Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Krav Maga and Multiple Attackers

Below is an excerpt from an article that appeared at The Art of Manliness on Krav Maga and it's strategy for handling multiple attackers; in this example, on a staircase. 

The full post may be read here.

The origins of krav maga can be traced to pre-World War II Bratislava (a city in what was then Czechoslovakia and is now Slovakia), and a young Jewish athlete named Imi Lichtenfeld. Imi was a nationally and internationally renowned boxer, wrestler, and gymnast. Beginning in the mid-1930s, fascist and anti-Semitic groups rose to power in Czechoslovakia and began inflicting violence on Jewish communities. Feeling duty-bound to protect his neighbors, Lichtenfeld organized a group of young men to patrol his community and defend against would-be attackers. He quickly learned, however, that his training in sport martial arts was no match for the anti-Semitic thugs he encountered.

In developing his more efficiently practical and brutally effective self-defense and fighting system, Imi took into account his own experiences of often being outnumbered by multiple assailants on the streets of Bratislava. Therefore, contending against multiple attackers became a lynchpin of his krav maga thinking. 

Defending against multiple opponents, to be sure, is a desperate and unpredictable situation and one that many people cannot win. The odds are stacked against you, especially when weapons are introduced. There are two types of groups that one can confront, including a preplanned attack group and a spontaneous attack group.  The preplanned attack group intends to attack you regardless of what you might say to deconflict. The spontaneous attack group may be on the fence and you may be able to talk your way out of it or gain a greater advantage to initiate a preemptive counterattack.

If you cannot deescalate the situation or immediately escape, there are two cardinal rules you must try to follow: 1) do not place yourself between two or more assailants, and 2) do not end up on the ground.

Unfortunately, avoiding #1 is impossible in a situation in which you find yourself defending against two assailants in a staircase, one above you and one below you.

As shown in the following series of photos, strategy in this stairway scenario dictates that you first engage the closest opponent (similar to most multiple assailant scenarios). Then contend with the other opponent. Let’s take a look at how this might play out:


Thursday, July 28, 2022

Human Weapon Judo Episode

Human Weapon was a TV series that appeared on the History Channel that explored martial arts around the world. It was intended for a general audience and still appears as reruns from time to time. 

Below is the episode on Judo.



Monday, July 25, 2022

Friday, July 22, 2022

The Original Kata

In the video below, Iain Abernethy discusses the quest many karateka have to finding the "original" versions of the kata they practice and what value there is, if any, in doing so. Enjoy.


Tuesday, July 19, 2022

The Evolution of Tang Shou Dao Xingyiquan

Below is an excerpt from the Kingdom Warrior Academy blog about the evolution of the Tang Shou Dao school of Xingyiquan. The full post may be read here.

When I started in the internal arts, I began in the Shen Long TST lineage. I didn’t really know a lot of the unique history of the lineage, and I was curious. I asked my teacher questions, his teacher questions, and searched voraciously to learn as much as I could about the origin of this lineage of which I was now a part.

I found the TST line to be unique, it had clearly gone through an evolution of sorts that set it apart from the typical Xing Yi Quan I was seeing online and represented in books. It was subtle, mostly. A larger emphasis on the rear step to root the power, scaled down movements in terms of size to emphasize shorter power, a tighter fighting guard in the san ti shi, and some unique waist mechanics to create the power. But it also possessed some things that no other line of Xing Yi in the world had… the 8 step forms.

There were 5 forms that were used as introductory forms in the TST line, specifically the Shen Long TST line. Namely:

1. Babuda
2. Balienshou
3. Bashou
4. Batangquan
5. Meihuatui

There were a few others that were unique to this line as well that did not clearly scream that they belonged to the art of Xing Yi Quan specifically. The TST line was unique in a number of ways that I will just list:

1. the addition of forms not found in other XYQ lineages
2. the way it was organized
3. it combined the three big internals (xing yi, ba gua, and tai ji)
4. the use of uniforms and belts (sashes)

While there were other lineages that also taught all three arts, none of them did it the way that the TST line did, or not so I was aware in all my research.

The first question I wanted to know was what happened to bagua and taiji? You see, historically all three had been in my lineage, but now only the one art was. I found out that my teacher’s teacher had never learned the other two from his teacher (Xu HongJi) before he had died. After a while, I realized that in all my research – I had never found a student of Xu HongJi who had learned either Ba Gua or Tai Ji from him. It made me wonder if Xu had even learned those arts from his teacher, Hong Yi Xiang.  Alas, I will probably never know the answer to that question. My gut says, probably not, or not in their entirety.  But either way, I do not believe he chose to incorporate them into his schools curriculum. I was told by one student of Xu that Hong was not given permission to teach the BGZ or TJQ from his teacher, Zhang Jun Feng. I will circle back to this point later.

