Daoist Naming Conventions

Hidden Meaning in Movement Names, Part 1


There is a lot of lost information in the world of the martial arts. Those of us who study it face the prospect of having to gather as much knowledge as we can from the meager sources available and sift through it, trying to find the secrets that even our own teachers might never have learned. This article is intended to help other searchers.

One area that should be explored is the meanings of movement names. There is a rich hidden language here that can hint at or even fully explain the intention of the movements.

I have divided this article into three sections, based on the sources of the names. They are:

Proverbs and Sayings

Animal Styles

Internal Medicine

These naming conventions are specifically for the “Daoist Martial Arts” family. Other traditions such as Shàolín have their own naming secrets. I hope this article will inspire you to look a little more deeply in all of them.

Section I: Daoist Proverbs and Sayings

The Chinese are famous for their proverbs and sayings, and the Daoists are no different. Here are some examples of movements named after Daoist sayings.

调花接干, Diào Huā Diē Gān

“Move Aside the Flowers to Reach the Trunk”

The Daoists have a number of expressions that refer to the structure of a tree, especially how much more important the trunk and the roots are than the branches and leaves.

This expression refers to brushing aside unnecessary distractions in order to focus on the truly important core of the issue. In the martial arts, this usually refers to a move that quickly dispenses with the opponent’s defenses (the “flowers”) to reach the torso (the “trunk”).

The word Diào also means to “transfer”, so think about passing your opponent’s controlled arm to your other hand, freeing your attacking hand.

(This phrase has often been mistranslated as something like “Transfer Flower, Connect to Wood.”)

揽牛尾, Lăn Niú Wĕi

“Grasp the Ox’s Tail”

In Daoist parable, there are stories describing how an experienced herder can steer a massive ox by simply controlling its tail. This is a beautiful example of Dé in action.

Movements with names like “Grasp the Ox’s Tail” or “Move a Thousand Head of Oxen With Only Four Tails” refer to moving your opponent’s entire body using the small joints. (The four tails would be your opponent’s fingers.)

Yáng Lùchán, the founder of Yáng Tàijíquán named his small-joint manipulations sequence 揽雀尾, “Grasp the Sparrow’s Tail,” probably to express how much more difficult these skills are when trying to use yielding energy.

Stop the Cart at the Edge of Cliff

There are a number of proverbs and metaphors in China that describe your life as the path of a cart. Phrases such as “Following the path of the overturned cart” describe repeating someone else’s mistake.

Movements with names like these will usually involve changing direction or intention before failing.

Stir Clouds to Pass Through Fog

“Clouds” and “Fog”, like the flowers of our tree, are distractions or obstacles to be dealt with. (Think “Cloud Hands”)

These are just a few examples

See Jonty Kershaw’s new book

Leave a Reply

What do you have to say?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.