By Tyler R. Rea
Effective self-defense skills are as essential now as in times past. For centuries, the Chinese ethnic group known as the Hakka, or Guest People, have perfected self-defense skills to unparalleled levels. So effective, in fact, are these advanced skills, we can see their influence all through the martial arts world today. This influence can be seen by comparing the formulated training methods taught by the Hakka systems and the defensive counter-strategies created by non-Hakka systems to defend against the Hakka originals. In short, the effective close-quarters attack and counter-defense methods of Hakka Kung Fu have shaped the martial arts landscape—both on and off the land. To appreciate this efficacy fully, we must step aboard the infamous gambling boats once found throughout the waters of southeast Asia.
For centuries, these gambling boats were the ideal experimental laboratory and the perfect training ground for the application of close-quarter fighting. In this constricted environment, a one-on-one altercation could quickly escalate into a full-on gang attack, transforming a gambling boat into a floating slaughterhouse from which no one could escape. Therefore, a successful practitioner of close-quarter fighting skills—for this discussion, Hakka skills in particular—must have had the following arsenal of methods at the ready:
Single Beat Entry Methods – This is the ability to advance and displace the aggressor’s initial attack and secure a position that precludes further attack.
Noncommittal Contact Points – The most basic element of this principle is to refrain as much as possible from grasping with the thumb. To grasp with the thumb in a confined space creates a connection to a single attacker that is almost impossible to break. This is a fatal liability in the presence of multiple attackers. The vulnerability created by grasping with the thumb is solved by using the forearm, elbow, and shoulder to maintain a level of contact to monitor and neutralize the attacker.
Weapon Carry Checkpoints – Hakka entry methods have built into their structure and angles of deployment the ability to check weapon carry zones on the attacker. These zones are the underarm region, the waistband, the kidney region, the inner thigh, and the shin.
Ricochet Leverage – In effective close-quarter self defense, a single arm must function as three. Thus, when a practitioner extends his bridge arm, whether in attack or defense, it must embody the following tactics:
1 – To contour the attacking limb from first touch to the attacker’s torso. From the moment the practitioner makes contact with the attacker’s body—for example, when blocking an attacking arm—he should remain in contact, following the contour of the attacker’s body until he reaches the torso.
2 – To lift, scoop, or pass the attacking limb with the “Hut Sad” or Beggar’s Palm in the same moment.
3 – To contour from the contact point of the first attack all the way to the second while passing through the attacker’s neck region.
4 – To strike using the full surface area of the bridge arm when blinded. A reality of close-quarter combat is the potential to be blinded, either momentarily, such as if the attacker spits in the practitioner’s face or her own sweat runs into her eyes, or more lastingly by being struck. Therefore, the practitioner must be able to carry out her attacks through touch, not relying solely on sight.
Now let us pause for a moment to examine the most important factor in creating the need to use such survival tactics. This element of combat best known in the West through the work of Albert Einstein. It is Space-Time. Every combat situation is an exercise in the convergence of diminishing surface area over time, which means that as you and an attacker close on each other, the space between each of you and the surface area contact points on the other’s body is diminishing. This leads to the event horizon of the “clinch,” a black hole you must avoid when facing multiple attackers in close quarters.
I will present further aspects of Hakka Kung Fu in future blogs. For now, I would like to cite one of the sources of the Hakka people’s proficiency in understanding the realities of movement in confined spaces. Throughout China’s history, the Hakka have been (often against their will) a nomadic people, traveling in communities until eventually settling in regions like the Pearl River Basin. Once settled, the Hakka were able to defend their communities effectively through the use of a fortified habitat, known today as the Hakka Tulou Round House.
A Hakka Tulou is, on average, a three to five story round communal fortification, but also much more. It is the sublime expression and culmination of masterful engineering, communal living aesthetics, and martial defensive fortification all in one. Communal living in a Tulou, although comfortable and affording many benefits, can, as the population increases over generations, become congested. As a result, the Hakka faced an ever-present reminder of the importance of space, both in daily living and in self defense.