Let’s go back in time to the early 1900’s. Tian Jian, China was a popular place for the internal stylists to live and teach. We know that Gao Yi Sheng lived there, as did Li Cun Yi. They were the primary source of knowledge for Zhang Jun Feng, who was a merchant that studied privately with these two men. He learned Hebei Xing Yi from Li Cun Yi and what would later be termed Gao style (a Cheng style) Ba Gua from Gao Yi Sheng. Somewhere along the way, he learned Wu-Hao (a Yang derivative) style Tai Ji, but we don’t know from whom. In 1948, he was forced to leave China because of the Communist revolution. He settled in Taiwan with a large number of other Chinese immigrants. He didn’t have much luck with his business, so he fell back on teaching the martial arts, as he had gained some attention for his skills. He opened up the Yi Zong school, a name given to his line of Ba Gua from Gao Yi Sheng.  Doctor Kenneth Fish trained with him some time after that and reports that he taught BaShou and BaShi at that time, so we know that those 2 forms pre-dated the TST formation. From other research it was clear that many lines of Xing Yi taught a form called Bashi so that one was even older than Zhang himself. I have not found any other lineage of Xing Yi or Ba Gua that teaches Bashou, and it is a clear fusion of the Xing Yi animals and the linear Gao forms, so it is likely that it is post Gao Yi Sheng, maybe even a creation of Zhang himself.

Zhang became quite successful at teaching the martial arts, even training the Taiwanese President and some of the military commanders of the time (this becomes relevant in my Ba Gua lineage which I trained in much later). He eventually began training three siblings. Hong Yi Xiang, Hong Yi Mian, and Hong Yi Wen. Each one of them were either given a specialty by Zhang or just grew into them organically. Yi Xiang was the Xing Yi guy, Yi Mian Ba Gua, and Yi Wen Tai Ji. As far as I know, Yi Wen never taught much, if at all. But Yi Mian and Yi Xiang both taught (together and separately, I believe). It is my understanding that they all learned all three arts. At some point in time, Hong Yi Xiang began his own school, Tang Shou Dao (Tao). Literally it means “Chinese hand way”, I find it hard to believe he was not referencing Karate, which originally translated the same way before Funikoshi changed it to “empty hand way”. Hong was known to have a great appreciation for the way the Japanese arts were taught, and supposedly it was a trip to Japan that inspired him to organize his curriculum the way he did. He even borrowed the uniforms and belts as well as many exercises for conditioning.

When Hong created the TST, he was apparently very rigid in the way he progressed people through the material, at least that is what is believed if you watched the BBC documentary on him. I believe he relaxed this significantly later in his life, if not abandoning it completely eventually.


Saturday, July 16, 2022

Vintage Profile of Karate Great Gogen Yamaguchi

Black Belt revived an old profile of karate great Gogen Yamaguchi. Yamaguchi was one of the giants of Goju Ryu Karate. Below is an excerpt. The full post may be read here.

Journey back in time to March 1966 when Black Belt profiled a well-known Japanese martial artist and featured him on the cover. Thus was goju karate introduced the American martial arts masses.

This vintage piece on a karate icon was first published in Black Belt's March 1966 issue.

They call him the “Cat." Nobody seems to know quite how he got the name. Some say that the American GIs stationed in Japan after World War II were the first to dub him with it because he walked so softly in the dojo they never knew when he glided up behind them.

But however the name first got started, it has stuck. It seems particularly appropriate to the lithe movements of the man himself and to the graceful, beautiful brand of karate he preaches.

The Cat, whose real name is Gogen Yamaguchi, is the head of the famous goju school of karate. With his flowing hair and his piercing black eyes, this remarkable karateka has become a world figure and something of a legend in his own time. Coming out of a Manchurian prison camp after World War II, he picked up the reins of a flagging school and built it into a powerful, sprawling karate empire.

Baffling Figure

At 59, Yamaguchi remains a baffling figure. This descendant of samurai certainly is one of the most complex figures striding the world karate stage, and a bundle of contradictions. A Shinto priest, he is a deeply religious man. He also has the unmistakable flair that, if it were in any other field, he would have to be described as a showman. He is an apostle of calm meditation and philosophy and at the same time a restless, driving and energetic head of a worldwide karate organization.

