Origins and History Of Shaolin Weng Chun Kung Fu

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Developed in the Southern Shaolin Temple and spread by anti-Qing revolutionaries down to members of the Red Boat Opera, Chi Sim Weng Chun represents a unique lineage in the history of Wing Chun. Chi Sim Weng Chun makes use of the “everlasting” character for Weng, a connection to Shaolin Chan (Zen) thought.

Introduction to Shaolin Weng Chun Kung Fu


In researching the roots of Wing Chun, the Ving Tsun Museum has repeatedly come into contact with members of the Chi Sim (ji sihn) Weng Chun family. They trace their roots directly to the Southern Shaolin Temple (naahm síu làhm jih) from where it was passed to members of the anti-Qing secret society rebels and ultimately to members of the Red Boat Opera.

Upon categorizing this lineage under the umbrella of classical arts that refer to themselves as Wing Chun, Chi Sim Weng Chun becomes another bridge from Shaolin martial arts during the anti-Qing revolution to the modern Wing Chun that has spread from the Red Boat Opera.

Chi Sim Weng Chun body structures share a similarity with Southern Shaolin Hung Ga (hùhng gà), lending credence to the assertion that both arts descended from the same origin. Chi Sim Weng Chun contains a unique training progression and philosophy that is the foundation to modern Wing Chun lineages.

History of Shaolin Weng Chun Kung Fu

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From accounts of Chi Sim Weng Chun historical traditions, Daaht Mo (dá mo in Mandarin) established the foundation of Shaolin gung fu around 520 AD when he brought Chan Buddhism to the Shaolin Temple. Daaht Mo, also known as Bodhidharma, was an Indian prince that had renounced his family’s wealth to become a Buddhist monk. He traveled to China to teach the ways of Buddha.

After a favorable audience with the emperor, Daaht Mo traveled to the Shaolin temple in Hunan Province. Seeking ways to develop as a holistic human being aware of body, mind and spirit – the way to flow with energy, and maintain harmony when addressing power and aggression – Daaht Mo established the connection between physical practice and mental training on which Shaolin martial art training is based. To this day, members of the Shaolin Chi Sim Weng Chun lineage celebrate his birthday.

Martial arts were practiced in China for many centuries before the arrival of Daaht Mo. It was through his introduction of Chan Buddhist thought, with its emphasis on practical, direct experience of reality in its entirety, spontaneous action, mental training, and connection to physical cultivation, Shaolin was poised to become a martial arts training ground and study center.

The goal of this training system was for the Shaolin monks to directly experience reality as a means to learn what was simple and natural. This approach of connecting moral and physical cultivation to experience life and the possibility of death stood in stark contrast to military and most civilian martial art methodologies outside the temple. Most practices outside the temple often focused only on physical skill in combat and the technical skills of killing.

During the time of struggle and transition between the Ming and Qing dynasties, experts from the Shaolin Temple in Honan province fled south. They settled in a Buddhist temple not previously known for martial arts training. Survivors of its destruction later referred to this temple as the Southern Shaolin Temple.

With the expansion of the Qing Dynasty and the future of the Northern Shaolin Temple in Honan province uncertain, the Southern temple became a stronghold for anti-Qing revolutionaries. Inside this temple, a hall was established called the Everlasting Spring Hall (wihng cheùn tòhng). The focus of this hall was to collect and preserve the essence of Shaolin training and thought into one system under secrecy.

The three treasures of Shaolin are Chan Buddhism, Health and Hei gung (qi gong)practice, and martial arts. The system of Chan practices, fighting theories and health exercises taught in this hall became known as Everlasting Spring Fist (wihng cheùn kyùhn), today referred to as Chi Sim Weng Chun.

The focus inside the Buddhist Everlasting Spring Hall was to discover what was simple, efficient and immediately applicable to dealing with reality, based at that time on fighting against the Qing Dynasty. Fighting concepts and techniques were developed based on understanding the nature of life, rather than being merely new ways to fell an opponent or a collection of combat techniques.

