SECRET TEACHINGS OF CHINESE MARTIAL ARTS: SHAOLIN MOUNTAIN-GUARDING MIDNIGHT STYLE LUOHAN BOXING ILLUSTRATED
by Zhu Xiatian
[published Oct, 1930]
[translation by Paul Brennan, March, 2021]
I have devoted myself to boxing arts ever since childhood, more than twenty years. Over the course of these twenty years, I traveled north beyond Hebei west beyond Shaanxi, south and east to the coasts, and to the lakes everywhere in between. Of all that I have learned in my travels, Midnight Style Luohan Boxing is the best.
I learned this boxing set from my third teacher, the monk Qi Yue [“gazes up at the peak”], who himself learned the Shaolin art from the great master Mai Shu [“walks with distinction”], mastering both the internal and external skills. I had so far applied myself faithfully to the northern arts for six years, but due to my lack of talent, I never really managed to get a proper glimpse of their profundities, only scratching the surface. However, my teacher liked me, and so he decided in the end to go ahead and teach me this boxing set. He told me: “This art is known as Shaolin Mountain-Guarding Boxing. Going beyond Damo’s method of striking acupoints, it will take you the rest of the way into mastery.”
The Shaolin boxing art has shaken the world, and yet although everyone talks of Shaolin Boxing and Shaolin Staff, nobody knows about Shaolin’s “three levels”, divided into the “twelve styles”. The four styles of Midnight, Post-Midnight, Pre-Dawn, and Dawn are the higher level. The four styles of Post-Dawn, Pre-Noon, Noon, and Post-Noon are the middle level. The four styles of Pre-Dusk, Dusk, Post-Dusk, and Pre-Midnight are the lower level. At the highest level is the Mountain-Guarding set, which is not taught to laymen. Laymen may be taught no higher than the middle level, most commonly the Noon Style. The Midnight Style within the higher level is not only not taught to laymen, it is not even shown to them.
This set turns in all directions with a dragon’s proud poise and a tiger’s angry glare. It has the energy of a surging storm or a roaring wind. If you study it and become skillful at it, then when you feel pressed to retreat, you can use it to activate your abilities and amplify your bearing. This set ought to be taught, not hidden away as a treasure for oneself. I learned it and have been practicing it for the last six years. Although I have still not mastered it, I have gained much from the experience.
Now that the government is promoting Chinese martial arts, these arts have been given a better chance at survival. I have therefore decided to publish a book about this boxing set in order to share it with all those who may be interested. I only hope this action will not go against my teacher’s wishes. I simply fear that if I do not share this wonderful martial art, it will gradually slip into oblivion and become as extinct as the notorious Guangling Melody.
- sincerely written by Zhu Xiatian
Portrait of the author, Zhu Xiatian
A posture of preparation is an indispensable moment in every boxing set for focusing on key principles. While in this position in this particular set, give attention to these requirements: body straight, feet together, arms hanging down beside your thighs, mouth closed and spirit concentrated, energy stored away and power building up, and a state of calm is established that will be maintained throughout the set. When facing an opponent, apply this principle from the Art of War [chapter 11]: “Begin guardedly like a shy girl until he opens his gates, then invade like a rabbit diving into one of its bolt-holes.” Make a habit of being calm, and then whenever you encounter an opponent, you will be able to examine his incoming force and respond appropriately, without your hands ending up in a state of confusion and your feet in disarray. See photo 1:
BEGINNING POSITION – Part 1
Now that you are in a state of readiness, your spirit is concentrated and your energy is full, and so you can perform the beginning position. Your left foot lifts and goes forward a half step to make a left hanging-horse stance, touching down with the toes, as your hands go forward and upward until at chest level, then spread apart so that your left hand stays forward and your right hand draws back. See photo 2:
BEGINNING POSITION – Part 2
Your palms then turn over to be facing upward, your elbows bending, and push out forward from your shoulders with your right palm becoming a fist and your left palm touching on top of your right fist, making a shape of “embracing the moon”, though it is more commonly described simply as a “salute”. This action expresses a fearless martial spirit and shows a dignified poise. The movements of the beginning position are complex enough that it requires two photos. Be aware that later complex movements are likewise broken down into multiple photos. See photo 3:
Your right fist becomes a palm, rises up, and sweeps aside to the right, as your left palm also sweeps aside to the left, your hands spreading apart the opponent’s hands in preparation for the following technique, your lower body remaining in a left hanging-horse stance. See photo 4:
Your left foot advances, the weight going onto it, your right leg straightening, your body rising, as your left palm becomes a fist, pulling back to your waist, and your right palm becomes a fist and strikes out from your waist to attack the opponent’s solar plexus, the tiger’s mouth facing upward. See photo 5:
Your left fist extends next to your right fist, then both fists become palms and slap down on top of your right knee as it springs upward to attack the opponent’s head. See photo 6:
Then your right foot steps forward to make a right bow stance as your palms become fists, slightly spread apart to the sides, and arc forward, coming toward each other, the knuckles of each hand turned inward to be pointing toward each other, the tiger’s mouths facing downward, performing a pincering attack to the opponent’s temples. See photo 7:
Then your left fist becomes a palm and touches the inside bend of your right elbow as your right fist sinks down, rolls over, and strikes out upward to attack the opponent’s face, the back of the fist facing outward. See photo 8:
Your left foot lifts and steps out to the left to make a left hanging-horse stance, as your left palm leaves your right elbow and moves across to the left to sweep aside the opponent’s incoming hand in preparation for the following technique. See photo 9:
Your left knee bends and your right leg straightens, making a left bow stance, as your left palm becomes a fist and withdraws to your waist, your right fist sinking down and then going out in arc from your waist, fiercely striking upward to attack the opponent’s chin. See photo 10:
Your right foot lifts and steps out to the right, your body slightly leaning to the left, your left fist remaining at your waist, as your right fist becomes a palm and goes across to the right to sweep aside the opponent’s incoming hand. See photo 11:
