History and development of Wudang Weng Shun Kuen
by Grandmaster Rien Bul
The WUDANG style of Weng Shun Kuen was unknown to general public until recently, when Grandmaster Rien Bul opened public schools in the Netherlands and Australia. He also started a much debated website on wich he revealed knowledge that was regarded ‘secret’ by other Sifu. It is a completely ‘soft’ style that contains NOT ONE ‘hard’ technique, wich makes it attractive to people of small build and especially women. Where does this miraculous style emerge from? The following article tells all...
The southern Sil Lum temple
This story begins at the southern-Shaolin (Sil Lum in Cantonese) temple. When one was addmitted as an apprentice fighting monk in the Si Lum temple one was first taught the ‘hard’ or ‘external’ forms. The novice would start off with learning the Monkey form. This form would teach one how to be quick and nimble. Even though this form does have its fighting applications it is mostly a kind of gymnastics to prepare one for the more advanced five animal system. It strengthens the muscles and tendons and makes one supple. Meanwhile the monks could observe if you were a hard worker or not and test one’s willpower and talent. The forms that followed would gradually soften. The main philosophy behind this way of teaching was that it was easier for the novice to understand the ‘hard’ principles than the ‘soft’.
The five animals
If one passed this ordeal successfully, one would start training in the real Shaolin fist fighting system; the five animal forms. Mainly to get some experience with rough physical contact, one would first be taught the Shaolin way of grappling (Chin-Na) by training the Dragon form and its applications.
The Dragon form consisted of Chin Na (seizing and holding) techniques that depended on the use of the ‘hard’ muscular strength Chinese martial artists call ‘Li’. The form and the techniques it teaches are mostly meant to make the apprentice tough. Its most famous technique is no doubt the ‘Dragon claw’, a hand position used for seizing-and-holding purposes. The Dragon form is Shaolin’s least technical form.
Next, one would learn the Tiger form. In it one will recognise a hand position that looks much alike to the Dragon claw. But here it is called the Tiger claw. The difference between both hand positions is to be found in its practical application. Whereas the Dragon claw merely grabs and holds the opponent’s arm, the Tiger claw uses a ripping motion meant to tear the opponent’s flesh. Previously, one was taught some combat experience through the Dragon form. Now the Tiger was teaching the apprentice to fight with some more technique.
The third form a Shaolin apprentice would learn was called the Leopard form (sometimes called ‘Panther’). By training in the Tiger form the apprentice had learned to fight with skill, instead of with musclepower alone. The Leopard form would gradually take away the muscular strength, replacing it with cunning and deceiving techniques. One would learn how to completely depend on the skill one had required from training.
The secrets of the ‘Hall of Perpetual Springtime’
This is where the average Shaolin warrior monk would end his training. Only very carefully selected trustees would be taken to the secret ‘Hall of Perpetual Springtime’ (Weng Shun tong). This was a hidden place in the monestary only few knew about. Here the apprentice would be taught the remaining two animal forms of the Shaolin five animal fighting system; The Snake and the Crane.
The Snake form was the first form that was totally devoid of the use of muscular strength. Even though it was meant for offense and in its nature highly agressive, it didn’t have even as much as one ‘hard’ (or ‘external’) technique. It would hurt an opponent by merely touching his vulnerable pressure points. The form was very slippery and deceptive. It would ‘slip’ through the opponent’s defense and stick to his arms. How to accomplish this was one of Shaolin’s best kept secrets. Today, the techniques of this fascinating form are still the offensive techniques used in Wudang Weng Shun Kuen. It taught the practitioner “spirit” (Shen), deceptiveness and intent. It isn’t clear yet if this is also the form from which the famous centerline theory comes, but it is quite probable.
The last of the five animals in the Shaolin system was the elusive Crane. Whenever a Crane is being attacked, it stays calmly in its place. If the adversary tries to get around it, it just shifts in its same spot, turning around its own axis, continually facing its opponent. No matter how much an opponent moves or how threatening or big its gestures are; the crane never gets excited. It stays calm and centered, just observing what is coming. Like the Crane itself, a Crane form practitioner would not waste energy on unneccessary movement. He would wait for the opponent to start an attack, standing still in his own spot. The Crane stylist would meet the attack head-on and redirect it away from himself, nullifying the danger. To this end a Man Sao or Bong Sao, typical Crane techniques, would be applied. The Crane was Shaolin’s most advanced form and also its biggest secret.
