Wuzuquan History

The Creation of the Wuzuquan System

During the period of the Mongol Supremacy in China (1279-1368 CE) a certain Master, Bai Yufeng, born of a wealthy family was responsible for gathering together the foremost Shaolin exponents of the five unique individual Systems and uniting their different strengths into a new superior system – Wuzuquan. The reasons for the creation of the system are rooted in the complexities of political events which began as long ago as the seventh century, and which continued up to Bai Yufeng’s own era.

Success was ironically ever the greatest problem for the preservation and maintenance of the arts in their authentic, pure forms. During the early years of the Tang Dynasty, Taizong (born as Li Shimin), the second Tang Emperor, a wise and enlightened ruler and highly successful military commander, had in the struggle to secure the imperial throne, eventually come to succeed largely through the support of the Shaolin Fighting Monks.

Thirteen of the monks he in particular wished to honour with official posts in the imperial government, but this honour they refused, declaring that they had been pleased to fight for him and the justness of his cause, but that they were and remained spiritual men, and had no interest in worldly affairs. Taizong accepted this, however the potential possessed by the masters of Shaolin Gong Fu to play a decisive part in military affairs had by now become firmly established. Great wealth and opportunity for expansion therefore flowed toward the Temple, and satellite temples began to be established further and further across China. These temples receiving great patronage, became like the Mother Temple at Song Mountain, very wealthy, and in an age where brigandage was rife, each had its own body of Fighting Monks able to defend the temples and of course those temples patrons.

Even prior to the intervention of the Tang Emperor (Taizong), a pattern of Imperial support and patronage had become established (albeit not on the scale of later times). The Sui Emperor, Wendi, for instance granted the original/mother Shaolin Temple dominion over a wide terrain, and not a few Emperors – as followers of Chan Buddhism – offered personal religious worship at Chan/Shaolin temples.

As a result, the exceptional skills of the Gong Fu Masters at the main temple became little by little ever more diminished, as they settled in the many lesser, widely scattered temples. This was undoubtedly the main reason behind Bai Yufeng’s momentous decision to try to save the arts and even build on them, in order to preserve their integrity and essence for perpetuity.
An additional event towards the end of the Tang Dynasty, further reinforced the urgency of such a process. In 845 CE the Emperor Wu decreed the total prohibition of the Buddhist religion, and the dissolution of all Buddhist temples and monasteries (including the Shaolin Temple of Henan Province).

Doubtless this emperor was not unaware of the potential danger of challenge to the secure tenure of his hold on the Imperial Throne, posed by the organised structure of Buddhism and the extent of the influence it commanded over the hearts and minds of its followers in China; and especially the potential threat posed by the community of fearless monks, great and renowned exponents of martial arts, at the Buddhist Shaolin Temple.

Therefore, for the first time the community of monks at Shaolin was persecuted and forcibly dispersed. The persecution did not last long, but it was a warning. Success could be more deadly a threat to the preservation of the arts of Shaolin than persecution, where politics were concerned.

The role of Shaolin monks, Gong Fu masters possessed of formidable powers and peerless fighting techniques, played not infrequently a crucial part in those distant times in seeing legitimate emperors successfully fight off opponents.
It is not unlikely therefore that in the period (Yuan Dynasty) up to and including that in which Bai Yufeng wisely sought to gather together the foremost exponents of the five most renowned Shaolin Gong Fu systems, that for political reasons Shaolin Gong Fu Masters had been encouraged to remain less united, and to teach their arts in diverse corners and parts of the vast Chinese Empire.

Whatever the reasons, the dispersion of the arts and their most gifted exponents, had, by the age in which Bai Yufeng and a few other far-sighted Gong Fu Masters lived, become a grave matter in which it seemed certain that posterity and China would, before long, lose forever these precious jewels of knowledge of the arts. Bai Yufeng’s initiative in bringing together the greatest living exponents of these famous systems was therefore timely indeed.

According to history, even as the five exponents and Bai Yufeng were congratulating themselves upon their achievement, a stranger un-beckoned and unknown appeared, the mysterious Hian Loo, the ‘Lady in The Green Dress.’ She declared that the system they had created was indeed the finest that she had encountered, but that it lacked somewhat, nevertheless. Being wise, and impressed by her earnestness, not to mention her presence, they listened to what she had to say. This amounted to the following: ‘Your system is excellent, but it is too ‘Yang,’ too hard. With some refinement, through the addition of such ‘Yin’ elements as I would wish you to include, it will indeed be unbeatable, but even then I would advise that you No Longer Boast unguardedly of this truly unbeatable system.’

The exponents of the five systems and Bai Yufeng took counsel and wisely listened to Hian Loo’s advice, and accepted gladly her guidance. Amongst many subtleties of movement she was responsible for inclusion of Dim Mak techniques: for though less physically strong than the exponents of the five systems, her subtlety and finesse had been turned to an advantage they did not possess – extensive knowledge of the most lethal striking points of the human body: the inclusion of this final element completed the refinement of the new system.