Your right foot shifts to the right and the knee bends to make a right bow stance, your left leg straightening, as your right palm becomes a fist, withdrawing to your waist, and your left fist arcs out from your waist, fiercely striking upward to attack the opponent’s chin. See photo 12:
With your hands maintaining their position, your left foot lifts and kicks out to the right with a shoveling step, your body sitting onto your right leg. See photo 13:
Your body quickly turns around to the left and your left foot comes down to the left to make what is almost a left bow stance, your right foot touching down with the toes, your upper body leaning to the left, as your right fist extends across to the left, your left fist becoming a palm and going to the inside bend of your right elbow. See photo 14:
Your body turns to the right, your right foot advancing, your right knee bending to make a right bow stance, as your right fist goes upward and swings out to attack the opponent’s face. See photo 15:
Your body turns to the left, your left foot lifting and stepping out to the left to make a left hanging-horse stance, touching down with the toes, as your left palm leaves your right elbow and moves across to the left to sweep aside the opponent’s incoming hand, focusing power in your right fist and right leg in preparation for the following technique. See photo 16:
Your body turns to the left, your left knee bending to make a left bow stance, as your right fist strikes out from beside your ear to attack the opponent’s upper area, your left palm connecting with your right upper arm. See photo 17:
Your right foot lifts and steps forward to make a right bow stance, your body turning to the left, as your left palm comes away from your right arm and sweeps upward in front of you, your right first becoming a palm and moving along with your left palm, then again becoming a fist, grabbing the opponent’s wrist, while the strong turning of your body is used to throw him backwards. This movement is shocking as lighting and fast as the wind. Strive to embody these qualities. See photo 18:
Your right fist withdraws near your chest as your left fist becomes a palm and lowers onto your right fist, then your right elbow forcefully pokes out to the right to attack the opponent’s solar plexus. See photo 19:
Your body turns to the left, your legs almost making a horse stance, as your left palm sweeps across in front of your chest until at the left side of your waist, your right fist lifting to the side. See photo 20:
Your right foot lifts and kicks out to the right with a shoveling step, as your right fist swings across to the left side of your waist to be wrapped over by your left palm. See photo 21:
Your right foot comes down to make a right bow stance as your right fist becomes a claw, your left palm make a ladle shape, and your hands pull apart as though drawing a bow, your right hand going out to attack the opponent’s face. See photo 22:
With your hands maintaining their position, your left foot lifts and kicks out to the right with a shoveling step, your body turning to the right, the weight going onto your right leg. See photo 23:
Your body quickly turns around to the left and your left foot comes down to the left to make what is almost a left bow stance, your right foot touching down with the toes, your upper body leaning to the left, as your right claw becomes a fist and sinks down, the tiger’s mouth facing upward, your left palm also becoming a fist, the tiger’s mouth facing forward. See photo 24:
Your body turns to the right, your right foot advancing to make a right bow stance, as your fists roll over, going upward from your belly and forward to the right, advancing in unison with your right fist more forward and your left fist behind it, vigorously attacking the opponent’s upper area and middle area. See photo 25:
Your body turns to the left as your left fist becomes a palm and moves across to the left to sweep aside the opponent’s incoming hand, focusing power in your right fist and right leg in preparation in preparation for the following technique. See photo 26:
Your body turns to the left, your left foot advancing to make a left bow stance, as your left palm becomes a fist, pulling back to your waist, and your right fist shoots out to the left to attack the opponent’s upper area. See photo 27:
Your left fist extends next to your right fist, then both fists become palms and slap down on top of your right knee as it springs upward to attack the opponent’s head. See photo 28:
Then your right foot steps forward to make a right bow stance as your palms become fists, slightly spread apart to the sides, and arc forward, coming toward each other, the knuckles of each hand turned inward to be pointing toward each other, the tiger’s mouths facing downward, performing a pincering attack to the opponent’s temples. See photo 29:
Then your left fist becomes a palm and touches the inside bend of your right elbow as your right fist sinks down, rolls over, and strikes out upward to attack the opponent’s face, the back of the fist facing outward. See photo 30:
Your left foot lifts and steps out to the left to make a left hanging-horse stance, as your left palm leaves your right elbow and moves across to the left to sweep aside the opponent’s incoming hand in preparation for the following technique. See photo 31:
Your left foot comes down forward, your right leg straightening, your body rising up, as your left palm becomes a fist, pulling back to your waist, and your right fist slightly sinks down and goes out from your waist to fiercely attack the opponent’s upper area, the forearm rotated so that the back of the fist is facing upward. See photo 32:
FINISHING POSITION – Part 1
Your left fist shoots out next to your right fist, then both fists become palms and spread apart so that your left hand stays forward and your right hand draws back as you sit back onto your right leg. See photo 33:
FINISHING POSITION – Part 2
Your palms then turn over to be facing upward, your elbows bending, and push out forward from your shoulders with your right palm becoming a fist and your left palm touching on top of your right fist, making a shape of “embracing the moon”, the same as the salute in Part 2 of the beginning position, showing that this set has the same dignified poise from beginning to end. See photo 34:
RETURNING TO YOUR ORIGINAL POSITION
Your body rises up, your left foot withdrawing to stand next to your right foot, as your arms sink beside your waist, your right fist also becoming a palm, your palms facing your thighs, restoring you to your original position. If you wish to repeat the sequence, you can easily go right back into the beginning posture and perform the entire set again. See photo 35:
– – –
[Included below is a chapter from Jin Tisheng’s Secrets of Shaolin Internal Training (1940).]
