Adam Hsu Kung Fu

Traditional Chinese Martial Arts  

 

Summary of Sifu Han Ching-Tan's Martial Art: Part 3

Basic Bare-Hand Styles

By Adam Hsu

(Translated by Joan-Huey Dow)

 

When Sifu Han started teaching wushu in Taiwan, he followed the traditional sequence of bare-hand styles, short and long weapons and then other weapons. All categories included two-person training. Chin Na and Shuai Jiao training were given to students who had learned the basics and built a good wushu foundation.

Sifu Han’s wushu was based primarily on Jiao Men Chang Quan (Islamic Style Long Fist) and Mei Hua Chang Quan (Mei Flower Long Fist). He compiled ten forms of training materials for bare-hand styles that included some other styles’ materials as well as these two Long Fist styles. Each form had its own unique character but the levels of these forms are quite different. For weapons, he set the sequential order for students to follow.

 
 
A posture with rear mei blossom from Mai Fu Quan (Mei Hua Chang Quan)

Mei Hua Chang Chuan

Sifu Han learned Mei Hua Chang Quan from Masters Shen Mo-Lin and Jiang Ben-He but the lineages behind the two masters could not be traced further. It was believed for generations that Chang Quan originated from Liangshan. While I visited Liangshan, I did confirm this legend. But it was called “Shaolin Book.” Also, it is quite confusing that the Shaolin Book was closely connected to Master Chang Bing-Zhang.

Based on fighting techniques, the best training sequence is: Mai Fu Quan (ambush fist), Shi Zi Tang (cross form) and then Mei Hua Chang Quan. This sequence provides complete and rigorous training for Chang Quan.

Mai Fu Quan is trained in Cha Quan Family: Some have one form only, while some have several forms. Some even have ten forms to match the proverb of “ambush from ten directions.” Some Chang Quan families also have Mai Fu in their training as it has spread widely and grown to many different branches.

Sifu Han said that the Mai Fu Quan he first learned in Qingdao looked sophisticated, like bustling city life. Afterward he trained with Master Chang Bing-Zhang in Jinan whose Mai Fu Quan looked simple, modest and solid. He liked it and so he learned Mai Fu Quan again in that version.

In Taiwan, he taught the sophisticated style of Mai Fu Quan first. When he was compiling the training materials and aiming for a total of ten forms, he added the modest style of Mai Fu Quan. To differentiate the two styles, I named the sophisticated “city lady” as “Form One Mai Fu” and the modest “country girl” as “Form Two Mai Fu.”

It was believed that the name Mai Fu came from emphasizing assault by ambush from all directions. Another saying was that Mai Fu techniques were used mostly by troops in ambush.

Actually Mai Fu Quan emphasizes basic stances and sinking power. Whenever there are stances with a hand held in mei blossom behind the back (rear hook), you must practice holding the posture for a prolonged time. In other words, the wushu techniques are hidden in the form so that they will not be lost over time. For most students, Mai Fu Quan is an interesting form they can have fun with. For serious practitioners, it is a good form to build a good foundation for further advancement.

In Mai Fu Quan, the mei blossom appears more than a dozen times with stances like bow-and-arrow, single leg, empty leg, pu-tui, seated-twisted, etc. It is the example in Chinese martial arts of one posture with multiple stances. Mai Fu Quan is like the Standard Script in Chinese calligraphy where every stroke must be written in a strict manner without alteration.

 
 
A unique movement from Shi Ci Tang (Mei Hua Chang Quan)

The Cross Form (shi ci tang) was named possibly because the cross symbol “十” is Chinese number “ten” and there are ten critical movements in this form, such as: kicking, punching, throwing, grabbing, etc. Indeed the cross symbol “十” has four directions: up (north), down (south), left (west), and right (east). It describes the spatial range we should extend our muscle and tendon. Therefore Cross Form has very unique movements and twisting postures. It forces us to use parts of the body not often used.

Most northern style martial arts, such Chang Quan, Taiji Quan and Baji Quan, have this technique although each style trains in its own way. In Chang Quan, there are forms like “cross fist,” “cross hand” and “cross fight.” The purpose of these forms is to practice this technique. Based on its character, Cross Form is like the Clerical Style in Chinese calligraphy.

