Sunday, November 21, 2010

Hakka Kuntao and Chinese Martial Arts

Uncle continuously asserts that his kuntao derives from the Hakka people of China. For those who don't know what that may mean, the following article is a nice summary.

Origins Of The Hakka People And Their Martial Arts
Who Are The Hakka?

Before we explore the unique historical and cultural characteristics of this ethnic
group from China, we must first explore the exact meaning of the name that is used to
refer to them, and indeed is used by them, to refer to themselves. The anglocised term ‘Hakka’ should more correctly be written ‘Hak-gar’. It is a term that is pronounced in the Cantonese (i.e. ‘Guandonghua’) dialect of southern China. It means the following:
1) Hak = literally ‘Guest’, i.e. someone unknown who will not be staying and passing
2) Gar = literally ‘Family’, i.e. those bound together by a common bound of blood.
Taken together, the name refers to an unknown group of people that enters (or migrats
into) an area where they were previously unknown to the indigenous occupants.
All Hakka origination stories claim a northern Chinese heritage. And the stories say
that following various, historical events, (normally invasions or inter-ethinc violence),the Hakka people were forced to migrate to central China and then finally to southern China, before leaving the mainland of China and travelling the world, via Vietnam, Indonesia (where, from the late 18th and most of the 19th century the only Hakka kingdom outside of china existed - the Lan Fang Republic), Africa, Europe and the Americas. Hakka history is written down in the 'Tsuphu' or 'Juk Bow', the terms
translating as 'Clan Book'; each Hakka name has a book of its own, with an
originating village somewhere in the mainland. These villages will have a stone tablet with the family name and clan poem engraved upon it. Anyone with a specific family name, is entitled to the heritage and history of that clan. The clans were originally much larger tribes, that through fragmentation due to migration and geographical separation, becme the name clans other time. Many of these names trace their origins to the names of States, or ruling houses. Indeed, many Chinese names are considered Hakka, such as Chin, Li, Lim, Wong. Chu and Sung , etc, but there are many more. The Hakka language has undergone many changes of late. firstly, wherever Hakkas reside in China (i.e. Sichuan, Guangxi, Guandong, Fujian or the north), the Hakka language (which is similar to Guanyu, or old Manderin) has mixed with the local
dialects, giving the Hakkas in that area a distinctive local accent and dialect. Hakkas in the West for instance, tend to be very proud of the area that their recent ancestors came from, be it the New Territories, Fujian or Sichuan! Due to the hard life of the average Hakka of old, a culture imerged based upon 3 basic
1) Confucian education.
2) Farming.
3) Martial arts. What Are Hakka Martial Arts?
Hakka people, within their own culture, tell stories of an origination to the north of China. Various academic studies carried-out in recent times, confirm that the Hakkas did, infact, migrate from north China, toward the south, in at least five waves of migration, that can be observed over the last two thousand years of Chinese history.
The early Hakka were fierce mounted warriors of the nomadic people referred to as
‘Xiongnu’ (i.e. ‘Fierce People’). They entered China, thousands of years ago, and
slowly overtime, took on elements of Chinese culture, whilst spreading their own.
And, it is believed that the Hakka founded at least two dynasties of ancient China,
namely the Qin (221BCE-206), and the Han (206BCE-220CE). Today, there are
various Chinese names associated with Hakka ancestry, such as Lee, Chow, Chu, Ah
Yeung, Yin, Yau and Chin, to mention only a few.
Hakkas are tough, hard working and fight like tigers! However, due to the insistance
tradition has placed upon correct behaviour, Hakka communities are vary well
ordered. Hakka gungfu is collectively referred to as Hakka Kuen, or Hakka Fist. The
term Hakka being Cantonese for 'Guest People' and kuen meaning fist. Hakka is what
the Cantonese called the original tribal migrants from the north, and it seems to have
stuck! Hakka gungfu styles include;
1) Pheonix Eye Fist.
2) Praying Mantis.
3) Iron Ox Praying Mantis.
4) Longfist.
5) Dragon Style.