TRAINING & CULTIVATION
The purpose of practicing martial arts is primarily to strengthen the body to make it healthier, secondarily to defend oneself against threats from attackers, and not to get into fights unless you are rescuing someone from peril. As the Zen master Han Xu [“containing emptiness”] said: “When practicing martial arts, value virtue rather than force, defense rather than attack. Defense involves stillness, and in stillness lies the opportunity to survive. Attack involves movement, and in movement lies an opportunity to get killed.” Achieving virtue, you have a defensive weapon, like the spines of a puffer fish. You no longer have to overcome an opponent with force, you instead have a means of dissuading him.
The most important thing for martial artists to cultivate is morality. If you ignore the moral aspect and focus only on the martial aspect, this will be adequate to defeat people, but you will fail to win them over afterward, subduing their bodies but losing their hearts. Notice that a highly skilled martial artist is always polite and friendly. Even when being insulted or humiliated by someone, he is able to endure it and remain calm, unwilling to lash out and end up injuring the person. This shows his mastery of his art. Without such restraint, any action he takes with hand or foot is capable of killing, which would only turn the situation into a tragedy.
A few movements are all it takes to reveal a superficial martial skill and a rash temperament. One who throws out his hands and feet in an attempt to show off has little to show. He is merely someone who loves getting into fights and will fling his fists at anyone. Even in victory, he will still not have won, and in defeat, he is bound to have been injured. He cannot even rely on winning by accident, and so he is bound to lose. There is a common saying: “For every tall man, there’s an even taller man.” [i.e. “There’s always somebody better.”] Such actions are suicidal and far from the original purpose of learning martial arts. The boldness of Xiang Yu ultimately failed him at Wu River. Without learning to restrain one’s martial skill, virtue will not be achieved. Therefore the cultivation of virtue has to be developed alongside martial skill. A martial artist who possesses moral character will be able to protect himself against misfortune, whereas a martial artist with a brutal disposition will invite disaster. This is an unchanging principle.
In the past, whenever someone came to the Shaolin Temple to learn martial arts, the head monk would quietly observe the level of the visitor’s arrogance, then tell him bluntly to go wait in the temple. In the beginning of his training, there was no teaching of martial skills, instead he was commanded every day to go into the hills to collect firewood, no days off, no matter the weather, even if wind was howling, rain was pouring, or snow was burying the landscape. If he came back with too little, he was sent back out to work during the night. If he ever refused, he was whipped until he complied. By suffering such hardship, he was taught the endurance he would need to learn martial skills. After three long years, once his ego had been worn down, the head monk would then begin to teach him.
He was not treated this way because the monk wished to torture him, but to diminish his arrogance. If an arrogant person was taught the temple’s martial skills, he would likely cause trouble after leaving the temple and ruin the good name of Shaolin. Such behavior would show the art to be about destroying others rather than cultivating the self. Among the rules of Shaolin are “no killing” and “no starting fights”. This shows that the Shaolin martial training also gives great attention to the cultivation of virtue.
Beyond self-cultivation, masters must give special attention to the accepting of students, teaching only those of good temperament. Violent people can only be waved away from the door and taught nothing of the art at all. After learning martial skills, if a person loves using what he has learned to get into fights with and hurt people, he is liable to go on to become a thief or a murderer, tarnishing the teachings forever. This is why a person’s temperament has to be given repeated attention. After accepting a student, in addition to encouraging him to practice his skills every day, equal emphasis needs to be given to the cultivation of virtue. This kind of wholesome influence will ensure that he does behave improperly after he has completed his studies.