Deeply suspicious of businessmen, he is himself the business head of what is one of the biggest and most financially successful karate systems in Japan. Domineering, humorless, he keeps a tight karate fist on the operation of the organization and the more than 1,200 dojo and clubs and 600,000 members claimed for the goju system.

Yamaguchi is a fanatic when it comes to the question of karate. He has only two interests in life: his art and his religion. And it's difficult to tell just where the religious man leaves off and the karate man begins. The two have become so intertwined over the years that they are probably one and the same by now.

Mountain Training

Yamaguchi is a small man, just over 5 feet tall, but he gives the impression of great bulk and solemnity. His 160 pounds is spread over a powerful frame. He has been known to smile, but not very often. He is gravely serious and reserved, with a seemingly bottomless reservoir of dignity.

At the same time, he can be a boon companion to close karate companions on their exuberant physical outings. He comes alive best when charging up a mountainside in the dead of winter at the head of a group of followers, sandal-less and clad only in a thin gi.

While his interests are limited now, his has not been a narrow background. Trained in the law, he is also a medical doctor. He has studied all the major branches of the various arts and is a fifth-degree black belt in judo.


Yamaguchi is a vegetarian, but he still has managed to put on a few pounds in the last few years. Yet it doesn't seem to have slowed him down. He still flashes his famous speed when hegoes into action. He can deliver three or four kicks to the stomach, chest and head in one lightning-like lunge.

Yamaguchi was born in Kyushu, Miyazaki Ken, in 1907. The young man was fond of athletics while growing up, and it was here he first began to study karate. But it wasn't until the family moved to Kyoto while he was in his teens that he began the serious study of karate. It was while attending Ritsumeikan University that Yamaguchi first heard of goju karate and of Chojun Miyagi, the Okinawan who was head of the school.

Fateful Meeting

Curious about the system, Yamaguchi wrote to Miyagi and invited him to come to Japan. Miyagi accepted and left shortly thereafter. The meeting of the two was to be a fateful one, not only for goju but for all of karate as well.

Miyagi came from the city of Naha where the development of karate had taken a separate path. The other major schools of karate were centered mainly in Shim in Okinawa. In Shiru, the emphasis had been more on the hard approach. But with Miyagi and goju, the soft style takes equal precedence with the hard.

Hard-Soft Style

Indeed, the word “goju" means hard-soft. Go is the Japanese word for hardness, and ju means softness. The system is based on an Oriental concept that all hardness and stiffness is not good. At the same time, all softness and too much gentleness can be harmful. The two should complement each other.

This combination of the two gives goju karate its beautiful, disciplined movements, filled with grace and flowing form. But lest anyone believe that goju is merely a beautiful style of dance with little of the art of defense, he need only watch two goju practitioners square off in kumite.

The action is fast, extremely fast. It relies on an aggressive style of attack, with the emphasis on delivering blows “hard" but with easy effort and in rapid succession. The opponents don't have much time to stand still and to look cautiously for openings. They are exchanging kicks and punches rapidly, always moving, not only forward and back, but maneuvering from side to side and aiming blows from the outside left or right.

Yamaguchi immediately fell in love with the strange and intricate patterns displayed by Miyagi. From that moment on, the future of Yamaguchi was sealed. He concentrated on the study of goju to the exclusion of almost everything else. When Miyagi left to return to Okinawa, he left behind a well-trained and dedicated follower. Miyagi awarded Yamaguchi the highest rank in goju and made him head of the school in Japan.

Devoted Apostle

Miyagi couldn't have made a better choice. Driving, relentless, Yamaguchi became the apostle of goju in Japan. With single-minded determination, he set about the task of spreading the word throughout Japan.

The first thing he did was to set about establishing dojo. He organized the first karate club at Ritsumeikan University and the first karate dojo in western Japan in 1930. Under his indefatigable leadership the school began to attract new adherents and the goju karate system began to fan out across the island nation.

Early in the Japanese development, Yamaguchi made a fundamental change in the goju school that was to alter radically the course of karate. After observing his students, he came to the conclusion that the strict Okinawan brand of karate, with its ancient Chinese origins, was too static and limited in style.


Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Kurosu Harutsugi, 9th Dan Judo

Over at his excellent blog, Kogen Budo, Ellis Amdur posted a biography of one of the great past masters of Judo, Kurosu Harutsugi. Below is an excerpt. The full post may be read here. 

 Mr. Amdur is a prolific author. His many fine books on a variety of topics, not just martial arts, may be found here. 

