by Zhou Kun Ming
As Quanzhou Taizuquan [aka Emperor Fist or Grand Ancestor Boxing] underwent development and refinement it experienced hardship along the way (what with Quanzhou’s political climate of that time); but as a result of this came a positive outcome for it gradually forged into its own complete and unique quanfa system. Possessing all the key elements of a genuine style of martial arts Taizuquan, like other quanfa systems, utilized the concept of siji (four attacks) as its core. This comprised of strikes, kicks, throws and capture skills specializing in duanda (short strikes). Taizuquan was fast and fierce yet very much controlled and full of masculine beauty. Its foot techniques were low, heavy and concise while its use of weaponry embraced both long and short weapons where its purpose was chiefly aimed at battlefield-combat situations. Long weapons were used for short-range combat purposes while the short weapons were employed for long-range combat situations with direct attack and defense strategies devoid of all practicalities and cosmetic postures.
Within Taijiquan (tai chi) there is a strategy called tuishou (“pushing hands”) whereas within Taizuquan there is a technique called juji which is a “lifting” technique. Northern-style Chinese martial arts say that kung-fu training is to, “build up tendons, bones and skin for outside and to build up breathing for inside,” while Quanzhou Taizuquan (which is a southern-style Chinese martial art) can be both hardness and softness (to strengthen both outside and inside) with unique ways employed for both toughening exercise (yinggong) and internal exercise (neigong).
Let us look at the Empty Fist (Kong Quan)
The empty hand forms are called kongquan (“empty fist”). The Quanzhou Taizuquan kongquan forms total at around one hundred while an exact figure is beyond calculation. But this is the count from across a number of Taizuquan sects. The basic kongquan forms are called Mianqianquan (“Front Facing Fist”) and this refers to the basic forms that are shared by, and therefore common to, all the various Taizuquan sects. Of these there are no more than ten.1
In the past, martial arts schools have often offered four months of training in order to reach the first level, and then the students would be eligible to graduate. During this four-month training period the students would have been taught five or six forms such as the primary form called Sanzhan, then the “Twenty Punches” form (Ershiquan)’, the Dazhan (Large Battle) form, the Dajiao (the “Striking and Wrestling” form), the Shizi (Character Ten) form,2 the Shuangsui (“Double Pacifying”) form, and the Zhantou (“Head Battle”) form. This meant that by now the student would have learnt enough forms to have built-up a fair degree of physical strength whist also coming to understand martial virtues.
If a student had no interest in continuing to the second level the teacher would focus upon those that did and so would teach them some of the more complicated forms and even, perhaps, some weaponry such as the broadsword or the cudgel. This was called fangquantao (“to let go of the fist”). At the same time the students would be introduced to some duilian (paired practice or “two-man” forms).
Many of these quanguan (“fist schools”) were where the teachers actually lived (effectively, their homes) and were thus called nianguan (“annual school”). Here, students were trained more systematically and exclusively.
Over the years I have collected a great number of quanfa instruction manuals including one book called, Nan Taizu Quanpu (“Southern Taizu Fist Instruction Book”) which teaches fifty-three forms. Another book, titled Shaolin Taizu Quanfa (“Shaolin Taizu Fist Method”), is preserved within Chongfusi (Chongfu Temple) in Quanzhou and this manual teaches fifty-four forms. Yet another publication, Taizu Nanquan Jishou Taolu (“Taizu Southern Fist Hand Technique Forms”), written by a Master Su Zai Fu, teaches one hundred and one forms. In 1968 my late teacher, Master Dai Huo Yan, handed me his manuscript titled, Taizu Quanpu (“Taizu Fist Instruction Book”) which was prefaced jointly by masters Li Tai Zhou and Fu Jin Xing and attributed by Master She Rui Yao. This book teaches sixty-seven forms.
For the most part these forms (taolu) share the same name and the same content and this only goes to illustrate the extreme stability of Quanzhou Taizuquan throughout the decades, if not centuries. My late teacher, Master Dai Huo Yan, also highlighted nineteen of the sixty-seven taolu from the book which, I was informed later by my late teacher, were taught to him by the late Master Wei Guo Qi towards the end of the Qing Dynasty and during the early years of the Republic of China (1912–1949). These are all recorded without any degree of change at all!
One century later and these forms are still popular and taught everywhere throughout Quanzhou. The forms within Quanzhou Taizuquan are formed by way of jishou (technical/skilled hand techniques), which are both short in delivery and highly practical. Generally speaking, one form will include twenty to thirty jishou (hand techniques or hand movements) although some forms — medium-length forms — will contain fifty to sixty or even seventy to eighty jishou. Large-size forms will include up to or beyond one hundred jishou. But this is unusual yet there is one form — called doudi — that has over one hundred and forty jishou (“technical hands”).
Taizuquan Emphasizes Force and Skill
Taizuquan emphasizes force and skill while values hardness over a short-distance and close-quarter strikes. Along with this goes essential intensity and ferocity by way of the hands and the voice — that is to say, a shout that is not dissimilar to the kiai (spirit shout) of karate. There is a saying in Quanzhou that describes this: “The fist comes with wind and laugher but without rolling” (quantou daifeng wugunxiao). Here the hand and foot techniques are all centered round attack or defense with the strength coming from heavy and ruthless power! Only short taolu can ensure that strength be exerted in totality which is why long forms are, indeed, rare within Taizuquan.
Jishou (technical hands) includes shouji (hand techniques) and jiaoji (foot techniques). Shouji includes single-hand long techniques, double-handed long techniques, single-hand short techniques and double- handed short techniques. These involve attacks, defenses and “dissolves” combined with strikes. Jishou operate within strict boundaries of movement which can be categorized into five essential areas of attack and defense: the upper, middle and lower boundaries and then areas to the left and the areas to the right. The upper boundary is the eyebrows while the lower boundary is the private parts; the left and right boundaries are the shoulders and cartilage areas while the middle boundary is the arms. While guarding one’s middle boundary the arms are bent at the elbows while the upper limb joints (the shoulders, elbows and wrists) are sunk.
As short-hand, close-quarter techniques exert crisp strength, longer range hand techniques involve twisting and spiraling actions.3 While the front hand is used to attack (in much the same way as one would use a halberd) the other hand, being behind, is there to protect (as one would with a shield). The interaction between the hard and the soft and the swallowing and the spitting is managed and controlled through the waist and shoulders, the dissolving and the expanding.
The use of the hand (that is to say, hands) takes on many formats called “methods.” These include the piercing method, capturing method, picking method, opening method, closing method, chopping method, cutting method, peeling method, blocking method, holding method, supporting method, eating method, holding method, dashing method, casting method, joint method, lopping method, bouncing method, scratching method, perching method, clicking method, thrusting method, rubbing method, shearing method, breaking method, whipping method, carrying method, poking method, shaking method, lifting method, stroking method, mining method, freeing method, locking method, scooping method, grasping method, binding method, wrapping method, holding method, clawing method, pressing method, snapping method and leaning method. Other “methods” do exist! Each of these methods involve different techniques. In summary, then, I estimate there are no less than four hundred techniques within Quanzhou Taizuquan. There are less foot techniques within shouji.
Extensive details about the history, training, strategies and five components of Taizu Emperor Fist training are detailed in Sifu Zhou Kun Ming’s book, Quanzhou Taizuquan.