Muslim Martial Arts

Whilst Googling around the Internet I found this article, also printed here (in bigger print), about Muslim Kung Fu in China.

There are all kinds of martial arts terms that mean nothing to me, but here are a few blurbs that I found interesting.

If there is one universally recognized set for the Moslem style it is the spring leg or tan tui. At first blush tan tui seems colosally unimpressive. The moves are repetitious, stretched out, almost mechanical and performed up and back as though on a track; each segment is termed a “road”. The original style was subdivided into ten such roads. Later, a southern version was introduced that split some of the harder roads into more digestible bites and expanded the set to 12 roads. To this day, if you say you practice tan tui, those in the know will immediately ask “ten or 12?” Tan Tui is a popular set adopted by many styles and lent a special flavor by each. For instance, in one branch of mantis, there is a 14-road tan mi. With such popularity tan tui became one of the first universal kung-fu sets and therefore can claim a part as forerunner of contemporary wushu’s standardized forms.

Tan tui is said to have been created in the Ming dynasty by ChaShagmir (a distinctly Moslem name even in Chinese). Chamir, as he was called, was among those who went to the coast to protect the shores of China against raids by Japanese pirates. However, on this long journey he became sick from the harsh weather conditions. He was left to recuperate in a mountain village in Guanxian County. His hosts in this small village were so kind to him that when he recovered that autumn and watched them practice their kung-fu after harvest he decided to teach them the art he had devised. They were grateful and his art spread far and wide from this origin. People took the first syllable of his name “Cha” and thus the style known as “cha chuan” – cha fist, was born. Originally its basis, the tan tui set, was composed of 28 routines – one for each letter of the Arabic alphabet. Eventually everything was compiled into the ten road spring leg which remains with us today.

Known throughout China tan tui is particularly practiced in Henan, Hebei, Shangtung and Shaanxi provinces. Since its origins lie with the Hui people there is even a proverb: From Nanjin the best tan tui is that of the Hui people” which becomes the pun, “Hui (Moslem) Hui (best) Tan Tui”.

As it progressed cha style and other Moslem boxing methods became known under the general name of jiao men (sect fighting). Of the many jiao men forms one group in particular, the ten sets of cha chuan, is famous. Like the ten core sets of shaolin, these famous forms encompass the entire repertoire of the cha style, not counting weapons. The first one taught is generally cha No. 4, a famous long fist form.

In certain widely accepted styles the Moslem presence has also been strong. In hsing-I for instance, many of the great practitioners were of Moslem origin and it may be that the real rudiments of the style are from Moslem culture. In weapons work, too, Moslem fist is well-represented with jiao men boasting five tiger hook sets and over ten saber sets. And last but not least, Moslems were often placed in the dangerous position of bodyguard because of their relatively non-affiliated status with other Chinese elements. Rising to this occasion they developed the beautiful and powerful style known throughout the world as pa chi (eight extremes). As the Chien Lung emperor stated in the 19th century, “For health we have tai chi, for protection pa chi.”

In modern times we are constantly assailed with representations of Arab culture as seemingly comprised of religious fanatics and terrorists. Martial arts training is a nice antidote for cultural ignorance. We are allowed through it to replicate the actions practiced by different people from different cultures who lived centuries from us. We cannot only improve our health and our skills but don another person’s shoes and walk down his path, or in the case of tan tui, ten roads.


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Filed under arab, arabian, arabic, arabist

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