"Self-cultivation of the nature is merit, Self-cultivation of the body is virtue."
-Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch, Chapter 3


Shaolin Yin Hand Stick (Chin.: Shàolín Yīnshǒugùn 少林阴手棍)

Shaolin Yin Hand Stick (herein referred to as Yinshougun) is perhaps the most well-known and representative basic traditional stick set of Shaolin. This article will provide a simple introduction to traditional Shaolin stick methods (Chin.: gùnfǎ 棍法), and more precisely Yinshougun.

Authentic Shaolin Stick Methods

The earliest extant literary work on Shaolin Wugong (Chin.: Shàolín Wǔgōng 少林武功) covers the topic of stick methods, for which Shaolin is most famous. It is said the oldest wugong material is Shaolin Soft Boxing (Chin.: Róuquán 柔拳), followed by the stick methods which are most fully developed of all weapon arts in Shaolin. All the empty hand boxing sets are of later development.

The manual describing authentic Shaolin stick methods was titled "Exposition of the Original Shaolin Stick Methods" (Chin.: Shàolín Gùnfǎ Chǎnzōng 少林棍法阐宗), later shortened to "Shaolin Stick Methods" (Chin.: Shàolín Gùnfǎ少林棍法).

Authored by southern Anhui Province (Chin.: Ānhuīshěng 安徽省) native martial artist Cheng, Zongyou (Chin.: Chéng Zōngyóu 程宗猷) in around the year 1610 C.E., the work covers his experience studying for years in Shaolin Monastery (Chin.: Shàolínsì 少林寺). From his writings it can be seen that Shaolin was a place where both monastics and laity studied stick methods together. The work includes extremely detailed explanations on how to create a stick used for Shaolin Wugong training, including the materials to use, wood type, and the ideal length and weight of the stick- for either wooden or iron sticks.

"Shaolin Stick Methods" explains 53 stick method postures. Each posture was placed into a sequence for practice, forming a "set" (Chin.: tàolù 套路) which imitated movements from atual combat (Chin.: shízhàn zhōng de dòngzuò 实战中的动作). These sets became the basis of the authentic Shaolin "stick methods" explained in the work.

In short, Cheng Zongyou listed 5 different stick methods or sets. They are: Small Yaksha (Chin.: Xiǎoyèchà 小夜叉), Large Yaksha (Chin.: Dàyèchà 大夜叉), Yin Hand (Chin.: Yīnshǒu 阴手), Elimination (Chin.: Pái 排), and Transport (Chin.: Chuānsuō 穿梭). Elimination Stick (Chin.: Páigùn 排棍) is the only one that differs from the other 4 sets in that it is a partner set, rather than a single person set.

Cheng's aim in his writing was to show clearly what were authentic Shaolin stick methods, in order to differentiate them from non-Shaolin methods. These five sets were referenced to demonstrate just that.

Yinshougun Development

Today Yinshougun is the most well-known and widely practiced of these sets. It is relatively short and basic. It is said that in the Ming Dynasty (Chin.: Míngcháo 明朝, 1368-1644) the famous general in the Japanese Resistance, Yu Dayou (Chin.: Yú Dàyóu 俞大猷, 1503-1580), visited the Shaolin Monastery and passed on the stick fighting methods drilled by his troops to the Shaolin Monks. Through successive generations of elder monks researching, studying, and practicing what they already had, mixed with these newly introduced methods, they created a unique blend of stick skills into a set they named "Shaolin Yinshougun".

Sections from it are found within older Shaolin stick sets such as Tending Fire Stick (Chin.: Shāohuǒgùn 烧火棍) from the Yuan Dynasty (Chin.: Yuáncháo 元朝, 1279-1368) credited to monk Jinnaluo (Chin.: Jǐnnàluó 紧那罗), and Crazy Devil Stick (Chin.: Fēngmógùn 疯魔棍) from the Ming Dynasty created by monk Zhishan (Chin.: Zhìshàn 智善), which are two stick sets identical to one another until the halfway point.

It is recorded that monk Zhishan expanded the original 19 postures of Shaohuogun to 25 postures, and created his Fengmogun set using it as a template. However, it is not clear whether the specific section found in Yinshougun and appearing in the earlier Fengmogun and Shaohuogun were monk Zhishan's additions, or original to the 19 posture Shaohuogun set.

Yinshougun is at least a late Ming Dynasty creation as it is listed in the book "Shaolin Stick Methods" from 1610. It is also clear that it is closely related to the Fengmogun set and shares its crazy (feng) and inverted (yin) methodology, explained below.

Monk Zhishan lived in the mid-1500's, about the time General Yu Dayou visited Shaolin. It is possible monk Zhishan also created Yinshougun as a more introductory set to his Shaolin stick system.


Yinshougun's methodology is hinted toward in its name. The name is translated as "Yin Hand Stick". The Chinese monk of the Tang Dynasty (Chin.: Tángcháo 唐朝, 618-907) famous for his contribution to the development of Buddhism in China through his translations of Buddhist Sutras (Chin.: Fójīng 佛经), Master Xuanzang (Chin.: Xuánzàng Fǎshī 玄奘法师), made a list of rules for translation. This applied to translation of Buddhist Sutras from Sanskrit into Chinese. One of the rules was to leave untranslated any word that fell into any of the following categories:

  • terms that are secret;
  • terms that have many meanings;
  • terms that refer to something not existing in the translator's country;
  • terms that have traditionally not been translated; and
  • terms that are honorifics.

