Lama Kung Fu

by Karl Knoble

As one of the three major schools of the white crane, Bok Hok Pai< kung fu syustem, the origins of Lama, Hop Gar, kung fu are shrouded in mystery and legend. It is generally belived, however, that the system was founded by Tibetan lama- monks practicing Mahayana Buddhism.

Similarities in technique and philosopohy between Lama kung fu and the other schools of the White Crane system lend credence to the popular folktale outlining the art's origin. It is said that over 300 years ago some lama monks observed a white crane and an ape in heated battle. It would seem the ape had a distinct advantage, but at a crucial moment, the crane pecked an eye out of its foe. The lama were so impressed with the crane's movements in defeating the more powerful ape, lengend holds, that they used the scene as a foundation for their fighting system. After many years of mxing and developing the art with what they already knew of kung fu, a distinct system emerged. It is also said that for a time they called the art "lion's roar," but fearing the name was abit presumptuous and would lead to endless challenges, this nomenclature fell from use.

In its earlier years, the art was a secret of the Tibetan Lama, it is generally belived, until one of the monks, named Sing Lung, travled to China to spread the art during the Ching Dynasty (1644-1911). It is said that Sing Lung crossed over the Himalayan mountains and journeyed through the Kwangsi and Kwangtung provinces, teaching the complete system. Sing Lung instructed a number of students, mainly at the lotus Monastery in the Ting Hu Mountains of Kwangtung, where he traveled to and remained in his elder years. he took on mostly monks as students but also accepted two lay disciples, Wong Lem Hoy and Wong Len Yum, from whom practitioners today trace their lineage.

After the death of Sing Lung, Wong Len Yum journeyed through China, perfecting his skills and mastering swordsmanship. His travels and skills may also have inspired the Gallant Knight and the Travelers style of kung fu. Sometime in this period, legeng holds, Wong Len Yum erected a fighting stage in the middle of Canton City and challenged anyone to come and fight him. As the story is told, 150 teachers from various systems throughout the country tried, but all were defeated. After this, it is said, he was accordingly introducted into the Ten Tigers of Canton, a legendary exclusive group of the ten best kung fu men in China, where Wong Len Yum occupied the number-one seat in the organization.

During this era, the system took on a variety of names - white crane, lama, hop gar - and enjoyed fame as the official kung fu of the Manchu emperor and his royal guards, who allegedly had to accept the system as their own regardless of previous training. The original kung fu teacher of the Manchu ( a Mongolian race who conquered China in 1644 and gradually assimilated into the Chinese society) is unknown, but it is widely belived he was one of Sing Lung's original students.

True to its origins, Lama kung fu is a style still known today for its heavby concentration on fighting, as opposed to health, sport, or aesthetic emphases. The crane inspiration still remains, but no longer is there an overabundance of maneuvers mimicking the bird. Now, the most significant aspect of the sytem is footwork, kay men bo, which literally and figuratively serves as the foundation for technique. yet this is not a brutal art per se, emphasizing only physical elements. While an external system of kung fu, Lama also advances a distinct philosophy: the practitioner strives to understand his own inner limits, fears, and capabilities. Technique is not the end goal itself, therefore, but a means to an end.

The system as it is practiced today incorporates long and short range techniques along with internal exercises. There are also eight sets each of basics - fist strikes, stances, fingerings, seizing methods, and kicks -laying the foundations for hgiher techniques. Lama kung fu also is replete with techniques of joint locking, pressure-point striking, and a full array of kicks, actually considered secondary weapons in the system. All moves function around Lama kung fu's intricate footwork, which is based on scientific principles designed to enhance the practitioner's speed, power and angling. The ultimate objective is to catch the opponent at his weakest point while the practitioner conserves his own energy even as he is in motion. The Lama stylist's training, both in philosophy and in application of technique, can therefore cataloged by four basic principles:

1. Chan - This is a concept advocating total ruthlessness when attaqcking. With the objective to hurt and destroy, the practitioner commits to total full power attacks without wavering... or not at all. Like a light switch, it's an "on/off" theory of power.

2. Sim - This is a principles of evasion, meaning not to meet force directly with force, but outmaneuvering the opponent, catching him off guard, then strikiing. Rather than using a standard blocking tactic, the practitioner avoids his opponent, drawing on footwork for body movement.

3. Cheurng - The idea here is to penetrate, to break throguh the defenses of the adversary. One always strtikes to full potential, as if each technique will be the last necessary, while at the same time ready to end each blow and begin with another. It may sound abit contradictory, but it';s actually a principle to toal agtession; one can only successfully penetrate by being complete.

4. Jit - This is a theory of interception, by one of two methods. It can be hard, with the practitioner jumping in just at the moment the opponent starts his attack and countering. Or, it can be soft, which means taking advantage of the opponent after he not only has started but has committed himself to his attack.

One of the most important Lama skills is striking without blocking. This sounds simplistic or even risky, but it is a successful method based on sophisticated footwork. Rather than using a standard, hard block, the Lama stylist literally moves around the opponent, avoiding any blocks yet dealing his own at the same time. The idea is sto take full advantage of your opponent's loopholes, both physically and psychologically, much like an adult playing "keep away" with a child. He succeeds not by using his size but rather by using deception> He draws the child into a situation only to redirect the child's power and intentions, avoiding conforntations yet leaving the youngster in confusion.

In ordr to develop ower to incorporate in his technique, the Lama practitioner draws on omany training methods. For example, his forearms are toughened slowly but surely by beating them against a small tree. Then he moves on to large trees as the arms become harder. Ultimately he may use the forearm to shave the bark of the tree, literally "sharpening" the limb.

The Lama kung fu stylist also uses a short staff with a weight attached to one end in ordr to mold the forearm. The staff typically is laid on the limb, then the wieghted end is thrown into the air, with the device landing back on the forearm and sliding down to the wrist. The staff is also used in training by holding the end in one hand and suspeending the weighted portion out as far as possible, with the practitioner shifting from one stance to another, all the while keeping the weights suspended at should height. this practice ultimately provides the Lama stylist with an extremely strong grip and wrist. The weighted staff rolled on the forearms will also toughen them and develop strong twisting power, useful in grasping, throwning and locking maneuvers.

The Lama practitioner is fond of sweeping kicks, used of course to dislodge the person's leg from the ground to fell him. In serious fighting, one of the secrets of the kick is to break the copponent's leg at the weakest point - the knee. The Lama sweep is also applied aginst the adversary's shin to shatter it; many martial artists might be leery of this technique, though, for fer of damaging their own shins.

However, a Lama stylist trains for the sweeping kick by placing a half-foot-thick, five-foot-long log in the ground, exposing about two feet. The log is then wrapped about three times around with rope to pad it> Thhe practitioner begins his training by slowly sweeping forward with the shin, striking the log and then sweeping around with the same leg to the rear, hitting with the back portion of the calf. Repeating this process as many times as he can stand, alternating the legs, the practitioner will continue until he gets used to it.