Mei Flower Boxing

Here’s a reprint of a popular article on Mei Hua Quan I wrote for Kung Fu Wushu magazine. 

This was one of the first explanations of “Plum Blossom” style in English.

The Mei flower is a delicate thing. The slightest breeze stirs its petals. Against the hardness of bark its softness shines like spots of moonlight. Its delicacy is a dab of beauty in the world.

But sometimes delicacy hides strength, beauty blends with tenacity. The Mei flower, the Flower of Winter, blossoms in the first month of the lunar year, bursting through while the snow is still on the ground. It symbolizes the reemergence of hardy life. This is one reason it is the national flower of the Republic of China. It also demonstrates the much esteemed ability the Chinese term “chr ku”, eating bitter, yet thriving.

Ambush Fist: The willow hand and the hook hand must be kept stretched out in opposite directions to teach the student bi-directional control.

The Mei flower is also a famous Chinese kung fu system, about which very little has been written in English.

Part of its “ability to withstand bitter” was first exhibited by Feng Keshan, during the first quarter of the 19th century. Feng, a rebel plotting to overthrown China’s Manchu masters, recruited citizens to join the insurgent group, the Ba Gua Jiao (Ba Gua Sect), under the pretext of teaching martial arts. Eventually the sect grew strong enough to participate in an anti-Manchu uprising. However, things went badly, and in 1814, Feng was among the captured rebels. In punishment, and to set an example, Feng was dismembered and killed. So went the fate of a famous Mei Hua practitioner.



Ambush Fist specializes in twisting and turning movements that offer angles of attack and defense uncommon in some other styles.

As for the actual creator of Mei Hua, it is not always possible or even advisable to assume we can trace the creation of the style to one individual. This is sometimes made ever more difficult by factors which are, in themselves, fascinating. In Mei Hua, for instance, there are few, if any, people alive who can authentically trace their lineage back more than a few generations. But the reasons for this are as interesting as any normal lineage could ever be.

Mei Hua, Hung (Northern), and many other famous Long Fists have for centuries been practiced in the Shandong area and surrounding regions. These areas are poor today, and during the Ch’ing Dynasty they were both poor and oppressed. Rebels grew like wildflowers. Underground organizations abounded which were later known collectively as the “boxers.” They thrived in this air of secrecy, oppression and poverty. Like an invisible net, the influece of Pro-Han groups was everywhere in a region fertile with rebellion. To make martial historians’ work more difficult, many of the sects called themselves by common Chinese terms which had little to do with the styles practiced. There were, for example, the Hung Ch’iang Hui (Red Spear Sect), the Ba Gua Chuan (8 Trigrams Fists, no relation to Ba Gua Palm style) and others. There was also the Mei Hua Hui (Plum Blossom Lodge). Indeed, member may have practiced the Plum Blossom Fist or any other of their village arts. But correlation would be coincidental, not mandatory.

The Hook Hand of Mei Hua.

Methods of training add another aspect. Many of the people in this region practiced in communities, as village Chinese still do today. One method was called Dui Lian (Facing Practice) where large groups worked on the same form together. From the standpoint of underground organizations, this could be quite useful. The people were taught the same type of close order drilling that soldiers might perfect. Martial artists would practice in lines, in box shapes, in all sorts of formations including the five-petaled Mei Hua, a troop formation from antiquity.

As though that weren’t enough, there was also the famous practice of Mei Hua Zhan. Poles were set in the ground in Plum Blossom formation. Practitioners would fight and balance atop these poles to gain greater kung fu skill. Though the Mei Hua poles have nothing to do with a particular style – any style might use this method of training – it was definitely practiced by students of Mei Hua Fist. This dangerous and difficult practice added greatly to leg strength, balance, courage and tactical skills, not to mention to the confusion of styles and the circuitous history of Chinese WuShu.

Like the flower it takes its name from, Mei Hua Fist derives it power from opening and closing actions.

We do know that Mei Hua is a Long Fist known for beautiful forms and complex actions. Some of tits best known forms are The Ambush Fist, The Cross Fist and Tai Tzu.

We also know that Mei Fist is a very large style practiced throughout the Shandong, Hebei, Henan and Kangsu regions. A huge family with many branches it has intermixed with many other styles of Northern Long Fist. It is interesting to note that it is so common that some people in American and China actually practice Mei Hua without knowing it, calling it Long Fist or even Shaolin. Mei Hua has many of the characteristics of all Northern Long Fist arts. Its movements combine long and short range actions, kicks and punches mix with grappling techniques, the body twists this way and that seeking for unusual angles of attack, and variations proliferate in high and low motions.

