The History of our Arts
The origin of Shaolin Kung Fu is generally credited to an Indian monk named Tat Moh, who is also sometimes known as Bodhidharma. He began life as a prince in Southern India, but became a devoted Buddhist, renouncing his royal heritage to take up the simple lifestyle of a monk. He traveled widely, spreading the teachings of Buddhism. Eventually he rose to become the 28th patriarch of India.
Shao Lin - "Little Forest"
In those days, it was common for Indian monks to travel to China where their Buddhist teachings were eagerly received. In the year 520 A.D. Tat Moh made just such a journey, right through India and China, finally settling at the monastery called Shao Lin - which means 'little forest'. He was disappointed, however, to find the monks very weak and unable to withstand the austere ways of Buddhism - a life which often consisted of long fasts and frugal living.
Tat Moh therefore retired into a cave and meditated in isolation in order to find a solution to the problem. When he emerged after nine years of hard study, he had devised a set of exercises for the monks. These were similar to some Indian exercises such as yoga and were intended to regulate and strengthen the monks' chi flow. Their intention was to strengthen the monks and increase their health and vitality; and this they did, so successfully that Tat Moh's Chi Kung exercises are still practiced to this day. They form the basis of the Shaolin Arts.
The Lohon Style
It seems that in China there was more than one temple named 'Shaolin'. In this history we will discuss only the Shaolin temple in Fukien Province, since ours is a Fukienese art.
In the history of China there was much lawlessness. Bandits and villains were widespread.Temples were vulnerable to attack, as were monks who traveled the country teaching the ways of Buddhism. So as to protect themselves the monks developed a system of fighting based on the exercises taught by the founder master - Tat Moh.
Buddhist monks are very gentle and good natured. Their fighting system was developed only to defend themselves against harm. This system was called the 'Lohon' style after the monks in the temple (Lohons) who developed it. The Lohon style is a very basic form of Kung Fu which emphasizes low stances and strong body posture. It proved very successful.
Tai Chor - "Tiger Style"
The monks of the Shaolin temple practiced diligently to increase their martial arts skills and were constantly striving to improve their art. A great step forward came with the evolution of the third Shaolin style, called the Tiger style - Tai Chor in Chinese. This was developed by a Chinese emperor, who had relinquished his royal position to adopt the austere ways of Buddhism. He finally settled at the Shaolin temple where he studied deeply in the martial arts, eventually developing the Tai Chor style. For this reason, Tai Chor is sometimes also known as the Emperor's style.
Tai Chor uses the strong but mobile stance which we use in the Tiger-Crane combination, and which we call the 'walking stance'. It also emphasizes a very strong twisting punch. In fact, the straight punch which ends with a twist of the fist has become a hallmark of Shaolin Kung Fu. The Tai Chor style develops great power and was, therefore, able to defeat the Lohon style which it superseded.
Tai Sheng - "Monkey Style"
No style is unbeatable. Every move has a counter. Inevitably, another style was later developed which could counter the Tiger style. This was the monkey style, known in Chinese as Tai Sheng. Monkey is a very fast, deceptive style. The monkey tends to close in on his opponent, strike and retreat all in one rapid sequence. Hence, the powerful Tiger may be unable to hit his tricky, constantly moving opponent. If the monkey misses with a strike, he will still move away from his opponent so as not to allow them the chance to counter him. The monkey's strikes are accurate more than powerful and are delivered with fingers or the open palm. Grabbing is also a favorite monkey technique. The monkey likes to crouch and often attacks the lower body. He especially favours targeting the groin. For male opponents this can result in serious loss!
Because the monkey style consists of much crouching and rolling, it is best suited to people who are short. It is often considered one of the most entertaining styles to watch.
How can the techniques of the monkey possibly be countered? The answer is by the techniques of the white crane! The white crane style was the last and most technically advanced style to be developed in the Fukien Shaolin Temple. Even to this day, the crane style is regarded with great respect and is shrouded in secrecy by its masters. Hence it has been one of the last Kung Fu styles which the Chinese have 'let go' to westerners.
What is this devastating secret possessed by the white crane? The crane sticks. As soon as the crane is attacked it establishes touch contact. If its opponent tries to land the attack, the crane deflects it: if the opponent withdraws, the crane follows; never releasing its touch until it finds a certain opportunity to strike - which it does with no mercy. What use the tricky techniques of the monkey? As he tries to dart away the crane will follow, sticking to him until the chance presents itself to strike. The white crane style represents the pinnacle of the Shaolin martial arts.
Of the five masters who escaped from the Shaolin temple, the most famous was Hung Eee Kan. He was a master of the Tiger style and was renown for the strength of his stance and the power of his punch. He fought many challenges and was never beaten. Many Kung Fu styles trace their origins back to Hung Ee Kan, including the famous Hung Gar.
