religious poetry will note that many root
words in Arabic are without vowels and can be rearranged to
create other meanings and levels of understanding. This rearrangement,
also familiar to certain Christian and Jewish sects, was considered
a valid study for all students of the Bible, Torah and Koran.
And note as an interesting sidelight that this is precisely
the method of teaching for the Tan Tui, taking ten routes (roots)
and reassembling them to form new meanings and combinations
still related to the original exercises.
yoke punch in action.
is an old saying in kung-fu that one form mastered is worth
a hundred tasted. But too often people take this to indicate
a mindless repetition of the form. Tan Tui is a perfect example
of what form mastery is meant to entail. Rather than learning
flashier new forms which ultimately reduce to the same moves
in new combinations with a little "Hollywood" thrown
in, the traditional student of kung-fu developed power and stability
with familiar movements before gradually altering them to new
situations. He reinvested and compounded his knowledge. It was
a wise way to save and to practice.
throughout China Tan Tui is particularly practiced in Henan,
HeBei, Shantung and Sha'anxi provinces. Since its origins lie
with the Hui people there is even a proverb: From NanJing the
best Tan Tui is that of the Hui people" which becomes the
pun, "Hui (Moslem) Hui (best) Tan Tui."
As it progressed Cha style and other Moslem boxing methods became
known under the general name of Jiao Men (sect fighting). Of
the many jiao men forms one group in particular, the ten sets
of Cha Chuan, is famous. Like the ten core sets of Shaolin,
these famous forms encompass the entire repertoire of the Cha
style, not counting weapons. The first one taught is generally
Cha No. 4, a famous long fist form.
is a particularly beautiful style. Like any northern long fist
it is big, proud and fluid. Stances are lower than in most Shaolin-type
styles with special emphasis on height changes, waist turning
and hip control. But it is Cha Fist's special emphasis on timing
which is particularly interesting. Most beginning kung-fu practitioners
sweat buckets just to coordinate hands and legs as a single
unit. But as the Cha student progresses this simplified coordination
step and punch, kick and palm slowly disappears. It is replaced
by a subtle offset rhythm speeds from each other and from the
"Splitting" or twisting
the body in two directions at once, emphasizes the bi-directional
quality of true Kung Fu.
Fist excels in broken rhythm, offset rhythm and all sorts of
movements that seem to set up a timing, violate it and dovetail
right back into the proper beat, converging at just the right
moment. "Convergence" is the key word here. As in
all advanced kung-fu the practitioner is looking for limbs to
travel at different rates and then converge just at the moment
in this light all those different moves and stances in kung-fu
forms are more than just beautiful postures. Each group is actually
an entirely different task requiring different coordination
and convergence. Cha fist maintains the ancient and subtle variations
in timing, pace and execution that make for distinctive, not
the stage of world history the Moslem world has been an important
player, especially in relations with the East. The followers
of Islam were the first to bridge the gap between Chinese and
Western medicine and they started that 1,000 years ago. Alchemy,
beginning in China, was transported directly through the Arab
world to the West and rooted itself as the beginnings of modern
Cannon fist not only strikes but
utilizes grappling attacks.
Moslem fist in China has also made worthy contributions. When
the newly formed Republic of China began its creation of a generic,
contemporary version of Wushu it looked to Jiao Men as its basis.
The reasoning was interesting. Moslems, as a whole, had always
been isolated within the minorities of China and therefore had
far less traffic with other groups. It was thought, therefore
by the powers that be, that Moslem fist must be essentially
more "pure" than many other style. It was adopted
as the basis of contemporary long fist and many of the first
long fist sets issued by the government office were based on
certain widely accepted styles the Moslem presence has also
been strong. In Hsing-I for instance, many of the great practitioners
were of Moslem origin and it may be that the real rudiments
of the style are from Moslem culture. In weapons work, too,
Moslem fist is well-represented with Jiao Men boasting five
tiger hook sets and over ten saber sets. And last but not least,
Moslems were often placed in the dangerous position of bodyguard
because of their relatively nonaffiliated status with other
Chinese elements. Rising to this occasion they developed the
beautiful and powerful style known throughout the world as Pa
Chi Ch'uan (BaJiQuan - Eight Extremes Boxing). As the Chien
Lung emperor stated in the 19th century, "For health we
have Tai Chi, for protection Pa Chi."
universally recognized was Pa Chi as one of the most no-nonsense
styles that even in our present era it was considered without
equal. Witness the fact that a famous Pa Chi teacher was the
instructor of Chiang Kai Shek's, Mao Tse Tung's and Sun Yet
Sen's bodyguards. That's right the men who protected these three
sworn enemies were all kung-fu brothers.
Line #4 of Tan Tui emphasizing twisting
and crossing. Note the scissors stance leglock.
modern times we are constantly assailed with representations
of Arab culture as seemingly comprised of religious fanatics
and terrorists. Martial arts training is a nice antidote for
cultural ignorance. We are allowed through it to replicate the
actions practiced by different people from different cultures
who lived centuries from us. We cannot only improve our health
and our skills but don another person's shoes and walk down
his path, or in the case of Tan Tui, ten roads.