Brief History to Basic Monkey Kung Fu Martial Arts 25 OCT 2008

Tie Hou QuanBasic Monkey Kung Fu (Hou Quan)

Many of the Chinese martial arts take on aspects and traits of a particular animal. Monkey Kung Fu is one such martial art, which, as playful and comedic as it might look to the untrained eye, is in fact a highly skillful and deadly art. It relies heavily on deceiving opponents and then striking using unorthodox methods. Nimble footwork, rolls, and confusing hand positions add to the general look and feel of a Monkey Kung Fu practitioner. Monkey Kung Fu is also a spiteful martial art. There is no such concept as fair fighting to a monkey. Any type of strike to any region of the body is acceptable, and striking the opponent when down is all part of the monkey philosophy. Monkeys are mischievous, playful, deceitful, tricky and deadly.

A Brief History of Monkey Kung Fu

It is known that the Monkey for has been in Chinese arts since at least the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.- 220 A.D.) This style was recorded by an official and named Dancing Boxing as it was under influence of wine when performed. It mimicked the creature and had its playful antics. Later, the surgeon Hua Tuo (190A.D.-240A.D.) created a system of health exercises known as the Five Animals Frolic Play. In the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) two separate books were published on actual monkey styles of kung fu that were practiced, especially at temples, so the religious, hence Buddhist, aspects and flavour would have began to play a part to later see the evolution of Shaolin versions of the boxing style. The main aspects of falling, acrobatic, ground fighting were constantly given to monkey influence. By the end of the Ching Dynasty (1644-1911) monkey boxing was well known in multiple styles like Choy Li Fut and Wu Wun Chuan.

Hou Quan borrows much from the Tai Shing Pek Kwar (Monkey Axe Fist) monkey style. Tai Shing Pek Kwar is in fact made up of two separate and complete arts, Tai Shing (Monkey), which was founded by Kou Sze and Pek Kwar (Axe Fist), which was founded by Ma Chi Ho. The following two accounts of the history behind Pek Kwar and Tai Shing are the more common histories related today. Although it is not certain that they are a hundred percent accurate, they certainly are plausible enough to get an idea of how the styles originated.

1. A History of Pek Kwar

Master Ma Chi Ho, who lived in Shantung province, founded the art of pek kwar over 2000 years ago. He based this particular style of pek kwar Kung Fu on axe-fist techniques, which use circular long arm, and free-swinging movements, low stances, and the internal energy of chi. It is not a pretty or flashy style, but it’s filled with quick and powerful movements of sudden blows and strikes. This style uses circular patterns and angular strikes, resembling those made by a man swinging an axe in each hand.

While Ma Chi Ho was quite young, he lived down the road from a Taoist temple. Out of the kindness of his heart, young Ma would gather and chop wood for the priests who lived in that temple. One day, one of the priests from the temple approached Ma and said to him, "Metal may conquer wood, but the spirit is stronger". Then the priest walked away without giving an explanation. Though Ma was puzzled, he still continued his chore of providing wood for the priests.

With an axe in each hand, which helped double the results, he chopped at the limbs of every tree he could reach. Later, when Ma decided he had gathered enough wood for the temple that day, he slowly set both his axes down. Then the priest’s saying suddenly came to mind. "Metal may conquer wood, but the spirit is stronger". Ma sat down on a log and studied the saying. "Metal", thought Ma to himself, "must mean the axe in my hand and the conquering of wood must be my chopping off branches. The spirit must mean me, or the inner me, which is stronger".

Ma then took one of the axes in his hand and swung it at one of the branches of the tree, chopping it off. He set down the axe and walked up to the tree. After angling his arm and his fist, as if he were using an axe, he swung at the branch. To his amazement, the limb broke off. Through this realization, that he could wield his strength and inner spirit like an axe, Ma later perfected a new type of swinging motion. Ma combined these motions with several of the northern Kung Fu styles that he knew into a brand new style.

Ma Chi Ho later passed on this art to his protégé Ken Ming Kwai, who passed it to his son, Ken Yung Kwai, who then, passed it on to his son, Ken Tak Hoi.

2. A History of Tai Shing

The history of Tai shing Kung Fu begins at the turn of the century, near the end of the Ching Dynasty (1644-1911). A short-tempered fighter from northern China, Kau Sze was a chief of an armed escort service in the early 1800’s.

On one particular job he was sent to escort some gold and silver being transported from north to south. When he reached a small village in Guangzhou he helped three young men to escape from being impressed into the army. Several army guards were killed by Kau Sze in the fight, and, in turn, the army chief ordered his arrest.

Kau Sze was on the run. He went to a local Pek Kwar Kung Fu master named Kan Wing Kwai for help. After he had explained everything to Kan Wing Kwai, Kan decided to help him. Kan Wing Kwai let Kau Sze wear his kung fu school uniform and pretend to be his student when the army came to search for him. However, the soldiers returned many times and finally caught on to his disguise, and arrested Kau Sze. He was sent to prison for eight years.

Kau Sze went to the prison near the forest inhabited by many monkeys. He wanted to escape from the prison, but he learned that other prisoners’ attempts failed not because they were stopped by the prison guards, but rather by the monkeys. Kau Sze was an expert of Tei Tong Kung Fu (Great Earth Style – a lower body kicking and ground rolling Northern Chinese Kung Fu style), so the security guards were not the obstacle; Kau Sze’s problem was the monkeys.

Therefore, he needed to find a way to get past them, and decided to observe the monkey fighting and playing through the small little window in his cell. Because there was nothing really to do in the prison, Kau Sze dedicated all his time to watching and learning from the monkeys. Kau Sze discovered that each monkey had its own characteristic when it fought or played.

Basically, monkey fighting places emphasis on movement (smooth, quick, unpredictable and clever), ground rolling and sudden attack. Since there are similarities between Tei Tong and monkey fighting techniques, Kau Sze decided to combine them together and call the style Tai Shing (Great Sage) Kung Fu, in honour of Sun Wu Kung, the Monkey King in the Chinese folktale “Journey to the West”.

Through careful study, Kou Sze was able to break down all of the monkeys’ reactions and categorize them into five different personality types. Thereby he founded five different forms: the tall monkey, the lost monkey, the drunken monkey, the wooden monkey and the stone monkey forms. These five forms make up the Tai Shing art.

Unlike other systems of Kung Fu, Tai Shing has its own principles of maneuvering; including grabbing, falling, lunging and light art jumping and turning. In addition, there are five principles of mental attitude that must be cultivated in this art. They include deviousness, elusiveness, unpredictability, sneakiness and destructiveness. Each of these is employed in each of the five monkey forms.

About Craig Lotter

South African software architect and developer at Touchwork. Husband to a cupcake baker and father to two little girls. I don't have time for myself any more.