6) Fatshan Wing Chun.
7) Chen Taijiquan.
A Hakka martial art may be defined in three distinct ways;
1) Any style developed in south China by migrating Hakka - referred to as 'Hakka
Kuen' (i.e. Guest Family Fist).
2) A style in its original northern form, practiced by Hakka people and passed-on
within Hakka families. Some of these styles were brought south by migrating Hakka
and served as the base for the southern Hakka Kuen styles - the latter, therefore,
maybe viewed as latter developments. Being of northern origin, these styles maybe
referred to as 'Northern Hakka Kuen', so as to distinguish them from the southern
3) Any martial arts style practiced and passed-on by Hakka people and Hakka
families. This would include styles taught to a Hakka ancestor and then practiced by
Hakka people. Although not strictly speaking 'Hakka' in origin, these styles have been
preserved, moulded and brought into the modern world whilst in Hakka care.
The original purpose of Hakka martial arts was communial defence. To this end, the
Hakka (putonghua; 'Ke Jia'), evolved, designed and developed both lethal and
practical martial arts systems for the defence of static communities - be they cities,
towns or villages. Before this however, the nomadic ancestors of the Hakka people
employed a highly mobile form of warfare that involved the attacking of fixed
settlements - for the acquiing of resources that they could not grow or trade for
themselves. The Hakka ancestors rode Steppe ponies - ponies that can still be seen
today in that region that are both sturdy and tough. Hakka warriors would sweep into
settlements - seemingly out of nowhere - take what they needed and left before the
enemy could orientate themselves to what was happening. These pony-back attacks
involved the enveloping of an enemy - in their entirety - so that none could escape or
so that reinforcements couldn't get in. As the centuries went by, the Hakka ancestors
settled into more or less static communities in north China - becomiing Sinotised int
he process. As these groups migrated southward over time, they lost their ponies and
adapted their martial arts to suit their new situation. Fighting off pony-back, but
maintianing the essentially enveloping strategy - many northern Chinese martial arts
styles came into existance - including the famous Longfist. The Hakka ancestors had
always been able to fight on the ground, but now it became the main emphasis of the
survival. Now, their descendents found themselves in static communes that needed
defending from outside forces. This tradition of comunial defence came all the way
down through time to the 20th century - particularly in and around the New
Territories - where Hakka martial arts were still taught in a communial manner. My
early experience (in a Hakka village), was just that - namely that when we practiced
martial arts, we also drilled in standing formations around the edges of the villages -
as if preparing to meet an invader. Men and women alike - the women with their
young children tied to thier backs. The Hakka Jeurngs (i.e. Leaders), always stood in
the front of the lines - they were the best martial artists and their job was to taunt the
enemy into attacking and being crushed by Hakka fighting spirit! When they were
killed, the next generations of leaders would move forward to take their rightful place
at the front of the Hakka force - in Hakka tradition, this is a great honour reserved
only for the best martial arts teachers. One favoured weapon for this kind of defence
was the six foot 'Chong', or spear - the Hakkas would form-up in three lines, each line
holding the spear at a particular height and angle. Communial courage was just as
important as individual bravery.
Today, Hakka martial arts are often referred to as ‘southern’ in origination –
particularly the ‘Southern Praying Mantis’ (Tong Long Kuen, famous for its ‘Fung
Nang’, or ‘Pheonix Eye’ strike, whereby the seccond knuckle of the finger nearest the
thumb, is held in such away so as to ressemble a pheonix eye, is used to devastating
effect to strike pressure points). Infact, many associate Hakka martial arts ONLY
with this style. Both these ideas are misconceptions, and are the understandable result
of a general lack of knowledge of both Hakka culture and Hakka history. As the
Hakka people did not originate in southern China – it is a logical conclusion that
Hakka martial arts, (so entwined with Hakka culture in general), must have developed
at a far earlier date than the 17th century, the approximate date of the Hakka
migration into south China.