Weapons work includes the Four Grandparents (saber, sword, spear and staff) along with a host of more advanced instruments like the double hook swords.

But to really savor the flavor of the Mei Flower, one should examine a form and dissect some of the movements found within. Graceful postures can often – in Chinese martial arts especially – disguise profound concepts.


The Cross Form: The student yells while completing movements. The special expulsion of breath while saying “Hen” or “Ha” accompanies particular types of strikes and blocks.

The Ambush Fist combines many ideas at once. Punches are straight line and drive to a single spot following one another along a very precise line of fire. After they are thrown, the they may change suddenly into grappling moves, blocks or other hand strikes.Kicks are from Kung’s basic arsenal: heel, toe, side. But they often originate from beautiful and unusual positions. The legs cross before a side kick, or join with simultaneous punches, or explode from a back stance (60/40 posture).

It is also easy to see how the name Ambush Fist came from the extremely flexible use of the spine. One moment it turns this way, forcing the performer to look over his back, then it unwinds, spinning the body 180¼ in the opposite direction. At some points, force (jings) moves vertically up the backbone, resembling a wave of energy rolling toward the crown of the head.

Footwork often changes in the Ambush Fist. Of particular interest is its Xin Bu step, a treading walk where the feet hug the ground as though trying to advance on a wet surface but very rapidly, almost in a half-run. From this action the practitioner has to make a sudden change-up, telling his feet to perform a bump step while his hands thrust a hand spear simultaneously. While Xin Bu is common to the Long Fist family, Ambush Fist introduces it early and uses it extensively.

Sometimes the feet retreat while the performer is striking forward. Other times there are rapid changes of direction spinning the body to the opposite angle while performing strikes or flowing wide arms motions.

Unlike some forms in the kung fu systems, there are very few “repeat sections.” Moves change continually so that even a sectional; repeated pattern is varied somehow to keep the practitioner’s mind active and alert.


As the practitioner acquires skill, she can not only execute unusual angles of attack but simultaneously keep alive the idea of twin directions.

Kung fu forms in general should show certain levels of expertise. At the first level there is technical skill. The punches and kicks should be accurate and consistent. The stance should be clearly executed and firm. When taking a crane stance, the practitioner should not waver on one leg. When executing a horse stance, he should look like someone dropped a mountain onto the practice floor.

At the second level the practitioner will begin to distinguish yin and yang. Movements should change their tempo. Fast and slow should come unexpectedly, as though the martial artists were riding a river and the current were twisting, turning and dipping. In essence the actual weight of the body should appear to change: now heavy, now light.

The third level reveals our mind. At this level the whole form should almost look made up on the spot. The mind of the practitioner should never waver, so that the audience is sure that each movement is an act of will power. When practitioners strike out, at this level, they look as though they are shooting arrows off into the distance. The “presence” of the performer should fill the room so the people in the stands almost feel the breeze of the actions.

It is on this third level that Mei Flower’s Ambush Fist has some interesting attributes. There are, for example, many postures where the Crane Hook hand is held behind the back while striking forward with the other hand. On a practical level this represents the action of hooking and capturing the opponent’s kicking leg while striking out to his face or body. But on a more profound level this hook hand represents the performer’s mind, which is constantly asked to think about two directions at one time.

Cross Form emphasizes powerful movements strong stances and fluid energy.

This idea of projecting in two directions at one time is of vital importance in the practice of kung Fu. Even as the performer stands on one leg, then steps forward into a Xin Bu walk with the front hand outstretched, through all of this, the mind must never forget the back hand hook. It must retain its form, never slacken.

The T’ai Chi Classics state: “To go forward you must think of backward, to push upward you must remember downward,.” The kung fu practitioner should never lose sight of this concept. True kung fu requires the mind to perform opposing tasks simultaneously. One hand blocks a kick while the other attacks. Both hands execute an upward push, but the hips must drop downward. Hands perform a Chin Nah wrist lock, but elbow distracts. It’s never just a case of doing two things with one energy. You can perform an upward block and a punch at the same time with just one energy issuing from your body. But this means that there is only one precious and precarious moment when the two actions converge. This is not kung fu. The art of WuShu requires two different actions to be performed, with the mind giving different instructions throughout the process, but the moves converging at just the right moment.

In Cross Form the student is asked to stretch her body, use the waist for whipping power, yell, and seek unusual angles simultaneously.