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This knowledge created a synthesis between living and fighting, giving rise to the attitude of seeking to understand life by understanding death. By focusing on martial skills for moral cultivation in addition to self-defence, the Shaolin system grew wide appeal and support throughout China after the time of the revolution.

The Southern Shaolin temple was destroyed in the latter half of the 17th century. The destruction of this temple was due to the anti-Qing activities taking place – not because it was a Buddhist temple. Although they were Confucionists, the Qing were tolerant of Buddhism. Many historical references confirm this tolerance. The following quote from a Chinese history text provides a typical example.

In studying the history of China, the Qing of the 18th century were supportive of both Buddhism and the Northern Shaolin Temple. The Emperor Kangxi even hand-painted a sign that reads the name Shaolin for one of the buildings inside the Honan Temple complex.

Wing Chun, being one of the martial arts used for combat, is surrounded in secrecy and misinformation due to secret society activities. During the 1700s, the anti-Qing revolutionary groups were most active and much of Wing Chun’s history is shrouded in myths and legends from that time.

This may explain why most Wing Chun lineages trace their origins from the legendary Five Elders through one or two generations to the Red Boat. The Red Boat Opera Troupe was a traveling group of entertainers in the Cantonese operatic tradition active in southern China. They traveled the rivers of southern China in large junks painted bright red to attract attention.

While early Wing Chun history was shrouded in secrecy, after the Red Boat several Wing Chun lineages were opened up to the public and no longer had a need for secrecy. According to Chi Sim oral legends, a Shaolin abbot named Chi Sim Sim Si, along with other members of the temple, escaped the destruction of the Southern Shaolin. Chi Sim means “Extreme Compassion”, a Buddhist concept, while Sim Si means “Chan teacher”. It is held in the Chi Sim legends that he eventually ended up at the Red Boat Opera Troupe (hùhng syùhn hei bàan).

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From the time of the Red Boat opera, the system of Chi Sim Weng Chun was preserved by two separate lineages. Inside the Opera, Wong Wah Bou is credited as the first person to learn Chi Sim Weng Chun. Sum Kam, a.k.a. “Painted Face” Kam (daaih fà mihn gám) is credited as the second person to learn the entire system; he passed the art from the first to the second generation. Fung Siu Ching, Sum Kam’s apprentice, learned the system as a member of the Red Boat Opera and taught the art on to three main families in the third generation, the Dung, the Lo, and the Tang.

Outside the Opera at the Ching Yuen Fei Loih temple, the Tang family also practiced and preserved the Chi Sim Weng Chun system. Tang Bun was the first generation, Tang Jauh was the second generation and Tang Seun was the third generation. Tang Seun also learned from Fung Siu Chin, thus uniting the two lineages into one family.

In the third generation, Dung Jik of the Dung family taught Tam Kong and Chu Chong Man. In the Lo family, Lo Yam Nam taught his son Lo Chiu Woon while Lo Kai Tung taught his son Lo Hong Tai. Lo Yam Nam and Lo Kai Tung also shared information and training with their nephews. In the Tang family, Tang Seun taught Tang Yick and Pak Cheung.

In the fifth generation, a wealthy business man and devoted student of Chi Sim Weng Chun, Grand Master Wai Yan, brought together five members of the fourth generation in one location to research and develop Chi Sim Weng Chun. Located in Dai Duk Lan in Hong Kong, Tam Kong, Chu Chung Man, Lo Chiu Woon, Lo Hong Tai, and Tang Yick spent more than 10 years training, sharing information and developing Chi Sim Weng Chun. Grand Master Wai Yan was the first person to unify all three main lines in Chi Sim Weng Chun.

Among Wai Yan’s students was Cheng Kwong. Cheng Kwong passed the art on to Sifu Andreas Hoffmann of Bamberg, Germany. With his Sifu’s approval, Sifu Hoffman later went on to research Chi Sim Weng Chun with his Si Gung, Wai Yan and Wai Yan’s Si Suk, Pak Cheung.

