Monkey Kung Fu

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Monkey Kung Fu (??) is a Chinese martial art where the movements imitate monkeys or apes in fighting. One of the more acrobatic kung fu styles, movements often include falling, lunging, grabbing, jumping, and tumbling. The staff features prominently in its weapons training, with practitioners using it for attack, defense, and climbing it like a pole to gain height in combat. The flamboyant movements and sometimes comic actions of the monkey style has made it a popular subject in Hong Kong martial arts movies.

Hou Quan (??), literally Monkey Fist, can be traced back to the Han dynasty and is recorded in the Mi Hou Wu dance performed at the Emperor’s court.[1] Contrary to popular beliefs, there are actually a number of independently developed systems of monkey kung fu. Examples includes Xingzhemen (???) named after the protagonist Sun Wukong of the popular Ming dynasty novel Journey to the West, Nanhouquan (???) or Southern Monkey Fist originating from the Southern Shaolin Temple as well as the more well known Tai Sheng Pek Kwar Moon (?????) style of Hong Kong. The houquan style from the Emei region, taught by the famous “Monkey King” Xiao Yingpeng and others, was also used as the basis for the modern wushu variant of monkey style (and monkey staff) that is often seen in demonstrations and competitions today. Each independent style has its own unique approach to the expression of how to incorporate a monkey’s movements into fighting.

Hou Quan may have contributed to other styles as well. For example, Wang Lang, the 17th century founder of Northern Praying Mantis Boxing (tanglang quan), was said to have borrowed the footwork of the Monkey style to complement the extremely fast handwork of Praying Mantis Kung Fu.[2]

Tai Sheng Men, or “Great Saint” Kung Fu, was developed near the end of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) by a fighter named Kau Sze from a small village in Northern China. Legend states that while serving a sentence in prison, he observed a group of monkeys from his cell. As he studied their movements and mannerisms, he found that they combined well with his own Tei Tong style. While exact circumstances of Kau Sze’s inspiration remain legend, upon his release he developed his new style of fighting and dubbed it ‘Tai Sheng Men’ (Great Saint Style) in honor of the Monkey King Sun Wukong in the Buddhist tale Journey to the West.

Pek Kwar Kung Fu dates back to the Ming Dynasty some time around 1500.It was widely taught in the army because it is practical, direct and powerful. Pek Kwar concentrates on upper body, forearm, fist, low stance training and total body co-ordination. “Pek” means “chopping or downward arm or fist attack” and “Kwar” means “swinging or upward arm or fist attack,” in Chinese. Loosely translated it means “axe fist”. (Pek Kwar Kuen is the Cantonese pronunciation for Piguaquan.)

Tai Shing Pek Kwar Kung Fu (?????) was developed by Kau Sze’s student Kan Tak Hoi, who started learning Pek Kwar kung fu from his father Kan Wing Kwai from as early as 8 years of age. Kan Wing Kwai was a master of Pek Kwar kung fu and after his death, Kau Sze decided to train Kan Tak Hoi in Tai Sheng Kung Fu. After mastering Tai Sheng Kung Fu and combining it with Pek Kwar Kung Fu, out of respect for Kau Sze’s friendship, in naming the new technique Kan Tak Hoi placed Tai Sheng at the beginning followed by Pek Kwar hence the name Tai Sheng Pek Kwar Kung Fu.

Traditional hou quan as taught in Mainland China includes running on all fours (i.e. the hands and feet), various difficult acrobatic movements such as flipping sideways in the air, front flips, back flips, back handsprings, hand stands, walking on the hands, forward lunges/dives, backward lunges, spinning on the butt, spinning on the back and many kicks and strikes. Most of the attacks are aimed at the knees, groin area, throat or eyes of the opponent and hand strikes are normally either open handed slaps or clawing with a semi-closed fist called the monkey claw. A wide array of facial monkey expressions are also practiced, inclusive of happiness, anger, fear, fright, confusion and bewilderment etc. Except for very brief periods, most movements inclusive of running are executed from either a squatting or semi-squatting position and are normally accompanied by very swift and ‘jerky’ head movements as the practitioner nervously looks around. The monkey staff, or hou gun (??), is one of this style’s specialty weapons. Monkey boxing is an imitative technique and so execution of the movements and facial expressions must be so convincing that it looks exactly like a monkey and not simply like a human imitating a monkey hence the very high degree of difficulty associated with this technique.

There are six variations of monkey kung fu developed as part of the Tai Sheng Men system, and still utilized in the later Tai Sheng Pek Kwar system (although the Crafty monkey variation described below may have been absorbed into the Lost monkey curriculum in Tai Shing Pek Kwar and Bak Si Lum among others, hence there are only five variations listed, in these systems):