As if there weren’t enough challenges to Ambush Fist, the practitioners then move to Mei Flower’s Cross Fist (Shih Tzu Tan). Usually forms in a system make smooth transitions in concepts and complexity. They create a step ladder effect that allows the student to slowly climb levels of difficulty. But Cross Fist is something quite different, more of a jump to the next level.

To a spectator familiar with kung fu, Cross Fist may seem similar to a karate form. The practitioner shouts loudly and issues tremendous power, accompanied by stomping actions. The shouts are very specific. They utilize the twin sounds of “Hen” and “Ha”, long considered the main power yells of Chinese martial arts. When performing Hen and Ha, the practitioner is expected to distinguish between different centers from which the sounds issue in his own body. These produce different types of energy.


Cross Form maintains the Mei Hua idea of opening and closing. Movements are not just close, they actually squeeze the power into the body.

The “Ha” sound is sometimes performed loudly and quickly, often coupled with a stomping action. At other times it is expelled slowly like the sound of a leaking tire. The “Hen” sound is more muffled, pulling up energy from a deeper region of the body.

Cross Fist also utilizes a wide range of fairly unusual striking techniques . The “U Punch” or “Ox Horn” punch is repeated at times leaning forward in a bow stance, other times sitting back in the 60/40 position. Stomping actions also accompany fists that drive down with double power, sending the energy toward the earth and deep into it. Cross Forms’ movements are even more distinguished on the third level of expertise than Ambush Fist. Its powerful movements include wide swings and heavy fists. U-punches, horizontal hammers, sky punches and ax strikes. The soft moves include, palm strikes, parries, Xin Bu footwork, hopping and even skipping. At times the practitioner projects consciousness in twin directions. All moves emphasize Silk Reeling Energy and continual twisting. And the double actions required of the body: moving back while punching forward; striking high while sitting low; expanding and contracting simultaneously, are even more pronounced than in the Ambush Fist.

Mei Hua Quan has an entire arsenal of movement captured in just the first two fist forms. And just as important as the movements, it has a wealth of transitions, angles and strategies.

Mei Hua Quan

Many movements of the Mei Hua system are ancient and associated with any Long Fist style. So popular is Mei Hua that it intermixes with many other styles normally termed “Shaolin.”

A good form, a complete form, should not look like a re-shuffling of the same moves as any other kung fu style. True, there are only so many realistic ways to strike, block, kick and grapple. There are also only so many primary colors, but a million ways to paint. Each painter must have a distinctive style. And each WuShu style must demonstrate distinctive characteristics.

One can analyze a martial arts style by scrutinizing its forms only if the forms actually possess the style’s “flavor.” A form is meant to show something expressive and unique. It is more than a scattering of powerful moves. Chinese kung fu forms should be characteristic and immediately recognizable. When we watch Pi Gua, Ba Ji, Shaolin or another style, we should see movements done with distinctive tempo and tone.

Is it necessary to view a kung fu style in this manner? Of course not, but that must be a teacher’s position. Forms that are generic, that are just techniques and kicks strung together for the benefit of spectators and judges show little about the real tasks of a kung fu performer. In competition there is a tendency for certain body types to excel at certain styles, long-limbed Northern kung fu stylists and muscular Southern practitioners. But as difficult as some of these tasks are – multi-dimensional thinking, issuing power, coordinated hand and footwork – anyone can refine these skills. History records Northern Kung Fu masters, for example, of every size and shape. The only criterion lay in hard work and perseverance to master the movements.

For instance, one important aspect to Mei Hua is that, like a flower, it emphasizes opening and closing. The body will spread out reaching not just to the end of the limbs but beyond. Then it will fold into itself and contract. When this compression is achieved it will start again to unfold. This opening and closing is accompanied not with controlled, harsh breaths but with natural respiration. Breath control of a very special type is introduced in the Cross Fist, but the basic stretching and compressing of the body must first be natural, unstrained and easy.

Mei Hua Quan forms are also particularly smooth. Often Long Fist forms have a series of moves that flow together quite well but are then interrupted by a “problem move” thrown in to be a little difficult for the students, to make things a little more dodgy. But Mei Hua forms generally have fluid transitions and softly flowing actions that can give the impression of gentleness and yielding.

When you practice a style, try to utilize the whole body and whole consciousness. The Mei Flower Fist requires great practice so that its light touch is easy to differentiate from its power moves. This is the point of learning and perfecting a form; to catch the style of one’s style.


(This article originally appeared in the February 1997 issue of WuShu Kung Fu.)

Thanks to Sifu Linda Darrigo for her assistance.

And here is more on this Kung Fu style.

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