Closed door teachings and songs of secrets

As Sifu Antonius Korahais demonstrates, one does not have to be Asian to excel in martial arts.

A discussion on the G+ Martial Artists forums included a lamentable situation of a non-Japanese man being turned away from learning Shorinji Kenpo in Japan, presumably due to “Westerners not understanding profound truths” or some-such. This discussion led to the notion of “secret teachings” and how such things can get passed down to the next generation. Here is what I had to say on the matter, using the example of the fundamental set at the Southern Shaolin temple, Cross-Road at Four Gates:

Funny you mention lineage. Shorinji Kenpo is basically the Japanese reading of “Shaolin Kung Fu” (well, technically “shorinji kenpo” is something like “shaolin quanfa,” I think, but I’ll leave that to the linguists) though I’m unsure of when exactly the lineage started. I’m also unsure of how much of the original “essence” most Shorinji Kenpo schools have maintained, simply because I’ve never met any practitioners in person. 

If you live in the UK, then you have a much easier time of finding an authentic teacher than me! Three of my “kung fu uncles” operate out of London alone: masters Mark Appleford, Barry Smale, and Tim Franklin. I trained with them in 2012 when my grandmaster was teaching Baguazhang and they are great martial artists and lovely people. You can find their contact info here: http://www.shaolin.org/general/instructors-list.html#england 

As an aside, I’m a little surprised that they chose to conceal their philosophy. Good, authentic training has a way of washing out “bad people” (either they leave the school or their training makes them better people).

A mural at the Shaolin temple depicting combat applications from the Cross Road at Four Gates set. Many images make little sense to those not initiated in kung fu. Image taken from www.shaolin.org

A mural at the Shaolin temple depicting combat applications from the Cross Road at Four Gates set. Many images make little sense to those not initiated in kung fu application. Image taken from http://www.shaolin.org

Furthermore, a lot of the philosophy is often tied up in lingo that requires a certain level of skill to appreciate and put into practice. For example, the fundamental set from the Southern Shaolin temple has a so-called “song of secrets” that describes its salient features. It’s coincidentally one of my favorites; I’ll post it here. It’s taken from my grandmaster’s book and his website. The rest of the website is chock-full of kung fu philosophy, methodology, and other things. It’s worth taking a look at, I’d say: http://www.shaolin.org/shaolin/four-gates.html

Cross-Road at Four Gates Song of Secrets: 
“Shaolin Four Gates trains bridges and stances
Secrets are found in Flowers in the Sleeves
Block the Boss and Carry Insignia with punches
Phoenix Flaps Wings to rustle leaves
To Hit the gong in unexpected slanting motion
To Seek the Organ show the shadow hand
The marvel of Catching Tigers in the Mountains
Only from the master can students understand.”

The points are generally as follows (this information is publicly available thanks to my grandmaster, so I’m not revealing any ridiculous secrets): 

The set’s name is Cross-Road at Four Gates. “Bridges” is a kung fu term for forearms, and another kung fu tenet says, “If your bridges are powerful and your stances solid, you have won 30% of the fight before it even begins.” The Four Gates set is very good for training powerful forearms and solid stances because of the particular techniques (and more importantly, relevant skills) used. 

Flowers in Sleeves is the name of one of the techniques used in the set. It is a coiling motion of the arm which can be used for many different applications (the “secrets” alluded to in the song), such as escaping grips as well as deflecting an opponent’s strike and punching them in the same smooth motion. Being skillful at this and related techniques in this set also helps train one of the signature skills of the Four Gates set, which is handling all manner of attacks with just one arm. 

Block the Boss and Carry the Insignia are the names of two other techniques in the set which are very good for defending against punches. 

I’m unsure of what exactly “leaves” refer to here, but Phoenix Flaps Wings is the name of an elbow strike which can also be used as a felling technique or to escape grips, among other applications. 

Monk Hits the Gong is the name of another technique in this set. The song recommends using a slanting, off-line, or diagonal motion to trick the opponent and hit them in an unexpected manner despite the pattern looking like a straight-forward punch from the Bow-Arrow stance. 

A famous type of kick in Shaolin kung fu is the “organ seeking kick,” which is a kick using the lower shin or top of the foot to strike the genitals (the “organ” referred to in the technique’s name). To show a “shadow hand” means to use a distracting technique (usually a feinting strike to the eyes or face) simultaneously with the “real” attack on the opponent’s “organ” (genitals) to overcome some innate disadvantages of kicks. 

Catching Tigers in Mountains is the name of another technique in the set where the practitioner crouches down and uses both hands as Tiger Claws. I’m unsure of what “marvels” are referred to in the song, but the applications I’ve seen with that technique include rolling away, deflecting kicks, and attacking the lower body and groin with the claws. It is also an excellent pattern against flying kicks. The last line also is a general statement about kung fu saying that it takes a good master transmitting the knowledge and skills for you to get the deepest attainments in martial arts. 

These sorts of “song of secrets” are pretty much unintelligible to non-initiates because of the vocabulary and are used by already initiated students to remember what they’ve learnt and to serve as a guide for practice when their master isn’t available to answer questions. They make for fascinating conversation pieces, though, in my opinion.  

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