After the burning of the temple, Hung Ee Kan sought refuge with a Chinese opera troop. The troop traveled around China in a red painted barge performing their operas. For this reason they were known as 'The Red Barge'. Hung Ee Kan found them to be an excellent cover. Although he posed as a member of the opera, every time they stopped in a new town, he would gather together opponents of the Manchurians and form new branches of the secret societies. He would instruct them in the secrets of Kung Fu, ready to make war with the Manchu's. In this way, his teachings became widespread in China.
Later in Hung Ee Kan's career, after he had left the Red Barge, he came one day upon an old man teaching Kung Fu to his daughter. He did not recognise the style which they practiced, but was fascinated by its soft, subtle movements. Not wishing to disturb the training session, he hid in a tree to watch but the old man saw him and beckoned him to come down to join in. A sparring session followed between Hung Ee Kan and the girl. Hung was amazed to find that his ferocious punches and blocks with which he had defeated all challenges, were unable to overcome this fragile looking girl. You see, her style was very soft and relied on evading and deflecting his punches, rather than stopping them, making all their strength useless. She would reply by waiting until she had created a gap in his defence, then exploiting it with a fast, accurate strike to a sensitive point.
The girl was named Tee Eng Choon and the style which she practiced was, of course, the White Crane style. Hung Ee Kan was fascinated by this style, against which hard force was of no meaning. He stayed with the Tee family to learn more of it and soon found himself falling in love with Tee Eng Choon. They married and together produced a style which combined the best of what each had to offer: the power of the tiger and the soft, subtle technique of the crane.
This is how the Tiger-Crane combination was formed. It was kept by the Tee family and passed down, generation by generation. The district of Fukien Province where the Tee family lived was called 'Eng Choon'.
The Story of Tee Ley
It was Tee Ley who brought the Tiger-Crane style to high renown throughout China. He was a master of the iron palm technique (see end note) although he only trained his right hand. It was said that whatever he gripped in this hand he could turn to dust.
In years gone by, it was the custom of China for Kung Fu masters to challenge each other to fight. Such fights were held on raised platforms called Lei Tais. There were no rules - it was an all out fight. Tee Ley was famous for fighting many Lei Tais, usually killing his opponent. Wherever a Lei Tai was being held, he would travel there. Eventually he had defeated all challengers - no one remained who dared to confront him. He was acknowledged as the champion of Southern China. Since he was getting older, he retired from fighting and became a shoe maker.
Some time after Tee Ley had retired, the champion fighter of Northern China challenged him to find which was best: the Northern style of fighting, which uses many high kicks and long range hand techniques, or the Southern style, which uses a strong stance, close range hand techniques and emphasizes blocking. Tee Ley refused the challenge as he had retired from fighting and stopped training. The northern champion would not give up, however, and kept threatening Tee Ley. Eventually, Tee Ley decided that he must act, so he traveled north to take up the challenge. He made careful preparations for a quick escape, since he knew that if he beat their champion, the northern Chinese would want to take revenge: he had a boat waiting, ready to take him back to the south.
Tee Ley sought out his opponent and took up the challenge. The two champions fought on a Lei Tai. Tee Ley fought using his Tiger-Crane style and his deadly iron palm. The northern champion was no match for him and soon lay dead at his feet. Tee Ley had to escape quickly through the commotion, but was lucky enough to make it back to his boat. He sailed back to Southern China to a hero's welcome.
News of what had happened soon spread throughout China. Tee Ley became very famous and so did the style of Kung Fu with which he fought - the Tiger-Crane combination.
This is the story of how the Tiger-Crane combination became famous.
Note on the training of the Iron Palm technique:
Iron palm training is intended to harden the hand, thus enabling the practitioner to deliver more devastating blows. Masters of the iron palm technique are often famous for their breaking demonstrations. There are different variations on the iron palm training, some concentrating purely on external strength, while others are more internal. Many martial artists toughen their hands to some extent, but few go to the extremes of training. Those that do often train only one hand. In its extreme form, training of the iron palm may involve ramming the straight fingers into a wok full of iron filings, which are heated strongly over a burner. This training results in incredibly strong hands, but can cause long term damage such as arthritis. This is why few people now train this way.
Master Ang Lian Huat, the founder of Nam Yang Pugilistic Association trained in the iron palm. Club members no longer perform the more extreme levels of this training, but do toughen their hands, arms and legs with such items as sand bags, bundles of bamboo and iron/brass poles. This type of training should never be performed without the guidance of a good instructor or without the proper medicine.
Use of the correct medicine is vital in all forms of Chinese body conditioning. The formulae for medicines are often jealously guarded secrets of the masters, passed on only when they are nearing their end. The medicine used by Nam Yang is known only by Master Tan Soh Tin. It contains twenty-two different ingredients obtained from a Chinese herbalist and two special ingredients. Bottles of medicine can be supplied by instructors.