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In 1995, Andreas Hoffman was given a certificate recognizing him as the successor of Chi Sim Weng Chun/ Jee Shim Ving Tsun martial arts from Siu Lum. In more recent times, Sifu Hoffmann has contacted and trained with the successor of the Tang family, uniting all three main families in much the same way as Grand Master Wai Yan. sifu Hoffman today preserves the art of his teachers and ancestors throughout Europe with a strong organisation of over 3000 members.

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Weng Chun Training Overview

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In Chi Sim Weng Chun, the foundations of the art were based upon Chan (Zen) teachings at the Shaolin Temple, handed down from Daaht Mo. The essence of Chan teaches its followers to trust in their own experience and the understanding of nature rather than doctrine or history.

Any fighting system based on Chan must have three key components. It must be complete, taking all factors into account. For example, it must address all ranges of combat from kicking to striking, trapping, grappling, or employment of weapons.

It must be based on reality rather than theory. It must be spontaneous, existing in the “here and now” rather than past or future. In Chan, there is no ego or body, no past or future. By focusing on the moment, not being distracted by thoughts or emotions outside the immediate task at hand, by being in the “here-and-now” practitioners are free to be aware of the total situation and react accordingly.

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The technical components of Weng Chun are likened to a 5-pedaled flower.

The first petal consists of the Saan Sik (separate motions) and the Kuen Tou (fist sets) consisting of seven core training sets.

The first set is called the Fa Kuen, meaning Blossoming Fist. In this set, the student learns all the basic energy training to open all the energy gates of the body, with special emphasis on spiraling energy. The student also learns to use the whole body in each movement. The set introduces all the hands and footwork for short and long distance combat. This set is known as the Weng Chun Kuen, meaning Everlasting Spring Fist.

The motions in this form are based on the movements and concepts of double knife fighting. In the Chi Sim system, the weapons are taught at the same time as the empty hands because of the reality of the time when this art originated. In the late 1600’s, the most common method of fighting was with weapons.

Therefore, practitioners had to learn to protect themselves from weapon attacks immediately. Additionally, one of the core concepts in Chi Sim is to subdue an opponent definitely. This task is far easier to undertake with the added power and length of a weapon.

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The second set is called the Sahp Yat Kuen, meaning eleven fists. This set is also referred to as the Weng Chun Kuen, also meaning Everlasting Spring Fist.

In this set, the student focuses on developing economy of movement and connecting the body in short motions. This type of power is often called shocking power or inch power. This energy is used in the Saam Ching Kuen, meaning Three Battle Fist, also called the Lin Wan Kuen, meaning Linking Fist.

The motions in this set are based on the movements and concepts of the long pole. There are 11 empty hands motions; the set is organized into 11 learning sections.

The progression in training for Chi Sim Weng Chun is from weapon to weaponless. Without a weapon, it is much more difficult to subdue an opponent. This is the reason for the next two sets.

The third set is called Saam Baai Fuht, meaning Three Bows to Buddha. This is the heart of Chi Sim Weng Chun; it is the shadow of the Sahp Yat Kuen, consisting of 11 sections and was a secret set in the traditions of the Lo family.

In this set, the student learns to multiply his/her energy through the waist as in bowing. Every technique in Weng Chun has a special bow to add power and structure. This set is called Saam Baai Fuht because the student bows once for the dharma (teaching), once for his/her fellow students, and once to the Buddha nature within him/herself.

It is in this set that the student is introduced to the concept of thinking vertically (Heaven, Man, and Earth) as well as horizontally and laterally. It teaches the practitioner the concepts of time and space.

The fourth set is called Jong Kuen, meaning Structure Fist. This set was taught at the highest levels of training and combines everything (the other empty-hand sets, dummy training, and weapons) together into one format.

This set moves through multiple directions and ranges of combat with emphasis on kicking, striking, locking and throwing. One of the primary focuses at this stage of training is the development of Seung Gung (Double Skill).