Following the same principles in translation to English , the character Yin (Chin.: yīn 阴) will be left untranslated because it falls into the category of terms that have many meanings. The character is from the familiar Yin-yang (Chin.: yīnyáng 阴阳) concept, of which yin represents the dark, negative, and feminine side. The references are unlimited.

Here in this stick set, Shaolin Yinshougun, this yin refers to the opposite of normal or rational thinking, similar to the name and methodology of Fengmogun- Crazy Devil Stick, which includes Drunken Arhat footwork (Chin.: Zuì Luóhàn bùfǎ 醉罗汉步法).

Yinshougun is a set belonging to the Lost Tracks Boxing (Chin.: Mízōngquán 迷踪拳) system of Shaolin. The logic of this system is inverted. Throughout any Mizongquan boxing set, and likewise in Yinshougun, the sequence of postures is not in a pattern common to most Chinese martial arts. Rather it is just the opposite. When one expects the next movement to continue forward, the set suddenly changes directions. When one expects a high attack, it hits low. When thinking left, it goes right. In this way when others are watching one practice they will be unable to determine the rationale of the style. The "tracks" are lost and cannot be followed. Furthermore, in combat the opponent will be confused by the deceptive logic. Incorrectly anticipating the next move and upset by the rhythm he will be more easily defeated.

The mnemonic (Chin.: gējué 歌诀) for Shaolin Yinshougun is now provided below.:

Shàolín Yīnshǒugùn
Shaolin Yin Hand Stick
(4 sections. 28 postures)

第一段 dìyī duàn - first section
1. horse step carrying stick (Chin.: 马步挑棍 mǎbù tiāogùn)
2. raise knee drawing stick (Chin.: 二。提膝拉棍 tíxī lāgùn)
3. bow step carrying stick on back (Chin.: 弓左步背棍 gōngbù bēigùn)
4. horse step carrying stick- right (Chin.: 马步右挑棍 mǎbù yòu tiāogùn)
5. horse step carrying stick- left (Chin.: 马步左挑棍 mǎbù zuǒ tiāogùn)
6. bow step pressing stick (Chin.: 弓步压棍 gōngbù yāgùn)
7. jump drop step falling stick (Chin.: 跳仆步摔棍 tiào pūbù shuāigùn)

第二段 dìèr duàn - second section

8. turning head toward full moon (Chin.: 回头望月 huítóu wàngyuè)
9. left false step ward off pushing stick (Chin.: 左虚步架推棍 zuǒ xūbù jiàtuīgùn)
10. right false step ward off pushing stick (Chin.: 右虚步架推棍 yòu xūbù jiàtuīgùn)
11. snap kick carrying stick (Chin.: 弹腿挑棍 tántuǐ tiāogùn)
12. advance step reverse dancing flowers/ right horizontal sweep of one thousand pounds (Chin.: 上步倒舞花/ 右横扫千钧 shàngbù dào wǔhuā/ yòu héngsǎo qiānjūn)
13. clouds over peak/ left horizontal sweep of one thousand pounds
(Chin.: 云顶/左横扫千钧 yúndǐng/ zuǒ héngsǎo qiānjūn)
14. turn around/ squat step dancing flowers (Chin.: 转身/蹲步舞花 zhuǎnshēn/ dūnbù wǔhuā)
15. back thrust kick/ bow step warding off with stick (Chin.: 后踹腿/弓步架棍 hòu chuàituǐ/ gōngbù jiàgùn)

第三段 dìsān duàn - third section

16. wrapping flowers/ turning head toward full moon (Chin.: 缠花/回头望月 chánhuā/ huítóu wàngyuè) 十七。
17. jump kneel step pressing stick (Chin.: 跳跪步压棍 tiào guìbù yāgùn)
18. right-left blocking stick around waist (Chin.: 右左拦腰棍 yòu zuǒ lányāogùn)
19. Tai mountain pressing on peak (Chin.: 泰山压顶 Tàishān yādǐng)
20. immortal points the way (Chin.: 仙人指路 xiānrén zhǐlù)
21. jump step piercing stick (Chin.: 跳步刺棍 tiàobù cìgùn)

第四段 dìsì duàn - fourth section

22. T step reverse stick (Chin.: 丁步倒棍 dīngbù dàogùn)
23. horse step pressing stick (Chin.: 马步压棍 mǎbù yāgùn)
24. right drop step sweeping stick (Chin.: 右仆步扫棍 yòu pūbù sǎogùn)
25. left drop step sweeping stick (Chin.: 左仆步扫棍 zuǒ pūbù sǎogùn)
26. closed hands erect body (Chin.: 闭手挺身 bìshǒu tǐngshēn)
27. born out of nowhere (Chin.: 横空出世 héngkōng chūshì)
28. left-right lifting stick/ horse step sitting on mountain (Chin.: 左右撩棍/马步坐山 zuǒyòu liāogùn/ mǎbù zuò shān)


A video demonstration inside Shaolin Monastery by 32nd Generation Shaolin Disciple, Shi Xingfei (Chin.: Shì Xíngfēi 释行飞), a current coach (Chin.: jiàoliàn 教练) at the school of Master Shi Deyang (Chin.: Shì Déyáng Fǎshī 释德扬法师).:

-少林禅城 Shaolin Chan City

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