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Tuesday, January 21, 2014
Fists Of Gods: Since The 1700’s (神拳)
back in time to somewhere around 1700’s to Old China…
Chinese folk cults, one particular group is known as ‘會門’ or
literarily ‘folk groups’. This particular folk group can be divided into two
subgroups: ‘the group of fists’ (拳會) and ‘the group of broad sword’ (刀會). The latter group is in
fact a subset of the first. It was thus named as its members carried broad
swords on their back. Just a note on this: most of the Chinese martial arts now
days were made popular by these groups.
The original purposes of
these folk groups were to provide protections to ordinary Chinese folks from
the suppressions of Western culture and religions, namely the Christians. They
were first seen active in Northern China during 1700’s. (We have to bear in mind that the old Chinese folks were
pretty conservative then.)
These folk group practices
one special type of martial arts known as ‘the fists of gods’ or ‘gods’ boxing’
(神拳). This type of ‘fist’
existed well before the coming of Western influences to old China. There are
two streams of ‘fist of gods’: the Northern Tradition and The Southern
The Southern Tradition
It is said that during
1750, the founder of Southern Tradition is a peasant named Shi Ting Yang (石廷揚) from Zhe Jiang Province (浙江) and later transmitted the
knowledge to Wu Bu Yuan (吳卜元). It was Wu who started a small shrine that worships ‘the 5 elders’ (五公) and Wu’s followers only
need to consume some kind of talismans, yawn a few times and then the gods will
possess their bodies to perform martial art stunts. Unfortunately, Wu’s
activity was put to stop by government officials. Sometime later, similar boxing practices appeared in
Gui Zhou (貴州) too. Well, to make a long story short, the Southern Tradition was
never any form of martial arts; it is somehow similar to spirit mediums and
more towards trickery.
The Northern Tradition
According to the record,
the Northern Tradition existed since 1717 in Shan Dong (山東). It was then a type of
martial art called ‘the heavenly gate boxing’ (天門神拳) exclusively practised by
the followers of ‘the cult of sole incense’ (一炷香教). At the same time another
cult called ‘the cult of grand master’ (祖師會) also follow a similar
martial art system.
These types of martial arts
are called ‘fists of gods’ because they enable their practitioners to exhibit
some kind of invulnerability. This is similar to the current days’ hard Qigong
namely: the golden bells cover (金鐘罩) and the iron shirt (鐵布衫).
At that time, the
practitioners of such arts are said to be able to withstand the chopping of
broad swords on their stomach and waist, the piercing of iron needles through
their face and the strike of horse whips without feeling too much pain.
1800’s and beyond
Now the time comes to 1896,
in the northwestern part of Shan Dong appeared another type of ‘fists of gods’
belonged to ‘the cult of Luxi boxing’ (魯西神拳會); which change to ‘Yihe
boxing’ ( 義和拳) later. Well the Luxi boxing was real alright, it belonged to Wuzu (五祖) type of martial arts but
with some elements of magic.
The Luxi boxing must be
preceded by an opening prayer to the gods and goddesses of Peach Mountain (桃花山). According to the legend,
there are 6 caves in the Peach Mountain and that all spirits dwell in these
caves. A practitioner must choose a particular patron god, goddess or even
Added to that, the
practitioners of Luxi boxing will also be taught some traditional healing
methods. However, the practice of invulnerability to sharp weapons was very
much guarded a secret at that time.
Today, we have seen some
folk cults such as Mao Shan (茅山) and Liu Ren (六壬) sects practise auto-boxing and traditional healing techniques similar
to the above. The latter is very much popular in Hong Kong, while traces
of former can be seen in Malaysia still.
The above description of ‘a
fist of gods’ or auto-boxing if you would like to call it; is an amalgamation of
kung fu, magic, folk cult believes, traditional healing and of course with elements
of superstitions. These practices have been inherited and transformed through
the time and brought to Southeast Asia with the arrival of Chinese migrants.