This refers to the abilities that are developed through its practice; the student doubles his previous skill and power for self-defence through a combination of lihk (muscle), yih (intent), and hei (energy). This set represents the harmonies of long/short and external/internal.

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The fifth set, the Muk Yahn Jong meaning Wooden Person Post, is actually a collection of 3 sets. In Chi Sim Weng Chun history, the dummy training came from the Muk Yan Hall in the Southern Shaolin Temple. The sets of empty-hand dummy are taught in addition to a concept of Tin Yahn Deih, or Heaven, Human, Earth.

Each set on the Jong teaches one of three levels. The heaven dummy focuses on developing reactions and awareness against attacks to the upper gate and trains the student to fight at the long range. The human dummy focuses on the middle gate with emphasis on training striking, locking and throwing.

The earth dummy focuses on close range distances at the lower gate with emphasis on grappling, anti-grappling, throwing and ground fighting.

The sixth set and seventh set are the pole and the knife. In Chi Sim Weng Chun, the pole is considered the teacher. This set is the longest in the system and teaches the student fighting in the long range with emphasis on being alive and responsive to changing situations.

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The pole training introduces the 6½ point concepts of Chi Sim Weng Chun, use of the whole body for power, and “springing” footwork. A fourth dummy training set, Gwan Jong, was a secret set and a specialty of Chi Sim Weng Chun. This set teaches a practitioner to bridge from long to short distance as well as short to long distance both with the long pole and weaponless.

The Fuh Mouh Seung Dou set, meaning Father-Mother Double Knives, are thought of as the father and mother of the system and represent the Yin and Yang concept and training of combat spirit. The knives teach the student the ultimate subduing method.

The second petal in the flower of Chi Sim Weng Chin consists the exercises to teach the student to flow freely from one technique to another and to react intuitively to changing situations. Chi Sim Weng Chun makes use of a three line reference on the limbs to train and coordinate the body.

These lines consist of the Wrist/Ankle, Elbow/Knee, and Shoulder/Hip. One of the primary exercises for training at the Wrist/Ankle line is known as Kiuh Sau, meaning Bridge Hand. This exercise only slightly resembles the more widely known Wing Chun exercise of Chi Sau.

In Kiuh Sau, the partners engage each other with both hands at the same time. Each hand resembles a taan sau with the palm turned up. The hands can meet with one partner outside the other partner’s hands or each partner with one hand inside and one hand outside the other. From the initial touch, both partners react to the openings felt in the other’s structure. These reactions can flow from kicking to striking to kuhm nah (joint-locking) to takedowns.

As the student learns, Kiuh Sau incorporates reaction development in all three lines. There are 18 concepts that are taught to the student as they progress in their training. These concepts, translated by Sifu Tang Chung Pak are:

  • Tiu (Pick up “with a stick”)
  • Buot (push aside)
  • Da (hit)
  • Pun (fold)
  • Juar (grasp)
  • Lai (pull)
  • See (shear)
  • Tshai (quick pull)
  • Kam (capture)
  • Na (control)
  • Fung (close in)
  • Bai (tight control)
  • Bik Force (cornering someone)
  • Hup (continue to put pressure on – “overpowering”)
  • 15Taan (swallow)
  • 16Tuo (spit)
  • Buort (taking change – “gamble”)
  • Saat (stop – “kill/subdue totally”)

The Kahm Nah exercise is similar to the often seen Laahp Sau exercise in other Wing Chun, Wingtsun, Vingtsun, or Wingtjun lineages and trains for the Elbow/Knee line. Kahm Nam training is specifically for flowing from one range to another and begins with strikes first and then progresses into basic locks, chokes, and traps.

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Another exercise, known as Tip Sau, has both partners moving into shoulder-to-shoulder contact for training and developing reactions on the third line. This exercise focuses on training for throws, locks, and close range body weapons such as the head, knee and hip.

As the student progresses, this exercise moves into a free flow format and training for ground fighting as well as escaping from locks, holds, and strikes. Another exercise known as Taan Tou, meaning Push Pull, is one of several exercises focusing on bridging from long to short distance by a) Moh Kiu, touching the bridge or b) Kou Kiu, not touching the bridge.

