San Zhan

San Zhan


Do you have more information about kuntao?

-- Chad, Thailand


“Kuntao” is in Fujian pronunciation, and means the fist. It is the Fujian term for martial art. In Cantonese it is called “kungfu”, and in Mandarin it is called “wushu”.

Many martial art masters from the Fujian Province of south China migrated to Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia in the 18th and 19th centuries. The most famous of Fujian martial arts was “Ngo Chor Kun”, which is “Wu Zu Quan” in Mandarin or “Five-Ancestor Kungfu” in English. “Kun” in Ngo Chor Kun is the shortened form for “kuntao”, just as “quan” in Wu Zu Quan“ is the shortened form for ”quanfa“ in Mandarin. ”Quanfa" is another term for Chinese martial art. Tai Chi Chuan, for example, is Taijiquan, which is the shortened form for Taiji Quanfa.

The most famous master of Ngo Chor Kun or Ngo Chor Kungfu in recent times was Sifu Chee Kim Thong, who was regarded as a national treasure by China. I had the honour to learn Ngo Chor Kun from him. The hallmark of Sifu Chee Kim Thong's kungfu was internal force. And the secret of his internal force was softness.

I still can remember very clearly that during our training, my Siheng Chee Boon Leong, who was the eldest son of Sifu Chee Kim Thong and taught us on behalf of his father, frequently reminded us, “mg men yong lak, mg men yong lak”, which is in Fujian dialet meaning, “don't use strength, don't use strenght”.

I also can remember clearly asking myself how on earth could anybody be forceful if he did not use strenght. But when I practiced “chai shou”, or “Kneeding Hands” with my Siheng, he would gently place an arm on mine, and I could not move it nor move myself away. “Chai shou” is the Ngo Chor version of “chi sau” (Sticking Hands) in Wing Choon, or “tui shou” (Pushing Hands) in Taijiquan.

“How could you be so gentle, yet have so much internal force?” I asked my Siheng. “Practice San Zhan”, he confided the secret to me. “San Zhan”, which means “Three Battles”, is the fundamental kungfu set in Ngo Chor Kungfu. It develops internal force as well as provides techniques for combat application.

“San Zhan” was the fore-runner of “San Chin”, considered the most advanced kata in Karate. Japanese masters taught this set only to their selected disciples. But the way Karate masters practice “San Chin”, with much muscular tension, is totally different from the way Ngo Chor masters practice “San Zhan”, with total relaxation and softness.

Reproduced from November 2008 Part 3 in Selection of Question-Answer Series


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