“Mei Hua Chang Quan” is also called “Tai Zhu Chang Quan.” Both terms are widely used as names of forms or wushu families in the area of three provinces, Hebei, Henan, and Shandong. However, they are all different from Sifu Han’s Mei Hua Chang Quan.

Mei Hua Chang Quan must use the technique of chan si (silk reeling). Also, it uses short, middle, and long-range power issuing methods. Its footwork is full of life and the torso has a variety of changing movements. It is the outcome of the accumulated effort you put into your wushu training. It looks elegant, stately, and handsome. Its fullness and roundness make Mei Hua Chang Quan like the Seal Script in Chinese calligraphy

Sifu Han taught two-person practice with “Small Five Hand” that originated from Mei Hua Chang Quan. Its name clearly explains that this is a “Small” training set with only “Five” movements to train some “Hand” skill.

Sifu Han collected a copy of “Verse of Thirty-Six Basic Fists.” All his students were required to learn it before Mai Fu Quan. But since he himself already had a wushu foundation when he started the Mai Fu training, he was allowed to bypass it.

“Thirty-Six Basic Fists” are individual training sets of punching and kicking techniques for combat fighting. New students should learn it first, both solo and two-person practice. The purpose was for student to learn self-defense while training for wushu techniques. Sifu Han emphasized the values of the “Thirty-Six Basic Fists” and said: "If you combine it with Tan Tui (from the Islamic Style Chang Quan) as the introductory courses for new students, it will be very effective!"

 
 
Two postures from Tan Tui (Jiao Men Chang Quan)

Jiao Men Chang Chuan

It was believed that Tan Tui (springing leg) originated from the Islamic Style Chang Quan in Lingching of Shandong province and became popular there. Tan Tui, the Lingching lioncat (the flat faced and long haired Persian cat) and tofu-on-the-wood (tofu served on a piece of wood to eat) were considered as the three treasures of Linching. It was originally taught under the name of Tan Tui. Later on, it was adopted by other wushu families, such as “Cha Quan,” “Er Lian,” “Liu He,” and “Shanxi Xing Yi.” Some wushu families took the structure of Tan Tui and developed their own training materials, such as “Seven-Star Praying Mantis” and “Tongbei."

Tan Tui originally had ten lines. The form could be taught one line per month and completed within one year, excluding two months for the busy harvest time and holidays in the farming community. Afterward, it was expanded to twelve lines to fill up all twelve months of the year. Some people even expanded the form beyond twelve lines. There were fourteen- or sixteen-line Tan Tui although they were less popular.

The techniques of Chinese martial arts are well blended into everyday life. The advantage is that people can adapt to them naturally. But there's also the problem that there is no distinct starting point. The major issues are: there is no clear method for beginners to follow and the advancing levels are too ambiguous to define.

For the same form, a beginner and a master with decades of practice could show the same movements, but the quality of their moves and postures would be totally different. It all depends on each person’s efforts in practice and depth of their understanding. Some students want to progress quickly but lack patience and diligence. Some teachers want to see quick results through improper teaching methods. These lead to a weak foundation and so prevent further advancement. It is sad to say that no wushu techniques could be passed on successfully this way and the effort will be all in vain.

Tan Tui training can build you a solid wushu foundation. Tan Tui for the northern style martial arts is like grammar for a foreign language and so learning Tan Tui is like learning wushu grammar. After completing Tan Tui (in approximately one year), it will be easier for you to learn other bare-hand styles and weapons as well.

Sifu Han’s “Ten-Line Tan Tui” was possibly from the Cha Quan Family. He told us that he learned it by peeking through the door of Tan’s family in Henan province and secretly recording it. However, there was no proof for this story. Another story was that Tan Tui was created by a monk in Long-Tan temple in Shandong province and so it was named as Tan Tui. If Sifu Han really learned Tan Tui from master Zhang Bing-Chang, he could claim it and the story of learning it by peeking though the door would not exist. While he was learning Jiao Men Chang Quan, he already had a very good wushu foundation. Therefore he might have learned Tan Tui at a fast pace without getting the details. He did ask Mr.Chang Bern-Yuan, who taught Cha Quan in the Central Martial Arts Academy, about some Tan Tui movements.