The third petal in the Chi Sim Weng Chun flower is training to Fuhk, meaning Subdue. Every engagement in Chi Sim Weng Chun seeks to subdue an opponent and prevent further struggle. All attacks are aimed at destroying an opponent’s center of balance. Each attack also has a finishing movement to pin or incapacitate the opponent.

The fourth petal in Chi Sim Weng Chun is Saan Sau training, meaning Separate Hand. In Saan Sau, or sparring, training the student comes to understand what fighting is all about. The student will experience all the emotions that result from fighting as well as training to push him/herself to the limit. It is only though extensive experience with sparring and fighting that a student can understand the reality of combat.

The fifth petal of Chi Sim Weng Chun is the Principles, Poems, Chan Buddhism, History, and Hei Gung. The Ng Jong Hei Gong serves as the core hei gung training in the Chi Sim Weng Chun lineage. It helps to develop the small and large Universal Hei circles and balances the hei for ultimate health. These aspects provide the setting against which Chi Sim Weng Chun was developed and serve to connect the fighting skills developed in training to the moral cultivation of a better individual and a better society.

The Shaolin Connections

Many southern styles claim a connection to the Southern Shaolin Temple, and most are technically, tactically, and philosophically similar. In examining the sets of Chi Sim Weng Chun, it is possible that each set is the pre-cursor to several southern styles.

The Fa Kuen set, with its flowing motions, connected movements and being the first set taught, could be the precursor to many of the family systems in Southern China.

The Sahp Yat Kuen, with its emphasis on economy of movement and short bridge power could have been the foundation for further refinement into what is known as today’s Wing Chun with the three forms of Siu Nim Tau, Chum Kiu, and Biu Ji.

The Saam Baai Fuht and Jong Kuen, with emphases on whole body energy and all ranges of combat could have been the precursor to modern Hung Ga. In several oral legends of Hung Ga, Chi Sim is credited as being the creator of the style.

It is possible that the legends refer to the art of Chi Sim Weng Chun rather than Chi Sim as a person. The existence of Chi Sim as an individual is open to historical debate. No explanation is given in Chi Sim oral legends for Chi Sim Sim Si’s abnormally long lifespan, of up to or over 180 years. (Destruction of the Southern Temple occurred in the late 17th Century, while the Red Boat Opera arose in the mid-19th Century; yet legends reflect Chi Sim Si as a man playing roles in both environments.)

Whatever the possible connections from the Southern Shaolin to today’s modern martial arts, strong evidence exists to support the hypothesis that Chi Sim Weng Chun was directly involved in the evolution of modern Wing Chun.

The core of the Chi Sim system is the weapon sets of long pole and double knife along with the dummy sets. Throughout the martial arts community, the unique hallmark of all Wing Chun lineages is the long pole, the double knives, and the dummy.

The hypothesis that Wing Chun was a series of loose movements that later added the dummy and weapons does not match the evidence presented in Chi Sim Weng Chun. This system was founded on the pole and knife, using the dummy as an integral part of the training. In ancient China, priority was placed on weapons training due to the reality of combat in those times.

A warrior did not have years to learn empty hand sets before uniting body and mind through weapons training. Chi Sim Weng Chun’s philosophy and technical knowledge constitute credible evidence that it was most likely the foundation for modern Wing Chun some time before the advent of the Red Boat Opera Troupe.

Conclusion


While many styles lay claim to a direct connection with the Shaolin temples, Chi Sim Weng Chun backs up its claims with a training system based on Chan teachings and training methods that support Chan philosophy.

A complete system that trains in all ranges of combat in addition to long and short weapons, the Chi Sim system of Weng Chun is a complete system preserved for the benefit of all martial arts. Perhaps with more communication and closer ties between martial art families, more people will come to know this lineage and appreciate the roots, depth and breadth of Chinese martial arts.

Article was written by Benny Meng and Jeremy Roadruck from the vtmuseum

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