Over time the combination of these last two forms would develop into a style that would eventually become known as Weng Shun Kuen. Two versions of the predecessor to this style would reach the red junks, a melting pot that gave birth to two different versions of the style; Sil Lum Kuen, that was to become Sil Lum Weng Chun Kuen, and Wudang Quan (also the forerunner of Tai Ji Quan), that became Wudang Weng Shun Kuen (Mo Dong/Wu Tang Yong Chun Quan).
From Sil Lum to Wudang Shan
The Shaolin temple is said to have been burned down on several occasions. Each time monks would escape and spread their knowledge all over China. On one of these occasions one monk, or maybe even a few of them, sought refuge in the Daoist temple on Wudang mountain. In legend this was, of course, the fabled Chan Shang Feng. Anyway, they taught the Snake and Crane forms to the Wudang monks. For some reason they taught the soft styles immediately, without teaching the Dragon- Tiger- and Leopard-forms previously, as had always been the practice before. It is no coincedence that both the genesis-stories of Tai Ji Quan (a well known Wudang style) and Weng Shun Kuen speak of a person observing a fight between a snake and a Crane and creating their particular style by imitating the movements of both animals. Through the centuries the Kung Fu practised in the Wudang temple aquired its own distinctive Daoist flavour. Wudang Kung Fu became known for it’s softness, which was little understood by outsiders. To this day, Wudang styles are shrouded by a sort of mystical veil.
The hated Qing (Manchu) dynasty
The last emperial dynasty to rule China was called the Qing. The Han majority of the time weren’t very happy about being ruled by the Manchu minority. They did all they could to bring down the Qing and restore the rule of the Ming dynasty that preceded it. The monks from both the Shaolin temples and the Wudang temple weren’t very fond of the Manchu government either. They taught their knowledge of warfare to rebels who were out to overthrow this government.
Many rebels hid aboard the so called ‘Red Junks’. These boats, that were recogniseable by their red colour travelled from city to city on rivers and canals. They were floating theaters where Chinese opera were performed. The arrival of an opera troupe was quite an event that attrackted all kinds of people engaging in commercial activeties. There were merchants, quaks, thieves, fortunetellers and of course, prostitutes.
Those prostitutes mostly worked on so called "flower boats". Many times the flowerboat-girls also hated the Manchu and worked with the red junk rebels. And sometimes, when a Qing official would visit such a girl, a rebel would be hiding in a closet. When the official had dismissed his bodyguards so he could be alone with the prostitute, the assasin would suddenly kill the unsuspecting victim. In other cases the rebels would ambush people they wanted out of the way in the narrow alleys of the Cantonese cities. The movements of their newly devised style would be modified to take up very little space. They specialised in making this narrowness of both boats and alleys work in their advatage. To this end a style of fighting was created that suited the rebels' needs. The techniques were designed to finish off an opponent in the shortest possible time. They called their style Weng Shun Kuen (Everlasting Springtime Fist).
The junks became a breeding-ground where new martial arts were developed. A lot of rebels had been training in the martial arts previous to boarding the opera junks. Some of them were taught the 'secret styles from the Weng Shun training hall' (Snake and Crane) by the monks from the southern-Sil Lum monastary. Others were probably practitioners of the Wudang version of the snake and crane system. The newly formed anti-Manchu styles all had the name Weng Shun Kuen (Perpetual Spring Fist/style) attached to their names so there could be no mistake about their intentions; to overthrow the Qing and return the Ming. There was a.o. a ‘Hung Weng Shun Kuen’ (Red Perpetual Spring Fist/style), a ‘Weng Shun Bak Hok Kuen’ or ‘Bak Hok Weng Shun Kuen’ (White Crane Perpetual Spring Fist/style) and also a ‘Wudang Weng Shun Kuen’ (Wu Tang Yong Shun Quan, Perpetual Spring Fist/style from Wudang).
Weng Shun Kuen or Wing Chun Kuen?
