Northern Hakka Gongfu (Email 29.4.2017)


Email from WL – 24.4.2017

Dear Adrian,
The body conditioning clips led to footage on the 8 Step Praying Mantis, which is a northern style, but the form looked something like a version of Hakka mantis. I’ll try to find the clips and send the links to you.
Kind regards,

Email to WL – 29.4.2017:

Thanks Waiman! There’s probably alot of this type of stuff on Youku – I will check when I get the time. Of course, the other issue is that of ‘limited’ transmissions to the West – and some Westerners assuming that their incomplete knowledge is in fact ‘complete’. This is why the Western imagination has been fired by certain lineages of Hakka Southern Praying Mantis, simply because these are the styles that taught Westerners when teaching outsiders was frowned upon. Consequently, the broader reality of Hakka martial arts particularly, (and Chinese martial arts generally), was obscured (and continues to be ‘hidden’ in many ways from the Western view), leaving Western magazines and journals to print authoritative stories about this or that style being the ‘legitimate’ or the ‘superior’ version, and all others being ‘inferior’, or ‘made-up’. Of course, from the early 1950’s to the early 1980’s, the Western debate on Chinese martial arts evolved around the US colony of Taiwan, and the British colony of Hong Kong – a narrative that excluded Mainland China (with Eurocentric racist tales of deficiency and degeneration) and ignored one fifth of humanity. In reality, the Qing forces (aided and abetted by the Western Church and colonial powers) during the middle 19th century, destroyed much of the Northern Hakka martial culture in Guangdong province – and Chiang Kai-Shek’s invading forces of Taiwan in the late 1940’s, massacred tens of thousand the of resisting Hakka people and their Northern martial arts on the island (not to forget the indigenous Taiwanese victims).
Once, I sat with Master Chan’s widow, and she said that our Hakka ‘Banana Village’ in Sai Kung had been established for 9 generations – with Master Chan being the 10th generation. We think that our Hakka Chan clan migrated Southward with the retreating Ming Dynasty as it started to lose ground to the invading Jurchen (i.e. ‘Manchurians’), before settling on a remote coastal area a long way from Beijing. Whereas other Hakka started to grow sustainable forests for charcoal production in the area, the Chan clan took-up banana growing. These changes signified a shift from rice production to other forms of livelihood – and this is when the distinct ‘Iron Ox Cultivates Land’ came into being as an activity separate from everyday farming in the paddy fields (but premised upon it), as a distinctive aspect of Hakka gongfu practice. In the old days, working in the fields was so arduous that extra body-conditioning was not required for martial arts training. The agricultural effort produced a strong and yet relaxed body, with a mind that was both calm and alert. There was also the principle at work of being one with the ox (showing kindness to animals), and oneness with nature (the Daoist element of Hakka living). Incidently, there are rumours that Mao Zedong was a Hakka – and I once read a text he wrote calling upon peasant people not to ‘kill’ their oxen for the rich people to consume as ‘meat’. He said the ox was far more important to ordinary people as a living tractor that cultivated the land to grow rice and consequently feed millions. Although many Hakka people eat meat, I have always been aware of a kindness to animals that runs through the centre of the Hakka culture. On the other hand, many Hakka are devout Buddhists and do not eat meat. Master Xu’s Hakka Triple Unity Boxing has movements that are exactly the same as our ‘Ch’an Dao’ style and I note that parts of his system originated in Shandong province. When I wrote my Hakka martial arts article, I had communicated with a number of Mainland Hakka gongfu masters who all told me the same story – namely that their arts originated in Northern China. This is exactly what Master Chan had told me, and it seems to be a Western myth encouraged by ignorance of the subject matter, that suggests that Hakka martial arts originated in the South.
All Best Wishes

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