Bei Shaolinquan (北少林拳)

At ZYKFA we take the study of traditional Chinese martial arts seriously, where we focus exclusively on the Northern Shaolin Style (北少林拳- Běi Shàolínquán). Chinese martial arts offers a wide range of options within its study, it covers striking with a variety of different parts of the body, pushing and checking techniques, seizing and apprehension methods and numerous throwing and take-down maneuvers. It also teaches a variety of classical weapons, combat sets, fighting and internal training methods to keep its practitioners well rounded and strong.

Our school explores every combat and self-defense aspect of the Northern Shaolin style. With this in mind, there is no need to borrow techniques and methods from other disciplines and styles to complement our students training. At ZYKFA you will not learn a mix of combat arts in the curriculum, it's the Chinese martial art of Bei Shaolinquan only and we take pride in that fact.

Northern Shaolin Style is a traditional system of Chinese martial arts. Northern Shaolin emphasizes large frame techniques in the forms, small frame techniques in application, quick and light footwork, clever kicking combinations and circular defensive movements, it also relies on agility, creativity and aggressiveness in its attacks. The system is also known for a large arsenal of weapons that are at the disposal of the student, which not only teaches them how to effectively use short, long, bladed, blunt, double and flexible weapons in combat but it also enhances the students understanding of their hand-to-hand combat skills.

Northern Shaolin is one style of the many styles of China, it shares technical similarities with some styles created in the Central Plains region (中原 - Zhōngyuán) of China, however it is distinct in its use of ten specific taolu and that its most famous exponent was the great Master Gù Rǔzhāng (顧汝章- 1894-1952) known for his feats of Iron Palm (鐵沙掌) and Iron Body (小金鐘罩).

The system teaches its techniques first through the practice of Tàolù (套路- patterns), or Quántào (拳套 - fist patterns) also known as "forms". Students practice the techniques in the taolu until the movements become instinctual. Two person partner drills and sets (對練 - Duìliàn) are then added to train certain applications of techniques learned from the sets in a safe and predictable environment. However, to the practitioner of Bei Shaolinquan, the ultimate learning tool for truly understanding these techniques becomes what is called Sanshou (散手 - free sparring), or full contact fighting, where a variety of punches, kicks, elbows, knees, locks, grappling and takedowns are all part of the arsenal used by the practitioner to apply all their understanding of the art in a combat environment.

The practice of the Bei Shaolinquan system, by the student, brings together three important aspects in Chinese martial arts:

健 - Jiàn - Health - It is a great way of exercising your whole body for fitness and health maintenance.

用 - Yòng - Use - It allows you to analyze your techniques and movements to later be used in combat.

看 - Kàn - Looks - It gives you a way to express yourself artistically through movement.


What does Kung Fu mean?

The term "Kung Fu", or in Pinyin "Gōngfu", has been misrepresented in the west as a designation for Chinese martial arts. The term really has little to do with martial arts as it can be used to describe any type of trade that has reached a high level of skill, such as cooking, basketball or even conversation. The term is written as "功夫". The first character is "功" (gōng) meaning "achievement" or "merit", and "夫" (fū) which translates as "man" or "husband", "夫" in this case exemplifies not just a common man (人- rén) but a man that has reached a certain maturity through time/age. With this in mind the term "Kung Fu" can mean "practice over a period of time" or "being accomplished at something you worked hard for a long time".

At the ZYKFA we use the term "Kung Fu" as it implies that the members of our association strive to become skillful in all aspects of their lives.

The term we use for Chinese martial arts in Chinese is either Kuoshu/Guóshù (國術- National Techniques), Wǔyì (武藝- Martial Skills) or Wǔshù (武術 - Martial Techniques).

History of Northern Shaolin

Some thoughts on the history of Bei Shaolinquan (Northern Shaolin style).

The term history can be used very loosely in the context of Chinese martial arts. A good part of Chinese martial arts history that is told today is actually based on stories, legends, oral tradition and embellished or poetic writings. In many ways what you will read comes from this type of background. Some parts can be proven as factual others must be considered as folklore and legend. Most importantly, however, is that this compilation of history gives you a glimpse of what was and is perceived as important for the people who preserved it. This text should not be used to validate or invalidate any history, lineage or tradition of any other school. It gives the students at Zhong Yi Kung Fu Association the opportunity to read about their styles origins, traditions, folklore, legends, past masters, principles and lineage.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Shifu Robert Louie who imparted most of the history of Bei Shaolinquan. Your generosity and willingness to share is deeply appreciated. Shifu Louie is a true example of a master; all martial artists should look up to and emulate him for his dedication to preserving the history of our style.