Kurosu Harutsugi (黒須春次) was born on March 13, 1888, and died March 15th, 1973. He was born in a farming family, but due to his father’s illness, he had to help him from a very young age. At the age of 18, he began studying Araki Shin-ryu jujutsu in 1906, from Hayashi Hikojiro. His body trained in jujutsu, he was accepted into an artillery regiment. He received a menkyo kaiden in Araki Shin-ryu in 1921 from Urano Kasutsugu Nobutaka. 

[NOTE: There is more than one line of Araki Shin-ryu, that bear little relationship to one another. Perhaps the most famous is a a ryuha started by Araki Buzaemon, which has a complicated relationship to the original Araki-ryu torite-kogusoku of the founder, Araki Muninsai.] 

A few years after beginning his study of Araki Shin-ryu, he also began training in Shinto Rikugo-ryu jujutsu, an amalgam of a number of older schools, and eventually receiving a rank of 4th dan in 1922. Although kata based, it focused on hand-to-hand combat and was, for a period of time, a rival of the Kodokan. (The last known teacher of this school is Shiigi Munenori of the Ichigido). 

Kurosu was not satisfied by jujutsu alone, obviously needing to compete. Only judo at that time allowed shiai and he entered the Kodokan in 1913. Very soon afterwards, he was ‘tested’ in a match with four seniors, and after defeating them, was awarded a judo fourth kyu (NOTE: which meant a lot more in those days). He established his own judo dojo in the Shinjuku area of Tokyo in 1914 (remember, he was already had high rank in two jujutsu schools, which he continued training–apparently, this was rather common in those days, enabling the Kodokan to incorporate jujutsu practitioners quickly into their organization). In fact, he was already considered skilled enough that in 1916, he was appointed a judo instructor of the Kenpeitai. 

 Kurosu participated in judo practice on a daily basis, rising at 4:30 each morning and walking one and one-half hours to the Kodokan. Walking so early drew the attention of the police at times, but Kurosu stated that all this walking also made his legs exceptionally strong. With his grounding in Araki Shin-ryu & Shinto Rikugo-ryu, he quickly rose in the ranks: 

  • 1917 – shodan 
  • 1919 – nidan 
  • 1922 – sandan 
  • 1924 – yondan; 
  • 1926- godan. 

He was powerfully built at 167 cm, 78 kilos. Aside from a powerful uchimata, he specialized in yoko-sutemi waza. He would flow right into groundwork, and got the nickname of “The Worker” for his methodical machine-like approach. He participated in every tournament he could, and won the famous red-white tournament at the 4th dan level. He won his age division of the first All Japan Judo Tournament in 1930, and was awarded his 6th dan in 1931, at the age of 42. At the age of 49, he got to the final round of the All Japan Judo Championship, and was awarded a 7th dan. He also participated every year at the Dai Nippon Butokukai tournaments and was awarded the rank of renshi, also in 1937.

 A wonderful picture of some of the greats of pre-war judo – Kurosu is on the far right. 

After the 2nd World War, he worked heavily to revive judo and was awarded his 8th dan in 1948. In reminiscing about his career in judo, he stated that he believed he had taught over 50,000 people in his personal dojo in Shinjuku. He continued practicing himself at the Kodokan, particularly treasuring the intensive winter and summer special practices, believing that this intense expenditure of energy made him strong for the rest of the year. 

 He still competed in randori at advanced years. At the age of 70, he found his injuries were catching up with him, and he shifted to concentrating on newaza rather than tachiwaza. He would joke that you had to be careful with newaza because, being an old man, because it was easy to have one’s dentures knocked out. 

 At the 90th anniversary of the Kodokan in 1972, he was awarded a 9th dan. He died of heart failure at the age of 85. His two sons became Kodokan 8th dan in 1969 and 1975 respectively. See this LINK for a Japanese language biography of Kurosu. 


Sunday, July 10, 2022

Bartitsu Video


From Wikipedia:

Bartitsu is an eclectic martial art and self-defence method originally developed in England during the years 1898–1902, combining elements of boxing, jujitsu, cane fighting, and French kickboxing (savate). In 1903, it was immortalised (as "baritsu") by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes mystery stories.[1] Although dormant throughout most of the 20th century, Bartitsu has been experiencing a revival since 2002. 



