The Northern Shaolin style of kung fu is one of the most prominent traditional northern styles of Chinese martial arts. The northern styles of kung-fu generally emphasize long range techniques, quick advances and retreats, wide stances, kicking and leaping techniques, whirling circular blocks, quickness, agility, and aggressive attacks.
The system teaches empty-hand techniques and weaponry through predetermined combinations, known as forms, routines, or movement of sets. The students learn the basics by practicing the routines until the movements in the routines can be executed naturally based on instinct. Then, two or multiple man sets are practiced to train responses and applications of techniques learned from the sets. The practice sets/routines are not only practical in applications but are also graceful and artistic in nature. The fluidness of the movements combined with acrobatic techniques are trademarks of the Northern Shaolin Kung-Fu sets.
The Northern Shaolin style of Kung-Fu was made famous by the late Gu RuZhang (Ku Yu Cheung in Cantonese) . There are many legends of Gu; according to tales related by his close students, Gu’s father was an accomplished exponent of the Tan Tui (Springy Leg) Kung-Fu system. When he was young, Gu traveled throughout Northern China to learn all the northern kung-fu systems. He was renowned for his Iron Palm techniques and the application of the long spear. He organized all his learnings into what is the Northern Shaolin Kung Fu today.
The monastery in Henan is the original Shaolin Monastery. The monks began to practice military weapons sometime around the Tang Dynasty and became famous for aiding the future Emperor Li Shimin in struggles against rebellious forces. The monks were primarily known for their spear and staff techniques until the Ming-Qing transition when they began to specialize in unarmed combat. As the reputation of the Shaolin martial arts grew during the following centuries, its name became synonymous with martial arts, regardless of whether an individual art traced its origins to the Shaolin Monastery in Henan or not. As a result, the “Shaolin” moniker was applied to other Buddhist temples with strong reputations for martial arts. The characteristics of the martial arts taught at each temple were so different from each other that they became identified with their place of origin.
The Northern Shaolin style associated with Gu RuZhang was first taught to a lay disciple, the celebrated 18th century master Gan Fengchi of Jiangsu Province, by a Shaolin monk named Zhao Yuan, born Zhu Fu, a member of the Ming royal family who joined the Sangha after the Ming was overthrown by the Qing in 1644. (Gan is also remembered for founding the martial art Huāquán 花拳, literally “flower fist”, about which he wrote the book Introduction to Huāquán.) Gan in turn taught Wan Bangcai, who taught Yan Degong, who taught Yan Sansen, who taught Yan Jiwen, who taught his nephew Gu RuZhang (1894–1952).
Yan Jiwen also taught Gu the skills of Iron Body and Iron Palm. On a famous occasion in 1931, Gu is said to have demonstrated the latter on a horse.
Among the martial artists who gathered at the Central National Martial Arts Institute in Nanjing in 1928, Gu placed in the top fifteen and was included—alongside Fu Zhensong, Li Xianwu, Wan Laimin, Wan Laisheng, and Wong Shao Chou—in the Five Southbound Tigers (五虎下江南; pinyin: wǔ hǔ xià jiāng nán; literally “five tigers heading south of Jiangnan”), five masters of the Northern Chinese martial arts sent to Guangzhou to organize another National Martial Arts Institute.
In Guangzhou, the name “Shaolin” was already associated with Hung Gar and other styles, so Gu’s style came to be known by the name Northern Shaolin (Bei Shao Lin 北少林). Also by the names Bak Sil Lum in Cantonese and Bei Shaolin in Mandarin.
The Northern Shaolin curriculum of Gu Ruzhang
|Open the Door||開門||Kāi Mén||Hoy Moon||Essential Entry/Basic Skills To Shaolin|
|Lead the Way||領路||Ling Lù||Leng Lo||Initiating the Attack|
|Horse Sitting||坐馬||Zuò Ma||Jo Ma||Counter Attacks|
|Pierce the Heart||穿心||Chuān Xīn||Chum Sam||Heart Piercing Strikes|
|Martial Skill||武藝||Wu Yì||Mo I||Combat Techniques|
|Short Strike||短打||Duan Da||Tun Da||Close-Encounter Combinations|
|Plum Flower||梅花||Méi Huā||Moi fa||Breaking the Ambush|
|3 Palms 8 Steps||三掌拔步||San Zhang Bá Bù||Sam Jeung Bat Bo||Open-Space Fighting Combinations|
|Linking Fist||連環拳||Liánhuánquán||Lein Wan||Linked Multiple Strikes|
|Pattern Method||式法||Shì Fa||Sik Fot||Essential Techniques from Other Styles|