To understand our art, we must first understand its past. Bei Shaolinquan's beginnings are shrouded in mystery and legends, and there are many versions of the origins of this ancient art. It is important to note that, as Stanley Henning says in his article "On Politically Correct Treatment of Myths in the Chinese Martial Arts" that the concept of Dámó (達摩 - Bodhidharma, 448-527 c.e.) creating Shaolinquan (the Shaolin style) can't "be traced back earlier than its appearance in the popular novel, "Travels of Lao Can" (老殘遊記),written between 1904 and 1907, and there is no indication that it was ever part of an earlier oral tradition" (I would highly recommend any reader to research the works of Mr. Henning as they are an excellent source of factual Chinese martial arts history).

Emperor Xiào Wén (孝文帝) built the Shaolin Temple (少林寺 - Shàolín Sì) during the Northern and Southern Dynasties (420-589 c.e.), in 495 c.e. The temple had been constructed for an Indian monk named Bátuó (跋陀 - Buddhabhadra) who had journeyed to China with the intent of spreading Buddhism. The monastery became famous in that period for the translations of immense works (some six-hundred tomes) of Buddhist scripture from Sanskrit into Chinese. Many of the monks in the Temple, under Batuo, practiced a form of martial arts (wrestling) called Jiǎo  Lì (角力) for recreation and entertainment, this was decades before Damo arrived at the Temple to teach Chán (禪 - Zen).


In 1732 c.e., Bei Shaolinquan (北少林拳 - Northern Shaolin Style) supposedly survived the destruction of the famed Shaolin Temple by the Qing Army. A Monk named Jué Yuǎn (覺遠), who had fled north from Henan (河南) to Hebei (河北) Province, saved this style. He taught many villagers Bei Shaolinquan. One of the villagers that mastered the style was Gān Fèngchī (甘鳳池). Gan Fengchi was already a master of the Hua system (花拳) and he wrote a book called "The Essence of Hua Fist". He passed his knowledge of the style to Wàn Bāngcái (萬邦才). Wàn Bāngcái traveled to Jiāngsū (江蘇) Province and taught Bei Shaolinquan to the Yán (嚴) family.

The Yán Family kept Bei Shaolinquan as the official style for their escort business (a very profitable business for skilled martial artists who would protect valuable cargoes of merchants and aristocrats). They taught Bei Shaolinquan to their hired hands in Shāndōng (山東) Province where they operated their business. Yán Dégōng (嚴徳功) was the head of the business. In his later years, he left the business to his son and returned to Jiāngsū (江蘇). Yán Dégōng taught the style to his grandson, Yán Jīwēn (嚴機溫). Later, Jīwēn replaced his father as the chief of the escorts and ran the company very successfully.

At the end of the Qing Dynasty (清 - 1644-1911) in Nanjing (南京), Gu Lizhi (顧利之) opened a security bureau. The Lizhi Escort Service (利之鏢局)protected merchants on the road. Gu Lizhi was a native of Jiangxi Province (江西). His name spread far and wide because he defeated countless bandits and swordsmen. Such men like the "Heroes of Greenwood Forest" (绿林英雄 - an infamous group of local bandits) would shudder whenever Gu Lizhi's name was mentioned. When the Lizhi Escort House's banner flew, all the bandits stayed away. Gu's escort business prospered and engaged in more than 200 escorts per year. Because Gu Lizhi was illiterate, he had to rely on others to read the accounts of receipts and payments. He decided that his children, Gù Yùmén (顧玉門), the eldest son, Gù Rǔzhāng (顧汝章) the second son, and his daughter should be educated.

When Gu Ruzhang was seven (1901), he was sent to a private school (one year after the Boxer Rebellion). In 1906 at the age of twelve, Ruzhang learned Shi Lu Tan Tui (十路彈腿 - Ten Lines of Spring Leg) from his father to establish a good basis for his martial arts education. Young Ruzhang was clever, diligent and had an early interest in the martial arts. Gu Lizhi was proud of his sons; Yumen reflected the glory of his ancestors, while Ruzhang would carry on his work. Gu Lizhi believed in the old saying, "a tiger father will not have a dog son". Two years later in (1908), Gu Lizhi was taken ill and was confined to bed. The doctor could not cure his illness. On his deathbed Lizhi called for his sons. He told them he did not have much longer to live. His only regret to his sons was that he was unable to teach them all he knew in martial arts. He told them of an old friend named Yán Jīwēn (嚴繼溫) in Feicheng city (肥城), Shandong Province (山東). He told them to learn from this teacher if they wanted to become great martial artists. A few days later Gu Lizhi succumbed to his illness and passed away. Their mother decided to close the escort house and dismiss the employees. The spiritual tablets of Gu Lizhi were carried back to their native village for mourning. For the next two years (1908-10). Gu Ruzhang continued to study martial arts with his mother. He then left for middle school in Nanjing.