Thursday, July 07, 2022

How to Skip Rope Like a Boxer

Over at The Art of Manliness was a post on how to skip rope like a boxer. It's a great overall exercise no matter what martial art you might practice. Below is an excerpt. The full post may be read here.

hen you think about boxers’ workouts — when you mentally run through all the real life preparation they put in before a fight, as well as all the cinematic training montages you can remember — one exercise probably comes most readily to mind: jumping rope.

Boxers, from bare-knuckle brawlers like John L. Sullivan to modern champs like Manny Pacquiao, have indeed made jumping rope a big part of their training regimens throughout the long history of the sweet science. And with good reason: the benefits of this exercise abound.

If you’re not planning on climbing into a ring anytime soon, you probably don’t think of jump roping very often; to get in your cardio or HIIT workouts, you’re more likely to mount some machine at the gym. Maybe that’s because you associate jumping rope with elementary school, think you’re too clumsy to do it effectively, remember it being overly monotonous, or feel like it’s too high impact an exercise for your older or heavier body.

Today we’ll show you how those objections can be overcome, and why you ought to train like a fighter by incorporating the jump rope into your workout routine.

The Benefits of Jumping Rope

Jumping rope builds your fitness, athletic skills, and even your mindset in ways few other exercises can match. When you look at the list of benefits below, it’s easy to see why boxers are particularly keen on this form of training, but these are advantages the average guy surely wants to develop as well:

  • Serves as a whole body workout that incorporates all the muscle groups
  • Works the body’s anaerobic and aerobic systems and efficiently burns calories
  • Builds speed and quickness
  • Develops overall balance, coordination, timing, and rhythm
  • Intensifies power and explosiveness
  • Increases reaction time and reflexes
  • Gets an athlete comfortable with being in the “readiness position” — on the balls of the feet
  • Enhances agility and nimbleness — lightness on the feet
  • Offers practice in moving through all planes of space — up, down, backward, forward, and side-to-side
  • Enhances ability to accelerate and decelerate while keeping one’s balance
  • Develops body control and awareness
  • Cultivates greater ability to synchronize the lower and upper body
  • Increases hand-eye coordination
  • Strengthens mental discipline and mindfulness (in calling upon one’s powers of concentration)

Beyond these physiological benefits, jumping rope is a super cheap and portable exercise — you can do it almost anywhere — and incredibly versatile to boot; with hundreds of variations in techniques, patterns, and progressions, it’s a workout you can keep perennially fresh.




Monday, July 04, 2022

The Origin of Kyokushin Karate

Below is an excerpt from an article that appeared at Fighting Warrior on the formation and history of Kyokushin Karate. The full post may be read here.

The founder of Kyokushin Karate is Masutatsu Oyama, often referred to as Mas Oyama. He was born on July 27, 1923 in what would later be South Korea. When he was still very young, he was sent to Manchuria, China to live on his sister's farm.
When he was in his age of 9, he was firstly introduced to the chinese martial arts , once one amongst the farmers began teaching him Kempo , which is also known as 18Hands.

Now the 18 Hands is very important in the history of martial arts. It was one of the foundations and is often found in the roots of many traditional martial arts, including my own art, of American Kenpo Karate.

At the age of 12, Oyama returned back to Korea And continued his training, but this time in Korean Kempo. Now this was only the beginning of the multiple building blocks Oyama would use to develop his own system. In 1938, at the age of 15, Oyama traveled to Japan with his brother to enlist in the Japanese Imperial Army aviation school.

While he was there, he continued his training in Karate, adding Judo and boxing into his regime. It was very clear that young Oyama was finding his way in the martial arts, constantly adding more and more skills to his arsenal.

When World War II ended in 1945, Oyama left the aviation school and settled down in Tokyo and in 1946, enrolled in Waseda Universityschool of education and he pursued his study in sport science. Oyama pressed forward in his martial arts training, seeking out a school run by Gigo Funakoshi, son of GichinFunakoshi, who was the Grand Master and founder of the art and then later, he trained under Gichin Funakoshi himself. 
In his lifetime, he achieved the ranks of fourth Dan in Kodokan Judo, fourth Dan in Shotokan Karate, seventh Dan in Goju Ryu Karate and eventually, tenth Dan in Kyokushin Karate training .

As skilled and disciplined as Oyama became,the war had left him unsettled and he was noted for often getting into fights with US military police.
Mas Oyama sought a way to ground himself and having become interested in the Samurai Bushido code and what it represented, he had committed himself to spending three years in isolation to focus entirely on his training.

He built a small shack in Mt. Minobu in Japanand there he trained and lived. At one point, a student had joined him, but this was not a recreational retreat nor a weekend seminar. It was a harsh, outdoor workout and there were no modern conveniences. Nature was the Dojo.