The southern Hakka styles were essentially modifications of already existing northern
styles that the migrating Hakka brought southward with them. So why were the styles
changed? The answer is that not all styles were changed. Some where changed and
became well known for there modified version. When the Hakkas migrated into
southern China, they faced aggression and alienation from the indigenous peoples of
those areas. They were forced to live in very small areas of poor farming country.
Space was of a premium. Housing was built in these small areas and there was not
much space for the practicing of the northern forms, with there long stances and
elaborate forms. Up until then, Hakka arts had always had two distinct training
aspects, i.e. ‘external’ and ‘internal’. Both involving various training systems and
years of practice. In the south however, the Hakkas had to adapt to new situations.
Inter-ethnic fighting meant that there was warfare on a regular occurrence, so young
men and women (Hakka women did not bind their feet, and fought side by side with
their men, often with their babies tied to their backs), had to be trained very quickly.
The need for good fighters at a rapid rate, and the lack of space lead to the
development of the southern styles. Stances were shortened to reflect the lack of
training space, and the external and internal training systems were combined into one
user friendly system. It must be stated however, that ALL Hakka systems emphasis
the internal over the external, as mastery of the former is by far more difficult.
northern Hakka styles did not die out however, but remained rare, usually practiced
by the immediate families of clan leaders.
The structure of these arts reflect the nodamic ancestry of the Hakka. Nomads would
ride into battle, encircling their enemies and cutting off their escape. As there were
no stirrups in ancient China, those riding the steppe ponies would kick downward
from the saddle, and often dismount, fight on foot, and then mount again and ride off
in quick succession. The enemy was encircled and confused by fast, precise and
highly disciplined attacks from virtually every and any quarter. This blue-print was
maintained in the forming of norhern Hakka fighting arts. As Hakkas settled in noth
China, they gave-up their ponies, as a consequence, their fighting styles became
ground orientated. Various forms of Longfist (i.e. ‘Changquan’) were developed and
passed-on. In the north of China, the Hakkas were on the offensive, but in southern
China, they found themselves very much on the defensive – this change in
cirucmstance is reflected in the structural changes of their marial forms.
And the development of Taijiquan is very interesting from a Hakka point of view. A
well known Hakka name is ‘Chin’ and is written in Chinese as ‘Er Dong’, which
literally means ‘Listening to the East’ – it is written with the character for ‘ear’ and
the character ‘East’, and is pronounced ‘Chen’ in manderin. However, experts
interpret this ideogram as referring to a migration of the Chin clan, from the west of
China, toward the east, following the Yellow River. This migration happened durng
the Zhou Dynasty (1134BCE-256BCE). And in modern geography, would have been
from Gansu to Henan. The Chin clan, when they entered China – where not yet called
‘Chin’, but went by the name of ‘Gui’. The Gui migrated eastward and settled in the
land of Zhou. Being loyal subjects of the Zhou, they were awarded with their own
state – called ‘Chen’ in manderin. When the Chu invaded and destroyed the state of
Chen (approx: 568BCE), the Gui clan changed their name to ‘Chen’, so that they
could remember their own kingdom. Chen is pronounced ‘Chin’ in the Hakka
language – and the Chen family of Chen Jia Gou (i.e. Chen Village), in Henan – the
founders of Taijiquan in its modern form, are descendence of the Hakka Gui clan that
entered China thousands of years ago. Even in southern China, many descendence of
Chen still practice various forms of Longfist – and it must be remembered that one
alternate name for Taijiquan is infact ‘Longfist’, as its movements appear to flow,
‘like a river’.
Everything has a history and the Hakkas are no acception to this rule. If we take time
to look beneath the surface of Hakka culture, we find an interesting array of
contradictions and development. Hakka history is partly linguistic, cultural, martial
and genetic. Today, Hakka people live all other the world. And a number of
historians make the point that there are distinctly ‘Hakka’ family names. Name
lineages, that if traced, go all the way back to north China – the point of origin, and
possibly entry of the Hakka ancestors.
Adrian Chan-Wyles Ph.D
Published in the march/april 2006 edition of Kung Fu, Tai Chi Magazine.