In Nanjing, Gu Ruzhang became close to a classmate named Ba Qingxiang (慶祥). He remembered the words of his father and decided to locate Yan Jiwen in Shandong. Ruzhang knew that Qiangxiang would be upset if he left, so he told him about his desire to locate Master Yan. Ba Qingxiang expressed his desire to follow his friend and his parents granted his wish. Gu Ruzhang returned home for a short family reunion. After a few days he left a note for his mother stating his intentions.

Together Gu Ruzhang and Ba Qingxiang went north to Shandong seeking Master Yan (1911). They made inquiries in the village and a small boy replied". You must be asking about "Great Spear Yan" and led them to a house with three courtyards. A colorful old man in high spirits was teaching martial arts to some of his disciples. Upon closer inspection they saw that it was Master Yan. Gu Ruzhang and Ba Qingxiang went up to Yan and bowed with hands raised above their heads. They told Master Yan that they had heard of his great teachings and came to learn from him. Yan Jiwen did not know where they came from but could tell they had come from afar. When master Yan asked who they were, Gu Ruzhang stated, "I am the second son of Gu Lizhi head of the Lizhi Escort Service". He continued to say that his father had died two years past and had mentioned Master Yan. Master Yan realized Gu Ruzhang was like a nephew. He remembered Gu Lizhi and recalled how Lizhi saved his life from a bandit chief named Ku Hu. A very strong friendship had then developed between Lizhi and Master Yan although Nanjing and Feicheng were far apart. Yan Jiwen was saddened by his friends passing but was glad to see that the small boy he remembered had grown into a man. He wanted to return the kindness of Gu Lizhi who saved his life and agreed to accept Gu Ruzhang and Ba Qingxiang as his deciples. Master Yan decided to instruct both of them in the Northern Shaolin Style (Bei Shaolinquan). Gu Ruzhang was quick to pick up techniques and was never embarrassed to ask questions of his elders. Because of this his development and achievements were rapid.

After almost nine years of diligent study Ba Qingxiang received a letter from home informing him that his father was ill. He informed Master Yin that he had to return home to help with the family business and could not continue with his lessons.


By the ninth year of the founding of the Republic of China (1922 c.e.), Gu Ruzhang had been practicing for eleven years under Great Spear Yan. Gu Ruzhang was well versed in his skills of Bei Shaolinquan, Iron Palm, Iron Shirt and "the eighteen weapons". Yan Jiwen said that Gu Ruzhang's skills had reached an adequate level and that he could stand on his own. He cautioned Gu Ruzhang that "the world is a large place, and beyond this mountain there will be other mountains. You should always act with care, because great skills and expert hands are everywhere". Gu Ruzhang assured his master that he would heed this wisdom and bid him farewell. In early 1925 Gu ruzhang went south to Guangdong (廣東) and got a job as a clerk. It was here that a few years later he would become a living legend in the colorful Cantonese martial arts pantheon.

 In October of 1928 the Chinese Nationalist government (KMT) decided to unite the Chinese people by using martial arts. They started using the term Kuoshu/Guoshu (國術 - National Art) to identify the martial arts as a symbol of national pride. The goal of the Kuoshu Center (國術館) was to promote the exchange of knowledge, tear down the curtain of prejudice between the styles and to encourage the slogan "a strong mind and a strong body builds a strong nation".

Ever since the Boxer Rebellion (Summer 1900) there had not been a national tournament and naturally the people took an interest. Invitations were sent out to masters in all the different Chinese martial arts styles that were to be represented. Many masters turned down the invitation and instead sent their top disciples. Tournament rules were simple:


1) No poking or gouging of the eyes.

2) No poking or grabbing of the throat.

3) No groin strikes.

Events became more violent and bloody as the tournament neared its end. When there were only 15 contestants left, government officials stopped the tournament. Death would result if it was allowed to continue and that would not have served the countries needs. The government declared the last 15 fighters as China's best and declared "the fifteen champions of all China". The Champions voted amongst themselves and agreed that Gu Ru-zhang was the best fighter of the tournament.

As a result of the first National tournament in Nanjing - which was the Capital of the Republic of China at the time, General Zhang Zhijiang (張之江) appointed the top 5 masters from the tournament to serve as instructors for the government's provincial schools (Provincial Kuoshu Academies). Li Jinglin (李景林), a top government official of the Guangdong (廣東) and Guanggxi (廣西) provinces wanted to strengthen the army and establish a National Arts (Kuoshu) program for morning exercises. He asked General Zhang Zhijiang if he could return to Guandong with the top 5 masters. General Zhang approved the request.

The five masters were; Gu Ruzhang of Northern Shaolin (北少林) and Tan Tui (潭腿) styles, Wang Shaozhou (王少周) of Northern Shaolin and Chaquan (查拳), Wan Laisheng (萬籟聲) of Six Harmonies (六合) and Natural Style (自然門), Li Xianwu (李先五) of Northern Shaolin and Li Hua Spear (梨花槍) and Fu Zhensong (傅振嵩) of the Bagua Style (八卦掌). These men have been recorded in texts as the "Five Northern Tigers" (五北虎). Many scholars refer to them as the "Five Northern Tigers who went south". When the announcement was made officially, Gu Ruzhang was traveling throughout Jiāngnán (江南), a geographic area referring to to the south of the lower reaches of the Yangzi River (長江 - Chángjiāng), spreading Bei Shaolinquan. He was instructed to go south and represent the government as an instructor in the Guandong Central Kuoshu Institute (廣東中央國術館). The chief army official was Li Jinglin. During this time Guangdong and Guangzhou (廣州) provinces martial arts schools were dominated by southern styles. It was very difficult for a northern stylist to make a living unless he was exceptionally good. Li Jinglin appointed Wan Laisheng, a graduate of Beijing University, as head of both Central Kuoshu Provincial Schools. Gu Ruzhang was to be in charge of the Central Kuoshu Department in Guangdong Province.

 Wan Laisheng ordered Wang Shaozhou to be head of the Guanxi Provincial School. Since this was the first school to be set up, Wan Laisheng requested that all five champions assist Wang Shaozhou in setting up a standard martial arts program, at the Guanxi Provincial School. The masters there agreed that the basic standard sets would be Lian Bu Quan (练步拳) from Master Wu Zhiqing (吳志青), who was a master of Chaquan, Duandaquan (短打拳) and Shi Lu Tan Tui (十路潭腿) . While Gu Ruzhang stayed at Guanxi Provincial School, he learned Chaquan from Yu Zhensheng. Ruzhang became very interested in the history of Chaquan since it was originally taught at the Shaolin Monastery and then disappeared after the destruction of the monastery in 1732 c.e.Historical_Pictures_MasterYu

 Yu Zhensheng (于振聲), a Hui minority (回族) or Chinese Muslim, was an avid fan of the martial arts and master of Chaquan, took advantage of the position he was in by being around so many great masters and learned as much as he could from these men during this period. He learned various sets from styles as varied as Bajiquan (八極拳), Tongbeiquan (通臂拳), Taijiquan (太極拳), Baguazhang, Xingyiquan (形意拳) and Bei Shaolinquan.

 Yu Zhensheng and his friend Ma Jingbiao (馬金標), another Muslim master in his own right, taught Northern Shaolin, Chaquan, Tan Tui and other styles to the many students. One such student was Wu Chao-hsiang (武朝相 - Wu Chaoxiang). Chaoxiang was already an expert in Xingyiquan and Baguazhang under Master Bu Xuekuan (布學寬) of the Taigu Kuoshu Guan (太谷館, in Shanxi Province - 山西). He was intrigued by the difference between Bei Shaolinquan and the systems he already knew. Master Wu quickly learned the style and practiced it alongside the other systems he had already mastered as he travelled through China.

Historical_Pictures_DrWu I n 1948, Master Wu joined the Kuo Ming Tang (國民黨 - the ruling party in China at the time) and over two million Republic of China loyalists and six hundred thousands Nationalist soldiers retreated in a massive exodus to the island of Taiwan (台灣) after being defeated by the Communist forces of Máo Zédōng (毛澤東). Once there, the Nationalists established their government in Taipei (台北) making it the capital of the Republic of China (中華民國 - R.O.C. Taiwan).

Wu Chao-hsiang eventually became a doctor of Chinese Medicine in Taipei and Chairman of the Tai Chi Chuan Association of China (ROC). In the early 70's he decided to move to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil where some of his friends had taken up residence. Five years after moving to Brazil (1977), Dr. Wu Chao-hsiang founded the "Instituto de Cultura Chinesa" (The Chinese Cultural Institute) in Rio de Janeiro. There he practiced and taught the arts of Bei Shaolinquan, Taijiquan, Baguazhang, Xingyiquan, Acupuncture, Moxabustion, Tui Na and Chinese language. Students from all walks of life came to learn from Master Wu's various disciplines. His contributions to the understanding and exposure of Chinese culture to the Brazilian people were great and he gained high praise for his work.

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