He embodied a lot of what you see in martial arts films, glamorized training out in the wilderness and the waterfalls, becoming one with nature and in pure isolation.

However, this wasn't Hollywood and this wasn't glamorous. It was pure, hardcore training.

Mas Oyama had a really strict training routine , practicing for a minimum of twelve hours each day, with taking no days off, underneath waterfalls, crushing stones or wooden logs with open hand strikes and punches , he used all things in his surroundings as training equipment .

Now this was a bit overwhelming for his student who, after about six months, snuck away in the night, leaving Oyama to train in solitude. Oyama was dedicated to becoming one of the hardest and best fighters in the world.

Unfortunately, after 14 months, his sponsor was unable to continue to offer support and Oyama returned back to civilization. He came back a hardened martial artist, winning competitions and earning respect.

And at this point in his life, he knew that he wanted to dedicate his whole life to learning and teaching martial arts. So on his own, he took off again for the mountains,where he would spend another 18 months of this rigorous routine. Complete solitude, out in nature, 12 hours a day.

Friday, July 01, 2022

Ding Number Seven and the Origins of White Crane Boxing

Below is an excerpt from a fascinating article from Kung Fu Tea, which has to do with women in martial arts and the origin of Southern White Crane Boxing. The full post may be read here.

The historical records produced during the Ming and Qing dynasties contain a number of references to female martial artists.  These sources clearly indicate that they were massively outnumbered by their male brethren, but as a category they were never entirely absent either.  Of course “martial arts” as a conceptual category is a comparatively recent invention.  Most of these individuals were identified and discussed using different professional markers.  They were remembered as entertainers, vagabonds, criminals, healers, mystics, saints and in one memorable case even a rebel general.  The fighting arts (and their related body of traditional physical culture) might play a role in each of these professions.

There are far fewer cases in which a woman was explicitly identified as a full time martial arts instructor with a large number of students.  And I am aware of only a single a instance in which a historical woman was acknowledged by later male writers as the founder of area’s martial tradition.  

But before we can explore further we need to know something about the sorts of resources that are available to students of Chinese martial history.

“Gazetteers” are a fascinating historical resource for anyone interested in life in late imperial China.  

These records were by their nature both geographically bounded and technical.  They might focus on a region, a province, a county, a city, a temple or even an important waterway.  The ostensible point of a gazetteer was to gather the information that a busy outside government official or visitor might need to get up to speed on a new posting or assignment.  As such these books are a valuable historical resource which provide maps, community histories, economic discussions, biographies of notable citizens and local color.  

Members of the gentry were usually tasked with writing and editing the gazetteers.  This was considered a prestigious assignment as the editor of such a volume had the ability to shape the local social and historical record.  A review of these books shows that the families of the editors were inevitably remembered as “illustrious scholars” and “paragons of virtue.”  It is important to take the social history that one finds in these books with a grain of salt, but they remain a vital resource for understanding local history in China.
The editors of these volumes usually went to some effort to put their best foot forward and appear as orthodox and socially respectable as possible.  As a result gazettes often omit the sort of information that might be most useful to the historian of the martial arts.

Douglas Wile discovered a classic case of this while researching his landmark volume on the early Taiji literature (1996).  The Wu brothers, who had important careers as high ranking public servants, were also gifted literary scholars.  They put these skills to good use by editing the local county gazetteer after retiring from public office, as well as discovering, editing and preserving the oldest still existing manuscript tradition of what we now call the “Taiji Classics.”

In fact, all three brothers were deeply involved with and committed to, the practice of Taiji.  It is thus odd that the historical volume that they edited contains no references to Taiji, or to the brothers other very substantial military exploits.  Wile debates how we should interpret this silence.  Was it some hint of sedition?  Possibly.  But a simpler explanation would be that a public airing of such an eccentric interest in a “dignified” source would bring embarrassment to the Wu family.

Marnix Wells has fared better with the use of gazetteers in his research.  The county records that he dealt with in his investigation of Chang Naizhou not only preserved his memory, but it went into detail on the biographies of a number of other martial artists in the region.  This is really about the best scenario that you can hope for.  Yet in many cases these records simply pass over the martial arts in silence, not because they were actually absent, but rather because they were viewed as undignified or unorthodox by the volume’s editor.

The other difficult thing about gazetteers is finding and translating them.  Localities were supposed to update these records regularly.  Some did, while others were pretty lax.  Nor is there a central clearing house for this information today.  A few of these volumes (generally the ones for the more important areas) have been republished, but most of this information is still sitting in library stacks and private book collections in China.  Actually getting ahold of all of the information that you would like to see, and successfully translating it, can be a major feat of scholarship in itself.

Luckily for us the editors of the late 17th century gazetteer for Yongchun County, Fujian Province, had no moral objections to the martial arts.  We are also fortunate in that what he had to say was deemed important enough to warrant subsequent republishing and discussion, first by scholars in China, then by Stanley Henning in the United States.

Very often information about important martial artists (if any is included) will be found in the section on local biographies of noteworthy private citizens that most county gazetteers seem to have included.  The brief account quoted by Henning and others states that during the Kangxi era (1662-1735) a woman named Ding Number Seven moved to Yongchun with her husband.  Together they taught a number of individuals including 24 disciples.  The most important of these was an individual named Zheng Li.

Zheng warranted his own entry in the volume.  It focused on his immense strength and boxing skills.
The discussions of his feats included a stereotyped defeat of a water buffalo (which he pulled the horns off of) and a shaolin monk (who later became a friend and teacher).  Zheng was taught by Woman Ding, and he in turn provided instruction to most of the lineages that were still operating in the area at the time that the account was written.

So when does this account date to?  We do not have an exact date, but we do have some clues.  The list of southern gazetteers provided by James Tong indicates that Yongchun County did not update their records frequently (Disorder Under Heaven, 1992).  As such it looks like this account might date to the 1684 edition of the local gazetteer.   If these dates are correct than Ding Number Seven would have been active sometime between 1660 and 1680.  Given that the account indicates as least two generations of instruction have passed, this would indicate that she was probably teaching in the 1660s.

Of course this account is also interesting for what is left out.  We hear very little of her husband and his accomplishments.  One wonders if perhaps she was included because she was both a martial artist and a “virtuous widow,” a group that always enjoyed recognition in these lists (see the discussion in Victoria Cass, 1999).

Nor do we know the name of the style that she taught.  Today she is revered as the ancestor of Yongchun White Crane Boxing.  Yet neither avian nor geographic nomenclature are mentioned in the account of her teaching, just the size of her school.  Readers are also never told where she learned her art.  Was it from her husband?  Or possibly her father? 

While the biographical account of Zheng Li is full of exaggeration and folklore (the defeat of a bull-type creature is one of the classic markers of a martial arts legend, as is a confrontation with a Shaolin monk) his teacher’s life lacks any fantastic elements.  The account is all business, possibly too much so.

Subsequent versions of her story were more expansive and attempted to fill in these blanks.  Perhaps the best-preserved account from this era is found in the Bubishi.  This enigmatic work represents a Fujianese martial arts manuscript tradition dating from the last half of the 19th century.  The manuscripts in question were preserved in Okinawa (hence the Japanese title), and went on to influence the development of that island’s indigenous fighting traditions. 

The manuscripts included in the Bubishi are written in Chinese and include discussions of martial arts history, ethics, White Crane and Monk Fist styles, vital point strikes and traditional Chinese herbal medicines.  The manuscripts are sometimes heavily illustrated and often appear without any specific order.  An almost identical work entitled the Secret Shaolin Bronze Man Book was preserved by the Liu family in Fuzhou leading to the conclusion that the work was originally composed in China rather than Okinawa.

The volume begins its discussion of White Crane Kung Fu with the following story:

“In spite of his fighting skills in Monk Fist Boxing, Fang Zhonggong was no match for the scoundrels from a neighboring village who deceived and then viciously beat him while vying for control of his village.  The injuries Fang sustained during the altercation were so severe that he was unable to fully recuperate and fell gravely ill.  Attending to by his loving daughter and personal disciple, Fang Qiniang, his condition gradually deteriorated.  No longer even able to eat, he finally died.

Deeply troubled by the loathsome circumstances of her beloved father’s death, Fang Qiniang vowed to take revenge.  Although just a country girl from the rural village of Yongchun, Fang Qiniang was nevertheless a promising and spirited young woman.  She longed to vindicate her family name, but she had not yet mastered the fighting skills her father was teaching her.  She deeply pondered upon how she might find the power and strength to overcome such adversaries.

One day, not long after the tragedy, Fang was sobbing over the memory of her loss when suddenly she heard some strange noises coming from the bamboo grove just outside her home.  Looking out the window to see what was making such a racket, she saw two beautiful cranes fighting.  She noticed how the magnificent creatures strategically maneuvered themselves away from each others fierce attacks with remarkable precision.  In the midst of piercing screams, the vigorous and lethal pecking was well concealed.