Please note that the name Weng Shun Kuen, meaning everlasting spring fist, is the original name of the original system. This is the name the anti-Qing rebellion used for the style they devised to overthrow the government. Because it was dangerous to admit that one practised ‘Everlasting Springtime Fist’ under Manchu rule, because of its obvious revolutionary meaning, some practitioners of the time changed the way of writing their style’s name from (Everlasting Spring) to (Springtime Song) -Fist.
It is only because moviestar Bruce Lee happened to study with a Sifu of a lineage that had changed their name that the general public heard of the latter version first. In fact, when Lee’s Sifu, Yip Kai Man, first came to Hong Kong, there was already an established Weng Shun Kuen school in Hong Kong (Chu Chong Man lineage). Yip sent a carpenter over to Chu’s school in secrecy to measure their dummy and copy it. Actually, on mainland China most lineages are still calling themselves Weng Shun Kuen. But most of them have been hiding or are still hiding because they were outlawed by the Chinese Communist government until recently. Now, some of the mainland versions are stepping in the spotlight as well. The most well known are ‘(Sil Lum) Chi Sim Weng Shun Kuen’, ‘Chan Yiu Min Weng Shun Kuen’, ‘(Sil Lum) Pan Nam Weng Shun Kuen’ and ‘Wudang Weng Shun Kuen’.
The birth of Tiger/Crane Hung Gar Kuen
When the rebellion became obsolete some of the styles felt there was no need for themselves to call their style Weng Shun Kuen anymore and dropped the name. They became known as Hung Kuen, Bak Hok Kuen, etc. For instance, one legend speaks of a Tiger-stylist meeting a female Crane-practitioner by the name of Fong Weng Shun. They mixed the hard and offensive techniques of the Tiger style with the soft and defensive techniques of the Crane style. This supposedly became what is now widely known as Tiger/Crane Hung Gar Kuen. In reality Hung Gar Kuen, also known simply as Hung Kuen, is one of the former Weng Shun Kuen styles that dropped part of its name.
Modern Wudang Weng Shun Kuen
The ‘Wudang’ version held its name in high esteem to honour its roots. It still has its own distinctive Daoist flavour. One easily recognizes the philosophies and principles of Lao Tzu’s ‘Tao Teh Tjing’, Sun Tzu’s ‘Art of War’ and the Tai Ji Quan classics in the style. Until recent the style was almost always taught one on one. This is why it has changed little over the centuries and why it is almost excactly the same as it was trained by the monks of Wudang Shan. In mainland China Weng Shun Kuen is also known as ‘southern Tai Ji Quan’. There are many observable similarities in the hand techniques of both TaiJi Quan and Wudang Weng Shun Kuen. The biggest difference between both styles is in the footwork. This version of the art was transferred trough Fong Shil Ching, Hon Wah Sheun and Lin Yi (Lam Yee) to the current Grandmaster Rien Bul. Even in China the style is still quite small. This is due to the fact that it hasn’t been taught publicly until recent times. It is just now that the style is taught to non-Chinese for the first time. The only schools where one can go to learn authentic Wudang Weng Shun Kuen are in the Netherlands and Australia.
Wudang Weng Shun Kuen is a so called ‘internal’ (neija) or ‘soft’ style of traditional Chinese Kung Fu. This means that no muscular force is used to deflect an oncoming attack. Instead a fluent movement is used to direct an opponent’s force back to him to defeat him. This is how a person of lesser strenth is able to defeat an attacker of larger, stronger build.
It is a conceptual style rather than a technical one. This means it is more important for the practitioner to understand its underlying concepts and principles than the individual techniques.
The motto of the style is ‘Safety above all else’. The practitioner is taught to position himself outside of the opponent’s reach and to disable him from that safe position. Wudang Weng Shun Kuen uses only simple, natural movements. That is why it can be learned by anyone. The solutions it presents are simple, practical and effective and therefore applicable by one and all.
Differences and similarities
There are many similarities between the various Weng Shun Kuen systems. Pan Nam’s Weng Shun Kuen, for instance, is a lot like Wudang Weng Shun Kuen and shares the same forms. Chi Sim Weng Shun Kuen consists of completely different forms and footwork, but in application it is obvious that it is from the same source and based on the same principles. It too, is very ‘internal’ in nature. What then, distinguishes Wudang Weng Shun Kuen from other versions of the art?
‘Wudang’ Weng Shun Kuen's principles: