Zhuan Shu Kuan

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Zhuan Shu Kuan (pronounced “tchwen shoo gwan” pinyin:quán shù guan) is a martial art mainly incorporating striking techniques similar to taekwondo and muay thai, but also includes forms adapted from Changquan (‘long fist’). It is ostensibly a Northern Shaolin style, though the average class has many similarities to kickboxing training.

Zhuan Shu Kuan’s history can be traced back to taekwondo’s arrival in the United Kingdom during the late 1960s. Shortly afterward, a group of taekwondo instructors, with additional experience in Chinese styles, decided to combine the kicks of the former with the traditional forms (known as kata in Japanese styles) of the latter. Aiming to create a realistic stand-up martial art, the new system was named Wu Shu Kwan, led by C.K. Chang.

In 1988, two senior Wu Shu Kwan masters, S.H. Koh and L.Y. Kam, left the system along with their senior black belts. This resulted in a new organisation, named Zhuan Shu Kuan (fist art association). Koh had learned Tiger Crane (a Northern Shaolin style) from Ang Lian Huat (founder of Nam Yang Pugilistic Association) during his youth in Singapore, before becoming one of the first taekwondo black belts in the UK. Co-founder Kam studied traditional Chinese martial arts under both his grandfather and at school in Malaysia, later taking several years of judo before beginning Wu Shu Kwan in the UK. Their experience was combined leading to a martial art akin to full contact kickboxing with a traditional element. The goal of this new style was to further develop practical fighting skills, keeping the organisation small in order to cultivate high standards.[1]

Training is mainly concerned with punching and kicking techniques, but also includes some joint locks and throws. While several instructors are skilled at ground fighting, it is rarely taught (for example, Glen Cudjoe also practiced Judo). In Zhuan Shu Kuan, there is the option of taking either a traditional or a kickboxing syllabus, the latter run by Kam.[2]

Classes vary, but always include a warm-up at the beginning of class, consisting of common bodyweight exercises such as press-ups, sit-ups and squat thrusts. This is followed by intensive stretching, particularly for the legs due to Zhuan Shu Kuan’s numerous kicking techniques. Linework and/or padwork will usually come next, sometimes accompanied by the grading syllabus (forms, fixed spars and compulsory movements, required to pass each belt level). Finally, class will finish with free sparring.[3] This varies depending on the practitioner, but works up to full contact for senior and experienced members of class (non-ZSK stylists are welcome to train). Gum shields and groin guards (for men) are compulsory, with participants also expected to wear boxing gloves and shin pads. Conditioning of shins, forearms and knuckles is a part of class, but does not continue into free sparring.[4] At this point in class there are clear similarities to muay thai in terms of technique and style.

Black belts also learn how to use traditional weapons, such as the broadsword and long staff.

Zhuan Shu Kuan gradings consist of a form, compulsory movements (such as kicks from back stance, building to jumping kicks at higher grades) and a fixed spar (blocks, locks, strikes and throws). After reaching 6th grade, a candidate will also be tested on their free sparring (wearing gloves, shin pads and gum shield, along with a groin guard for men or a chest guard for women). The contact level increases until eventually full contact after 2nd grade (though contact up to that point is often dependent on the particular candidate; they may well reach heavy contact at earlier gradings). To obtain a black belt, there is a destruction section (breaking bricks, tiles and wooden boards with punches, chops and kicks) instead of compulsory movements, multiple forms and considerably more free sparring, including a two-on-one. From second degree onwards, weapons become part of the syllabus.[5] The main centre for gradings is in Kensington.

The kickboxing syllabus does not include training in forms or fixed spars, concentrating instead purely on fighting techniques.