Later History: are the Five Ancestors the same as the Five Elders?

This question takes us a few hundred years further on from the Age of Bai Yufeng and the creation and establishment of the art of Wuzuquan. These centuries (which comprised those of the Ming Dynasty and earlier phase of the Qing Dynasty – in which more generally the major school systems of Baguazhang, Xinyiquan, and Taijiquan were born) witnessed the refinement of the system under inspired great teachers and guardians of the lineage. With the Manchu conquest of China, and under their rulers (The Qing Dynasty 1644-1912) the Shaolin Temple at Henan was destroyed – for politically self-evident reasons of self-preservation.

Not a few of the monks who survived the destruction of the Temple made their way to the south-eastern Province of Fujian: a land that was even then regarded as ‘frontier territory,’ largely uncivilised and comprised of rough terrain – ideal for brigands, and also for rebels. Due to these factors and favourable circumstances those Shaolin monks who sought refuge there established the greatly renowned Southern Shaolin Temple in the province, spreading their teachings and skills to the peoples of Quanzhou and Putian. At this temple Shaolin Gong Fu flourished greatly, but as at the original Shaolin Temple at Song Mountain in Henan, the Fighting Monks – ever the most staunch and effective opponents of the Manchu enemy, and sharpened still more by their success in fighting the Japanese pirates who infested the province’s coastlands – of the Southern Shaolin Temple found themselves both feared and hated by the ruling dynasty.

On a time that dynasty sent overwhelming force to Fujian to destroy the temple and kill or take prisoner its monks. In this way the Southern Shaolin Temple was destroyed, and its monks forced to flee (two, of particular renown, were Chei-San and Ching-Tsao; these two escaping to Kwantung) far and wide, including overseas: it was due to these events that Wuzuquan came to be established in many lands of South East Asia by the Fujianese monks of the Southern Shaolin Temple.

However, five monks survived the ferocious onslaught, and it is these five, known as THE FIVE ELDERS who enabled the FIVE ANCESTOR SYSTEM, founded many centuries earlier, to survive and be passed to future generations.
The Five Elders were: Zhi Shan Chan Shi (Jee Sin); Wu Mei Da Shi (Ng Mui); Bai Mei Dao Ren (Bak Mei) ‘White Eyebrow’; Feng Daode (Fung Do-Duk); Miao Xian (Miu Hin).

Were the Five Elders responsible for establishing the five major styles of southern martial arts?

No, they were not directly responsible for the creation of those Styles, however five of the most well-known students of one of the Five Elders - Zhi Shan Chan Shi (Jee Sin) - were the founders of these famous Southern Styles. Hung Gar was founded by Hong Xiguan; Lau Gar, by Liu Sanyan; Choy Gar, by Cai Jiuyi; Lee Gar, by Li Youshan (teacher of Choy Lee Fut Founder, Chan Heung); and Mok Gar, by Mo Qingjiao.

The continuation of the FIVE ANCESTOR SYSTEM due to the survival by the FIVE ELDERS of the destruction of the Southern Shaolin Temple was thereafter achieved through great secrecy: these great grandmasters passing the art on to their disciples, and they to theirs for many generations, by utmost discretion.

It was during this period that code words became the lingua-franca of masters and disciples to preserve the transference of knowledge of the arts, and still more training in those arts, from the ever vigilant eyes of the Manchu/Qing Dynasty rulers and their spies. This is the origin of the code phrase, ‘have you had your midnight porridge [congee],’ used by Gong Fu masters and disciples to protect themselves from betrayal: a phrase which paints a very vivid picture of their lifestyle as Gong Fu practitioners – almost all training, learning, and teaching of these forbidden arts having to take place late at night to avoid discovery.

The arts and lineage survived in this fashion for generations, up to the demise of the Qing Dynasty and establishment of the Republic of China under Dr Sun Yat Sen in 1911/12. It is universally acknowledged that Grandmaster Chee Kim Thong of Putian in Fujian, due to the exemplary pedigree of the lineage of his masters was the chief guardian and preserver of the system in its true, most pure form.

It is important to note, on the topic of secrecy and dissimulation necessary for the preservation of the lives of practitioners (and of the lineage and even of proper/accurate knowledge of the System itself) in those dark days – made all the more dark as the Qing Dynasty slowly decayed and its rulers became ever more fearful of potential challengers – that for those practitioners [of the arts] who were surprised or captured, a variety of explanations were provided to protect their Gong Fu brothers, and above all their Masters/Teachers, from exposure and capture.

In some cases the unlucky prisoners would claim that they had been taught their fighting techniques by the gods, and in others it would be claimed that they themselves had been responsible for inventing the fighting systems they practised. This last device, while employed in the circumstances of that age is one of the reasons for setting a precedent which in our own post 1949 age has been wantonly and basely abused by many of inferior ability.

< Prev   Next >