In Tan Tui, there is a brief pause at the end of each line. The closing posture also serves as the starting posture for the next line. In addition, there are overall starting and closing postures as well. These postures are similar to those in Pao Quan and Cha Quan as they all originate from the same wushu family.

 
 
A dynamic extended posture from Pao Quan (Jiao Men Chang Quan)

Pao Quan (cannon fist) in Cha Quan family has “Third Form Pao.” Some others have three different sets: “Third Form Pao,” “Sixth Form Pao” and “Ninth Form Pao.” Sifu Han taught the Third From Pao Quan. Pao Quan initially might be called “Pau Quan” (running fist) because it uses the “xing bu” step to run back and forth.

Sifu Han recalled the first time he demonstrated Pao Quan in Nanking, the capital city of Republic of China: It was in an outdoor basketball court with a night lighting system. He run over the entire court with “xing bu” and impressed everyone in the audience.

The movements in Pao Quan are obviously derived from Tan Tui. It is the advanced training after Tan Tui because some movements are exactly the same as Tan Tui and some are expanded or modified from Tan Tui. Of course, Pao Quan has many new movements not found in Tan Tui.

It was said that there were ten forms in Cha Quan. Some others added one minor form to each major form and made total of twenty forms. In addition to Tan Tui and Pao Quan, Cha Quan family also had Tui (leg form) Quan, Mai Fu Quan, Hong Quan, Baqua Quan, (different from bagua zhang) etc. By adding various weapons, solo practice and sparring, countless forms emerged!

The major problem with these forms is that their techniques are parallel to each other and therefore there is no sequential advancing order among them. It is easy to fall into the trap of accumulating many forms without really improving the techniques to a higher level. It then becomes a test of memorizing capability rather than advancing one's wushu skills.

Among the many Cha Quan forms, the most popular one is the “Fourth-Line Cha Quan” and that’s the one taught by Sifu Han. It is obvious that the Fourth-Line Cha is one level above the Third Line Pao. Many Cha Quan movements are indeed derived from and more advanced than Pao Quan.

Good Tan Tui training includes “standing stances" – that is, to hold every posture. Especially important is holding the “suspended leg” (kick) for every “springing leg” move. Pao Quan focuses on “xing bu,” a straight-line bow-and-arrow walk with the center of gravity at the front. Cha Quan focuses on “za bu,” a 40/60 walk on a curved path with the center of gravity at the back.

It was generally believed that Cha Quan is named after its originator, Chamier. It is also possible that Cha Quan emphasizes the use of “za bu” (i.e., branching step) and so it is called “Za Quan” (Branching Fist). For example, Tan Tui (Springing Leg) is named for its emphasis on the “springing leg.” Another example is Pau Quan (running fist), named because of the emphasis of running in this form. Therefore, it seems quite logical that the names of these forms are based on the most crucial function of the leg.

Tan Tui has one movement for each command. It requires full attention and has strict rules to follow. Pao Quan has several movements for each command. It requires good connection and fluidity between movements while developing variation in its tempo. Cha Quan has no fixed rhythm. It all depends on the practitioner’s understanding, interpretation, and skills to present the form.

In conclusion: Tan Tui has clear rules and standards, like the standard script of Chinese calligraphy. Pao Quan is flexible and full of variations, like the semi-cursive script of Chinese calligraphy. Cha Quan connects many movements and postures. Cha Quan’s lines are curved and circles evolve into more circles. It is like the cursive script of Chinese calligraphy. Let’s emphasize furthermore: the “standing stances” in Tan Tui is like a point, the “xing bu” in Pao Quan is a straight line, and the “za bu” in Cha Quan is a curve. That’s why Chinese wushu contains Chinese calligraphy and vise versa.

Although Sifu Han compiled ten forms of training materials, he gave up some of them in his later years. Surprisingly, the first one he stopped teaching was Tan Tui. Why? Sifu Han said, “Students don’t practice!” “They quit if the progress is too slow!” “No students can endure the lengthy, plain and tough training!”

 

Photos:
Anton Chiang (tan tui), Deb Kwo (shi ci tang), Navid Motsofi (tan tui), Rose Sarinas-Wong (pao quan, mai fu quan)

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