Deciding to frighten off the creatures, Fang went outside and grabbed the long bamboo pole she used for hanging clothes to dry.  As she approached the cranes, Fang swung the pole but was unable to get close.  Each time she attempted to swing or poke with the pole, they sensed her proximity, and, before the pole could reach its intended target, the birds instinctively evaded her every effort and finally just flew off.

Reflecting deeply upon this incident, Fang concluded that it was a revelation and soon set about evaluating the white cranes’ instinctive combat methods.  If someone could fight the way the white cranes had, that person would be unbeatable.  After considerable time and study, Fang finally came to understand the central principles of hard and soft and yielding to power.  Fusing the central elements of Monk Fist gongfu with her own interpretation of the birds innate defensive movements she created a new style.

After three years of relentless training, Fang developed into an unusually skillful fighter.  Capable of remarkable feats of strength and power, Fang Qiniang was no longer the weak and frail girl she once was.  Her skills and determination finally gained her a notable reputation.  Undefeated in those three years, Fang’s innovative style ultimately became one of the most popular civil self-defense traditions in and around Fujian Province, and became known as Yongchun White Crane Boxing.”

The Bubishi demonstrates that within two centuries the creator of Yongchun Boxing had evolved from a historical person with a number of personal students to a full blown initiatory figure with a martial arts mythology of her own.  A comparison of the early account of “Ding” to the later stories of the woman “Fang” provides an excellent illustration of how it is that myths emerge and crystallize around the barest historical details.  Note also how the questions posed by the short biographical sketch are systematically answered throughout the later extended story.

Rather than coming to the county with her paradoxically quiet husband, she is now attached to a father capable to teaching her Monk Fist Style.  This certainly explains where Feng learned her art.  

Yet she did not teach Monk Fist to her students?  Instead her father conveniently dies at the hands of bandits and she is forced to innovate to avenge the family name. 

While the theme is a common one in martial arts legends, it still serves to introduce the vision of the fighting cranes that has been central to the development of martial arts in the Yongchun region.   

Further, Feng’s encounter with fighting cranes at her moment of greatest loss and despair shows an uncanny resemblance to Ng Mui’s later epiphany in the aftermath of the destruction of the Shaolin Temple. 

Of course this new account raises its own set of questions.  Did Feng use her new found martial prowess to carry out an act of bloody revenge?  And what of the missing husband?  Did she ever go on to marry? If not, why?  Lastly, who was Feng Zhonggong?  Given the abrupt start of the story it would appear that the Bubishi is only presenting a tantalizing fragment of what was once a longer narrative.

Current folklore, still in circulation among modern martial artists, has taken up each of these questions in turn.  It takes no great leap of imagination to see Fang Zhonggong as an escapee from the ruins of Shaolin.  This conclusion may even be implied in the 19th century fragment of the story that we still poses.  He is obviously not a monk as he has married and has a daughter.  Still, many lay Buddhists studied martial arts at Shaolin in both legend and fact.  This would certainly seem to explain how he learned Monk Fist style in the first place. 

His daughter’s use of the long pole in her attempt to scare off the noisy cranes is highly suggestive of the historic Shaolin pole fighting style.  Lastly, the Bubishi claims that Feng always taught that it was only through the cultivation of inner peace and harmony that true martial mastery could be achieved.  It also states that her ideas about this were handed down from the ancient past through her father and were not native to Fuzhou.

Modern readers have accepted this implied Shaolin connection without hesitation.  Ng Ho reports that in some versions of the story Feng Qiniang refuses to marry, becomes a Buddhist nun herself, and changes her name to Yongchun (Wing Chun in Cantonese).  In the end he concludes that from a folklore perspective “It is impossible to ascertain whether Fang Yongchun, Fang Qiniang and the nun Yongchun were one and the same person or three distinct individuals.”   I agree with this basic conclusion that the myth takes a single identity and reworks it into multiple stories.  To this list of overlapping stories we can also add the Abbess Ng Mui. 

Historically speaking, the faded memory of Ding, a real martial arts instructor in Yongchun Village, has inspired the foundation myths of both Wing Chun and White Crane, as well as the individual legends of the Yim Wing Chun, Fang Yongchun, Fang Qiniang, and most recently the Nun Yongchun or Ng Mui.  All four of these individuals probably represent different aspects of the same legendary figure.